I'm like my mother, I stereotype. It's faster.
Up in the Air (Directed by Jason Reitman, 2009): This was a nice film, with mostly nice people, having a nice time. It didn't blow me away, but I had a perfectly nice time watching it.
George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham who is hired out to various corporations who are too cowardly to fire their own employees. He lives in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. He meets a Alex (Vera Farmiga), and the two have a playful flirtation with credit cards and frequent flyer miles as aphrodisiacs. After a wild night of love-making, they sit down with their laptops and plan out when they can see each other again, then part ways, the perfect arrangement for a man with no fixed address.
Of course, whenever someone has a perfect set-up, like Bingham believes he does, life always has to throw a monkey wrench into the gears of your plans. Bingham's particular monkey-wrench is young corporate recruit Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who has the new breakthrough idea of grounding Bingham and his fellow firers, and have them do their firing via internet, taking an already horribly dehumanizing process, and making it moreso. Bingham objects, not just because it puts his titular lifestyle in jeopardy, but also because he believes that he plays an important role, that he takes people at their absolute lowest, and gives them a shred of dignity, and a tinge of hope. His boss isn't convinced, but plays along, and sends Ryan and Natalie out on the road together with Ryan showing Natalie the ropes, and Natalie convinced she already knows them.
I really expected there to be an awkward forced romance between Kendrick and Clooney, who is 24 years her senior, but, refreshingly, the film sidesteps any hint of romantic tension by having Bingham listen in on Natalie's phonecall with her fiancee where he overhears her describe him as 'old'.
Naturally, commitments finally come calling for Bingham, and he finds himself forced to help out with his sister's marriage, even having to try and convince her reluctant husband-to-be (Danny McBride, who is always a treat to have turn up in a film) that the lifestyle he's choosing is a good one, even as Bingham eschews the life, himself. Gradually, more and more, he starts to believe it, and the idea of giving it all up finally has to cross his mind.
Clooney has maybe never been better (It's this or Michael Clayton, as far as I'm convinced), and Farmiga and Kendrick are both wonderful, as well. There's lots of shots from planes, on planes, and of aerial photography above some cities, all of which I'm a sucker for. The characters are believable, as is the dialogue, and everything is competently directed. It's just that I kept waiting for that revelatory moment where you go "Oh, wow!" or "I know exactly what he means!" but it never quite gets there. It's like listening to an old friend tell a funny story you've heard before. It's nice, it won't change your life, but there are worse things to do, so you just sit back and enjoy it.
*** (But, I might bump it up a whole 1/2 star, as I stew on it in the coming weeks)
Nine (Directed by Rob Marshall, 2009): I'm not really a big fan of musicals, nor was I really that taken with 8 1/2 (Which is what the Broadway play that this is based on was based on), but I figured with Daniel Day-Lewis, I could no wrong. And Lewis is excellent, hitting his Italian accent perfectly (More on that later...) and actually delivering a surprisingly solid singing voice. Penelope Cruz is a lot of fun, radiating raw sexuality from every pore, as his saucy mistress, and Marion Cotillard's song is really good and sad. But, that's about as far as my goodwill extends with this one.
Lewis plays Guido Contini, visionary Italian director, who is struggling with writer's block on his latest film, and spends most of his time moping and sulking, and remembering all the women in his life. There's Luisa (Cotillard) his patient wife, who he makes a point of leaving behind when he retreats from Rome to get away from the press. There's his ongoing mistress (Cruz), who is getting tired of being kept in the dark, even as she worries about upsetting her husband. There's his mother (Sophia Loren), his costumer (Judi Dench), his star (Nicole Kidman), his childhood obsession (Fergie Ferg), and a smitten American journalist (Kate Hudson, who delivers a particularly awful rendition of a particularly awful song). We don't really learn anymore about them than that. He loves his wife, but enjoys cheating on her. He loves his mother (presumably) and lets his costumer boss him around, while she basically helps run his life for him. He also seems to love his star, but never acted on it. He even goes up to the journalist's room, but runs out before doing anything.
That's pretty much it really. The songs aren't that memorable. The performances aren't that great. And you never really learn anything about anyone or anything. And -blasphemy of blasphemies!-, there's no closing number! It just sort of ends. I'd call it a disappointment, but, then again, I didn't really expect anything out of it.