The Golden Globes got it wrong. To better prepare for the film awards season, I settled in for two big contenders this week – “Up in the Air,” likely nearing the end of its theatrical run, and “The Hurt Locker,” new to DVD. Both were clearly superior to the Globes’ dramatic darling, “Avatar.”
The Golden Globes got it wrong.
To better prepare for the film awards season, I settled in for two big contenders this week – “Up in the Air,” likely nearing the end of its theatrical run, and “The Hurt Locker,” new to DVD.
Both were clearly superior to the Globes’ dramatic darling, “Avatar.”
Yeah, I know, I gave “Avatar” a thumbs-up in this column a couple of weeks ago – praising it for its visual extravaganza but taking it to task for its lack of originality in plot.
While I expected James Cameron’s “Avatar” to sweep every visual and technical category on awards nights, I was disappointed to see it take the prizes for “Best Drama” and “Best Director” during the 67th Annual Golden Globes.
But enough throwing stones.
Let’s move on to why my head’s still in the clouds over my new favorite movie of 2009, “Up in the Air.”
In theaters now
“Everyone needs a co-pilot.”
That’s the simplest sentiment offered by George Clooney’s character in the high-flying film “Up in the Air,” from writer/director Jason Reitman.
And if the destination is drama with just the right amount of wit and humor, you couldn’t hope for anyone much better in the cockpit than Clooney and Reitman.
Son of producer Ivan Reitman (“Ghost Busters”), Jason Reitman tackled teen pregnancy with hilarious results in 2007’s “Juno” and made a silver-tongued lying tobacco spokesman likeable in the 2005 satire “Thank You for Smoking.”
At 32 (my age, by the way … and, yes, I’m jealous), Reitman’s got a first class ticket to Hollywood’s hall of fame.
George Clooney, meanwhile, hasn’t missed many beats since he burst onto the big screen in the late ‘90s (prior to that, he was mostly a TV actor).
In “Up in the Air,” Ryan Bingham’s (Clooney) job is yanking others’ out from under them. He’s a “termination facilitator,” which means other companies contract with his company when they need to lay off workers. And Bingham is dispatched to do the dispatching.
As you can imagine, in this economy, business is booming for Bingham – so much so that he logs more than 300,000 miles on firing-squad flights to offices across the nation in a single year.
He’s literally “up in the air” more than he’s on the ground. He thinks of the hull of an American Airlines passenger plane as his home. The apartment he keeps in Omaha, where his company is based, is about as homey as any of the hundreds of hotel rooms he lands in along the way.
But when 23-year-old Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) becomes his company’s new wiz-kid, her plan to revolutionize the corporate chopping block threatens to ground Bingham for good.
A bearded Jason Bateman plays the boss who sees dollar signs when Keener proposes the company can fire more for less by surfing the worldwide web instead of flying the friendly skies.
But Bingham’s concerned his connections with those he cans won’t translate over broadband.
He’s forced to let Natalie tag along on what might be his final flight plan.
Meanwhile, Bingham’s found a kindred restless, roaming spirit in Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), whom he meets in an airport bar. Suddenly, “layover” has a whole new meaning for Bingham, as the two plot to sync up their travel schedules and trysts.
Also tagging along on Bingham’s swan song is a poster-sized cardboard cutout of his sister and her future husband. As a wedding gift, not unlike Travelocity’s “roaming gnome” or the elementary school project “Flat Stanley,” Bingham has agreed to photograph the happy couple’s one-dimensional stand-ins in front of various landmarks across the country.
These fine actors are the stars, but adding a stark reality to this production are the many true-to-life unemployed who give Bingham a piece of their mind. Not actors at all, these people look directly into the camera – into the viewers’ eyes – and say exactly what they said, or wanted to say, when they were kicked to the curb by their bosses.
At least Bingham, whose second job is giving motivational speeches about shaking off the commitments and possessions that weigh you down, tries to inspire them as he ushers them into the great – or not so great – unknown.
Meanwhile, his own philosophy starts to show its flaws as he befriends Natalie, falls for Alex and returns to the folds of his family.
A true testament to the power of this film is that we can’t help but like this guy whose livelihood is tied directly to the demise of others’ – that and we can be motivated by a movie with such a grim subject matter.
Be sure to see it. And stay through to the end of the credits for a simple song that sums it all up. The song “Up in the Air” was written by a man who’d been recently laid off. The songwriter handed it to Reitman on a cassette tape, asking if he might be able to use it in a movie sometime. He did.
A bomb-disarming U.S. soldier in the Iraq war keeps a box under his bed filled with “things that almost killed (him).” It includes bomb parts – and a photo of his wife.
It’s his “Hurt Locker” – and the movie of the same name from director Kathryn Bigelow (who was married to director James Cameron and helmed 1991’s “Point Break,” which paired Keanu Reeves with Patrick Swayze as a surfing cop and bank robber) is the best war movie in recent history.
It’s certainly unlike any war movie I’ve ever seen.
It’s hard not to literally grip the edge of your seat as you watch the three soldiers in this Army bomb squad (played by Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty) diffuse extremely dangerous situations in which absolutely anyone – a shopkeeper, a taxi driver, a guy on a cell phone – could have their finger on the trigger.
Sgt. James (Renner) is the “wild man” on the squad, putting his partners and everyone in the vicinity of him at risk with his death-wish approach. Sgt. Sanborn (Mackie) and Spc. Eldridge (Geraghty) are counting down the days until their tour is over.
Meanwhile, you’ll know it’s over when you can finally take a breath.
Four words I never thought I’d see in the same movie title: Hot … tub … time … machine.
And yet, I’m intrigued.
In fact, after watching the trailer for this March release online, I can’t wait to see it.
John Cusack and a couple of other guys who look vaguely familiar (like the guy who works in the warehouse in NBC’s “The Office”) jump in a hot tub and are mysteriously transported back to the ’80s – when Cusack was funnier.
I’m a big fan of Cusack’s ’80s resume – which includes “Better Off Dead,” “One Crazy Summer,” “Say Anything” and “Sixteen Candles.” The funniest thing he’s done in the last decade was “Grosse Point Blank,” which I also loved but featured a more subdued Cusack. Without actually seeing it, I’d wager ’80s Cusack would have approved of new Cusack’s latest project.
“Hot Tub Time Machine” is due to “kick some past” in theaters March 19.
Robert McCune is editor of The Independent in Massillon, Ohio, and a movie nut. Contact him at Robert.McCune@IndeOnline.com or 330-775-1124.