A Slice of Fried Gold

Movie Reviews: Up in the Air and Avatar

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Up in the Air (Written and directed by Jason Reitman, co-written by Sheldon Turner)

Jason Reitman started his career as "the son of Ivan Reitman" but has since firmly established himself as a powerful voice in film in his own right. His Thank You for Smoking was snarky, quick and fiercely intelligent. Juno topped it in raw emotionality and featured a star making script by Diablo Cody. Both earned him a lot of esteem from the industry, critics, and movie fans alike.

Up in the Air is far beyond both of those in sheer film making power. Reitman's grasp of pacing and structure of film makes the fact that he is just 32 years old all the more shocking. Reitman seems to be on fire throughout the entire film, framing shots in always the most powerful of ways. Scenes are carefully designed to bring the maximum amount of emotion out of them, and no scene ever seems to hold on too long or rush through too fast. This is a budding master storyteller at work, and you can really sense the improvements he has made in himself with the experience he gained in his previous two films.

While Reitman assuredly gets a lot of the credit, his cast is every bit as important in making this film shine. George Clooney (as per usual) is effortlessly charming, winning over everyone he meets with his smile and steady nature. The character of Ryan Bingham could be easy to dislike, but thanks to Clooney's innate charisma he is able to make him not just someone we like, but someone we root for. The character arc Bingham goes on is made believable and powerful thanks to Reitman's script and Clooney's ability to feel so assured and vulnerable at the same time.

Everyone else in the cast is exceptional as well, from Jason Bateman (quickly becoming one of Reitman's go to guys along with JK Simmons) as Clooney's sleazy boss to Vera Farmiga as the smoldering yin to Clooney's yang to Anna Kendrick in a star making turn as industry hotshot Natalie Keener. Kendrick in particular manages to take a bit of a know-it-all character and turn her into someone that is truly three dimensional, imbuing Keener with humanity and heart. Hard to believe her cinematic acting experience mostly stems from the Twilight films.

This film is poignant, hopeful, funny, touching, and occasionally devestating. While it is predictable at times, I think that stems greatly from Reitman's naturalistic storytelling ability. It is a movie that demands you as a viewer to reassess your life and to think about what you want in your backpack. Powerful stuff, and in my mind is deserving of every accolade it has received so far.

Verdict: A

Avatar (Written and directed by James Cameron)

12 years.

James Cameron hasn't made a movie in 12 years.

That's weird to think, but it's true. He hasn't made a film since the massive critical and commercial success of Titanic, as if he himself could not figure out how exactly he wanted to follow that up. Either that or he spent the past decade figuring out how to take CGI to the next level, as Avatar finds Cameron creating perhaps the greatest visuals in the history of film.

The star of the film isn't human. It isn't even any of the blue skinned Na'vi. It's the planet Pandora itself. The atmosphere and environment Cameron creates looks like nothing short of paradise, creating some of the most wildly imaginative landscapes, creatures and visuals ever seen on film. Given that it's Cameron, he also creates some ridiculously cool technological toys, such as the massive gunships or personal warsuits the humans wear into battle from time to time. My friend Colver and I saw it in 3D, and Colver would often facetiously reach out and grasp for things on the screen. He did it jokingly, but we did discuss about how real it looked. The CGI had a real level of tangibility to it that I'd never experienced before, and it helped bring everything on the screen to life.

The plot itself was engaging, even if it was about as thinly veiled commentary as you can get. You had the people of Earth coming into conflict with the indigenous people of Pandora, called the Na'vi (also called "Native Americans"), over their desire to cultivate the vast supply of the rich natural resource that existed under their home. You also had a story about how all of Pandora's trees and environment was interconnected and that the Na'vi had a real connection to that as well (Cameron's heavy handed look at our treatment of the environment). While the plot itself led to trite, preachy storytelling at times, it still was enjoyable and featured many exciting situations. Given that it was two hours and 40 minutes long, you should expect a bit of drag in the story. That comes in the beginning of the third act, but Cameron manages to pull it all back together for a big finish.

The human stars of the film are highlighted by Sam Worthington and Stephen Lang. While some will argue he's been overshadowed by the effects in his two big movies to date (this and Terminator Salvation), Worthington is great in my book so far. He manages to create badasses with a heart of gold with the greatest of ease, and he has a simmering intelligence and sense of humor to him that can not be underrated. Lang on the other hand is just awesome, creating a classic villain that is hysterically badass at times (such as when he goes outside to try to shoot down an airship with rifles without putting on a mask so he can breathe) and brutally intelligent in others. His casual overseeing of one of the most devestating moments in the film was an entertainment highlight for Colver and I.

I'd be lying if I didn't say I was massively entertained by this movie. While the script did lead us to some laughable moments, cheesy dialogue, and pacing issues, the incomparable visuals and strong performances manage to make this an absolute must see for anyone and everyone. Whatever you do, do not see it in anything else in 3D. Go see it in IMAX or whatever the most high tech thing the theaters around you can offer. This is not a movie you want to cheapen your experience on. The visuals need to be seen in all their glory.

Verdict: B+


Anonymous said...

i liked both the movies very much ... i watched both movie and liked it ..you can also watch Up in the air and avatar movie online from this links,...

Troy Olson said...

Looking forward to checking both of these out. I'm still skeptical about AVATAR, as people who's opinions I respect have been all over the map on it, but I figure it's worth a look-see. I'm just waiting for my wife's schedule to clear up to see UP IN THE AIR...she loves to swoon at the Clooney.

David Harper said...


I think you'll appreciate Avatar just for the imagination Cameron puts on display here and the visuals. To call it a visual feast is to understate it. It does run long and it is preachy, but man...it's classic Cameron. It does run a bit long, is a bit preachy, and the score is full of retreads by James Horner (that guy should try harder), but it is very enjoyable.

It isn't Oscar worthy by any means (although with 10 nominations this year, I'll be shocked if it doesn't get in), but I think you will be blown away visually. You pretty much have to IMAX it or at the very least see it in 3D.

Your wife will swoon constantly at Clooney in this. I'd say it is the most charismatic he's been since Out of Sight. I was blown away.

Erik said...

The planet was indeed the highlight of the film. I was so smitten with the whole movie it never seemed to drag for me. I've come to the conclusion that sci-fi is a genre that I completely adore and I can't help but love the hell out of a good one.

You can claim that any movie that has some underlying meaning(even one as obvious as this) is preachy. Don't label it preachy simply because it is nature vs. industry. I loved that that was the theme of the film. He even threw in Blackwater/Halliburton references just like District 9 did. People don't seem to grasp the importance of issues such as these, so good for James Cameron for trying to reach the masses and give them some perspective.

David Harper said...

I wasn't referring to the nature vs. industry part as the preachy part. I was referring to the indigenous people part and robbing them of their homes. I just thought that it was so surface level that it was almost pointless to hide it. As some people have said, it's essentially Dances With Wolves in space.

I loved it too, don't get me wrong. It was spectacular. I just think that Cameron could have trusted the viewers a little bit more and made the underlying meanings a little bit less on the surface. There's a difference between a movie carrying a message and beating the audience over the head with it. That was my big beef, really. I'm very glad you liked it.

Erik said...

I understand what you are saying, and yes the plot line is rehashed, but I don't feel like he did anything in particular to beat you over the head with it. I just don't see how you can expect a movie that is about killing a native population to get to the resources they are preventing the acquisition of to be anything other than surface level.

Or maybe that's just my white guilt talking.

David Harper said...

You're right, I just mean the Na'vi didn't need to be so completely obviously based off Native Americans. At one point I turned to Colver and said "I bet that guy is there 'shaman'" and even air parenthesed. Two scenes later Sigourney Weaver announced him as their shaman. That's my main point.

Also, I'm not worried about the plot being rehashed. I don't care about that. Every movie rehashes every plot at this point. There are very few pure bouts of original storytelling in movies any more.

I like how we're discussing in opposition a movie we both loved.

Erik said...

I just love to argue.

buy r4i said...

Movie avtar was simply great i like it ...

Post a Comment