Friday, June 27, 2008

Some Like it ‘Bot: “WALL•E” is Out of this World

There are a lot of famous cinematic robots. There’s The T-1000, the evil, morphing villain of “Terminator 2.” There’s Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit” who danced his way to stardom with brat packer Ally Sheedy. And of course there’s the duo of R2-D2 and C-3PO from “Star Wars” which are probably most peoples’ favorites. And now we have WALL•E who appears to be a strong mix of E.T. personality and Johnny 5 circuitry to add to the list of famous movie machines with unique personalities. You don’t really need a review to tell you that should going out and see WALL•E right now, but I will praise it anyway. While I don’t know if it’s officially my favorite Pixar film, (that titles still belongs to “Finding Nemo”) WALL•E certainly will be a film that will be remembered for some time (apparently so, it’s currently ranked #9 at on the TOP 250 list).

We open in a futuristic (and hardly recognizable) Earth. There are no humans in sight as it appears we have used up all of our resources and have vacated our once beautiful planet. The only thing that is left is a little robot named WALL•E (which apparently stands for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class). This robot was made to compact and remove waste. He scoops up some trash, sticks it in his square belly, and a trashtastic cube pops out. He has done this for years and years. He has a curious mind. He finds random human-made objects, like Rubix cubes and Frisbees, which he finds fascinating and collects (ala Ariel in “The Little Mermaid”). And apparently he’s obsessed with the movie musical “Hello Dolly!” His life is quite and quaint, but all that is about to change.

One day a huge spaceship lands literally on top of WALL•E and a small white, hovering machine is released. It’s searching, for what we do not know, but it certainly piques WALL•E’s interest. Before he (I assume he’s “male” although the whole Hello Dolly sort of disturbs that idea) knows it he’s in love with this mysterious robot which we come to find out is called Eve. Soon WALL•E is whisked away when Eve finds an actual living plant and goes into sleep mode. At this point we’ve been watching nearly half the movie with hardly any dialogue, which is practically unheard of for a big budget summer movie. The story is expertly written (by director Andrew Stanton) and the characters are so well defined that in most cases it hardly matters that there’s not much talking.

Soon WALL•E finds himself inside a huge space station that houses the humans of the future. They are fat and unable to walk and must use floating devices that care their large bodies around. They have holographic screens in front of their faces with many viewing choices. But the big question is whether they have TIVO? I don’t see how they couldn’t. Here we meet the Captain who is in charge of this rotund society. It’s around here where the film sort of lost me. Not so much that I was confused but I cared so much about the robots (who form a friendship that seems more realistic than most onscreen relationships in most movies these days) that it was sort of shocking to actually see human begins on the screen. And much to my surprise Fred Willard shows up as the CEO of a corporation called BnL which in turn has practically taken over all these peoples’ lives. What this film has to say about our future isn’t exactly surprising. I guess the humans in this movie didn’t listen to Al Gore.

The movie does have a message about our future on this planet and how we depend too much on technology and you could read into the film a lot, but its more fun to sit back and enjoy WALL•E and his friend. That being said I enjoyed the first half of the film more, as I didn’t really care too much about these futuristic humans as much as I did about a small mound of metal with a personality. And I’d be lying if I didn’t get a little teary-eyed by the end of it all.

WALL•E is a great movie that you should see in the theater. It has such a great sense of wonder and emotion and awe (and beautiful animation) that no matter your age you won’t be disappointed. GRADE: A-

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Secret Agent Clan: Steve Carell & Co Hams It Up in “Get Smart”

I know nothing of the television show “Get Smart” is based on. In fact, if you had even asked me what I though the show was about before trailers for this movie were released, I’d probably give you a blank stare. I couldn’t even give you a name of one of its cast members. So, in going to see the movie version, of this spy caper comedy, as a completely unbiased person can say that the movie as a whole is kind of dumb but it has its share of laughs, due mostly to Anne Hathaway’s hysterical performance. Got ya! Just kidding. I knew you must be scratching your head after that one. This movie actually rests comfortably on the comedic timing of its male star Steve Carell who has proved in movies (the 40 Year Old Virgin) and television (the Office) that his is the go to guy for funny, dry, deadpan humor. And he’s actually a good actor on top of it.

Ok ok, Anne Hathaway isn’t really bad, but she’s not really the type of actress I really pictured in this role. Frankly I would have rather seen someone like Anna Faris, just because I think she’s funny when she does basic things like blowing her nose. But actually casting someone not quite known for their comedic skills really help to illuminate Carell as the humorous star of the film. Anne is the straight guy and Carell is bumbling, funny fool. Carell plays Maxwell Smart who is a member of a secret government secret agent group called CONTROL. He dreams of being an agent. You know getting out there and doing all the dangerous dirty stuff that James Bond gets to do 24/7. He finally gets his chance when the evil group KAOS has some disastrous plans. He is set up with Agent 99 (Hathaway) and away they go on comedic adventures.

The plot of the film is probably the weakest link here cause I didn’t really care for much about what was going on. Now of course that doesn’t mean I wasn’t entertained, but I couldn’t really see this plotline being as entertaining on a second viewing. However, like I said before, Carell really caries this thing and his lines are funny and his actions are as well. Just look at that scene when he’s finally promoted as an agent and he requests a “cone of silence” and he yells and screams about his excitement. Unbeknownst to him, the entire team has just heard his ranting and raving. And there is one sequence in which he travels by high-speed jet and get’s a little “airsick” that had me laughing for minutes afterwards.

There are some rather random people thrown into the mix here including The Rock himself Dwayne Johnson, who at least is better here than he was in The Game Plan (a film I had the distinguished of honor of NOT seeing, thankfully). And even recent Academy Award winning actor Alan Arkin shows up as The Chief. He has some good lines as well especially when he’s nearly impaled through his head. But probably most random of all is James Caan as a sort of Bush-like idiot President of the United States who actually has some of the funniest scenes in the film.

Over all the film is pretty decent, although days later I’m not really remember too much from it. It does its job as decent summer entertainment (and it has a surprising amount of action that seemed rather well choreographed). I can’t say whether you would like this if you’re a huge fan of the original show, but if you enjoy Steve Carell and brisk summer action comedies than you could do a lot worse. GRADE: B-

Friday, June 13, 2008

I See Dead People: Mass Suicide Plagues Mankind in “The Happening”

Watching people commit suicide is not necessarily something that I call first rate entertainment. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching movies with violence and gore and none of particularly bothers me psychologically. However, something about watching someone take their own life (in particularly gruesome ways) is something beyond disturbing. However, once-hot director M. Night Shyamalan has come up with a new story about something in the air that causes humans to hurt themselves, badly. People start jumping off roofs and laying down in front of lawn mowers in “The Happening.” It’s an interesting premise that is more disturbing than scary and the film as a whole is enjoyable in the typical Shyamalan way. However, if you’re seriously disturbed by the idea of people offing themselves, I’d advise to steer clear. At least Shyamalan does handle the situation in a way that is far from poor taste. Had Eli “Hostel” Roth tackled the subject, I’m sure the reviews would be even worse for this film.

Okay so here’s the deal. I’m not going to give too much away, but I will say some express some positives the movie has and some negatives. Let’s start with the positives. The premise is fascinating and disturbing. The film does actually benefit from Shyamalan’s direction because he truly knows that it’s what we don’t see that scares us. And yes this is a much more violent film that his previous PG-13 efforts, but he doesn’t linger (too much) on the gory details. He figures the subject matter is disturbing enough by itself, so there isn’t lots of brain matter splattered across the screen. But there are violent images that many will be concerned by. So the film is creepy and disturbing, which is ultimately its goal. And composer James Newtown Howard does provide another standout Shyamalan music score. Let’s seriously applaud Shyamalan for having an actual opening title sequence that actual helps set up mood. Too many films today dive too quickly into the movie without setting up atmosphere.

However, there are a lot of negatives here. Mostly due to the overall silliness that the whole story provides. Basically we get Mark Wahlberg as a biology teacher who is informed that there’s been a possible “terrorist attack” in New York City. It seems that some kind of gas or chemical has been released into the air that has caused disorientation in people which ultimately results in those affected taking their own lives. Most of the film’s dialogue is dedicated to characters discussing what could really be causing this and some of the theories are down right silly. At least the silliness helps to relieve some of the stress caused by the overwhelmingly unsettling premise. Wahlberg has hit a snag in his marriage to Zooey Deschanel and she mostly gives a bizarre and weird performance that felt sort of awkward. I mean the world’s about to end, and all they seem to do is talk about how their marriage is on the rocks. Anyways, it’s recommended that everyone in Philadelphia evacuate in case the chemicals or whatever are released in Pennsylvania. What follows is a sort of “War of the Worlds” paranoia in which we watch a family deal with a mass threat to mankind. I sort of didn’t really like how the characters reacted to everything that was going on. They seemed to not take into account that the air was deadly when traveling outdoors. Um, hello, at least cover your mouths! And a scene that involved people running from the wind was sort of more comical than truly terrifying.

Ultimately, “The Happening” is a movie with a interesting enough premise that it is worth seeing and forming your own opinion. I enjoyed the nods to “The Birds” in which perhaps it may not be a mankind threat but something more ecological in nature. If you’re expecting a typical twist ending you’ll be disappointed. In fact the movie just sort of ends for no other reason really than it’s just time to end. The film provides chills without the scary monsters, which was sort of the film’s point. It is so easy for humans to perish, that sometimes we don’t realize we’re our own worst enemy. GRADE: B-