Thursday, June 26, 2008

Wall-E Review

I think it's safe to say that Wall-E is, without hyperbole, one of the single greatest films I have ever had the opportunity to witness. Frame by frame, scene by scene, I cannot think of one element that I disliked or felt out of place. Even things that were presented rather uniquely, specifically the way the humans were presented, was shown in such a way that it truly seemed like a natural extension of human progress.

And what is so interesting about all of this is that the movie is simply about holding hands. The central crux of the movie upon which all else is realized is one robot's dream of holding the hand of someone else. That's it. You wouldn't think that it goes deeper than that. Yet, the resulting depth is one that should resonate with any human being regardless of age.

Wall-E is a robot placed on Earth to clean up all the garbage that was left behind after humanity took off on a space cruise, planning to return in 5 years. Wall-E gets through his day with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement rarely seen in any individual human. He's happy to be alive and does his job with the gusto expected of him. A gusto that has apparently served him rather well over the last 700 years. His only friend is a cockroach who exudes more personality than most characters these days. He spends his evenings relaxing in what he calls home, a giant mobile vehicle that is no longer in use, which he has decorated with the various trinkets he's found during his clean up sessions. And he ends his day by watching a video he's found of "Hello, Dolly" and fantasizing about being able to have a connection like that with another individual. Watching him long for this action, this ability to hold the hand of another, is an incredible sight to behold. The innocence of Wall-E, coupled with his unflinching optimism, makes him one of the most endearing characters ever placed upon the silver screen.

And Wall-E's life changes unexpectedly when a probe robot named EVE shows up and could potentially give Wall-E what he's looking for. The changes he goes through after her arrival are hilarious and subsequently heartbreaking. To feel for these characters, despite their perceived inability to speak, is a testament to Pixar and the phenomenal job they have done to create this world that goes beyond expectations.

It's also a testament to the sound design of Ben Burtt, who again creates such memorable sounds in a piece of film history. While Wall-E and EVE speak in languages we don't understand, the way they are able to emote through the sounds they make and through the audible interactions with the rest of the world is nothing short of breathtaking. Adding to the wonderful sound is Thomas Newman's pitch perfect score that heightens the experience greatly while taking nothing away from it.

Honestly, it becomes difficult to fathom anyone who would possibly dislike this movie. They may not agree that it's one of the best ever, but one would have to be a truly cynical person to actively dislike this movie. I can't say at this time whether it will become one of my favorites. I don't think that something needs to be a favorite in order to be praised as an exquisite piece of film making, but it's certainly possible it could be. It's certainly something I want to see again and I urge everyone who reads this to make time. Trust me. It's worth it.

Pixar again knocks another one out of the park, and frankly, it's difficult to understand how they can make it look so easy when every other film studio surely puts out its share of garbage. This is movie making at its finest and an example set for all others. Here we are, nine films into their existence and only one film falls short of greatness and that's Cars. Cars was still an incredibly watchable film, but just not up to the same sort of quality other Pixars movies are. Regardless, I'd still give them a 9 for 9 in terms of solid movies, and an 8 for 9 for excellent movies. Hopefully someone will come along and copy their business model so well so that we never have to suffer through another big budget awful movie ever again. A pipe dream, I know, but a dream I will continue to have. Thank you Pixar.


Wanted Review

There are times when you go into a movie and don't know what to expect, and come out pleasantly surprised and rather excited over what you've just seen. Wanted is that type of movie. The fact is, that if the actors in this did their job, there was no way that it could be any less than entertaining. All the pieces were there. Angelina Jolie, check. James McAvoy, who has proven himself a few times over to be a solid actor, check. And the always dependable Morgan Freeman, who actually utters the line "Shoot this motherfucker!" in the way that only he can, check. These are not elements that add up to a lack of entertainment on a base level. And the result was so much more.

James McAvoy plays Wesley Gibson, a corporate employee who hates his life and is suddenly drawn into the world of international assassins. The story goes that Cross, one of the greatest assassins has gone rogue and begun to pick off members of "The Fraternity", a group of assassins led by Sloan (Morgan Freeman). After Fox (Angelina Jolie) saves Wesley from an attempted assassination by Cross, he begins a training regiment that's torture at best and attempted murder at worst. Yet, this is all to help him control his latent powers; powers that allow him to curve bullets, and a power that apparently his father, who was killed by Cross days earlier, possessed. (All seemingly in an effort to force me to use variations of the word "assassin" more times than I've ever done in the past.)

The biggest issue I had with the movie, strangely enough the same issue I had with Kung Fu Panda, was the nature by which Wesley is drawn into this new life. He hates his life, yet does nothing to change it. The changes are forced upon him. He's not kept by a sense of honor or duty to that which he currently belongs, he's just afraid. The only thing that makes him special is the fact that his father was such a great assassin. This has less to do with him, and more about his genes and I always find it hard to get behind characters who are forced into circumstances beyond their control because of birthright and not by individual choice.

Fortunately, this leads into Wesley taking more of a stand for himself later on in the movie with the knowledge of these new powers, but the initial jumping off point was enough to give me pause.

And the small matter of the way "fate" chooses the targets is a little silly, but I suppose you can judge for yourself on that one.

Beyond that, there wasn't much NOT to like about this movie. An incredible, often downright hilarious visual display that does not hold back at all. Director Timur Bekmambetov puts all his cards on the table and embraces the R-rating to the best of his ability. Bullets fly into (and out of) people with an intensity often only saved for the likes of "Saving Private Ryan". There's an element of "What if Jim from The Office was recruited by Angelina Jolie to assassinate people"?

There's a certain "Matrix" element to it, but drops the pretense of that trilogy to become its own animal. Yet, the story hints at an interesting "Is the grass really greener?" perspective late in the movie, but never really delves into it. While certainly not a deal-breaker by any stretch of the imagination, I think a little more could have been served by taking a closer look at the duality between a "normal" life and an "exciting" life.

Wanted is a movie you just don't see that often anymore. It is a film that revels in what it is, and makes no apologies for it either. An R-rated, all-out action movie that takes special precision with the stunts and effects and draws you into a world where you can truly believe that people can curve bullets. Obviously, the plot is not going to win any awards, but it's definitely an above-average showing that is leaps and bounds above a lot that is called "action movies" these days.

Would this be as successful with different leads? Probably not. The chemistry between the three main characters is what really brings much of this to life. Being unfamiliar with the comic book, I can't say that I think this would be better or worse if they stuck to the original storyline. But what does end up showing up on screen is something that floored me in a way I wasn't expected. Hopefully this movie will become a success and the studios will look more closely at the potential for R-rated action blockbusters utilizing actors with a more serious pedigree. I sure as hell would love to see it and I'm glad that Wanted was the movie to make me feel that way.

Grade: A-