Friday, February 26, 2010

Up in the Air: Up in My Heart

Jason Reitman,George Clooney,oscar nominated,dramedy

There are ten films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar this year. Think about it: TEN. There are usually half that many nominated. The Academy will have a difficult decision to make this year; all ten of the films are (obviously) different, in terms of genre, style, and levels of "good"ness. Jason Reitman is finally nominated this year, for his modern dramedy Up in the Air. George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham, a perpetually traveling expert at firing people. When an up and coming co-worker (Anna Kendrick) shakes things up by suggesting firing by teleconference, his world of airports, hotels, and airplanes is threatened. To try and salvage his way of life, he takes her on a trip to show her what it's really like. Along the way, Ryan forms a relationship with Alex, a fellow cross-continent trekker, and attempts to bond with his sisters. Ultimately, Ryan finds out the best ways to interact with those around him, and starts to find some small comforts in finding "home."

It's honestly an interesting film. It's partly a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the country's current economic situation, as well as our blasé sensibilities when it comes to travel. One of Ryan's primary goals in life is to accumulate 10 million miles traveled, in order to gain some vague sense of prestige, as well as his place as the seventh (and youngest) person to achieve this "honor." He makes several references to the fact that he's traveled more miles than it would take to get to the Moon, but treats it as a joke. That's a lot of miles, a lot of travel, and he gathers miles like philatelists gather stamps, or numismatics gather coins. It's a hobby which becomes a way of life; he doesn't mind his job, at all. He takes offense to Natalie's (Kendrick) idea to teleconference their contracted firings, because he doesn't want to be in one place for too long.

Jason Reitman knows how to direct a good movie. And he should, given that he's Ivan Reitman's kid, the mad genius behind Ghostbusters and Stripes. However, he's taken a different stylistic path, choosing to produce and direct quirky, character-driven dramas with plenty of comedy. His previous films, Juno and Thank You for Smoking are both at once hilarious and down to earth; based on pure character and dialogue, with understated camera work and set design. He takes care to showcase the performance of his actors, allowing his directing, the costumes, editing, and general mise-en-scéne enhance the characters rather than overshadow them. All too often a director will focus on style and forsake substance; there's no reason that you can't do both, and Reitman proves it yet again.

Clooney is brilliant as always; he's transitioning quite well into the "older" gentleman roles, accepting the fact that, as a non-Highlander human, he's going to get older. This isn't to say that he's "old," or grandpa-ish. He still projects strength and energy; however, he finds himself in a situation that he's so far withdrawn from that he barely knows how to think about it. He manages to flounder without struggling, which is no small feat.

Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick are powerful juxtapositions in their characters; Kendrick is young and inexperienced, yet bursting with ideas and a desire to make her mark. Farmiga is more experienced, both as an actress and in her character, but she's a great companion for Clooney's character. Ultimately, she's simultaneously more grounded and much more detached than even he, much to his disappointment.

Jason Bateman, J.K. Simmons, Zach Galifinakis, Sam Elliott, and Danny McBride each have memorable cameos; Bateman as Clooney's boss, J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifinakis as employees that Clooney must fire as part of his job, Sam Elliott as an airline pilot, and McBride as Clooney's future brother-in-law. Although their roles are brief, they help expand and root Clooney's character, giving him someone to interact with. Luckily, he finds himself surrounded by capable co-stars, each playing off one another. Another interesting juxtaposition to the ida that his character is adrift, alone and surrounded by people.

Bottom line is I'd recommend seeing this film. I hope it wins some Oscars (I know it won some Golden Globes). I'll probably be buying it when it comes out on DVD. It's funny, it's sweet, it's sometimes sad, but it's ultimately fulfilling and enlightened. I give it four large caches of random hotel room keys out of five, or four cardboard couple cutouts out of five.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

9: Out of 10, Essentially

9,shane acker,movie poster,tim burton,timur bekmembetov

I like cartoons. I especially like cartoons geared for adults, or at the very least older teens. Though many cried shenanigans at the evident similarities between Shane Acker's 9 and the game Little Big Planet, the similarities are superficial and at the very least unfounded. 9 is a sprawling, fast-paced dark fantasy. It starts too fast, but it keeps a steady pace and eventually, the audience catches up. Part Matrix, part Dark Crystal, part Toy Story, it's definitely a post-modern futuristic fairy tale for the new millennium. How's that for a sound bite, huh?

In an undisclosed future, deadly machines have taken over the planet, seemingly killing all living things. A misunderstood scientist creates a super-brain machine which inevitably churns out deadly Rube Goldbergian machines, warring with humanity. To save life, this same scientist built nine machines, each imbued with a portion of his soul. The ninth machine awakens with no understanding of this world, stumbles across the other eight machines, and makes a final stand against the re-awakened machine brain to restore life to Earth.

It's rare for an animated film to be so bleak. It's completely refreshing. Shane Acker's personal stamp is all over this film, and it's very clear that this is a personal vision. The characters are interesting; they represent the nine parts of a man's soul, yet have different personalities, strengths, and appearances. Even though he supposedly created the 9 concurrently, the materials used to construct them seem different; additionally, the length of time between the first doll and the last seems pretty ambiguous.

At first, it's hard to get into, simply because it launches into the story when 9 awakens. The reason behind the existence of the dolls isn't revealed until halfway through the film. Up until that point, it's primarily for the enjoyment of the computer generated effects, the bleak, stark apocalyptic world that these tiny dolls inhabit. And when you first see a mechanized robot with a cat's skull and razor claws? Or the pterodactyl made out of knives and scissors? That is some interesting stuff.

Overall, it's a visually stunning achievement in computer animation, and refreshing to see it from a basically independent animation team (i.e. not from Dreamworks Animation, Disney, Pixar, etc.). It's as cute and fantastically frightening as you're liable to see the apocalypse. Oh, yeah, and it has a pretty stellar voice cast: Elijah Wood, Christopher Plummer, John C. Riley, Martin Landau, Crispin Glover, Jennifer Connelly... All great actors and lend superbly emotive voices to these odd little burlap dolls.

I'll have to give it four crazy-ass flying razor-bird monstrosity things out of five, or four oddly Nazi-ish human oppression turned death-machine fodder out of five.

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