Category Archives: Movies

Ann Hornaday is the movie critic of The Washington Post and will be one of our guest speakers.

Is three better than two?

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer

Alice

The world of Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland"

To 3-D or not to 3-D? That was the question when I was on my way to see Disney and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” over spring break this spring.  I had seen “Avatar” in 3-D and been dazzled by the clarity and the believable space James Cameron and his team had produced.  Could Disney really match that? Did I want to wear those glasses, even if it was only for 108 minutes? The answer to the latter was no.

But after seeing it in 2-D, I was left doubting.  Were the little blurs of images I detected gone in the 3-D version?   Did the smoke Absolum blew from his opium pipe billow out into the audience when the glasses were donned? These were questions I needed answered.

Tim Burton brought his signature dark-bordering-on-creepy touch to the much idolized subject of Lewis Carroll’s story of Alice.  Though the movie is titled “Alice in Wonderland,” the story comes from Carroll’s “Alice Through the Looking Glass,” the second installment in the story of Alice Kingsley.  “Alice in Wonderland” is referenced briefly throughout the story as Alice struggles with accepting that what she thought were bad dreams are actually memories of her first experience in Underland. Burton was an excellent choice to bring out all of the more twisted aspects of Carroll’s story.

Little known actress Mia Wasikowska was wonderful as Alice, playing her as a sweet but progressive in her ideas and smart as a tack.  Her accent was lyrical and a pleasure to listen to, and that, along with her iridescent pale skin, made her entrancing to watch.

Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway played the two queens, red and white.  They played to their strengths, Carter as the fiery tyrant and Hathaway as the beloved sovereign. The supporting cast, including on-screen actors and voice contributions, made the experience come alive.  Alan Rickman, Stephen Fry and Crispin Glover shone in their respective roles.

Opposite Wasikowska, Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter was up to many of his usual tricks: the funny walk and head tilts of Captain Jack Sparrow, the smile, voice and far off look of Willy Wonka. That being said, he did it all masterfully.  His deep Scottish brogue when he tells the tale of the Jabberwocky made the audience smile with pleasure and shiver with dread simultaneously.  Depp’s Hatter was endearing and frightening, and every moment was worth watching. His niche character continues to work wonders.

The story of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” are well known to most if not all of America through the books, numerous television adaptations and the iconic 1951 Disney animated film. Thus, the storyline was not going to be a surprise to anyone, and Disney did not take any liberties with the plot.  How they kept us interested, waiting for the next scene, was with the special effects.

The fabulous world of Underland, conceived out of Carroll and Burton’s eccentric minds, is translated beautifully onto the screen.  The fantasy plants and animals are a far cry from the 1951 Disney animated version.  The two queen’s castles, in their respective glory, stand in the landscape as monuments to dreams of little girls everywhere. The desolate areas destroyed by the Queen of Hearts leave you with chills.  The characters, including weeble-wobble Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum played by Matt Lucas, lurching Stayne played by Glover, and the “globe” headed Queen of Hearts are all created by CGI, computer-generated-imagery, but they look as real as Alice.

Now on to the real question: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Oh no, I’m sorry, excuse me: what was the difference between 2-D Alice and 3-D Alice?

After digesting the 2-D version of “Alice in Wonderland,” I decided that I had to see it in 3-D to see if there was any difference in clarity or brilliance of the special effects. So I paid my fee for the 3-D glasses and got ready for the show.

While the difference was not immense, the forest did look deeper, the room of doors more imposing and the Jabberwocky a bit more fierce.  The blurry scenes of the 2-D were now clear and steady and much more life-like. When Alice is running through the landscape between the Red and White castles, it was much clearer what she was running past in 3-D.

The only disappointing character was the Jabberwocky.  It was not nearly as terrible and frightening as the Hatter’s poem described.  It looked like something out of a claymation fairy tale. Even the 3-D and the bellowing voice of acclaimed actor Christopher Lee could not save it.  That scene was the most frustrating of the entire film.  It seemed like an afterthought, like Burton put more effort into the Bandersnatch’s hut than the epic final battle to save Underland.

The difference of 3-D is never that things jump out of the frame into your face, though we all want that to happen because of the way 3-D is advertised.  The Jabberwoky’s tail did not come within inches of my nose. However, it did complement the creative style of Burton and the fantastical world he created.  To truly experience falling down the rabbit hole, it is worth the extra fee and the cumbersome glasses. My only real disappointment was that the Blue Caterpillar’s smoke did not billow out into my lap.

“Repo Men” an Empty Sci-Fi Thriller

By Charlie Carroll

ArtsPost staff writer

For Jude Law, the dramatic and thought-provoking sci-fi genre is old news.  That’s not to say that Law has moved beyond the genre, but rather that most would assume that at this point he knows how to do it well.  Law excelled in his past performances in “Gattaca” and “Artificial Intelligence,” but his latest sci-fi endeavor “Repo Men” falls much shorter than its expectations and hype generated by the movie’s promoters.  The director merely threw two talented actors, Forest Whitaker and Jude Law, into a disjointed story that never seems to quite understand its intended tone.

Released around the time of intense political debate over healthcare reform, what might seem “timely” for some is nothing more than empty social commentary (unlike the clear success of “Daybreakers” released only a few months earlier).  The best part about the movie is the chemistry between Whitaker and Law’s characters as they laugh and slice their way through a futuristic dystopia based on sexual and violent excess.

Remy (Law) works in this morally questionable world as a repo man for The Union, a large, greedy corporation that produces artificial organs and body parts at a very high price to its customers.  While the company hands out the empty promise of improving and extending life for those suffering from debilitating health problems, there is a small catch.  If you can’t afford to make the payments on your organ, or “artiforg,” The Union sends its highly-skilled personnel out to recollect the organ, giving little thought to the victim’s survival post-operation.

Remy and his partner Jake (Whitaker) are the best repo men that The Union has to offer, but Remy’s wife disapproves of his job, forcing the former military man to resign for his family.  However, on his last job a faulty defibrillator severely damages Remy’s heart, requiring the company to give him an artiforg that he inevitably has to pay for.  Remy literally has “a change of heart,” and after the operation can no longer cut into the chests of innocent men and women.  His debt piles higher and higher and eventually the young outcast goes on the run with Beth (Alice Braga), a beautiful, young nightclub singer whose body is made up different black market artiforgs.  Together the two fugitives embark on a mission to escape from and take down the system, evading the tireless pursuit of The Union, led by Jack.

What “Repo Men” has in a top notch cast, it severely lacks in direction, tone and character.  In his major directorial debut, Miguel Sapochnik fails at guiding a coherent storyline.  Essentially, Sapochnik cannot seem to figure out whether or not the movie is supposed to be more of a drama or big-budget action comedy.  Law has said that the movie is intended to mix comedic delivery with explicit, bloody sequences as a way to parody or comment on the gore and violence of modern action movies and pop culture.

The story’s progression hardly makes sense at times and becomes a joke itself.  The balance between comedy and gore feels more awkward than anything else.  Particularly misguided is one scene between Barga and Law that uncomfortably mixes sensual eroticism with graphic gore, leaving the viewer even more confused about Sapochnik’s intentions.  Ethan Hawke’s “Daybreakers” attacked the healthcare and resource preservation angle much more successfully with a clear goal and style that was severely lacking in “Repo Men.”

The movie is centered on Law and Whitaker’s perception of duty and service, which comes from both characters’ backgrounds as military men.  The movie attempts to determine whether “a job is just a job,” but falls flat in engaging the audience and making them think.  The only exception to this rule lies in Whitaker’s character, whose senseless love of violence and duty to maintaining order works alongside a personality that is surprisingly funny.

The film amounts to nothing more than a “Blade Runner” wanna-be interrupted with moments of cringe-inducing “bad-assery.”  While the violence feels a bit excessive at time, the shock of this strategy creates fight sequences characteristic of your classic “guy movie.”  In essence, this is the movie’s only appeal, and a weak one at that.

LTH: Storytelling and harmonies rock the night

By Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

While most musicians get a start by writing their own material, few have the experience of roots-rocker Eric Brace. After spending the first decade of his career as a music critic for The Washington Post, Brace decided to trade his pen and paper for a guitar. Fifteen years later, the blues, pop and country blend of Last Train Home has established a widespread following, thanks mostly to Brace’s smooth-as-silk tenor and unassuming presence.

In their recent performance at Virginia’s Barns at Wolf Trap, a sold-out crowd of mostly middle-aged Americana enthusiasts cheered on the seven-member band, joined for the night by guitarist, vocalist and current fellow music critic Peter Cooper. After writing a favorable review of Last Train Home’s first album for Nashville’s Tennessean, Cooper met Brace in person at a concert, and their collaboration began.

“Playing with Peter brings out the folk singer in me a little more, where we really focus on harmonies and acoustic guitar arrangements,” Brace said in an interview with The News Leader. “The material rocks a little more in [Last Train Home], and the songs can be a little more abstract, whereas the songs I play and record with Peter all have a little bit more of a story to them.”

The duo’s story came across loud and clear on the Barns’ stage as Cooper played an opening set featuring songs that told stories of his early years growing up in the South. As Cooper strummed away on the lonely stage, it was easy to imagine the singer sitting around a campfire playing for friends rather than entertaining a crowd of hundreds. While songs entitled “Dumb Luck” and “Last Laugh” were chock full of  jokes and tongue-in-cheek lyrics, Cooper’s thoughtful chords and tender voice transformed the performance into something much more revealing.

Brace, on the other hand, employed no tricks or gimmicks in his stage show, relying only on earnest songs and a good voice to achieve his band’s richly-layered sound. Cooper returned to the stage with Brace and lent a gentle harmonizing quality to the songs, which, while not particularly necessary, seemed to put Brace at ease.

Over the past years the band has been together, they have done a significant amount of traveling, both domestic and international. As Brace pointed out, their touring van now has more miles on it than the distance to the moon. During their national tours, Last Train Home frequently picks up and swaps out musicians as they go along, resulting in a unique experience at each live show.

“There’s definitely an element of ‘we’re not quite sure how this is going to go off,’ ” Brace said in an interview before the show. “There’s a lot of communicating. It’s hard, but you try to find the right people.”

And communicate they did, as Brace frequently left his position in center stage and walked among his bandmates, giving direction or signaling an impromptu solo. While Brace clearly commanded the group’s dynamic, he was also not afraid to step back and let his band shine on their own. Electric guitarist Scott McKnight stepped out halfway through the ballad “Quarter to Three” and showed off with a solo riff that left even Brace and Cooper smiling.

Though he had played off and on with bands since college, 1996 marked the first time that Brace decided to focus solely on a music career and recruited band members of his own to record a debut album. Nearly overnight, Last Train Home was born. Throughout the next few years, Last Train Home grew in prominence, earning the “Artist of the Year” award from the Washington Area Music Association in 2003. Since that time, Last Train Home has performed more than a thousand shows and has opened for the likes of Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton.

Last Train Home will be making its next stop in Winston Salem, N.C., before returning to Virginia at the end of March.

Movie’s split may alter your view

By Alexandra Wells
ArtsPost Staff Writer

Photo from the Internet Movie Database, imdb.com.

Instead of spending millions of dollars and countless hours negotiating Middle Eastern peace, politicians should spend $10 of their money watching “Ajami,” an Israeli film masterpiece. Going in, most audience members would notice the Hebrew and Arabic side-by-side during the opening and closing credits: a symbol for the entire theme of the film, which is centered in the multiethnic neighborhood in Jaffa, Israel.  This movie was a first for both directors, Scandar Copit (who also stars in the film) and Yaron Shani, an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew, respectively.

This ingenious film, a medley of odd parallels, was eight years in the making. The directors chose to use nonprofessional actors. It is depressing, as any story would be when based on the daily perils in such a complicated region, “Ajami” manages to be amazingly unbiased, or maybe, influenced on both sides. Realizing that life is not easy or straightforward for people on either side of the conflict, the movie focuses on the lack of money, love and peace that shape every character.

After taking the Israeli Oscars by storm, the film then became the runner-up at the Cannes Film Festival and finally made it into the finals of the Academy Awards foreign-film section. Although not a documentary, this film feels so painfully realistic that it was hard to resist the urge to be angry or feel pity for characters who don’t truly exist. The fatalistic story is displayed in four chapters that, at times, circle-back on previous stories in order for the audience to truly understand what events have taken place.

At the heart of the film is the realization that every character has severely misunderstood a situation because of profoundly ingrained cultural and religious biases. No “side” is shown as better or worse, and anyone who sees this film can come away feeling ashamed and saddened with the Arabs, Muslims, Christians, Bedouins and Jews behaviors’ in the film. The chapters in the film create a sudden flip-flop of the audience’s emotions and make the plot much more intriguing to pick apart.

The movie focuses on seven main characters, at least one of which everyone can sympathize with in some profound way. The story unfolds as a young teenage Arab boy, Nasri, talks about how his neighbor has been shot instead of his older brother, Omar, whom the shooters thought they had killed. Another part of the film delves into restaurateur Abu Elias, who helps Omar’s family pay back the “blood debt” to the shooters family and is concerned that his daughter is in love with an inappropriate, or not Christian, boy.

Illegal immigrants to Israel, hard drugs, police brutality, soldiers missing in action and family illnesses that cause massive debt all add to the somber tone of this bleak movie. However, as I left the theater with tears in my eyes, I couldn’t help but think there was still hope for this bitterly torn-apart desert region. If only some politicians could take time out of their busy schedules to watch this impressive film and better understand all sides of the dispute.

The out-of-control kid; the misguided film

By Jeremy Walsh

ArtsPost staff writer

Families be warned:  “Where the Wild Things Are” is not your typical children’s movie.

It doesn’t keeping you laughing, it won’t bring you to tears with a sentimental story, its protagonist isn’t a model kid and it doesn’t wow you with amazing special effects.  In fact, it might barely entertain your kid.

“Where the Wild Things Are” tells the story of Max (played by young Max Records), a lonely kid with a boundless imagination who demands being the center of attention.

One night, when his single mom (Catherine Keener) invites her boyfriend over for dinner, Max dresses in a wolf costume and stands on the kitchen table yelling at his mom, after she refuses to play with him.  They fight, once she demands he shapes up, and Max attacks her, runs out of the house and down several blocks.

While alone that night, Max imagines himself an explorer sailing to a distant island inhabited by strange, large, fury creatures, at which point the film escapes into Max’s imaginary world.

Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”), taking on directing and co-writing duties (along with Dave Eggers), spearheaded this adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s famed children’s book.  Though his story holds fairly true to the book, his film as a whole does little to live up to the book’s quality and reputation.

Jonze no doubt tried to depict Max as a misunderstood and lonely kid with whom the audience should sympathize.  But early on Max comes off as a real brat, almost unlikable, and the film does not rescue Max from this negative light because he’s just as selfish and uncontrolled on his imaginary island.

Like the book, the film also tried to be silly, considering Max wears his wolf costume the entire time in his daydream and his new fury friends look like big mascots, but this story and characters clearly wanted to be more serious and somber.

Max’s imaginary “wild things” do enjoy bouncing against trees and each other, but for the most part, they have pretty serious dialogue and generally don’t look like they’re having fun.

Physically, the creatures are slightly hunched over with sullen facial expressions, not typical traits of a child’s imaginary friends.

In actuality, the creatures were created using a smorgasbord of movie magic techniques.  The filmmakers combined computer generated imagery, animatronics and actors in costume to bring the wild things to life.  For the most part, this concoction works because the creatures look real, helping the interactions between them and Max seem natural.

Though the filmmakers’ effects team had some success in bringing these creatures to life, it was hard to ignore the odd casting choices for voice actors.  Noted dramatic actors James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) and Lauren Ambrose (“Six Feet Under”) all deliver their clichéd sentimental lines well but whiff on many silly and comedic lines.

It’s perfectly fine to give imaginary creatures serious dialogue, but in a children’s movie, the voice actors must succeed with the amusing and silly moments to ease the tension.  Otherwise, the kids will get bogged down in the seriousness, making the film experience less fun.

The child actor Records falls into a similar trap because he nails almost every emotionally somber and sympathetic moment (despite wearing a wolf costume), but every time Max is supposed to be having fun, Records portrays a seriously out-of-control kid.

That may not be entirely Records’ fault because Max was written to be a wild child, who maybe learns something about himself while on his imaginary island.  That’s not the Max who really ever appears on-screen.

Instead, that Max is one parents hope like hell their kid never turns out to be.  At no point in the film is he a desirable character to parents or a role model for children, a mind-blowingly dumb idea for a family movie protagonist.

The filmmakers clearly set out to make an atypical children’s movie, a serious film for kids that included some silly moments.  But the film experience wasn’t fun, and even children’s movies that try to be darker than light or comedic (like “James and the Giant Peach” or “Coraline”) are fun.  “Where the Wild Things Are” is one to forget.

Only Angels Have Wings

By Elise Lundstrom
ArtsPost staff writer

A plane soars through the sky, we hear her engines roaring but we don’t see her.  The fog is too thick. Pilots, mechanics, locals and visitors on the ground look up in frightened anticipation, hoping the pilot can line up for touchdown. Suddenly we see the plane swoop just above their heads, barely missing the hotel, bar, airline headquarters building. A close call, a wrong descent path and another try. All for a steak dinner with the blonde from the boat.

A story of love and danger set in the 1930s South American port town of Baranca, Only Angels Have Wings, keeps us at the edge of our seats until the last line. Using humor, drama, romance and action all rolled into one picture, Howard Hawks keeps us wanting more of everything.

Starring Carry Grant as Geoff Carter, the fatalistic veteran pilot who runs an airline transporting mail over the Andes, and Jean Arthur as Bonnie Lee, a performer originally only in town for the night who becomes infatuated with Geoff and the world of flying, Angels brings stars of the 1930s silver screen together.

The story line centers around Geoff as he deals with the dangerous consequences of operating his airline, his romantic interests and his own stubbornness. As The Kidd (Thomas Mitchell) remarks to Bonnie, “The only thing I can tell you about him, he’s a good guy for gals to stay away from.” And, of course, that means that no one can.

Under the legendary direction of Hawks, we are shown images of South America in the 1930s, or what Hollywood thought South America in the 1930s looked like, which is remarkably clean and Americanized. Even the rain and mud looks clean. But we can’t have Bonnie (Arthur) and her embodiment of the American feminine getting any dirt on her fluffy white robe.

"Angels"

Arthur plays piano in the hotel bar.

Hawks joins romance and adventure together beautifully.  Arthur and Rita Hayworth glow in the masculine environment of the airline building.  From the interior shots, including a great bar sing-along with everything and everyone perfectly in place, to footage shot from the air following the mail planes banking and turning through the sky, always on the edge of danger, the cinematography was worthy of the Academy Award it was awarded.

Humor is used throughout Only Angels Have Wings in an effective and poignant way. Witty language masks tragedy, keeps social interactions interesting and highlights the relationships between men and women in the 1930s.  One of the exchanges that got the most laughs was between the Kid and Carter about why the next ship heading north is not stopping in Baranca:

“They have no bananas.”

“They have no bananas?”

“Yes, they have no bananas.”

This dialogue is a note on the 1922 Broadway review “Make it Snappy’s” novelty song “Yes! We have no bananas.” It still gets a laugh out of audiences today.

It is no surprise that Angels was nominated for two Academy Awards in 1940, including Best Cinematography (Black and White), and Best Effects/Special Effects.  Hawks’ use of lighting, sound and screen shots warrant those nominations. The scenes where the primary footage is shot in the air of the mail planes is particularly striking; you feel that at any moment they will crash into the menacing Andes mountains.

On the ground, Hawks’ control and minimal camera movement frame every shot perfectly.  You see exactly what you need to when you need to, for as long as you need to.

Originally released in 1939, that same year that brought us Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Stagecoach, and The Wizard of Oz, Only Angels Have Wings is on par with its peers, deserving of the tagline of “Powerful as a tropical storm!”

Today we see this movie as a classic old Hollywood movie, but sitting in the theater with Only Angels Have Wings, the audience sees the film at as a commentary on life in the 1930s.  Many of the jokes and issues are relatable to modern life.  Men and women have not changed that much.  Carter and Lee may interact in a similar way today, and airlines in the Andes are still dangerous to operate.

Hawks successfully blends humor, action, romance, drama and adventure together to bring us a vibrant, exciting and enjoyable film Only Angels Have Wings.

(Only Angels Have Wings was part of a Jean Arthur retrospective shown at the AFI Silver Theater on Feb. 24 as part of a series of films shown in conjunction with Montgomery College.  Each film is followed by a discussion led by a film professor from Montgomery.  For more information visit http://www.afi.com/silver/new)

Pixar’s latest deliver’s a deeper message

Sometimes, a movie for kids can offer up messages more profound than any adult-centric cinematic masterpiece. Underneath it’s flying house and talking dogs, Pixar’s “Up” is a story about an elderly man who finally finds the will to move on with his life after the death of his beloved wife. Beneath the surface of this fun adventure is a tale of the unbearable pain of losing a loved one and learning how to love life again.

“Up” takes its audience on an emotional rollercoaster. It is equal parts comedy, action-adventure and heart-warming story about life.

We meet Carl Frederickson (Ed Asner) as a young child on the day he meets his future wife, Ellie. They both idolize adventurer and explorer Charles F. Muntz and bond over their desire to go to Paradise Falls, a South American paradise and explore with Muntz.

After his wife’s death, Carl eventually decides to set off in search of the land of their childhood dreams. He turns his home into a ship (with the help of thousands of balloons) and sets sail. When he inadvertently takes 8-year-old Wilderness Explorer Russell along, he is forced out of his self-imposed exile and into the types of adventures he and Ellie dreamed about as children.

Although Carl’s decision to float away is related to his grief, Pete Docter, the film’s writer and director, explained his motive behind creating Carl’s escapist tendency.

“The genesis of it was that I’m not an extroverted guy. By the end of the day, a lot of times I just want to escape or get away from everything. So the idea of floating off into the sky seemed really intriguing. I think everybody can relate to that, and yet one of the most important things we can do is to connect with other people—and it’s easy to lose track of that.”

“Up” does not shy away from tough issues despite being a film aimed at children. In addition to death and grief, the film touches on the issues of broken homes and absentee parents, over-development and urban sprawl, and even miscarriage.

Docter explained the more serious original idea for the story to the Los Angeles Times.

“In the very first draft . . . he just wanted to join his wife up in the sky,” Docter said. “It was almost a kind of strange suicide mission or something. And obviously that’s [a problem]. Once he gets airborne, then what? So we had to have some goal for him to achieve that he had not yet gotten.”

As is expected from a Pixar movie, the filmmakers created a rich story with beautiful visuals and plenty of humor (especially from Dug, the talking dog), but the most enjoyable part of the film is its simple message.

“He’s always thought of adventure as travel and exotic places and animals no one has ever seen,” Docter told the Los Angeles Times. “And in the end he comes around to realize that the real adventures in life are the small things that we do with our family and friends.”

“Up in the Air” is a down to earth ride

“Is the bag empty because you hate people or because you hate the baggage that they come along with?”

Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is only at home when he’s on the road (or, to be more accurate, in the air). Ryan fires people for a living and moonlights as a motivational speaker encouraging his audience to drop all the baggage, both material and emotional that weighs them down.

His nomadic way of life comes under threat when Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), the female version of Ryan, and Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), a recent college graduate who is sent out with Ryan to learn the tricks of the termination trade, come into it. Both women teach him lessons that force Ryan to reassess his life and decide if he’s really content living without ever putting down any roots.

“Up in the Air” almost defies being placed in a category – it is a comedy that is completely devastating. There is romance and humor, but the storyline seems to be much more based in reality than the plots of most romantic comedies. Jason Reitman (“Thank You for Smoking”, “Juno”) navigates between genres without making the story too sappy or too divorced from reality. He takes the cliché of a coming-of-age story and turns it on its head. Rather than portraying Clooney’s character as the wise know-it-all and Kendrick’s as the naive neophyte, he makes it clear that both have lessons to learn and lessons to teach.

In the current economic climate, with the national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, watching the segments of people getting fired was almost too real. Reitman explained on the DVD commentary that for most of the firing scenes, he used real people who had recently lost their jobs.

While George Clooney is great as Ryan, Anna Kendrick’s is the standout performance in this film. Natalie starts out as a rather irritating Type A personality. She joins Ryan’s company with lofty ideas and the fearlessness of youth, but Kendrick subtly shows how Natalie grows and matures as Ryan forces her to face the reality of what their job actually consists of.

Although “Up in the Air” deals with a far-too-common and unpleasant sign of the times, Reitman and Clooney and Kendrick succeed in making the film anything but depressing.

DVD Extras

While there is not a huge amount of extras on the DVD, Reitman’s commentary is a must-listen-to for any budding filmmaker, or even for someone who’s simply interested in how movies are made. He is candid about the issues that come up when filming on location and even dissects what goes into filming various complex scenes. He shines a light on much of the production process, from writing the script to choosing the music to accompany it.

There is a short piece on how the opening credits were created that you can skip. Reitman is back for commentary over deleted scenes from the film. Many of the cut scenes that are included were ones Reitman discussed in his commentary for the film, so it was a bit of a treat to be able to see what he was talking about.

Following up a classic with a classic

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

Director Howard Hawks continues to impress audiences with his visual storytelling expertise, and his latest film, “Only Angels Have Wings,” serves as no finer example of his mastery of his craft.

Hawks has successfully followed up last year’s comedic hit “Bringing up Baby” by taking to the skies with a suspenseful love story at an airstrip in the far reaches of South America.

The film begins with American Bonnie Lee (played by Jean Arthur) disembarking her ship at a port in Colombia where she meets two American pilots.  Happy to hear the familiar sound of American voices, Bonnie accompanies the pilots to their airport’s restaurant.

She is soon introduced to the head of the airport, Geoff Carter (played by Cary Grant), a contentious and quick-witted man seemingly absent of common emotions.   Nevertheless, Bonnie becomes enamored with Geoff, and though the feelings appear to be mutual, Geoff consistently states that he does not want to be tied to a woman.

Hawks once again showed his mastery of the witty romantic comedy.  Much like “Bringing up Baby” centered on the banter between Cary Grant and his leading lady (then Katharine Hepburn), “Only Angels Have Wings” hinges on the exchanges between Grant and Jean Arthur.  The comedic exchanges are understated and hilarious while the intimate interactions are truly heartfelt.

Screenwriter Jules Furthman should be commended for balancing the film’s entertaining comedic lines with the emotionally pointed dialogue, a balance necessary for a memorable romantic comedy.

As Geoff, Grant gives a complete performance that really carries the film.  Grant reintroduces audiences to his sharp wit but adds an element of stoicism, resulting in a well-rounded comedic and dramatic performance.

Being the more experienced actor, Arthur easily keeps up with Grant, stride for stride, even though Geoff Carter is clearly meant to be the film’s centerpiece.  The comedic exchanges seem to come naturally to Arthur, as the one-liners roll seamlessly off her tongue.

The beauty of her performance lies in her ability to depict Bonnie’s inner turmoil while watching the daring aerial maneuvers of the pilots trying to navigate inconsistent weather or while waiting for Geoff to make up his mind about their relationship.

The story’s backdrop of an airport set near the base of the Andes Mountains is somewhat problematic because on the one hand, that aspect of the storyline is absurdist.  Having two Americans toil with love at an airstrip in South America comes off like a story that could only happen in Hollywood, giving the rest of the plot almost no root in reality.

On the other hand, the aerial shots are brilliant and breathtaking.  Hawks keeps the viewers on edge as they watch the planes try to navigate nearly impossible landings through rain and fog, crafting aerial scenes much like another Howard did earlier this decade, Howard Hughes.

In the end, the hilarious and heartfelt dialogue combined with the heart-pounding shots of the airplanes stand out much more than the manufactured backdrop.  Hawks has created another brilliant American comedy.

‘Alice’ worth the trip down the 3-D rabbit hole

By Ashley Kemper
ArtsPost staff writer

Bringing together the fantastical tales of author Lewis Carroll and the creepy-cool of director Tim Burton, “Alice in Wonderland” is a treat for fans of the original creation as well as newcomers looking for an enticing 3D experience. Memories of Disney’s animated classic from the 1950s quickly fade away as Burton’s saturated colors and other-worldly creatures fly off the screen and invite viewers to join in the proportion-bending fantasy.

In this latest recreation of Carroll’s fantasy, a Victorian-era, 19-year-old Alice returns to the mystical world that has haunted her dreams for the 13 years since her last visit. After experiencing strange and vivid nightmares as a child, Alice asks her father if these visions mean she has gone mad. “I’m afraid so,” her father responds. “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” And so begins the quirky trip into a land that at once defies reality and provides a genuine sense of self for the lost teen.

Going Under

Alice’s return to Wonderland coincides with a marriage proposal from a lackluster lord with digestive problems, a proposal that everyone, except Alice, supports. When Alice, played by the demure Mia Wasikowska, spots a familiar hare donning a blue waistcoat, she leaves her suitor kneeling in front of friends and family to dash after the animal into a forest, where she falls down a rabbit hole. Upon reaching the strange world, Alice learns that she is in fact in Underland, a place now ruled by the beheading-fanatic Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), and is informed by Abosolom the caterpillar (Alan Rickman) that she is destined to overthrow the terrible queen by doing battle with her Jabberwocky.

Burton went so far in this film as to skip the opening credits altogether in favor of delving directly into the back-story of Alice’s childhood nightmares. Employing the same eerily disturbing atmosphere that served him well in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Beetlejuice,” Burton has created an environment that lends itself to the eccentricities of those inhabiting it. While the set design and intensive greenscreen work resulted in a stunningly beautiful world of desolate landscapes, adding 3D effects into the mix creates a truly engaging experience that is rarely captured on a flat screen. Though the movie will be just as entertaining to watch on DVD at home, the final battle scene alone makes the movie worth a trip to an IMAX theater.

Unlike other movies that have jumped on the 3D wagon well ahead of their time, “Alice” forgoes cheap gimmicks in favor of a subtle approach that adds layers of meaning to the storyline, leaving viewers with the distinct impression that the past two hours could have indeed been a vivid dream they had.

Familiar Faces

Johnny Depp, in his seventh collaboration with Burton, appears as the larger-than-life Mad Hatter, sporting heavy costume makeup, beady yellow contacts and a frizzy orange wig that makes even Gene Wilder’s hair look tame. “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” the Hatter posits throughout the movie, in reference to Carroll’s original, and much to the puzzlement of Alice. The rambling, riddling Hatter joins the Cheshire Cat, Dormouse and Bayard the dog as well as Tweedledee and Tweedledum in their quest to restore the crown to ghostly White Queen (Anne Hathaway).

While viewers root for the fairer queen’s return to the throne, Bonham Carter’s character provides a far more interesting and entertaining performance, complete with a bulbous cranium and screeching cries of “Off with their heads!” Her penchant for “a warm pig belly for my aching feet” and frequent use of animals as furniture might make animal activists cringe, but what the Red Queen lacks in compassion she makes up for in determinism. After collaborating with Burton, her fiancée, on five previous films, Bonham Carter has explored many levels of deranged characters and brings a delightfully twisted arrogance to the table.

Wasikowska, on the other hand, shapes an Alice who is at once timid in action and firm in beliefs. The 20-year-old Australian actress was little heard of until being cast as Sophie in HBO’s “In Treatment” and later appearing in “Amelia” with Hilary Swank.

Alice in Wonderland can be seen in IMAX 3D at Tyson’s Corner, VA. Rated PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar.