Sunday, February 28, 2010

South America: It's like America, only South!

Directed by: Pete Docter
Year: 2009
Starring: Ed Asner, Christopher Plummer,
and Additional Voices

Let's face it: 2009(and the Aughts itself for that matter) was a dark year in movies. Men were sent to the epicenter of a chaotic war to dismantle bombs and fight for their country. A young, obese, and fragile young woman breaks free from her abusive past, all the while struggling with what life has given her. A tiny German village is shaken by a series of violent episodes, and only the children seem to know what's really going on. Yes, it was a bleak year to end a bleak decade marked by violence, war, prejudice, and a host of other tragedies to strike the world we live in. Yet, amidst sadness and fear, horror and dismay, moments of significant beauty still do exist. Pixar knows this, this is made more clear with every movie they produce. Up is no exception, and in truth, it is a prime example of Pixar's magic.

Up begins with a simple love story, Carl, a timid boy enamored by adventure, one day meets Ellie, a brash, free spirited and feisty girl. Their plan: to fly to South America and live on Paradise Falls, the site where their hero, Charles, Muntz, is searching for a rare species. Together, they form a bond that is more believable and tender than the brunt of love stories to come out in the past decade(I'm looking at you, The Notebook). Magically, their friendship is told through a silent five minute vignette that encompasses every aspect of their long lives together, good and bad, from marriage to Ellie's death. The end result is absolutely touching and quite heartbreaking, it sets up the rest of the film, holding up a giant flag that tells the audience "Yes, this is what we are capable of conveying in five minutes, but you haven't seen anything yet!"

Carl, now an elderly man, still lives in the house he and Ellie built together, though age has made him a curmudgeon. As he's aged, so has the world around him, and his little house is now at risk of being torn down. After an altercation, Carl is told he must be shipped off and sent to a nursing home. Though simple Pixar brain power, and a hint of magic, Carl concocts a plan to fly to his dream spot, Paradise Falls. His means of transportation? His house, which he lifts by using a large supply of balloons to carry him away. However, he has an unexpected passenger aboard his 'aircraft', a young boy, Russell, who is an Eagle Scout one badge short of becoming a wilderness explorer.

The story behind Up focuses on the journey these two characters go through and what they come across along the way. Add in a rare bird, a pack of talking dogs, and Charles Muntz himself, who is now hellbent on capturing the bird who befrends Carl and Russell. Pixar is no stranger to diverse plots that are fully fleshed out, after having made toys come to life, monsters turn into caring creatures, and rats into culinary chefs, they prove once again that they can do anything.

In the end, Up's overall message is simple, yet endearing. The adventures we cherish are the ones that are the most unexpected. Carl is searching for a way to nurse his broken heart, and to lay the love of his life to rest. Russell wants to prove to his father that he is good enough, and that he is adventurous enough. Overall, it's simply magical, it's ripe with emotion, humor, and life, something that many films, kids or adult, seem to miss. It'll carry you away on a balloon to the clouds, where we all know troubles melt like lemon drops.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cannonball Read S2: Book 2-Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Editor's Note: I apologize for the lack of posting, I'll get into a more frequent routine within the next couple of weeks, but for now, I'm catching up on my Cannonball Reading.

Await Your Reply is a multi-layered, fast paced, and truly compulsive read. By tying together three different plot lines, Chaon invents a very tightly knit ensemble drama/thriller centered around one central concept-the consequences and risks of changing your identity. It starts out with a horrifying act of violence, and tension slowly builds to a very loud final twist. Arguably, the best thing about Reply is how the central themes, isolation and rebirth, come into play with each seemingly unrelated story arc.

The first character we meet is Ryan, a young, college age man who has just learned that his uncle is in fact his father. Now, under his guidance, Ryan decides to fake his suicide and start a fresh, new life. However, as Ryan begins pursuing other identities, paranoia, fear, and a host of other demons come into play. Neither the reader, nor Ryan, are sure whether or not there is someone chasing him. Tracing forwards, then backwards, and then back to the present, we learn more about Ryan and each of the other characters.

Next comes Lucy, a recent high school graduate who lost both her parents in a car accident almost two years ago, and is now running off with her lover/history teacher George Orson. What begins as a sweet natured, risky, and free spirited move quickly turns sour when Lucy begins feeling a rift between her and her much older lover. Is he who he says he is? Where is the man who charmed her, where has he gone? And can Lucy get out of his grasp? Lucy's story felt closest to home for me, knowing people who have engaged in relationships with teachers or older men, the risk involved only sinks in when it's perhaps too late, as Lucy finds out along the way.

Finally, there is Miles, a man in hot pursuit of his twin brother, Hayden, his closest companion and strongest enemy. Hayden has schizoprenia, and is a compulsive liar who cannot stay put in the same place with an invented identity for too long. Having vanished years ago, Hayden is either in Alaska, or somewhere else, or possibly dead. Their relationship definitely was the most unpredictable of the characters, it goes back decades, giving both brothers cause for their actions, all the while building up the reasons why Hayden might have left, and why Miles wants to find him again.

Await Your Reply has a lot of twists and turns, and the way the characters eventually intersect works well for the story itself. Admittedly, the novel loses a little bit of momentum in different parts, and the different plotlines may confuse the reader once they tie together. But in the end, Reply is a damn good read, one that raises plenty of questions and brings up a number of ideas, both involving identity and relationships between human beings. It's a suspenseful thriller outrightly, but at the core of the novel, a big beating heart exists, one that supplies the novel with enough emotions and pulse that it doesn't fall into garden variety or cliched terratory.