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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs. Pick of the Week: Classic and Blu-ray. Three by Pixar: Ratatouille, WALL-E, Up

Three from Pixar (Blu-ray)
For the past few years, the jewels in the Disney Studio’s animated crown have usually been the Pixar movies: those wittily written, brilliantly characterized, wildly popular, critically hailed (well, as long as it’s not Cars 2) feature-length gems from Disney head John Lasseter’s brainchild compoany, most of which take computer animation (and other styles as well) to new heights. Here are three of the most magical examples, all out this week, all Blu-rayed and Comboed.
“Ratatouille” (Also Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Four Stars)
U.S.; Brad Bird, 2007 (Walt Disney)
, cooked up, co-written and directed by Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) is a scrumptious meal of haute cuisine and hilarity. Bird’s terrific script centers around Remy (Patton Oswald), a genius young cook from the French provinces, a gourmet chef who also happens to be a rat, and who hooks up with a likeably doofus, ambitious kitchen helper named Linguini (Lou Romano), to wow palates at a legendary but slipping Parisian restaurant, which has already lost its super chef and two of its five stars, thanks to the acerbic and demanding critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole).

Bon appetit! Everything works in this one (though I wish Disney-Pixar had included a Randy Newman song score anyway). The jokes are funny, the visuals are dazzling, the characters are top-notch. It’s not only delicious; it was an instant classic.

Extras: Deleted scenes, new animated shorts, featurette.


WALL-E (Also Three-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (Four stars)
U.S.; Andrew Stanton, 2008 (Walt Disney)

WALL-E is another Pixar delight for families, but it’s also for people who love science fiction, especially apocalyptic tales, but actually all kinds: from The Time Machine to The Martian Chronicles to Blade Runner to Necromancer. It’s a huge, high-tech project, involving hundreds of filmmakers, actors and film workers — but even with all those people milling around, the movie still has a heart-lifting buoyancy and wit, an entrancing screwball sense of fun. A longtime Pixar science fiction comedy project about lovable little robots, written and directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) — this film ignites our sense of play, in search of wonder.
The star characters here are two small but very resourceful robots named WALL-E (for Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth Class) and EVE (for Extra-terrestrial Vegetation Evaluator). WALL-E lives in the big city on an earth devastated by waste, greed and probably warfare: Rattling thorugh the deserted streets, he’s lonely as a man in a high castle, or a wanderer lost on some vast desert dune, sole occupant of a barren, burned-out New Yorkish place where time is out of joint and where some of the skyscrapers are piles of compacted waste that little WALL-E (who resembles, but improves on, the cute robot, No. 5, in Short Circuit) has been gathering and piling up for the past 700 years — ever since he was accidentally left behind when humankind blasted off like a nova, in a survival space-ship, from their dying earth. 

Who Goes There? EVE, by contrast, is a sleek white and black flying ovular-looking robo-chick, with a laser blaster, pretty as a skylark of space, but also deadly as a a starship trooper, or a killdozer who has demolished man and city alike. A visitor to WALL-E’s city and a stranger in a strange land, she comes from and lives aboard a starship, the Axiom, in a hothouse world loaded with other robots and with the remnants of humanity — the dispossessed — who have evolved into somnolent, pleasure-loving tubboes and inactive space merchants, lazing in a couch potato world where they’re indulged by flying easy-chairs and mechanical servants, all run by a sinister “I, Robot” computer, an ultimate egoist with a very familiar circular red light and bossy disposition, whom we instantly recognize as the double of psychotic computer HAL-9000 from Stanley Kubrick‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
That ship has dropped EVE, like a little eye in the sky, onto the urban ruins on a scouting expedition to learn whether the green fields of Earth have become habitable again. She (somehow we know EVE is a she and WALL-E a he) runs into WALL-E, who has exactly that proof, a little delicate leafy plant he found amid the rubble. (“There will come soft rains…”)

 Boy robot meets girl-robot –and Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics don’t begin to cover the possibilities. He’s about to lose her — but, when she reboards the ship and its caves of steel, with the stars their destination, he follows her — there to discover the weird vegetative state into which humanity has evolved, or devolved, and the psychotic machines that want to keep it there, flying forever, through the currents of space, like the unknowing passengers on the starship of Heinlein’s Universe. There are Slan-like battles and chases, jokes and gags — everything you’d except in a child’s cartoon adventure fantasy from the great puppet masters of Pixar. And there’s a happy ending, or the foundation for one, where the good robots become, in their way, human. Or more than human.
Stanton, producer Jim Morris, executive producer John Lasseter, production designer Ralph Eggleston and the whole Pixar company deserve the touch of your hand here. But we should also mention the movie’s great prelude (the short cartoon Presto) and its wow of a credits sequence: a grand progression from cave man drawings through great painting (impressionists and all) to today’s omnipresent computer images, climaxing with a little love-blip of WALL-E and EVE. I was moved also by these credits: with the suggestion art keeps evolving and growing again in many forms, just as we humans do, or can if we try. As a great writer named Theodore Sturgeon once said of humanity and its capacity for growth and childhood’s end and maturity — and true love for lovable robots of dawn as well as the people who made them…What did Sturgeon write? I’m not sure. And then there’s baby. Baby is three. (Crash!)

Bravo, Pixar.
Note: I haven’t mentioned it yet, but this review is full of slightly hidden (and some not so hidden) classic science fiction novel or story titles. See how many you can find.
Includes two short cartoons: Presto (2009) (Three and a Half Stars). A sharp-witted, rollicking tribute to the classic Looney Tunes, which presents an egotistical magician, a bottomless top hat, a wascally wabbit and lots of high-energy gags worthy of Mike Maltese and Chuck Jones. And Burn-E (2011). The further dventures of WALL-E’s welidng robot.  
Extras: Commentary by Stanton; Featurettes, Inter-active games, Bot files, Trailer.

“Up” (Four Stars)
U. S.; Pete Docter, 2009 (Walt Disney)
, another prime Pixar picture, flies us right up into those realms of sky, flight and fantasy that Judy Garland’s Dorothy traveled in her Kansas twister to Oz, and off to which little Pascal Lamorisse was whisked by his air armada of Parisian balloons, at the end of his dad Albert‘s The Red Balloon. Co-written and directed by Pete Docter (Monsters, Inc.), with Bob Peterson, it’s a great children‘s movie, and another strong argument that Pixar’s cartoon cadre is the strongest creative force operating in mainstream Hollywood right now.

If you have children and don’t take them, you should be ashamed of yourself. If you see it without kids, you may love it anyway. And if you’re a kid, you should be in heaven. Yet, in what might appear a paradox, the hero of Up — albeit with a kid sidekick — is a harsh, isolated, seemingly past-it and mean old man named Carl Frederickson, voiced with classic Lou Grat gruffness by Ed Asner, whose squashed grizzled features also are replicated in Carl‘s onscreen face.

In Up, we see Carl, once a bright and (most important) adventurous lad, with a bright and even more adventurous partner/wife Ellie (Elie Docter), now a retired balloon-seller who lives alone in a shabby but homey old house: one of those hanger-on dwellings once surrounded by other, similar homes, but now all alone by itself in an area drastically torn down, replaced or modernized during his lifetime, until it (and it seems, he) are simply old relics lost in concrete and construction.

Docter’s and Peterson’s film seems initially about how the old are sadly abandoned and shunted aside, how they gradually lose their loves and dreams, and how they are forced to succumb to the world’s cruelty, indifference or smug bigotry. All that, and almost all of Carl’s life, are conveyed in the movie‘s sprightly opening sections, covering Carl’s boyhood, his meeting with the plucky little lassie, Ellie (who keeps a diary of adventures and adventures-to-be), their joint admiration for the famous Movietone Newsreel star and daring South American explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer, at his plummiest), leading up to a lyrical five minute sequence, a glorious little montage that becomes one of the most beautiful and bewitchingly sad pieces of cinema in recent years.

As the score swells and the years pass, we see Carl and Ellie marry, plan their adventures, then painfully discover they can’t have children of their own, reconcile themselves to the impossibility of family, finally drop also the long-cherished childhood dream of adventure as well, and then sink into a gradual home-sweet-home but dull routine of passing years and a shifting, crumbling neighborhood that is finally, inevitably invaded by death and impending destruction.

That’s the poetic but real-life-ish story of love, resignation and loss that Docter and Peterson tell us all this in their mesmerizing five minute ballad of inevitable aging and dreams deferred. I loved it, and I very much liked the rest too: the slapstick, soaring, adventure movie escape-hatch that the filmmakers supply for 78-year-old Carl, who, at the last minute, dodges the wrecker‘s ball, opens up and lets loose a buoyant mantle of thousands of gleaming balloons that pull his three-story home up into the air and sail it away — from the courts, their decisions and the construction companies and head toward, as we know it has to, South America! And the jungle mountain haunts of the disgraced explorer, Muntz! Who disappeared decades ago after a rare-bird skeleton scandal! (Ah, Night at the Museum, eat your heart out!)

It’s an astonishing movie turnabout, and a amazing emotional tone-shift. And I’m not going to tell you what happens next, with a few exceptions — because you deserve to have the jokes and the action come to you mostly fresh and unspoiled. (Oh yeah, SPOILER ALERT.) But, of course, much of the rest of the movie takes place up there in the sky too, in Carl’s balloon house and on Muntz’s spectacular whirlybird super-dirigible-like, propeller- driven sky-ship –and there are chases and wild escapes, and the characters fight and slide all over the skyship’s body and Carl’s porch, in scenes that will either feed your vertigo or kill it dead. “Exhilarating“ is a word that was made for the likes of Up.

Up is exhilarating though for more than mere (mere!) adventure and spectacle. This is a movie that delivers a well-earned knockout blow to the rejection, marginalization and sometimes abusive mistreatment that the elderly here — and elsewhere — suffer. And it makes you laugh, cry, get excited, feel as if you could fly. There’s one strict rule about comic dreams of blissfully happy adventure like Up. In the end, you should often give your customers what they want. Whatever your age, whtever our age, Up mostly does. Extras: Featurettes.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon