smart spending

Jobless workers get gig on silver screen

Jay MacDonald Ah, the holidays! Twinkling colored lights! Festive carolers!

And now, add one more to the list: Hollywood filmmakers turning our bedtime into bedlam with visions of the horrors that await us when the world ends -- or you happen upon some bad sushi at Ralph's.

Yep, it's disaster movie season again, winter edition.

Over the years, we've sufficiently let the waist out of our winter solstice celebrations to make room for blockbuster disaster movies. Something for the kids, I suppose -- and by that I mean the 13-year-old producers who've been left home alone in Hollywood.

“You want something scarier than a 10.0 earthquake? Try 10.2 percent unemployment.”

I remember finding it odd back when "Titanic" figuratively collided with every available multiplex in December 1997. Seasonal horror flicks featuring crazed Santa slashers soon followed, further dampening the spirit of peace and hope that used to carry us through the winter doldrums until the tulips bloomed.

Trust me, we won't make it to tulip season on what scant rays of light emit from this year's holiday blockbusters.

In "2012," John Cusack and Amanda Peet struggle to sustain our species when the cataclysm foretold by the ancient Mayans unleashes tsunamis, volcanoes, continental shifts and an embarrassment of special effects. This was one day that Ferris Bueller should have taken off.

It gets worse in "The Road," the lighthearted musical version of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel. After reading the book, I thought fleetingly about emptying the bank account, stocking up on Spam and Sterno and heading for high ground. So I'm glad they turned that dark ride into a musical. It's Randy Newman at his best! I wish.

Breath of fresh air

What's really behind holiday disaster movies?

My guess is, we need the eggnog of divertissement this time of year rather than the latte of clarity. The fact that we've gone from sinking luxury liners to rearranging the landmasses probably speaks to a similar quickening of our economic situation.

You want something scarier than a 10.0 earthquake? Try 10.2 percent unemployment.

If you sensed I was headed into the light, you're right. This ray of winter sunshine comes in the form of a decidedly different holiday movie, one that's likely to see us through to spring.

It's called "Up in the Air," opens Christmas Day and stars George Clooney as a professional hatchet man who axes employees to spare bosses the unpleasantness. When Clooney's job is threatened by new tele-firing technology, he takes his would-be replacement, played by Vera Farmiga, on the road to show her the reality of his work.

Think Ebenezer Scrooge meets George Bailey, updated.

Director Jason Reitman, the 2007 Oscar nominee for "Juno," worked on developing Walter Kirn's 2001 novel for seven years, thinking it would become a satire along the lines of "Thank You for Smoking."

But when he prepared to shoot the film last March, America was awash in newly unemployed workers, no laughing matter then or now.

So what did he do? He hired the jobless.

Unforgettable faces

Reitman placed help-wanted ads in Detroit and St. Louis -- two of the nation's hardest-hit communities -- for everyday Marys and Moes who had been laid off and could use some work.

You'll see 25 of them seated across from Clooney in "Up in the Air," re-enacting the moment they were canned as Clooney runs down their severance package and offers words of condolence and encouragement.

I'm willing to bet we'll never forget their faces.

Nor are we likely to forget the title song, a melancholy ballad that middle-aged St. Louis resident Kevin Renick composed after losing his job and slipped to Reitman on a cassette tape.

Don't get me wrong; blockbusters have their place in the merry media mix we use to brush the discontent off our winter coats. But like eggnog, they can be fattening and hard on the heart.

This year, "Up in the Air" sounds more up my alley, a latte of hope for a brighter New Year.

If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.

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