Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Up in the Air (dir by Jason Reitman)


There’s a lot of film bloggers out there who have a natural aversion to anything that Jason Reitman is associated with.

And listen, I understand.  The fact of the matter is that Jason Reitman probably does owe a lot of his success to the fact that people in the industry know and like his father.  And it’s also true that Jason Reitman does tend to specializes in making films that you’re either going to love or you’re going to hate.  His films mix drama and comedy and sentiment and snark and sometimes, his refusal to come down firmly on the side of either one can feel like a bit of a cop out.  There’s a quirkiness to many of his films and sometimes, it can come across as being a bit cutesy.  And I’ll even go as far as to agree with those who say that it’s been a while since Reitman’s made a really good film.  The most common complaint I hear about Reitman is that his first four films (Thank You For Smoking, Juno, Up In The Air, and Young Adult) were okay and then he let his good reviews go to his head.  Of course, some people — okay, a lot of people — will tell you that, of those four films, Juno’s overrated.

I get all of that and I actually agree with some of those points.  Reitman is a director who sometimes seems to have lost his way after his early successes.  I think the closest that Reitman’s come to giving us a good film post-Young Adult was with Tully and even then, that felt more like a Diablo Cody film than a Jason Reitman film.

But, with all of that in mind, I still really like Jason Reitman’s early films and I think that he still has the potential to once again be an important and interesting filmmaker.  Thank You For Smoking and Juno are better than many give them credit for being.  Charlize Theron has never been better than she was in Young Adult.  Finally, this morning, I rewatched 2009’s Up In The Air for the first time in a long time and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it holds up.

Up In The Air features George Clooney and Anna Kendrick.  Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, an obsessive traveler who boats about living a life without commitment.  Ryan works for a company that hires him out to fire people.  If your boss is too much of a pussy to tell you that you’ve been terminated to your face, he hires Ryan to do it for him.  Ryan specializes in trying to convince people that being fired is not a tragedy but an opportunity for a new beginning.  Ryan also has a side gig as a motivational speaker.  His speeches are largely about avoiding commitment and personal baggage.

Anna Kendrick plays Natalie Keener.  Natalie works for the same company as Ryan but, at the age of 23 and just out of college, she’s a lot less confident when it comes to destroying people’s livelihoods.  (“I’ve worked here for 17 years and I’m being fired by a 7th grader,” is one person’s response to being terminated by Natalie.)  Natalie has come up with a new plan where all firings will be done via Skype.  That way, the person doing the firing will never have to leave their office and won’t have to deal with the people they’ve fired one-on-one.  Ryan says he considers this proposal to be inhumane but mostly, he’s just worried that he’ll lose his traveling privileges if Natalie’s plan is instituted.

Ryan and Natalie travel the country.  Ryan teaches Natalie how to fire people and Natalie discovers that it’s not as easy to destroy someone’s life as she thought.  Everywhere they go, they deal with people who are facing economic uncertainty.  Ryan meets another frequent flyer, Alex (Vera Farmiga) and, after Alex reveals that she’s even less interested in commitment than Ryan, they begin an affair.  Ryan starts to fall in love with Alex and even invited her to attend his sister’s wedding with him.  However, Alex has a secret of her own.

One thing that I really like about Up in the Air is that Ryan and Natalie never end up sleeping together.  I remember, when I first saw the movie, I was convinced that it was going to happen.  After all, Ryan is handsome and charming and Natalie is attractive and, after her boyfriend dumps her, vulnerable.  I was cringing at the knowledge that there would eventually be some contrived scene where Natalie and Ryan end up getting drunk and then end up waking up in bed together and the end result would be Natalie going from being a well-rounded, multi-dimensional character to just being a plot device in Ryan’s journey to becoming a better man.  Well, there is a scene where Natalie and Ryan get drunk at the same time but it doesn’t lead to Natalie and Ryan becoming lovers and I respected Up in the Air for having enough respect for its characters to not do the convenient thing.

The other thing I liked about Up In The Air is that it’s one of the few films to make proper use of George Clooney’s deceptively smooth screen presence.  We all know that Clooney is handsome and charming but what makes him an appealing actor is that there’s always been hints that there’s a lot dorkiness and insecurity hiding underneath the suave facade.  Ryan may seem like he’s got it all together but, as the film progresses, you come to realize that he’s a lot more insecure and neurotic than he lets on.  All of his snarky comments have more to do with his own fear of failure than anything else.  Much as how the real life Clooney still sometimes seems as if he hasn’t fully gotten over being dismissed as just being another pretty face in the early days of his career, Ryan has never gotten over his dysfunctional childhood.  Instead of taking a risk on love, he instead obsesses on getting frequent flyer miles.  (At one point, Sam Elliott pops up out of nowhere and, in a scene that you could really only expect to find in a Jason Reitman film, gives Ryan a pep talk.)  There’s a sadness to Ryan, one that seems to come from deep inside of his soul.  Clooney does an excellent job of bringing that sadness to the surface while still giving a likable and compelling performance.

Up In The Air was released at a time when America was stuck in what seemed like a never-ending recession.  Despite the fact that the news media and the politicians were insisting that things were on the verge of getting better (or, at the very least, boasting that unemployed actors were no longer “job-locked,” whatever the Hell that meant), many people believed that their best days were officially behind them.  A lot of the contemporary reviews of the film focused on what it had to say about living in a time of economic uncertainty.  That was ten years ago and we’re now living in a strong economy but, even so, Up In The Air still resonates.  Reitman includes scenes in which people talk about what it was like to be fired.  The majority of these people were not actors but were instead people recruited from the local unemployment office and they were speaking about their own experiences.  The pain and resentment on their faces and in their voices is so palpable that it’s actually a bit jarring when J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis show up, playing employees who are “terminated” by Ryan.  I guess I should admit that I’ve never actually been fired from a job but, after watching Up In The Air, it’s not something that I would ever want to experience.

Up In The Air holds up well.  Reitman’s direction is quirky but effective and he does a good job of mixing comedy in with the drama.  (Wisely, whenever he has to make a choice, he emphasizes the drama over the comedy, instead of trying to maintain some sort of mythical 50/50 balance between them.)  This film features one of George Clooney’s best performances and he has a really likable chemistry with Vera Farmiga.  Anna Kendrick also does a great job with a character who could have become a stereotype in less skilled hands.  Finally, along with Juno and The Gift, this film is one of the reasons why I always have a hard time watching Jason Bateman in any film or show where he’s cast as hero.  Bateman plays Ryan’s boss and the character is so smarmy (and Bateman does such a good job of playing him) that he’ll make your skin crawl.

It’s been a while since Up In The Air was first released and Jason Reitman’s career has had its ups and downs.  Still, regardless of whatever film Reitman makes next, Up In The Air remains a classic of the aughts.

There’s something strange going on in the Ghostbusters: Afterlife Trailer


So here we are with yet another Ghostbusters film that wants to take things in a different direction. We’ve had guys fight, girls fight, and now, we’ll have kids fight. The could be what the franchise needs right now. Shows like Stranger Things and films like IT: Chapter One have shown that kids in stories pull in audiences. Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully) takes over directing duties here with his dad, Ivan, peeking in now and then.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife takes place in a more rural area, where a family (led by The Leftovers’ Carrie Coon) have moved in. The kids stumble on some strange events in town, and I guess this leads them to finding out who they’re related to. The Ghost traps, the Photon Packs and Ecto-1 are all still there, though I’ll admit I’m going to miss Kate McKinnon’s geeky gadget girl here. Hopefully, they’ll be able to make up with that in one of these characters, who could something of a TMNT Donatello-like whiz kid to the team.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife, starring Carrie Coon (Avengers: Infinity War), Paul Rudd (Ant-Man and the Wasp), McKenna Grace (Captain Marvel, The Haunting of Hill House), and Finn Wolfhard (IT: Chapter One, IT:Chapter Two) will hit cinemas in the Summer of 2020.

Here’s A Teaser For Something That Might Be Ghostbusters 3


So, earlier today, Twitter was all abuzz because of a minute-long teaser for a film that won’t be coming out until 2020.  That title of that film …. well, actually, it doesn’t have an “official” title yet but, for now, people are just calling it Ghostbusters 3.

That’s right.  After all the controversy and drama that we went through with the last attempt to revive (or reboot, depending on which side you were on) the Ghostbusters franchise, it is happening again.  Except this time, according to Entertainment Weekly, it appears that the new film is going to be a “direct sequel” to the first two Ghostbusters films and it’s going to be directed by Jason Reitman.  Jason Reitman, of course, is the son of Ivan Reitman.  He’s also a director who, after his last few films, could really use another hit.

(Apparently, audiences in 2018 really weren’t interested in watching a movie about a forgotten 1988 presidential campaign.  Who would have guessed?)

The teaser itself is pretty simple.  There’s a storm.  There’s a barn.  There’s an old vehicle with a Ghostbusters logo.  Here’s what is not in the teaser.  First off, there’s no sign of the cast of the 2016 reboot, which I guess will make the YouTube commentariat happy.  There’s also no sign of Bill Murray, Dan Ayrkroyd, or even Ernie Hudson.  In the past, Bill Murray has said that he wasn’t interested in doing a third Ghostbusters films and, considering that Bill Murray pretty much does whatever he wants, you have to kind of wonder if he’ll actually come back or if maybe Ghostbusters 3 is just going to be Dan Aykroyd teaching his grandson (probably played by Pete Davidson) how to hunt and trap ghosts.

One of the many theories on twitter is that the film will bring the two sets of Ghostbusters together, which I assume means that we’ll get hilarious scenes of Aykroyd and Melissa McCarthy teaming up to complain about Chinese food.  To be honest, though, a crossover is not really that bad of an idea and it certainly would be fun to watch people’s heads explode as a result.  In fact, if this new Ghostbusters film is anything like the last Ghostbusters film, watching people’s heads explode will probably be more fun than actually watching the film itself.

(For his part, Ivan Reitman told EW that this film would be a “passing of the torch,” which could either refer to a new group of Ghostbusters or maybe just the fact that Ivan’s giving his son a job.)

In other words, who knows!?

But here’s the teaser.

Here’s The Trailer For The Front Runner!


As a director, Jason Reitman has had a tough few years.  After directing two best picture nominees — Juno and Up in the Air — and one film that should have been nominated (Young Adult), Reitman stumbled a bit with both Labor Day and Men, Women, & Children.

However, this year, it appears that he may be making a bit of a comeback.  Earlier this year, he reunited with Charlize Theron for Tully and directed her to some of the best reviews that she’s gotten in a while.  (The critical reaction to his directing was a bit more mixed.)  Now, with The Front Runner, Reitman is returning to screen just in time for the Oscar season.

The Front Runner is a film about a presidential candidate (Hugh Jackman) who gets wrapped up in a scandal.  Jackman has been getting some Oscar buzz.  To be honest, most films about political campaigns tend to fall flat, largely because filmmakers always seem to get too caught up in their own biases to actually craft a compelling film.  (Remember The Ides of March?)  Hopefully, this film won’t get bogged down in ideology because I’d like Reitman’s comeback to continue.

Here’s the trailer:

Shattered Politics #77: Thank You For Smoking (dir by Jason Reitman)


Thank_you_for_smoking_PosterI have always hated those Truth.com commercials.  Truth.com is an organization that claims to be dedicated to eradicating smoking.  Their smug commercials are essentially the height of hipster douchebaggery, a bunch of self-consciously cool people wandering around and harassing random people about whether or not they smoke.  And then, of course, there was the commercial where they all gathered outside a tobacco company and pretended to be dead.  Of course, the truth about Truth.com is that they are essentially the same people who, in high school, would get offended whenever anyone wore a short skirt.  I really can not stand people like that.  (And don’t even get me started on those assholes who appear in the Above The Influence commercials.)  Myself, I don’t smoke because I have asthma.  But, seriously, whenever I see a Truth.com commercial, I’m tempted to run down to 711 and start.

And so maybe that’s why I like the 2005 comedy Thank You For Smoking.

The hero of Thank You For Smoking is Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart), a lobbyist for the tobacco industry, who is first seen appearing on a talk show and winning over a hostile audience by announcing that the tobacco industry is going to be investing millions in researching way to keep young people from smoking and shaking the hand of a teenage honor student who is dying from lung cancer.  Over the course of the film, Nick shows us how he does business, everything from defending tobacco companies on talk shows to convincing a former Marlboro Man-turned-cancer-patient to drop his law suit.  When Nick isn’t working, he’s hanging out with his best friends (who are lobbyists for both the liquor and the gun industries), trying to bond with his son (Cameron Bright), or having sex with a reporter (Katie Holmes).

Now, in most movies, Nick Naylor would be the villain.  However, in Thank You For Smoking, Nick becomes a hero by default, if just because everyone who disagrees with him is even worse than he is.  Add to that, Nick has the benefit of being played by Aaron Eckhart while all of his opponents are played by balding actors with ugly beards.

Another reason that I liked Thank You For Smoking was because the main villain was a senator from Vermont and it’s about time somebody stood up to the tyranny of Vermont.  Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) has built a career out of campaigning against the tobacco industries and why shouldn’t he?  Who, other than Nick Naylor, is willing to defend them?  Finistirre’s latest plan is to change the law so that every pack of cigarettes has to be branded with a skull and crossbones warning.

When Nick and Finistirre finally face off, it’s a battle between those who believe in allowing people the freedom to make their own choices and those who hide their totalitarian impulse behind claims that they’re working for the greater good.

Thank You For Smoking was Jason Reitman’s first film.  And while it may be a bit too episodic and it frequently struggles to maintain a consistent tone, it’s still a lot better than both Labor Day and Men, Women, & Children.

Back to School #68: Juno (dir by Jason Reitman)


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(SPOILERS BELOW)

Even though he’s a likable actor and has appeared in several films that I enjoyed, I am always a little bit uneasy whenever I see Jason Bateman on screen.  To me, he will always be Mark, the seemingly perfect husband from the 2007 best picture nominee Juno.  Mark and his wife Vanessa (Jennifer Garner) are unable to conceive so they agree to adopt the unborn child of pregnant teenager Juno (Ellen Page).

At first, Mark seems like the nicest guy on the planet.  Unlike his wife, Mark appears to be laid back and friendly.  Whereas Vanessa tries to maintain a polite distance between herself and Juno, Mark quickly befriends her.  It’s a familiar dynamic.  Vanessa is the one who keeps the household running.  Mark is the one who keeps the household fun.  Vanessa is the adult and Mark is the guy who is young at heart.  It’s not surprising that Juno finds herself feeling closer to Mark than to his wife.

Much like Juno, those of us in the audience are initially fooled into preferring Mark to his wife.  For me, the first indication that Mark was not quite the great guy he seemed to be came when he attempted to convince Juno that Herschell Gordon Lewis was a better director than Dario Argento.  But even that could be forgiven because, as Mark made his arguments, he revealed that he had a pretty good library of DVDs from Something Weird Video.

(Seriously, at that moment, I really hoped that the movie would just spend five minutes letting us see every title in Mark’s movie collection.)

But then there was that moment.  After telling Juno that he was planning on leaving his wife, he looked at her and asked, “How do you think of me?”  And I have to give Jason Bateman a lot of credit.  He delivered that line with just the right amount of needy selfishness.  It’s rare that you see an actor — especially one who has essentially built a career out of being likable — so fully commit to playing a reprehensible character.  When Mark reveals his true nature, it’s shocking because we were so ready to like Mark.  With that one line, we’re forced to re-examine the entire film and we realize that, much like Juno, we allowed ourselves to be fooled by Mark.

Juno is a film about growing up.  Vanessa is a grown up.  Mark refuses to grow up.  And, by the end of the film, Juno has grown up enough to know that she’s not ready to be a mother but Vanessa is.  Juno has grown up enough that she can allow herself to get close to the baby’s father, sweet-natured track star Paulie (played by Michael Cera).

For many people, Juno seems to be a love-it-or-hate-it type of movie.  There rarely seems to be a middle ground.  It seems that for every person who appreciates Ellen Page’s sardonic line readings, there’s another one who finds her character to be abrasive.  For every one who enjoys Diablo Cody’s script, there seems to be another one who finds it to be overwritten.  The same holds true for Jason Reitman’s direction.  Viewers either respond to his quirky vision or else they dismiss him as being far too showy for the film’s own good.

As for me, I’m firmly and unapologetically pro-Juno.  I think Juno is one of the best films of the past ten years and I think that, eventually, both the character of Juno and Ellen Page’s performance will be viewed as being iconic.  When future historians are watching movies for clues as to what it was like to be alive during the first decade of the 21st Century, Juno is one of the films that they will watch.

And when they do, hopefully, they will understand that Jason Bateman was just an actor giving a good performance as a bad person.

Trailer: Men, Women, & Children


Here’s the trailer for Men, Women, & Children.  I’m really looking forward to this film, even if the trailer does bring to mind memories of last year’s terrible Disconnect.  I’m an unapologetic fan of director Jason Reitman and it seems like, as opposed to his previous film Labor Day, this is material that should be perfect for Reitman’s style.

Believe it or not, Adam Sandler has gotten some dark horse Oscar buzz for his performance here.  Personally, on the basis of films like Funny People, Punch-Drunk Love, and Reign Over Me, I think that Sandler has it in him to be a far better actor than most people want to admit.  He just needs the right director.  Considering that he’s gotten career-best work out of everyone from George Clooney to Jason Bateman to Charlize Theron to Patton Oswalt, Reitman could very well be that director.

Lisa Marie Picks The 50 Best Films of The Past 3 Years


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As of this month, I have been reviewing films here at the Shattered Lens for 3 years.  In honor of that anniversary, I thought I’d post my picks for the 50 best films that have been released in the U.S. since 2010.

Without further ado, here’s the list!

  1. Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky)
  2. Exit Through The Gift Shop (directed by Banksy)
  3. Hanna (directed by Joe Wright)
  4. Fish Tank (directed by Andrea Arnold)
  5. Higher Ground (directed by Vera Farmiga)
  6. Shame (directed by Steve McQueen)
  7. Anna Karenina (directed by Joe Wright)
  8. The Cabin In The Woods (directed by Drew Goddard)
  9. 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle)
  10. Somewhere (directed by Sofia Coppola)
  11. Life of Pi (directed by Ang Lee)
  12. Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese)
  13. Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan)
  14. Animal Kingdom (directed by David Michod)
  15. Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik)
  16. The Artist (directed by Michel Hazanavicius)
  17. The Guard (directed by John Michael McDonagh)
  18. Bernie (directed by Richard Linklater)
  19. The King’s Speech (directed by Tom Hooper)
  20. Bridesmaids (directed by Paul Feig)
  21. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (directed by Thomas Alfredson)
  22. Django Unchained (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
  23. Never Let Me Go (directed by Mark Romanek)
  24. Toy Story 3 (directed by Lee Unkrich)
  25. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (directed by Niels Arden Oplev)
  26. Young Adult (directed by Jason Reitman)
  27. Sucker Punch (directed by Zack Snyder)
  28. The Master (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
  29. Incendies (directed by Denis Villeneuve)
  30. Melancholia (directed by Lars Von Trier)
  31. Super (directed by James Gunn)
  32. Silver Linings Playbook (directed by David O. Russell)
  33. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (directed by Edgar Wright)
  34. The Last Exorcism (directed by Daniel Stamm)
  35. Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes)
  36. Easy A (directed by Will Gluck)
  37. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 (directed by David Yates)
  38. The Avengers (directed by Joss Whedon)
  39. How To Train Your Dragon (directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois)
  40. Win Win (directed by Thomas McCarthy)
  41. Les Miserables (directed by Tom Hooper)
  42. Take This Waltz (directed by Sarah Polley)
  43. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (directed by Werner Herzog)
  44. Rust and Bone (directed by Jacques Audiard)
  45. Cosmopolis (directed by David Cronenberg)
  46. Ruby Sparks (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris)
  47. Brave (directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman)
  48. Martha Marcy May Marlene (directed by Sean Durkin)
  49. Jane Eyre (directed by Cary Fukunaga)
  50. Damsels in Distress (directed by Whit Stillman)

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Young Adult (dir. by Jason Reitman)


David Fincher’s rehash of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo isn’t the only “feel bad movie of the holidays.”  There’s also Young Adult, a rather dark comedy that reunites the director and screenwriter behind Juno, Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody.

Young Adult is the story of Mavis (played winningly by Charlize Theron), a former high school mean girl who has grown up to be a lonely, alcoholic ghost writer of young adult literature.  Mavis is struggling to write her latest book when she gets an e-mail announcing that her former high school boyfriend Buddy (Patrick Wilson, who defines dreamy) is not only married but his wife has just given birth to their first child.  Mavis does what we would all do if we found ourselves in similar circumstances: she promptly returns to her old hometown and plots to break up Buddy’s happy marriage*.  (Or as Mavis puts it: “We can beat this thing.”) 

Once she returns to her hometown, Mavis not only struggles to reconnect with Buddy but also runs into another former high school classmate, Matt (Patton Oswalt, who deserves every sort of award nomination that there is for his performance here).  As opposed to Mavis, Matt was an outcast in high school who, during his senior year, was beaten and permanently crippled by a bunch of bullies who had decided that he was gay.  Much as Mavis has won fame as a writer, Matt has won his own sort of fame as “the hate crime guy.”  Despite themselves, Mavis and Matt start to bond over their own inability to move on with their lives past high school.

As you might guess from the plot synopsis above, Young Adult is a not a laugh-out-loud comedy.  Instead, it’s a comedy of awkward moments and “Oh no, she didn’t!” moments.  It’s not always an easy movie to recommend because Mavis is an apologetically unlikable character.  However, as the film goes on, you can’t help but respect the fearless way that the film tackles a character that doesn’t really offer up much chance for a crowd-pleasing redemption.  Obviously, for this to work, Charlize Theron has to give a brilliant performance in the lead role and she does.  However, the film truly belongs to Patton Oswalt, who plays his role with a perfect combination of anger, self-pity, and sarcasm.  He provides this film with its own fractured heart and we’re all better off for it.

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* Okay, technically, maybe not everybody would do that.  But I would.