Posts Tagged 'UP'

Writing Thoughts 3

Once you start thinking about “Up,” it’s hard to stop. I saw it for a third time tonight, this time in 3D, which was different and good and interesting. There is so much to take in that the movie felt just as fresh as the other times. It’s so well crafted, so flawlessly executed, I just want to bask in it! Think about the details of the movie, the way the wallpaper looks on Carl’s walls; the back of the junk mail brochure for the retirement home; the way Carl’s arms move. There’s a scene where he is sitting,  holds up the brochure with his hand, then turns it over to look at the other side. Most movies would just have him hold up one side. Easier. Or, if he’s going to look at two sides, he will use two hands. Instead, his hand twists back on itself to turn it over. It is a tiny, minute detail, but it rings of life, and it shows that the makers understand the movement of life. How bodies work. They are meticulous in their observation. I was listening to an episode of “The Treatment,” a film podcast and the guest was Pete Doctor. He explained that the movie was a 5 yr process, of which 3 were spent purely on story. He took us through the early drafts of the script, which didn’t contain the young boy scout, Russell. Because of the tone they wanted for the story, Pete Doctor brought in writer/director Tom McCarthy, who shares a “Story by” credit and whose two films are “The Station Agent” and last year’s “The Visitor.” His films are about loners, people who have lost something or someone, and the new makeshift families that bring them back and restructure the way they see themselves and how they view life. It’s no surprise that Russell was his contribution, and Pete Doctor explained how Russell not only serves as the catalyst for Carl’s change, but also how the growth of their relationship becomes the gauge for where he is at the beginning and the end.

See any similarities between these two?

See any similarities between these two?












That's What I Thought You'd Say

That's What I Thought You'd Say





The more I think about it, the more I see Carl as a similar character to Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor,” so I wonder how much McCarthy’s involvement in this film (since he would have worked on it a few years ago) informed his writing process on “The Visitor.” Did the idea, in some way, stem from Carl? The films couldn’t be any different in terms of style, but their main character and that character’s personal arc are nearly identical. I smell double feature. It’s revelations like that that set Pixar apart. You don’t see DreamWorks Animation calling up Michael Winterbottom or Sony tapping Paul Haggis to come workshop their scripts. It shows once again how important story is to Pixar. It also demonstrates the way ideas work, how working on one thing leads to another, how creativity can’t exist in a vacuum and how you have to choose the right people for the right projects.

I’ve been writing something since about the time I was in 8th Grade. That was when I wrote my first screenplay. On white, lined paper, it was a horror movie whose villain was a scarecrow. Lots of people died, anyway, that’s another blog, but I’ve written two full screenplays, short plays, scenes, short films, short stories, essays, reviews, on and on and on. Almost always I’ve written by myself, but now here I have essentially a writing and directing partner. We have completely different styles and interests in terms of story and character and scope; even the way we think to frame shots is often different. But our working relationship is fantastic. Because we use a lot of common language to describe art and discuss it, we can combine our abilities and create something that is apart from the work I do on my own and apart from the work he does on his own. The question isn’t, am I better with or without him, or is he better… it’s is this particular project better with the two of us, and the answer is yes. The two of us wouldn’t enhance the things I write by myself, and I’d be no help to him with his own stuff. However, just like Tom McCarthy being (I’m all but assuming, at this point) influenced by Pete Doctor, Adam and I are more creative for working together. When the collaboration is a good one, it expands the creative abilities of both (or all) individuals as well as the group. We’ll discuss ideas for other scripts, and we’ll talk about whether it is something we should work on together, or if it is better to be taken on individually. If nothing else, it creates an interesting creative tangent. It’s as simple as personal and group projects. One isn’t better than the other; they serve different creative purposes and cover different artistic ground, or at least cover it in a new way. Both are valid and both are vital.


Looking UP

Tuesday's Business Meeting

Tuesday’s Business Meeting

Pixar’s eternal brilliance is already so widely accepted by now that there’s no point in rehashing it again. But I just have to rehash it again. World, you may keep your “Ice Age” sequels, your “Horton Hears a Who” lacklusters, your “Shrek 2,3…?” and “Madagascar” and the okay ones like “Over the Hedge” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” These will not remain. These will not be remembered, and if they are they will surely not be regarded as anything other than a means of marking time. Leave me Pixar and leave me be.


The creators at Pixar understand this life. Names like Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Brad Bird (my personal favorite) and the writer/director of “UP,” Pete Doctor – all of these men are expert storytellers, but they all retain a sense of wonder that so many children have and so few adults can even recall. They remember (and love) what it felt like to think about the possibilities of life, they return to that place over and over and are blessed enough to call it their job. With the hours they put in and the care they demand, it is a miracle that Pixar continues to hold onto that sensibility picture after picture. Their films understand that the soul needs that childlike sense in order to grow, that we aren’t meant to move on from that wonder, we’re supposed to add to it; that without holding onto some part of the kid in us, we stagnate. We get old but not wise, we live but aren’t alive. Their movies make me feel that awe again, every time I sit down and watch them. They fill my heart, and they uncover feelings that I haven’t felt for a while or forgot existed. 


So it was with “UP,” a film I assumed I would enjoy, but how much I wasn’t sure. Would it be like “The Incredibles” or last year’s “Wall*E” ? Few can be. Would it be a solid effort like “Monsters, Inc.” ? I couldn’t tell. And they are very crafty, those folks who promoted this movie. In a time when movie trailers tend to give away every remotely interesting thing in the movie, the previews for “UP” seem to deliberately withhold the most crucial, powerful elements. They were right to do so. Trailers are seen so many times that it would have reduced the film’s power and impact to see too much too soon. Instead, they gave us the bare bones plot. Old man, young kid, a house that floats because of a ton of balloons. 


This movie gave me so much. With a main character over 60, you wouldn’t expect the word “Adventure” to be the primary description, but it is. The movie has great adventure set-pieces, like chases through forests and cliff sides and the sky. It has a perfect blend of physical and verbal comedy. The movie plays mostly fair and doesn’t allow its characters to be superheroes (even when they’re being superheroes) and the supporting cast of animals adds a very nice dimension to the world while also bringing in the families. 


But what I really want to talk about are a few things. First, the aerial shots of the house floating over vast expanses. These shots took my breath away. They are so pristine as to move one to tears. The sense of peace, of freedom, of life and this planet, this beautiful glorious planet of ours. Yet for all of these, my favorite moment of the film is its first act, which hovers over the rest of it and is embodied by the house itself. There are a few scenes with Carl as a child, meeting his wife Ellie, who is a darling, half-tomboy. The scenes where she talks about having adventures and he sits transfixed, having found that person who makes it all click. There is an entire sequence showing their lives together, from marriage to old age, and here is where Pixar shows its brilliance. It is reminiscent of a familial montage in another Pixar film, “The Incredibles,” but it is even more complete in some ways. Most films burn through backstory like this in a quick montage that hits some highlights, delivers the exposition and moves on. Inevitably, they lack an emotional core, because they feel purely functional. Perfunctory. Not this one. Wordless, though ever filled with life, it shows us two complete characters and their life together. It is an extended, patient sequence. It refuses to go through the motions. It observes it characters with tenderness and care, and I fell in love with it. It skewered my heart and I was terribly, completely taken away by it. 


How do they do this, Pixar and their films? How do they make us smile while we cry? How do they inspire both awe and affection at once? These are films that will remain, because they are films made by people who love these stories too much to see them marred by easy pop culture references and who respect their audience too much to deceive them with a cheap product for a fast dollar. Pixar could take it easy. Their record is so impressive, they could churn out 3 or 4 movies, and they’d make money just because of the name. But I don’t think that will happen though. I think the product is good because the investment is personal and true and good. “UP” is the latest film from the one of the best companies around, and it is so good as to revive the heart and soul.

It Has Come to This

June 2019
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