After breaking out two years ago with the teen pregnancy comedy Juno writer-director Jason Reitman trains his keen acerbic eye on the modern business traveler in Up in the Air a bittersweet comedy about one man’s turbulent journey of self-discovery and redemption.
George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham a corporate downsizer (he fires people for a living essentially) and seasoned road warrior whose aversion to real human connection is reflected in his mammoth stockpile of frequent flyer miles the fruits of a job that calls for 300-plus days spent away from the office. Thoroughly content with a life spent in hotel bars and airport lounges Ryan begins to slowly unravel when he’s tasked with mentoring Natalie (Anna Kendrick) a fresh-faced recent graduate with a bold set of ideas for transforming the business of firing people — ideas that threaten both Ryan’s untethered existence and his budding relationship with Alex (Vera Farmiga) a fellow corporate nomad whose penchant for low-effort commitment-free relationships mirrors his own.
Enchanted by visions of a perpetual booty call replete with racy Blackberry messages and romantic trysts arranged via Outlook Ryan begins to suspect he might have found his soulmate in Alex. Inconveniencing his idealized scenario however is his travel partner Natalie a probing perceptive gal who proves a far more worthy adversary than he initially anticipated. As Ryan exposes Natalie’s real-world inexperience and naivety in a series of mildly disastrous business meetings she in turn refutes his resolutely isolationist approach to love and relationships. Soon their mutual resentment gives way to a father-daughter dynamic characterized by genuine albeit guarded affection. As his carefully crafted barriers steadily erode Ryan’s thoughts increasingly turn to Alex and he begins to contemplate the previously unthinkable prospect of putting down actual roots.
Corporate downsizing emotional detachment and the dehumanizing effects of modern technology aren’t exactly the most lighthearted of topics but Up in the Air avoids wallowing in dour Death of a Salesman territory with the help of Reitman’s sharp perceptive wit and a handful of lively cameos from comic heavyweights like Danny McBride Zach Galifianakis and J.K. Simmons. In fact the whole affair makes for a surprisingly uplifting experience in a "saddest happy ending" kind of way. Though the latter half of the film is hampered by structural deficiencies and a pair of melodramatic sadly predictable twists that move the plot forward but diminish its overall impact it still qualifies as one of the top films of the year and Reitman’s best work to date. Consider Up in the Air a surefire Oscar contender.
A New York schoolteacher (Hunt) who is painfully self-aware that her biological clock is ticking LOUDLY finds herself thrust into a downward spiral. In quick succession her new husband (Matthew Broderick) of just a few months leaves her her loving adoptive mother (Lynn Cohen) dies and then out of the blue a brassy talk show host (Bette Midler) shows up announcing she is her actual birth mother. As she tries to deal with all these massive changes the opportunity for a new romance arises with the newly divorced father (Colin Firth) of one of her students. Both clearly have mending of broken hearts to do but the possibility that the chemistry is right-- even if the timing isn’t--is too good to pass up. Before taking matters into her own hands Hunt--who a decade ago won an Oscar for As Good As It Gets and four Emmys for Mad About You--seemed past her creative peak. But this quiet independent labor of love may be just the ticket she needs to get back into the big leagues. With cheeks appearing more gaunt than usual her shopworn appearance works well for a character in full crisis mode. Hunt very much convinces us she is resilient if only hanging on through a series of sudden setbacks. Plus it’s fortunate as the co-writer and director she clearly knows what Hunt the actress needs. The starry supporting cast is generally effective particularly Midler nicely underplaying the AWOL mother who shows up expectedly. Her scenes with Hunt have a sweet authenticity about them that could have been lost had Midler resorted to her usual theatrics. Broderick has a couple of decent scenes as the immature whiny hubby while Firth is always good--even here in an uneven role that seems a bit too convenient to ring true. Helen Hunt is the daughter of veteran director Gordon Hunt and her seeming confidence behind the camera (along with some prior TV experience directing a few episodes of Mad About You) must have been inherited. It’s obvious she has also spent time watching the techniques of previous directors she has worked with such as James L. Brooks and especially Woody Allen. Her feature debut has more than a few things in common with the Woodman’s work. Her screenplay (co-written with Alice Arden and Victor Levin) based on Elinor Lipman’s novel nicely captures the Jewish milieu so prevalent in the book and a source of pride in the movie as well. It’s no easy task playing the roles of writer director and star but like Allen does so often Hunt appears at ease and fully capable of getting just what she wants on screen. Downside is the mixture of comedy and drama requires a little more balance than is evident here but as a first attempt this modest tale of a school teacher searching for a personal rebirth deserves a solid “B.”
Jay and Silent Bob look set to make some noise, noise, noise this weekend.
With more than a little help from their Tinseltown buddies, the less-than-dynamic duo will likely chew up, spit out and stomp all over that second serving of American Pie.
The competition is stiff--five new films open in wide release Friday--but the aggressively juvenile Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back should guarantee director Kevin Smith a smash ending to his View Askewniverse chronicles.
Smith's last film, 1999's controversial religious treatise Dogma, opened with $8.7 million on its way to a heavenly $30 million gross. That's more than Smith's previous low-budget comedies Clerks, Mallrats and Chasing Amy combined.
Smith's fifth film falls somewhere between the comically gritty realism of Clerks and the aggressively juvenile antics of Mallrats.
Jay and Silent Bob cross paths with almost all of young Hollywood--plus such veterans as George Carlin and Mark Hamill--in their crusade to thwart a Miramax production based on their comic-book alter egos, Bluntman and Chronic. That should attract those unfamiliar with Smith's world of convenience-store clerks, comic-book artists and loser stoners. Conversely, unfamiliar audiences also may end up confused as to why Ben Affleck plays two characters, including himself. This might prove problematic for Jay and Silent Bob's long-term prospects to entice the uninitiated to join them on their whacked-out journey to Hollywood.
Also, Smith recently fought off criticism by GLAAD that he imbued his road trip with a nasty homophobic streak. Having said that, the anti-Catholic accusations Smith faced with Dogma surely helped the otherwise difficult-to-market satire to score at the box office.
Woody Allen ventures forth with his latest screwball comedy, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion. Still very much an acquired taste after all these years, the archetypal New York neurotic did enjoy his biggest hits in ages last year with the DreamWorks-distributed Small Time Crooks. The Curse of the Jade Scorpion is hardly vintage Allen. The aging Woodman once again fires off one snappy line after another as he woos younger women--Helen Hunt and Charlize Theron- but the Jade Scorpion certainly lacks the crackle and pop of the Cary Grant-Irene Dunne comedies that it pays tribute to.
Allen's recent period pieces-humorous or otherwise, with or without him in the lead role-usually leave audiences cold. Also, Allen's last August release, Manhattan Murder Mystery, stalled at $11.2 million in 1993. Therefore, even with DreamWorks once again serving as Allen's benefactor, Jade Scorpion is unlikely to surpass Small Time Crooks' $17 million gross.
Like Allen, John Carpenter does not pose much of a threat to Smith. Carpenter unleashes Ghosts of Mars, with Ice Cube and Natasha Henstridge fending off possessed Martian mineworkers of the body-pierced variety. Ice Cube retains a strong following--augmented last year by Next Friday--which ensures Ghosts of Mars a modest though unspectacular opening.
Carpenter--once the undisputed master of horror sci-fi--desperately needs a hit. He's endured one flop after another in recent years, including In the Mouth of Madness, Village of the Damned, Escape from L.A. and Vampires. Ghosts of Mars-- an extremely cheap, humdrum and lazy sci-fi bloodbath--is not likely to reverse that trend. Carpenter also may alienate his hardcore fans once they realize that he shamelessly relocates his classic urban Western Assault on Precinct 13 to Mars.
Hollywood studios usually let out their dogs in late August to die a quick and painless death. That fate no doubt awaits the baseball-themed Summer Catch and the family comedy Bubble Boy.
Don't expect Freddie Prinze Jr. to register so much as a base hit with Summer Catch. Teen girls lost interest in Prinze immediately after the credits started to roll on 1999's surprise hit She's All That. Prinze's like-minded romantic comedies Down to You, Boys and Girls and Head Over Heels disappeared more quickly than you can howl "Scooby Doo, where are you?" Summer Catch will likely match Head Over Heels' $10.4 million gross, but strike out long before it can reach Boys and Girls' $20.7 million gross.
Since audiences can choose between Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and Rat Race should they want to see a road movie, Bubble Boy will surely burst upon impact. Jake Gyllenhall stars a young boy suffering from primary immune deficiencies--hence his travel bubble--who takes to the road to seek out true love.
The days of $40 million-openings are over, at least for now. This could be the first weekend since Swordfish opened June 8 with $18.1 million that the No. 1 film has made less than $20 million.
Reigning champ American Pie 2 should lose its crusty crown this weekend, but it looks set to become the 12th film this year to make more than $100 million. The sequel stood at $96.8 million as of Thursday, and will likely exceed its predecessor's $101.8 million gross within days.
Rush Hour 2 continues making to make a beeline toward for $200 million. The Jackie Chan-Chris Tucker buddy yarn lost 43 percent last weekend-from $33.1 million to $19 million-but it still enjoyed a bigger third weekend than its closest box office rivals Planet of the Apes, Jurassic Park III and Pearl Harbor. Its total as of Thursday: $171.8 million.
Nicole Kidman emerged the victor in the catfight between the ex-Mrs. Cruise and Ms. Cruz.
Kidman's The Others enjoyed a $10.9 million second weekend--down a mere 23 percent from its opening weekend of $14 million. Its total as of Thursday: $37.5 million.
The sophisticated gothic yarn should hold its own against Ghosts of Mars, which will appeal more to those eager to see the red planet awash in blood.
Audiences displayed as much enthusiasm for Penelope Cruz romancing Nicolas Cage in Captain Corelli's Mandolin as they did for Cruz romancing Matt Damon in All the Pretty Horses. Which is none at all.
The World War II drama opened with a fair but unpromising $7.2 million, failing miserably to capitalize on the very public unveiling of Cruz and her new beau, Kidman's ex-husband, Tom Cruise. Its total as of Thursday: a very disappointing $10 million.
Rat Race started off slowly, with only $11.6 million in its opening weekend and $17.3 million as of Thursday. This millennial updating of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World should crawl to a halt in the face of competition from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and The Curse of the Jade Scorpion.
The bounty on Jesse James' head sure doesn't add up to much. American Outlaws, starring Colin Farrell, opened with a pitiful $4.8 million and has corralled a mere $7 million as of Thursday.
The Princess Diaries looks set to surpass Legally Blonde as the summer's most popular non-action sleeper hit. The fairy tale, starring Julie Andrews, has $75.7 million in its royal vault as of Thursday. The peroxided, Reese Witherspoon-courtroom spoof has filed $84.7 million as of Thursday.
So what if The Princess Diaries and Legally Blonde did not enjoy blockbuster openings?
The female-driven comedies are displaying the longevity that the likes of Jurassic Park III and Planet of the Apes simply lack. As of Thursday, the former has taken $170.2 million while the latter has scrapped up $164.2 million. Neither will cross the $200 million mark, a disappointment considering that these very expensive blockbusters opened so dynamically.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it's that aspiring princess and lawyers have longer legs than cloned dinosaurs and evolutionarily superior simians.