aloft by dreams: Up.
by Peter Docter
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
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.
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.
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
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.