Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pre-Holiday Quickies

In theaters: WALL-E follows what is becoming a traditional pattern for Pixar releases: rapturous hosannas from critics, followed by gripes from moviegoers. The complaints leveled at this film have been more than the norm: it's too quiet; too dark; too anti-American, etc. I'm somewhere in the middle of the crossfire. It's more sweet, less manically exhausting than most of their movies. I'm with the conventional wisdom that the first half is the best, putting us deep in the lonely world of its robot protagonist and his budding romance with the trigger-happy EVE. The second half, when the two characters board the star cruiser populated with overweight humans, is more satirical but also flat. Both halves are incredibly derivative, ripping off paying homage to E.T., 2001, even The Triplets of Belleville. Despite the objections that it's not for kids, the tykes in my audience were surprisingly quiet and attentive, save for the Russell Brown-type in the row behind me who kept a Socratic dialogue going with his parents about everything that was happening. I enjoyed WALL-E more than most Pixar fare; it's an ambitious change of pace that goes disappointingly conventional only near the end. Any film that derivatively puts "Also Sprach Zarathustra" on its soundtrack has no claims of being a masterpiece. Hasn't postmodernism ended yet?

Catching up on DVD: Blades of Glory, the Will Ferrell/Jon Herder figure skating spoof, is intermittently funny and gleefully silly, less enjoyable than Walk Hard but Ferrell's hilarious machismo-on-ice shtick elevates it above just about every other comedy out there. Cloverfield, the hyped-up before it bottomed-out monster-on-the-rampage movie, is very clever and viscerally effective, darker than expected, but ultimately not very fun. The creature is a disappointing blank (as are its giant arachnid-like spawn). Better actors would have better conveyed the 9/11 emotionalism that the filmmakers were going for; as it stands, their anonymity would make them representatives for ourselves were they not all pretty pin-ups.

Maybe Cloverfield could have used the casting director of National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets, who deserves a bonus for persuading Ed Harris, Helen Mirren and Bruce Greenwood (best of all, as a President one can only dream of) to join the likes of Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, and of course Nicolas Cage for another ridiculous sub-Indiana Jones/Mission Impossible romp through historically-themed puzzles and clues a notch or two more complicated than the Daily Jumble. Nevertheless, the director, Jon Turteltaub, livens the pace more than the original National Treasure, which I couldn't get through. This sequel held my attention all the way to the big finish, in an ancient subterranean dwelling beneath Mount Rushmore, where Turteltaub somehow persuaded his ensemble of esteemed actors to play in neck-deep water. Also now on DVD, National Treasure 2 is no big deal, but unlike The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it bothers to create characters and set up plot points with actual payoffs. You know, kooky stuff. Perhaps I have things backwards: maybe Spielberg and Lucas are now sub-Turteltaub.


Helen said...

I think it's interesting that the main character, WALL-E, has more depth and range of emotion and facial expression than the bloated, gravity-deprived humans on the ship but I couldn't help wondering whether that was more the result of a lack of ability or skill, or a deficit in the current animation technology than something that was artistically intended. The visual bzstyles of the two halves of the movie are so different that it loses cohesion. I guess there's a rip-off of/reference to the Wizard of Oz with the switchover and there's even a gate-keeper robot on the ship that remided me of the wizard behind the curtain.

The post-apocalyptic, blasted Earth had a fairly convincing sense of scale and depth and you had to piece together for yourself what this world was all about and what the robot was up to. I wasn't even thinking about the fact that what I was watching is animation. The second half of the movie looks like you've accidentally switched channels and are unwillingly watching Teletubbies; you get hit over the head at that point with the fact that what you are watching is a cartoony cartoon. I get the message, but I was more interested in the world created in the first half.

And, just an aside, does WALL-E remind anyone else of Woody Allen?

Craig said...

Thanks for responding. The first half of WALL-E is magical; the second half less so. I suppose somebody at Pixar felt that they needed a human story with actual human characters, but I wish they'd followed through on the original premise. It might have then been worthy of the critics falling all over themselves calling it a masterpiece.

Craig said...

"Bzstyles" is a typo? I thought you were introducing a new word. Eastern European origin, perhaps?

WALL-E the character did have some Woody Allen qualities. I'm not sure about EVE, however. Definitely not Diane Keaton. Maybe Louise Lasser.

Helen said...

I know how "bzsytles" got in there: I was doing that word verification thing that you make us do now and my slow cursor hadn't caught up with where I was.

WALL-E and Woody. The names even sound similar.

Another aside: If you look at the advertising posters for Short Circuit and WALL-E side-by-side, you'll see that they are remarkably similar.