Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Minority report: A slightly dissenting view of "Up"

Before I get into anything about Pixar's "Up," there's great news out there today about Duncan Jones, a k a David Bowie's son and the man who directed the best slice of old-fashioned sci fi I've seen this year, "Moon."

For his next project, Jones will direct "Escape From The Deep," the story of a World War II U.S. navy submarine that sank after a torpedo malfunction, leaving the crew stranded on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Faced with drowning, nine men made it out alive after swimming the 180 feet to the surface without getting the bends.

I love submarine movies, so that all sounds great to me, but I'm still more than a little peeved that "Moon," featuring a top-notch performance by Sam Rockwell, never got any proper distribution in the U.S. - definitely catch it on DVD as soon as it hits there.

But, getting back to "Up," I should probably just keep this to myself, because for the most part I enjoyed Pixar's latest offering almost as much as everyone else in the world has seemed to. However, I didn't find it to be top-shelf Pixar, which for me includes "Ratatouille," "The Incredibles," "Wall-E" and "Toy Story."

So then, what kept me from loving "Up" unconditionally, which I certainly wanted to do going in? Well, from the outset it's a much more somber affair than I had been led to believe, but that certainly wasn't the problem. In fact, it turned what could have been the most mediocre of montages into perfectly concise storytelling as it opened by telling the life story of Carl Fredricksen (a seriously curmudgeonly Ed Asner) in heartbreaking fashion (and I'm not afraid to admit it was the first, but not the last, time that "Up" had this grownass man on the verge of bawling.)

And if I can skip ahead to the big action climax, it's a set piece that has Carl and young Russell (voiced by Jordan Nagai, who gets the movie's best line with his enthusiastic "But it's a talking dog!") battling the movie's big bad in an aerial encounter that finally delivers on the full promise of 3-D. It had me holding my breath and experiencing a serious fear of heights, and I'd imagine the real peril it puts our heroes in might be a bit much for the kiddies, but it's also just tons of fun.

So then, where's the beef? Well, to paraphrase Russell in talking about the middle of "Up," "But it's a flying house!" Watching it take off is indeed as remarkable as I could have expected, so I was just amazed at how little time they spent in the air before reaching their South American destination. I mean (AND THIS IS A BIG SPOILER, SO READ ON IF YOU DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT) really, having Russell almost instantly find it with his GPS device? Where's the adventure in that?

And once they're - sort of - tethered to the ground again, I was hoping for much more of a B-movie, Indy Jones sort of tale, but this part just never really got going, in large part because the big bad Charles Muntz, voiced by Christopher Plummer, was just one of the worst Pixar characters I've ever encountered. By having him stop well short of total madness, they also rob him of any real motivation and make this portion of the tale - in my opinion - just much less compelling.

Perhaps I'm being too hard on what is, after all, a kid's movie and a moving tale about one man reaching his life's aspirations. But this is Pixar, after all, and I've come to expect nothing short of perfection. And besides, like Carl Fredricksen, I guess I just like to complain, so please feel free to let me know all the ways I'm just off base on this one. Peace out.


Vance said...

See, I loved Up. LOVED Up. If I had to, I would still list Ratatouille, Incredibles, Finding Nemo and WallE higher but were talking of a bar so high set by themselves that it doesn't really make a difference. (So uh, yah, you do sound kinda cranky over little things. At least you are nowhere near as cranky as the Wall Street Journal guy who pretty much calls Russell a retard. HE'S cranky).

Linda said...

Moon's release schedule is here http://www.sonyclassics.com/moon/dates.html I really liked this one as well. Look forward to more from Duncan Jones.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm glad I didn't come off that cranky, Vance, because as I tried to make clear, I mostly liked "Up" quite a bit, just probably had too-high expectations ... and I loved Russell, so whoever wrote that is full of it! .. and thanks for that, Linda .. I'm about to check it out now .. I'm not too confident it's ever gonna play anywhere near my little corner of the world, though, so I'm certainly happy i managed to catch it when I did

jeremy said...

Still haven't seen UP, but am mildly looking forward to it. I found Wall-E unwatchable and left 15 minutes in. I thought The Incredibles, for a super-hero flick, was bo-ring. So I guess that makes Ratatouille the only Pixar film I admire. I'm hoping against hope that they don't screw up wonderful animation with mediocre story again.

Reel Fanatic said...

By that measure, Jeremy, I'm almost certain you'll be at least mildly disappointed with "Up"

Ashok said...

I have only one thing to say about your view on "Up" and that can be quoted from "Michael Clayton" when Clooney's Clayton talking to O'Keefe's Barry which is, "You're wrong. You're way the f**k wrong!" :-). No Offense Keith :-D.

Reel Fanatic said...

No offense taken whatsoever, Ashok! I always appreciate it when people give me their opinions, and I'm an even bigger fan of the perfectly placed f-bomb

Mercurie said...

I haven't seen Up yet, but I must admit I was worried if they could match Ratatouille and Wall-E. That just seemed to much to ask. Still, it's quite possible that I might enjoy it as much as those two. I hope so!

Cullen said...

Well, you know I agree with you, Keith. The sad thing is that this was a movie definitely intended for the kid demographic but with far too much adult plot development. All three of my kids were bored with it. Amazingly though, my three-year-old sat through it best. My 10- and 8-year-olds were about to lose their minds through a lot of it.

Reel Fanatic said...

All the kids around me seemed to at least be quiet through the movie, Cullen, which is better than them being so bored they start running through the aisles!

Bob said...

I absolutely loved this one and while I don't feel the same way about your complaints, I can see where you're coming from. I just posted my review (as well as my review for "Terminator Salvation" which I just FINALLY got around to writing). "Moon" has a couple of showings at the Seattle festival that's going on right now but SIFF is such a beast with such odd nights and showtimes I'm just going to wait a couple extra weeks for it's official release. I haven't actually gone to any festival movies this year. The one movie I really really cared about, the sequel to "OSS 117," is a $40 gala screening, so I won't be getting to that one. :(

Reel Fanatic said...

Moon is certainly worth seeing whenever you can, Bob ... It's not a perfect movie, but Sam Rockwell is amazing, and I love science fiction movies that act as a parable for our times without beating us over the head with it, and "Moon" accomplishes this nearly perfectly

Eric said...

My thoughts exactly! I loved the film, especially the first act, but what happened to the great adventure through the skies? It felt like after the masterpiece of a first half, Pixar decided to dumb it down a little bit for the kids in the second half. Owell, it's still better than everything else in mainstream cinema.

The Mad Hatter said...

I wouldn't rake you over the coals for being slightly less than floored by UP...you still think it's a good enough movie after all.

I'd agree with you, that it goes in the class of "really good" Pixar movies, but isn't quite good enough to make their "mind-blowing" category (which for me includes the two TOY STORIES, WALL-E, and THE INCREDIBLES).

It's good to disagree with the masses every onc in a while...builds character!

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