DID YOU READ

Nowhere Men

Nowhere Men (photo)

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Remember that warm and fuzzy montage at the opening of “Love Actually,” where Heathrow Airport is the scene of dozens of reunions, with lovers, parents and children, siblings and old friends running into each other’s arms and sharing their affection for each other?

Those are not the friendly skies that Ryan Bingham travels in “Up in the Air”. For Bingham, portrayed brilliantly by George Clooney, airports, hotels and rent-a-car counters are his world, and it’s a world that allows him to avoid getting too close to anyone. Bingham’s business is firing people on behalf of managers who can’t face their own soon-to-be-axed employees, and business is booming. So while Bingham technically lives in a spartan apartment in Omaha, his real home is what novelist Walter Kirn called “Airworld” in his novel of the same name, upon which the film is based.

A seasoned pro at corporate travel, Bingham is a Zen master; the way he removes his laptop and shoes for airport security before briskly putting everything back in its place feels like a combination of choreography and time-efficiency training. There’s not an Admirals Club he can’t whisk his way into with the right card, nor a line at a Hilton or a Hertz he must endure. His motto? “The slower we go, the faster we die.” He’s got few possessions, fewer emotional entanglements, and his one goal in life is to reach ten million frequent flyer miles. So, naturally, Ryan Bingham is about to discover that he’s actually got a heart, in the process of getting it broken.

The first challenge to his fiefdom comes when recent college grad Natalie (Anna Kendrick) develops a method of firing people online in the hopes of saving the company the vast expense of sending its army of Binghams all over the country to do its dirty work. Bingham quickly proves that Natalie doesn’t really understand the niceties of job termination, so boss Craig (Jason Bateman) sends her out on the road with him to observe the master at work.

12022009_UpintheAir-2.jpgAlso rocking Bingham’s world is Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), who’s just like him — they flirt over their stacks of preferred-client cards and make long-ranging dates to rendezvous in other business hubs around the country. They seem to be operating happily within each other’s impersonal parameters, but when she accompanies him to his sister’s wedding — where the deeply commitment-phobic Bingham finds himself having to pitch the benefits of couplehood to nervous bridegroom Jim (Danny McBride), who’s gotten cold feet just before the ceremony — Bingham finds himself taking a harsher look at his glib and freewheeling life.

What’s so terrific about what director Jason Reitman (who co-adapted Kirn’s novel with Sheldon Turner) accomplishes here is that “Up in the Air” never falls in the obvious traps of a movie that’s about someone who realizes his life is a sham. We’ve watched so many protagonists learn their lessons before stampeding towards a happy, heteronormative ending, but every time we think we know what clichéd path this movie’s about to follow, the smart storytelling confounds our expectations and veers off into less-traveled, and more recognizably human, territory.

Ryan Bingham could be the ultimate George Clooney role — he’s a charismatic guy who’s got an easy way with charming guys and seducing women, but there’s always the sense that he’s giving you what you want while simultaneously looking right through you. It’s what Clooney generally does, even in his best roles; he’s an engaging performer, but there’s always that sense that he’s trying to crowd-please. When Bingham has to drop his own façade, it steers Clooney into some of most revelatory work to date.

Anna Kendrick fulfills the early promise she revealed in Todd Graff’s “Camp,” playing a young go-getter who’s still trying to figure out how the real world works. The scene where Natalie has a meltdown (in a hotel lobby, of course), followed by drinks with Bingham and Alex in which she makes one charmingly tactless observation after another, is a delight. For her part, Alex serves more as a plot device than as a character, but Farmiga makes her sexy, smart and unflinchingly pragmatic about her relationship with Bingham.

In portraying the downsized employees, Reitman fills “Up in the Air” with a mix of documentary-style footage of non-actors and performers who make an impact with a tiny amount of screen time — even though J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis turn up for one scene a piece, they resonate throughout the film, as do McBride and Melanie Lynskey as the couple whose wedding provides a detour for Bingham. (Horrors, he’s forced to stay in a hotel where he’s not a member of their Executive Level program!)

12022009_UpintheAir-3.jpgThe one thing I didn’t buy is Bingham’s sideline career as a motivational speaker. He uses a backpack as a metaphor for the spiritual weight of all the people and objects in our life, and it seems strange that his message — in a nutshell, don’t own anything or love anyone — would become so popular that he’d be asked to speak at a major event in Las Vegas. Unless we lived in a world where Thomas Malthus sold as many books as Tony Robbins, it just doesn’t scan.

That quibble aside, “Up in the Air” defies expectation and winds up being one of the best American films of the year. Audiences in today’s economy may not feel like lining up to empathize with a guy who fires people for a living, but that’s no fault of Clooney’s witty and moving performance.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.