Oh joyous day! We’ve been counting down the weeks for a while now and Videoport Jones and I finally get to talk Pixar! The animation juggernaut has produced another winner, but sadly (and expectedly) Katherine Heigel has not. All that and some “The Big Lebowski” talk in this week’s new DVD releases!
Videoport Jones: “Part of me wants to just write ‘It’s the new Pixar movie. Rent it. Duh’ and let it go at that. Sure, that might be the lazy part of me, and there’s no way you’d go for it Justin, but still… ‘A Bug’s Life,’ ‘Toy Story’ 1 & 2, ‘Cars,’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ ‘The Incredibles,’ ‘Monsters, Inc,’ ‘Ratatouille,’ ‘Wall-E.’ For one company to create nothing but ‘the best children’s movie of the year’ every year it puts one out, set the new standard for kids’ entertainment, and absolutely bury their lumbering, wheezing parent company (cough…Disney), their record is just unprecedented. And now it continues. ‘UP,’ the story of an old man who decides to float his house to South America with a bunch of balloons, is, in a lot of ways, Pixar’s riskiest venture yet. A crotchety old (albeit adorably-rendered) person as the protagonist, a long (but stunningly-economical, and heartbreaking) wordless montage right at the beginning of the movie to set up the story, some genuine danger and tension (memo to parents: conflict, and even fear, are necessary in art, and nothing to protect your little angels from, at least in this case), ‘UP’ is a funny, exciting, and challenging adventure movie that just happens to be for kids. In some ways, it reminds me of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Crimson Personal Assurance’ short film from Monty Python’s ‘Meaning of Life,’ where the downtrodden oldsters at an antiquated firm rebel against their young corporate masters and transform their building into a pirate ship; like Gilliam’s film (and most of Gilliam’s films, really) ‘UP’ centers on a premise of willful absurdity. But, unlike most Gilliam films, it doesn’t fall apart in its second half (sorry, Terry, but it’s true), instead launching itself into the sky with the dazzling visuals, nuanced voice acting (Ed Asner, ladies and gentlemen), thrilling action scenes, and the minutely-observed behavior that have been the Pixar trademark from the beginning. It’s not my favorite of their movies (that’d be ‘The Incredibles’), and, yeah, maybe the ending is a little rushed and the antagonist (Christopher Plummer, having fun) might be a little under-motivated, but those are the most minor of quibbles. Plus, there’s a funny dog – everybody loves a funny dog! As the lovely Ms. Videoport Jones said to me, ‘When I started watching it, I was sad that I wasn’t watching it with a child; then, as the movie went on, I realized It had returned me to my childhood.’ Sure, she’s a cheeseball, but she’s my cheeseball, and she’s absolutely right. One of the best movies of the year.”
Justin: “There is so much right with this movie and so much right about the way Pixar does its job that I struggle to know where to start. We are indeed gigantic, unapologetic fanboys for Pixar, but it’s like the saying goes ‘it ain’t braggin’ if you’re the best.’ And no one can possibly challenge Pixar for that title belt right now (most certainly not their parent company). I was caught off-guard by the raw emotionality of ‘Wall•E,’ with its sort of disparate, desolate tale of humanity and this cute, awesome little robot at the center of it all. ‘UP’ was another unexpected emotional sucker punch of a story. The plot seems like the perfect story for a family movie, involving talking animals, fantastic exotic places, action and humor. And while it has all those things it has a story that is so heartfelt and moving that it surprises you and makes the whole feature that much more captivating. As we were talking about the recently, Pixar has enough talent and technical skill that they could easily mimic reality in their stories, but then you’d end up with ‘The Polar Express.’ Instead they create a sort of ‘hyper-reality’ where the characters and settings occupy this rich universe that is cartoony but ultimately incredibly human. Looking at Ed Asner’s character you’d think he was a Happy Meal toy, but he’s this fully-realized person that seems as genuine as the person next to you. This is helped in no small way by the voice talents of Mr. Asner. Overall just a wonderful, winning film that families of all types (that means those with kids and those of us without) can enjoy. I’ll go a step further than Jonesy: Buy it.”
The Ugly Truth
VPJ: “Gerard Butler plays a macho, chauvinistic TV personality whose popular on-air advice is challenged by his headstrong feminist producer Katherine Heigl, who sets out to prove him wrong by following his guy-type advice to, um, prove him wrong, I guess? They may or may not fall in love in the end (I don’t want to spoil anything), perhaps when each of them learns the value of moderation in their formerly-hidebound views on the battle of the sexes. Sigh. This, if any of you readers is over sixteen, was the exact plot of approximately seven hundred rock Hudson/Doris Day movies, and was pretty successfully parodied/deconstructed in ‘Down With Love,’ about six years ago. And yet here it is again, as if the makers and its lukewarm fans had never seen a movie before. In lieu of further beating on something so slight I’d actually feel a little guilty for doing so (not really), I’d like to ask a few questions about its stars. Does anyone else have trouble remembering what Gerard Butler looks like? I mean, he’s a pleasant enough fella, and the man can wear a leather jerkin, but his actual physical appearance escapes me when I try to think about him – he just will not stick in my mind. (Other people who do this: Mark Hammill, Paul Walker, Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel, pretty much anyone named Jessica. It’s weird). And Heigl – man is there a less likable female lead in movies right now? (I mean, Joan Crawford’s dead.) Whom hasn’t she
thrown under the bus? She was the weak link in her biggest hit, the very funny ‘Knocked Up,’ and then accused Judd Apatow et al of being sexist (only to choose as her next project a movie – ’27 Dresses’- where she’s a pretty, pretty girl who’s all sad because she can’t find a man). The only reason anyone knew who she was in the first place was due to ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ whose writers she publicly trashed in the press in order to try and get out of her TV contract (a tactic she employed years earlier on ‘Roswell’). Plus, she’s not very good. Oh, and my colleague Regan assures me that there’s a scene in the surprisingly-smutty ‘The Ugly Truth’ where she is brought to orgasm by a nine year old boy. Despite that fact, Regan also assures me that the movie is really weak.”
JE: “Presenting for the People vs. Katherine Heigl, Mr. Videoport Jones. You could give Sam Waterston a run for his money my friend. Still, half of your argument has one weak link: Hollywood will never stop producing crappy ‘will they/won’t they’ romantic comedy. Producers have an unhealthy lust for these type of movies, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if there was any thought put into them. Think of what made those Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies (or, Spencer Tracy/Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, etc) good was likable (and talented) stars, a smart-but-light plot, some comedy and CHEMISTRY. Now producers are more likely to bank on stars and neglect the rest of that list. And that’s how you end up with all these movies that don’t just feel vaguely similar but ARE completely similar, just swap in Matthew McConaghey, Harry Connick Jr., or Colin Firth and Renee Zellweger, Kate Hudson or Sandra Bullock. This may sound like a joke but stop and consider it for a minute. Go ahead, I’ll wait…See? The biggest complaint I have with these type of movies (or the recent iteration of them) is that little attention is paid to making it seem plausible the romantic leads WON’T get together. Isn’t that the inherent drama here, what people are paying for? If you come in and after 15 minutes say ‘yup, she’s gonna sleep with him,’ then what’s the point. It’s like they’re making a cake off an old recipe that’s missing a few ingredients. As for Gerald Butler I still have faith he can make a career for himself in either smashing things or switching gears and doing comedy (he seemed to have the potential to be funny on a recent ‘SNL’). As for Heigel, my thoughts on her really aren’t fit for print in a family publication. She’s the worst kind of actor, worst kind of person and typifies everything you think of with the word ‘celebrity.’ If she contracted some mysterious illness that forced her to leave acting forever this would not be a bad thing. She cannot fall out of favor with producers fast enough.”
VPJ: “Sometimes I love America. Not so much when we’re torturing people, stuffing 25% of the world’s natural resources down our ever-widening gullets, and denying basic civil rights to gay people. But I love America when we use our unique American ingenuity and lack of real problems to come up with sublimely-ridiculous wastes of time like Lebowski-Fest. Created as a joke by some rabid (yet mellow) fans of the Coen Brothers’ ‘The Big Lebowski,’ the Fest has grown over the years, drawing in bathrobe-clad, White Russian-sipping devotees of the Dude, Walter, Donnie, Maude Lebowski, Nihilists, Jackie Treehorn, and The Jesus to pay homage to one of the most bizarrely-beloved films of all time. Sort of like a ‘Trekkies’ for ‘The Big Lebowski,’ the film is, like ‘Trekkies,’ amusedly affectionate towards its subjects, guys who, it seems, have taken the Dude’s half-Zen/half-stoned philosophy to their slovenly hearts. The Dude abides, and ‘The Achievers’ is a testament to, well, abiding.”
JE: “And I’ll gladly STAND-UP, next to you and defend her still TODAY! Cause their ain’t no doubt I love this lannnnnnnnnnnd! God BLESS the USA!…Sorry. I got a little teary-eyed there. You actually have hit on something interesting (as you often do), which is this quirky ingenuity we seem to have a trademark on in America. The kind of inventiveness that astounds you because you never thought someone would devote so much time to a movie or TV, but you get scared at the thought of what if they used those powers for good? In that same vein it seems this is becoming a sub-genre of movies, the ‘fanatic documentary’ that follows these people and their passions. As for ‘The Big Lebowski,’ consider me a big fan (and obnoxious over-quoter). It could be my favorite Coen Brothers flick (‘Miller’s Crossing,’ ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ and ‘Raising Arizona’ all trade that top spot too.). Though I don’t know if I’m fan enough to dress up as Karl Hungus in public. Maybe. Bangor recently had a sizable Lebowski fest and I think Portland is due for its own. Could I interest you in a White Russian my friend?”
And get ready for the SPEED ROUND of the rest of this week’s releases, or, as Jonesy puts it “movies not quite interesting enough for me to have seen this week.” But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your consideration:
Bela Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart: “Beloved musician tours Africa in this documentary!”
Lake Tahoe: “Hapless teen meets quirky weirdos while trying to find someone to fix his family car on the QT in this indie dramedy!”
The Accidental Husband: “Uma Thurman is back in this difficult-to-explain comedy about a guy who pretends that he and Uma’s advice guru are secretly married to get revenge on her for advising his girlfriend to leave him! (Told you it was confusing…)”
The Merry Gentleman: “Michael Keaton is back! He directs himself as a tortured hitman falling in love with the lady from ‘No Country for Old Men!'”
– Seriously, why is Pixar dominating animated family features?
– Is the drama gone from “will they/won’t they” movies?
– Would you suit up for a Lebowski Fest in Portland? Who’d you be?