Just last night I got word that my new book: *The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient
Desert Prayer that Tunes Your Heart to God*, will be released by Paraclete
Press on October 1. Wow, that's close. I thought it would be around
Christmas! I have been nervous about writing such a book because I feel so
unqualified, and was very grateful that Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
graciously took the time to read the manuscript and suggest improvements.
Now we're in the home stretch. I will need to review the copyedit in a week
or so, and around then also need to drive to Florida, to begin the process
of moving my mom home from the nursing home, now that we've found a couple
graciously willing to move in and give my sister Dorothy a hand. She has
some surgery coming up, too, so your prayers are much appreciated.
In other news, all three of my kids are resuming education this fall.
Daughter Megan will begin her Master's in Teaching, son David begins study
for the diaconate in the Byzantine Catholic Church, and son Stephen will
begin study for the priesthood at St. Vladimir's Seminary in New York. Steve
& Jocelyn's son Lucas is due just a few days before classes begin, so again
we can use your prayers!
In all this busy-ness I've been glad that I haven't had as many speaking
engagements as usual, and then noticed that I really *don't* have as many as
usual; I used to do 25 or so a year, and now there's only a sprinkling. This
was so sudden that I think it must be another effect of the recession. So,
after talking with my agent, Cynthia
Damaskos<cynthia.damaskos@orth...>of the Orthodox
Speakers' Bureau <http://www.orthodoxspeakers.com/>, we've decided to lower
my fee to $3000, and the first booking in a month will still be at a 50%
discount, that is, $1500. Stock up now! Prices may rise again!
I knew Up was one of those rare first-rate movies when I found myself really
yearning to see it for a second time. Actually, that wouldn't have been so
unusual, except that I was still sitting in the theater and had only gotten
through 20 minutes of seeing it for the first time. It's that good.
And that in itself isn't so unusual, considering that this is a film from
Pixar Studios, whose previous films (Wall-E, Ratatouille, The Incredibles,
Finding Nemo, Monsters, Inc., Toy Story) have been not only excellent, but
also original. Leave it to the other animation studios to crank out films
where bland themes (like "Follow Your Dreams") provide vehicles for
pop-culture references and gross-out jokes. In recent years, Pixar gave us a
robot cleaning up an abandoned planet Earth, a rat who wants to be a French
chef, superheroes chafing under forced retirement, and the courageous
monsters who must inhabit children's closets. Imagination still exists, in
The central image of Up is of an elderly man towing a house. He's pulling it
along by means of a garden hose connected to a low faucet, and the building
is held aloft by masses of helium balloons, though it sinks a little lower
every day. The man is crossing a flat, dark-gray landscape interrupted by
pillars of rocks stacked in inscrutable patterns. (You can say, "Yeah, yeah,
the old 'man-towing-a-house' story," but I promise this one's different.)
The house, you see, is a Valentine. Seventy years before, Carl Frederickson
met his bride, Ellie, in this house. At the time it was broken-down and
abandoned, but when they married they bought it and fixed it up. From
childhood Carl and Ellie had cherished a dream of emulating their hero,
intrepid explorer Charles Muntz, and the whimsical expression of this dream
was a childish crayon sketch of their home at the edge of South America's
Paradise Falls. (The film's crew journeyed to Venezuela's Tabletop Mountains
for inspiration.) Now Ellie has died, every other structure around the home
has been bulldozed, and since the couple was childless, Carl's life seems
pointless and empty. So he's going to put that house at the edge of Paradise
Falls, if -- as he says, and as seems likely -- "it kills me."
But that isn't what kids are going to like, or even notice, about this
movie. For them, it's mostly about Dug the talking dog, and Russell, Carl's
chubby eight-year-old sidekick, and Kevin, a glorious, 13-foot-tall
iridescent bird. This is a really hilarious movie, and there are plenty of
chases and action sequences, too (this is only the second Pixar film to have
a PG rating, in this case for "peril"). But, as in other Pixar films, there
is an intriguing theme underneath all the fun; here, as before, the theme
has to do with the goodness of marriage and family life, and the
self-sacrificing love a parent (or parent-figure) has for a child.
In a way, Up is a variation on It's a Wonderful Life. Carl regrets that he
was never able to bring Ellie to Paradise Falls, but he comes to see that
their ordinary hometown life was a sweet and significant adventure in
itself, one that gave Ellie joy. Russell finds that the wilderness is "more
wild" than he expected, and "not like they say in books," and that what he
misses is eating ice cream and counting cars with his dad: "It might sound
boring, but I think the boring stuff is what I remember most."
We also see that someone who looks like a grumpy old man can be instead an
interesting old man, courageous and inventive. He's not "grumpy" on general
principles, but for the very good reason that he has lost the love of his
life. We see that there is such a thing as love for a lifetime, and that
love between people who have grown old together is beautiful. And we see
Carl register it as a real tragedy when he learns that Russell's dad has
gone on to a new wife, one who tells Russell "not to phone and bug him so
Up is remarkable for other reasons: It is the first animated film to open
the Cannes Film Festival, and the first 3-D movie from Pixar. But the
effects are used as artistic elements to support the story, rather than just
calling attention to themselves. For example, 3-D is used to shorten the
perspective and induce a confined feeling as we see Carl spending lonely
days in the house after Ellie has gone. In a typically clever shot, Carl
chugs slowly across the screen on his stair-glide, to the sultry strains of
the "Havanaise" from "Carmen."
The most eye-popping use of 3-D actually comes in the Disney and Pixar
logos, before the movie itself begins. After the logos fade, we see
something that looks familiar: rows of heads before us in a theater,
watching a movie. That film turns out to be a 1930s-era newsreel of the
dashing explorer Charles Muntz, and we step into the story as we see Carl as
a child, watching along with us. Pretty nifty.
The one thing I disliked was that, once the characters are all in place, the
film becomes simply a series of action sequences. (I had the same criticism
of Finding Nemo.) It's as if the plot pauses, and we just keep re-running
the loop of danger, chase, battle, escape, in different settings. We don't
learn anything new about the characters, because the last chase sequence
already demonstrated that they are either courageous (good guys) or
nefarious (bad guys). For me, this phase of the movie just drags, though of
course for many audience members the action scenes will be the best part.
The filmmakers do deserve kudos for making the extra effort of rendering
such scenes true-to-life in terms of weight, texture, and impact; it isn't
simply as big and loud as possible. This goes for the whole film. You've
probably never seen a house held up by helium balloons, but it just feels
right. You will believe a house can fly. The structure creaks and leans the
way you think it would, and when Carl cuts a few balloon strings to lower it
a bit, they ping the way they ought to. Early on the house sails into a
lightning storm, and it feels like the real thing (this might be the
scariest part of the film for little ones).
I was also impressed that, having given us the house as a symbol of Carl and
Ellie's love, the filmmakers allow it to be bashed and damaged on its
dangerous journey. The cost of this adventure is real, but it's worth it --
a lesson Russell, along with all the kids watching, will find useful when he
himself is 78.