March 10, 2010

Up in the Air

Also this week: Precious, Capitalism: A Love Story, The Beaches of Agnes, Ponyo

Highlight of the Week

Up in the Air (Paramount) So Up in the Air didn’t have a chance at the Oscars. Fair enough, considering that Jason Reitman’s third feature doesn’t strain to dazzle us the way the competition did. In his best performance to date, George Clooney plays a smooth-talking gent who excels at corporate downsizing and thrives on jetting around the globe and living it up in airport lounges and swanky hotels. Smart and admirably unsentimental, if not for the film’s relevant present-day backdrop, Sturges or Wilder could’ve made it 60 years ago. Blu-ray extras are respectable: we get Reitman and co. commentary, mini featurettes, a music video and a slew of solid deleted material — best of which is a poetic and trippy alternate ending that has Clooney floating around in an astronaut suit.

Also Available

Precious: Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (Maple) So Mo’nique netted a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Precious. Fair enough, considering that this Oprah-endorsed house of horrors isn’t worthy of much else (including its best screenplay trophy). With all due respect to Mo’Nique and co-star Gabourey Sidibe, the film relies too heavily on unsubtle button pushing. Extras: director’s commentary, meaty featurettes and interviews.

Capitalism: A Love Story (Alliance) Michael Moore delivers another lacerating look at the shady powers that be who corrupt the United States government. As usual, he provides broad satirical pull to make his arguments edible for plebs and potheads, and while the movie lacks the focus of the provocateur’s finest work, he’s as capable as ever when exposing baffling accounts of elite excess. Extras: oodles of Moore-directed featurettes.

The Beaches of Agnès (E1) You don’t have to be a film buff to adore this sublime self-portrait of Nouvelle Vague godmother Agnès Varda. In fact, this might be the most enriching place to start. Varda’s doc features meta installations, excerpts and blissful beach scenery to chronicle her prolific past. Also notable is a bizarre cameo from multi-platform artist Chris Marker as his robotically voiced, orange-cat alter ego, Guillaume — a prime example of the film’s enchanting, unruly tone. Extras: malheureusement non.

Ponyo (Disney) As hand-drawn animation fades, we’re grateful for Hayao Miyazaki. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’sThe Little Mermaid (which also inspired the 1989 Disney gem), Ponyo is thematically low concept compared to the creator’s usual output, but it’s one of his most eye-meltingly adorable. If you own a Blu-ray player, do not hesitate to buy this, sight unseen. Several other Miyazaki works are being re-released on DVD in conjunction with this, including his lesser-seen masterpiece My Neighbor Totoro. Blu-ray extras: a bazillion worthwhile docs and interviews.