Monthly Archives: May 2010

If you really liked ‘Up’ don’t read this…

…Because I hated it!

After so many quality pictures, it seemed Pixar could do no wrong. They told fun and exciting stories that appealed to both kids and adults. They had values and ideals, but they were rarely preachy, though WALL-E was a bit heavy handed at times. But still, Pixar makes good films, and the critical response to Up was no different, it even won the Oscar.

Trouble is, this movie is terrible. It has none of the appeal of Pixar’s previous efforts. It doesn’t relate to kids or adults. Rather, it’s a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. And it makes us suffer along with it, as it tries to decide between intense themes of our own mortality and self imposed isolation and having enough fart jokes to keep the kiddies hooked. Either way, it’s one big boring failure.

We start out by meeting old man Carl. He’s a depressed widower (yay kids!) whose life is basically one long “sigh.” We know this because the movie begins with a lifelong montage of Carl’s hopelessly pathetic existence. He marries the first woman to talk to him, promises her a life of adventure and proceeds to continuously disappoint. He works as a balloon man at the zoo? Theme park?  Who knows. Point is, it’s obvious that he and the little lady don’t do shit for fifty years, and it’s only too late, after she’s kicked it, that Carl decides to become inspired to live her dream of going to South America.

They called me mad, maaaad!

Well, he’s inspired by that aaand the fact that an assault he commits leads to a forced stay in a retirement home, the bane of the elderly. So instead, he flees the country, and we all know how. Carl’s brilliant plan is to fill thousands of balloons with helium and simply float away. Don’t worry, he’s a professional, which still doesn’t explain how he fills and ties thousands of balloons overnight. But, really that’s the least of the improbabilities.

Once the house floats off towards adventure, Carl realizes he’s got a stowaway in little obnoxious obesity poster-child Russell, the lost junior camper who we already know is destined to win over the grumpy old fuck. After a quick thunderstorm, they arrive at their destination, again overnight. Without really any maps, they hit the exact spot they were blindly aiming for. Total time from plan to land is about 48 hours.

And it’s now that the movie totally loses any kind of sentimentality or meaningful impact. It turns into a five-year-old’s idea of jungle fun time. First off, Carl doesn’t even try to return this kid he’s effectively abducted, but that’s OK since Carl’s one of those harmless strangers. Another good lesson for the kids. There’s a giant bird who Carl insists he hates, yet saves anyways. There’s a talking dog. Yeah, that’s right. A dog, outfitted with a device to allow it to talk. You know what movie also tried that? Fucking Congo. Predictably, the dog is an idiot.

Not how Carl envisioned honoring his late wife's memory.

At one point, Carl meets his own childhood hero, the exiled adventurer  Charles Muntz. Now, Muntz has got to be over a hundred years old since he was an adult when 78-year-old poopy pants here was a wee little shit. Muntz has been looking for the giant bird his entire life. But his life long dream is eeevil, since it would separate the bird from it’s chicks. Too bad helping his idol get the proof of a previously unknown species and redeem his good name in the scientific community wasn’t on Carl’s list of adventures.

Muntz wants to bring back the animal and it all seems legit, but it turns out he’s totally crazy(!) and Carl has to eventually kill him, yes kill him, to rescue the bird he doesn’t even really like in the first place. Remember when this movie was about a man trying find peace and resolution after failing his dead wife? Notice how it turned into an old man fight not seen since Gandalf and Saruman smacked each other around with sticks.

You lost me movie. The jokes fall flat at every turn. The plot is as obvious as it is useless. There is no charm to the old man and the fat kid. There is even less motivation for me to cheer for them. I don’t actually give two shits about any of these characters. Hell, I got more choked up when Pee- Wee’s bike got stolen. Or when The Red Balloon gets away from the french kid.

And speaking of balloons, are we really expected to entertain not only that balloons could support a house’s frame and tear it from it’s foundation, but that you could walk along the ground and drag your the house like a 50 ton kite over your head? You gotta be fucking kidding me.

I’m all for suspending disbelief, I watched LOST after all, but this movie is just riddled with lazy writing, terrible story telling, and lame “messages” that get hawked around quicker than an NBC “more you know” spot.

In a year that boasted some really good animated features, from Coroline to 9, it’s hard for me stand by and let everyone continue to think that Up is anything more than a trite, bland waste of time and talent. It’s shiny and smooth, but the air is just too damn thin.

Sorry if you hated this review, but hey, I warned you in the title.

-Charlie

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The End of ‘LOST’

Last Sunday, Annie and I were the last two people admitted into the Baghdad Theater in SE Portland, where the finale of LOST was playing on the big screen for free. We grabbed a pair of seats, a pitcher of beer, and bravely faced the end of a television era,  an event six years in the making.  So, how did it go?

In many ways, LOST was the quintessential TV show. It contained a little bit of everything. It had character driven drama. It had mystery, intrigue and more cliffhangers than Stallone could shake a stick at. It gave us everything we wanted in good television, except the answers. And the finale was no different.

But before we could even get to the finale, we had to sit through an exhaustive retrospective of the LOST universe in the form of a two hour recap. It was another in a long list of recaps that have preceded season openers and closers, as if everyone watching the last episode ever were just a bunch of newcomers looking to be a part of this whole LOST nonsense. For me, the recap kind of killed the finale in terms of emotional resonance. I know I didn’t really have to watch this recap, but if I wanted to see it on the big screen I did, and by the time the finale really got under way I was already dipping into my ‘sappy TV montage’ reserves, as the whole 2 hour recap served as a “sweetest memories” collection from the last six seasons.

Geez, how long is this gonna take?

As for the finale, it worked and it didn’t, in very much the same fashion that the series itself did/did not work. I was simultaneously satisfied and bitter about the end. I felt it was at once an inevitable conclusion and a far reaching desperate grab at sentimentality. And that’s the way the show has worked from day one.

On island: The conclusion to the Locke vs. Jack story was perfect. We finally get to the light in the island, and predictably, it’s powered by a random stone stopper in a well. Desmond can go down there because of his electromagnetic abilities (why?) and pulls out the cork. As Jacob explained earlier, that cork is supposedly what keeps evil at bay in the world. So, the light dies and a red crimson glow engulfs the waters. This act nullifies, basically, everyone’s supernatural ability on the island, making Locke mortal (as well as Richard) and also begins the act of destroying the island.

See, like the island is this wine bottle, man. Get it? That's the best I can do.

It's like, the island is this bottle, man. Get it?

Now, see how none of that is really explained or logical? Why is a cork causing light? Why does the uncorking mortalize otherwise immortal beings? No answers, but like the rest of the show, it’s still compelling – and it sets up the best fight sequence in LOST history. The final showdown between Jack and Locke was spectacular, simply put. All in all, I loved everything that happened on island. Six great characters lived to escape, Hurley became the island’s defender, and asked Ben to help. Kate and Jack expressed their love for each other. It all ended as it should have. The other reality? Well, that’s still under debate.

Off island: The reveal at the end that the sideways reality was a purgatory state for our now deceased characters was both overly predictable, and I think less impacting than it was meant to be. It tried to hit too many emotions, and tried to incorporate too many minor characters.

The sentimentality is something that’s just overplayed in this show. Too many montages, too many long goodbyes and tears welling up, too much sad piano music. It’s the same stuff we saw all season, all six seasons, especially in 2 hour recap extravaganzas. We are all waiting to say goodbye, just walk into the fucking light already!

At least they kept it multi-denominational

Alright, here’s the thing. The creators, Damen Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, knew there was no way to fully wrap this up. LOST, like other great TV shows (cough cough X-Files), just opened up too many doors and left them open, went sideways both in reality and tone too often, and overall dragged on too long as it was. It’s inconsistency in plot and development was it’s hindrance.

Yet the genius move in this last season was how the show told us all, directly told us, to let it go. Let it be the mystery. Let it end. And I think this season has been a cathartic end to the journey. I’m sad in some undefinable way that it’s over and I will miss it as a show, but I have truly just let it pass on, and I think that’s the ultimate victory in this finale. It says goodbye and tells us not to mourn. I certainly won’t.

But, if you guys do decide on some spin offs here’s a Quick Top 5 choices you could make.

1) Fantastic Island. The continuing adventures of Hurley and Ben Linus. They could just call each other number one and number two the whole time. That and Ben saying, “The plane, the plane” really ominously when another jet liner crashes.

2) Frank Lapidus-Pilot for Hire. An Indiana Jones style adventure series starring everyone’s favorite fly boy, Frank!

3) Richard Alpert is Lost in New York City! A 17th Century man transported to modern day city living. Keep an eye out for crazy Miles, Richard’s neighbor with a chatterbox ghost for a room mate.

4) My Two Mommies. Kate and Claire team up to raise baby Aaron while struggling with the every day pressures and still being kind of crazy from living on that fucking island so long.

5) Law and Sawyer. I would actually love it if Sawyer really became a cop. He’s a reformed con man gone straight. And since Law and Order is also ending, maybe this is just the show to fill that court room procedural hole in your heart.

-Charlie

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Frank Frazetta, 1928-2010

Frank Frazetta, the renowned fantasy artist, passed away at the age of 82 after suffering a stroke.

Best known for his depictions of Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan, Frazetta’s work spanned generations and has influenced everything from comic book to heavy metal. He will be missed.

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Character Study: Up in the Air

Have you guys seen Up in the Air yet? Yea, me too. I just saw it yesterday, and since it’s been out a year, I thought I’d talk about it – specifically about its protagonist, Ryan Bingham, played by George Clooney. With a lot of spoilers.

Our main character begins where many people begin when talking about their life, he talks about his job. It’s who he is, it is his entire identity. Ryan Bingham, as you probably know, fires people. He travels the country over, 300 plus days a year, firing employees whose bosses just couldn’t stomach it.

Bingham is a solitary character, always on the move. He compares himself, and people in general, to sharks, predatory and mobile. But sharks are also dangerous loners for the most part, machines designed expressly for killing. And beneath Clooney’s pearly white smile is that machine.

Our man is happy with his life. He loves traveling, airports and hotel rooms. He loves the freedom, presumably, from having to live a dour stationary life, which he views as death. In his smugness, literally looking down on everyone as he reaches a 10 million mile mark that the film chose simply out of “sounding legit, ” Bingham never feels the pain of loneliness, he never yearns for more substantial human contact or relationships. He doesn’t want a family or love. It’s obvious now that the film’s job is to change his mind, so that he can grow as a human and accomplish what we all think he should.

At first, the movie puts Bingham next to the gorgeous Vera Farmiga, playing a fellow traveling professional named Alex. These two compare their elite status at varying car rental agencies and airlines, and Alex is so turned on by Bingham’s credentials they start seeing each other. Always on the road, but not anonymous anymore. It’s obvious that Bingham is developing feelings.

Next the film pairs up our man with a younger female partner, Natalie (Anna Kendrick) who is also trying to change the nature of his work and take him off the beloved road. Predictably, Bingham throws a fit. They have a rocky start as he teaches her the ropes of the road while simultaneously criticizing her every move, from her typing volume to her naivety in about every area of life.  It’s obvious that he feels like a teacher, maybe more of a babysitter, and resents having to take on this extra weight. He is not as mobile with her. He even breaks down how much time she is wasting with her practices.  But, really, what is he afraid of missing? Surely, as time goes on, they’ll learn a little about each other and themselves along the way, right movie?

There is also a third subplot involving Bingham’s family, specifically his two sisters who he rarely sees. They are both up in Milwaukie, his presumed hometown, and both sisters are living in various stages of the American dream: one is marrying, the other divorcing. When Bingham visits for the wedding, bringing along Alex as a date, we think that things are going to turn for the obvious. And in many ways the movie is telegraphing these emotions and changes in varying looks and ominous “welcome home” kinds of dialogue.

But it doesn’t stick. Bingham decides he wants something more with Alex, only to find out she has had a family (and husband) all along. Not only is he shocked to learn that, but it also takes a lot of the re-inventing himself wind out of his sails. Alex simply asks him, “what do you want?” and he is unable to answer. He thought he wanted her, he thought he wanted all those ideal stereotypes that surround him, only to see they hardly exist at all.

He even gets to the 10 million mile mark, and captain Sam Elliot (seriously? awesome.) congratulates him. But, it’s obviously grown hollow to him. It’s no longer all he cares about. He must have grown a little bit by now. Yet, Bingham never takes that action we expect. He never walks through the door and gives a heroic speech or strikes out on his own to pursue a lifelong dream, he doesn’t even get the girl. Damn.

Many times throughout the film there is a referencing to getting older, and what that means. How you see the world for what it is, and it ain’t what you thought when you were young.But, the movie doesn’t really argue in favor of maturity. Natalie tells Bingham that he’s still a 12 year-old boy inside. He hasn’t grown up, only grown older. And that is the note the movie wants to hit, that distinction.

I think this is the heart of director Jason Reitman’s story. As we get older we don’t get wiser or better, we simply adjust as our ideals fall away. When the young Natalie bullet points a laundry list of what she looks for in a man, the older Alex breaks it down into compromises you’ll eventually make, of settling and taking what you can get.

As we age, we all must fight harder and harder for less and less. Whether it’s for happiness, health,  love or employment. Most of the people fired in this movie were older, in their 50’s. What are they to do now that the younger world around them no longer needs them? Where will they go? What fight will they be able to take on?

This is not a happy movie by any means, but it does feel very realistic in a way I did not expect. After watching Reitman’s too-cool-for-school Juno, with it’s youth and hope and strength, I was almost shocked to see Up in the Air‘s grieving, it’s sadness and hopelessness. Things suck out there, and people are having a hard time. Are there any answers? Unfortunately, the film offers little to none.

Here's a tip: always order four dinners if you get a meal credit. Also, no sharing.

The most striking thing is how nothing really changes at the end of the movie. Bingham is still flying to his firings, despite new technology and the youth that pioneered it. He is still a confirmed bachelor, and still relatively smug in his station. Natalie is on her own in San Francisco, following a path she had set for herself back in college apparently. Everyone is going about their lives.

I really had expected a revolt on the part of Bingham as he leaves the rat race and starts living for himself or some other bullshit. But it doesn’t happen. There is no game changer, just a changing game. And Up in Air knows that the more things change, the more they stay the same.The film began in the clouds, and it ended in the clouds, much like our own lives. That’s deep, man.

I really liked this movie more than I expected. I also thought about it more than I expected, and obviously (by this rambling attempt at critical thinking) I still have some pondering to do. Maybe that’s a compliment to the film. I didn’t see it coming.

-Charlie

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