Tag Archives: movie reviews

Why Up Deserves an Oscar

The Best Movie of 2009?

I think Up deserves an Oscar. Not only is it the best animated picture of the year, it is one that convinced me that digital animation is a formidable medium that I would be well-served to accept. What I really liked about Up is that although a children’s film, its message of life after death is actually quite grown up, and not in the grown up, slyly winking style of a Wes Anderson Fantastic Mr. Fox but grown up in the fact that the movie’s themes are presented elegantly and simply, at once entertaining and on-message. Are children’s movies the next adults between 18 and 49 genre? I do not know, but Up makes a good argument for.

This idea is funny, because Up really does not have any characters from that demographic. Think about it, Carl is a senior citizen and Russell is a pre-adolescent boy, a tween in Disney-speak (thankfully without the obnoxious Hannah Montana baggage). The only adults are the cell-phone carrying architects who are trying to evict Carl from his home. You could argue that it is the mere absence of adults that marks this film—Russell’s dad is negligent, the medical techs who come to take Carl to Shady Oaks simpering, and Carl’s wife Ellie dead. Is director Peter Docter doing away with adults for a reason? Are they artifacts of a meshugge generation, one whose main aim beyond technology is money? Do they know as much about life as old people and children?

By all appearances from the plot, this is an adventure. Newlyweds Carl and wife Ellie picks a point on the globe, South America (“Just like America, but south” according to Russell) remote enough to not be bothered, to travel to one day when they have the money. Unfortunately, Ellie dies (again, very un-Disney) and Carl is left alone. A balloon vendor, Carl ties up thousands of balloons to his home and takes off one morning after assaulting a contractor come to take over his house and build an office on top of it. Unlikely but equally unfortunate, a young boy, Russell hitches along for the ride. At Paradise Falls, they find a crazed explorer Charles Muntz, bent on discovering a rare bird. Chaos ensues as Carl and company find the aptly named she-bird “Kevin” first.

Here’s the ironic part to the adventure—it’s essentially pointless. Oh, sure, they save Kevin and meet a loveable golden named Dug, but there is no intrinsic value to the adventure. In fact, the only thing Carl learns is that his wife’s adventure book is already quite full. Under “Things I’m Going to Do” are photos from the couple’s marriage. It was his promise to Adventure with her, yet he finds that that promise was not broken.

OK, before you throw Dorothy’s “there’s no place like home” at me—I don’t find this message hackneyed. Think about it, the balloon-home is unable to be rescued; in the final scene it rests on the cliff of Paradise Falls. The house, the dream, the wife is gone. All that remains is a scrapbook with a couple of memories from a mundane and childless marriage. We can rightly assume Carl is assigned to Shady Oaks after returning to the city—he could even be on probation for assaulting the contractor. Russell’s dad does not show up for his “Wilderness Explorers” ceremony. Review that awards ceremony scene at the end—have you seen a more depressing pay-off in a movie? In a kids’ movie for gosh sake? I have never seen a bigger tent-pole movie with such a humble message—enjoy the things you have because they will turn into memories.

Yet according to Up those memories need to sustain us. Look at Muntz. In his quest to find the bird, whatever it is, he loses out on a lifetime of memories, instead retreating into himself and his madness. This is what happens when you try to hold onto things—you end up losing everything else.

So, in the end, Up is a winsome piece of fluff. The story is exciting, the characters warm and fun, but like Prospero’s midnight mushrooms, they are of no weight, no purpose, their only object being to send a wispy message: Enjoy life when you can.

A pretty subversive message coming from a Silicon Valley media conglomerate that makes pablum for kids, huh? All I can say is I am glad I was there for the ride.

Quickie Review: Extract

Let’s start this review with the title. Extract? Really? I thought this was a sci-fi flick walking into the theater. And I admit, I was sort of excited, Jason Bateman in space, bring it on! Let’s face it, I have never been one to harp on titles of movies, but Extract, really? They could have called it Mike Judge’s New Comedy about How Much It Sucks to Be a Boss and it would have earned more cache. Aren’t there people in Hollywood paid to make these creative decisions before they confuse half their target audience into staying home on a Labor Day weekend?

OK, enough carping about the title. Fine, it’s called Extract and it is about, of all things, a boss in a non-descript small town who runs a chemical plant that, yes, makes extracts. Fine, I get it. Let’s carp about other aspects of the movie. First and foremost, Mike, what happened, dude? I thought you were on our team? Office Space defined how I think about work. I had a boss who I called Lumbergh behind his back. Doesn’t matter he was a she, she still ended all of her sentences with “that would be great.” Now Mike, you seem to think that Peter Gibbons is the bad guy and you want an audience to love Lumbergh! The last time America felt sympathetic toward their bosses the steam engine hadn’t been invented. I kept waiting for Terence Powderly to make a PSA during the film, “Now folks you may think your boss is your enemy, but in fact, he can be your best friend.”

In fact, I found this movie’s crass treatment of union organizing mildly offensive. And I don’t even belong to a union! If there is one guy you don’t pick on during a recession, it’s the little guy. Especially now, when we’re in what economists call a “jobless recovery,” which means while the rich are getting richer, the poor are just going to have to suffer for another few years.

Let’s do a quick run through the plot, though. Joel is the owner of an extract plant. One of his employees, Step, loses a testicle due to an on-the-job mishap. Meanwhile, Cindy, a shoplifter/succubus, decides to seduce Step, convince him to sue the company, and ultimately take his money. Final subplot, I promise, after a night of drinking and dosing, Joel decides to hire a gigolo to test his wife’s fidelity. Unfortunately, the wife and Brad, the “pool boy” hit it off. As things collapse around Joel, he must find the necessary self-confidence to put things in order and prove his Bossitude.

I spent too much on this film to dislike it completely and I will admit it did have moments of greatness. No one is more qualified to play a boss working uncomped overtime than Jason Bateman. Likewise, Ben Affleck’s bartender character, Dean was reliably funny.

Yet ultimately, this movie lacked the dimensionality for me to care. The king of quirky comedy, Mike Judge, seemed unable to create any lasting characters, plots, or scenes. The boring factory, boring home, unnamed town, bored wife, and cookie-cutter secondary characters left me with nothing to latch onto. I would write spoiler alert for this next sentence, but who cares? The factory stays open, more extract is produced, and Joel continues to be the boss and earn the most money in the factory. In sum, like the suburban factory itself, I am glad this movie was made, because checking the credits, it employed a bunch of people, but I would be happy to have driven by it on my way to the city. Now let’s hope Lumbergh doesn’t see this review.



Quickie Review: Julie and Julia

So I saw Julie and Julia this weekend and I have to say, I was impressed. I liked the movie’s style and as a blogger, thought that the writer-director, Nora Ephron, portrayed this solitary habit with a great deal of tact and reality. The blogging was neither super-sleek nor silly but looked and felt on camera like the extension of a writer’s life. In my review, I will focus mostly on the screenwriting, what I know best, and answer the question: Should you go see this movie?

Let me hit the plot real quick: Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is a career-stranded twentysomething about to turn thirty. Seeking inspiration, she begins a food blog, recreating all 524 of Julia Child’s recipes from her landmark Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Meanwhile, the other half of the movie is interested in the education of Julia Child (Meryl Streep in one of her best roles) as a cook at Paris’ Cordon Bleu and the writing of the cook book.

As a writer, I was struck by Ephron’s sympathy and understanding of the writer’s life. We see Child nervously prepare the book and then feel sad with her when it initially faces rejection. We feel the same rush of emotion during the final frame when she receives a copy of her book in the mail. Just as Child struggles to publish her book, so does Julie—who carries her unfinished novel like an albatross around her neck—convinced that she does not have the talent to truly be a “writer.” But both Julia Child and Julie are writers, they may not be published at first, but as Julie’s husband Eric (Chris Messina) points out, the simple act of pushing pen to paper is enough. There are no writer badges, and both characters’ acceptance of that simple fact and their ability to persist even if they are not successful writers was the movie’s true message: keep writing until it hurts.

Of course, the movie is also about food, and me not being a foodie probably did not help my enjoyment of that part. I like a turkey on rye sometimes, but what characters eat isn’t important to me. To cut to the chase, as they say around these parts, the Julia part is infinitely more interesting than the Julie part, and not just because of the blogging/book divide. Sometimes the cutting between the two stories is spot-on, other times it is clunky. To me, Julie comes off as selfish and self-absorbed. Her greatest moments seem to be when journalists call. Not that I too am not a sucker for publicity and it is nice to be recognized, but part of the blog is just to write for writing’s sake. OK, I’m digging a hole for myself here so I’ll stop.

Go see Julie and Julia, the script is excellent and the depiction of writers is one-of-a-kind. One thumb up. The other thumb fell off during a duck braising accident ala Dan Akroyd.

Julia Child in the Kitchen

Julia Child in the Kitchen