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Borne aloft by dreams: Up.

Beautiful Balloonacy

By Laura Leon

Up

Directed by Peter Docter

The single most beautiful thing in Pixar’s 10th animated movie, Up, is a four-minute sequence that relays the shared lives and love of young Carl Frederickson and his friend Ellie. It’s a wordless homage that effortlessly channels the best of Chaplin (setting the table in The Gold Rush) and Keaton (the courtship sequence in Seven Chances), while somehow tenderly reminding us of the loneliness and alienation of aging people. Not your usual kiddie cartoon fare, granted, but its sensibility permeates this lovely, smart and quite funny movie.

It should be noted that the above- referenced montage is bracketed by flashback scenes in which a very young Carl is swept away by a newsreel presentation about the intrepid explorer Charles F. Muntz (Christopher Plummer), a thinly veiled caricature of Charles Lindbergh. Walking home, he encounters Ellie (Elie Docter, the director’s kid), and the two become inseparable, linked by their love of adventure. The other end of those brackets takes us to the present, in which elderly Carl (Ed Asner) ventures only as far as his front porch, the better to eye the devastation (aka development) that has encroached on his neighborhood. When an encounter with the developers results, ultimately, in Carl having to move to the ominously named retirement community Shady Oaks, it presents yet another clarion warning to what faces so many of us at the end of what society deems our usefulness. The sense of futility, of no hope for salvation, is palpable.

But that’s before Carl, a retired balloon salesman, strikes upon the brilliant idea of simply moving his house, with the help of 20,000 helium-filled balloons. The visuals of this amazing departure into the wild blue yonder are oddly liberating, so one is equally annoyed as Carl when we discover an inadvertent stowaway, Wilderness Adventurer scout Russell (Jordan Nagai). Probably the most unappealing tyke protagonist to grace the screen ever, Russell seems to have gotten to Carl’s floating castle by way of WALL-E, if only because like the humanoids of that new classic, he’s all blubbery flesh and teeny eyes. It’s a no-brainer that the initial friction that exists between curmudgeonly Carl and eager-beaver Russell will give way to mutual respect and admiration, but despite the redundancy of this device, it ends up working, as the writers (and performers) really channel the pair’s mutual loneliness and alienation.

Once Carl’s home lands in South America, the movie shifts to an improbable, even weird, adventure story in which Carl meets up with his old, now disgraced, idol, Muntz, only to find out that the codger is seriously cracked. Leading an army of robodogs, he has been busily collecting rare species to improve his reputation. Unfortunately, his zeal translates to the devastation of species, such as a brilliantly colored bird whom Russell dubs Kevin (despite the fact that he’s a she). For so long so alone, Carl suddenly has responsibility for, and connection to, not just a little boy, but Kevin and the robodog Dug (co-writer and co-director Bob Peterson), who isn’t as sinister as he initially seems to be.

Up works for all age levels, without resorting to fart gags to rope in the youngsters or snide in-jokes to make parents feel superior. Its presentation of a geriatric protagonist is empowering. I appreciate this, especially as middle age increasingly weighs upon me in the wee hours of the morning; but what I liked best about Up are those stunning, wordless sequences, cinematic ballets of the intense beauty and sadness that, combined, make up life.

The Good Fight

Tyson

Directed by James Toback

James Toback has invited controversy with almost every one of his pictures, due to his choice of subjects (1999’s Black and White dealt with the influence of hip-hop culture on white America with frustrating unevenness) or leading men (Robert Downey Jr. was Toback’s go-to guy in the actor’s pre-sobriety days). Often his style itself is the topic of discussion; he is labeled “hack” and “savant” with equal frequency. With Tyson, a biopic told in the former heavyweight champion’s own voice, Toback may finally have his perfect storm—or lightning rod.

The film is a mostly chronological, first-person retelling of Mike Tyson’s life, interspersed with archival footage. His story has been raked over countless times so revelations aren’t to be expected. But hearing Iron Mike’s own account of his troubled childhood years is deeply affecting, in a way that only seeing a guy who once shattered skulls for a living tear up over a dead pigeon could be. As he recounts his relationship with his late manager-trainer Cus D’Amato, you can’t help but think of what might have been; after a childhood filled with crime and violence, Tyson finally had some guidance and nurture. Of course, after D’Amato dies in 1985, Tyson becomes the biggest sensation in the history of boxing, and . . . you know the rest.

Tyson comes off as reflective and sincere throughout the film, a walking contradiction to the embattled, imbalanced man known to the public at large. He lives inside his head, constantly striving to explain his behavior but only coming up with more questions. Tyson’s mind is so hyperactive that Toback had practically no choice but to stay the hell out of the way. It may be one side of the story, but it seems like a side we’ve not heard before. You already know about the ear-biting incident in the 1997 Evander Holyfield fight, but Tyson’s rationale—with video to reinforce his point—makes it seem awfully, well, rational.

While the “interview” segments are generally excellent—contrary to common misconception, Mike Tyson is a thoughtful, sometimes eloquent, speaker—the movie stumbles when the director actually tries to direct. Toback’s great flaw as a director is his lack of focus, and here he nearly, inexplicably, allows style to trump substance. Wisely, the film is broken up by montages; Tyson’s best bit is a three-minute recap of his great moments in the ring. But a series of split-screen segments, intended to illustrate the fighter’s fractured personality, come off as gimmicky and unnecessary. And the long, sun-dappled shots of Tyson strolling on the beach border on parody.

Still, these are small complaints. Flawed as it is, Tyson is a fascinating film. You could say the same for the man.

—John Brodeur


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