A staggered release schedule, the mother of all blizzards and those pesky holidays kept me from heading out to the theaters to see Up in the Air until this weekend…finally. I’m a few weeks behind the buzz on this one, so I doubt I’ll be able to add anything new to the discussion, but I’ll never shirk my duty to recommend something worth your time and money. Up in the Air comes in for the landing as advertised — how nice for a change! It’s a well-written (from a novel by Walter Kim), well-directed (by Jason Reitman), well-acted contemporary drama (with some genuinely funny moments) about human relationships in our modern technological world still reeling from economic collapse. The three main characters are all extremely likable yet complex and flawed. It’s refreshing to see a movie of this type where characters don’t do and say exactly what you think they will, and George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick make for a dynamite trio. There are times, however, where it does seem to devolve into “The Oh Poor George Clooney…it must really be hard being George Clooney” Show, but in a strange way it makes his character even more endearing.
While much of the buzz has surrounded Anna Kendrick (oh, one of the Twilight kids can actually act!) I think the biggest spotlight belongs on Vera Farmiga, who has the most challenging role. It’s her character’s story arc that not only transforms Clooney’s character but also offers a sobering look at what type of parallel life Kendrick’s character might end up with if she doesn’t follow her dreams. It’s the first time Farmiga has had a chance to shine like this since The Departed, and after a few years of being regulated to tortured mother roles (see Joshua, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas or Orphan) she makes the most of the opportunity here. Farmiga’s is a role for which she will be remembered for years to come and this Up in the Air is a flight I imagine will be circling the runway of people’s minds for quite some time.
In other movie viewing news, I also saw Pixar’s Up (not in the air, but on DVD). Family, friends and readers know that I’m no gushing fan of animation, but this one was quite good and I would rank very high in the Pixar canon, probably just below what I feel is their unrivaled masterpiece, Ratatouille. Up features a nice story, charming visuals, a fantastic music score and some genuinely funny dog-centric humor, though I felt it lacked that je ne sais quoi that a certain culinary rat possessed.
Elsewhere in an unexpected turn of events, I received a screener of the much ballyhooed and clumsily titled Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. Precious is a sadistically exploitative piece about a young woman growing up in the Harlem ghetto of the 1980’s. Poorly written, haphazardly directed, shoddily edited and at times narratively incoherent, this thing is a total mess thanks to auteur Lee Daniels. The most shocking thing, however, is that somehow the two lead actresses (and in fact, the entire cast and crew) were under the grand delusion that they were making “THE most important film ever made” and they literally act the crap out of…this crap. I would completely regulate this to the trash heap if it weren’t for the fact that underneath all the depraved atrocities on-screen there is a rather simple and important message about overcoming hardships through education and connecting with other people.
Also, after nearly two hours of painful histrionics, there is a surprisingly well-acted scene at the end where the characters played by Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique and Mariah Carey (of all people) sit down for the most horrifying of chats. The subtle nuances of the performances in this scene…the looks on these three women’s faces…it’s certainly not precious, but it is priceless. And it made me realize, Precious is more than just some nightmarish Oprah-fied version of the worst after-school special you ever saw…it’s a disturbing look into the power of Group Think. But, no, it’s not the toxic Group Think of the ghetto that holds people down generation after generation, but the toxic Group Think of a cast and crew who have convinced themselves they have made something great…something….precious, when in fact all they have accomplished is to exploit those who they desired to uplift.
Lessons learned from the movies this long holiday weekend: Movies with “Up” in the title are sure bets…but it’s still a good rule of thumb (despite Herzog’s recent BLt:PoCNO) to stay far far away from movies with colons (:) in the title.
Written by David H. Schleicher
Yeah, I found Precious a horrific film (and not in the way it was intended), yet I would absolutely give Mo’Nique an Oscar and would nominate Gabby Sidibe. They may be in service of evil, but they are just too magnetic and committed for me to do anything but marvel at them even as I want to tear out my eyes with every line they say.
Up in the Air is I think the last ’09 theatrical release I’ll see before working out a list; there’s a handful of films on Netflix that I’ll watch (The Headless Woman, Summer Hours), but I’ve pretty much given up on seeing The White Ribbon, 24 City, 35 Rhums and some others until they hit home video.
Jake, their performances (and even Mariah Carey to a lesser extent) were what made the film watchable. I think they deserve nominations, though they wouldn’t be my picks for the best of the year…and the film was just too atrocious to really rally behind them.
I’d be interested to see what you think of UP IN THE AIR after you see it. –DHS
Your “colon in the title” rule is generally correct in all forms of media (except maybe video games). If the title can’t be summed up more succinctly, it often points to trouble.
Well, I can only comment on UP, since I’ve not seen the other two. Glad to hear you liked it, as it was one of my favorites of the year. I’ve not read you long enough to know your take on WALL-E, but I’d be curious how you compare it to UP (and RATATOUILLE, for that matter). All three are fairly equivalent, in my estimation, but I’m always intrigued to see how they stack up with others.
Oh, and while I’m at it, one more thing I’d…SQUIRREL!
Troy, WALL-E was a film I had a hard time connecting with…though it certainly had its grand moments of imagination. I would rank that behind RATATOUILLE and UP. –DHS
I found “Up in the Air” to be surprisingly sad. I didn’t expect a happy ending, but (and perhaps due to the talent of the cast), it seemed especially upsetting that each character never quite got what they wanted. Each of them reached new plateaus in their lives throughout the course of the movie. However, I found myself thinking as I left the theater, “how pitiful and sad it was that their lives are this way.”
Jayme, there was some sadness and heartbreak indeed…but I don’t think UP IN THE AIR was “sad” — it showed that no matter what your dreams are or how hard you stick to a personal philosophy, life will throw you a curveball and you better be ready to rethink things and adapt. I think that is a very valuable lesson. –DHS
Finally got to see Up in the Air. I wasn’t as positive on it as you, but all three main performances are among my favorites for the year and Reitman’s direction has vastly improved from his first two efforts.
Jake, yes, it was Reitman’s best. He’s not a “great” director, but he has evolved into a very good director of “performances.” –DHS
David, – I pretty much agree with you on “Up in the Air”, nice performances, and as you mention Vera Farmiga is a standout. An intelligent script and decent direction from Reitman. I guess I liked “Precious” better than you, though I agree the editing was a horror. For me, the performances held the film together and made it worthwhile. Haven’t see “UP” yet but like you I am no big fan of “Wall-E.”
John, UP is about people (animated people, but with real feelings at least) and well, dogs, and who doesn’t like dogs – especially talking ones? I have a hard time connecting to robots (especially robots who pretend to fall in love), so WALL-E left me cold, though visually it was interesting to look at. –DHS