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.

Film Review: Missing Link (dir by Chris Butler)


The year is 1886 and Sir Lionel Frost (Hugh Jackman) is the world’s greatest adventurer.

Or, at least, that’s what he says.  Actually, Sir Lionel may have made a name for himself and gained some popularity as a result of his many adventures but his fellow explorers and adventurers don’t take him seriously.  They view Sir Lionel as being little more than a self-promoter and they’re largely unimpressed with the all the time that he’s devoted to searching for mythical beasts like The Loch Ness Monster and lost lands like El Dorado.  Sir Lionel desperately wants to join the London-based Society of Great Men but the snobbish Lord Piggot-Dunceby (Stephen Fry) refuses to accept his application.

When Sir Lionel receives a letter from someone in America who claims to have tracked down the legendary Sasquatch, Sir Lionel and Lord Piggot-Duncey make a bet.  If Sir Lionel can prove that the Sasquatch exists, he will be allowed to join the Society.  Sir Lionel heads off to America while Lord Piggot-Dunceby promptly hires an evil bounty hunter named Willard Stenk (Timothy Olyphant) to prevent him from accomplishing his mission.  As Lord Piggot-Dunceby explains to his assistant, Mr. Collick (Matt Lucas), the world is changing too quickly.  If Sir Lionel isn’t stopped, people might start to believe in things like evolution or women’s rights.

When Sir Lionel arrives in America, he promptly starts searching for the Sasquatch and, amazingly enough, it doesn’t take him very long to find him.  It turns out that the Sasquatch — who Sir Lionel names Mr. Link — not only speaks remarkably good English but he’s also the one who wrote to Sir Lionel in the first place.  As played by Zach Galifianakis, Mr. Link is a rather laid back and good-natured Sasquatch.  In some ways, Mr. Link is surprisingly worldly and, in other ways, he’s rather naive.  He takes everything that he hears literally, which poses a problem since Sir Lionel has a tendency towards sarcasm.  It also turns out that Mr. Link is lonely but he thinks that he might be related to the Himalayan Yetis.  And Mr. Link thinks that Sir Lionel is just the man to help him get from America to Asia!

Sir Lionel reluctantly agrees.  Accompanying them on their journey is Sir Lionel’s former girlfriend, Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana).  And pursuing them, every step of the way, is Lord Piggot-Dunceby and Willard Stenk.

Missing Link is an enjoyable and undeniably cute stop-motion animated film.  It was produced by Laika, the same animation outfit that previously gave us Kubo and The Two Strings.  While Missing Link is never as memorable or emotionally resonant as Kubo, it’s still a good-hearted film and entertaining enough that an adult can watch it without wanting to tear their hair out.  Blessed with impressively detailed animation and the comedic vocal talents of Hugh Jackman, Stephen Fry, Timothy Olyphant, and Zach Galifianikis, Missing Link has enough funny moments and clever lines that most audiences should be able to overlook the fact that the story itself sometimes feels a bit haphazard in its construction.  Much like the Sasquatch at the center of its story, Missing Link is a rather laid back film.  If Kubo was a carefully-constructed work of art, Missing Link feels like it was almost thrown together at random.  The film is at its best once it reaches the Himalayas, where the humor becomes very barbed and Emma Thompson steals the show in a sharp-witted cameo.

I enjoyed Missing Link.  It’s just too sweet-nartured not to like.

Here Are The 2017 Annie Award Nominations!


On December 4th, the Annie Award nominations were announced.  The Annies honor the year’s best in animation.  This year, just like almost everyone else who has handed out an award, the Annies are very appreciative of Coco.

Anyway, there are a lot of nominations so instead of posting them all below, I’m just going to post a few key categories.  For a full list, check out the post at Awardscircuit.

Best Animated Feature

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
DreamWorks Animation

Cars 3
Pixar Animation Studios

Coco
Pixar Animation Studios

Despicable Me 3
Illumination

The Boss Baby
DreamWorks Animation

Best Animated Feature-Independent

In This Corner of the World
Taro Maki, GENCO, Inc. and Masao Maruyama,
MAPPA Co., Ltd

Loving Vincent
BreakThru Films, Production Company Trademark
Films, Co-Production Company

Napping Princess
Nippon TV
The Big Bad Fox & Other Tales
Folivari / Panique! / Studiocanal

The Breadwinner
Cartoon Saloon / Aircraft Pictures / Melusine
Productions

Voice Acting In An Animated Feature

Nick Kroll in Captain Underpants

Anthony Gonzalez in Coco

Saara Chaudry in The Breadwinner

Laara Sadiq in The Breadwinner

Zach Galifianakis in The Lego Batman Movie

For the 10 Year Old in All of Us: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Warner Brothers 2017)


cracked rear viewer

lego1

Before I start this post, allow me to introduce you to today’s co-reviewer:

james

This is my young friend James. I first met him when I was working with his mother. He was a shy three-year-old whose father had disavowed him. He was mistrustful of most adults, but for whatever reason, he took a liking to me, and “adopted” me as his best friend. I’ve become somewhat of a mentor to him, and we have lots of fun going places like Chuck E. Cheese, the park, the zoo, and the movies. He’s ten now, and a big Lego fan, so naturally we saw THE LEGO MOVIE together. When I asked him if he wanted to see THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, he got super-excited. I must admit I was too, being a huge Batmaniac myself.

So today we went to check it out. James told me his school friends said it was “cool”…

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