J. & C.'s Movie Reviews

Our Notes on Movies Made Public

Archive for June, 2009


Posted by J on June 18, 2009

Is a trip to the movie theater even worth your consideration these days?  We Up325went to Up, knowing nothing about it except that it is made by Pixar and follows two wonderful movies in Ratatouille and Wall-E.  We forked over $16 on a product we trusted.

Big mistake.

Up is a boring mess. It was so bad that it made both of us want to leave early, which is quite a difficult thing to do.  It’s chief problem is randomness piled on top of its two main topics, aging and grief.  Earth to Pixar: random cartoon action and grief over the death of a loved one don’t mix all that well.

The story is about an old man who, as a little boy, dreamed of romantic adventures in an undiscovered location known as Paradise Falls.  The boy meets a girl with the same dream, and soon we are whisked into a powerful montage three minutes into the movie wherein the boy and girl get married, grow old together, and then the girl (elderly in the end) dies.  This is the most profound and effective part of the movie.  You may stop watching after this point.

The old man is evicted from his longtime house, but instead of leaving he decides to rig thousands of helium-filled balloons to his house to make the house fly.  This is the part of the movie where we enter into fantasyland — the old man can fly wherever he wants, because this is a cartoon — but fantasyland in this movie is quite barren.  Of course he makes it to Paradise Falls, but what is there?  A few rocks, a waterfall, and little else.

Here is where the movie gets random.  A bird named Kevin, discovered eventually to be a female, follows the old man.  A dog with an electronic collar that allows it to talk enters the picture.  Everybody runs back and forth a lot.  There is a villain who is evil personified.  He has lots of talking dogs and an airship.  None of these things has anything to do with the death of the old man’s wife, nor with his own alienation from the world.  They do, in fact, distract us considerably from those concerns.

A cartoon world can take us anywhere, but Up‘s fantasy world is never very interesting.  There is promise of a jungle labyrinth that never appears.  Instead, we get a boring wasteland.  The giant airship has promise, but we spend only a few minutes inside of it before the predictable chase scene comes. Ho hum.

Ultimately, the old man is supposed to realize that his goal in life is to save a bird, presumably an endangered species, from being hunted down and captured. He also must befriend his sidekick — an annoying Asian American boy scout — and become his surrogate grandfather.   This could be touching, except the characters are never developed. The old man is a grieving grump throughout and not much more.  (He is also the butt of inevitable hearing aid jokes.)

What’s more bizarre is that while the bird of unknown gender must be saved, the old man realizes that his childhood hero makes Darth Vader look like a nice guy.  This hero is Charles Muntz, a famed explorer who lives in Paradise Falls.  Muntz tries to kill everybody, including little boys and puppy dogs.  So why does the old man have to learn to hate the heroes of yesteryear, particularly a noble explorer?  Why is the bad guy an American adventurer, while the thing that must be saved is a stupid bird?

This appears to be the movie’s main moral: the old man must learn to reject and distrust the past, while embracing an environmentalist principle.

If you must see this movie because it is a Pixar movie, stick to renting it from Redbox for a buck. Better, just watch Wall-E again.

Entertainment: 3

Intelligence: 3

Morality: 8


Posted in Animated, They Spent Millions on This? | Leave a Comment »

Open Range

Posted by J on June 13, 2009

Open Range is Kevin Costner’s tone poem to “freegrazers,” or cowboys who once could graze cattle freely where theyopen_range_verdvd pleased.  If you’re a Western buff like us, you’ve already figured out without watching the movie that there will be trouble between the freegrazers and the cattle ranchers.  Definitely a gun fight at the end.  Probably a cowboy or two with a mysterious past.  Definitely an outlaw with a fast draw.

Yep, these are all here.  It’s as if Costner decided to do everything that’s standard Western fare, only he got Robert Duvall to spice up the cliches.

Costner’s added twist is the romance between his character and a middle-age nurse.  Everybody knows that cowboys — at least the stars of the show — don’t need romance.  Yet here is romance, one where the cowboy says he’s going to give his bride-to-be “a thousand kisses” not once but twice.  Bleeeeech.  The Western has long been the vehicle for extreme male independence.  Do you not know that, Kevin?

Yes, he does apparently, because the two cowboys go off in the end to rustle up their cattle.  The bride-to-be is left waiting for her beloved.  The cowboy remains hanging in a state of independence at the end of this movie.  So Open Range has it both ways — romance, but independence — yet, practically speaking, the romance aspect is totally unnecessary because females won’t be hanging around for the love relationships to develop after Duvall hits a few guys in the head with the butt of his gun.  The nurse could have been left out, and it still would’ve been the same movie.

What contemporary political issue do the freegrazers in this movie signify?  Free trade, perhaps?  Open immigration?  It’s never quite clear.  It is true that the cattle ranchers have bought and paid for “the law” — that is, the sheriff is working for the rancher.  Thus it’s up to the freegrazers to provide true, natural justice and return the world to its natural order.  This includes killing those who have murdered the innocent.  With lots of bullets.  There’s probably some theological analogy in here, but ultimately it doesn’t matter that much.  This is one of those movies — like 99.5% of all those you’ve ever seen — that you’ll forget about two hours later.

Entertainment: 5

Intelligence: 4


Posted in Okay, But We Won't Watch It Again, Western | Leave a Comment »