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