Tag Archives: george clooney

Books as Snapshots

In the movie Up in the Air (read my review here), George Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, repeatedly gives a speech about how it’s better to travel light through life. If you put all your belongings in a backpack and set it on fire, you’d be free. It’s easy to see why Bingham believes this since he’s constantly avoiding putting down roots and making meaningful connections.

I’ll admit I lived that way for years and found it liberating. As a kid, I left everything behind in Viet Nam to come to the States. Dogs, relatives, friends, shoes, books—my backpack was literally empty. But instead of refilling it as soon as I could, I left it bare. I’d learned I could survive on very little so why get attached to things again? (This didn’t apply to people, just objects.) When it came to spartan living, Jack Reacher and Joe Pike had nothin’ on me.

Eventually, though, I realized I had it backwards. Since I wasn’t destroyed by my losses, it must be all right to have things as long as I had the right attitude about them. I could probably set my backpack on fire like Clooney’s Bingham if I had to—it’s just stuff, right? As a mental challenge after seeing the movie, I looked around my home, thinking, “That chair’s replaceable, I don’t need that lamp, wouldn’t die without my TV.”

Then I got to my books. Could I live without them? What did they mean to me? And that’s when it hit me some weren’t just books, they’re snapshots of specific moments in my life. I could look at one and remember exactly where I was, what I was doing and how I felt while reading it.

When I was traveling by myself a lot for work one summer, a set of Harlan Coben paperbacks kept me sane by making me laugh through 10-hour flight delays and sleep deprivation. Joan Aiken’s Nightbirds on Nantucket makes me instantly think of my friend Maria Taylor from 7th grade, who introduced me to the Wolves Chronicles featuring Dido Twite, a plucky girl whom I desperately wanted to be when I was young. Maria moved away after 7th grade but every time I look at Nightbirds on my shelf, I remember her.

Mary Higgins Clark’s While My Pretty One Sleeps reminds me of standing in line in frigid weather back in 1985 to meet the author for my virgin signing experience. I was so excited, you would’ve thought I sighted Elvis. And that first successful foray encouraged me to attend other author signings, resulting in many autographed books by my favorite writers.

My Tintin books are the first things I remember being able to read on my own (though I read them in Vietnamese), and the first time I became obsessed with a series as a child, wanting to collect every adventure. A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh books have lifted me through difficult times because that bear of very little brain is actually very wise. My copy of The Red Balloon takes me back to the time in fourth grade when I fell in love with Albert Lamorisse’s classic film Le Ballon Rouge because I didn’t need to speak English in order to grasp its wordless beauty.

So, my question to you is: What are the books on your shelves snapshots of? What specific memories do they represent?

While I await your stories, I guess I won’t be lighting my backpack on fire after all.

Movie Review: UP IN THE AIR, with Notes from Q & A with Jason Reitman and Cast

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’ve been reviewing a string of movies that, though well-crafted, are so depressing you need to down a fistful of Xanax after watching. Imagine my relief, then, when I got to see Jason Reitman’s wonderful Up in the Air (opening Dec. 4), which is moving and thought-provoking but also entertaining in the purest sense of the word.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a man who flies all over the country to fire people when in-house managers don’t have the stones to do it themselves. Theoretically, this third-party method also protects company personnel from retaliation by pink-slipped employees. (Be sure and read my notes below from the Q & A; Reitman told amazing stories about using non-actors who’d really lost their jobs.)

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

It’s a tough line of work but Bingham loves it. He’s got his firing technique honed to a science, has no problem staying disconnected from people’s emotional reactions, and is more comfortable on the road than in his apartment, which looks less homey than his hotel rooms. He also has Alex (Vera Farmiga), a fellow frequent flyer and bed partner whenever they’re in the same city. No strings, no responsibilities— just the way Bingham likes it.

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

His existence is threatened when his boss (Jason Bateman) hires a precocious upstart, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), who suggests that firings can be done via teleconference to save travel costs. When Bingham protests, his boss tells him to take her on the road to see which method is better. Though high-strung and ambitious, Natalie helps Bingham realize that being grounded, literally and emotionally, might be a good thing.

Clooney’s performance here is his most vulnerable yet. There are times when Bingham is looking at Alex and Clooney just strips his face naked—eyes softened, completely defenseless—making you think, if you didn’t know better, that you’re watching him fall in love with Farmiga right there on screen. Sometimes his gaze is so intimate, I felt like a perv stealing his private moments.

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

Farmiga matches Clooney note for note and the heat between them is potent. She’s been consistently strong in little-seen films like Down to the Bone and Breaking and Entering; here’s hoping Air will take her career higher.

Kendrick is having a moment right now with this movie and New Moon, in which she plays Bella’s friend Jessica. She deserves the attention; her work here is infused with maturity and smarts. (Can’t comment on her Moon performance since I probably won’t see it.)

© DW Studs./Cold Spring Pics./Dale Robinette

As for director, producer and co-writer Reitman (the movie is based on a novel by Walter Kirn), he’s proven beyond a doubt he’s no Tori Spelling. I’ll go further to say this movie is better than anything his father, Ivan, ever directed. Jason includes social commentary and emotional resonance with the humor; I can’t say the same for Meatballs, Twins or Kindergarten Cop. (OK, Ghostbusters was good but not Oscar material.) When Air is up for Best Picture—I think it has an excellent chance of winning —you’ll root for it, not roll your eyes like you do at elitist films that leave you wondering, “What the hell?”

After the Variety screening I attended, Reitman, Farmiga and Kendrick participated in a Q & A. Interesting tidbits revealed:

  • The film’s St. Louis casting director, Joni Tackette, placed an ad looking for people who had recently lost their jobs and were willing to share their experiences on camera. Though actors (J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifianakis among them) play some of the laid-off workers, twenty-two respondents ended up in the firing sequences, using their own words. Reitman said they talked about things he’d never think to write, in a way he’d never think to direct them. [This made for incredibly affecting scenes. When I was watching them, I kept thinking, “Who are all these actors? They’re so real.”]
  • After a speaking engagement in St. Louis, Reitman was approached by a 50-year-old man named Kevin with a cassette tape. On it, Kevin explained he’d just lost his job and had written a song about what it means to try and find purpose in the world. Reitman said “what follows isn’t the most beautiful song but [it’s] incredibly authentic.” He put it over the end credits, complete with Kevin’s intro about his situation.
  • The movie was mostly shot in St. Louis and Detroit, which were among the cities hardest hit by the recession. Cast and crew filmed in office buildings that were cleared out and abandoned like they were supposed to be in the movie.
  • Alex and Natalie aren’t in the book. Reitman wrote those roles specifically for Farmiga and Kendrick.
  • Farmiga said she confided in Clooney that if she could cuddle up to any cinematic character, she’d choose Karl from Sling Blade. This made Clooney repeatedly do Karl imitations between takes.
  • Clooney never goes to his trailer and never wears any makeup. Ever.

Nerd verdict: Up in the Air is first-class

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My Fantasy Fellow Jurors

Yesterday, I had jury duty and found Rumer Willis in my jury pool. This got me fantasizing about being on a jury panel full of famous people. Who would I want on there?

After some deliberating (I had a lot of time to kill), I came up with this list of 11 people I’d like to serve with and why:

  1. Chuck Norris, because if anybody tried to bullshit him, he’d roundhouse them in the head.
  2. mentalistSimon Baker, because he can read minds like he does on The Mentalist and tell when someone’s lying. OK, that’s reaching but c’ mon, it’s Simon Baker. Do I need to explain why I want to be sequestered with him?
  3. Bono, because he seems to have a strong desire to do the right thing. Plus, he can lend me his shades so I can sleep through boring testimony.
  4. feyTina Fey, because she’s smart and sharp-witted so she’d make deliberations fun.
  5. Jesus, because who would lie to Jesus?
  6. J.K. Rowling, because she knows about good vs. evil. Also, she might write the plot of her next book on lunch napkins and leave them lying around.
  7. Speaking of lunch, I’d want Wolfgang Puck, because he’d take the crappy food in the courthouse cafeteria and turn it into something edible. Yesterday, my beef stew looked like it had floating chunks of…never mind.
  8. cateCate Blanchett, because I just want to sit next to her amazingness.
  9. Ann Coulter, because if deliberations go long and I get cranky, I want someone around I can slap without remorse.
  10. clooney as claytonGeorge Clooney, because I want to dare him into placing a whoopee cushion on the judge’s chair.
  11. Bruce Springsteen, because he’s the Boss and can serve as foreman.

Who would be on your fantasy jury panel and why?