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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Up in the Air

It was nice to see a movie on the big screen at the AMC Loews Lincoln Square, which celebrated its 15th birthday this fall. My first film there was on the Loews Screen (Aud. #1), and that's where I was Sunday night for Up in the Air.

Which is a very good movie, one instance in which the generally enthusiastic critical reception is spot-on. It's the third very good movie in a row for director Jason Reitman after the excellent Juno and Thank You For Smoking. It fits George Clooney perfectly. It joins Jerry Maguire and In Good Company, perhaps Office Space, in the pantheon of great corporate culture movies of the past two decades.

I suspect most people are familiar with the basic concept. George Clooney is a modern day road warrior who works for a downsizing consulting firm. His job is to fly around the country firing people for bosses who don't have the guts to do it themselves. He could soon be on the chopping block himself. A young hotshot Natalie has come along with the idea to take the company's road warriors off the road and do the firing by teleconference. Clooney has to take her on the road with him so she can see how it's done in person in order to better do the job by remote. At the same time, Clooney starts a road fling thing with another road warrior played by Vera Farmiga. I haven't previously been impressed by Farmiga, not even in her role in Scorcese's The Departed a few years back which earned her some hosannas, but I'll have to reconsider after this because she's pitch-perfect in the role. Clooney doesn't carry much physical baggage -- carry-on, carry-on, nothing but carry-on -- but he carries some emotional baggages, somewhat estranged from his family and with a relative who's about to have a wedding, which good chunks of the Clooney character would just as soon ignore.

To a large extent, the movie goes along familiar paths. Would anyone be surprised if I said that the wedding does become an opportunity for Clooney to reconnect with his family? I mean, this is a high-gloss star vehicle for George Clooney, it's not an overrated indiepic 23rd comeback vehicle for Mickey Rourke like last year's The Wrestler. (Gee, anyone notice that a year's gone by and we haven't really heard from Mickey again?)

But the dialogue is so sparkling especially over the first two-thirds of the movie, the writing so insightful, most of the lines in the screenplay, most of the readings so true, and most of the atmospherics of the movie so true, that it doesn't matter. If you're riding through beautiful scenery you don't need the road to veer off in unexpected directions in order to admire what you see with each curve in the road. At the same time, let me be clear that the movie doesn't sparkle because of one of these elements but because of the combination. Every once in a while the movie delivers itself a lob, and then returns a line that really is obvious, but the line is a perfectly written line that takes advantage of the lob and it's always delivered impecabbly. When the movie should hit something out of the ballpark, it does. Always.

And no, the final third wasn't as good as the first two thirds. The family business does get really obvious and borderline treacly. The ending just drifts along into a suitably happy conclusion that isn't quite as incisive or sharp as what we've seen in the first section of the movie. But on the other hand, there's a devestatingly sharp pre-ending that cuts to the bone. It's not a complete surprise, but it's very close. I sensed where the script was going around two seconds before it actually got there, but it was only two seconds beforehand while in a worse movie I would have seen this coming from a half hour away.

Right before Up in the Air, I went to see Me and Orson Welles at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (Aud #3). I hate this theatre, I've always hated it, I hardly ever go there, but the movie's been out a few weeks and this was the only option in Manhattan. It was playing on one of the three original screens which are at least better than the three added on later, but small screens and a very poor rake in the auditorium so you're guaranteed screwed if you don't have an empty seat in front of you, have never done it for me. Let me say, though, that they did have some nice-looking high end cakes and muffins at the concession stand.

Me and Orson Welles was a pleasant movie, but it didn't do much to keep me from napping.

On the plus side, Christian Mackay has been praised widely and deservedly for his performance as a young Orson Welles, directing his Mercury Theatre Company in a production of Julius Caesar. He is spot-on. You can see Mackay walking off this set, on to the set of Citizen Kane, and nobody would know it wasn't Orson Welles himself. It's a truly amazing piece of work.

Also, Zac Efron is smooth and likeable as a young actor who gets a small role in the production. A lot of times when a hot young actor like Efron does a role in a movie like this to get some street cred, he can look a little look stacking up Bugsy Malone against Don Corleone. Not here. Efron holds his own. You don't see him straining to act, just like you don't see Clooney straining to act in Up in the Air. But he's not holding the screen just on account of being a pretty boy teen idol two years removed, either. He's demonstrating some real acting chops, and I'll be curious to see what choices he makes in the next few years and where he lets his looks and his talent take him.

But it's just a very small movie, and not all that interesting. It's the definition of a movie that will play a lot better on TV than it does in the theatre, so I'd recommend Netflixing it at some point, but not rushing right out to go see.

And I'll put in a plug for Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Sunset had some of the best romantic tension of any movie I've ever seen, but you need to have seen Sunrise to fully enjoy Sunset. Linklater is a little inconsistent to my eyes, with these little gems side-by-side on his filmography with the overrated Dazed and Confused, the fun School of Rock, and a variety of other strange little films, more of which I've seen than not.

1 comment:

Bill Swears said...

I'm looking forward to Up in the Air, but I have two comments. First, Mickey Roarke has eight projects in the works, I think four of which are in post production. So look to hear from him quite a bit in the next few months. Second, Alaska Cheesecake factory is no more. Just an empty shopfront and a couple left over signs. Sigh.