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This week:

Filthy says:
"Talking dogs are funny."

I like Up, but I don't love it. That surprised me, because after the first fifteen minutes I was ready to love it, more than my wife, more than a car, even more than a few brands of beer and Robitussin. There's a lot of good shit in this movie, but then there's stuff that felt like it came out of a weaker Dreamworks production. Up is primarily the story of an old man's quest to fulfill a lifelong promise to his late wife before it's too late, about getting old and the sense that you've left someone disappointed. It's got a hell of a love story. Where it falls apart for me, though, is some of the less interesting secondary characters and some surprisingly formulaic gags and plotting. That love story, though. Holllly fuck.

Ed Asner is the voice of Carl Fredricksen, a retired balloon salesman. I've read stuff where this character is referred to as a curmudgeon. He's not; he's the most complex character in the movie. He's mostly disappointed in himself and lonely. Those are a hell of a lot different than curmudgeonly. In fact, they're exactly where I expect to be at the end of my life if I sober up enough to look back.

The movie starts out with Fredricksen as a shy kid swept into the world of Ellie, a girl who shares his love for world explorer Walter Muntz. Fredricksen would probably be happy just watching Muntz, but Ellie wants to be an explorer herself and she brings Fredricksen out of his shell trough force of will. Up then gives us a montage of their young romance, marriage, heartbreaks and aging together, until she passes away. It's a fucking brilliant montage that made me understand the depth of their love for each other, love both of them, and love how they and their dreams helped them deal with life's disappointments, and why their dream of following in Muntz's footsteps got sidetracked. These five minutes are the best part of the movie, and maybe worth the price of admission alone. Well, maybe not the inflated price of the 3-D screenings, but definitely the 2-D.

After Ellie's death, Fredricksen becomes a recluse, which is different than a curmudgeon. He is alone and thinks that because he and Ellie never made it to the jungles of Venezuela as he had promised her that he let her down. I get that same feeling sometimes. If Mrs. Filthy died tomorrow, I will forever regret having not gotten around to cleaning up that bottle of maple syrup I spilled in the hallway six years ago. That overwhelming stench of stale syrup and the pile of lint, crap and scraps of paper stuck to the carpet will forever remind me that I never did the one thing she begged me to do, and that I may or may not have promised. It's been so long I can't remember and it's usually easier to assume I didn't.

When age finally does catch up with Fredricksen and he faces going to a retirement home, he decides to escape to the destination of he and Ellie's dreams. It's his way to physically avoid the confinement of old age, and a way to finally feel that his wife s still with him in some way.

Fredricksen ties his house to a few hundred thousand helium balloons, and lifts off for Paradise Falls in Venezuela. What he doesn't know is that a fat Cub Scout (called Wilderness Explorer here) named Russell (Jordan Nagai) is on his porch trying to earn his "Assisting the Elderly" badge.

After landing in Venezuela all Fredricksen wants to do is drag his house to the Falls so he can go where he always promised Ellie he would. To him, it's not an adventure, it's just a trip to a destination. For Russell, it's an adventure.

The "adventure" is where Up fails a little. Well, the first place is with the Russell character. I suppose he's supposed to be cute, or something, but the kid did nothing for me. Besides being Eurasian, there is little about him that's interesting or clever. He's given a backstory of coming from a broken home and looking for a father figure, but what kid in the movies isn't? I can't think of any gags or plot driven by Russell that feel fresh.

Once in Venzuela, Russell and Fredricksen are befriended by a pair of somewhat-generically cute animals. One is a huge bird that was believed non-existent, and the other is a dog with a collar that translates his thoughts into words. They are then terrorized by much tougher dogs, who also have translating collars and are in search of the giant bird. Dug, the dog who accompanies Russell and Fredricksen, is fat and has some funny lines. But, I also got the nagging feeling this was Pixar's attempt to have a talking animal without admitting they had stooped that low. And, mostly, Dug acts as an uninspired piece of trite dog humor. Hee hee, dogs have short attention spans and like to chase tennis balls.

The rest of the dogs are under the command of Walter Muntz (Christopher Plummer), the adventurer that Fredricksen idolized as a kid, and who must be nearly 100 now. He still lives in his zeppelin in the jungle. He was accused of making up the giant bird some 70 years earlier and has spent his entire life trying to find it to prove to the world he isn't a fraud. He is a bit of an asshole; he will kill Russell and Fredricksen to get the bird. Fredricksen's mission has changed since he got to Venezuela. Maybe he realizes that there's more to a trip than just getting to the end, or maybe he's reminded of why he wanted to go in the first place. Whatever, he wants to protect the bird and its babies from Muntz.

Fredricksen's reason for wanting to protect the birds may be traced back to the montage, when he and Ellie learned they would never have the children they hoped for. Or maybe it's a nurturing sense he gets from dragging Russell around the forest. Regardless, this sends Up into its third act, a series of action pieces including chases, and a scramble aboard the airborne zeppelin. There are big bird heroics chases and dogs flying planes. It's exciting and fun, but also more formulaic than I expected.

Up is pure fantasy, and as such, a lot of weird shit can be granted and expected. Like that an old dude would survive in the jungle living in a blimp for seventy years, or the planes and its engines would still have good gas. That a talking dog would have such a huge vocabulary, or a house strapped to balloons would end up 7,000 miles away, almost exactly where it wants to be.

But, when characters act arbitrarily, it can't be excused as fantasy. At the beginning of Up, Fredricksen is a slow-moving, slow-rising old guy. For most of the movie he dodders with a cane. In the third act, though, he's a superman. He can climb the upside down ladder on the zeppelin, carry heavy objects, yank a fat boy out of the air. All of these actions are dictated by the action, not the character. And they detract from what made Fredricksen so likeable to begin with. I thought the movie would end with him being a hero in unconventional ways that were limited by his age. Instead, he's Cary fucking Grant in North by Northwest.

The Venezuelan jungle and the various creatures feel like a step back graphically for Pixar. Everything looks okay, but not particularly memorable or inspired. Particularly disappointing is the entire Paradise Falls area that Fredricksen and Ellie dreamed of. It's pretty, but that's about it.

Up features an unusual hero and a fucking fantastic love story. Like other Pixar movies, it has a sentimental side for the sense of loss from dreams unfulfilled or taken away. And that shit's great. But it uses easy outs and some undeveloped characters to graft on the action, and that's a disappointment. Four Fingers for Up.

Want to tell Filthy Something?



Zorianna Kit of Fandango

Terminator Salvation is "Jaw-dropping, eye-popping - the perfect summer film!"

Eye-popping? That sounds awful.

Filthy's Reading
Harvey Pekar - Another Dollar

Listening to
Beck - The Information


Tell No One