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“Up In The Air”: pundits love it!

“Up In The Air”: pundits love it! (photo)

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From time to time, political pundits feel the need to take on an Important Movie. (They never seem to go digging through genre releases for hidden messages, though I’d give a lot to read, say, Thomas Friedman explaining how “Ninja Assassin” validates “glocalization” or whatever with its leveraging of Korean stars, Japanese history and American money.)

The film of choice this season is Jason Reitman’s “Up In The Air,” which recently became the target of competing op-eds a week apart from different sides of the political aisle. Liberal Frank Rich went first last weekend in the New York Times, followed this weekend by George F. Will in the Washington Post.

Both love the movie, because both believe it confirms the way they see the world (which really speaks — like “Juno” — to how watery Jason Reitman’s vision is).

In his piece, Rich notes early on that it’s “not a political movie,” and that it “won’t be mistaken for either a Michael Moore or Ayn Rand polemic on capitalism.” Instead, it’s about an entirely non-political subject, “an America whose battered inhabitants realize that the economic deck is stacked against them, gamed by distant, powerful figures they can’t see or know.” So, yes, not political in the slightest.

He proposes that the folks who got us into the recession “never saw the workers whose jobs were shredded by their cunning games of financial looting” and therefore we live in “two Americas” — “corporate culture” and “the rest of us,” which seems a bit simple-minded (as is the implicit suggestion that if only they saw what they were doing, we’d all be living in a paradise of responsibly self-regulating and non-rapacious capitalism). Oh, and “the fate of Americans on the ground remains very much up in the air.” (Emphasis mine.) Come write for a blog! We love that kind of stuff.

Will’s appraisal is half summary (literally: the first page out of two), and he thinks the opening version of “This Land Is Your Land” is “weird”: “this hymn to Depression-era radicalism is catnip for people eager to tickle a political manifesto from any movie that has a contemporary social setting” (as opposed to, I suppose, a contemporary setting whose social mores are taken from the Edwardian era).

12212009_uita4.jpgBut he concludes the movie is not about the recession (because the novel was written before it) but instead indicts “a welfare state that siphons increasing amounts of wealth from the economy to give to the elderly. Having willed this end, America must will the means to it — sometimes severe economic efficiency to generate revenue to finance the entitlement culture. ” Unchecked capitalism is the fault of Medicare! Also, this “is sobering entertainment for a nation contemplating a giant addition to the entitlement menu.” “Up In The Air” is actually about how health care reform is bad!

These piece are certainly no more painful than, say, Armond White’s experiments in neo-con reviewing masquerading as disinterested artistic shot-calling, or Jonathan Rosenbaum saying “Bobby” is better than “Nashville” because it’s less cynical. If anything, pundits seem more tentative in their political readings of films than film critics, who are often inclined to baldly assigning political values and worths to their subjects.

But in the end, neither of these readings are convincing: they just endorse the film as a talking point for (let’s face it) elitist-esque columnists, fodder to be plugged into the weekly agenda as another example, which is somehow the dullest way to talk about movies.

This is why I don’t read op-eds. Seriously.

[Photos: “Up In The Air,” Paramount, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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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

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