Posted by: annmariegamble | January 19, 2010

Last Week at the Movies

I do from time to time catch a current TV show* or a movie that’s in theaters now, and over winter break I gorged. There are plenty of full-on reviews and summaries around the Web; here I’d like to highlight some interesting moments in the banquet.

Up in the Air. George Clooney plays a man who travels constantly for his job with an organization that’s contracted by companies to do the actual firing when they downsize. Clooney plays it subtle: he’s in nearly every scene of the movie, and he could have been exhausting to watch. Instead the onion is peeled. He delivers the HR speak calmly and earnestly—does he believe it? Does he know the impact? What does he want? He smiles at most of what happens, but the low-key delivery ends up saying a lot. In other words, the movie shows rather than tells.

Some oldies but goodies if you like repressed emotion: The Remains of the Day with Anthony Hopkins as a butler and Emma Thomspon as the woman he surely has feelings for, and Mostly Martha, a German movie about a chef who must keep her life together after her sister dies, leaving her guardian of her niece.

Sherlock Holmes. The steampunk sets, the action sequences, and hunky leads have generated a lot of complaint that boil down to whether this movie is sufficiently true to the books (or the previous film versions). It’s about time to glamorize deductive reasoning, I say, and some of the glimpses at how Holmes’s mind worked were what I liked best. Two scenes stand out. At the very beginning he decides to go on the attack against a bad guy, and he mentally rehearses the moves and the consequences before he jumps; the effect is to highlight the thinking process and make the ninja stuff almost an anticlimax. A little later (several months in the chronology of the film), Watson coaxes him out of their apartment for dinner. Holmes arrives at the busy restaurant early and notices things. Soon the sensory data becomes cacophony, though, and we see that staying in the lower-stimulation environment of his rooms may be a coping mechanism that comes out of character, not just eccentricity for the sake of it.

Avatar. The simple storyline, the white savior, the big battle at the end to prove what a superior people the Na’vi are . . . um, yeah. All that. But we’re in the theater instead of the video store because of the technology, people. I’m not sure what’s so appealing about 3D films; real things don’t pop like that, and in 2D movies we can tell what’s near and what’s far. But they sure are cool to watch.

These early examples of the technology had to fight the temptation to show off the device rather than work to make it an integral part of the story. In the 3D Christmas Carol, the ongoing reminder that the technology is there is falling snow that swirls in and out of the plane where the characters are. In Avatar there is a weeping-willow-like tree with branches of light that the characters walk among and pull the audience in with them.

A more dramatic moment occurs early in the movie. The main character, Jake, is wheelchair-bound. When he first transfers consciousness into his (fully mobile) avatar, he ignores doctor’s orders to acclimatize to his new body, instead staggering up and out of the building, to run and curl his toes in the dirt. He runs headlong past guards, a basketball game, a garden. He’s woozy but gaining control, and as a viewer, I was completely immersed in his explosion out of atrophy. Then I had to close my eyes and breathe slowly until the urge to heave myself over the boat railing dissipated, but the whole sequence was entirely justified.

* If you’re keeping track at home, the current retro binge is Alias. The magic technology and ninja fighting skillz make me batty, and apparently the world of international spying is even more incestuous than a small town. But the men are good looking and brainy girls rule, so I’ve worked my way through two seasons so far.

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