George Clooney

Gravity (2013)


Mark Kermode has long championed Inception – Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film that coupled the fantastical world of dreams with the usually dry subjects of corporate takeovers, daddy issues and suicide – as an example of intelligent filmmaking. In his 2010 review, The Quiff surmised it was ‘a film that imagines that the multiplex masses aren’t so dumb after all!’ So what’s happened in those three years since? Well, not much. Nolan made another Batman film, Ryan Reynolds proved the Green Lantern’s powers could produce anything except a decent script and the Twilight and Fast and Furious franchises have dominated the market. It’s hardly been the fall of the Bastille.

Thank heavens then for Gravity; Alfonso Cuaron’s first directorial feature since 2006’s Children of Men. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts performing a routine mission to repair the Hubble Space Probe. Bullock is the fledgling astronaut on her first mission, with only six months training under her belt (‘Does that include holidays?’ Quips one of her teammates). Clooney is the rakish veteran now on his final expedition and looking forward (maybe?) to retiring.

When the debris from a defunct satellite catastrophically interrupts them in the course of their duties, they, along with the other members of their crew, find themselves cut off from communications with Mission Control. And that’s as much as we’re going to say. The trailers for Gravity have been somewhat thrifty in plot telling and we’d like to perform the courtesy of doing the same. Gravity is a film best gone into knowing as little possible.

What we can say is that Gravity is definitely one of the best films to crash into 2013. Cuaron’s direction is sublime and he deftly constructs a claustrophobic atmosphere in the large, unfeeling void that is space. Often switching to the point of view of his main players, Cuaron doesn’t just want you to emphasise with the panic and fear on display, he wants you slap bang in the middle, gasping for breath and questioning the futility of your existence. This is one of the few times we can think of where we actively recommend seeing a film in 3D over 2D. Yes, he’s that good. But it’s not just Cuaron’s party. Emmanuel Lubezki is, as always, at his side providing sumptuous cinematography that would make the most heartless of stones emote.

On the acting stakes, this is Bullock’s time to shine. As medical engineer Ryan Stone, Bullocks provides us with a performance that makes you wonder why she ever bothers with films like The Proposal. Fragile, yet determined, she is the backbone of this film; displaying strength in the face of adversity and providing a genuinely strong female character, where strength isn’t represented by wearing tight PVC and karate kicking people in the kick. And if a scene involving a nursery rhyme doesn’t move, then we pity you. Clooney, meanwhile, shows once again that he can bring his charming bastard routine to pretty much any situation and make it work. Here, as Matt Kowalski, his quick wit and bravado is almost a mask to hide the uncertainty of his survival, but it’s also there to act as a rock for Stone to hold on to.

Numerous themes run throughout and, like Nolan’s work, will be picked apart  for years to come. People will point at the signposted theme of rebirth – and honestly, these moments are the weakest parts due to their being just too on the nose – but for us this is a tale of acceptance and moving on. Everyone has been left with an opportunity to sink or swim, and it’s their decisions on which way to go that truly define them.

Put simply, Gravity is a wonderful balance between storytelling and filmmaking. Now, please. Please, please, please can we have more of these?


The Descendants (2011)

Alexander Payne’s continuing attempts to pick apart the minutae of middle aged men coping with crisis shows no sign of abating with his (and Nat Faxon’s) adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemming’s book The Descendants. Hemming’s Hawaiian set novel concerns Matt King, a lawyer on Oahu, whose wife has a jetski accident and falls into a coma, Matt then finds out his wife was conducting an affair behind his back and was planning to leave him. Matt then tries to confront his wife’s lover’s whilst discovering he knows very little about either of his daughters.

Trouble in paradise and using death as a solid ground for comedy are nothing new but in the hands of a storyteller as skillful and careful as Payne their usefulnesss is plain to see. Gags (mainly with swear words) are underlined with sadness and each uncomfortable situation that is mined for laughs has death and loss palpably present. The balmy backgrounds, endless beaches and floral shirts offset the grim conversation matter, reminding us again and again that happiness is neither given out freely nor guaranteed forever.

George Clooney plays Matt King well and plays him straight. No O Brother mugging comedy or slapstick, just careful delivery and quiet exasperation. Clooney is the closest thing we have to a real, say it in lights, movie star these days. Ultra famous but not too well known. His villa in Italy keeps us from knowing everything and maintains a relative air of mystery about him. Compared to the things we know about a Cruise or a Gibson, Clooney is a modern enigma. He operates on a one for them, one for him deal with the studios (this may be both) that lends him a certain integrity, coffee adverts aside. His easy charm, warm smile and seemingly affable nature means he’s able to flit from Cary Grant (lite) to James Stewart (lite) whilst remaining very much his own actor, both cunningly retro and perfect for his time. Clooney deserves his Academy nomination, his two scenes alone with his unconcious wife are particularly well crafted performance wise, but he’s been this good before and will be again.

Among an adroitly assembled supporting cast, Shailene Woodley stands out. Her role as King’s troubled, older daughter is a familiar stock character  but Woodley puts all the necessary legwork in to produce a performance that’s pitched perfectly between immaturity and maturity. Street smart yet vulnerable, outspoken without the self confidence to back it up, the turmoil of both growing up and coping with her mother’s coma are plainly visible behind a tough, laddish facade.

This is business as usual for Payne, a fine director who’s completed his fourth film and given us very little to complain about in any of them. His pictures are littered with moments that are so familiar  they become funny, so real that they sit on the edges of our own lives. Hubris and man’s inability to improve himself come to the fore, well rounded characters and a wistful sense of nostalgia are a must. Payne’s lilting dramas suffuse themselves in a soft focus, almost dreamlike atmosphere that push story to the front, like a (slightly) more modern Hal Ashby. Payne will be doing this for years and that is a very, very good thing.

Perhaps because of the intensity of emotion running throughout The Descendants, the ending feels less punchy than the majority of the film. A pleasing, almost mundane conclusion to an uncomfortably funny, acutely aware family drama that maybe lacks the hug yourself warmth of say, the premier cru, vintage red in a Wendy’s cup ending of Sideways. Sorry, that was churlish.

The Ides of March (2011)

Ryan Gosling is Stephen Myers, the cocksure Junior Campaign Manager for Governor of Pennsylvania, Mike Morris (George Clooney). He’s awesome, he’s witty, he brown-noses Morris on a daily basis. Then one day, as they say in the trailers, his life is turned upside down when he is invited to a join the oppositions campaign trail and he begins a relationship with Evan Rachel Wood’s spunky intern. What’s a guy to do? Well, as Ryan Gosling is in the lead, we get lots of staring like a child who’s just been told that Father Christmas doesn’t exist.

The Ides of March wants to be so intelligent. It really does.

Everyone talks in ridiculously long sentences that can only ever happen in political movies. ‘Well, Ted, if we don’t get the vote for the 45% of the 10 members of the ABC generation in this state, then we may as well hook line and speak to the frighteners about approaching this campaign from a new angle nearer to the unions’ idea of a plate of eggs’.

Everyone furrows their brows, rolls up their sleeves, undoes their ties and look serious. We’re talking Oscar baiting seriousness. Hey, you know what Hollywood? This film has a message that needs to get out there… Absolute power corrupts absolutely. And you know politicians? They lie, man. They lie and they don’t care who gets hurt. It’s true. This film is pulling back the curtain, it’s through the looking glass, it’s pointing at other films and questioning their reason to exist.

It’s so heavy with it’s own self-importance, it gets crushed underneath the weight of it’s own bullshit.

That power corrupts is nothing new. The Godfather Part 2 pretty much wrote the book on wide-eyed innocence becoming a cold icy stare. That doesn’t instantly mean that the film is bad. It’s just it doesn’t shed any new light on to the subject. The other issue is that Gosling is so unappealing. His character is so unlikable, that you have next to no sympathy for him as the likes of Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei begin to piss on his parade. And piss they do. As Gosling stumbles like a new-born fawn from one ludicrous plot twist to the other, you wonder when he’s going to realise that he is acting like a total idiot that kind of deserves what’s happening to him. And as each bad thing that happens to him, the melodrama begins to increase. Evan Rachel Wood’s final scene genuinely made me smirk. I don’t think that was Clooney’s intention. I’m pretty sure he was going for drama. The final showdown between Gosling and Clooney is  nothing more than a moodily lit wailing and gnashing of teeth to show amazing these two actors can act when they want to show how good they are at acting. OMG, they R so gud!!1

The Ides of March is so serious and aiming to be worthy, that it loses sight of what’s important. Namely characterisation and plot. Seriously, save yourself some time and pop The Godfather Part 2 back in  the DVD player.

Good Night, And Good Luck. (2005)

In 1953, with fear of commnist infiltration at it’s height and Senator McCarthy in the middle of his famous “Witchunts” one journalist, operating in the relatively new sphere of television, decides to speak out against the misuse of the constitution against America’s own citizens.

Good Night, and Good Luck tells the story of Edward R. Murrow’s stance against McCarthy on his “See It Now” news programme on CBS. Leading to McCarthy’s censure from the senate and a victory for journalistic freedom and integrity.

Clooney directs and co-writes with Grant Hislov, the script is seriously pared down. Not an ounce of fat remains. The only thing that matters are the television shows, no character is afforded much of a backstory or even a visible family. Indeed, there is only one relationship outside of the professsional in the entire film. This focuses the action, making every scene vital to the push and thrust of the story. Only clocking in at a genius 93 minutes keeps everything fresh and doesn’t allow peoples opinions to be championed too much. The film simply tells the story of Murrow and leaves the audienct to make up their minds. Credit must go to Clooney for this.

The use of black and white is interesting. In the colour era, the use of back and white has been for a variety of reasons. In Raging Bull, it was employed to highlight how La Motta only came alive in the ring when the palette shifted to colour, the Coen’s Man Who Wasn’t There was all sharp angles and shadow making black and white necessary. Schindler’s List seemed to be monochrome to lessen the horror of the holocaust (which is bullshit) whilst The Good German was a pastiche or at least a throwback to fifties films. Good Night, and Good Luck seems to have had black and white forced upon it by the decision to use archive footage of McCarthy and his trials but it’s worked to an advantage. Set in the very early days of television, it makes perfect sense to stick to this austere method. Everything and everyone looks of that time and fits in perfectly, no mean feat when the marquee names of Clooney And Downey Jr are modern day titans of “colour” blockbusters.

Shot entirely on sound stages (there are no exteriors in the whole film) is a brave choice, keeping a fervent, claustrophobic atmosphere to the piece. The film could work on stage it’s sets are so few and minimally designed. It brings to mind a strange hybrid of Dr. Strangelove and All the President’s Men.

David Stathairn has been working his middle aged, authority figure, calm acting style for three decades and more (personal favourite-Whistler in Sneakers). He lands a peach of a role here, out Murrowing Murrow himself, His delivery of the key speeches are inflected with a quiet passion of a man believing every word he speaks and in the importance of saying them. His eyes tell the story, giving Murrow a clean conscience and a true soul in his actions. He’s ably supported by Clooney, Downey Jr, Daniels as men in suits and by Frank Langella as the owner of CBS, torn between making his network financialy viable and supporting Murrow in his crusade against paranoia and fear.

Good Night, and Good Luck is a film made about a significant period in America’s short history. It’s an important film and a worthy one, both of which are adjectives most films (rightly) seek to avoid. Here it works admirably, highlighting ethics and viewpoints which are still very much required today and the men who stand up to fight for them.

Out of Sight (1998)

This film alone can make you forgive Ocean’s 12 and 13 in one satisfying go. Elmore Leonard’s tale of charming bank robbers and sexy US marshals is confidently brought to the screen in a way that makes you almost, ALMOST consider Jackie Brown to be the ugly stepchild that’s beaten in the attic.

Everything is cool and smooth throughout the film’s 2 hour running time:

  • George Clooney – Cool
  • Jennifer Lopez – Smooth
  • Ving Rhames – Cool
  • That guy in the background in the first street scene – Well, he doesn’t have any dialogue and he’s just an extra, but I bet if he had something to say it would be cool, sassy, smart and punctuated with a freeze frame
The only person who doesn’t come off overtly cool is Mr Samuel Jackson, whose appearance at the end seems to be nothing more than a wink to the Tarantino fans. In addition, it makes you realise that Jackson appearing at the tail end of movies wasn’t just something he’s saved for whatever feature Marvel Productions is shitting out next.
The romance that blossoms between Lopez and Clooney feels natural and it clearly bathes in the reflected glory of previous films, in particular the 50s and 70s, that show that no matter the size of the bastard, he will get his girl. The soundtrack oozes class and you yearn for a time when all films were like this. And if there wasn’t a time, there should have been.
In any other time, this would have been a Steve McQueen and Pam Grier blockbuster.

The American (2010)

It’s probably nostalgia to say that Hollywood used to make ten of these films a week but there is a definate seventies feel to Anton Corbijn’s (Control) second film. The exquisite framing, soft light, sparse screenplay and muddied morality are a throwback to Hollywood’s golden age.

Clooney plays Jack, a professional hitman being hunted by his own kind. He is sent to a postcard of an Italian village to lie low until the storm passes. Here he befriends a priest and a whore who in their own ways help Jack with his soul searching.

It would be impossible to make an “Assassin trying to leave” film withoout cliche but none of them feel unnatural, even the beautiful prostitute with a heart of gold (a reccuring phenomenon that will never die) sits happily here, helping along an admirably simple story.

Both Clara (the prostitute and Father Benedetto see through Jack’s cover as a photographer, seeing the lie but letting it go until Jack is ready (forced) to reveal his true self.

Clooney must pick his roles carefully or it could be just that his real life character which seems affable and charming is only a short twist away from a host of roles. He never seems to bring any baggage with him which is a skill in itself. It’s difficult to remember a truly bad film (Ocean’s 13 and 14 to contradict that) he’s been involved with. Here he broods, drinks coffe and speaks broken Italian as well as anyone, he handles Rowan Joffe’s excellent screenplay superbly. Ignoring the rare dialogue, acting with furtive glances and icy stares, his body language easily confidant, poised and coiled for either a fight and a flight.

It’s refreshing to find a film this quiet, the music swells every so often but for the most part, shoe’s creak and clothe’s rustle as we hear the world as Jack does, listening for threats and making instant decisions based on his honed senses.

Like the butterflies tatooed on Jack’s body this is a beautiful film that flies by too fast.