Thursday, June 11, 2009

UP: A Surprisingly Realistic Fantasy


Let’s throw this out first: I really enjoyed Up. I went in the theater not really knowing what the film is going to be about, trusting that Pixar will not disappoint. It didn’t. But I was a bit weirded out.

Traditionally, cartoons and anime are geared toward kids. With the rise of adult-friendly Pixar films, the plot has become better, the writing smarter. However, the themes are still the all-age relatable ones: find true love, be accepted for yourself, struggle and triumph against odds. Both kids and adults can connect with them. Which is why Up was so surprising. Its theme is “how to move on after a spouse has past away”, or simply “how to let go of the past.”

The opening to Up was beautiful: quickly setting up young Carl and Ellie’s meeting and their shared dream of going to the mysterious Paradise Fall, followed by a touching montage of the decades they spent together, ending with the death of Ellie. This was especially effective since if the film simply started with the 78 years old Carl, the audience will laugh and enjoy watching a grumpy old man who talks to his house, but not relate to him. By starting from a point we can understand-- youthful fantasy for adventure, finding your true love— and taking the audience by the hand, leading us through the big chapters of Carl’s life, making sure we relate to his decisions every step of the way, we reach the end of the montage still connected to Carl at his old age. While feeling tearful for Carl’s lost, there was something eerie about the intro. In the back of my head, I could not help but feel the film was pointing out something no one wants to think about: This will eventually happen to you.

Carl didn’t do anything wrong: he got the girl, he didn’t really have any character flaw in his adult life, he loved and cherished his wife while she was alive, there was no foul-play in Ellie’s death. But in the end, enviably, Ellie died. This seemed wrong. Villains should have murdered her, turning Carl into a vigilante. Young Ellie should have snubbed the shy Young Carl or simply never knew he was alive. Their parents should have been against the marriage. Ellie should have been a mermaid (or Carl could be).

The second thing that’s all wrong is in a typical “let go of the past and move on to better/newer things” movie, the audience want the protagonist to move on throughout the film. We see before the protagonist does that the new girl/mom/school/etc is better. The new girl/mom/school/etc also welcomes and wants the protagonist to move on. Not so in Up. We love Ellie and the house they built together as much as Carl does. It’s painful to see the mail box he and Ellie painted together be bashed. When Ellie’s photo falls off the wall, we really really want Carl to catch it. Even when the house literally becomes a burden, we’re still behind Carl. We’re not that far ahead of Carl, but instead journeys with him in seeing how the past is stopping him from making the right decisions.

In a certain way, Pixar really did pick a theme that’ll apply to more of us than the usual anime subjects would. After all, most of us don’t need to battle against enormous odds, have friends that accept us, and probably go through life never actually talking to that attractive guy/girl (or do, and it was kind of anticlimactic). Being left behind during old age on the other hand, it something that has a good chance of happening. But because of this, Up doesn't just have a happy ending: it’s uplifting. Despite the flying house and talking dogs, Carl’s inner struggles have always been very realistic, and because of this, there is a feeling that, when this happens to the audience, they also have the ability to triumph.

The only bone I have to pick is I feel Carl could have kept something from the house. When people move on, they don’t forget about what had happened. They keep the memory without letting it hold them down. The house and all its content is Carl’s love and memories of Ellie materialized. In order for Carl to save Russell and Dug, he needed to throw all the heavy furniture out of the house. But I was extremely saddened seeing the matching chairs that symbolized all the years Carl and Ellie sat side by side together left behind. In the end, as we watch with Carl at the house drifting away and disappearing into the clouds, we come to the same sober sad conclusion as Carl: it had to go. But he could have kept a small token: the wood bird on the mantle or the framed photo of the little gap-tooth Ellie. The credits vaguely try to remedied this showing photos of Carl’s new life in the My Adventure Book the belonged to Ellie, but in the plot that would have actually gone away with the house.

That point aside, I really did enjoy the film. It has the expected goofiness and crazy villain, and the unexpected tear-jerker and uplifer. I walked away not too sure how I feel about my future, but all that said and done, Up earned my15 bucks fair and square.

What, When, Where this Weekend - Tetro, Moon, Betty Blue: The Director's Cut, Taking of Pelham 123

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at

Opening this weekend...

TETRO, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola

PREMISE: Bennie travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-missing older brother, a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. Bennie's discovery of his brother's near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their shared past and renewing their bond.

PLAYING: Landmark Sunshine

Notably, this is Francis Ford Coppola's first original screenplay since The Conversation, which was way beyond awesome. I heard he's not a shabby director, either...

MOON, written by Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker, dir. by Duncan Jones

PREMISE: Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems.

PLAYING: Loews Lincoln Square, Landmark Sunshine

Sure, it sounds a bit like 2001 or Solaris. But I really like both of those movies, and it's directed by David Bowie's son? I'm intrigued.

BETTY BLUE: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT, written and directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix

PREMISE: Zorg is a handyman working at in France, maintaining and looking after the bungalows. He lives a quiet and peaceful life, working diligently and writing in his spare time. One day Betty walks into his life, a young woman who is as beautiful as she is wild and unpredictable. After a dispute with Zorg's boss they leave and Betty manages to get a job at a restaurant. She persuades Zorg to try and get one of his books published but it is rejected which makes Betty fly into a rage. Suddenly Betty's wild manners starts to get out of control. Zorg sees the woman he loves slowly going insane. Can his love prevail even if it comes to the worst?

PLAYING: Cinema Village

I don't usually highlight re-releases, but this is a really good one. (And Beatrice Dalle sure is purty, ain't she?)

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, written by John Helgeland, dir. by Tony Scott

PREMISE: Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garbe into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.

PLAYING: Everywhere

Here we've got a remake of a remake of a film based on a Morton Freedgood novel. There's a lot of talent involved in this one, but has this story been beaten into the ground already?

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?