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Toronto 2009: “Up in the Air” Flies High

Toronto 2009: “Up in the Air” Flies High (photo)

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Four years ago, a friend of mine came home from Toronto disappointed by the premiere of “Elizabethtown,” Cameron Crowe’s ill-fated, deeply personal story of a man coming home to bury his father. The director of “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire,” Crowe was a true heir to Hal Ashby when it came to making melancholy and emotionally moving mainstream entertainments, yet when his cut of “Elizabethtown” (that was ultimately trimmed down in running time) failed to win over audiences here, it was hard to imagine when someone would attempt tp do so again.

“Up in the Air” will be easy to overpraise — it touches on larger themes of mass unemployment, cultural alienation and technology as a crutch. But ultimately, it’s really an expertly done character study that’s a dramatic change of pace from director Jason Reitman’s previous two films, “Thank You for Smoking” and “Juno,” comedies that led with their punchlines and landed the knockout with their heart. George Clooney’s Ryan Bingham is invested with the same degree of detail as Nick Naylor and Juno MacGuff, but he’s no spunky extrovert — he’s the guy who nurses a drink at the end of the bar, and is pretty comfortable with that arrangement. Bingham isn’t some happy anomaly content with shaking things up from time to time. He’s an enigma to nearly everyone around him.

Conveniently, he works a gig that requires him to be lonely, as a traveling grim reaper for companies who outsource their layoffs. He’s good at his job, and it’s good to him — Bingham is constantly popping peanuts on airplanes, soaring away from any commitments except to his goal of exceeding ten million frequent flier miles and the ultra-exclusive club card that comes with it. As his scruffy boss (Jason Bateman) enthuses, these are “boom times” for their business and Bingham stands to collect a windfall in miles, until an eager beaver technology expert (Anna Kendrick) unveils plans to revolutionize the layoff process by delivering the bad news over a T1 video connection. Much of the film that follows is devoted to Bingham showing the newbie the ropes on a cross-country tour where the layoffs get harder to handle and Bingham’s growing attachment to a fellow traveler (Vera Farmiga), who at one point tells him, “think of me as yourself, but only with a vagina,” is leading him to question his priorities.

Obvious parallels are being drawn to Clooney’s real-life status as a the world’s most famous confirmed bachelor, but whether “Up in the Air” led to some real soul searching or not, the film is more deeply felt for its subversion of his cheerful lack of attachments into someone who may not have it all. Clooney can still kill with a snarky one-liner or a raised eyebrow, but his performance is more soulful than charming, and he appears to have given everything to the role, including what appear to be personal high school basketball pictures. As for Reitman, if he wasn’t credited enough for the success of “Thank You for Smoking” or “Juno” by those who believed the influence of Alexander Payne and a collaborator like Diablo Cody overwhelmed the his light touch (a crowd I’m not amongst), he emerges here as a filmmaker with chameleonic potential and endless possibilities.

Don Roos is clearly capable of making crowdpleasers, as his script for “Marley and Me” or his writer/director debut “The Opposite of Sex” will attest; it’s just that he prefers not to make them. It took me his last three films, “Bounce,” “Happy Endings” and now “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits” to realize that I no longer can stand to be in the same room with his characters.

Granted, the ones in “Love” aren’t really Roos’, they belong to the book the film is based on by Ayelet Waldman, yet one can see the attraction for the writer/director. His dialogue is as crisp as ever, but sadly, it’s put in the mouths of mopey upwardly mobile types who deal with grief in the most self-destructive ways possible. Such is the predicament of Emelia (Natalie Portman), a recent hire at a tony New York law firm who falls for one of her married colleagues (Scott Cohen). She confides to a co-worker that she goes weak in the knees when she’s around him, which is about as romantic a notion there is to be found in “Love” before she proceeds to seduce him, unexpectedly gets pregnant, destroys his marriage and sees her child die only days after it’s born. To add insult to injury, she also gets saddled with looking after her new husband’s young son (Charlie Tahan), who intentionally or not, baits his new stepmom with casual chatter about the dead baby.

All of this is exquisite to look at, thanks to the cinematography of Steve Yedlin, but really ugly to take in. As one character tells Emilia late in the film, “you’re the hardest on the ones who love you the most,” which may be why she ignores the pleas of her lactose-intolerant stepson to not be forced to eat ice cream or takes any opportunity to berate her family and friends in public. We learn through flashbacks that Emilia was once quite fun and flirty, but those days of luxurious long locks and plunging necklines have given way to crunchy curls and scarves after the death of her newborn.

The only person more bitter than Emilia is her husband’s ex-wife Carolyne, played by Lisa Kudrow, who can always be depended upon in Roos’ films to show up for a few scenes and steal the picture, partly because she is at her most acidic and partly because her vitriol comes from being the only innocent in Roos’ scenarios. There’s actually something noble about Roos’ persistence in presenting characters so thoroughly despicable you rarely see them as protagonists, but by the time Emilia and her mother (Debra Monk) leave a movie theater debating the plausibility of the romantic comedy they just saw and Emilia’s mother insists, “Sometimes good things do happen,” you’re just not sure whether you’d want them to happen to any of the characters in “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits.”

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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