Picofarad #18 movie reviews

Previous: PDX Zine Symposium | Picofarad #18 contents | Next: The State of Convention Web Sites

Up (2009)

Review by Chris French

Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Running Time: 96 minutes

Those who know me know I am a cranky, crotchety old grump who is convinced the best days of his life have long-since passed, if indeed they ever existed at all; this is not entirely true, as I'm only 36, and technically not "old".

The central characters of Up most definitely do qualify as "old"-- well, two of them do, anyway-- and cover most of the rest of the features described above. Carl Fredricksen (voiced by Ed Asner-and let's face it, animated features are about the only way anyone of his age will ever be allowed to front a major Hollywood feature again) is a 78-year-old balloon seller who as a boy was obsessed with adventuring, and specifically traveling to a waterfall in South America called "Paradise Falls" (which looks a lot like Angel Falls in Venezuela-how I know of this is a long story involving my obsession with aviation); as well as with the adventurer Charles Muntz (voiced by Christopher Plummer-if Pixar wants to make a sequel, they'd better bloody hurry...). In the opening montage of the movie (of which more later), we are shown that he married a girl, Ellie, who was similarly obsessed with adventuring and the aforementioned adventurer, but they never quite managed to make the trip to South America before her departure from this plane of existence. Now, with developers turning his old neighborhood into an urban hellhole, and with their sights set on his property, Carl decides it's time to make that trip-- by attaching helium balloons to his house and flying it there. A small problem crops up, however-- Russell, a young boy in standard-issue please-don't-sue-us-Boy-Scouts-of-America garb who is annoyingly persistent in trying to help Carl somehow, winds up on Carl's house when it lifts off. A bigger problem crops up when they arrive in South America-Muntz, who, after being booted from the Adventurers' Union/Club/whatever (complete with Obligatory Ceremonial Stripping-Off Of Medals and Insignia) for faking a discovery, disappeared into the wilds in a effort to catch a live example of the animal whose skeleton it was claimed he'd faked; the effort to catch the beast has, as usual, driven him not just around the bend, but down the straightaway and through the esses. Cue struggle between Muntz and his pack of "talking" dogs (not how you'd expect; they use technology to talk; and since the devices receive direct input from the dog's mind, there's a lot of vaguely-humorous references to Canine OCD, and short attention span), and an Old Man, a Child, and one not-over-bright renegade dog from Muntz's pack. Do I need to tell you that The Good Guys Win (and that the Villain dies in such a way as to ensure no one can be prosecuted for it)?

This flick is pretty-much standard for Pixar. Every trope of the genre is hit (and in some cases slapped like a shell-shocked soldier in an army commanded by George Patton...); every moral which could be touched on (people are more important than things; adventure isn't just for the young; everyone needs a father figure; don't abandon your friends) is; and enough pop- culture references are included to satisfy the adults who may be forced to attend (I especially liked the incorporation of the "parasite fighters", a la the USA's Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawks; and the unsubtle references to some of the old dinosaur-skeleton scandals). And how exactly the makers managed to slip a sequence with Russell carrying a small shovel and a roll of toilet paper as he heads off into the bushes, I will never know (talk about "getting crap past the censors"...).

There is, though, one feature of this... erm... feature which struck me as very Pixar-ish: The opening montage, and the manner in which Carl is forced to leave town, comprise some incredibly dark moments. For example, during the montage of Carl's life with Ellie, we see the following: the two of them looking at clouds, which morph into what each of them thinks it looks like; Carl morphs a cloud into a baby; Ellie morphs a bunch of clouds into babies; the two of them decorate a room of their house with baby-oriented colors and themes-- and then we cut directly to a scene in a doctor's office with a doctor looking grave, Ellie with her head in her hands, and Cal standing behind her trying to comfort her. This is in a "children's movie", folks.

Overall, this movie is about as enjoyable as most of Pixar's fare-- nothing about it, save perhaps the opening-montage bit mentioned above, seems out-of-place or unnecessary. I was led to wonder about a couple of points, though: First, if Carl is 78, Muntz has to be nearly 100 when the movie takes place; so why does Muntz look to be no older than Carl? Second, where the hell is Muntz getting parts, fuel, and helium for his personal Zeppelin? (That Russell is a "minority" character, and happens to be from a single-parent household, may cause a bit of anxiety for the more PC members of the audience, as well.) But besides that, it was an enjoyable experience, so I rate this one a Watch-- even for cranky, crotchety old grumps.

Moon (2009)

Directed by Duncan Jones
Running Time: 97 minutes

Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) is an ordinary working schlub, tending to an array of mining equipment that extracts the energy needed by the ever-growing sea of humanity. His life is an endless daily routine, monitoring computer screens, fixing machinery, exercising, and doing a little carving when he has some spare time. The only thing extraordinary about his life is it takes place on the moon.

In a few minutes of setup, Moon vaults to the top of sf cinema just by showing a human being living a human life even though the setting is futuristic. The lunar base is all bright white walls and computerized assistance, but it looks lived-in, with graffiti in the shower and Post-Its stuck to the computers.

However, just as Sam is getting to the end of his three-year stint, looking forward to going home and being introduced to the daughter he's only seen in video calls, the routine is necessarily interrupted. Sam is plagued with headaches and visions of a strange woman. And then, after a near-fatal accident, he discovers he's been cloned without his permission. Or maybe without someone else's permission?

The answer to this (which the seasoned sf reader will probably be able to figure out pretty quickly anyway) is less important than the next questions: What are they going to do about it? What can they do about it? At this point, spoiler protection has to take over, but let's just say that not all of the decisions made are necessarily good ones.

Moon is not perfect on its science; it's hard to not notice, for instance, how there is lunar gravity outdoors and Earth gravity indoors. On the other hand, how long has it been since someone in an sf movie has gotten a clever idea and not subjected the audience to a extended explanation full of technobabble? This time, it's just, "I've done the math ... It'll work."

If you are the sort of person who avoids sf movies altogether because they're skiffy and horrible, this is the movie for you. Go to your local art-house cinema, drive an hour to a place three towns away, do whatever it takes to plonk down your money for a showing and send that statement you've been wanting to make to Hollywood: Yes, this is what we want more of!

Previous: PDX Zine Symposium | Picofarad #18 contents | Next: The State of Convention Web Sites

Picofarad home