WALL•E (dir: Andrew Stanton)
An animated robot love story with an environmental theme and a slapstick delivery, WALL•E is a charmer of a film and a delightful piece of storytelling. Directed by Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) with the animation wizards at Pixar, it takes on the challenge of delivering an animated feature that is predominantly wordless (and even some of those used are closer to sound effects than dialogue) and succeeds with both creative humor and visual grace.
WALL•E is a little mobile trash compactor who putters around a junked and abandoned Earth, sharing his days with a skittering cockroach and finding his pleasures in the little treasures he scavenges from his loads.
The nervous little guy has evolved a personality over the centuries, which makes his isolation all the more poignant as he pines for someone (something?) to hold hands (or whatever you call his clamp-like digits) with. And so he falls in love with a sleek, specimen-gathering pod named Eve and follows her back to her ship, becoming one of those unlikely heroes whose pluck and perseverance overcome impossible odds.
With its long, wordless scenes and mix of slapstick gags and delicate mechanical dances, it doesn’t look or feel like your usual animated feature by Pixar or anyone else, at least until WALL•E finds himself with the physically inert future of the human race. It’s almost like two movies cut together, one with the robots and a somewhat more obvious and less magical one with the fat and complacent mankind willingly bound to a luxury liner spaceship.
The mechanical heroes are more expressive and more engaging than the tubby humans, solely through the mechanics of robot eyes and body language and a symphony of beeps and whistles. If it reminds you of a certain little iconic robot from a hit space opera epic, it’s no coincidence. Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt not only does the audio honors here, he’s credited as the voice of WALL•E.
Adults will pick up on a social satire in the portrait of a sedentary population lulled to distraction by a non-stop stream of media signals and small talk while the kids won’t miss the message of ecological responsibility, but the bright gags and childlike expressions of robot affection are so joyous that you can be completely charmed without even noticing the themes.
I review the film for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here.
Wanted (dir: Timur Bekmambetov)
Wanted is a thrillingly ridiculous film about a fraternity of assassins from an ancient line that takes their orders from a mystic loom that encodes their orders in the weave. In essence, they are the hitmen of God (or fate or whatever you want to call the supernatural entity that sends messages through the ancient computer), or so they imagine themselves. This is one job you take on faith.
It’s an absurd premise without the weight of even a resonant fictional mythology to ground it. The thing is, director Timur Bekmambetov, the Kazahkstan-born director of the Russian action-fantasy blockbusters Nightwatch and Daywatch, knows it and proceeds accordingly. There is no pretense to realism in either the narrative or the spectacle. Bullets bend trajectories, cars defy the laws of physics and so do the holy hitmen. You can try to explain this ability like its leader Sloan (Morgan Freeman) does, as a physical gift of adrenaline and focus. Or you can just go with the idea that it’s magic, like Bekmambetov does.
Wesley Gibson (James McAvoy, fresh from all those arty British dramas) is an office drone with a soul-sucking job, a cheating girlfriend and crippling anxiety attacks. Faster than he can say, “I wish I had something else to relieve my stress, he’s recruited by an ancient fraternity of assassins known as The Weavers. It seems he’s got some superhero DNA that can channel his adrenaline into really cool abilities, like shooting people from moving trains and throwing bullets around corners.
McAvoy does the job just fine and looks like he knows what he’s doing once he passes the class and goes pro, but he’s merely a talented amateur next to Angelina Jolie, who steals the film right from under him with her wicked moves and seductive smirk, which brand her immediately as a true believer who really, really loves her work.
Bekmambetov… plays in the American action sandbox, but like so many foreign imports, he’s more concerned with making it look cool and unusual than making it look real.
It makes for a good fit with a script (based on a graphic novel) that puts the action pedal to the metal without stopping to see if anyone, you know, takes any of it seriously.
Bekmambetov ignores the weaknesses of the story (which paints Wesley’s transformation from human doormat to assassin superhero as the ultimate act of self-empowerment) and its flimsy mythology, as well as every law of physics, in the dazzling spectacle. It’s just magic spun by the holy hit men and their insular cabal as they execute the orders of fate.
You either go with the fantasy and enjoy the impossible acts of kinetic creativity or get stuck in the preposterousness of the premise and the flippant execution.
Read the complete review here.
My Winnipeg (dir: Guy Maddin)
“In the heart of the heart of the continent…” is the Guy Maddin’s home town of Winnipeg, a city he speaks of only in metaphors: the head, the veins, the forks (and the forks beneath the forks). Winnipeg is like a living thing with underwater rivers veins pumping through the heart of the heart of the continent. My Winnipeg is a fictional documentary loaded with dubious facts (Winnipeg has ten times more sleepwalkers than any other city) and delivered as a first person essay by way of a dream reimagining of the city, as both nightmare and fairy tale. It’s myth and dream and nightmare, psycho-sexual reverie, faded memory, and fanciful fabrication.
My Winnipeg is a documentary fantasia of Maddin’s unresolved issues with childhood and family. His Winnipeg is a place where the ghosts of the past coexist with the flesh of the living, where the homeless take up residence on the rooftops and where a herd of panicked horses were flash-frozen in a lake and transformed into a temporary ice sculpture. Maddin creates his own archival footage to illustrate this fictional factoid with the ghostly, timeworn texture that evokes silent cinema and home movies and suggests fading memories and half-remembered dreams. It’s a twisted but beautiful love letter to a city, not factually correct but emotionally true.
Read the complete review here.