As part of an obsession: Up in the Air

Up in the Air (2009) by Jason Reitman

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I just scrolled through the list of nominations for this film – and Anna Kendrick sure made an impression with the critics and the audience with this movie.

I didn’t watch it at the movies but on DVD. Movies about the oh-so-important crisis of men usually take a backseat on my to-watch list and, yeah, I’m aware that there’s a slim chance that I might miss a good movie that way – it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Up in the Air http://teaser-trailer.comRyan Bingham (George Clooney) earns his money with firing people – that’s the service his employer provides. He travels to different locations throughout the U.S. and informs employees that they are let go because the employers are too chicken to do it themselves. Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) is an ambitious young woman who wants to help cut costs for the company Bingham works for by grounding everyone and having the work done via computer.

Ryan isn’t happy about this because he likes to be on the road – or rather: in the upintheair3air. He has the aim to reach 10 million miles of flying, and then there’s the lovely Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) who leads a life similar to his and whom he can only meet and connect with in the realm of life without boundaries.

I like this one – I don’t love it, though. The three leads, as presented on the poster, are the real appeal of it. They work so well together. The writing is good, the conversations feel real, close to heart. Just look at the scene with the three of them talking in the entrance hall of the hotel. It’s probably one of the most captivating scenes in any movie in which the protagonists just talk.

The reason I don’t love the movie are the conventions that are being upheld. Natalie is 23 and has her life planned – and this life includes moving to Omaha for a boyfriend, wanting to be married with kids as fast as possible and having a career. When her boyfriend breaks up with her, she breaks apart. I am aware that this is a critique of a system that tells women to be exactly like that – but is it recognized as a critique? When Natalie lectures Ryan about his relationship to Alex and later turns out to be right – that he’s lonely and secretely in love with Alex – doesn’t that validate her convictions about love rather than criticize them?

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And did Ryan really have to turn out to be sappy and secretely unhappy, instead of the cool guy he’s on the surface? Hollywood is the greatest promoter of LOVE. The undying, the one true, the happily ever after LOVE. It is not possible for Ryan to just be casual about Alex – the way she is casual with him – he has to be in love. I’m not saying that Alex isn’t a worthy object of admiration – she’s a captivating character, I found myself falling for her – but Ryan’s love for her becomes too much of a convention. Because we expect it – the movie makers would argue, because we want it to happen. But really, is it so bad for a upintheair6main character to be alone and happy? Hollywood makes single people, people who rather live alone, feel bad about themselves. And it makes me sound like a total loser because I promote this way of life. I may not agree with Ryan’t whole philosophy of the empty backpack but I do believe there are people who like to live that way, want to live that way. But Hollywood tells us in a million ways each year that this is wrong, that everybody needs somebody to love (not just Hollywood, the music industry is probably second in line).

Up in the Air promotes this point a little too vehemently, too. And the only consolation is that Ryan doesn’t get what he wants. Alex is unavailable. And he’s back in the air where he suddenly doesn’t want to be anymore. He ends up the victim of society’s expectations. But it doesn’t feel like a critique of the system, it points at Ryan and tells us: look at this poor sob, he waited too long, he wasted his life frivolously, and now he will never find love.

And that is just wrong.

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This Kiss, this Kiss

So, over at Afterellen.com people are a-voting the best lesbian kiss in entertainment. Flipping through all the pix and amazingly wonderful characters that have also formed some of my most memorable tv and movie moments (I am not that much of a comic-fan), I not only voted my favorites I also thought about the kisses that I missed there, or the kisses that were especially important to me.

Yeah, I know, not really lesbian that one. But it actually was the thing that made me watch the show because it was the first thing I saw and I didn’t know that it was not a lesbian kiss. It ran hot and cold up and down my spine, and I mainly watched the next episode because I hoped it would be explained to me – both my reaction to a seemingly lesbian kiss and the kiss itself and whether it really was between two women… well, what can I say, I was 18 and a babe in the woods. But this kiss changed my life. It did not make me a lesbian, I also did not discover that I was one but it made me watch Xena: Warrior Princess. If nothing else, it made a fan-grrrl out of me. And I am eternally grateful for that.

I would say that the first lesbian kiss I remember seeing – it could be the first I saw but with all the stuff I saw on tv it’s rather unlikely that it really was – was the one between Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey in Heavenly Creatures. The film fascinated me on an obsessive level (not because I saw girls kissing, more because I saw girls killing), I became a heavenly creature (I did not kill anyone but to this day I am convinced there is a fourth dimension… I hope it’s where I go when I die – to spent eternity with Kate Winslet, mostly). The lesbianism in it is disturbing on more than one level (one of these levels is Freudian), it is distructive and clichéed and if you tell me you hate the movie because of it – that’s your prerogative. Still, it was important to me – these two girls made sense to me, their love, their friendship, yes, their madness, too. Let’s face it, sometimes it is maddening to be different, and I certainly knew how that felt.

Tara and Willow. It is strange because I must have actually missed their first kiss. I do know that I did not see every episode of season 5 – because it bored me to pieces. Since I have just watched the whole show (including season 7 which I have not watched before, so now at least I can rightfully jump onto the I-hate-Kennedy-bandwagon), I actually discovered that most of the things I thought happened in season 5 actually happened in season 4 – I must have completely zoned out when 5 was on. I remembered Tara getting brain-slurped by Glory and Buffy jumping to her death, that’s it. But it also held that marvellously disturbing kissing scene when Willow prepares for Joyce’s funeral. Very sensual if your girlfriend sobs into your face, snot and tears running everywhere, very classy. Okay, this was not one of the important kisses – as I said, I didn’t even remember it – but rewatching it, it makes sense: OMG, Willow and Tara-shippers want them to kiss! What are we gonna do?! I know… let them make out during a marvellously traumatic storyline… when someone died or something. We can sell it as a comfort scene, nobody will be the wiser – and thus it was done… RMB when creators of shows had to come up with rediculous storylines like that just to put in a lesbian kiss – crazypants.

But, of course, then there was that massive making-out/having sex scene just before they killed Tara off… putting it like this is not really giving this scene enough credit. But it was wonderfully acted out by both actresses (Alyson Hannigan and Amber Benson). It was important – and they kinda killed the importance along with Tara, implicating that evil lesbians must die and all that crap.

But let’s face it, if it wasn’t for these two and Xena and Gabrielle, Emily and Maya (and Emily and Paige and Emily and Somara) would probably not have happened – not in the way we can see them nowadays.

And kissing is so important, too. I mean, who doesn’t remember last Xmas when twitter was all aglow with lesbian rage when some writer of Glee actually insisted that Brittana had kissed… oh yeah, that kiss! What?! No, they never did. And they didn’t and now they have. I guess, you could say that the Glee-powers handled this badly. They told us these two had sex, these two were casual and then they gave them a lesbian story line and it all ended up being about THE KISS… The ultimate scene was well-handled, refusing to give THE KISS a big, dramatic moment with violins playing in the background. It made fun of the whole discussion surrounding it and then gave us the little peck that was the introduction to the Valentine’s kissing concert that was mostly well-acted by Naya Rivera and Heather Morris.

A kiss is still a kiss – but this one blew every other kiss right out of the water. And I guess it will win since Glee seems to take all the awards these days. Is it my winner? No. I am way beyond my teenage years and it would probably have rocked my world if I had seen it when I was a teenager. I liked it but my favorites are these:

Because these days, it’s all about them… and even months after All My Children ended I am still rewatching Minx-vids.

This movie always depresses me – I cannot fathom how real it feels to me and how lonely I feel when it is over… but I keep rewatching it because it also makes me incredibly, stupidly happy. Just believing there is love like that – yeah, and that kiss.

And, of course, this (yeah, yeah, I know, not an actual kiss, just life-saving measures… but ROC sure got into it pretty good):

Shattered Glass – on DVD

Shattered Glass (2003) by Billy Ray

More than once, I stood at the vid-shop and looked at the cover of this dvd and thought: hm, this looks interesting. And I actually like most of the actors. Unfortunately they also put the fallowing words on the cover: produced by Tom Cruise. And for years, really, that was the reason for me to not watch it. It seems idiotic, maybe, he merely produced the movie, why shouldn’t it be a good movie? So, this rational side of me finally won out and I watched the movie last night.

Stephen Glass was fired from “The New Republican” in 1998 because he had fabricated facts, and actually invented whole stories while he was writing for the magazine. The movie dramatizes the discovery of his lies by his editor Charles Lane.

While the story was probably well publisized and discussed in the U.S., I am pretty certain that in Germany very few people would know about the exploits of Glass. I am not even sure the movie made it to German theaters, so I had never heard about it, and I also did not read the dvd synopsis – because I like to be surprised every once in awhile.

It was a strange story from beginning to end as Glass (Hayden Christensen) is portrayed as the hero at the beginning. Well, it may be observed that there is something fishy about him, but it is nothing substantial, while Lane (Peter Sarsgaard), though he seems nice, seems also a little incompetent – or maybe merely not as shiny as Glass.

It becomes clear soon enough that Glass is not only fishy, but that he tends to lie, that he fabricates stories, that the little gestures he pays toward his co-workers seem more of an obsession than truly just small gestures to please someone.

His whole scam is detected when a reporter, Adam Penenberg (Steve Zahn), with forbes.com, a newly-developed internet magazine, tries to verify some of the facts in Glass’s article and finds himself unable to verify any of the given facts. He calls Lane who confronts Glass. Glass tries to cover his tracks but claims that he himself is the victim, that his sources lied etc. But Lane finds out that it is really Glass who made everything up and has put an intense amount of work into covering his tracks. Game over, so to speak.

As I have said, the feeling was strange. Usually I would have welcomed the plot scheme of making the hero the villain and vice versa, only it was too clumsily done. The placement of Lane’s family (wife and baby) pointed at a sensitive family man rather than an unscrupulous careerist who would do anything for a promotion. Christensen’s character meanwhile was from the beginning depicted as somebody who was altogether too eager to please. Still, his co-workers liked him a lot. I am not really surprised, though somehow disappointed that so much female acting skill has been wasted on small roles with little character and no character-development (unless one interpret’s the hero-worship look on Chloe Sivigny’s face at the end of the movie toward Sarsgaard’s character as development). We have not only Chloe Sivigny and Melanie Lynskey (an actress that is constantly playing too small roles for so big a talent) as Glass’s co-workers who are mainly there to adore him, but also Rosario Dawson as a rather more ambitious opponent of Penenberg.

There was someting else, though, that set my sensibilities on edge. And maybe this is only about my sensibilities and not even intentionally put into the movie, maybe I am overinterpreting (but then, that is my field of study). I felt that Glass was depicted as gay which in itself is not a bad thing (having had in mind that Tom Cruise produced the movie I found it sort of peculiar; I had rather expected the film to ignore the existence of gay altogether). Glass’s early exclamation that he was annoyed by everybody assuming he was gay and some colleague giving him tongue during a conversation about… I think it was health-care, wasn’t all that annoying although one (or I) could not shake the feeling that he was rather depicted as a homosexual in denial. And a short time later Glass is seen sitting in the break room when Lane comes in and he stares straight at his jean-covered… behind. I wonder, is it just me who saw that? I don’t think so since I was actally surprised by the shot. The problem is not with Glass being depicted as a gay man (I don’t know if Glass is/was gay but I saw an interview where he actually talked of having had a girlfriend at the time and even that doesn’t have to mean anything today), the problem is with him being gepicted as a rather neurotic, lying gay man – meaning that his lying and neurosis is somehow (though subtly) linked to, what is shown as closeted, homosexuality. Again, this interpretation is fairly subjective but it is after all what I study and I am trained to see things like this. So, maybe I am right, maybe I am wrong.

On the whole, this movie is a good movie. The acting is fantastic, you are never bored, I personally felt more with Glass than the conservatively depicted Lane (especially when I later also watched the interview that was on the dvd – I actually thought the interviewer annoying). All in all, I thought it rather funny what Glass did, I cheered him on, because it is such a wonderful metaphor on truth in journalism, how it is created, who gets to tell it. I am aware that people were affected by his lies and did not think them very funny, they found them hurtful. Still, he seems to me to be rather an anti-hero, not the spiteful person the movie tries to create.