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Ryan Bingham is the Organization Man for the 2000s. He never comes to the office. Technically, he doesn't have an office, he has an address where his employer has an office. His life is devoted to visiting other people's offices, and firing them. “Up in the Air” takes the trust people once had in their jobs and pulls out the rug. It is a film for this time.

Bingham describes himself as a Termination Facilitator. He fires people for a living. When corporations need to downsize quickly but hate the mess, he flies in and breaks the news to the new former employees. In hard times, his business is great.

This isn't a comedy. If it were, it would be hard to laugh in these last days of 2009. Nor is it a tragedy. It's an observant look at how a man does a job. Too many movie characters have jobs involving ruling people, killing them, or going to high school. Bingham loves his work. He doesn't want a home. He doesn't want a family. He gives self-help lectures on how and why to unpack the backpack of your life.

George Clooney plays Bingham as one of those people you meet but never get to know. They go through all the forms, and know all the right moves, and you're “friends,” but — who's in there? At his funeral, people confess they never really knew him. Sitting in a first-class seat one day, asked where he lives, Bingham says, “Here.”

He likes his job because he feels he performs a service. Nobody likes to fire someone. Someone has to. He has protocols. In a curious way, he's like the two Army men in “ The Messenger ,” who notify the next of kin after a soldier is killed. Jason Reitman , the director, auditioned real people who had recently been fired to play some of the fired employees (others are played by actors). He asked them to improvise their words on learning the news. Would you want the job of listening to their pain?

There are two women in Bingham's life. Alex Goran ( Vera Farmiga ) is also a road warrior, and for some time they've been meeting in dreary “Suite” hotels in East Moses, Nowhere — having meals, making love, play-acting at being the happy couple neither one will commit to. Natalie Keener ( Anna Kendrick ) is a bright, ambitious new graduate who has taken a job with Bingham's company because it's near her boyfriend. Bingham takes her on the road to teach her the ropes. Alex is him now, Natalie is him then.

Farmiga is one of the warmest and most attractive women in the movies, or at least she plays one. You may not guess all she's thinking. Kendrick's Natalie is so brim-full of joy at the dawn of her career that it shines even on ending those of others. Nothing better than making your boss happy.

The isolation of the road life is threatened by the introduction of firing by Web chat. This is in-sourcing, if you will. It may not be warmer than firing someone in person, but it saves a lot of money on airfare. Notice how Reitman likes to start with the way corporations justify immoral behavior and then apply their rationalizations with perfect logic. That method was at the core of his brilliant debut, “ Thank You for Smoking ” (2005).

Reitman also made the great “ Juno .” Still only 32, the son of the Canadian producer-director Ivan Reitman (“ Ghostbusters ”), he grew up behind the counter of the family store, so to speak. With these three films at the dawn of his career, we can only imagine what comes next. He makes smart, edgy mainstream films. That's harder than making smart, edgy indies. In a pie chart he compiled of questions he's asked time and again during interviews, “How does your father feel about your success?” ranks high. Bursting with pride, is my guess.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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Up in the Air (2009)

Rated R for for language and some sexual content

109 minutes

George Clooney as Ryan Bingham

Anna Kendrick as Keener

Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran

  • Sheldon Turner

Based on the novel by

  • Walter Kirn

Directed by

  • Jason Reitman

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Up in the Air

I n 1992, social scientist Marc Augé ­published his book Non-Places, a study of how we are increasingly accustomed to "dead-space" zones such as airport ­departure lounges, corporate HQ reception areas, the escalator-stairwells in shopping malls, and hotel corridors with couches on which no one will ever sit. Unlike any room in your own house, in which you have a clear sense of its position relative to the other rooms and the position of your house relative to the surrounding neighbourhood, these are non-places – formless, temporary way-stations of commerce, existing outside geography. The landscape they form is the setting for Jason Reitman's recession satire Up in the Air, about a certain Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney , a guy who is employed by a human resources consultancy to travel around the country, pretty well 52 weeks in the year, firing people.

In theory, Ryan gets called in because he has the expertise in "outplacement" counselling, which the ailing companies do not have in-house. In reality, he is the hatchet man. The bosses lack the nerve to do the firings themselves. It is smooth, plausible Ryan – and Clooney plays a corporate creation not unlike his fixit lawyer in the 2007 thriller Michael Clayton – who must set up shop in some small office, call in dozens of people   one by one, and give them the bad news, along with the smooth, hypnotic pep-talk about it being a challenge and an opportunity.

Ryan loves his job. He loves the weightless sense of non-responsibility in never being home; he adores airports with their consumer-opportunities; he thrills to the submissive, company-­prescribed greeting to which he is ­entitled, as a frequent flyer, at the fast-track check-in. Above all, he loves hotels and hotel rooms, perfectly neat, ­anonymous, with soothing, subdued lighting. Reitman has some great ­moments when Ryan must come home, and we see how entering his neglected apartment is like returning to a hotel room the maid, inexplicably, has not cleaned: depressing and scuzzy in the harsh daylight. Ryan is moreover having a delicious no-strings affair with another sexy exec with whom his flight-paths cross: Alex, played by Vera Farmiga, tells him she has the same uncomplicated needs as him: "Think of me as you, but with a vagina."

Yet things get complicated; he has messy family issues with his sisters, and then his own boss Craig (Jason Bateman) introduces him to the ­dynamic young employee Natalie (Anna ­Kendrick) who has invented new iChat-style ­firing, which can be done over a webcam, long-distance, thus making expensive ­air-travel and Ryan's wonderfully ­footloose existence redundant. Craig forces the resentful Ryan to take uptight young Natalie on the road with him, to show her the ropes before the new ­virtual-sacking techniques are rolled out. Ryan finds himself defending old-school face-to-face dismissal on the grounds that it is more compassionate, and even feels stirrings of a new compassion in himself, yet must press on with his task of training this young woman to be ­really good at sacking ­people. And then … well, it's not quite what you're expecting.

Reitman's movie and his own ­directorial style reminded me a little of Alexander Payne, and particularly of Payne's About Schmidt (2002), ­another corporate-disillusion road movie, which also has a central setting in Omaha. The opening credit sequence shows a weirdly mesmeric montage of overhead shots of the cities below as if from Google Earth, or from the undercarriage of a plane.

But this film is considerably lighter and more lenient than Payne's, the ­picture it resembles more closely is Steven Spielberg's 2004 comedy The Terminal, about a homeless eastern ­European ­immigrant who finds himself living in an airport. Like that movie, Up in the Air is surrounded by brand names, ­albeit of a more upscale sort, and finds in these corporate identifiers something deeply attractive, even faintly narcotic. Ryan loves the sight of Hilton hotels and American Airlines, and takes their gratitude for his "loyalty" entirely ­seriously. Of course, we, the audience, are invited to understand that Ryan is thereby neglecting the real loyalties of family and emotional commitment, but nonetheless the movie responds to the undoubted, almost sensual pleasure of brand recognition.

Kendrick and Farmiga give nice ­performances as two of the women in his life: the quasi-daughter and quasi-wife. Reitman contrives a sharp ­encounter between the three of them – in, naturally, a hotel reception lounge – in which the younger woman explains to these anti-parents what her life goals are, and how depressing she finds their wise compromises of professional middle-age.

As for Clooney, the role is just right for him. It is amiable, genial, yet ­sophisticated; it does not demand the big head-waggling, saucer-eyed "comedy" routines that he is sometimes, ­unfortunately, tempted into, and yet it is funny and Clooney's likable presence is as warm on camera as it is in voiceover. There's nothing too profound here, and yet it works well as a smart, light cosmopolitan comedy: it's a snack, rather than a meal, but expertly made.

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Adult dramedy taps into emotions of current tough times.

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A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

The movie brings a fresh perspective to the cliche

Main character Ryan is a decent man trying to do a

A man is briefly shown toting a firearm in an imag

A woman is briefly shown naked from behind, with n

Fairly frequent use of everything from “a--h

American Airlines feels like a “proud sponso

Social drinking at bars and parties; at one point,

Parents need to know that director Jason Reitman's thoughtful drama about a man (played by George Clooney) who fires people for a living (criss-crossing the country by plane to do so) examines uncomfortable, grown-up truths both timely (unemployment, financial stress) and perennial -- family dysfunction and…

Positive Messages

The movie brings a fresh perspective to the cliched but true lesson that no man (or woman) is an island. It suggests that in these challenging times, connection may just be the way to survive.

Positive Role Models

Main character Ryan is a decent man trying to do a very difficult job: firing people. Though he can’t do much to help them, he displays unusual empathy for their situation. That said, he’s a pretty isolated guy, proudly unrooted. But he discovers that he needs more in his life and sets out to get it -- as well as give to others. A colleague tries to do her job well, too, but she forgets that efficiency can’t replace humanity. Another character appears to be sympathetic, but she’s complicated: married and constricted by that commitment.

Violence & Scariness

A man is briefly shown toting a firearm in an imaginary sequence. Workers who’ve been fired curse and talk about killing themselves; one tosses a chair around in frustration.

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Sex, Romance & Nudity

A woman is briefly shown naked from behind, with nothing on but a necktie wrapped around her waist. She and her lover kiss and tussle in bed. They also talk about sex fairly candidly and send each other suggestive messages -- overall, they're shown teasing and bantering more often than having sex. A married character cheats on her husband; another is left by her boyfriend.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Fairly frequent use of everything from “a--hole” to “s--t” to “f--k," as well as "ass," "hell," "crap," "prick," and "oh my God."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Products & Purchases

American Airlines feels like a “proud sponsor” of the film since its logo is visible nearly every time the main character has to travel. Many other logos and brands associated with business travel also pop up throughout the movie, including Hilton, Hertz, and Marriott.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Social drinking at bars and parties; at one point, a group of revelers is happily intoxicated. A few tiny bottles of liquor are shown tucked in one character’s fridge.

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Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that director Jason Reitman 's thoughtful drama about a man (played by George Clooney ) who fires people for a living (criss-crossing the country by plane to do so) examines uncomfortable, grown-up truths both timely (unemployment, financial stress) and perennial -- family dysfunction and loneliness. Still, despite its heavy themes, strong language (including "s--t" and "f--k"), and some sexual interplay between characters (including brief rear nudity), it has enormous empathy and insight that may resonate with older teens who are trying to grapple with and understand increasingly complex issues. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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  • Parents say (16)
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Based on 16 parent reviews

Film Art or Victim Art?

Not worth the effort. not a feel-good movie., what's the story.

Ryan Bingham ( George Clooney ) has a dream: To be the seventh person ever to accumulate 10 million frequent-flier miles. And he's not far off. He spends 270 days a year in the air; airports and planes and hotels are home to him. When he's not on the motivational circuit, extolling the virtues of carrying a lightly packed symbolic backpack -- both objects and people can weigh you down, you see -- he's zigzagging the country to assist companies in firing their workers. And amazingly, he does it with more than a modicum of empathy and soul. But a young upstart ( Twilight supporting player Anna Kendrick ) is convinced that the process can be mechanized -- which could ground Bingham short of his goal, take him away from another business traveler ( Vera Farmiga ) he's fallen in love with, and make him examine what -- and where -- is really home.

Is It Any Good?

UP IN THE AIR is by no means perfect. To start, it hits screenplay mileposts a little too on the nose, like an A student raising his hand for yet another crack at an answer we know he'll get. And yet it takes us to places we never quite expect. It's irreverent when we think it will be serious; serious when we think it will go for laughs. It's surprising -- and that doesn't happen often in the movies these days.

Based on a bestselling novel by Walter Kirn, Jason Reitman 's film is literary without being self-consciously so. Clooney delivers perhaps his best performance yet, with more nuance and less reliance on his usual tics (the downcast looks, the easy smile). The vulnerability he displays with Farmiga, a worthy female counterpart, convinces but doesn't overplay. Bingham's journey is one we've all found ourselves on: how to connect in a world that makes it so easy to be within reach, yet so hard to reach out, even to family. It also captures these challenging times, when jobs and, yes, people seem expendable. And yet, they're not: The film gives them a voice, one downsized worker at a time.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Bingham's job: Is it a difficult one? Does he enjoy it? Why does he seem committed to doing it? Does it make him a bad guy or good? What about Natalie, his colleague?

How does the movie capture a particular moment in history? Does it seem realistic, or has it been Hollywood-ized?

Who do you think the movie is trying to reach? Does it succeed?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : December 4, 2009
  • On DVD or streaming : March 9, 2010
  • Cast : Anna Kendrick , George Clooney , Vera Farmiga
  • Director : Jason Reitman
  • Inclusion Information : Female actors
  • Studio : Paramount Pictures
  • Genre : Drama
  • Run time : 109 minutes
  • MPAA rating : R
  • MPAA explanation : language and some sexual content
  • Last updated : December 6, 2023

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‘up in the air’: film review.

Before Jason Reitman's film plunges into deeper waters, it seduces us with some of the most darkly hilarious moments to grace the screen in years.

By Stephen Farber

Stephen Farber

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'Up in the Air'

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Reitman and co-writer Sheldon Turner embellishes Walter Kirn’s acclaimed novel about a man who spends much of his life in the air, traveling around the country to fire people for executives too gutless to do the dirty job themselves. The character is just about as unsavory as the corporate pimp played by Jack Lemmon in Wilder’s The Apartment . When a character begins as such a sleazeball, you know there must be a moral transformation lurking somewhere in the last reel. That redemption never quite arrives for Clooney’s Ryan Bingham, which is one of the things that makes Air  so bracing. The Bottom Line Before Jason Reitman's film plunges into deeper waters, it seduces us with some of the most darkly hilarious moments to grace the screen in years.

Before the movie plunges into deeper waters, it seduces us with some of the most darkly hilarious moments to grace the screen in years. Clooney’s crack comic timing makes the most of Ryan’s acrid zingers as he savors a life without the vaguest threat of commitment. Trouble arises when his boss hires a young dynamo, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who has the idea of cutting costs by instituting a program of firing people over the Internet instead of in person.

Ryan sees his footloose lifestyle threatened, but he is forced to take Natalie on a cross-country odyssey to train her in the niceties of delivering bad news deftly. The interplay between the world-weary Ryan and the naive Natalie makes for delicious comedy, and Kendrick plays her role smoothly. There’s also a wonderful performance by Vera Farmiga as Alex, a dynamo who clicks with Ryan because she’s also seeking no-strings sex on the run. (“Think of me as you with a vagina,” Alex tells Ryan helpfully.)

But if this tiny gaffe reveals a touch of insecurity on Reitman’s part, the rest of the film is perfectly controlled. The entire cast is splendid. A couple of Juno  alumni pop up: Jason Bateman is the smarmy boss who makes Ryan look humane, and J.K. Simmons has a single scene that proves just how much a master actor can convey in two or three minutes of screen time.

The razor-sharp editing by Dana Glauberman gives the film a breezy momentum even while it’s delivering piercing social insights. Holding everything together is Clooney, who bravely exposes the character’s ruthlessness while also allowing us to believe in his too-late awakening to the possibilities he’s missed. It’s rare for a movie to be at once so biting and so moving. If Ryan’s future seems bleak, there’s something exhilarating about a movie made with such clear-eyed intelligence.

Cast: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Jason Bateman, Amy Morton, Danny McBride, J.K. Simmons Director-producer: Jason Reitman Screenwriters: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner Based on the novel by: Walter Kirn Producers: Jeffrey Clifford, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman Executive producers: Ted Griffin, Michael Beugg, Joe Medjuck, Tom Pollock Director of photography: Eric Steelberg Production designer: Steve Saklad Music: Rolfe Kent Costume designer: Danny Glicker Editor: Dana Glauberman

No MPAA rating, 108 minutes

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Movie Review: Up in the Air (2009)

  • General Disdain
  • Movie Reviews
  • 16 responses
  • --> December 6, 2009

Don’t be fooled by the trailers for Up in the Air . It may seem like a formulaic romantic comedy. It’s not. Not by a long shot. Jason Reitman, following up his Juno breakthrough, has put together a finely developed and many times amusing story about choices — both personal and professional — and their consequences — planned and unplanned — to oneself and to others.

And it is these choices, for better of worse (depending on whose perspective you are looking from), that smooth talker Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) is all about cashing in on. Coining himself as the “Termination Facilitator”, he zigzags across the country and delivers that dreaded zinger to employees — of whatever company that’s hired him — that they’re now out of a job. To you and me it would seem like a thankless job, but Bingham relishes his position and the freedom it affords him — i.e., no commitments.

In this role, Clooney shows, once again, why he is one of the more sought after actors on the planet. Reitman claimed he wrote the role specifically with Clooney in mind and without a doubt it shows. George sweats confidence and puts forth that swagger without being entirely egotistical that is needed for a man hired to fire people. He’s also able to pull off the opposite side of the spectrum equally well — Bingham is also one lonely son of a bitch even though he thinks he isn’t. A streak of fear runs through him too when he finds he himself may be shit canned.

That’s right what goes around comes around. Recent graduate and looking to make a name for herself, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) convinces Bingham’s boss Craig (Jason Bateman) that there is money to be saved by firing people via video conferencing. It stands to be a tidy sum of money when you stop to think the amount of layoffs occurring this day and age and that Ryan has nearly accumulated 10,000,000 air miles. Self preservation kicks in and he gets Natalie to tag along so she can see for herself that ironically it isn’t only about the bottom line — his “personal touch” is worth the price.

The other lady in Ryan’s life is quite nearly a mirror image of himself. Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) is a constant traveler too, finding herself living out of a suitcase most days of the year. And while both agree relationships complicate their lives; they alter their flight schedules so they can happen into one another for fleeting sex and camaraderie. She is wholly more complex than she lets on and the chemistry between the two is rather fresh and striking.

All combined, Up in the Air is a masterstroke. Reitman mixes the elements of drama and satire superbly; gets a great performance from his bankable star; and gets even better performances by his two lesser known actresses. And seeing as the film was released so late in the year, it is surely looking for Oscar consideration. Being such a fine movie, I can’t imagine it won’t earn a nod or two . . .

The Critical Movie Critics

I'm an old, miserable fart set in his ways. Some of the things that bring a smile to my face are (in no particular order): Teenage back acne, the rain on my face, long walks on the beach and redneck women named Francis. Oh yeah, I like to watch and criticize movies.

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'Movie Review: Up in the Air (2009)' have 16 comments

The Critical Movie Critics

December 6, 2009 @ 5:32 pm Steven Smith

I’ll partially agree with you that George Clooney is a good actor. The reason he is good though is because he always plays the same role type (paraphrasing from your review): “Confident with that swagger that isn’t entirely egotistical.” Take a look at his body of work and I think you’ll agree. Break him out of his comfort zone and I’ll bet he turns into a pumpkin.

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December 8, 2009 @ 2:57 am akira

most recently i watched Men who stare at the goats movie where George Clooney acted very different character. in this time he plays in up in the air movie and it was really fantastic.

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December 11, 2009 @ 9:19 am General Disdain

Steven –

Clooney takes on all role types and, more often than not, does a fine job.

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December 20, 2009 @ 9:04 am Elmer Carlson

Clooney performed well in this movie. Also, the movie is undeniably great that discussed layoffs.

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January 20, 2010 @ 2:41 pm Van Lines

the chemistry between the leads was fantastic and anna kendrick’s performance was criminally underrated. I definitely see a nomination or 3.

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January 30, 2010 @ 8:35 am Katy

I enjoyed the movie and thought the performances were great, especially Anna Kendrick’s. I also could see the “real” George Clooney in this role..I’m not sure if it took much acting at all. However, as good as the acting was, I thought most of the movie was predictable. In fact I “called” many scenes before they happened except the ending. I wish the ending was different..I thought is was terribly sad.

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January 30, 2010 @ 4:26 pm JerseyMike

For some reason, I couldn’t connect with this movie. I didn’t find it particularly interesting or engaging for me to give it high marks. I think Clooney did the part justice, but it was a-typical role for him…

I just wished I liked the film more, I certainly wanted too…

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January 30, 2010 @ 9:43 pm Jamie

Just watched it and it was a very quiet film with good writing and excellent performances. I kinda liked how Reitman introduced the characters in the first half, the brilliant part of the film but in the 2nd half was a total…meh. Filled with cliches, poor pacing and visual editing. Anna Kendrick is definitely a scene stealer. She gave the best performance in the film, but her crying scene is really irritating. Vera Farmiga provided a very subtle and sexy work in here but I expected more. George Clooney is also very good as the central character, although there are some scenes that he bores me. Brillianr first half, mediocre second half. 9/10

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April 7, 2010 @ 5:14 am country show

Its fantastic movie. Its comedy is amazing. Jason Reitman done a great job for making this great movie.

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May 10, 2010 @ 6:21 am Jessica Jameson

Up In The Air was the best movie I had seen in a while, I can say its the best in even maybe 5 years time – it gave me sooooo much mentally and Georg Clooney put the icing on the cake in this movie :)

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September 1, 2010 @ 11:45 am FPP

I’ve loved this movie. Seen it 3 times and i would still wacht it.

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September 20, 2010 @ 8:35 pm Reuben

We weren’t sure if we would enjoy this movie since it dealt with people getting fired, however, we were pleasantly surprised. We found the characters to be interesting and the movie enjoyable. George Clooney and Anna Kendrick had wonderful chemistry.

The Critical Movie Critics

October 5, 2010 @ 4:45 am Thomas Angelo

Great movie. Was in theater three times so liked it. I was stunned that movie with a budget of $25m could earn more than $158m (and statistics are growing) Recommend to all who want to relax and have a good time with friends

The Critical Movie Critics

October 5, 2010 @ 8:51 am Miwa Portnoy

Hell yeah! Sure it`s great! Seen it only once, but have a strong impressions for a long time. Only District 9 could beat it. (don`t blame – I know that these movies in different genres. I mean impression)

The Critical Movie Critics

November 4, 2010 @ 4:34 pm Mephisto

I liked this movie personally. I think Clooney is one of the funniest actors out there at the moment. He tends to be basically the same character in most of his movies. A guy who is in control, but is slightly crazy. Maybe a better term would be off the wall. I would rate this film a 8 out of 10 stars. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Critical Movie Critics

November 8, 2010 @ 6:25 pm CMrok93

A well-acted piece about a man’s inability to cope with a world more real than the one he lives. And the screenplay just keeps on getting better and better. Nice review, check out mine when you can!

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Screen Rant

Up in the air review.

Up In The Air is a well-crafted and very timely piece of cinema. A sure contender in the coming Awards Season.

george clooney in up in the air review

Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw reviews Up In The Air

Up In The Air is a film whose entire point can be discerned from its title. This new offering from Juno director Jason Reitman stars George Clooney as a man whose existence involves traveling the country airport to airport, essentially living "above" all that life presses upon the rest of us stuck below.

Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, is a corporate ax man. Struggling companies hire men like Ryan to fire employees for them - a way of sparing cowardly bosses the inconvenience of actually having to face their crushed employees. With the economy in shambles, life is grand for the restless Ryan - he has plenty of axed employees to help "transition" all across America, meaning he can stay out on the road, free, flying high where he feels he belongs.

A monkey wrench gets thrown into Ryan's frequent-flying lifestyle when young corporate shark Natalie (Anna Kendrick) sells Ryan's boss (Jason Bateman) on a business model where ax men terminate employees over webcam, sparing the company the bill for all that costly traveling. Seeing his own profession (and lifestyle) facing the brink of extinction, Ryan convinces the boss that this young whipper-snapper Natalie needs a firsthand tour of the world she is so desperate to "streamline." So off they go, old pro and young shark, flying into the failing heartland of America.

up_in_the_air_georgeclooney_annakendrick2-500x331

The journey, of course, reveals new things about the travelers. Ryan has some wonderful "layovers" with Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent-flyer elitist, and starts to wonder if his isolated life is truly worthwhile. Natalie goes out on the front lines, axing real flesh-and-blood employees face-to-face, and wonders if her cold ambition isn't really hiding a soft heart. Ryan is soft in demeanor but slightly cold at heart and Natalie is his opposite; it's a wonderful pairing. By the end, who can say what is what and what the future will hold? And therein lies, what I feel will be for many people, the make or break point of Up In The Air .

Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner's adaptation of Walter Kim's novel is masterful in its approach. There is a lot of heavy stuff going on in this film, yet the film itself manages to avoid being cheaply sentimental or emotionally manipulative. The scenes of Ryan and Natalie at work, firing people, contain montages of real Americans who have been "cast adrift" in the struggling economy. The impact of hearing and seeing real people vent their anger, fear and frustrations about the future hits with a sense of urgency, but also with a sense of real human dignity that is hard for Hollywood to mimic. Luckily, Reitman makes the wise choice of just laying things out there with a documentarian's eye - this is what is going on, this is what it's like out there right now - without preaching any gospel or trying to hang blame.

The two principal characters, Ryan and Natalie, are likewise drawn from the smart angle of two people sent out to deal with a mess that's been made - without worrying about who made it. Stripped of cliched moral or ethical concerns, the film opens up a very fresh examination about how we deal with turmoil, fear and uncertainty as people, both externally (like concern for our jobs), or internally, primarily where our emotions and emotional connections are concerned.

up_in_the_air

The principal cast in this film are excellent. George Clooney - in a brilliantly understated performance - never seems to shy away from the ever-present fact that aspects of his off-screen persona - his real-life attitudes toward marriage, for example - are being reflected in Ryan's character. I'll go so far as to say Clooney is brave in this film, for channeling  so much of his public swagger and gusto through Ryan, even when it's being made clear during several of Up In The Air 's most gut-wrenching (and beautifully understated) moments that Ryan is a man who has been believing in his own B.S. for far too long.

Anna Kendrick has already sparked a raging buzz for her turn as hot-shot Natalie, and rightfully so. She spends just about all of her screen time trading quips with one of the most charming and engaging leading men currently on the planet, and never once comes off looking like the new girl at school (unless her character is supposed to). In fact, Kendrick is pretty much a scene-stealer throughout the film - impressive achievement when acting against the likes of Clooney.

Vera Farmiga is as elusive, mysterious and  beautiful as ever in her role as Alex. Like her performance in The Departed , I never feel like I've gotten enough of her presence onscreen - but I'm certainly left  feeling like I want to see more of her in the future. Up In The Air also boasts some great cameos, including standout moments from J.K. Simmons ( Juno ), Zach Galifianakas ( The Hangover ) and Danny McBride ( Tropic Thunder ).

Jason Reitman once again deserves his sure-to-be-forthcoming award nominations for this film. From the opening credits sequence, which features a gorgeous mashup of pilot's eye landscaping shots; to every richly colored scene; to the still, quiet and heavily weighted moments of human emotion, the direction here is tight and expertly controlled, yet still soft and subtle enough to make you forget you're watching something that has been so carefully, masterfully, crafted. From start to finish, I was totally on board for this flight.

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The ending will be the dividing factor for this film, no doubt. I'm still wrestling with that ending and it is primarily why I can't give Up In The Air five stars. Without spoiling anything, I'll refer to what I said at the start: U p In The Air is a film whose entire point can be discerned from its title.

For those who like movies where good is rewarded, bad is punished and there is no such thing as moral or ethical gray - you will be upset by the end of this film, I won't lie to you. For those of you who are of the opinion that the journey of life is never as simple as flying from point A to point B without delays, inclement weather, or cancellations, then be happy in the knowledge that there is a beautiful, timely film out there talking directly to you.

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up in the air movie reviews

  • DVD & Streaming

Up in the Air

  • Comedy , Drama , Romance

Content Caution

up in the air movie reviews

In Theaters

  • December 4, 2009
  • George Clooney as Ryan Bingham; Vera Farmiga as Alex Goran; Anna Kendrick as Natalie Keener; Jason Bateman as Craig Gregory; J.K. Simmons as Bob; Amy Morton as Kara Bingham; Danny McBride as Jim; Melanie Lynskey as Julie

Home Release Date

  • March 9, 2010
  • Jason Reitman

Distributor

  • Paramount Pictures

Movie Review

Ryan Bingham’s occupation is to relieve people of theirs. He spends 322 days on the road, living out of a carry-on bag and firing employees for corporate honchos who are too gutless to do it themselves. In depressed economic times, his career crescendos.

He packs clothing, wields frequent flyer miles and navigates security with a drill sergeant’s precision. And his solitary, Up in the Air existence is the only thing he loves. It’s delightfully devoid of commitment, affection and other messy complexities of life. He even moonlights as a motivational speaker, giving self-help lectures on how to simplify life by avoiding relational interaction and obligation.

So meeting Alex throws a huge wrench into Bingham’s machine. His female shark-like equivalent, she’s looking for no-strings-attached sex and companionship on business trips. But their episodic interstate hotel trysts gradually leave Bingham suddenly feeling lonely (!) and wanting more.

Twenty-three-year-old upstart dynamo Natalie is equally disruptive to Bingham’s detached routines. She introduces the idea of firing people remotely over the Internet, possibly saving their company millions in travel expenses—but simultaneously threatening Bingham’s very existence.

You see, Bingham oxymoronically believes employees deserve a personal touch when being let go. He demands that inexperienced Natalie learn the old ways before insisting on new ones. Their boss, Craig, concedes, but requires Bingham to do the showing during a cross-country firing expedition. The two immediately challenge each other’s core beliefs, and both are left in a quandary: Natalie wonders if she can live with herself as she destroys people’s lives. Bingham wonders if he can face having a grown-up connection.

Positive Elements

Bingham’s story brings to light a whole host of issues worth thinking about when it comes to relationships. More on that in my “Conclusion.”

While firing an employee named Bob, Bingham challenges him to rethink his life’s direction, giving him hope. Rather than considering the layoff negative, he tells Bob to see it as a rebirth and chance to pursue his talents and dreams.

Though he hasn’t seen his sisters Kara or Julie in years (Kara tells him, “Basically you don’t exist to us”), he goes to Julie’s wedding and even offers to walk her down the aisle. Later he intervenes when Julie’s fiancé, Jim, gets cold feet, and gives a very-unlikely-from-him pep talk on the importance of companionship and family. When Jim comes around, the experience brings Bingham closer to his siblings. Later he sets up a generous vacation fund for Julie and her new husband.

Craig’s greed and glee in a flagging job market serves as an example not meant to be followed. As does antihero Bingham’s habit of sizing up fellow flyers based almost solely on their race. More negatives that the movie clearly presents as negatives include Bingham manipulating flight attendants (for betters seat assignments) and his ability to apply a false sense of compassion when dealing with the fragile people he fires. Indeed, he’s pretended to feel sympathy for so long that he now seems to think he is actually empathetic. He’s still lying to them, though, when he tells them that their relationship with him is “just the beginning,” and that he’ll help them transition into their next job. In reality he knows he’ll never see them again.

Two more things fall into this negative-positive category: True to the world’s increasingly impersonal style, Natalie quits a job via text message, and her boyfriend breaks up with her using the same method.

Spiritual Elements

Bingham loosely compares his profession to the Greek god Charon, who ferries souls across the Styx in the afterlife. A traditional marriage ceremony is shown.

Sexual Content

Bingham and Alex’s banter about frequent flyer miles and rental cars is riddled with double entendres. And soon he takes her to his hotel room, where the camera gets a shot of her naked backside. (Bingham’s bare-chested.) They kiss, talk briefly of sexual positions and meet for similar rendezvous later.

Unbeknownst to Bingham, Alex is married, and when he visits her residence unexpectedly, she tells him to leave, hissing, “That’s my family. That’s my real life.” She calls him a “parenthesis” and an “escape”—two things he himself had sought until their relationship.

A reference or two is made to homosexuality, prostitution, masturbation and erections. Alex and Bingham “sext” each other. At least one other couple kisses passionately. Women in low-cut dresses show some cleavage.

Violent Content

A recently axed employee pours bleach into the office coffeepot and wields a rifle in a sniper-like attempt at revenge. (No one is hurt.) We hear that an employee whom Natalie and Ryan fired committed suicide by jumping off a bridge.

Crude or Profane Language

Close to 25 f-words and about 10 s-words. God’s name is misused a half-dozen times, Christ’s another three or four. Other language includes a few utterances each of “h‑‑‑,” “a‑‑hole,” “pr‑‑k,” “p‑‑‑ed,” “d‑‑k” and “p‑‑‑y.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

Alex and Bingham first meet over cocktails in a bar. Later the couple and Natalie crash a corporate party where Natalie gets drunk. Alcohol also makes appearances on planes and in hotel minibars and restaurants.

Other Negative Elements

Alex and Bingham break into a school.

Based on Walter Kirk’s 2001 novel, Up in the Air explores the price of relationships—and the cost of a life without them.

“How much does your life weigh?” Bingham asks. And he tells audiences to imagine carrying their lives around in a backpack. First put in the knickknacks, the linens, clothes, TV and couch. Eventually add relationships—everyone from acquaintances to a spouse. Then ponder the crushing weight of the obligations, negotiations and secret compromises made because of these people and things.

Bingham prefers to walk away from it all. His life is about streamlining and traveling light. “The slower we move, the faster we die,” he says.

So it’s no coincidence that director Jason Reitman uses The Velveteen Rabbit in one of his scenes. The children’s story exemplifies Bingham’s life: fear of becoming authentic through relationship. After all, being in communion with people is demanding. As the rabbit demonstrates, it wears out your joints, exhausts you and damages your fur.

But it simultaneously makes your life and world wonderfully real.

Bingham does grow to realize that his sterile reality is not a life at all. But downtrodden by Alex’s rejection—and unlike Natalie who courageously seeks other employment—he cannot find it in himself to change. His, then, becomes more of a cautionary tale than an inspirational one as his plight indirectly elevates pursuing family and friends over stockpiling frequent flyer miles.

(The film’s inclusion of sex, boozing and foul language defies direct inspiration , too.)

“We are here to make limbo more tolerable” for the newly unemployed, Bingham tells Natalie. In reality, though, he’s the one treading water. The movie knows it. And we know it.

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The Movie Review: 'Up in the Air'

The protagonist of Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, Ryan Bingham, is a hatchet man for hire. The Omaha company that employs him, which goes by the Orwellian name Career Transition Counseling (CTC), rents him out to other companies to fire employees they don't have the courage to fire themselves. He flies about the country, touching down briefly in Kansas City or Tulsa or Miami, to walk into offices he has never visited and tell workers he has never met that they are being let go. There are tears, and rages, and Bingham accepts them with unflappable grace.

Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that his detached demeanor is less a corollary of his job than vice versa. Charming and affable--did I mention he is played by George Clooney?--Bingham is nonetheless an emphatic rebuttal of John Donne's adage about men and islands: romantically uncommitted, distant from family, and in pursuit of a side business as a self-help lecturer who preaches the gospel of emotional disencumbrance. Last year, he informs us, he spent 322 days traveling, "which means I had to spend 43 miserable days at home." His true residence is a stool in the airport lounge, a room at the Hilton, a seat in the first class cabin. He is, quite literally, above it all.

At least, that is, until his boss (Jason Bateman) upsets the delicate equilibrium of his life by informing him that the wheels of capitalism require even more lubrication than CTC currently provides. A fresh-faced B-school graduate, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), has come up with a plan to fire folks via video link, a move that would end Bingham's obsessive accretion of airline miles. When Bingham protests that she doesn't understand the value of the face-to-face interaction, that "there is a dignity to what I do," he is tasked with taking his young colleague on the road--or rather, to the air--to show her just exactly what that is.

In the course of his travels, Bingham encounters a kindred spirit in skirt and heels named Alex (Vera Farmiga), whose carnal enthusiasm is exceeded only by her aversion to emotional entanglement, a mirror to his own. ("Think of me as yourself," she tells him, "but with a vagina.") The two first meet in a hotel bar, of course, and conduct foreplay by comparing elite-status cards and frequent flyer miles. When he declines to disclose the latter figure, she places her palms a foot apart and inquires coyly, "Is it this big?" "I don't want to brag," he demurs. Her job requires nearly as much flight time as his, so the two meet for a series of romantic interludes at airport hotels, culminating with his invitation that she accompany him to his sister's wedding, an experiment in intimacy on more than one front.

Reitman directs Up in the Air with a light touch, offering a kind of upbeat existentialism. Though it is a story about Bingham's isolation, the character is in a near-constant state of interaction: with Alex, with Natalie, with his sister (Melanie Lynskey) and her fiancé (Danny McBride), and with the litany of unfortunates whom he steers gently into unemployment (including J. K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis). This is a man who has kept to himself not by hiding from the world but by spreading himself across it so thinly that no one else ever has access to more than a sliver.

Clooney wears the role with such ease that it is difficult to imagine any other actor even attempting it. Smooth, intelligent, and exquisitely comfortable in his own skin, his Bingham is a born talker, whether coaxing a fired employee down from the ledge of despair or inviting a roomful of seminar attendees to empty their metaphorical "backpacks" of a lifetime's worth of commitments. Moreover, the sharp, literate script (adapted from the Walter Kirn novel by Reitman and Sheldon Turner) offers Clooney a wealth of good lines with plenty left over for the rest of the cast, in particular the excellent Farmiga.

There are scattered missteps--a conversation with a reluctant groom that could have used a few more beats, a series of cameos by laid-off workers testifying to the Importance of Family that make the movie's moral more explicit than it need have been--but overall Reitman delivers, with Clooney's assistance, one of the nimblest grownup entertainments of recent years. (In light of this film's quality and Jennifer's Body 's distinct lack thereof, it is high time to reevaluate how much of Juno 's success was due to Reitman's direction and how much to Diablo Cody's script.)

If there is a broader complaint to be made of the film--and I'm of two minds whether there is--it's that, it, too, floats along the surface a bit. With the exception of a wedding montage set to a song by the soon-to-be-far-better-known Sad Brad Smith, Up in the Air rarely makes a strong emotional connection. This may be inevitable in the case of Clooney's character--it is, after all, difficult to care too deeply about the isolation of a man who does not care too deeply about it himself--but it extends to the rest of the film as well: the girl who has her heart broken, the workers whose lives are abruptly shattered.

This reluctance to dig deeper may be the difference between a very good film, which Up in the Air is by any reasonable measure, and a great one. As it is, Reitman has given us a witty, elegant movie that is nonetheless, like its protagonist, somewhat aloof from the vicissitudes experienced by mere mortals.

This post originally appeared at TNR.com.

Up in the Air

Up in the Air

Review by brian eggert december 24, 2009.

up in the air

Ryan Bingham breezes through airports with the speed and efficiency of a seasoned pro. Indeed, he’s approaching the astronomical amount of frequent-flier miles required to earn him “executive status,” which only six other people in the world have achieved. “More people have walked on the moon,” he boasts. He collects miles like a hobby and gives seminars about the joys of having no emotional ties, or as he calls it, having nothing in his backpack. Bingham’s life is spent on airplanes, flying from job to job where his trade, firing people for weak companies that can’t do it themselves, takes him. He has a one-bedroom apartment that he dreads visiting barely over a month out of the year, and he’s detached from his family. For most of us, his life might sound depressing and lonely. But Bingham loves every minute of isolation, every flourish of recycled oxygen, and phony-nice airport and hotel customer service.

Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air appears staid and bluish, as reserved formally as a deep psychological drama. The atmosphere of cold hotel lobbies and shoddy office buildings certainly doesn’t welcome an audience. But George Clooney does. He plays Bingham, a nomadic “career transition counselor” who prides himself on ushering people into the next phase in their lives, from a job that clearly wasn’t working out to a door of open possibility. He moves as smoothly through a firing as he does through airport security checks, knowing every move to make the transition as painless as possible. Forward movement means life, whereas stopping and planting roots means only a quicker death. In fact, you might say Bingham’s life exists to avoid pain—no family, no friends, just work, and no worries because of it.

Adapted from Walter Kirn’s novel by Reitman and co-writer Sheldon Turner, the film places Bingham in a situation where suddenly his job becomes irrelevant. His company, headed by a smug executive played by Jason Bateman, opts to fire people through cheaper remote video links. But Natalie (Anna Kendrick), the impetuous young go-getter who conceived the system, knows nothing of Bingham’s work and joins him on the road for a bitingly harsh tour. Adding an unnecessary impersonal touch to an already impersonal procedure, the video system grounds Bingham, forcing him to make ties. For example, the casual sex-loving female version of himself, Alex (Vera Farmiga, in another wonderful performance), goes from being a fun time to someone with whom he wants to develop roots.

Reitman’s film would not work at making Bingham so likeable through the story and direction and script alone, which are all well-crafted and socially conscious; Bingham becomes something significant through the performance of George Clooney, whose class and reverberant sex appeal have made him perhaps the most genial onscreen talent today. Those numerous comparisons to Cary Grant’s charisma and cinematic persona are spot-on. What Clooney brings to this role is not something that a writer can conceive, but it’s something Reitman could control by simply watching Clooney’s films—it’s the realization that the actor’s charms act as an illusory device within a narrative such as this, camouflaging the impending darkness of the story and making it seem somehow charming. Still, Clooney, his own life shyly similar to Bingham’s, does great work here and shows a piercing vulnerability that we’ve not yet seen from him.

This is a film that will strike debate among moviegoers, particularly because of the ending. Up in the Air seems to take a pointedly sentimental direction, but then suddenly shifts in the finale, leaving the audience to contemplate what it means. There are various ways to interpret the film. It can be read as a timely snapshot of economic unsteadiness in America, and how that instability shapes people—from those who take advantage of it, to those who cling to their loved ones in times of distress. Or, perhaps it’s simply a character study of someone who realizes their way of life has left them with nothing. But then, Reitman includes footage of persons actually fired in real-life in the end, confessing that they would not have made it through their “career transition” without their family and friends. These scenes seem to awkwardly overshadow Bingham, leaving his storyline but a symptom of a much larger disease that has weight in the film.

Up in the Air remains a painful, intelligent, and darkly comic drama that will affect you regardless of how you choose to interpret it. The son of Ivan Reitman (the producer-director behind the Ghostbusters movies), the young Jason Reitman has made only three films and accomplished varying degrees of greatness with each. The much-acclaimed satire Thank You for Smoking and the quirky comedy Juno preceded this picture, making a small but significant career for the young filmmaker. This is the director’s best work thus far, as its timelessness (whereas Juno has already become dated and irrelevant) and social reflectivity will no doubt strum a vital chord with audiences today and tomorrow.

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up in the air movie reviews

UP IN THE AIR

"wasted life".

up in the air movie reviews

What You Need To Know:

(RoRo, B, C, Ab, LLL, V, SS, NN, A, DD, M) Confused, but strong Romantic worldview set in a hedonistic, egotistical world, with a slight morality lesson where the hero ultimately figures out his hedonistic lifestyle is a waste, plus a wedding set in a Christian church with Christian symbols but movie does not take advantage of the setting to deliver a more inspiring message and ends on depressing note with no solutions; at least 50 obscenities and five profanities; people being fired get aggressive, knock over chairs, clean off table tops, and one threatens to commit suicide and later does so; adulterous sex with sex act not shown but many descriptions of sex and acceptance of sex messages; very provocative rear female nudity and upper male nudity; frequent alcohol use; smoking and discussion of drugs; and, verbal abuse and deception.

More Detail:

UP IN THE AIR is an often funny but very dark cautionary tale with no hint of a solution to life’s problems.

Ryan Bingham is a corporate downsizer who fires people. He flies so much that he’s almost reached 10 million miles. On the side, he lectures about getting rid of the excess stuff in your life, including people. He travels so much that, when he’s asked where his home is, he says, “Here,” while he’s sitting on the plane.

Ryan also has many one-night stands with women. He meets a woman named Alex who captivates him by just wanting extreme recreational sex on planes, in hotel rooms, and anywhere else.

One day Ryan is called back to the corporate headquarters with all the other corporate downsizers to hear about a great cost-saving system. Brilliant but naïve twenty something efficiency expert, Natalie, has convinced Ryan’s company that they can fire people via video conferencing. Ryan is shocked and convinces the company to let him take Natalie on a world-wind tour of corporations where he will be firing people. Ryan is tough but effective in his firing techniques. Natalie goofs up, and a client’s career hangs in the balance.

Ryan goes to his niece’s wedding, where he and has to talk the groom out of having cold feet. Ryan realizes he may be wrong about jettisoning everything in life, so he goes to propose to Alex, but is in for the shock of his life.

George Clooney does a terrific job of playing Ryan Bingham. Anna Kendrick is excellent as Natalie. There are many hilarious moments, but there are many horrifying moments as Ryan fires people whose whole lives are coming to an end. He doesn’t care a bit about these people. The movie clearly shows that his selfish, egotistical attitude is ultimately a disaster. The only hopeful thing is finding a mate, but much of the movie shows that marriage is a disaster too.

There was an opportunity to show real hope at his niece’s wedding, but the wedding is filmed like a music video with no sermon and hope. The wedding is set in a church with symbols of the Cross and other artifacts, but the movie passes by all of the real hope to end on a completely depressing note.

UP IN THE AIR is getting a lot of critical buzz, perhaps because it shows the cruelty of the corporate structure firing lifetime employees. Perhaps because people realize that Ryan’s egocentric, hedonistic lifestyle is a disaster. It seems a very apt portrait of a society without a soul. The problem is that there is a soul to this society, and there is an answer to Ryan’s problems.

Every problem raised in the movie has been answered by Jesus Christ. He died on the Cross to forgive us so that we can forgive others. He rose again so that we could be born again and live with the eternal hope of a life sustained by His grace through the power of His Holy Spirit and the Word of God, the Bible. This is the type of movie where it would be nice to stand outside the theater and talk to the viewers about the hope of a Jesus Christ after the movie has driven them to the point of despair. It is sad watching George Clooney in this role, because it is almost autobiographical.

Now, media-wise viewers must be warned that there are a lot of “f” words in this movie, and a very shocking scene of rear female nudity near the beginning. The multiple descriptions of sex are also quite crude. Without all this, the movie could have been more acceptable, with a Minus 2 of Extreme Caution. As it is, UP IN THE AIR is excessive and ultimately uninspiring. It should be re-titled DOWN IN THE DUMPS.

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up in the air movie reviews

Up In The Air Review

Up In The Air

15 Jan 2010

109 minutes

Up In The Air

As the anecdote goes, George Clooney took just one brisk read of the script, sat in one of the many bedrooms of his palatial villa on the tranquil shores of Lake Como, to say yes to Jason Reitman’s follow-up to hip, teen-pregnancy dramedy Juno. He could see it straightaway, the role of a lifetime. Or at least a role in his gifted hands that could be transformed into the role of his lifetime: this suave yet haunted jet-setter with a tincture of Cary Grant or perhaps George Clooney about him, intent on reaching a miraculous ten million air miles as he skips from city to city laying off the workforce on behalf of cowardly bosses. He’s a mobile downsizer, or ‘career transition counsellor’, thriving in the chaos of recession. Topical, huh?

Yes, of course, but not as polemic, but context — a gravitational pull anyone would wish to escape from. It’s worth mentioning the script, based on Walter Kirn’s novel, was six years old before going into production. Only once the shoot commenced did it take on such a cruel relevance. A consumerist fable with its synthetic dream of never-to-be-spent frequent-flyer miles, set against the bleak shadow of now.

But this all sounds far too heavy for a film so light. In Reitman’s care, still channelling the breezy, matter-of-fact perkiness of Juno, it is an emphatic statement that Hollywood can still make great movies; a celebration that stardom can be as thrilling a concept as 3-D or CG or mooncalf vampires.

Bingham has a system for life — he avoids it. He travels perfectly, flitting between meetings, sealed safe and selfish in business class. See how effortlessly he negotiates the hurdles of airport security. Hear his withering put-downs of the herds of clueless travellers. Yes, Up In The Air comes complete with a Clooney voice-over, one of modern cinema’s most beguiling pleasures. That wisdom-bestowing, aphoristic science-of-life stuff — just on the edge of droll — piloting us through Bingham’s handsome head. A philosophical voice track that crosses over into his motivational speeches: public demos of his ruthless, emotional impregnability. “We are not swans,” he chides a conventional hall part-filled with blank faces. “We are sharks.”

Two women will happen to Bingham in different ways. The first in what seems to be a traditional rom-com, is Vera Farmiga’s Alex. She proves his perfect opposite: the Hepburn to his sly-smiled Tracy, the female version of himself. She even wryly recognises the attraction: “Just think of me as you, but with a vagina.” Farmiga, who has a lived-in authenticity to her beauty, laps up Alex’s flighty ambiguities. Alex is loose on the airwaves too, and their first encounter is a duel of platinum reward cards — the jousting of battle scars from Jaws rewired for the age of hermetic travel. While Clooney gets the lines, the trajectory of the plot, the ravishing Farmiga has a range of subtle glances, ironic smiles and deft shrugs that suggest a world of emotion held sternly at bay.

It is not destiny, but scheduling that has drawn them together. Two people content to be casual. And love, the real grubby stuff of life, would only complicate things. You can see where this is going. Only you can’t. Not quite. Reitman keeps tweaking comfortable outcomes and throwing us off balance.

The other female is Natalie, a spiky greenhorn fresh in from business school with a computerised plan to downsize even the downsizers: a system of remote-control lay-offs via video. An indignant Bingham — confronting the grounding of his made-to-measure non-life — is forced to drag her around for his latest session of city-hopping redundancies. Thus, besides the rom-com, it’s an odd-couple flick: smug old-timer and mixed-up go-getter.

Anna Kendrick is the third of the film’s marvels. Natalie’s aiming for Bingham’s icy-calm, but can’t hold it in. Her swift, hilarious breakdown, including a splendid squall of unbidden tears in the midst of a departure hall, and Bingham’s allergic reaction supply the meat of the comedy. Reitman likes this bounce of opposites — Ellen Page ruffling Jennifer Garner’s stiff feathers in Juno — and their conversation has the zest of classic-era comedy.

Indeed, Billy Wilder would have loved its set-up, the barbs nestled amongst the folly of human foibles; Howard Hawks its complicated interplay between the sexes. To counter such glistening movieness, and sharpen its real-world subtext, Reitman interviewed 120 recently laid-off workers, sprinkling their candid words amongst the narrative — a Greek chorus of broken lives. The script is structured into city chapters, with these to-camera interviews slotted between, a shape as precise as the habits of the protagonist. As with Juno, there are contrivances, shortcuts to get us home on time. But they feel deliberate and confidently handled, part of that old-Hollywood style that courses beneath modern sheen.

Reitman also shoots with quiet power. Initially, it is cold and neat, all angular airport architecture and walls of icy glass, but as Bingham is unpeeled, so the director’s camera loosens up, switching to scruffy handhelds and grainier stock. There is plenty of aerial work, of course, gliding us through the sanctuary of the skies to peer godlike upon Midwestern cities more like burned-out circuit boards. In these strange, snowy centres of American torpor, where the recession has dug deepest, Bingham will do his thing. And the more we witness the sad ritual of dismissal, workers shorn of dignity and hope, the more we realise we’re getting the film all wrong.

This is one of the script’s brilliant tricks — to undermine our knee-jerk judgement of Bingham. We’ve got him pegged, this untouchable, steel-hearted hatchet man who will melt before the film’s out, but as he gently exposes the nature of his trade to his new sidekick, his understanding of grief and human panic reveal him as the most compassionate soul in the film. He is both executioner and therapist in one. And Clooney revels in the contradiction. Bingham isn’t emotionless — he’s just in control.

Much has and will be written on the close fit between Clooney and his charge: isolated, childless men, decent but unreachable, living their lives in the hushed unreality of airtight luxury. Everywhere and nowhere at once. Late on, Reitman changes tack for a chapter. Bingham, starting to soften, goes to his estranged sister’s (Melanie Lynskey) wedding, taking Alex as his date on a whim. Here, amid the touchstones of a forgotten childhood, he will prove unlikely saviour and the contact will pry him open. Without the lunatic twitches of some Method man, Clooney cracks the façade, and a mix of loneliness and hope pours out. He was right about this one — it has all the unguarded desperation of Michael Clayton, but is sexier, funnier and more knowing. He thrives off the film, and the film off his gift of a performance.

All the while Reitman, fast-tracking himself onto the A-list in a graceful swoop of excellence, is able to maintain that toughest of balances: the lightly profound, an unfussy, impeccably performed, romantic entertainment able to say something important about its times. Up In The Air is a rarity indeed, and should win Oscars for them all. One of which will look just dandy on the sideboard in Como.

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Up in the Air

Up in the Air

  • Ryan Bingham enjoys living out of a suitcase for his job, travelling around the country firing people, but finds that lifestyle threatened by the presence of a potential love interest, and a new hire presenting a new business model.
  • Ryan Bingham is a corporate downsizing expert whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he is on the cusp of reaching ten million frequent flyer miles, and just after he's met the frequent-traveller woman of his dreams.
  • Ryan Bingham flies around the country firing people. He's good at his job and is constantly in the air flying from one city to another. He's also an accumulator of frequent flyer miles and has a goal: he wants to get to ten million miles. His routine is interrupted by the arrival of Natalie Keener, who thinks the travel is unnecessary and the firings can be done through videoconferencing. Ryan's boss loves the idea, but wants Ryan to take Natalie on the road with him to show her how he does it. It proves to be a life lesson for Natalie after one of her counseling sessions goes wrong. Ryan also learns that some of the choices he's made have not always been the correct one. — garykmcd
  • Ryan Bingham's job is to fire people from theirs. The anguish, hostility, and despair of his "clients" has left him falsely compassionate, living out of a suitcase, and loving every second of it. When his boss hires arrogant young Natalie, she develops a method of video conferencing that will allow termination without ever leaving the office, essentially threatening the existence Ryan so cherishes. Determined to show the naive girl the error of her logic, Ryan takes her on one of his cross country firing expeditions, but as she starts to realize the disheartening realities of her profession, he begins to see the downfalls to his way of life. — The Massie Twins
  • Ryan Bingham works for Omaha-based Career Transition Counseling, whose contracts are in corporate downsizing. In other words, they fire people. Ryan is flying around the U.S. over three hundred twenty days of the year, which he feels is the best part of his job. He does whatever he can to rack up frequent flyer miles, the goal not to use them, but just to accumulate them to a specific number he has in his mind. A secondary job he has is to give motivational speeches on relieving one's life of excess physical and emotional baggage. He truly does believe what he espouses as he lives out of his carry-on suitcase (his apartment in Omaha is really in name only), he is not close to his siblings (although he does do a favor for his sister while on his travels), nor does he have or want a significant person in his life. Ryan's life may change when the company hires Natalie Keener, a young overachieving woman who recommends that the company change the nature of the work by conducting the "firings" via remote computer access. Ryan believes that Natalie does not fully understand the nature of the business, and as such, their boss, Craig Gregory, suggests that she accompany Ryan on a business trip. Ryan is also trying to protect his way of life, which now includes meeting up with a woman named Alex Goran whenever their flight schedules mesh. Like Ryan, Alex, who he met in an airport hotel bar, is constantly travelling for work, and is as equally turned on the by the concepts of "elite status" or "preferred member" as Ryan is. — Huggo
  • The opening credits roll over a montage of aerial shots of the ground as seen from an airplane in flight, as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings sing "This Land Is Your Land." The plane lands and we see a series of talking heads -- people who have just been fired. Their reactions run the gamut from incredulousness and sadness to anger, and are directed at Ryan Bingham ( George Clooney ), who is sitting calmly behind a desk. He works for CTC, Career Transition Counseling. In a voice-over, Ryan introduces himself: "I work for another company that lends me out to pussies like Steve's boss, who don't have the balls to sack their own employees." There's a quick montage of retaliatory actions a disgruntled fired employee might engage in (pouring bleach in the coffee, sniper shooting), and we see Ryan offer a pat, sincere consolation to Steve, a fired employee. In a hotel room, experienced traveler Ryan expertly packs his suitcase. We see him drop off his rental car at an airport, bypassing the vacationers in the airport to check in at the frequent flyer desk, and powering through security with practiced moves as his voice-over lyrically describes the airport as his home. In first class, the stewardess asks him, "Cancer?" He looks at her quizzically. "Cancer?" He is confused, and she holds up a soft drink can, repeating, patiently: "Can, sir?" He shakes his head quickly and politely declines. Next, Ryan gives a motivational speech, "Unpacking Your Backpack," where he admonishes a thin crowd in a nondescript hotel meeting room to consider how uncomplicated their lives would be if they didn't have responsibility for so many things: knick-knacks, photos, furniture, homes, and relationships. "Imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It's kinda exhilarating, isn't it?" The crowd is underwhelmed. Back at the airport, Ryan strides into a frequent flyer lounge flashing his membership card, where he is cheerfully greeted. He calls his office and talks to Kevin, an assistant, who tells him that he has been invited to appear at GoalQuest XX in Las Vegas as a motivational speaker. Ryan is excited; GoalQuest is a very high-profile conference. He is transferred to his boss, Craig Gregory ( Jason Bateman ), who asks him to come back to Omaha by the end of the week for big news. In a Dallas Hilton bar, Ryan trades frequent traveler observations with an attractive blonde businesswoman, Alex Goran ( Vera Farmiga ). They compare perks cards, and she's impressed by his American Airlines Concierge Key. ("Carbon fiber?" she inquires. "Graphite," he responds modestly.) She mentions that she flies about 60,000 miles a year, and Ryan politely says, "Not bad." She challenges him to disclose his mileage number. The challenge turns into verbal foreplay as she teases him on the size of his number. "Is it this big?" (Holds hands a few inches apart.) "this big?" (Holds hands further apart.) He mentions that he has a lifetime mileage goal in mind, but won't say what it is. Later, they swap stories about the most outré places they have had sex, and she declares that she has done it in an airline lavatory on a regional flight. They end up in bed together, and later compare calendars to see if they will be in the same town sometime soon. She decides to return to her room, and he agrees that that would be the "ladylike thing to do." The next morning, he goes through what is obviously a routine: his workout in the hotel pool, a shoe shine, and the airport. While waiting for his plane, he receives a call from his sister Kara ( Amy Morton ), who is discussing the wedding of their sister Julie ( Melanie Lynskey ). Kara is sending him a cardboard cutout of Julie and her fiancé because Julie wants him to take a photo of the cutout in Las Vegas at the Luxor pyramid. He reluctantly agrees. Omaha: Voice-over: "Last year I spent 322 days on the road, which meant I spent 43 miserable days at home." Ryan enters his small studio apartment, which has less personality than a hotel room: minimal utilitarian furniture, no decorations. His neighbor, a diffident young woman, brings over a package that she has signed for: the cutout that his sister wants him to photograph. He invites his neighbor over, and she awkwardly declines, telling him that she is now seeing someone. Ryan is unconcerned. At a staff meeting, Craig is chortling that the economic downturn has created a wonderful opportunity for their firm, and introduces Natalie Keener ( Anna Kendrick ), a fresh young up-and-comer who has recently graduated at the top of her class at Cornell. Natalie introduces an on-line monitor that will be used to fire people from a remote location over the internet, eliminating the need for human resource specialists such as Ryan to travel. Ryan is appalled at the impersonality of the process -- and, we suspect, at the loss of his travel privileges. After the meeting, he goes to Craig's office to protest. Natalie joins them, and Ryan tells her that she knows nothing of the realities of firing a person. She brightly tells him that she majored in psychology, and Ryan challenges her to fire him. She takes on the challenge, and tries to fire him, failing miserably. Later, Craig accuses him of not being a team player and becoming a dinosaur. Craig tells Ryan that Natalie will be accompanying him on the road for the next few days to learn the ropes, much to Ryan's chagrin. At home, Ryan packs for another road trip -- his shelves are as sparse as his apartment, utilitarian, containing nothing that is not traveling business attire. He is chagrined when he realizes that he has to carry the cut-out, which does not quite fit into his luggage. At the airport, he checks in with his usual efficiency, and then sighs when he sees Natalie arriving with a large, impractical suitcase. He forces her to buy a suitcase that will fit in the overhead compartment, telling her that he flies over 370 days a year, and that not checking luggage saves him the equivalent of a week a year. He ruthlessly pares her packing, tossing things he deems unnecessary into the trash. In the security line, he gives her the benefit of his traveling experience: Never get behind families or old people and try to find an Asian, because Asians travel light, wear slip-on shoes, and therefore move through security faster. Natalie: "That's racist!" Ryan: "I stereotype -- it's faster." St. Louis: Alex calls Ryan as Ryan and Natalie are heading for the car rental. She's in Atlanta, and they try to match up overlapping time somewhere. They agree to meet at SDF (Louisville). Ryan and Natalie enter another office and begin their job of firing people. Natalie is instructed to stay quiet and simply hand them their benefits package, but she can't resist piping up with an inanity when a man called Bob ( J.K. Simmons ) asks what his family is supposed to do when he is on unemployment. Ryan, who has taken the time to read Bob's resume, rescues the interview by helping him realize that this is an opportunity for him to follow his dream of being a chef. Bob leaves, resigned but less angry. Ryan bypasses a long line of people to check in at the Hilton Honors desk. An irate customer protests that Ryan just waltzed to the front of the line, but a smiling desk clerk tells her, "We reserve priority assistance for our Hilton Honors members!" Ryan helpfully hands the customer a brochure, and, still irate, she snatches it from him. At dinner with Natalie, Ryan orders several dinners to use up his $40 per diem. Natalie is surprised, and he tells her that he tries not to spend a nickel that doesn't go towards his frequent flyer miles. She asks why, and he tells her that he is aiming for ten million miles. She scoffs at what she deems to be a meaningless hobby, but he points out that that he would be only the seventh person to attain that level, and goes on to describe the award: lifetime executive status, meeting the chief pilot, Maynard Finch, and getting his name painted on the side of a plane. Natalie is unimpressed, and declares that if she had those miles, she'd show up at the airport, pick a place, and go. That evening, in bed, Ryan looks at his sister's wedding invitation. He receives text messages from Alex that quickly become sexually suggestive. He responds, smiles, and turns out the light. The next morning, Natalie helps Ryan by taking a photo of the cutout in front of the St. Louis airport. She doesn't understand the significance of the airport, and Ryan explains "the Wright Brothers flew here!" and goes on to ask Natalie if she never wondered why Charles Lindbergh's plane was called Spirit of St. Louis. Dismissively, she tells him no, she never wondered. Wichita: Another office. Another firing, but the employee is angry. Afterwards, Ryan tells Natalie that sometimes, they just need to vent. Natalie is taken aback, but wants to try firing the next person, who at first appears to take the news calmly, but then announces in the same calm fashion that "There's this beautiful bridge by my house. I'm going to go jump off it." Natalie is distraught, and races from the building. Ryan reassures her that people say all sorts of things while they are being fired, and never mean them. Kansas City: They enter an office that has been decimated -- only a few employees remain, and the receptionist is resigned when she sees them. In the hotel, Ryan overhears Natalie talking to her boyfriend as she declares, "I don't even think of him that way -- he's OLD." Ryan is taken aback. Alex joins him, and they enter a hotel room. Des Moines: Another office, another firing. Natalie is starting to feel the emotional strain. Miami: Ryan is giving another motivational talk, which he continues with the same allusion to getting rid of human connections, because relationships are the heaviest components of their lives. He declares, "The slower we move, the faster we die . . . we're sharks, we have to keep moving." Returning to the hotel, Natalie challenges Ryan about never getting married. He declares he is never getting married, and invites her to try to sell him on the idea of marriage. He's not buying. As they continue the discussion in the hotel lobby, Ryan wraps up the argument by declaring "make no mistake, we all die alone." Natalie suddenly dissolves in great sobbing tears and announces that her boyfriend, Bryan, has left her. As she falls sobbing into Ryan's arms, he sees Alex descending the stairs. Ryan introduces Alex to Natalie, and over drinks, Alex commiserates with Natalie: "He broke up with you by text? What a prick!" Ryan slyly agrees: "Almost as bad as being fired by internet." Natalie glares at him. Natalie goes on to tell them that she moved to Omaha to follow Bryan, giving up a good job offer in San Francisco, and goes on to lament that no matter how much success she might have professionally, it won't matter unless she finds the right guy. She has a mental schedule of deadlines that she had hoped to accomplish, and earnestly declares that she could have made her relationship with Bryan work because he met most of her requirements. Alex and Ryan smile and tell her that deadlines pretty much go out the window after a certain age. Alex goes on to explain that at 34, her expectations for a man have radically changed and describes the kind of man she'd like. Ryan listens with interest. Natalie observes that "that's depressing. We should just date women." Alex says, matter-of-factly, "Tried that. We're no picnic ourselves," to Ryan's surprise. Natalie says that she doesn't want to settle, and Alex tells her that she's young, so settling seems like failure. Natalie declares, earnestly, that is IS failure, by definition. As they return to their rooms, Natalie asks what the plans for the evening are. Alex and Ryan are taken aback and had obviously not expected to include her in their plans. Ryan announces that they are going to hit the party for the tech conference that is being held in the hotel. Natalie says that she didn't know they were registered, and Alex and Ryan hem and haw until Natalie realizes that they are planning to crash the party, at which point she enthusiastically declares, "I'm in!" They casually walk up to the registration desk, grab some unclaimed badges, and enter the party. Natalie has inadvertently picked up a name tag for Jennifer Chu, but Ryan assures her that no one will notice. Natalie quickly downs a few drinks and begins to mingle, meeting a man called Dave. (This is a reference to Natalie's list of preferences in a boyfriend -- one of the odder items was "a one-syllable name like Matt or ... Dave.") Ryan and Alex dance. The MC comes on stage to sing and gets the crowd amped up. Later, Ryan offers Alex his hotel room key, "the key to my place," and Alex takes it, commenting lightly that she didn't realize they were at that point in their relationship. On an evening boat ride with other members of the conference, Natalie sings karaoke and Ryan and Alex sit at the back of the boat talking. Alex tells Ryan that she never has a chance to act this way at home, and asks him about his motivational philosophy: "Is the bag empty because you hate people or you hate the baggage that they come with?" He comments that recently, he's been thinking about emptying the backpack, and what he'd put back in it. He smiles, they kiss and at that moment, the boat loses power. A speedboat rescues them and ferries them to shore, where they have to splash through the surf to the beach. Laughing and drenched, the crowd scurries into the hotel. The next morning, Ryan wakes to see Alex finishing getting dressed -- she has stayed the night. She says that if she catches a standby, she can make a meeting in Cincinnati. Ryan looks momentarily disappointed, and she chides him playfully, "Oh, I made you feel cheap!" They laugh, and as she leaves, Ryan tells her, "Hey -- I really like you." At breakfast at a poolside table, Natalie tries to apologize for what she might have said or done the night before, and Ryan tells her that it was good to see her cut loose. He then asks her if she woke him up or slipped out (referring to the man she picked up at the party). Natalie admits that she just slipped out, and Ryan observes, "the protocol's always tricky." As they are taking another picture of the cutout against the Miami skyline, Natalie asks Ryan questions about Alex, finally asking, "so, what kind of relationship do you have?" He tells her that it's casual, and Natalie asks if there's a future. Ryan tells that he hadn't thought about it, but Natalie becomes annoyed. Ryan tries to explain: "You know that moment when you look into someone's eyes and you can feel them staring into your soul and the whole world goes quiet just for a second?" Natalie nods, "Yes!" Ryan declares, "Yeah, well, I don't." Angrily, Natalie throws down the cutout on the dock and declares that he's an asshole, Alex might be a chance at a real relationship, and then goes on to tell him that his philosophy is bullshit, he has a "cocoon of self-banishment" and that he has set up a way of life that makes it impossible for him to have any kind of human connection. She storms off, and the cutout blows into the water. Ryan tries to reach it, but falls into the water, too. Back in his room, he carefully blow dries the picture, but safely tucked in the suitcase on the way to Detroit, it is a bit worse for wear. Detroit: Ryan warns Natalie that Detroit is a rough town and that the employees are touchy and will be difficult. When they enter the office, Ryan is surprised to see a computer monitor sitting on the table. Craig greets them from the screen -- he has arranged for a trial run of the internet-based firing procedure. They will be at a desk in the next room, but will only talk to the employees via screen. Natalie takes the first employee. At first, he is belligerent -- they can hear him bellowing in the next room through the thin walls -- but he later starts to sob disconsolately. Natalie is distressed, but hides it behind some stock encouraging phrases. She sends the employee away, and takes a deep breath. Craig has been monitoring the exchange, and is thoughtful. Ryan tells her, unconvincingly, that she did good as she looks forlornly at the list of employees -- this was the first of over fifty employees that will be released. In the parking lot, Natalie leans against the car as Ryan talks to Craig, trying to convince him that they are still needed on the road. After the conversation, he resignedly tells Natalie that Craig has called them off the road: "We're going home." At the airport, Ryan stares out the large plate glass window, gazing at an airplane that has a large white area on the side, just waiting for a name to be painted on it. He looks at his sister's wedding invitation, and realizes that the date is this weekend and he has never returned the RSVP card. As they walk through the airport, Natalie tries to apologize for what she said about Alex, and Ryan ungraciously accepts her apology. Suddenly, he turns and tells Natalie that he will meet her in Omaha, but he's got to catch another flight. Las Vegas: Ryan meets Alex and gets the requested photo of the cutout in front of the Luxor pyramid. Ryan invites Alex to his sister's wedding in Wisconsin. Surprised, Alex demurs, but finally agrees, and they fly into Milwaukee. Northern Wisconsin: At the Chalet, a pseudo-Tyrolean motel, Ryan and Alex wait in the check-in line. Seeing a clerk behind the desk, Ryan asks her if she is free, but she condescendingly tells him, "This line is only for members of our Matterhorn program!" As he enters his room with Alex, his sister Kara comes out of her room, and he introduces Alex to Kara. Kara is surprised: "Ryan has told me . . . nothing about you." She tells him that she is staying at the hotel because she and her husband are having a trial separation, and reminds him of the rehearsal dinner that evening. At dinner, Julie is pleased to see Ryan and meet Alex. She proudly shows off a small, diamond chip ring that her fiancé Jim designed, and introduces Jim ( Danny McBride ), who is friendly in an awkward sort of way. Ryan offers her the photos that he has taken, and she asks him to pin them to a map that contains dozens and dozens of photos. Ryan has a hard time fitting his in. They explain that all of Jim's money is tied up in a real estate investment and made a honeymoon unfeasible financially, so the photos would be the next best thing. After the dinner, Ryan offers to walk Julie down the aisle the next day since their dad isn't around, but embarrassed, she gently refuses, telling him that Jim's uncle will be escorting her. Ryan is somewhat hurt, but puts a good face on it and tells her that he just wanted to make sure she was covered. Julie is distressed that she might have hurt his feelings but when he asks when he should be at the church, she tells him, "Well, guests are supposed to be there at 5:00 so, 5:00 would be good," again relegating him to the status of a mere guest. The next day, Alex and Ryan break into the local school so that Ryan can show her around. He points out his state basketball championship photo in the trophy case. Alex is surprised, and they end up kissing on the make-out stairs behind the gym. They sit down to watch a practice, but his cell phone rings: It's Kara, who tells him that hes needed at the church. Alex drops him off at the church and returns to the hotel to grab his suit. Julie is distraught because Jim has gotten cold feet. Kara wants him to talk to Jim, but Ryan points out that he might not be the best one, because his job is to tell people how to avoid commitment. "What kind of fucked up message is that?" exclaims Kara. "It could have helped you," he retorts, referring to her separation, but reluctantly agrees to talk to Jim. He finds him in a Sunday school classroom reading The Velveteen Rabbit. Jim tells him that he began to think about what his life was going to be like: house, children, jobs, losing his hair, and then dying, and wonders what the point is. Ryan observes that a good marriage is something that people aspire to, but Jim points out that Ryan was never married, and that he seems happier than anyone else he knows. Ryan agrees that there's no point to it all, but points out that the most important moments of his life had other people involved, and observes that life is better with company, with a co-pilot. Jim accepts this, and then asks "What's it like out there?" Ryan admits that Julie is upset. Jim comes out and apologizes to Julie, asking her "Will you be my co-pilot?" Julie tearfully agrees, and the wedding proceeds. Alex and Ryan hold hands during the vows, and dance intimately at the reception. At the airport, Alex asks when she will see Ryan again and Ryan tells her that she's going to have to come visit him, since he's been essentially grounded. She moves to her gate and tells him to "call me when you get lonely." As she walks away, he calls out, "I'm lonely." She laughs, and keeps walking. In Omaha, back at his apartment, he puts his things away, and looks around, dissatisfied. He opens the refrigerator to reveal an impressive collection of airline miniature booze bottles in the refrigerator door. At the office the next morning, Natalie proudly shows him around the call center that is being beta tested, and comments that the workers are called "termination engineers. I wanted to call them Terminators, but was that bumped by Legal." "I can't imagine why," Ryan responds drily. Ryan sits at a desk and distastefully tries on a headset. He checks the internet for the schedule for GoalQuest XX, and sees when he is scheduled to speak. Las Vegas: Ryan prepares for his speech, and as he is introduced to a crowd of several hundred, he takes the podium with his backpack. He begins the spiel that we have heard before but then stops and gazes out over the audience. He looks down at the podium, shakes his head ruefully, excuses himself, and walks out, to the consternation of the event organizers. He dashes through the airport and catches a flight to Chicago, where he arrives in the evening. Chicago: In a hurry, Ryan steps out of his routine and drives away without giving the car clerk his rewards card. He pulls up in front of Alex's townhouse and rings the doorbell. Alex comes to the door. She is shocked as he says, smiling, "So, I was in the neighborhood . . ." Suddenly, he hears children arguing and we see them running in the hall behind Alex. Ryan begins to back away, and with a stricken look on Alex's face, we hear a male voice ask, "Who's at the door, honey?" She closes the door gently as she responds, "Just someone asking directions." At the hotel, Ryan sits on a bed in a darkened room with a drink, staring out into the evening. On the train to the airport the next morning, he receives a call from Alex, who demands, "What were you thinking, showing up at my door like that?" He protests that he didn't know she was married, and she declares that he could have seriously messed up her "real life," and that she thought he understood. He said that he thought he was part of her real life, and asks her to help him understand. She tells him that he is an escape, an escape from their normal lives, a "parenthesis." "A parenthesis?" he repeats, dully. Alex is unapologetic. "Well, what did you want? If you want to see me again, give me a call." He hangs up on her gently. In the air: Returning to Omaha, Ryan is gazing out the window when the flight attendant comes on the intercom to excitedly announce that they are flying over Dubuque, which means that a startled Ryan has hit the 10 million miles mark. Champagne is brought for all the first class passengers, and Chief Pilot Maynard Finch ( Sam Elliott ) greets Ryan. He sits in the seat next to Ryan and congratulates him, telling him that he's the youngest yet to get to 10 million. He pulls out the special silver card, engraved Ryan Bingham, #7, and presents it to Ryan, telling him that they really appreciate Ryan's loyalty. Ryan is speechless, and tells the Captain that he forgot what he always wanted to say at that moment. The Captain asks him where he's from, and Ryan, looking down, says softly, "I'm from here." Omaha: In his office, Ryan looks at his card, and, making a decision, dials the number on the card. He is greeted with a cheery "Good morning, Mr. Bingham!" Surprised, he asks how they knew it was him, and is told that it's his dedicated line. He begins to make arrangements to transfer miles to Julie and Jim for an around-the-world trip, which costs half-a-million miles each. Craig comes into his office and asks him if he remembers a Karen Barnes whom Natalie fired. Ryan says that they have fired dozens of people, and he doesn't remember. Craig tells him that Karen jumped off a bridge and killed herself, and he needs to know if she gave any indication of her intentions, which could get them into trouble legally. Ryan says he doesn't remember anything, and asks if Natalie is all right. Craig tells him that Natalie quit by sending him a text message. "Fucking nice, right? Nobody has any manners anymore," he grouses, and goes on to tell Ryan that he is returning the workforce to the field. San Francisco: Natalie is interviewing for the job she was offered when she first graduated from Cornell. The interviewer asks her why she went to Omaha, and she reluctantly admits that "I followed a boy." After a few searching questions, the interviewer shows Natalie a letter of recommendation that he has received from Ryan. The letter is glowing, and the interviewer offers her the job. A montage of interview clips follows. Employees whom we have seen being fired throughout the movie are in some sort of interview/counseling session. Each in their own way, they explain that while losing their job was difficult, it was made easier by the support of their friends and families. Ryan enters an airport, suitcase in tow, and comes to stand in front of a large Departures and Arrivals board, gazing at the flight details. He releases the suitcase and stands in front of the board with no baggage. We hear Ryan's voice-over: "Tonight, most people will be welcomed home by jumping dogs and squealing kids. Their spouses will ask about their day, and tonight they'll sleep. The stars will wheel forth from their daytime hiding places and one of those lights, slightly brighter than rest, will be my wingtip passing over." The credits roll over a view of early evening blue clouds as seen below from an airplane, with a faint sunset in the far distance.

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George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, and Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air (2009)

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Up in the Air (United States, 2009)

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Up in the Air is a wonderful little film (the word "little" being relative, of course). It was the best thing I saw at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, and it stand up as well away from the peculiar atmosphere of the festival as it did within the hermetically sealed environment. This is George Clooney's third film of the Oscar season (the other two being The Men Who Stare at Goats and the animated Fantastic Mr. Fox ) and the one most likely to be acknowledged by the Academy. With director Jason Reitman behind the camera making his follow-up to Juno (a more successful one, I might add, than Diablo Cody's), this is far from 100% formula, and that's the reason why the marketing campaign is being handled carefully. The film needs to build word-of-mouth to find an audience, and I'm here to do what I can to help along the effort.

Reitman brings the same mixture of comedy and drama to this movie that he brought to Juno . There's some funny, laugh-out-loud material here, but the characters and their situations are well-developed. None of the three principals ever veer in the direction of caricature and Clooney is especially convincing as the lead. Playing a role 180 degrees opposite to the one he essays in The Men Who Stare at Goats , Clooney reminds us why he is among this generation's most consistent and reliable actors.

It helps immeasurably that Clooney's supporting female duo is in top form. Vera Farmiga, who, not unlike Tilda Swinton, has the uncanny ability be entirely credible as a sultry siren or a frumpy housewife, provides Clooney's perfect foil. She's in "upscale" mode here; their verbal jousts are memorable and the sexual chemistry between them sizzles. No less impressive is Anna Kendrick, whose performance as the ingénue getting some hard life lessons allows us to forgive her appearing in the Twilight series. She's easily dismissed in those; here, she shows that she has acting chops and knows what to do with them.

Clooney plays corporate layoff officer Ryan Bingham, a man whose most salient quality is his impermanence. He spends his days traveling from city-to-city and, for a fee, he delivers news of layoffs to soon-to-be-departed employees. He lives his life in hotels, airplanes, and airports, saying "All the things you hate about flying are warm reminders I'm home." In the past year, he has spent 322 days on the road and 43 "miserable" days in the one-bedroom unit he rents in Omaha. He has no time for relationships or possessions, and his one goal in life is to collect 10,000,000 miles so he can become the seventh member of that oh-so-rare club.

Two events add chaos to Ryan's ordered existence. The first is a chance meeting with fellow traveler Alex (Vera Farmiga), who expresses herself this way: "Think of me as yourself, only with a vagina." In Alex, Ryan finds someone with whom he might actually be able to develop a semi-normal relationship, even if it is predominantly in hotels and airports. Meanwhile, at home base, Ryan's boss, Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman), has decided to implement a radical new strategy proposed by new hire Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) - using teleconference technology to allow remote layoffs. Determined to prove to her that this is not the way to go, Ryan brings Natalie on the road with him with unexpected results.

Up in the Air is one of the best movies to deal with the inhumanity of the way corporations cut work forces. The parody is razor-sharp and unflinching. Reitman nails his targets one-by-one and drives home each spike with resolute force. Ryan represents a fascinating specimen - a product of modern technology and today's culture - whose goal is almost the exact opposite of the "American dream." He doesn't want the house, the wife, or the children. He is almost estranged from his two sisters. And his relationships consist of one-night stands in airport hotels. He's a master at what he does yet, because of the way Clooney plays him, we sympathize with this guy, even though he thrives on the misery of others. All of the charisma and intelligence and wit almost make his lifestyle seem bizarrely desirable until those moments when the curtain is peeled back and we see the chilly loneliness that resides within Ryan's cupboard.

At times, Up in the Air looks and feels a little like a romantic comedy, but that's illusory. Ryan's relationship with Alex is a secondary plot - a way to illustrate things about him and to provide some tightly-scripted dialogue. (There is a brilliant sequence in which Alex and Natalie detail their very different expectations of the ideal mate.) The movie earns its ending; it may come as a surprise to some viewers, but it is foreshadowed and makes perfect sense in hindsight. Up in the Air never cheats and delivers an almost perfect mix of humor, satire, and underplayed drama.

(By the way, the first trailer for Up in the Air is excellent. It's extremely well put together and gives a sense of what the film is about without giving away specific plot elements. The second trailer is more conventional and not nearly as impressive. I have linked to the preferred one below - hopefully, the link stays active.)

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Avatar: The Last Airbender Review

Things are lookin' appa.

Joshua Yehl Avatar

Don’t think of Netflix’s latest animation-to-live-action series as a straight adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender , but rather as a dramatic reimagining of the beloved Nickelodeon cartoon. This show works not by rehashing every shot, but thanks to an intimate focus on showcasing its cast of compelling characters. Already powerful emotional moments gain new depth thanks to a willingness to depict what’s only alluded to in the original series. Granted, this interpretation has its fair share of flaws, but it’s a far cry from M. Night Shyamalan’s disastrous 2010 spin on young hero Aang’s mission to master air, fire, water, and earth and defeat the villainous Fire Lord. The amount of unconvincing special effects, clunky moments of exposition, and its rush to cover so much story in just eight episodes is not insignificant, but even their powers combined don’t outweigh everything this Last Airbender gets right. Above all else, it has its heart in the right place – and for Team Avatar, that’s what matters most.

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The story centers on Aang, who after accidentally being frozen in time for a century, awakens to find his people have been wiped out and the Fire Nation is waging war on the world. How Aang became the last Airbender, and the way that trauma shapes his future, is always in focus in the new series, no matter how wild and magical the story gets. It’s a captivating premise that puts the weight of the world on Aang’s shoulders, and forces him to challenge the very idea of what being the Avatar means, wisely putting less emphasis on how he's the one person in the world who can control all four elements and focusing squarely on his role as a peacemaker, a savior, and a miracle worker who keeps the world’s four nations existing in harmony. That’s a lot to demand from an adolescent, but Aang leads with kindness and does his best.

It’s one thing to hear about the genocidal Fire Nation wiping a whole society off the map. But to see it dramatized, Order 66-style, not only shows how the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender fell into such a hopeless state but helps us understand exactly what, and who, Aang has lost. It’s all part of a world that is lovingly brought to life, from its grand cities down to its quirky hybrid animals. However, in making the transition to live-action, much of the silliness and whimsy of the original are traded for a tone that’s more grounded, more mature, and more violent – but it’s not done just for edginess’ sake. The slightly darker vibe works in service of the story because it makes Aang’s unwavering compassion and anti-war philosophy shine all the brighter.

Avatar: The Last Airbender Live Action Trailer Images

up in the air movie reviews

Aang, Katara, and Sokka (played respectively by Gordon Cormier, Kiawentiio, and Ian Ousley) make for a solid group of young actors who faithfully capture the spirit of Avatar’s core trio. Cormier looks and acts like the Blue Fairy turned a 2D sketch of Aang into a real boy; it’s impressive for a 12-year-old actor to be the lead of such a major story, and he does it well by evoking the joy and playfulness of his character while also thoughtfully dealing with an immense amount of responsibility no one of any age should have to bear. Sokka is by far the funniest character, which goes a long way to lighten the mood and voicing the thoughts of the audience when weird stuff happens, as it often does in this world where martial artists manipulate fire, water, earth, or air. His sister, Katara, is more hit-and-miss, at times delivering moving words as the beating heart of the team and at others falling a bit flat. Still, watching these three characters form bonds of friendship and learn to work together as a team makes for some of the show’s most enjoyable moments.

As the Avatar, Aang learns to command the elements with tremendous force, but it’s his kind heart that gives him his strength, and it’s to Cormier’s credit that he makes Aang impossible not to root for. It’s of special note how well the choreography captures Aang’s unique way of moving: He excitedly bounces around and casually flutters up into the sky on a whim, like you’d expect from someone who grew up with this power. He has a fun and cool combat style where he likes to spin and flip on a breeze to counter his opponent, and use his surroundings to his advantage – sort of like a pint-sized Jackie Chan who can fly. It’s worth noting, though, that while all of the environments and settings look stunning, it’s not always convincing when the characters move around in them.

What's your favorite bending element?

The characters who gain the most from this adaptation’s changes are the Fire Nation’s Prince Zuko and his uncle, General Iroh, who are on a mission to hunt down the Avatar. Dallas Liu plays Zuko with just enough entitlement and rage to mask the pain underneath, while Paul Sun-Hyung Lee is absolutely sublime as the wise, humorous, yet no less scarred Iroh. Their bond as pseudo-father/son outcasts runs deep, and a series of flashbacks show the fiery tragedies that forged it. Anyone familiar with the source material knows Zuko and Iroh have a great storyline ahead of them, so it’s impressive that this retelling manages to add new layers that make it even more nuanced and poignant.

Spending more time with the Fire Nation characters means we see a surprising amount of the Big Bad Evil Guy, Fire Lord Ozai. It’s a risky decision: Seeing so little of Ozai until the end of the original series is part of what makes the character work so well – kind of like if Jaws could shoot fireballs out of his mouth. But it all works to excellent effect here, and not just because original series veteran Daniel Dae Kim delivers a steely, intimidating performance and at one point takes his shirt off. Ozai is just as ruthless in his war to conquer the world as he is in toughening up his son Zuko and daughter Azula, even if it means playing them against each other to cause an unfathomable amount of pain and daddy issues. Elizabeth Yu crushes it as Azula, with an introduction so cruel and sadistic it’s actually kind of impressive – and she only grows more unhinged from there. All that made me glad her introduction wasn’t saved for the second season.

It’s clear from the get-go that this show will have bending – lots and lots of bending. For the most part, it looks incredible. Forget how it took six Earthbenders to throw a single, slow-moving rock in Shyamalan’s movie; accented by distinct martial arts styles, Netflix’s Earthbenders raise up pillars from the ground and strike with thunderous impact. Firebending is explosive and dazzling, like watching Liu Kang pop off. Airbending channels tornadoes and gales that blast enemies away. Unfortunately, Waterbending isn’t quite as well done, given the liquid often looks plasticky and feels more like a playful splash than a torrential strike when it hits an opponent. Aside from that wet blanket, the bending is on point, making every fight scene exciting and consistent in packing a wondrous surprise.

Aang’s quest to master all four elements and face Ozai is a long one, spanning three seasons in the original series. But while the first of those seasons told its story over 20 23-minute episodes, the live-action show does it in eight. Significant cuts are made in favor of focusing squarely on Team Avatar’s main quest to reach and defend the Northern Water Tribe from invading Fire Nation forces, and the results are mixed. About half the episodes feel like they’re hustling to get through more plot than they have time for. On one hand, there’s some admirable condensing in the writing, stitching together thematically complementary elements from multiple episodes of the cartoon while also squeezing in some delightful fan service.

But it comes at the expense of breathing room for all those characters and events. The result is erratic pacing, conversations that take sharp turns out of nowhere, and a general sense of unwieldiness. On the flip side, when the show takes its time, we’re treated to some truly amazing stuff. Avatar features a cast of brilliantly crafted characters, each with their own personal mission and philosophy on life, and the show is at its best when it slows down enough to explore them.

There’s plenty to enjoy with this adaptation. The first time we see Zuko’s black metal warship, it’s given the same type of immense scale and daunting musical cue as Star Wars gives a Star Destroyer. Everything from the costuming and makeup to props and weapons are made with excellent attention to detail. And all the little surprises make it fun to watch whether you know the material or not, such as an intense moment between Iroh and a nameless Earthbender soldier that shows what it’s like being on two sides of a pointless war.

But there are also many quibbles to be had, like how we’re often reminded that the Avatar needs to keep a low profile, and yet when the heroes travel to a big city, they immediately take off their disguises and walk around in bright, primary-colored clothing that practically screams their true identities. As a fan of the original show, I couldn’t help but notice that Aang’s ability to commune with past Avatars gets a new wrinkle that changes how the supercharged Avatar State works. This allows for a truly awesome display of power early on that emphasizes what makes this power unique, but the change seems only designed for that singular moment and for the rest of the show the characters have to keep coming up with excuses for why that awesome thing can’t be done whenever trouble arises. Animal pals Appa and Momo are present, and Momo in particular looks adorably lifelike, but they don’t appear enough to feel like they’re actual characters rather than loyal pets – which means, unfortunately, Appa serves as just a fuzzy, flying taxi.

And, if there’s one aspect of this world that feels undercooked, it’s the spiritual side. A bit of time is devoted to how the Spirit World works and the Avatar’s connection to it, but it’s not enough to prepare us for how important it becomes later on, so there’s a haze of confusion when all the glowy things start happening.

It goes without saying that Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the greatest animated series ever made, so a second attempt at a live-action adaptation was never going to come without high expectations and lots of nitpicking at the finer details. But over the course of its eight episodes, those kinds of criticisms – while valid – tend to melt away when the new Avatar hits its stride. The show doesn’t live up to the original in every way possible, but it's still a worthy adaptation that adds a textured richness to the lore. What’s most important is that it captures the spirit of the original while forging its own path; for as different as the two series may be, this one keeps the flawed, complicated, lovable characters at the forefront, showcasing what makes them great and adding new layers of depth along the way. 

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Netflix’s live-action Avatar isn’t the only Last Airbender project that’s on the way

The creators of the original animated series are working on another sequel

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aang, katara, and sokka

Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender is just a couple of days away, but there’s more Avatar coming, in case you forgot. The creators of the original series and Legend of Korra , Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino , are hard at work on a new sequel film series following the characters of the original show, along with a few other projects that are still in the works.

Here’s everything we know about all the Avatar projects that are on the way and what the future of the animated Avatar universe looks like.

Why did the original Avatar creators leave the Netflix show?

No discussion of the future of Avatar would be totally complete without a discussion of this question. Konietzko and DiMartino are cornerstones of the Avatar creative universe and were originally working with Netflix on the streaming platform’s live-action version of the show, but they split after a couple of years on the project . Unsurprisingly, there aren’t many details about why exactly they left the show other than each one citing “creative differences.”

After their break with the Netflix team, Konietzko and DiMartino went back to Paramount Studios, the parent company of Nickelodeon, to start up Avatar Studios, a team entirely devoted to projects within the Avatar: The Last Airbender universe. Avatar Studios is the studio behind every project on this list, and likely even more projects set in the universe.

An animated Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel movie trilogy

The new Avatar will actually be an animated, theatrically released film series , and will be a direct sequel to Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender . The films will follow Aang, Saka, Kitara, and the rest of Avatar gang as they move through the adult world, filling in the gaps of what happened between The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra . The movie will be directed by Lauren Montgomery , who worked on the original series, as well as Voltron: Legendary Defender .

While we don’t know many details about this movie trilogy just yet, we do know the first installment is set for release on Oct. 10, 2025.

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Avatar: The Last Airbender (@avatarthelastairbender)

A Legend of Korra sequel series

This series, first revealed by Avatar News , will follow the Earth Avatar who followed Aang and Korra. According to Avatar News, the series will take place 100 years after Korra in a much more modern version of the world. The series is set to arrive sometime in 2025. Avatar News further reports that an animated movie for this particular Avatar is also in the works, but there’s no word of when that will happen.

A Zuko movie

Prince Zuko is apparently getting his own movie as well. Another report from Avatar News says the Zuko movie is supposedly coming in 2026, though it’s unclear at the moment how this movie connects to the adult Aang movie. It seems likely that it would happen after that movie canonically, given the respective projects’ release dates.

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Why Is Netflix’s ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Remake Already Controversial?

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

The show, debuting Feb. 22, has had fans of the original cartoon up in arms from the minute it was announced.

Jay Castello

Jay Castello

Freelance Writer

A photo including Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Ian Ousley as Sokka in the series Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix

Robert Falconer / Netflix

Fresh off the success of its One Piece adaptation , Netflix’s next cartoon-to-live-action series is Avatar: The Last Airbender , based upon the Nickelodeon cartoon that began airing in 2005. Beloved by fans for nearly 20 years, the adventures of Aang, a being known as the Avatar, and his friends have continued to be influential, spawning a sequel , comics , and even a (widely panned) movie adaptation .

But some recent statements by the live-action version’s showrunners have fans concerned about the upcoming remake. Here’s everything you need to know about Netflix’s Avatar: The Last Airbender , from its source material to its pre-release controversies.

What is Avatar: The Last Airbender ?

Avatar: The Last Airbender , or simply ATLA, is set in a world split into four nations: the Water Tribe, the Earth Kingdom, the Fire Nation, and the Air Nomads. Certain people across the world can control their group’s associated element; these are known as the “benders.” Then there’s the Avatar, the sole being who can manipulate all four elements.

But at the beginning of the story, the Avatar is nowhere to be found. For the last century, the entire world has been at war due to aggression from the Fire Nation. The Air Nomads have been wiped out entirely as a result, while the remaining three nations try to fight back. But with the Avatar gone, protecting the peace feels like a lost cause.

A photo including a still from the original series Avatar: The Last Airbender directed by Giancarlo Volpe

The original Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon.

Nickelodeon Animation Studios / Alamy

That is, until a young waterbender, Katara, and her non-bender brother, Sokka, discover a boy frozen in an iceberg near their home. They quickly realize that the boy, an Airbender named Aang, is exactly who the world has been looking for all ths time: the Avatar. Together, the three travel the world in the hopes of defeating the Fire Nation.

The show’s continued popularity stems in large part from how it uses this foundation to explore themes like trauma, violence, and fascism. Although ATLA is aimed at a younger audience, its relatively nuanced portrayal of serious topics are a major part of its appeal.

Of course, Netflix’s live-action series will presumably also start at the beginning, so don’t worry too much if you’re not up to date on the world – you should get up to speed pretty quickly.

Besides the cartoon, what else is there in the ATLA -verse?

Netflix’s live-action series remake isn’t the only time that a studio has returned to the ATLA well. From books to comics to video games, the universe is no stranger to spinoffs and adaptations. The main ones to bear in mind, though, are the sequel series The Legend of Korra and the 2010 live-action film adaptation, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan.

The Legend of Korra , which is set 70 years after the end of ATLA and follows Aang’s successor, was generally well received . Though it perhaps didn’t inspire the same kind of fervor as ATLA , viewers hailed it for its early portrayal of bisexual women. The show has even been credited with paving the way for more specifically LBGTQ+ focused shows, like She-Ra and the Princesses of Power .

The M. Night Shyamalan movie, The Last Airbender , was not so well received. Criticized before its release for casting white actors as characters whose backgrounds were inspired by Asian and Inuit cultures, it only got worse when the movie actually hit theaters. Both critics and audiences disliked its dry pacing, stilted dialogue, and poor visual effects. The film holds a “rotten” score of 5% on Rotten Tomatoes and continues to be widely mocked .

More popular have been the comics which built on the cartoon’s lore, released in a steady drip since 2011. They’ve allowed fans to peek into key questions left at the end of the show, which we won’t spoil here, as well as expanding its worldbuilding and fleshing out the connection between ATLA and Korra. There have also been several video games, from a mid-2000s action-adventure trilogy to a mobile turn-based RPG released last year.

No, it might not all have been of the same quality as the cartoon. But there’s been plenty to keep the franchise fresh, even nearly 20 years after Avatar ’s initial release.

Are OG fans excited for—or worried about—Netflix’s adaptation?

Even before the show premiered, Netflix’s Avatar had developed a reputation. Burned once, some fans were hesitant when Netflix announced its adaptation in 2018. To make matters worse, original co-creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko left the production in 2020, citing a “lack of control” over making it how they envisioned, as well as “a negative and unsupportive environment.”

If that weren’t enough to give fans pause, Hollywood’s track record for its live-action adaptations of beloved cartoons would be. Some of these, like last year’s One Piece , have received strong reviews from fans and critics. But many others have been less successful with their fanbases. In 2017, fans and critics pilloried Death Note , an Americanized, campy, disastrous take on the beloved murder-mystery series.

Perhaps the most notable failure, however, was 2021’s Cowboy Bebop , based on the beloved ’90s anime. The sci-fi series received criticism for failing to translate the stylishness of the anime and, crucially, failing to meet the high standard set by its predecessor. Netflix canceled it after one season. Other offenders include Dragonball Evolution and Ghost in the Shell .

As the show nears its premiere, however, recent statements by the crew also have left some fans concerned. During the pre-release press rounds, showrunner Albert Kim, Katara actor Kiawentiio Tarbell and others have made comments that introduce many questions about what kind of adaptation Netflix’s Avatar will be.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly , Tarbell explained that the live-action show “took out the element of how sexist” Katara’s brother Sokka was in the cartoon. Sokka’s actor, Ian Ousley, told EW that “there are things that were redirected just because it might play a little differently,” in the live-action version. But many fans worry that this change won’t take into account that Sokka’s character growth—which includes reckoning with his sexist behavior—is an important plot point in the original series.

In fact, the main characters growing as people is one of the keys to ATLA ’s success as a whole. In the cartoon, Aang begins his journey as a happy-go-lucky kid, essentially shirking his duties as the Avatar. The beginning of the show sees the gang meandering from place-to-place in their weekly adventures. But each trip still spotlights some of the harm done by the Fire nation, gradually forcing Aang to come to terms with his responsibilities as well as organically showing the audience the story’s stakes.

Based on the cast and crew’s early comments, however, it doesn’t seem like that storytelling will translate to the live-action adaptation. Kim told IGN that the writers had to give Aang a “drive” from the start, taking the form of a vision that would avoid the “detours” of the early cartoon episodes.

A photo including  Ian Ousley as Sokka, Gordon Cormier as Aang, Kiawentiio as Katara in the series Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix

(L to R) Ian Ousley as Sokka, Gordon Cormier as Aang, and Kiawentiio as Katara in Netflix’s The Last Airbender remake.

The bottom line is that Netflix’s ATLA isn’t designed to be a one-to-one remake of the cartoon. In fact, Kim has also said that the remake isn’t aimed at the cartoon’s fanbase. Instead, he told IGN that it’s meant to appeal to “people who are big fans of Game of Thrones ” and not “just” kids, despite the cartoon’s wide-ranging appeal.

Existing ATLA fans are nervous that the remake may erase some of the nuances of the source material. But it’s tricky to tell from pre-release press how these apparent changes will land in context. More recently, Ousley told Metro that the “essence” of Sokka is, in fact, still in the show—and that “[he] definitely still gets humbled in ways and learns that women can be powerful.”

When does the show premiere, so we can judge for ourselves?

Ultimately, of course, the only way to know what impact these changes will have on Aang and friends is by watching the show itself. The live-action remake will begin streaming Feb. 22. Meanwhile, the original cartoon version is also streaming on Netflix, if you want to get a head start into the world of the Avatar .

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Netflix’s Live-Action ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Is a Beautifully Crafted Disappointment: TV Review

By Aramide Tinubu

Aramide Tinubu

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Avatar: The Last Airbender. (L to R) Ian Ousley as Sokka, Kiawentiio as Katara, Gordon Cormier as Aang in season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2024

Ever since its premiere nearly two decades ago, “ Avatar: The Last Airbender ” has been a fan favorite animated franchise. Co-created by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, the original series garnered critical acclaim and spawned an extended universe. That’s why there was much to anticipate when Netflix announced a “reimagined” live-action “Avatar” television series, helmed by DiMartino and Konietzko as co-showrunners and executive producers. Unfortunately, that euphoria was short-lived, as the pair left the project over what was described as “creative differences.”

Tasked with adapting the animated series’ first season of 20 episodes into just eight hours, the live-action “Avatar” starts promisingly enough. After living in harmony for millennia, the power-crazed Fire Nation, led by Fire Lord Sozin (Hiro Kanagawa), rises against the world’s other three nations — the Water Tribes, the Earth Kingdom and Air Nomads — in a ploy for domination. Using stunning CGI and special effects, the series’ prologue is recounted in majestic color, explaining the history of the war and precocious Airbender Aang’s (Gordon Cormier) life before he goes missing. It’s a dynamic entry-point for lifelong “Avatar” enthusiasts and newcomers, who can quickly orient themselves in the days before Aang, who learns he is the Avatar (the master of all four elements), is frozen in the ice for 100 years. The Avatar’s absence allows the Fire Nation’s comet-fueled war to rage on, obliterating the Air Nomads and wreaking havoc on the Water Tribes and the Earth Kingdom.

Twenty minutes into the first chapter, “Avatar” flashes forward a century. Katara (Kiawentiio), the sole water bender of the Southern Water Tribe, and her over-protective brother Sokka (Ian Ousley) stumble upon Aang’s resting place, inadvertently awakening him. Though initially apprehensive, the pair embrace Aang as their friend and join him on his quest to master the other elements, end the Fire Nation’s war and restore balance to the world.

As with many live-action films and television adaptations from written or animated sources, Kim and his writers’ room conflated and combined several pivotal narrative beats. However, entwining Jet’s (Sebastian Amoruso) story of freedom fighting with the Earth Kingdom’s sparkling city Omashu and the tale of King Bumi (Utkarsh Ambudkar) feel rushed and overly convenient – especially for those who know the original series well. Moreover, stripping Sokka of the comic relief that enriched the animated version of his character is hugely disappointing and makes for a more one-note depiction.

Despite these missteps, there are a few standout moments in the series. “Avatar’s” opener and its second episode, “Warriors,” remain the two strongest installments of the show, while the penultimate episode (“The North”) injects a vital intenseness and a gorgeous display of water bending needed to reinvigorate the series in its final hours. And despite many of the series’ lackluster performances, Elizabeth Yu’s turn as the cunning and volatile Princess Azula — who is desperate to impress her father, the sadistic Fire Lord Ozai (Daniel Dae Kim), and outsmart her exiled older brother Prince Zuko (Dallas Liu) — is by far one of the most powerful showcases of the series. Also, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee’s role as Uncle Iroh tempers the tone of many scenes that bend toward melodrama in the hands of more novice actors.

Looking back on the original, animated “Avatar,” it’s clear that DiMartino and Konietzko had a distinct vision for Aang and this universe. Without their careful guidance, the live-action series loses the elements that made the animated work unique and refined. Ultimately, “Avatar: The Last Airbender” feels like it’s putting on a show, instead of meticulously immersing the audience in this stunningly crafted world.

“Avatar: The Last Airbender” premieres Feb. 22 on Netflix .

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‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’: Been There, Saved That

Netflix’s latest attempt to capture the magic of a beloved animated series has some strong performances but falls well short of the original.

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Three young people stand in poses ready for battle in a forest.

By Maya Phillips

Nickelodeon’s 2005 series “Avatar: The Last Airbender” was a sprawling odyssey that combined intricate world-building, meticulous references to Asian and Native cultures, lively humor and sharply plotted drama, all animated in a charming, anime-inspired style. It was an unqualified success, attracting millions of viewers and heaps of critical praise. The series introduced a world so rich, complete and full of its own histories and myths and traditions that it never needed a follow-up.

But we know that’s not how things work.

In 2010 there was the famously whitewashed live-action film “The Last Airbender,” which was, deservedly, met with a ferocious torrent of fan-fury. The sequel series, “Avatar: The Legend of Korra,” was more in touch with the original, but still unnecessary. And the same can be said for Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” the streamer’s latest big money, live-action adaptation that proves just how difficult it is to capture the magic of a beloved original.

Like the original series, Netflix’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” also takes place in a fictional Eastern world of four nations: Air Nomads, Water Tribe, Earth Kingdom and Fire Nation. In this world a select group of people from each nation are “benders,” able to manipulate their element. For a century the Fire Nation has waged a winning war against the others — during which time the only hope for peace, the avatar, the sole master of all four elements, disappeared. When two Water Tribe siblings, Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley), discover the prodigal avatar, a 12-year-old Air Nomad named Aang (Gordon Cormier), the three embark on a journey to complete Aang’s training so they can save the world from the threat of the Fire Nation.

This “Avatar” attempts to condense several story lines, many of which are spread out across dozens of episodes in the robust sprawl of the original, into a tight eight episodes. Some of the economies the adaptation uses in fusing certain narratives — making new connections and throughlines among stories that were originally set in different locales, for example — are neatly done. And thanks to the involvement of the creators, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, each subplot, even when moved or modified, remains faithful, if not exactly in detail then absolutely in spirit, to that of its animated counterpart. The show is also full of carefully placed Easter eggs from the original. Something as minor as a background character’s passing mention of the Avatar encountering some “canyon crawlers” in an episode will immediately clue fans in to the dangerous beasts Team Avatar faced in Episode 11 of the Nickelodeon version.

But “Avatar” also tries so desperately to rework its stories that the pacing often suffers; adventures become a bit too convoluted, and there’s so much stacked action that it’s easy to lose track of the stakes and sense of urgency in any one plotline.

As with “ One Piece, ” another of Netflix’s live-action adaptations, much of the casting here is inspired. This is especially true of the villains: Dallas Liu provides the perfect balance of rage and vulnerability to Aang’s enemy, Zuko, the emo prince of the Fire Nation. Elizabeth Yu, as Zuko’s twisted sister Azula, is just as ruthless but more grounded than the crazed character in the cartoon, and Daniel Dae Kim gives the appropriate arch-villain gravitas to Zuko and Azula’s father, the heartless Fire Lord Ozai. And Ken Leung’s sleazy, self-serving Fire Nation Commander Zhao often steals the spotlight even as a secondary villain.

Ousley’s casting as Sokka is also a thing of beauty; somehow Ousley exactly captures the speaking cadence, facial expressions and even comedic timing of his animated equivalent. The showing for the rest of Team Avatar, however, isn’t as strong. Kiawentiio’s Katara feels overly sentimental yet shallow. Similarly, Cormier’s performance as Aang is so belabored, so strained in an attempt to seem natural, that he can’t command the screen in the way his character is meant to.

Perhaps the largest issue with this adaptation is how much of the playful humor has been lost in translation. The 2005 “Avatar” used all the reliable comedy tools of animated children’s shows: visual gags, joke callbacks, loopy sound effects, wild expressions. The latest “Avatar” can’t use exactly the same brand of comedy that the original did, but also can’t figure out how to build its own new comedic language that will work better for this live-action form. The art also leaves much to be desired, with distractingly clunky, unrealistic C.G.I. backgrounds and visual effects. Add transparent-looking stunts filmed with too much slo-mo, and you get a show that often appears just plain silly. (Two notable exceptions are the prop details and the elegant costume design, by Farnaz Khaki-Sadigh.)

Ultimately “Avatar: The Last Airbender” lands in much the same way Netflix’s other recent live-action anime adaptations have: Even at its best, the show just serves as a reminder that a much better “Avatar” already exists. And he’s already saved the world.

Maya Phillips is an arts and culture critic for The Times.  More about Maya Phillips

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Season 1 – Avatar: The Last Airbender

What to know.

Avatar: The Last Airbender serves as a solid live-action entry point into the beloved franchise, although it only sporadically recaptures the magic of its source material.

Cast & Crew

Gordon Cormier

Prince Zuko

Paul Sun-hyung Lee

General Iroh

Executive Producer

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Tv news & guides, this show is featured in the following articles., avatar: the last airbender — season 1, critics reviews, audience ratings, season info.

Let’s Discuss the Ending of Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1

Investigating the finale’s lingering questions... and a new looming threat.

kiawentiio as katara and gordon cormier as aang in season 1 of avatar the last airbender

Spoilers below for season 1 of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix.

Avatar: The Last Airbender (2024-) is no Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008), but neither is it (mercifully) The Last Airbender (2010), no matter the similarities these productions bear in name and characters. The latest incarnation of Avatar Aang’s story belongs to Netflix, a new live-action rendering that toes a tricky line: The series seeks to mirror (and honor) the original cartoon, while remixing storylines and making the impacts of war more plain. In animation, a scar can be rendered in a simple pink swatch; in live action, that same scar must illicit the brutal impact of puckered flesh. The latest Avatar , led by showrunner and executive producer Albert Kim, sometimes struggles to balance these stakes, but in the season 1 finale, “Legends,” the pieces at last assemble into a more enticing chess match—or, shall we say, a clever game of Pai Sho.

The episode begins on the cusp of a battle between the Northern Water Tribe and the Fire Nation, set on the banks of the icy capital city Agna Qel’a, where friends Aang (Gordon Cormier), Katara (Kiawentiio), and Sokka (Ian Ousley) have arrived in the hopes of mastering Aang’s water-bending. But, as is their wont, the Fire Nation attacks, eager to smite the remaining Water Tribe forces and capture the young Avatar in the process. An immense battle results—Aang becomes a whale, sort of, and the moon dies—but the Gaang narrowly survives the encounter, from which they plan to next conquer Aang’s earth-bending in the capital city of Omashu.

What exactly happened at Agna Qel’a?

Led by Commander Zhao (Ken Leung), the Fire Nation forces descend on the city, and Zhao kills the legendary Moon Spirit in order to strip the Northern Water Tribe of their water-bending powers. Doing so renders the tribe unable to defend themselves, but it also infuriates the grieving Ocean Spirit, which merges with Aang in the hugely powerful Avatar State. Together, they create Whalezilla . As Whalezilla inflicts havoc amongst the Fire Nation troops, Princess Yue (Amber Midthunder) sacrifices herself to become the new Moon Spirit, therefore redeeming nature’s balance and restoring water-bending to the Water Tribe. The Fire Nation flees, and Agna Qel’a survives, though with heavy losses.

OK, but what went down in Omashu?

As Fire Lord Ozai makes clear in the final moments of “Legends,” the battle at Agna Qel’a was a diversion. While Aang and co. were busy defending the Water Tribe, other Fire Nation battalions—led by Princess Azula (Elizabeth Yu), sister to Zuko (Dallas Liu)—captured the Earth Kingdom hub of Omashu, as well as King Bumi (Utkarsh Ambudkar). As Kim himself explained in an interview with Netflix’s editorial outlet Tudum , “That’s a major development in the course of the war. It means that only [the Earth Kingdom capital city] Ba Sing Se stands [in the way of the] Fire Nation ultimately conquering all of the Earth Kingdom. It signals a shift in the power balance of the world and indicates a much bigger threat for the future.” In other words: The Big Bad is, indeed, bad!

Did Princess Yue really die? Why?

Sadly, yes. When the Northern Water Tribe’s princess was only a child, Yue fell ill. The Moon Spirit within the Spirit Oasis healed her, gifting her a part of itself. During the siege at Agna Qel’a, Yue finally returned that favor, stepping into the waters of the Spirit Oasis and relinquishing the Moon Spirit’s life essence. By doing so, she saved the lives (and powers) of her fellow water-benders, but sacrificed herself in the process. It’ll take sweet Sokka some time to get over the sting of that loss.

What about Commander Zhao?

Zhao, too, is sacrificed amidst the violence, though his apparent death is much less honorable. When the zealous warmonger reveals to Zuko that the young prince’s quest to track down the Avatar was, in fact, a “sham,” he tries to kill the Fire Lord’s son, only to be stopped by Uncle Iroh (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee). Suitably pissed off, Iroh sets Zhao on fire and launches him into the sea. But we never get official confirmation that Zhao has indeed passed from Avatar ’s earthly plane. As Kim told Tudum, “Zhao’s arc in season 1 is definitely over. As a villain, he has been conquered. As to his ultimate fate, it’s left a little bit open-ended. It’s meant to be a little bit of a mystery.” Curious indeed.

What’s up with Sozin’s Comet?

Here’s where things get interesting. In the original Avatar cartoon series, Sozin’s Comet is a “ticking clock,” as Kim put in an interview with Entertainment Weekly . When the notorious comet dips down closest to the atmosphere—once every 100 years—the Fire Nation reaches the height of its fire-bending powers, rendering its soldiers virtually unstoppable. With such might, they’d have no difficulty finishing off their Hundred Year War and conquering the world. As such, Aang must master all four elements—earth, air, water, and fire—prior to the comet’s descent and stop the Fire Nation before their strength makes his own obsolete.

Up until “Legends,” Sozin’s Comet was conspicuously absent from the Netflix series. “We removed that particular ticking clock from our show for now, because we couldn’t know exactly how old our actors would be for the subsequent seasons,” Kim told EW . “We definitely thought about that going into season 1, so that we can accommodate for puberty, adolescence, time passing—all of those fun things that happen to real-life human beings that don’t happen to animated characters.”

But in the final moments of the finale, the Great Sage (François Chau) informs Fire Lord Ozai that the comet is returning “soon.” This loose time stamp gives Kim more flexibility with aging actors, but it still sets a deadline on Aang’s training—and gives the Netflix show some of the urgency missing from its earlier episodes. The comet is also a flashing neon signal to fans of the original series: More is coming soon .

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