Let's Go Out To The Movies...

Sorry for the lack of posts of late; I keep sitting down to write and my heart just doesn't seem to be in it. My mind has been largely occupied with thoughts of my friend Natasha, whose planned overnight stay in the hospital has escalated into five nights so far, with no readily apparent end in sight. I have been visiting her every day after work, trying to give her an ear to bend about her concerns. Although I have never been in her situation, I hear that the hospital is a lonely, boring place, so I've been doing the best I can to help her morale. But, in an effort to force myself to think about something else, I thought I would share with you my thoughts on my weekend activities, when I treated myself and saw two films that had been languishing on my cinematic wish-list: Up In The Air and Nine.

I had high expectations for Up In The Air, and the film did not disappoint. I loved both of director/writer Jason Reitman's two previous films, Juno and Thank You For Smoking, and his latest venture was equally impressive. Basically, the film provided everything that Avatar did not -- the writing was snappy, the plot developments were unexpected, and the film managed to feature its social commentary up front and center without seeming as preachy or obvious as Avatar. This was accomplished largely in the casting of real Americans who had recently been laid-off to play the victims of George Clooney's "career transition" consultant. They brought an authenticity of emotion and experience to the story that was deeply touching. George Clooney's performance was nuanced and subtle, revealing ever-deepening layers to his character's personality as the film unfolded. Overall, the film provided a timely portrait of American life during the Great Recession while maintaining an engagingly moving emotional core. I was late in getting around to seeing it (Up In The Air was released in early December), but if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend it.

On Sunday, I took the opportunity to check out the new Showplace ICON Theater recently opened in my neighborhood and to see Nine with my friend Mireya, who shares my appreciation for movie musicals. It took a considerable amount of time to find someone else who was undeterred by the film's largely negative reviews to go see it with me, but somehow I managed to squeak in under the wire before the film leaves theaters. Mireya, her sister (who came along) and I all left the theater feeling somewhat confused about the film. We agreed that we had neither disliked it or liked it particularly. I remained entertained throughout the entirety of the film without checking my watch (unlike Avatar) and I liked the costumes and the overall glamour of 1960s Italy captured in the film.

However, director Rob Marshall seems to have been overly influenced by his own work in his hugely successful screen adaptation of Chicago -- to counter the alledged bias of contemporary audiences against characters spontaneously bursting into song, Marshall uses imagination sequences and diagetic performance opportunites to incorporate the musical numbers. While this worked in Chicago, due to the stories implicit connection to the world of vaudeville, the formula did not work in Nine. Furthermore, because the songs are stemming from the main character's imagination in response to the story unfolding around him, the songs fail to acheive their intended story-telling purpose. Instead of driving the action of the film, the songs are reduced to a mere embellishment. Also working against the film is a weaker overall score than that of Chicago. Nine had two memorable musical numbers, "Be Italian," performed by Fergie, and "Cinema Italiano," performed by Kate Hudson. It is worth noting that "Cinema Italiano" doesn't even hail from the original musical, but rather is an original addition to the film (presumably to make it eligible for a "Best Original Song" Academy Award.) I thought the film was well cast -- at no point was I cringing during a musical number as I often found myself doing during Pierce Brosnan's performance in Mamma Mia. I'm glad I went to see it, given my allegiance to the musical genre in filmmaking, but I can't say I would recommend it to people with a more casual interest.

Hopefully, if everything goes to plan, you should be reading several more film reviews in the weeks to come: January and February are usually when I make a consolidated effort to see as many of the Academy Award-nominated films as possible (the ones that picque my interest anyway.) For those of you who were bored by my cookie-mania in December, perhaps the cinema will be more to your liking...

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