Yesterday, I watched Pixar’s Up. Like everything that Pixar makes, Up is fantastic. I highly recommend that you see it.
The movie’s opening that establishes the background for the plot may be the most remarkable animated sequence ever made. It is simply beautiful—both technically and as a story. Indeed, the only complaint that I have about the movie is that the rest of the film cannot compete with the beginning.
I don’t know how Pixar attracted the people that it has, but they are an amazing bunch. I may often complain about our society’s mediocrity and decadence in other domains, but it is arguable that Pixar has made the last decade the golden age of animated film. I love Disney’s old classics, but they lack the delightful childlike playfulness combined with the depth and insight of films like The Incredibles, Ratatouille, WALL-E, and, now, Up.
I expect that everyone will appreciate the powerful opening and the convincing and endearing relationship between the old man, Carl Fredricksen, and the boy, Russell. However, I must add that I found the death of the movie’s villain, Charles F. Muntz, rather insightful. Note that the “dogfighters” parachute to safety after their planes are destroyed, but Muntz falls to his death. Up suggests, correctly, that sometimes the enemy cannot peacefully coexist with you. Until Muntz was destroyed or reformed, the birds of Paradise Falls would not be safe. We would all like to see redemption, but sometimes, the bad guy has to die. And so he did. Kudos to Pixar for not having him carted off in a crazy wagon, pantsless and delirious, in the manner of most silly cartoons. No, the obsessive explorer who threw away his life on a quest to salvage his pride plunged to his death in his quest for the fantastic bird. “Kevin” and her brood would thereafter live safely in their unspoilt paradise.
In continuation of my heaping scorn on Uncle George, allow me to share a skit from MADtv wherein “Jane Pauley” interviews “George Lucas” on Dateline (Rated PG-13).
My favorite part is the interaction between Pauley and Lucas at the beginning, but Aunt Jar Jar Mimah is pretty funny, too.
Poor George . . . we are so ungrateful.
Thirty-two years ago, Star Wars appeared in the movie theaters. What a wonderful movie!
However, it occurred to me this morning that George Lucas incurs a similar blame as that of Martin Luther. For Lucas took something that was beautiful and marred it significantly. The difference is that Lucas tarnished his own creation, while Luther messed with God’s. Uncle George has less guilt, then, than my friend Andrew’s ggggggggggggggreat-grandpappy Marty.
You may find it sacrilegious, or sacrilicious, that I compare Star Wars to Christianity, but I admit that Star Wars had a rather profound influence on my childhood. Luke Skywalker was my hero, I dreamt of flying an X-Wing, and, naturally, I wanted to be a Jedi Knight when I grew up. I pretended that our vacuum cleaner was my R2-D2. I bugged my parents to buy me the consumerist goods that made Lucas rich; I had sheets with our beloved droid odd couple, I owned many toys, and I used Star Wars shampoo. (Do you remember the bottles in the shape of the characters?) I even read most of the books.
George Lucas thus shaped my young imagination as I endeavored to live in his fantasy. To this day, I have retained a certain disgust for fire arms, and my soul aches when old Ben delivers his explanation to the young farm boy from Tatooine:
Your father’s lightsaber. This is the weapon of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or as random as a blaster. An elegant weapon for a more civilized time. For over a thousand generations the Jedi Knights were the guardians of peace and justice in the Old Republic. Before the dark times, before the Empire.
Light summer action fare for teens, maybe, but the original movies have so many moments of pure movie delight. “Before the dark times, before the Empire.” It’s perfect!
So, back in the 1990’s, I looked forward to the second and glorious coming of my favorite Hollywood franchise. I celebrated the original movies’ rerelease in the late 1990’s. I sat through an awful movie that I cannot even remember to see the trailer for The Phatom Menace on the trailer’s opening day. I camped out to buy tickets for the first showing of The Phatom Menace. I did my part—and Lucas failed. Like so many fans, I feel somewhat betrayed by the new Star Wars trilogy of prequels. Of course, I watched all of them at midnight on the opening day, and I obviously saw them several times at the cinema. Still, the experience was like attending a sterile Congregationalist Sunday service after having lived the joy of traditional Christian worship. George Lucas Luther kept the name but threw out the spirit.
Now, it is true that Protestants occasionally muster up some beauty in their religiosity. I have always found the hymn “How Great Thou Art” wonderful, and I appreciate the dynamism of many “evangelical” bodies. Similarly, the prequels have their moments of movie magic. The architecture of Theed on Naboo was lovely, Natalie Portman was gorgeous, and the final prequel, Revenge of the Sith, helped to redeem the other new films. As Luther, Lucas could not utterly efface the glory of that which he corrupted. Yoda, like Paul, manages to call to us through the mire.
Nonetheless, Lucas scandalized me with his folly. What is his excuse? Dort steht er, er kann nicht anders?
Last month, my brother Adam treated me to a showing of Coraline at one of those last round cheap seat cinemas (you know, the ones where the show movies before they send the film rolls to places like Bolivia). I had intended to see the stop motion animated film directed by Henry Selick when it came out in February, but I never got around to do so. Based on the book by Neil Gaiman, Coraline has a Burtonesque feel—which led many people, The Chicago Tribune and myself included, into thinking that it was directed or at least produced by Tim Burton. As the Tribune points out, the only production connection between Burton and the movie is that Selick and Burton worked together on The Nightmare before Christmas. Nonetheless, the formal resemblance is strong; if you appreciate Burton, you will like Coraline.
I had to enjoy this film. It is written and directed by Selick (who also did James and the Giant Peach), it has a wonderful voice acting cast, including Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Teri Hatcher, Ian McShane, and Dakota Fanning, and it features a song by They Might Be Giants. I did not know that beforehand, but as soon as the “Other Father Song” began to play, I knew that John and John were behind it. I consequently bounced in my seat and jabbed Adam to let him know, much to the disturbance of all.
Coraline is beautifully made, charming, and somewhat humorous. Like other Burtonesque films, it threads the delightfully macabre through surprising, imaginary stitches. The imagery of the “other world” is wonderful, especially in its contrast before and after it unravels as Coraline, in lovely Grimm fashion, comes to understand that most things that seem to good to be true are not true. There is always a dreadful price for satiating our appetites.
If you wonder how an animated film merited a PG-13 warning, let me just say that you get to see French and Saunders au paranaturel. It is pretty funny, and you just have to see it for yourself.
My only complaint about the story is that it felt very rushed at the end. Until Coraline returns to her “other world” to free her family and friends, I think that the movie is perfect. Indeed, as she crawls through the tunnel to face her challenge, I momentarily escaped my absorption in the film to reflect on how good of a flick it was. However, the dénouement occurs too quickly and with too much ease, and this imbalance affects the film for the worse. Nonetheless, it is a fun movie, and I heartily recommend it.
Last week, Auster criticized forensics specialist Richard Neave for depicting a 35,000 year old European man with marked Negroid facial features, noting that Mr. Reave’s depiction has more to do with Leftist wishful thinking than with any evidence. Then, Auster attacked Neave for his imagined portrayal of Jesus, and he remarked that the claymation production in The Miracle Maker was far more convincing in its portrayal of first century Jews in the Holy Land.
I had never before heard of The Miracle Maker. So, I found it on Hulu and watched it. You may watch it, too. [The original Hulu movie was removed. Here it is on Gloria TV with Hungarian subtitles.]
It is a Welsh and Russian cooperative production, and it is not bad. Sadly, the Welsh won out in the film’s depiction of Mary Magdalene. The movie shows her as possessed, but then it also makes her the sinful woman in Simon the Pharisee’s house. Still, I noticed that the Russians depicted her in her iconic garment colors. I found the film’s treatment of the Theotokos a bit disappointing—more Welshiness there. Gibson’s Passion of the Christ does her more justice, but we should expect some Marian piety from a traditional Latin. Cleophas and his fellow traveler to Emmaus get more attention than usual. Indeed, the film makes the unnamed companion Jairus, whose daughter Christ raised from the dead. The girl provides the child’s perspective throughout the movie.
There is only so much that a children’s movie can do in ninety minutes, but I found it well done for a claymation film. There were moments of real artistry, such as the rending of the vail in the temple. I think that the tempter scenes with Satan are nicely executed and that the movie handles Judas Iscariot perfectly as the disappointed Jew with messianic hopes. Mary Magdalene’s possession and her grief at Christ’s crucifixion are moving, too. All in all, it is a fine depiction of the gospel narratives in the form of a children’s movie.
To celebrate the release of Star Trek, I offer you a funny video on the Onion New Network—“Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film as ‘Fun,’ ‘Watchable’” :
I love the fans.
I have never been a Trekkie myself, though my friend and nerd mentor Andrew has helped to initiate me a wee bit into the cultural awareness of the cult. I just find the technocratic, secular, Cartesian, Leftist worldview pretty revolting. However, like most sci. fi. (or space fantasy, for you purists), it has its charms. I especially love the fictional anthropology of fantasy and sci. fi., and Star Trek gives us some admirable races like the rational Vulcans and the thumotic Klingons.
I usually like the comic relief numbers from musicals, such as the splendid “Gee, Officer Krupke” from West Side Story.
Watch out for those social diseases.
My favorite television show of all time is The Adventures of Pete and Pete from Nickelodeon’s golden years. From the opening theme song by Polaris to the final morality lesson narrative by Big Pete, the show gives its audience a window into the quirky lives of Wellsville’s loveable denizens.
I also have a nostalgic connection to The Adventures of Pete and Pete. I watched the series with my younger brothers, and the show reminds me of our life in the early 1990’s. Time races by.
Here is “Field of Pete,” which was first broadcast on Sunday, October 2, A.D. 1994.
Watch out for that Orange Lazarus.
Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all our Gregorian calendar friends, especially those quarrellous Irish folk!
Beannachtaí na Féile Pádraig!
To celebrate the Emerald Isle’s patronal feast, I give you the ineffably loveable Muppets:
I love Jim Henson’s creations; what a chap . . . Anyway, enjoy the feast, and remember the blessed island in your prayers.
You may know Dawn French from The Vicar of Dibley, and you may recognize Jennifer Saunders from Absolutely Fabulous. Did you know, however, that YouTube has dozens of skits from this comediennes team? As with any sketch comedy show, French & Saunders hits and misses, but you might wish to watch some of their skits online for grins and an occasional laugh. The production quality is remarkable for a sketch comedy show.
Here, you can watch French & Saunders’ parody of The Lord of the Rings movies, The French and The Saunders:
Some blushes for Peter Jackson, with sincere apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien . . .