Home > Entertainment > Film
  print button email button

Friday, March 19, 2010

'Up in the Air'/'Nine'

Jason Reitman flies high; Rob Marshall nosedives

Everyone's got to make a living, but it's hard to imagine a nastier job than to work for a weasely-named outfit called Career Transition Counseling, whose consultants specialize in the actual face-to-face firing of employees for management too cowardly to do their own dirty work.

Up in the Air Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Letting go: George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate hatchet man who finally learns that there's more to life than air miles. © 2009 DW STUDIOS L.L.C. AND COLD SPRING PICTURES. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Director: Jason Reitman
Running time: 109 minutes
Language: English
Opens March 19, 2010
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Now cast George Clooney, an actor who specializes in layering irresistible charm over slick insincerity, and you've got a movie. "Up In The Air," directed by Jason Reitman ("Juno"), has Clooney playing one such corporate hatchet man, Ryan Bingham, who flies across America downsizing people from coast to coast. (And Reitman's casting of the actual jobless in the roles of Bingham's victims gives this film a poignant edge.) He shows up, pretends to be sympathetic, handles both the weepy and the enraged employees, and then flies off to his next job, like a ruthless corporate hit-man. And he loves it.

Bingham especially loves the fact that he's on the road about 300 days out of the year, living in hotels and airports, with no attachments whatsoever. In fact, he's taken the "pack light" approach to air travel — one carry-on bag max, thank you — and made this an entire philosophy, giving motivational seminars on the topic. Bingham offers such half-cocked advice as "Your relationships are the heaviest aspect of your life . . . we weigh ourselves down until we can't even move. But make no mistake, moving is living."

Clooney's gift is that he manages to make such a corporate d-bag sympathetic, with his bracing cynicism as funny as it is shocking. We know Bingham will eventually have to rethink his lifestyle, and re-consider things like family and relationships and — a word rarely uttered in corporate circles — ethics. It's a move director Reitman pulled in his debut "Thank You For Smoking," but he pulls it off even more successfully here.

This is the kind of role Clooney can perform in his sleep, but he manages some real heat with costar Vera Farmiga, who plays a similarly predatory corporate road-warrior, who loves mileage gold cards as much as Bingham; these two sure as hell know how to sell an on-screen kiss. That their casual affair will turn into something deeper and shake Clooney's "travel light" assumptions is a given, but Reitman has a surprise up his sleeve.

At the film's end, Bingham is a man lost in his former comfort zone; he looks around his beloved this-could-be- anywhere airport terminal and feels only confusion and uncertainty about his future. It's interesting to hold this up next to "Vicky Cristina Barcelona," a film that closed on Rebecca Hall's Vicky similarly lost in airport transit, with every assumption she held about life and love thrown into flux.

A lot of times we'll hear about this or that offended minority whining about their supposedly politically incorrect portrayal in some film. Feminists, gays, Jews, Arabs, Christians, people of color, hell these days even the conservative Tea Party supporters (God forbid you call them "teabaggers") have joined in the quick-to-take-insult hypersensitivity.

Nine Rating: (2 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
Singing up a storm: Daniel Day-Lewis (center) and other cast members perform a number in "Nine," Rob Marshall's musical based on Federico Fellini's film "8 1/2." © 2009 THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Director: 065 065 (out of five)
Running time: Rob Marshall
Language: 118 minutes
Now showing (March 19, 2010)
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Most of the time I feel like telling these people: Get a life. Movies deal in broad-brush portrayals, one character is not meant to represent an entire race/religion/creed, and fiction should be free to represent reality as it wishes or else we'll wind up with a Stalinist conception of art as a solely political tool.

Then I saw "Nine," which let me tell you, made me want to go out and form my very own Italian-American pressure group so I could picket this film and set off stink bombs in theaters showing it. (Garlicy ones, natch.)

Where do I start? Aside from the atrocious "Italian" accents sported by the entire cast, aside from taking Federico Fellini's "8 1/2" — one of the true masterpieces of Italian cinema — and turning it into tripe, aside from inane, meaningless songs like "Cinema Italiano" (which sounds like Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," but with a chorus that goes "Guido, Guido, Guido; Guido, Guido Guido!"), aside from fiery chicks saying things like "I'll be here waiting for you. With my legs open"? . . . Well, I guess that last bit is pretty Italian.

I've often said that I'll see anything with Penelope Cruz in it, but "Nine" really pushed my resolve.

The trailers for the film promise lots of lingerie-clad T&A from its harem-like cast of Cruz, Kate Hudson, Nicole Kidman, and Fergie (from The Black Eyed Peas), and that they do deliver on. As far as music goes, I've heard 20-car pile-ups that sound less full-on. And even the indomitable Daniel Day-Lewis is reduced to doing a cartoon version of Marcello Mastroianni, delivering a tuneless patter while clambering around on monkey bars.

Director Rob Marshall's "Chicago" was cheeky enough that even Broadway- skeptics could enjoy it, but it's clear from all the pointless bombast of "Nine" that he's fast becoming the Michael Bay of musicals.

Other films this week

Back to Top

About us |  Work for us |  Contact us |  Privacy policy |  Link policy |  Registration FAQ
Advertise in japantimes.co.jp.
This site has been optimized for modern browsers. Please make sure that Javascript is enabled in your browser's preferences.
The Japan Times Ltd. All rights reserved.