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Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Up in the Air (1 Viewer)

Neil Middlemiss

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Up in the Air
 
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Year: 2009
US Rating: R – For Language And Some Sexual Content
Film Length: 109 Minutes
Video: 1080P High Definition 16X9 - 1.85:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS Master Audio, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, English, Spanish, French, Brazilian Portuguese
 
“The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”
 
The Film: 4.5 out of 5
 
In an interview on National Public Radio, Up in the Air’s director and co-screenwriter Jason Reitman shared that this project got off the ground long before the financial meltdown gripped the globe, which makes this critical darling film a fortunately timed exercise in societal introspection. Using ‘real’ people who have experienced the unease and uncertainty, and the anger and fear that comes from being ‘let go’, Reitman delivers an film with a deeper tinge of reality, especially in the awkward and sad sequences in the film when workers are greeted with bad news. These scenes contain a genuine sense of panic and worry as these people recall, and channel, their experiences of their careers ending by the words of a strangers.
 
Ryan Bingham is a frequent flier; a man whose life is inscribed in the contrails of American Airline jets across the skies above America; a man who travels from state to state delivering a rehearsed speech to countless workers that the company that they have worked for has hired him to end their career there. This is the life he loves. A chosen routine that keeps him away from home all but a few weeks of a year, and also keeps him aloft in the luxuries of hotels, airport lounges, and the executive status afforded those who fly so frequently. One day he meets Alex, a stunningly beautiful and elegant traveler whose travels from coast to coast almost rival his. This meeting marks an important moment in Ryan’s life. Along with with his sister’s wedding on the horizon, a technological threat at work proposed by a young upstart, and the nearing of his frequent flyer miles goal that would put him in one of the most elite groups, Ryan’s life is about to taxi to the terminal long enough for both his journey and his destination to come in to focus.  
 
Up in the Air is a sweet and sad tale of life passing by while enamored by the wrong journey, along with the impersonal, but practical dispassionateness today’s corporate and small business downsizing. It is a performance driven film, with an excellent script (based on Walter Kirn’s novel) that is a joy to watch. There is much to admire in Reitman’s honest film, especially the irony of watching a man whose career of delivering earth shattering news to strangers across the domestic theater is shaken by the threat of a significant change to his own life. The lives we share small slices of provide superb material for the examination of life, and love, in unexpected ways. For all the romantic whimsy that bubbles near the surface, Up in the Air sweeps away the predictable trappings of such a path, and crosses into the rarified air of something truly unique. And there are genuinely heartbreaking moments of men and women with broken spirits, facing the daunting uncertainty that being made redundant brings; achingly real representations of conversations that, in 2008 and 2009, were held in near record numbers. There are also slices of generational and familial wisdom amongst the layers of this film, but each slice, rather than the victim of excess to the tale, becomes the fine filling that helps elevate this film.  
 
Up in the Air is fine film, for certain, with exquisite performances, deliberate directorial purpose, and a piercingly precise script upheld by blissful banter and revelations of isolation and purpose; but it is also a film enlarged by its timing.  And because of its timing, there is a haunting quality at the core of the film as  Clooney’s Bingham character enters the lives of forgettable (to him) workers, and presents them with the devastating news that they are being let go, or as Clooney summarizes
 
“We take people at their most fragile, and we set them adrift”
 
Clooney can own a scene merely by lowering his head and smiling, and indeed he wins a few moments that way. But beyond his smile is an entire life of decisions and their outcomes. An understated performance made all the more engaging by Clooney’s inhabiting of his character which is filled with confidence in the job he performs and the life that he leads, but only flirts with hubris, and only by comparison begins to truly understand the life he has chosen.
 
Vera Farmiga plays Alex; a seemingly like-minded traveler whose interest in a casual relationship with Bingham provides a deliciously easy, and mutually acceptable chance at connection. Her self-assuredness and confidence are appealing, and clearly a significant attractor to Bingham’s frequently isolated flyer lifestyle. Clooney and Farmiga have a tangible chemistry on screen, and each scene they are together, she elevates his performance from great to superb; a result which he reciprocates.
 
Perhaps the unsung comedic dynamic of Up the Air is the experienced, seasoned Bingham anchored with Natalie Keneer (Anna Kendrick) – a green, confident, over-educated, under-experienced newbie to his company, with grandiose plans of revolutionizing the business of ‘firing’, much to Bingham’s chagrin.  Bingham, a life-skeptic, happily embroiled in the disconnection of crisscrossing the country, is both threatened and annoyed by the inexperienced Keneer. When Bingham is asked to take her with him to ‘learn the ropes’ by his boss, played with a humorous sense of oblivion and flippancy by Jason Bateman, the results are quite something.
 
Jason Reitman, as he did with Juno, tells stories with a nod, a tear, and the tantalizing pleasure of dialogue. Wrapped in the quips and cute are the thoughts that we have, ideas that we share, and fears that we feel – and by crafting characters we either understand, or try to understand, he allows us to connect to what we see and hear, and appreciate the wisdom and coldness of the life played out onscreen.
 
Up in the Air doesn’t explore the reasons for downsizing, nor does it spend too much time examining the ethics of hiring to fire (employers avoiding the unpleasant task of telling someone their position has been eliminated) – rather, it explores, through the ordinary procedures of an unusual routine, the dilemma of purpose and connection – and shares the story of a man who feels he has one and doesn’t need the other. Despite the timing, the film isn’t about the cold nature of ending people’s careers, but the simple message that life is better when you are not alone. The connection, small or big, that we have with other people is the point; it’s the reason we care, try, live, and learn to be better and do better at anything. The greatest measure of self-preservation, the film posits, is the touch of life we have and share with others. I happen to agree.
 
 
 
The Video: 4.5 out of 5
 
Paramount Pictures presents Up in the Air in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The image is of excellent quality, with superbly natural skin tones, appropriate brightness, dark/light contrasts, and warmth and coldness hues to the image depending on location and setting. The clarity is wonderful, with a beautiful presentation of a film image, preserved and unencumbered by unnecessary tinkering.
 
 
 
The Sound: 4.5 out of 5
 
The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track may seem like overkill for a dialogue heavy film, but far from it. The staples of audio of perfectly presented here; crystal clear dialogue in the center channel, delightful clarity in the front and surround speakers from the apt song choices, and the rustle and bustle of airports, and the low-hum of plane rides just right. This is a precise audio, with excellent clarity throughout.
 
 
The Extras: 3.5 out of 5
 
Commentary by writer/director Jason Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg and first assistant director Jason Blumenfeld: A rewarding commentary track in which the writer/director, along with his first AD and DoP in their first commentary track, share back stories from the production of the film, and the influencing decisions behind the inclusion of ‘real’ people (in place of the previously written humorous and satirical ‘firings’).
 
Shadowplay: Before The Story (2:00): Shadowplay produced the opening title sequences for all of Jason Reitman’s films, beginning with Thank You For Smoking.
 
Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Jason Reitman in HD (23:16):
-          To Know Me Is To Fly With Me
-          Real People Firing and Irate Employee
-          Thumper and Extended Boat Scene
-          Omaha Montage
-          Spacesuit
-          Do You Live At The Hilton?
-          Nosey Neighbor
-          Natalie In Restroom
-          Natalie Vid-Chats
-          Angry Ryan Checks In
-          Goalquest Invite
-          Maynard Finch Commercial/Kara Calls Ryan
-          Barely Squeaking By/Natalie Calls
 
 
Trailers: Both the teaser and theatrical trailers are available.
 
“Help Yourself” music video by Sad Brad (1:02): The guitar strumming tune used in the film set to shots from the film and from the shooting of the film
 (HD)
 
Storyboards (1:26): A montage of filmed storyboards, or rather live-action pre-visualizations, used for the film (HD)
 
American Airlines Prank: Jason Reitman mentions this prank, which shows a great deal more turbulence on an American Airlines flight than American Airlines would have allowed.  (HD)
 
 
 
Final Thoughts
 
Up in the Air is a wonderful film. Smart, sexy, funny, and rife with thoughtful moments that ponder what the point of it all really might be. Clooney’s life is reflected by the bare and empty state of his little-visited permanent address – the sparse fridge, the spare closet, and the barren bathroom with nothing but a glass to hold a toothbrush. Within this unadorned domicile is his back-pack filled with the barest essentials that allow him to move from city to city, on planes and in rental cars, to plush hotel rooms with welcoming concierge services. A life within a life, and a perfect existence as long as it isn’t scrutinized through the veil of humanity. With performances that bristle with perfection, poignancy, and the occasional playfulness, Up in the Air is deserving of its praise. Recommended.
 
Overall 4.5 out of 5
Neil Middlemiss
Kernersville, NC
 

Michael Reuben

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Great review, Neil! Though it lost out during awards season, I think time will be kind to this film. The craftsmanship is beautiful, and it doesn't reveal everything on a first viewing.
 

Ronald Epstein

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Neil,

Enjoyable read. Thanks for the review.

This was one of my favorite films of last year and
it's great to know that the Blu-ray presentation is optimal.

Amazon has also lowered the price near the $20 level
which would justify a purchase on my part.
 

Neil Middlemiss

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Thanks Ron, Michael -

I agree that this was certainly one of the best films from last year. It surprised me, quite frankly, in just how good it was and how superb the performances were. As someone said in another thread, director Jason Reitman is 3 for 3 (Thank You for Smoking, Juno, Up in the Air)
 

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