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.

Back to School Part II #37: Can’t Hardly Wait (dir by Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont)


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Oddly enough, the late 90s and early 2000s saw a lot of movies about teenagers that all had strangely generic names.  She’s All That, Down To You, Drive Me Crazy, Head Over Heels, Get Over It, Bring It On … the list is endless.

And then you have the 1998 graduation party-themed Can’t Hardly Wait.  Can’t Hardly Wait has such a generic name that, when you first hear it, you could be forgiven for naturally assuming that it stars Freddie Prinze, Jr.  Of course, if you’ve actually seen the film, you know that it features almost everyone but Freddie Prinze, Jr.  This is one of those films where even the smallest roles are played by a recognizable face.  In fact, there’s so many familiar actors in this film that a good deal of them go uncredited.  Jenna Elfman, Breckin Meyer, Melissa Joan Hart, Jerry O’Connell, and Amber Benson may not show up in the credits but they’re all in the film.  In fact, you could argue that Melissa John Hart, playing an impossibly excited girl who is obsessed with getting everyone to sign her yearbook, and Breckin Meyer, playing an overly sensitive lead singer, provide the film with some of its comedic highlights.

(That said, perhaps the most credible cameo comes from Jerry O’Connell.  He plays a former high school jock who ruefully talks about how he can’t get laid in high school.  He’s so convincingly sleazy and full of self-pity that you find yourself wondering if maybe O’Connell was just playing himself.  Maybe he just stumbled drunkenly onto the set one day and started talking to anyone who would listen…)

Can’t Hardly Wait takes place at one huge high school graduation party, which is actually a pretty smart idea.  The best part of every teen movie is the party scene so why not make just make the entire movie about the party?  Almost every member of the graduating class is at this party and we get to see all of the usual types.  There’s the stoners, the jocks, the nerds, and the sarcastic kids who go to parties specifically so they can tell everyone how much they hate going to parties.  Eric Balfour shows up as a hippie.  Jason Segel eats a watermelon in the corner.  Sara Rue’s in the kitchen, complaining about how everyone’s a sheep.  Jamie Pressly drinks and assures her best friend that she’s at least as pretty as Gwynneth Paltrow.  (“And you’ve got way bigger boobs!” she adds, encouragingly.)  Outside, Selma Blair frowns as someone hits on her with bad line.

Of course, Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) and Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) are the main topic of conversation at the party.  For four years, Mike and Amanda were the school’s power couple but Mike decides to dump Amanda right before they graduate.  Mike feels that he’s going to have a great time in college and he doesn’t need any old high school commitments holding him down.  His best friends all agree to dump their girlfriends too.  Mike spends the party watching, in horror, as all of his friends go back on their promise.  Amanda, meanwhile, wanders around and wonders who she is now that she’s no longer Mike Dexter’s girlfriend.

Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) struggles to work up the courage to tell Amanda that he’s had a crush on her ever since the first day he saw her.  Meanwhile, Preston’s best friend — the reliably sarcastic Denise (Lauren Ambrose) — finds herself locked in an upstairs bathroom with Kenny “Special K” Fisher (Seth Green).  (Needless to say, Kenny is the only person who actually calls himself “Special K.”)  Kenny is obsessed with losing his virginity.  Denise, meanwhile, won’t stop talking about the sweet and dorky Kenny that she knew way back in elementary school.

And then there’s William Lichtner (Charlie Korsmo).  He’s spent his entire life being tormented by Mike and he specifically goes to the party looking for revenge.  However, he has a few beers and quickly becomes the most popular senior at the party.  He even gets a chance to bond with Mike…

Can’t Hardly Wait is a favorite of mine.  It’s one of those films that doesn’t add up too much but it’s so so damn likable that it doesn’t matter.  It’s full of smart and funny scenes and all the actors are incredibly likable.  If you’re not rooting for Preston and Amanda by the end of the movie then you have no heart.  In fact, Can’t Hardly Wait is a lot like Empire Records.  They may not be much depth to it but it’s so sincere and earnest that you can forgive it.

You can even forgive the generic name.

Guilty Pleasure No. 29: On The Line (dir by Eric Bross)


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Last night, as I watched Dead 7, I could not help but think about the 2001 film, On The Line.  Don’t get me wrong, On The Line does not feature any zombies and there’s next to no violence.  However, much like Dead 7, it does feature quite a few boy banders.  In fact, with the exception of JC Chasez, every member of *NSYNC makes an appearance in On The Line.  Lance Bass stars in the movie.  Joey Fatone plays his best friend.  Finally, at the end of the film, in a scene that is so homophobic that it practically screams 2001, Justin Timberlake and Chris Kirkpatrick show up as a flamboyant makeup artist and an even more flamboyant hairstylist.

Lance plays Kevin, a shy and somewhat nerdy advertising exec who lives in Chicago.  Kevin falls in love easily but he’s always been too shy to have a serious relationship.  One day, Kevin is returning home from work on the train when he starts talking to Abbey (Emanuelle Chriqui).  It turns out that they both love the Chicago Cubs and Al Green!  (Oh my God!  Who would have guessed that two people living in Chicago would both love the local sports team!?)  It also turns out that both Kevin and Abbey can name all the Presidents in order!  Obviously, they are meant to be!  The universe arranged for them to both be on the train at the same time so that they can get married, have children, and discuss the presidency of Rutherford Hayes while watching the Cubs and listening to Al Green.

Unfortunately, despite being a single guy who has just totally hit it off with a single girl who is obviously attracted to him, Kevin forgets to get her phone number.  The movie explains this by saying that Kevin is shy but if he’s so shy that he can’t even give out his phone number then how did he ever find the courage to tell Abbey that he loves Al Green in the first place?

(Actually, Abbey isn’t really single but her fiancée is such a jerk that she might as well be.  Anyone who has ever seen a movie knows that Abbey is not meant to marry a guy who spends all of his time on the phone, yelling, “Sell!  Sell!”)

Of course, if Kevin had gotten her phone number, there wouldn’t have been a movie.  So, instead, he recruits his loser friends (including Joey Fatone) to help him track down Abbey.  He puts up flyers all over Chicago.  A story about him appears in the newspaper.  Soon, the entire city is obsessed with whether or not Kevin will find this girl that he talked to for ten minutes.  However, Abbey apparently never watches TV or reads the newspaper because somehow, she doesn’t know all of this is going on…

There’s an interesting subtext to On The Line.  Lance Bass himself produced the film.  Five years after On The Line flopped at the box office, Lance officially came out as gay (and, it must be said, that whenever Kevin talks to Abbey, he comes across less like a future lover and more like every girl’s ideal gay best friend).  Lance has said that he was still deeply closeted when he made On The Line and there are times when the film seems to be almost desperate to convince us of Kevin’s (and, by association, Lance’s) heterosexuality.  In this context, that end credits scene with Chris and Justin, limp-wristed and speaking in exaggerated falsetto, is even ickier.  “Gay?” the film says to be saying, “If there was a gay person in On The Line, would Justin Timberlake be playing a makeup artist?  Would Chris Kirkpatrick be willing to appear as a hairdresser named Angelo?”

On The Line is not a particularly good film and yet, oddly, it’s one that I always find myself watching whenever I come across it on cable.  Lance may be miscast and he’s obviously uncomfortable in the majority of his scenes but he’s also likable.  You never believe for a second that Kevin and Abbey will last as a couple but Lance seems like a nice guy and Emmanuelle Chriqui is so pretty that you’re happy that they at least got to go on a date or two before breaking up and never seeing each other again.  They’re both pretty and it’s fun to watch pretty people talk to each other, even if they do lack a certain romantic chemistry.  As well, though his character is pretty obnoxious, Joey Fatone is still always fun to watch.

On The Line is no Dead 7 but it’s still watchable in its own stupid way.  I would suggest, however, skipping the end credits

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan

What Lisa Watched Last Night #112: Megachurch Murder (dir by Darin Scott)


Earlier tonight, I watched the latest Lifetime original film, Megachurch Murder!

MCMWhy Was I Watching It?

First off, it was on Lifetime.  And secondly, I had read that the film was supposedly based on Hamlet!

What Was It About?

Something’s rotten in the state of Denmark … Denmark, Georgia that is.  Shortly after resisting the efforts of Michael Beach to expand his church, Pastor Malcolm Jamal-Warner dies under mysterious circumstances.  Soon, Beach is having an affair with the pastor’s widow (Tamala Jones) and the pastor’s daughter (Shanica Knowles) is convinced that there’s been a murder.  Complicating things: Knowles is dating Beach’s son, Romeo Miller.

What Worked?

To be honest, the best thing about Megachurch Murder were the tweets.  This is one of those films that seemed to bring out the best of twitter.

I appreciated that the film pretended to be based on Hamlet, even though the story itself had next to nothing in common with Shakespeare’s play.  That said, two youth group leaders did show up as the Megachurch Murder equivalents of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Most of the actors seemed to just be going through the motions but Michael Beach did a good job in the role of Clay King.  He made for a great villain.

What Did Not Work?

All through the movie, whenever Hannah had to get away from it all, she always went to the exact same bridge.  At first, it was funny that she was always standing on that bridge.  But, after the 20th scene on that bridge, I started to wonder why nobody else in the town of Denmark ever seemed to use the bridge.  Finally, by the time that Clay was demanding to know where Hannah was, I found myself shouting at the TV, “She’s on the bridge!  She’s always on the damn bridge!”

Plus,  Romeo Miller … actually, to be honest, I think Romeo Miller could give a good performance if cast in the right role.  But, in this film, I kept expecting him to start talking about ICDC college.  Whenever he was comforting Hannah, I kept waiting for him to say, “You can major in criminal justice or homeland security…”

Finally, I was surprised to discover that, at the end of the film, people were still attending the church.  After three violent deaths, I’d probably change parishes.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

To be honest, and no one is more shocked by this than me, this is probably the first Lifetime film that I’ve ever watched that featured absolutely no moments that made me go, “Oh my God!  Just like me!”  I guess it’s because I was raised Catholic and didn’t have to deal with any murders while I was growing up.

It is true that, much like Hannah, I did go through my rebellious phase and I would snap at any adult who tried to speak to me.  However, Hannah had an excuse.  She was dealing with her father’s murder whereas, in my case, I was just a brat.  So, it really doesn’t count as a “OMG!  Just like me!” moment.

Lessons Learned

Big church = murder.

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