Monday, June 01, 2009

Grumpy Old Men

A light week for me, and no horror, unfortunately. But after gorging myself last week, I needed to get caught up with some real-world responsible adult-type stuff. Pesky responsibilities.

I did make it out to see the latest wonderment from Pixar. I mean, is Pixar for real? I don't know if I've EVER seen a run of quality from anyone the likes of Pixar's track record from Toy Story onward. Up (2009, directed by Peter Docter and Bob Peterson) is one of their very best films. It's like Pixar had to get the Disney monkey off their back before they hit their stride, because their last three films (Ratatouille, WALL-E, and this one) show a grace and ease of expression that only fitfully appeared in their early films. I would attribute this to the development of their technology, maybe, which is now fully deployed in a rich panoply of color and movement. I chose not to see this in 3-D, because I don't like the slight dimming of the color palette that goes along with it. I was amply rewarded for this. In any event, this is a film that throws out the animated feature playbook: its antagonists are two cranky old men. The kid in the story actually has a mother. The talking animals are fully justified while remaining, resolutely, dogs. But more than that, there's a breath of life animating this film that is unlike anything I can remember seeing in an animated film. There's an eight minute sequence, completely without dialogue, that shows where most ordinary lives lead. It's deeply moving. I always used to resist crying at movies, but lately, I've just ridden the tide through and let it all out. This sequence left me completely sobbing. It's beautiful. Maybe I'm just losing my cynicism as I age. In spite of this, this is still a boy's adventure (memo to Pixar: when is it a girl's turn?), and as such, it's a corker. While it may not rise to the insane genius of the door chase in Monsters, Inc., it still moves with the speed and manic invention of the great silent action-comedies. This is a movie that's as in love with the thrill of flying as any given Miyazaki film, and it's easily as endowed with vertigo-inducing vistas. Oh, and it's funny, too. Sometimes achingly so. It's like the filmmakers got a box, opened up their sense of wonder, and poured everything they had into it. If I see a better film this year, I'll count the year great.

My hostess over vacation let me know that I omitted one of the films we watched during my visit. And it's a big omission, too, because she had never seen Singin' in the Rain (1952) before. Just about everything I say about Up can be equally applied to this film. It's one of the great movies. She had no expectations of the film. She didn't know what it was about and was genuinely surprised at how funny it was. The "Make 'em Laugh" number, in which Donald O'Connor turns himself into a human cartoon character, and the title sequence in which Gene Kelly lets new love overwhelm the weather remain the highlights, but my own favorite elements of the film are the supporting performances by Jean Hagen as the shrill Lina Lamont, and Millard Mitchell as the head of the studio. The best moment for me was when my friend turned to me during the "Good Morning" number and says to me: "Okay, so Debbie Reynolds can dance, too." She can indeed. It's scary how much talent there was in that cast. Back then, you actually had to have talent to be a movie star, because they didn't hide you behind a clever editing scheme. Directors Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen insisted on showing their dancers from head to toe in long takes. Dance or die, I suspect was the watchword of their set. In any event, it's one of my very favorite movies.

Finally, there was "Partly Cloudy" (2009, directed by Peter Sohn), the short accompanying Up, which wasn't as funny as last year's "Presto," and was weirder than anything Pixar has appended to any of their previous features. It reminded me a little of those old Warner Brothers cartoons in which the stork that delivers babies is a bit of a lush. In this film, we find out where those babies come from, and we follow one particular stork whose source is a bit sadistic. It's fun, but it doesn't upstage the feature film in any particular.

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