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The Unparalleled Lori Petty

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Has there ever been a time that you thought about a TV star, singer, or actor who you haven’t seen much of recently and thought,”I wonder what she/he has been up to?” I’d heard the hype about the Netflix series "Orange is the New Black," so I decided to give it a try, and quickly found myself binge-watching it on a regular basis. During season two, a new character--but a familiar face--appeared, and I was excited to see that it was Lori Petty, who I’d adored from her acting in movies in the ‘90s. The roles that I remember her from most were the crime/action/surfer flick Point Break, the baseball comedy/drama A League of Their Own, the Pauly Shore comedy In the Army Now, and the film adaptation of the comic Tank Girl. Seeing Petty back onscreen was so much fun; like an unexpected visit from an old friend who you've been thinking about, but haven't seen in ages.

Lori Petty as Kit Keller in A League of Their Own
In all fairness, Petty didn’t exactly fade into the ether after the ‘90s; she was in quite a few TV series from then until now, including "Superman," "Star Trek: Voyager," "NYPD Blue," and "House," as well as several movie roles. Unfortunately, many of these were off of my radar, so I just nostalgically thought of her former roles and hoped that she’d be back around.

As I mentioned before, I'd seen her in some roles during the '90s, but it was the 1995 film Tank Girl, based on the comic book series created by Jamie Hewlett and Alan Martin, that made me really fall in love with Petty’s acting. Checking out the comics is something I've always planned to do, but sadly, haven't gotten to yet, so I can’t speak to how faithful to them the movie was. But, I adored the frenetic energy Petty brought to the character of Tank Girl. The storyline is set in a somewhat futuristic, drought-affected Australia, with Tank Girl, her sidekick, Jet Girl (played by Naomi Watts), and hybrid soldiers called The Rippers fighting against an oppressive mega-corporation called Water & Power. Petty’s portrayal of Tank Girl is wild, crazy, and unapologetic--exactly how I imagine a person in Tank Girl’s situation would be. As a very young woman back then, I admired Tank Girl and Jet Girl’s “take no s***” approach, how they refused to be taken advantage of, and how they fought for what was fair and right. Add to that the outrageous costumes, the set designs, and a soundtrack that featured music by quite a few of the decade's well-knowns (including Bjork, Bush, Veruca Salt, L7, Hole, and Ice-T, who had a part in the film), and the entire movie was a non-stop romp of fun. Though it didn’t have a lot of financial success when it came out, it has a cult following to this day.

 Lori Petty as Lolly Whitehill in "Orange is the New Black"
But back to the excitement I felt when I saw Petty onscreen as Lolly in "Orange is the New Black": after seeing her handle both serious and comedic roles so well in the past, I was eager to watch her shine as she played this character too, and I wasn’t disappointed. Lolly is an inmate at Litchfield Penitentiary, where most of the show is set, and was also an inmate at a facility in Chicago. Though I don’t remember the show specifically stating what Lolly’s diagnosis is, it’s clear that she deals with mental illness. She believes that government agencies are doing surveillance on her, and shares conspiracy theories with anyone who will listen (and even those who won't sometimes). I don’t want to provide spoilers, but there are some poignant flashback scenes where the compassionate side of Lolly is on full display, as she cares for people in her neighborhood, especially those who are disadvantaged. Petty adds depth and layers to what could easily become a very cliche, stereotypical character. There are moments of humor, but it’s also tempered by the way Petty shows Lolly as a complex person struggling with mental illness who deals with loneliness and feeling isolated. Petty does this so well that, watching the show, there were times that I got emotional during particular scenes involving Lolly. The compassion I couldn't help but feel for her got me so caught up in the moment that it was easy to set aside that it was just Petty acting out a character.

Not only as Lolly, but in all the roles she’s played, Petty has a wonderful physicality and timing to her acting. In a close-up shot, viewers don’t even need to see the rest of her body to pick up what’s being conveyed; her eyes and facial expressions can say it all, and then some. Even then, don’t discount the scenes where the whole person is in view; with gestures, the way she walks or runs, etc., Petty adds personality to her characters that rounds them out into so much more than just two-dimensional.

I’ve seen that Petty has said she feels that the character of Lolly will be back for a new season(s) of "Orange is the New Black", and IMDb lists her in upcoming roles in the films Fear, Love, and Agoraphobia, a story about a female Marine and an agoraphobic man, and Dead Awake, a horror/thriller movie that’s in post-production. I'll definitely be on the lookout for new projects from her now, and can't wait to see what else she might be working on.

I wasn't able to find an official website for Lori Petty, but you can follow her on Twitter at @LoriPetty.

So, your turn, readers: What entertainers have you had that "I wonder whatever happened to them?" feeling about? We'd love to hear from you in the comments.


No Country For Old Men

by Dave Gourdoux

No Country For Old Men is a 2007 film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen. It was adapted by the Coen brothers from a highly regarded novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. I haven't read the book yet (it's high on my list), so I can't speak to how faithful to the novel the film is or isn't, but I can tell you what high regard I hold it in: I think it's the best movie the brothers have made so far (even better than Fargo and The Big Lebowski) and if I had to pick the best film of the 21st century so far, it'd be a toss-up between No Country For Old Men and Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood (also released in 2007).

What's so great about it? Well, to start with, there's the amazing cast. The setting, southwest Texas in 1980, is dramatic and beautifully filmed. The writing and the direction are top notch, and the suspense is intense and unrelenting. The three main characters all have depth and are all memorable. Add to that an enigmatic ending that many found anti-climactic (and which I loved) and you've got a recipe for a pretty tasty movie.

The three main characters are:

Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin), a Vietnam veteran who is out hunting antelope when he witnesses a drug deal gone bad. Things get very interesting very quickly.
Anton Chirugh (Javier Bardem in an Academy Award winning performance) is perhaps the most purely evil character in movie history. Enough said for now.
Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) is an aging law enforcement officer about to retire who thought he'd seen it all.

All three actors are outstanding. For Jones, it's a role he's mastered and played plenty of times before, although here he adds a sense of sadness that is palpable and powerful.

Bardem's performance is incredible, already legendary. He looks, speaks and behaves like nothing we've ever seen before, and he's always one step ahead of everyone else.

While Bardem's Chirugh is the character everyone talks about, that everyone remembers, it's Brolin's performance that's the glue that holds the movie together. He's persistent, resourceful, and way over-matched, but he keeps on as long as he can. He's heroic and naive and stubborn and greedy and smart and stupid, often all at the same time.

The fourth major character would be the harsh landscape that serves as the setting. The scrub brush prairies and deserts are as harsh and brutal as the other characters, but they are also filled with an existential beauty. Just like the snow-covered terrain that was such an important part of Fargo, the Coens demonstrate an affinity for emptiness, for expansive horizons and big skies.

No Country For Old Men is one of the most atmospheric and suspenseful movies ever made. Like most Coen brothers films, there's a lot going on, and it all works, even that enigmatic ending. Above all, the Coen brothers are great storytellers.

Now about that ending ... (spoiler alert!)

If you haven't seen the film yet, you might want to stop here.  If you have, and you've wondered what's up with the ending, and what was it all about, well, let me take a whack at it.

In order to discuss the ending, we have to try and make sense of what we've seen so far. What does it all mean? The Coen brothers give us plenty of clues:

Clue number one: The title.

Understanding why a film is named what it is is always a good starting point. In this case, I think it gives us everything we need to know to appreciate the ending and understand what the entire film is about.

The title is taken from the opening line to a poem by William Butler Yeats, "Sailing to Byzantium."

                           This is no country for old men. The young
                           in one another's arms, birds in the tree ...

The poem is about how as one ages, one needs to reject the physical and sensual world and accept entry into the spiritual, the eternal worlds. Remember this, because it explains everything, especially the ending.

Clue number two: The three main characters are only seen one at a time.

Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin), Anton Chirugh (Javier Bardem), and Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) are never seen in the same frame, never share the screen. It's not just that all three of them are never in the same frame; no combination of any two of the three are ever together. The closest is near the end, when Bell enters the Hotel Room crime scene, and Chirugh is on the other side of the door. The open door obscures Chirugh, so even when they are in the same room, only one is visible.

Why is this important? I think it's the Coens telling us that the three characters share common attributes and that they are metaphorically the same, all three being parts of a larger whole. They can't share the same space because when you see one, you see all three.

Clue number three: Rules.

Gene Jones as "Gas Station Proprietor"
Both Chirugh and Sheriff Bell are bound by and remain faithful to their own set of rules. We see this repeatedly with Chirugh and the coin toss with the store keeper, and later, the bounty hunter Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson). Chirugh is bound by the results of the coin toss--he doesn't kill the storekeeper when he guesses correctly, and he does kill Wells when he guesses incorrectly. He says, more than once, "If the rule you follow brought you to this, of what use was the rule?" Useful or not, Chirugh is bound by rules, and therefore lacks free will.

Sheriff Bell also obeys rules--not just the laws he is sworn to uphold, but also the mythic western code of the landscape, of cowboys, of simpler times. He believes in traditional values, and in a scene near the end of the film, while visiting with his Uncle Ellis, a retired sheriff, he blames the madness he's witnessed on the erosion of these values. Ellis points out that the region has always been violent, pointing to a brutal murder in 1909 as evidence.

The rules both men are forced to follow reveal a lack of free will, and they also speak to the randomness of fate. In Chirugh's case, his victims' fates come down to the results of a coin toss. In Bell's case, many of the rules he follows are really only values, and have no inherent strength of their own. At the end of the film, he seems depressed, as if he'd answered the question Chirugh posed to his victims: If the rule you follow brought you to this, of what use was the rule? The rules the Sheriff followed brought him to Chirugh, who is a nightmare for him.

Llewelyn Moss is the only one of the three that doesn't follow any rules. He snubs the rule of law that Sheriff Bell embraces, and he also defies Chirugh. He has free will, but he still ends up dead. His wife, when confronted by Chirugh and his coin toss, refuses to participate, opting to die rather than sacrifice her own free will.

So what do we make of these rules? I think it illustrates that the sheriff and Chirugh both lack free will, but in the end are still alive while the Mosses are not.

After Chirugh kills the Mosses, he is struck by a car that blows a red light and nearly kills him. This might be seen as an act of karma, as punishment for killing the free, but Chirugh proves again to be too strong and ends up walking away from the accident. His belief in the rules he follows, twisted as they may be, is so strong as to make him into a Superman (Nietzsche?), indestructible and immune to random fate.

Clue number four: The hunter becomes the hunted.

Josh Brolin as "Llewelyn"
The movie begins with Moss hunting prong-horned antelope and, after witnessing a drug deal gone bad, he quickly becomes the hunted. Chirugh hunts Moss and is hunted by Bell. Bell is hunted by an invisible force: time. About to retire, he is hunted and haunted by the events unfolding before him. These shared experiences are further linking of the three and evidence of them being parts of a disparate whole.

Clue number five: Two scenes that illustrate the bond shared by Chirugh and Sheriff Bell.

Javier Bardem as "Chirugh"
The first of these occurs in Moss's trailer, when Bell, hot on the trail of Chirugh, arrives just minutes after Chirugh left. There's a glass of milk on the table that Chirugh left behind and it's still cold. Bell drinks from it, thus reinforcing my three are really one theory in that all drank from the same milk (Mother's milk? Hmm...). Bell sits on the couch in exactly the same spot Chirugh sat, and sees his own reflection in the television, just as Chirugh saw his. This illustrates that Chirugh and the Sheriff are different aspects of the same being.

The second scene is in the hotel crime scene, when Bell enters, unaware that Chirugh is behind the door. There is a shot of the two men's shadows that seem to overlay each other as the door opens until the two shadows become one.

Clue number six:  The sheriff's dream.

Tommy Lee Jones as "Sheriff Ed Tom Bell"
The movie ends with Bell, now retired, sitting at breakfast with his wife, telling her about a dream he'd had. In the dream, he and his dead father were riding on horseback in cold darkness, and his father went ahead to light a fire in the darkness, where he'd wait for the sheriff. The film ends here, fulfilling Yeats' vision that the aged need to accept entry into the non-physical, spiritual world of eternity. Bell is completing an entry that began just before Moss's murder.

Clue number seven:  Moss's murder isn't shown.

With the entire movie seemingly building up to a final Chirugh and Moss conflict, instead we are shown only the aftermath of Moss's murder. This is because of the rules the filmmakers imposed upon themselves (not to show any two of the characters in the same frame), and because the final act, which begins at this point, is about the entry into the spiritual world and the abandoning of the physical world of death and violence. In the scope of this, the murder of Moss and his wife isn't important; it's part of a world that is being left behind.

So what does this all add up to? I'm not sure. There is no denying the inherent nihilism in the randomness and brutality of the unrepentant violence in the film, despite the presence of rules or the existence or non-existence of free will. The sheriff's dream, about being reunited with his father in another world, would seem to suggest a paradise, except that his father will need to start a fire so he can see in the cold darkness. This doesn't sound like the brightly lit paradise that heaven is normally depicted as (although being reunited with his father in the landscape he loves might seem like paradise to Bell).

The idea of the three main characters being a part of one makes me think of the three elemental attributes associated with human beings: body, spirit and soul. If this was what they represented, then Chirugh would have to be body, because he dwells only in Yeats' physical world; Moss would be spirit, for he has elements of both of the other two yet he is the first to pass--the body and the soul will both outlast the spirit. Finally, Bell is the soul, as he has gained admission into the eternal world, leaving the spirit-less and soul-less body alone to perpetuate its evil in the physical world, in the region that is no country for old men.

So--that's my interpretation. I'd love to hear your comments, what parts you agree or disagree with.
I love films that make me think, and I know I'll still be thinking about No Country For Old Men for a long time, and that I'll collect even more clues the next time I see it.


Black Jesus

by Jav Rivera

I've always been a fan of things that weren't afraid to be funny, no matter who they might offend. And it's not because they're trying to offend that makes it funny for me. It's more because of the fact that the artist tackles something that in truth is funny, but just happens to be a bit taboo.

With that said, "Black Jesus" may or may not be for you, though I do urge you to look past its cover, because what's beneath has a lot of heart.

"Slink" Johnson as "Black Jesus"
Created by Aaron McGruder and Mike Clattenburg, the show is a perfect combination of the animated series "The Boondocks" and the Canadian cult series "Trailer Park Boys." And it just so happens that both McGruder and Clattenburg were the creators of those shows, respectively. "Black Jesus" shows us the life of an African-American Jesus living in Compton, CA trying to spread the good word while getting high and drinking a 40. And yet, oddly enough, "Black Jesus" feels relevant for current television. With other shows and movies promoting drug use, alcohol, and violence it makes sense that we see religion being represented in modern times.

The titular role is played by the incredibly cast Gerald "Slink" Johnson. Johnson brings a joyous spirit to his character, much like what you'd expect a Savior to have. His castmates bring a perfect balance of reality to over-the-top scenarios. Black Jesus' main crew are full believers while antagonists Vic (Charlie Murphy) and Lloyd (John Witherspoon) question his identity. In fact, Vic, who does believe in God, is a downright vicious non-believer of Johnson's character. He takes offense that Black Jesus is the real Lord Savior. Lloyd, on the other hand, flip-flops between believing or not, depending on if he gets what he prays for.

Lloyd (John Witherspoon) and Vic (Charlie Murphy)
If you're familiar with the great John Witherspoon, you won't be disappointed. He brings his comedy genius to every scene. There's something about how he delivers his lines that make any sentence sound funny. And it's nice to see that Charlie Murphy has finally graduated from his work on "Chappelle's Show". It made me sad to see Murphy get mostly bit parts knowing that he was a skillful comedic actor. On "Black Jesus" he's given the chance to shine.

Most of the gang, L-R: Boonie (Corey Holcomb), Black Jesus, Trayvon (Andrew Bachelor),
Maggie (Kali Hawk), and Fish (Andra Fuller)
But it's not just the bad guys; the good guys bring the funny too. Besides Johnson's outstanding portrayal of a modern day Jesus, his co-stars add a nice range of characters. For me, Boonie (Corey Holcomb) and his mom Ms. Tudi (Angela Elayne Gibbs) have the best chemistry. She cuts him down at every given moment, and he takes the beatings like a slow-witted child. And though the rest of the crew make the show more rounded, it's scenes with Boonie and Ms. Tudi (whether they're together or separated) that have the show's best laughs.

[warning: explicit language]

The only other character that might be able to compete with Gibbs' chemistry with Holcomb is Boonie's ex-wife Shalinka (played by Dominique Witten). Witten who's already a talented stand up comedian, dumbs it down for her character. She only appears once in a great while but she's always well worth the wait. And in season two, the underrated Keith David appears as Reverend Otis. It's always nice to see David appear in films and television, but when he's given a meaty role like he has in "Black Jesus," you wonder why more people don't give him the credit he deserves.

Every episode furthers the overall story arc per season, but the individual episodes have their own mini stories. I often felt like I was watching a McGruder version of "Trailer Park Boys," though the show never feels like it's a ripoff of the Canadian series. If anything, "Black Jesus" is honoring Clattenburg's incredible creation. And even though its "Trailer Park Boys" similarities is probably one of the show's best features, "Black Jesus" has enough originality to have other redeeming features. As I said, there actually is a lot of heart to the show despite its crude humor. Black Jesus really is trying to spread the good word to the modern world; he just happens to enjoy smoking a bud or two while he does it.

Just because a show like "Black Jesus" isn't politically correct doesn't mean it's all-out blasphemy. McGruder and Clattenburg have done a good job of showing just enough innocence and love through the lives of a group of sinners. Indeed, there are a lot of good lessons to be learned if you can look past the vulgarity.

For more information, visit their IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3589872

TRIVIA: Some of the cast members previously worked with Aaron McGruder on his animated series, "The Boondocks," including John Witherspoon, who was the voice of "Granddad."


Bart Simpson Sells His Soul

by Jav Rivera

Many, many, many years ago (in 1995), The Simpsons aired one of their best episodes, entitled "Bart Sells His Soul." It was during their seventh season (they're currently on their 28th season!), and it has easily become one of the more classic episodes to fans and critics.

For me, personally, it made a huge difference in more than one way. First of all, it was one of the first episodes that changed my view of the show from being a fun animated series to more of a work of art. I thought to myself, "If I ever direct a feature film, I would use this episode as my guide." But this also made me think, way back when, that The Simpsons should have a college course based on its themes and art. (More on that later.)

Bart, Milhouse, and Bart's Soul
The episode starts with Bart handing out hymns to the church-goers as they enter Sunday mass. As it turns out, the hymn is actually a rock song by the band Iron Butterfly. Because of this prank, Bart gets in trouble from the priest. During a discussion with his best friend Milhouse, Bart argues that there's no such thing as a soul, and just to prove his point, he eventually sells his soul to Milhouse.

It was written by Greg Daniels, who's famous for also writing and producing King of the Hill, Parks and Recreation, and the US version of The Office. Daniels wrote several more episodes of The Simpsons, many of which are now referred to as classic.

[On a side note, I was surprised one year to find myself sitting behind Greg Daniels during the Austin Film Festival. At first I didn't know it was him, because as the announcer was introducing Daniels (who was scheduled to talk), I could hear him talking to his parents. The conversation was very ordinary and he even sounded a bit neurotic. When he stood up and headed to the front, my eyes widened because that conversation made me think differently of him. I suddenly saw him as an everyday man who just happened to have extraordinary writing skills.]

As the episode plays out, Bart finds himself in several predicaments that make him believe something is amiss. He runs into motion-controlled sliding doors that don't open for him, he can't produce condensation on a window, he can't even laugh at his father's tragic, yet hilarious, accidents.

Lisa attempts to make Bart laugh at Homer's accident.
The Simpsons have been in my life ever since The Tracey Ullman Show premiered these boundary-pushing characters in 1987, and I've been a huge fan ever since. I've collected DVDs, toys, artwork, books, T-shirts, etc. My oldest nephew (born in 1991) doesn't know a world without The Simpsons. As they continue to make more and more episodes, it seems the only way the show will end is when the voice actors either retire or pass away.

The show has impacted my life in many ways, and going back to those older episodes now, it's become more obvious to me why. They were dismissed by a huge population as a silly cartoon. Others called the show too controversial. Fans knew what the show really was: groundbreaking.

I remember being on a train reading one of their first books (The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family) and an older man in his 30s or 40s scoffed at me. I looked up and asked him, "What?" He told me that it was ironic that someone was reading a book about The Simpsons. In other words, he was telling me that the show was not deserving of literature. (In a way, he was also insulting my intelligence). I replied, "Actually, the show is really well-written and isn't just a cartoon." He shrugged me off. (I admit I had the urge to punch him in the face.)

Fortunately, time has been extremely good to the series and its reputation is no longer that of a dumb show. Even though the show first focused on Bart and his rambunctious behavior, the writers quickly began to explore the other characters and themes. Even though "Bart Sells His Soul" was released in the seventh season, you can find heart-warming episodes as early as the first season.  

Milhouse gets rowed by his two souls.
One of my favorite scenes in "Bart Sells His Soul" is when Bart has a dream. All his classmates are on a beach with a castle-like structure (which looks an awful like the Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz) way off on a distant island. The children are all playing with their souls, and at one point they hop onto row boats towards the castle. Milhouse, with two souls (his and Bart's) rides carefree while the two souls row. Bart, left alone, rows in a circle.

There are so many philosophical and cultural references throughout the episode, especially during this dream sequence. There's the idea of the Emerald City being some kind of spiritual destiny, or perhaps a place for heavenly existence. There's the idea of rowing yourself through the long ocean of life. In a scene when Bart is praying, he says, "Are you there, God? It's me, Bart Simpson," which is a reference to the Judy Blume book Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. At one point Lisa references poet Pablo Neruda. There's so much in this episode, it's as if the team couldn't hold back because of the quality of the episode's story.

Bart runs into a sliding door.
A few months ago I was asked if I would be interested in teaching an honors course of my own creation. The course had to include a subject that a student would normally take (mathematics, literature, history, etc.). It was suggested to me by my boss that I teach something relating to The Simpsons since I was such a huge fan. It took all of 24 hours for me to get the idea of teaching a course that focused on The Simpsons and everyday issues. Later, the course description became more about the show and philosophy. I pitched the idea to the head of the honors program and it appears the course will be offered in the fall of 2017.

Although this is the first time that this university will offer a course like this, I'm not the first to have this idea. In fact, many universities have been teaching something relating to The Simpsons for many years. I was always jealous of those students because I would have loved to take a course like this. My point being that the series has not only gained respect over the decades, it has become a cultural staple.

If you never watch another episode, at the very least you should watch "Bart Sells His Soul". To list the best of the series would be impossible, but this is easily one of my top favorite episodes. You can bet that it'll be shown in my course next fall.

For more information about "Bart Sells His Soul" visit IMDb: www.imdb.com/title/tt0763025

TRIVIA: Writer Greg Daniels was inspired by an experience in his youth when he tricked a bully into selling his soul to him.


Up In The Air

by Jav Rivera

Have you ever watched a movie that meant one thing at one point in your life and something different at another point? Back in 2009, when the film Up in the Air was released, I sat in the theatre watching the credits thinking about the film's theme. As people started leaving their seats, I was processing the idea of leaving behind your baggage and pushing yourself to stay in constant movement.

I was 33 years old at the time and not so happy with my career. I thought to myself, "Am I weighed down by my own baggage? Have I really challenged myself? Have I reached the goals I set for myself in my twenties?" By the summer of 2010, I sold everything I owned: clothes, furniture, and even my DVD and CD collections. I only kept what I could fit in my Volkswagon Golf. I scraped together all the money I had and moved to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of working in the film industry. But that was just one version of my interpretation.

Directed by Jason Reitman (director of Juno, Thank You For Smoking, and the little-known but excellent film Labor Day), Up in the Air proved once again that Reitman is a filmmaker to keep an eye on. And not just because the film was nominated for (and won) several awards. He values characters more than spectacle. And though his films typically get categorized as dramas, he knows when and how much humor to bring to the story. The film, based on a book by Walter Kirn (who gets a cameo during the "Glocal" scene), follows the life of Ryan Bingham. But more importantly it examines the topic of family, and the various points of views people have of it, which is probably why it can be interpreted in multiple ways.

George Clooney as "Ryan Bingham"
George Clooney takes the lead as Ryan Bingham, a representative for an HR consultant firm. His job is to assist in the termination of employees for other companies. Although most people would have issues with this kind of job, Bingham's philosophy on life affords him freedom from guilt. On the side, Bingham is a motivational speaker; his seminars focus on living a life without baggage. In other words, by not getting involved in relationships (friends, family, etc.), a person is free to roam and truly live life more fully. Of course, things get sticky when Bingham's job and lifestyle are challenged.

Bingham must be both charming and cutthroat. There's little room for his character to sway. He can't be too kind, but he still has to show some sympathy. Clooney was a great choice for the role, with his charm and wit combined with his ability to bring fierceness to his characters. He owned the role, and when you watch the film you forget that he's megastar George Clooney.

On the other side of the spectrum is Anna Kendrick's character, Natalie. She believes in technological conveniences, and their benefits towards family time. The clash between the two never feel like the stereotypical odd couple. Instead, their relationship is a constant challenging of each other's philosophical points of view.

Bingham consoles Natalie (Anna Kendrick)
Bingham is bombarded by more than just Natalie. His siblings, who he spends little-to-no time with, ask him to help take photos with a cardboard cut out all around the States. Since he has to travel to different cities anyway, why not? Not pleased with this familial duty, Bingham reluctantly adds baggage to his compact luggage lifestyle.

Melanie Lynskey, Danny McBride, and Clooney
Then he has to face one more challenge: Alex, played by Vera Farmiga. Though she started out as a casual encounter, Bingham quickly falls for the seemingly cold Alex (cold in the sense that she enjoys the casualness of her new partner). The difference between Alex and the other challenges is that Bingham is to blame for this new risk.

Vera Farmiga as "Alex"
Though I view this film as excellent storytelling, I must include the quality of the cinematography (by Eric Steelberg) and editing (by Dana E. Glauberman). Glauberman's best example is early on when we're introduced to Bingham's airport-loving routine. It's a quick scene that compresses Bingham's life in just a few seconds -- appropriate considering his lifestyle. Reitman doesn't overuse these aspects though, and focuses more on the acting. That seems to be his strongest trait as a director and is always a reason I enjoy his films. By this point in his career he seems to have graduated from teenagers (as featured in Juno) to middle-aged adults. If Juno can be considered his pop song, Thank You for Smoking as his alternative rock tune, and Labor Day as a romantic jazz song, then Up In the Air should be his classical piece.

Up In the Air remains one of my favorites. Once the film was available on bluray, it became one of those films that I liked to share with others. And little at a time, the way I viewed the theme changed. Maybe life wasn't so much about moving. Maybe life is found in the people that surround you. Maybe family doesn't weigh you down, but instead lifts you up. And I admit that this new point of view coincided with my real life. I began looking for ways to plant my roots and be closer to people. Maybe it's just my age, but I prefer to think that films like these affect my life. And who knows? Maybe in my late 40s I'll reinterpret the film yet again.

For more information, visit the film's IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1193138

TRIVIA: The theme of unemployment and downsizing was not meant to coincide with real life events. As the film was nearing completion, the economic crisis in the United States just happened to be peaking. Because of this, interviews with non-actors who had lost their jobs were filmed and interwoven into the film's beginning and ending.