Tuesday, January 26, 2010

UP IN THE AIR reviews

GOLAN: Just saw UP IN THE AIR at the Telluride Film Festival and I loved it. Thought it was amazing. Total shoo-in for a Best Picture nom. Maybe even a win, depending on what comes out between now and the end of the year. Can't wait for you to see it so we can discuss!

BRIAN: I finally saw UP IN THE AIR. I agree with you -- it's a lock for Best Picture!

It will join the ranks of other serious better-than-average crowd pleasers to take the prize!

DRIVING MISS DAISY, A BEAUTIFUL MIND, CHICAGO...........UP IN THE AIR. I hope Jason Reitman wins best director, just so he can beat out Martin Scorsese for RAGING BULL, Robert Altman for NASHVILLE, and Spike Lee for DO THE RIGHT THING.

GOLAN: I couldn't disagree with you more! I'm going to pull out the tried and true cliche and say that you were underwhelmed because you saw it after all the hype. After all the unattainable expectations. I was lucky enough to see it with zero expectations at the film festival in Telluride, and was blown away by it. I thought it looked into my soul in the same way that HIGH FIDELITY did ten years ago. Clooney's performance is among his best, and we're talking about a guy with some seriously good performances.

Is it the best directed film of the year? No. I would say that honor goes to THE HURT LOCKER. Is it the most innovative? No - that's AVATAR. Is it the movie that moved me the most emotionally? Also no - that has to be UP. But is it my favorite overall film of the year? Yes. It totally is.

And to compare Reitman winning to Redford winning is ridiculous. Redford is always competent, but mostly boring, and everyone knows that RAGING BULL was the better directed film. With Reitman, we're talking about a major new voice in cinema. Not that I'm saying he should win best director, but his THANK YOU FOR SMOKING and JUNO are already classics, in their own way, and this one trumps them both. I have a feeling that he's just going to get better from here, too.

BRIAN: Because I saw it after the hype? That's a coversation killer -- you know that, right? An argument like that is undebatable, a hanging what-if balloon that can never be popped. What if Gwyneth Paltrow missed the sliding doors of the subway train? Would she be a blonde or a brunette? These are the mysteries that can never be solved, so don't pull that shit on me. Does it sound like I'm jealous that I don't attend Telluride? Maybe!

Okay. That felt nice. I think Reitman will have a long career. I think he's a good director and will possibly grow into a very good one. At the moment though, he's a bit too calculated for my taste. Much like how an actor should never show his method, his directing sometimes calls attention to itself, not necessarily in an intentional flashy way (he's not Guy Ritchie), but due to either its clumsiness or obviousness. Take the big moment when Danny McBride walks over to his bride-to-be to reconcile with her. For the first and only time, the camera is noticeably handheld. That seemed way too premeditated to me -- hey, let's get the immediacy of verite for this emotional punch of a moment and go handheld! As a viewer, I got the immediacy of my middle finger growing erect at the screen. That made no sense. Another example: the quick cuts of Clooney's suitcase packing and wheel swivels. Really, I think it's fine. Even if he repeated this bit a couple times too many. While I don't technically have a problem with it -- because it is a good way of showing the muscle memory, fast-paced routinization and compartmentalization of his life -- it does support my point about his directing being too obvious. My thought upon seeing it? Wow, that's a good way of showing the muscle memory, fast-paced routinization and compartmentalization of his life! (This is the kind of thing Academy voters love, by the way. Noticeable directing. Convincing people how smart you are. This is why the prize for Best Editing usually goes to the film with Most Editing.)

Additionally, for a portrait of this fast-paced, no-time-for-reflection lifestyle Clooney leads, the movie was kinda slow in some parts. Visually, this portrait is well done -- I loved the gloss and superficial glean of the zero depth-of-field cinematography. Like it was out of a commercial. The people walking by are blurs, not faces. I thought that was right. But the rhythm of a lot of the dialogue scenes seemed to drag. He allows too much breathing room in between lines, giving the viewer time to digest the significance of each too-precise line, which goes against the pace the film was trying to portray. Actually, the rhythm in most dialogue scenes felt unnatural, period. Stilted. I think his dialogue is so precise and functional that it doesn't allow his actors to play with it (minus the Vera Farmiga scenes, of course -- chemistry trumps bad writing). I don't equate overlapping dialogue with naturalism, but dear Jr. Reitman, please watch some more Robert Altman or older Woody Allen and take some notes!

So look, Reitman is a smart director, no doubt. But I think he's in the adolescence of his career. Showing major promise, but still growing into his body. Speaking of body, Vera Farmiga's body double was smoking. Man, oh man, she deserves the Oscar for best body double. I hear they've expanded the nominations from 5 to 10 this year. Hopefully then, the Academy will recognize Megan Fox's acting as the wonderful body double art that it is.

GOLAN: While I don't disagree that saying you saw it after the hype is a conversation killer, I still can't help but imagine what your reaction to the movie would have been if you had watched it with me in Telluride. Oh, man, I mentioned Telluride again. Jealous? You should be. It's awesome. But I digress.

Speaking of digressing, I have to give you full props for your reference to SLIDING DOORS, a movie that I probably shouldn't love as much as I do. But I dooooooooooooo.

Reitman will have a long career, mostly because he deserves to. Okay, he's not Altman yet, but really... who is? His movies, which started out strong with THANK YOU FOR SMOKING, have only gotten stronger. Whether you're a fan of JUNO or not, you have to recognize that taking Diablo Cody's self-obsessed pop-culture minefield of a script and turning it into a heartfelt and moving movie takes real skill. And I think he topped himself with UP IN THE AIR. If this is how good he is at the beginning of his career, imagine what he'll be able to accomplish in a few years!

As for your criticism, might I propose that sometimes being calculated is not a bad thing? I don't mean the GARDEN STATE version of calculated, in which shots that "look neat" are inserted into a movie simply for the sake of "being neat" whether it fits the scene or not. I do mean it in the subtle "things are out of focus even though George Clooney is in focus because life is out of focus to the character George Clooney plays" kind of shots. And if you don't like that, then suck it, because you're trying too hard to dislike the guy's direction. Yes, that's right - my level of discourse has been reduced to "suck it" and I think it may be the perfect response to your post.

What would you propose anyway? That Reitman feel the need to convey immediacy and not follow his heart because a few over-critical film students (and you) will think it's too obvious? By the way, I don't think it was an obvious choice. There were no heartfelt close-ups or bullshit musical cues - it was simply the rawest way to show a man breaking down his walls (the very thing that Clooney was unable to do) and surrender to love. To feel. I'm sorry this wasn't a Dogme or Mumblecore film where that would have been conveyed through the use of dead air and poor lighting, but it delivered for me. As the camera (nearly imperceptibly) followed Danny McBride as he slowly approached his bride-to-be, I did feel immediacy. I did feel like I was there in person, watching him succumb. I did give a shit. Maybe I'm just less cynical than you. Wow, this is just one personal attack after another. Why do you make me do this? I only do this because I love you!

Furthermore, I would be curious to know how many people watched the scenes in which Clooney packs his suitcase and felt like, "Oh man, this is such an obvious way of showing me how compartmentalized his life is! I mean, the way that wheel swiveling really hits me over the head with the notion of fast-paced routinization! The way he zips up his bag is obviously all about muscle memory!" I'd say three. Including you. Perhaps... just perhaps... Reitman made a movie in which people subconsciously feel those things (you know, when they are not too busy over-analyzing everything) and it improved their movie-going experience and the emotional connection they had with what they were watching. Maybe. It certainly did for me.

Last, but not least, I have to address your mention of the movie dragging at times. I personally never felt it drag, but there were certainly a few moments that were slower than others. And I think that the "slower" parts of the movie are actually a deliberate representation of the moral at the end of this particular fable. When you rush rush rush, assuming that you have no time for anything, you may always move fast, but the rest of the world moves at its own pace... slower. Clooney runs around, skipping over people in line, always having the perfect polished piece of dialogue ready for any situation (yes, I do think that was a deliberate choice as well), and yet he connects with no one. Because he's not actually rushing. He's going nowhere fast. It's like when you are waiting for something to print on a slow printer and you're in a hurry - you jump up and down and check your watch and rant and rave and pace... and the printer is still going at the same old speed, despite all your antics. In this movie, Clooney is the one bouncing around like the Energizer Bunny, but the drag we feel in watching him go through life is the same drag he would feel if he stopped for a moment and was honest with himself. It is precisely why the scenes with Farmiga feel so good - it's not just chemistry, it's that he is allowing himself to live without borders for once, and the exhilaration that he feels is the same as the exhilaration that we feel. As a matter of fact, you feeling like parts of the movie dragged and that the Vera scenes were great leads me to believe that Reitman put you exactly where he wanted you.

Yes, maybe part of me is reacting to you criticizing a film I really loved and connected to. Also, yes, I'm sure part of me agrees with you, but can't admit it, and the above is a touch of me being a devil's advocate. But there are two things that I simply can't argue with:

1) The Academy gives the prize for Best Editing to the film with Most Editing

2) Vera Farmiga's body double deserves to take home the Oscar for Best Supporting of an Actress

Damn it... sometimes, even you make sense.

BRIAN: Alright. You know a discussion is about to go off the deep end when it becomes more about the arguments themselves than the topic at hand. And that’s what I’m about to do. Cuz that’s what I was born to do.

Saying that I’m over-critical is a dead-end. It’s a blanket response for anything, and there’s no borderline in how far one can push that argument. Watch this: Reitman’s methods are a bit too visible, but come on, I’m being too critical here. CRASH didn’t make me less of a racist, but really, I’m being too critical– it’s only supposed to make me a better person in general. It’s not that the facial hair device on LOST letting viewers know that it’s a flashback/flashforward is hilariously employed, it’s that I’m looking too hard at that damn spearmint mustache glue. See? I could go on and on. And I sort of want to…. Look, Ma, my life isn't an endless series of disappointments, I just think you’re being too critical. Plus, Fuck You, man – what’s the point of this blog but to rant and rave from an elitist pedestal in the blog-determined voice of snark? I’m not supposed to watch this movie from the point of view of the average viewer, and neither are you, so don’t talk about the movie Reitman made for Middle America – you’d be turning him into a condescending asshole if you did. And shit, you’re like best friends with him or something, right? You were best man at his wedding? Or godfather to his unborn children? I don’t know, I can’t keep track of your Hollywood friends.

And it’s not that I’m actively over-analyzing Reitman’s methods, either. All directors are calculating, even the most improvisational. But I don’t think any director (not working on a Brechtian project) wants you to be aware of their calculation during the movie – that would take the viewer out of the experience. And that’s what happened a few times watching UP IN THE AIR. You write that Reitman is “follow[ing] his heart” in that Danny McBride scene. Just the opposite. It seemed to me like he was pulling from a director's bag of tricks, not doing something heartfelt or organic. Again, if the technique calls attention to itself (intentional or not), it fails the acid test for me.

You also keep returning to the fact that Reitman is in the early stages of his career. I’m sure he appreciates your apologizing for him. I’m with you. I can't wait for him to become a great director. I hope he remakes UP IN THE AIR when he does.

Lastly, we haven’t even touched on Clooney’s buzzed-about performance. Let’s save that discussion for our Oscar round-up, but I’ll give you all (…both?) a preview in saying that his performance epitomized what I felt about the movie: it was good, but played it safe.

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