After breaking out two years ago with the teen pregnancy comedy Juno writer-director Jason Reitman trains his keen acerbic eye on the modern business traveler in Up in the Air a bittersweet comedy about one man’s turbulent journey of self-discovery and redemption.
George Clooney stars as Ryan Bingham a corporate downsizer (he fires people for a living essentially) and seasoned road warrior whose aversion to real human connection is reflected in his mammoth stockpile of frequent flyer miles the fruits of a job that calls for 300-plus days spent away from the office. Thoroughly content with a life spent in hotel bars and airport lounges Ryan begins to slowly unravel when he’s tasked with mentoring Natalie (Anna Kendrick) a fresh-faced recent graduate with a bold set of ideas for transforming the business of firing people — ideas that threaten both Ryan’s untethered existence and his budding relationship with Alex (Vera Farmiga) a fellow corporate nomad whose penchant for low-effort commitment-free relationships mirrors his own.
Enchanted by visions of a perpetual booty call replete with racy Blackberry messages and romantic trysts arranged via Outlook Ryan begins to suspect he might have found his soulmate in Alex. Inconveniencing his idealized scenario however is his travel partner Natalie a probing perceptive gal who proves a far more worthy adversary than he initially anticipated. As Ryan exposes Natalie’s real-world inexperience and naivety in a series of mildly disastrous business meetings she in turn refutes his resolutely isolationist approach to love and relationships. Soon their mutual resentment gives way to a father-daughter dynamic characterized by genuine albeit guarded affection. As his carefully crafted barriers steadily erode Ryan’s thoughts increasingly turn to Alex and he begins to contemplate the previously unthinkable prospect of putting down actual roots.
Corporate downsizing emotional detachment and the dehumanizing effects of modern technology aren’t exactly the most lighthearted of topics but Up in the Air avoids wallowing in dour Death of a Salesman territory with the help of Reitman’s sharp perceptive wit and a handful of lively cameos from comic heavyweights like Danny McBride Zach Galifianakis and J.K. Simmons. In fact the whole affair makes for a surprisingly uplifting experience in a "saddest happy ending" kind of way. Though the latter half of the film is hampered by structural deficiencies and a pair of melodramatic sadly predictable twists that move the plot forward but diminish its overall impact it still qualifies as one of the top films of the year and Reitman’s best work to date. Consider Up in the Air a surefire Oscar contender.
Pretty people just don’t understand—you’re not safe anywhere and all the sadists are after YOU! As the two geniuses in The Hitcher Grace (Sophia Bush) and her boyfriend Jim (Zachary Knighton) learn real quickly a cross-country trek to New Mexico in a beat-up car is especially risky. During their first night out on the open road it’s raining cats and dogs when they almost run over a man (Sean Bean) who’s standing aimlessly in the middle of the street his car apparently broken down. The young couple decides against lending him a helping hand with it pouring down rain and all. Bad move. When they stop for gas later Jim and Grace cross paths with the man who goes by the name of John Ryder. He asks the couple if he might hitch a short ride with them to a local motel. This time they oblige. Bad move. One aspect the studio must’ve loved about The Hitcher: Being shot primarily in a car the cast cannot feasibly be more than three deep—four tops. That also means that said cast must wear the tension well if the camera is to be on them throughout. Bush (TV’s One Tree Hill) the movie’s biggest asset as far as its target audience is concerned shrieks well and most importantly is smokin'. And when it comes time to fight back she doesn’t look so bad doing it even if there’s scant giggling in the theater at the now clichéd image of a weapon-wielding hot chick. As the hugely sadistic villain Bean (GoldenEye the LOTR movies et al) is more than adequately creepy. There’s something to be said with most of The Hitcher’s viewers’ inability to recognize him because an A-list movie star just wouldn’t work in this role. Obscurity aside Bean his face lurking around every corner will simply creep the crap out of the young audience. As for Knighton he seems and looks like the garden-variety up-and-comer and try as I might there’s nothing wrong with his biggest role to date—except a scene of um tug-of-war that is tough to watch or look away from. Veteran actor Neal McDonough also pops in with a brief role as a sheriff caught in the proverbial crosshairs. These days it’s tough to come up with anything new in a horror film—so directors just don’t bother. Save for neo-horror maestro Eli Roth there’s no originality to be seen especially when seemingly 99 percent of horror movies are remakes and when they’re not remakes they’re Primeval or Turistas. The Hitcher is much better than those two but director Dave Meyers truly eliminates most of the psychological aspect of the original 1986 Hitcher in exchange for a polished contemporary feel. Of course Meyers is one the most renowned music video directors of the past several years so it's no surprise when he mistakes volume for thrills; in fact the decibels will be the chief reason for almost all of the audience’s screaming. Not that there aren’t scary moments however. The writers Jake Wade Wall (When a Stranger Calls) and Eric Bernt (Romeo Must Die) actually get the film off to a brisk smooth start but they ultimately turn John Ryder into more of a Terminator-like character and ask for too many leaps of faith and suspensions of disbelief—again not that their intended audience won’t indulge them. At least the studio had the guts to retain the intended 'R' rating!
Albert Markovski (Jason Schwartzman) a bleeding heart poet and staunch environmentalist is convinced a series of unexplained coincidences involving a tall African doorman somehow mean something leading him to married metaphysicians Bernard and Vivian Jaffe (Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin)--otherwise known as the Existential Detectives. Instead of looking for other people this pair tirelessly investigates the mysteries of their clients' secret innermost lives--their "Beings " so to speak--to help them answer their questions. Immediately digging in Bernard and Vivian find out that Albert has a deep-seated hatred for Brad Stand (Jude Law) a golden-boy sales executive at the popular retail superstore chain Huckabees who at first sponsors Albert's Open Spaces Coalition to save a nearby marsh from commercial construction but who ends up taking over the coalition. The Existential Detectives believe Brad may be the key to cracking Albert's case but get sidetracked when Brad hires them for himself--leading them to explore Brad's ambitions hang-ups and his superficial relationship with Huckabees' hot blonde spokesmodel Dawn (Naomi Watts). Meanwhile Albert becomes disenfranchised with Bernard and Vivian and pairs up with another of the duo's clients--firefighter tough guy and uncompromising soul searcher Tommy (Mark Wahlberg). Together they join forces with the Jaffes' arch nemesis sexy French philosopher Caterine Vauban (Isabelle Huppert) whose life teachings revolve around "cruelty manipulation and meaninglessness." Now as Being intermixes with Nothingness Albert Tommy Brad Dawn Bernard Vivian and Caterine get all tangled up in one another as their wild romp through life's biggest questions brings them to some startling truths. Whew!
With such a clever script to back them up it isn't hard to see why the Huckabees wannabes turn in some cracking good performances. Schwartzman once again plays a nebbish sullen but lovable geek (similar to his side-splitting turn in Rushmore) bringing out the film's heart and soul especially with his environmental poetry ("You ROCK rock!"). Veterans Hoffman and Tomlin who are dead-on as the happily married Existential Detectives and Huppert as the deadpan French philosopher complement the proceedings beautifully. For the first time in a long time Hoffman doesn't overplay his part instead letting his quiet inner "Being" out taking his character's philosophies to heart ("Everything you ever desired or wanted to be you already have and are"). But who knew more serious actors--Mark Wahlberg Jude Law and Naomi Watts--could be so excruciatingly funny? Wahlberg's freethinking obstinate firefighter would rather ride a bike to a fire than get into a gas-guzzling fire truck while Watts' Dawn decides she doesn't need to be pretty and is fearless with overalls a bonnet and Oreo cookies stuck in her teeth. As the straight man Law actually has the most difficult part playing the handsome cad who thinks he doesn't believe in all that existential bullcrap but ever so slightly gets slammed with the reality of it anyway.
Writer/director David O. Russell is one fascinating guy. With a body of work including the really weird and wild Spanking the Monkey the hilarious slapsticky Flirting With Disaster and the intense Three Kings it's obvious he is capable of handling a wide variety of subjects. With Huckabees Russell gets into some serious deep thinking. He says he became "intrigued with the idea of a detective following someone around not for any criminal or personal intrigue but rather as part of a very serious investigation about existence itself " drawing concepts from several different strains of existentialism--from the non-dual interconnectedness theories of Eastern philosophy (Bernard and Vivian's take) to the Sartrean notions of a more meaningless universe that demands a profound individualism (Caterine's point of view). Huh? Don't worry your pretty little heads about it too much. Russell's bone-crushing sense of humor comes shining through--as does his unique vision as the camera is used in new and different ways (especially creative when Albert is trying to find his "Being")--to piece together a wondrous coherent albeit thought-provoking little gem. Oscar gold awaits.
Top Story: Barrino Takes Idol Title
The vivacious, gospel-trained Fantasia Barrino became the third American Idol winner Wednesday, claiming the victory for her 2-year-old daughter. "I fought so that my child can have the best," said the 19-year-old single mother from High Point, N.C., who had a 1.3 million-vote edge over rival Diana DeGarmo, The Associated Press reports. When asked backstage about those who might be critical of her single parenthood, Barrino replied: "I feel like a good mom. I'm a strong woman now. ... Don't look down on me. Pray for me because I'm trying." The usually acid-tongued judge and music producer Simon Cowell had only glowing things to say about Barrino, telling America they got it "100 percent right." He also added after the ceremony, "There aren't many other artists in America right now that I'd prefer to have on my label." Runner-up DeGarmo said backstage, "I'm definitely recording an album," adding with a smile, "And Fantasia, you better watch out because I'm coming with one." The top 10 performers from the show's third season, including Barrino, DeGarmo, George Huff, La Toya London, Jasmine Trias, Amy Adams, Jennifer Hudson, Jon Peter Lewis, John Stevens and Camile Velasco, will hit the road for a national summer tour.
Jackson's Lawyers Want Evidence Turned Over
Lawyers for Michael Jackson claim the prosecution in the child molestation case still needs to turn over some 300 items that were seized in sheriff's raids at the pop star's Los Olivos home and other locations last November, the AP reports. In a May 13 motion made public Tuesday, prosecutors indicated they had turned over more than 1,100 pages of documents, including police reports and summaries of witness interviews, 51 audiotapes and two videotapes since January, but added that some items are not available because they are still undergoing forensic examination. Jackson's lawyers are requesting the judge set a deadline for prosecutors to turn over the materials and warned the volume of evidence they want to examine could force a delay in the trial, which the judge has said he wants to begin this year.
MTV Nixes Super Size Me Ads
Music cabler MTV refused to air advertisements for Super Size Me, a documentary that takes a critical look at the health impact of a fast-food-only diet, Reuters reports. According to a statement released by film's distributors, Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films, MTV called the ads "disparaging to fast-food restaurants." But an MTV spokeswoman disputed the claim, saying the network was willing to run the commercial but the distributors turned it down. She did not, however, provide details of the negotiations. Super Size Me has been a hit at box offices by documentary standards, grossing $2.9 million in ticket sales and earning filmmaker Morgan Spurlock the Grand Jury Prize for best documentary director at this year's Sundance Film Festival.
NAACP Honors Haysbert, Smiley
PBS talk-show host Tavis Smiley and actor Dennis Haysbert, best known for his role as the president of the United States on Fox's political drama 24, were among those honored at an annual awards dinner held by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Tuesday night, AP reports. The dinner was in honor of the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in "Brown v. Board of Education," the historic ruling that heralded the official end of segregation in education, housing and work.
Missing Last Samurai Novelist Found
The Last Samurai novelist Helen DeWitt was found in good condition Wednesday by Niagara Falls, N.Y., police--the same day she was reported missing by New York City's police department. DeWitt had been missing since Tuesday morning when she was last seen near her Staten Island home, prompting police to ask for help in finding her. Later on Wednesday, New York City police said the 46-year-old author was found in good condition by the Niagara Falls Police Department and taken to a hospital for evaluation, the AP reports. No other details were immediately available. Her critically acclaimed debut novel The Last Samurai (unrelated to Tom Cruise's latest movie of the same name) tells the story of a single mother and her 4-year-old son, who obsessively watches the classic Japanese film Seven Samurai.
Judge Dismisses Attempt to Evict Bianca Jagger
Judge Anthony Fiorella Wednesday dismissed a New York landlord's attempt to evict Bianca Jagger, who is suing her landlord, Katz Park Avenue Corp., over mold she says was making her four-room Park Avenue pad uninhabitable, Reuters reports. Jagger, the former wife of Rolling Stones lead singer Mick Jagger, was served with an eviction notice earlier this month while pursuing the $20 million lawsuit. She claims she has been living out of suitcases at friends' homes for almost three years because of a mold infestation in the apartment. The judge dismissed the eviction proceeding and also indicated it would be inappropriate for the landlord to refile an eviction proceeding against her, at least until Jagger's lease expires next February.
Sarah Jessica Parker To Star in Gap Ads
Sarah Jessica Parker, who played columnist Carrie Bradshaw on the hit HBO comedy Sex and the City, will appear in a marketing campaign for Gap set to debut in August, the AP reports. The choice isn't a surprising one, considering women nationwide imitated the TV fashionista's eclectic sense of style and over-the-top sexy ensembles. "Gap has always been about individual style, and no one represents this philosophy better than Sarah Jessica Parker," Gary Muto, president of Gap, said in a statement Wednesday. "She looks as amazing in jeans as she does in couture." The company said this is the first time it will be working with a celebrity on a broader scale than a one-time appearance in a print or TV ad campaign.
Role Call: Cattrall Turns Down Sex Movie, Paltrow in Dietrich Film
Kim Cattrall , meanwhile, said no thanks to a feature film based on the hit HBO comedy Sex and the City, prompting the cabler to drop the project. According to Variety, some of the sticking points in the negotiations were that Cattrall wanted script approval, which her co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis were denied. The trade newspaper also reported Cattrall wanted the same fee as Parker--the show's central character--and was rejected ... Gwyneth Paltrow will produce and star in a feature film based on the biography Marlene Dietrich, written by the German screen siren's daughter, Maria Riva. There is no start date yet for the project, whic