WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Pixar makes it ten gems in a row with this enchanting animated story of 78-year-old Carl Fredricksen a recent widower who decides to fulfill his (plus his late wife’s) lifelong dream of tying thousands of balloons to their house and floating off to a mountaintop in South America. But he soon discovers a stowaway in the form of Russell a precocious eight-year-old “Wilderness Explorer” who he reluctantly allows to accompany him on his journey. Together the unlikely pair embark on the adventure of a lifetime encountering Kevin a rare 13-foot tall-flightless bird; Dug an overly-friendly talking pooch; and Charles Muntz a once-famous adventurer who now lives alone in a massive airship surrounded by a pack of attack dogs.
WHO’S IN IT?
Sticking to their general custom of casting actors not big stars in key voice roles Pixar assembled a superb cast for Up led by veteran TV star Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as the aged Carl who takes flight in his house and finds there is a lot to learn about life even as you near death. Asner’s grumpy delivery provides the perfect counterpoint to nine-year-old Jordan Nagai’s Russell a bright and optimistic kid who proves an invaluable assistant to Carl throughout their journey. Christopher Plummer (The Sound of Music) is authoritative and intriguing as the obsessed Muntz and John Ratzenberger (Cheers) extends his streak of Pixar films to 10 as a construction engineer who tries to convince Carl to sell his house. Bob Peterson does delightful double duty as two of the key dog voices lovable Dug and the menacing Alpha head of the pack.
Like Pixar’s previous Oscar-winning masterpiece Wall-E Up is a ‘toon that is not content to explore the same places we’ve seen in previous animated blockbusters. Centering an action comedy around a 78-year-old man isn’t a strategy you’ll find in the youth-obsessed Hollywood recipe book but it pays great dividends here with a moral that life’s greatest adventure is the one you share with someone you love. The non-humans — particularly Kevin and Dug — are hilarious and unique and a silent sequence detailing the courtship and marriage of the Fredricksens is a sweet touch that could have come straight out of a Charlie Chaplin movie.
With a string of critically-acclaimed hits that includes Toy Story Finding Nemo The Incredibles Ratatouille Wall-E and now Up Pixar is ruining it for everyone else. There is simply no way they can be topped when it comes to pushing the boundaries of animated movies. Bad for other studios. Good for us.
Could Up which just became the first animated film to open the Cannes Film Festival also become the first to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar since Beauty and the Beast in 1991 (before the Animation category was even established)? At this point in the year it’s actually a good bet. Whatever the case expect Up to earn several nominations come Oscar time.
A swashbuckling swordfight across the skies between two near-octogenarians? It’s the best action scene in a summer full of ‘em.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Oh pleeeeeease! Get to a theater fast. Up is also available in 3-D at select locations. Either way it’s a must-see.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Julia is a down-on-her-luck fortysomething alcoholic. She’s at her wit's end when she meets a woman at an AA meeting and is soon immersed in a kidnap-for-ransom scheme involving the woman’s nine-year-old son Tom the victim of a nasty custody battle. Events quickly careen out of control and Julia finds herself on the lam in Mexico kid in tow trying to stay a step ahead of low-life local hoods who believing Tom to be her son nab the boy and demand the money in return for sparing his life.
WHO’S IN IT?
Although the entire cast in this low-budget thriller is excellent Julia is really noteworthy as an Oscar-worthy tour-de-force display of sheer acting brilliance by the dazzling Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) who throws herself into this blowsy ballsy role with such abandon it will make your head spin. Swinton easily delivers the year’s best performance -- male or female -- so far and it’s a shame that this independently-made tough-minded melodrama will likely get only limited theatrical exposure. Acting honors are also owed to Saul Rubinek who plays a key role in the film’s climax as Julia’s ex-boyfriend and confidante. Kate del Castillo (Under the Same Moon) really only turns up in the film’s establishing scenes but is wonderfully effective as Elena the boy’s volatile and colorful mother. As nine-year-old Tom Aidan Gould is understated and neatly effective in a role that requires a range of emotions. Bruno Bichir is amusingly one-note in his best baddie mode as Diego the lead Mexican bandit.
Making his English-language debut director Erick Zonca (The Dreamlife Of Angels) keeps things moving at the pace of a speeding freight train never letting his star come up for air and allowing her to bring many different shades to this fascinating unsympathetic woman whose life is a complete mess. Zonca effortlessly turns what starts out as a character study into some outrageously juicy stuff. The shift is tone is seamless and will blow you away. This is one hell of a ride.
At 138 minutes the film is overlong and could have used some tightening in the latter portions when Julia and Tom get to Mexico. The portrayal of Mexico’s criminal element also borders on stereotype and is mostly played in one dimension by a group of fine local stars who aren’t given much opportunity for subtlety.
A scene in the bus station where Julia arranges the ransom money to be dropped off is nail-biting sweat-inducing suspense at its finest allowing Swinton an ace-acting showcase to boot.
DIDN’T JANE FONDA ALREADY MAKE THIS MOVIE?
Don’t be flummoxed by the film’s title. It has nothing to do with the Oscar-winning Jane Fonda/Vanessa Redgrave drama released in 1977. In fact although not a remake this Julia much closer in tone and spirit to the 1980 Gena Rowlands film Gloria which was later remade in 1999 with Sharon Stone. Have we sufficiently confused you now?
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
Considering the indie style and minimal marketing budget your best chance will probably be on DVD where it is not to be missed.