Your First Weekend of the Overloaded Last Month of the Year at the Movies

12/04/2009 9:01 AM |

In this scene from Up in the Air, George Clooney flees from the airborne lifestyle that has stood between him and genuine human connection.
  • In this scene from Up in the Air, George Clooney flees from the airborne lifestyle that has stood between him and genuine human connection.

Up in the Air: It appears that maybe the Hollywood movie-releasing machine has kinda, sorta embraced the idea that no, you don’t have to hold a certain number of interesting-looking movies for the last ten days of the year. There are certainly some high-profile box-office (Avatar, Sherlock Holmes) and critical (The Lovely Bones, The White Ribbon) contenders coming down the typical last-minute releasing corridor, but for the most part the year-end crush has been bumped up a few weeks. Hence presumptive Best Picture candidate Up in the Air arriving in limited release on the traditionally dead-ish post-Thanksgiving weekend. This movie is trying to take up the little-less-hyped-candidate slot, but come on: Jason Reitman (ding!) directs George Clooney (ding ding!) playing a corporate downsizer learning that there might be more to life (ding ding ding ding!) than climbing the corporate ladder without any personal baggage (the Oscar bell I was ringing just exploded). Reitman doesn’t have the immediate, personal, bracing voice of, say, Michel Gondry or Paul Thomas Anderson, but he’s a skilled craftsman who totally deserved that Juno Oscar nomination. Clooney, semi-similarly, is less of a master thespian than a perfectly calibrated and precise movie star; they seem like a good match with their gifts for surface breeziness with emotional weight.

Brothers: I’m a big fan of casting actors who are regularly confused with each other as siblings, so any movie that makes brothers out of Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal already has a leg up as far as I’m concerned. Natalie Portman, playing Maguire’s wife, apparently warms to Gyllenhaal after her husband is presumed dead in Afghanistan, much as America warmed to Gyllenhaal after Maguire was presumed a little old and creepy to play a gawky teenager (though I like him fine: those parts of Spider-Man 3 that make fanboys mad are actually wonderful, and his creepiness is well-used in The Good German). I would see almost any movie starring these three actors, especially one that graduates them all into grown-up roles, and director Jim Sheridan has certainly made some good movies. But Brothers looks curiously flat for something with its pedigree, which maybe is why the ads seem to try to sell it as some kind of horror-thriller. Also, I know this is a remake of a Danish movie, but isn’t it also basically the plot of Pearl Harbor?

Everybody’s Fine: When I first heard about the premise and cast of Everybody’s Fine—a dad (Robert De Niro) goes on a big trip to see his dysfunctional adult children (Kate Beckinsale, Sam Rockwell, Drew Barrymore)—I assumed the title was intended as pretty typical dysfunctional-family irony. Then I saw the trailer, and it looked an awful lot like a holiday-themed warmedy, which makes a little more sense in terms of something a studio would want to throw money at (and less sense in terms of getting me to see the movie). Then I saw the movie itself, and one of the best things about it is that it manages to land neither here nor there. It’s not a dark, rueful dysfunctional-family comedy, but it’s not a gently wacky journey of sweetness, either—it’s not even a holiday movie; I think it takes place during the summer. Instead, it gets at more subtle, recognizable forms of familial dysfunction, well-played by the whole cast. Unfortunately, the movie itself still doesn’t really work; the comedy bits are wan, and the tearjerkier bits oddly ineffective. As Ben Sutton notes in his review, though, it’s nice to see De Niro in a well-intentioned movie playing a well-rounded character again, though.

Armored: I’ve seen this trailer, oh, I don’t know, I guess around nine thousand times in the past six months, so I’m ready for this heist-standoff programmer to finally come out, paving the way for the second Matt Dillion heist-standoff programmer to come out in January. Director Nimrod Antal made a pretty cool little horror picture out of Vacancy, and he’s gearing up another Predator movie for next summer, so Armored might be worth seeing to chart his B-movie progress.

Serious Moonlight: Adrienne Shelly wrote and directed the lovely Waitress, which was released following her extremely untimely death. Now Waitress costar Cheryl Hines has directed another Shelly script as tribute, assembling Meg Ryan, Timothy Hutton, Kristen Bell, and Justin Long to star. The premise—Ryan ties up husband Hutton after finding out his plans to leave her for Bell—sounds a bit like a half-baked play, but Liz Kilduff’s review also makes it sound more like a discombobulated rom-com gone wrong.

Transylmania: Based on the title, poster, and mysterious non-major distributor, I had this figured for an even tweenier Twilight knockoff. Apparently it’s actually a Twilight parody, which is a totally awesome idea that I doubt was executed with any finesse, which I guess makes this the Dance Flick of later the same year.