Movie Reviews

Directed by Pete Docter and Bob Peterson
Despite stunning visuals rendered in 3-D, “Up” seems like a film from a bygone era of animation. Pixar releases have long been known for delivering both strong stories and action, but “Up” takes this to a new level. It starts slower than any animated film I’ve seen in a long time, and is better for taking the time.

The story opens with the main character, Carl Fredrickson (Ed Asner) as a young boy in a movie theater watching a black-and-white newsreel about his hero, scientist-adventurer Charles Muntz. Not to give away anything that happens next, we watch Carl’s life pass until he is an old man, bitter and depressed, but still yearning for adventure.

When he finally gets it, the result is not only fun to watch—something Pixar always delivers on—but a film that manages to be truly sweet without being schmaltzy. Perhaps it’s because it is mixed with a real sadness, the theme of it never being too late to lead an extraordinary life works in a way it never does in any of the films done by Pixar’s main competitor, DreamWorks, which always seem to be populated with caricatures instead of characters.

The action does get absurd at times, as a 78 year-old Carl performs impossible mid-air feats of strength and stamina. One cliff-side chase scene in particular shows of the Pixar trademark of offering up more moving pieces than you think you could keep track of. Other fun elements include an extended geriatric fight scene and dogs who talk but still act like dogs (“He’s wearing the cone of shame!”).

In short, Pixar has gone 10 for 10. Just go see it, especially if you’re over 65 and have someone younger than 12 to take with you.  

Food Inc.
Directed by Robert Kenner
There is a long history of legislators hosting documentaries in Sacramento. But rarely has a documentary stepped so clearly into an ongoing political battle as when Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, introduced “Food, Inc.” at the Crest last week.
In January, Florez became chair of the newly minted Senate Food and Agriculture Committee. Florez has said the new committee should be a forum to represent the concerns of food consumers. Rural Republicans attacked the committee as anti-agriculture.
“Food, Inc.” was conceived and filmed long before any of this happened. But the film seems in many ways as a direct rebuttal of the notion that what is good for consumers is bad for farmers.

In fact, farmers are the most prominent voices in the film. Sure, the two best-known writers of the “real food” movement show up early—“Omnivore’s Dilemma” author Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, the scribe behind “Fast Food Nation.”

But they’re there mainly to provide the conceptual framework. That is, the fast-food industry has remade the entire agricultural system in its own image. Family farms and small producers have been taken over by conglomerates. Almost all the beef, pork and chicken we eat comes from a half-dozen companies. The food they make is produced in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

“Food, Inc.” shows farmers who are being sued by Monsanto for copyright violations after genetically-modified soybean pollen floats into their fields. We meet with a chicken farmer who is toiling away for a big producer who owns the birds from egg to store shelf, making only $18,000 a year while suffering the indignity of pulling out dead, diseased birds each day.

The film has a high “yuck” factor, with the story of a two-year old boy killed by E. Coli from a Jack in the Box hamburger juxtaposed with tours of factory farms, feedlots and slaughterhouses—one of which produces meat so dirty is has to be treated with ammonia. The film has a definite point of view. Almost none of the large conglomerates in the film’s crosshairs agreed to provide officials for interviews.  

The “Food, Inc.” points out the consumers are voting with their dollars, leading to an exploding market for organic food. Which brings up one of the central paradoxes of our food economy—a kind of socialism, in the form of agricultural subsidies, created the giant corporate food system we have now, while capitalism seems to be the biggest force pulling it down.

Directed by Kirby Dick.
Outrage tells the story of the outing of a half dozen politicians who were “outed” as gay after years of voting against gay rights legislation. Nearly all were conservative Republicans. The most prominent is former U.S. Senator Larry Craig, R-Idaho, shown here in his 2007 mug shot after being arrested for soliciting sex in a Minneapolis airport men’s room.

Much of the screen time is devoted to the work of Mike Rogers, a blogger whose website, Blogactive, has outed numerous politicians. The film also offers numerous choice moments, the best of which has to be Craig praising his wife during a Valentine’s Day Senate session.

Runs May 29-June 4 at the Crest. For a longer review, see next week’s column.

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