Name of the Film: Wall-E
Wall-E is the latest outing from children’s’ film favourite, Pixar. Since their debut in 1995, Pixar have been anything but disappointing touching on the lives of toys, bugs, monsters, fish, superheroes, and now, a lovable robot. Clearly, Pixar have never made the same film twice and unlike many other studios they have never made a less than three star film. The question is, have Pixar managed to uphold this exemplary film-making record with their most recent work? In the opinion of this reviewer, they have surpassed all of their previous triumphs.
It is 700 years into the future and the population of Earth consists mainly of mountains of garbage (very neatly packed mountains of garbage I might add). Earth was abandoned centuries previously as due to excessive waste it became uninhabitable. To clean up our planet hundreds of Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load Lifter - E Class) robots were sent to Earth to, essentially, clear up the mess we left. Unfortunately, after such a long period of time all of the robots have been destroyed; all of the robots but one, our protagonist, Wall-E. Wall-E rolls around the Earth picking up piles of trash, compacting them into small cubes and heaping these into mountains. He contently does this picking up ’interesting’ human objects with only the company of a cockroach and the musical sounds of Barbra Streisand recorded from a VHS of Hello, Dolly!
The premise of the film doesn’t appear to be one that would work on a feature length level. For much of the film there is no dialogue except Wall-E’s beeps and pronunciation of his own name with a robotic speech impediment (voiced by Ben Burtt of Star wars fame). Despite this, Pixar make Wall-E an engaging character showcasing their ability to make any creature sentient and lovable, I personally await what Pixar would do with stationary rocks.
It is not until the arrival of Eve (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), a new mac-like robot when compared to our PC Wall-E, that there is any change in Wall-E’s life. Instead of spending time watching Hello, Dolly! Wall-E instead follows Eve attempting to woo her with bizarre shows of affection for instance, building a model of her out of pieces of waste. This is unsuccessful causing Wall-E to try even harder showing her his never-ending collection of ’impressive’ waste such as a rubix cube, a tape and of course, Hello, Dolly! The dynamic between these two mechanized beings is beautiful and surprisingly relatable to human interactions; the not so well-off, inept male attempting to impress the sophisticated female is indeed a tale we have seen before but the story of Wall-E adds a delightful spin to it.
Throughout the film there is a underlying current of darkness that would probably not be detected by most children. The Wall-E universe is essentially the worst result of media concentration, mass consumption and later, dependency. Something that is apparent is that the state of Earth as depicted by the film is plausible, the corporation Buy n’ Large appears to own everything which, looking at the state of companies such as supermarkets today, could quite easily happen. When we are first introduced to humans the first thing that may strike the viewer is how huge they are, this sounds more than familiar. Life is made ridiculously simple to the point where legs aren’t necessarily as floating chairs do all the work and cutlery isn‘t necessary as a whole meal comes in a cup. Wall-E even touches on a lack of contact due to the ease of communication; humans don’t speak face-to-face even when they are next to each other. The lack of awareness of their surroundings is clear amongst the humans and in this internet and television centred age, it is clear that the messages in the film have more than a bit of relevance. The presence of this undercurrent of darkness makes Wall-E an even better film. Like most great children’ films it works on two levels entertaining people of all ages. Wall-E paints a dreary picture of the future concealing this from some viewers by painting with bright colours.
Something that is less obvious about the film is it’s genre. It has the classic makings of a romance story with a touch of mystery and large slabs of Sci-Fi. It is the sci-fi aspect of the film that is most evident. The score has the grand and majestic feel of a science fiction epic which suit’s the story perfectly. Wall-E even features a wonderful reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey in terms of score and something else that I shan’t disclose for spoiler reasons.
To conclude, Wall-E is a magical adventure with some of the most likable characters of the year. It is breathtaking and most certainly worth watching.
Rating out of 10: 8
Last edited by SaphMB; 06-09-2008 at 22:15.
The Visitor (2008, Thomas McCarthy)
Richard Jenkins has gradually crept up the Hollywood ladder over recent years - propelling himself to fame in Alan Ball’s excellent HBO drama Six Feet Under, and turning in a slew of solid character roles since, Jenkins finally finds himself breaking the glass ceiling with The Visitor, establishing himself as a viable leading man.
Jenkins plays Walter Vale, a University professor, who comes home to one of his apartments to discover illegal immigrants Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) and Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) living there. It is not entirely convincing that Walter allows them to stay with him for a few days, considering how inept a professor he is, and how embittered he must be with the passing of his wife, but The Visitor has a real humanity about itself that is in its own way rather intoxicating.
Accepting this diversion is essential in telegraphing the film’s subsequent events – Tarek, the Syrian young man now living with Walter, is unjustly arrested and detained, and this is where the crux of the film’s dramatic tension takes place.
Helmer and writer Thomas McCarthy places great focus upon the drum which Tarek plays in the park with other buskers, and encourages Jenkins to himself play. The drum serves as a metaphor – Tarek, and other immigrants simply want to be accepted and treated as human beings. Frequent reference is made to the rather condescending attitude often adopted by Westerners towards immigrants of all kinds, and in this regard The Visitor is sympathetic without launching on a bleeding heart tirade.
Therein lies what is so admirable about the film – it is fair and avoids the temptation to delve into staunch didacticism. Writer McCarthy deals with the tempestuous issue of post-9/11 paranoia with tact yet does not attack either side of the argument – rather, he remarks that contempt only breeds more contempt, and understanding is what is evidently missing from the human part of the equation.
That said, the film does perhaps not develop as much as it could have. When we first arrive at the detention centre where Tarek is held, the film is very eager to point out the good and wholesome immigrants who are people deeply concerned with family and playing music – it does not really articulate that some immigrants simply exploit the system. The film is therefore not entirely balanced, but it does well to not always put those on the winning side of the bureaucracy in a bad light. The Visitor, at its best, reminds us that there are assumptions made on both sides of the fence.
Despite a seemingly dreary premise, the film is certainly not a wholly depressing affair – Jenkins’ Vale is a likeable and complex character, and seeing a resolve and understanding between the everyman Westerner and immigrants (particularly between Vale and Tarek’s mother) is something we likely need in these times. The detention of Tariq remains unexploitative and fortunately does not dwell on his treatment there more than is necessary. Rather, the plot is more concerned with misunderstanding between human beings stemming from paranoia following September 11th. It does not condemn those who are afraid, but rather condemns a lack of communication between human beings. Tarek simply wants to play his music, and regardless of your stance on immigration, it is difficult to deny that his quest for simple acceptance is handled with nobility and class.
Still, the film never becomes clouded by saccharine sentiment or Hallmark truisms – it follows through with full force, delivering a powerful, devastating ending that cements the indiscriminate injustice with which the asylum process operates. McCarthy thankfully sidesteps a romance subplot that could have traipsed into inappropriate sexual tension in the film’s final minutes, but remains attuned to the film’s very attitude, that this is a film more concerned with interpersonal relations and understanding.
The Visitor makes a valid case against the immigration system whilst not necessarily demonizing it as a construct but more the manner through which it is carried out. Richard Jenkins delivers a commanding performance with a strong supporting cast in this exceedingly real, yet not entirely joyless dramatic piece.
Last edited by asdasta; 25-09-2008 at 15:26.
Righteous Kill, (2008, Jon Avnet)
Righteous Kill is quite disappointing. Scratch that, it’s very disappointing. Billed as the second coming (together) of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro after Heat, it’s tagline reads ‘Most people respect the badge. Everyone respects the gun’. But you’d be a fool to respect this water-pistol of a movie.
The story – such as there is one amid this disjointed mess that Russell Gerwitz has the gall to call a ‘script’ – goes that a man claiming his name is David Fisk (Robert De Niro), a.k.a ‘Turk’, is admitting to murdering 14 criminals who the justice system has let off easy. He’s recording his admission for whatever reason, and then it cues flashbacks to all the murders and the subsequent investigations into them, as well as the original indictments of the criminals that he and his partner – known only as ‘Rooster’ (Al Pacino) – have worked hard to construct. All isn’t as it seems, however, and when two tenacious detectives (Donnie Wahlberg, John Leguizamo) cotton onto the fact that one of their own is offing these criminals, things start to go wrong.
As I pointed out, the first fall down is the script. It is, simply put, boring. There’s nothing to it – no interesting characters, poorly written dialogue and a ridiculously predictable twist. Considering this comes from the man who brought us Inside Man – a nuanced, perfectly weighted bank heist movie – the shoddiness of the script comes as something of a shock. Perhaps with Inside Man it was a great filmmaker making something special out of a relatively mediocre script; and turns out, Jon Avnet is no Spike Lee.
Indeed, Avnet couldn’t direct himself out of a cardboard box even if he tried. There is simply no order to the movie, no discipline in the structuring of it. It’s far, far, far too long, and the problem with twist movies that are far too long is that the chances of the audience guessing your twist are directly proportional to the length of your film. Handled delicately, this twist – though poorly conceived – could’ve actually been quite surprising, but as it stands, you can see it coming for a good half-an-hour before the director deems fit to reveal it to us, and that makes the reveal rather tedious.
Avnet, too, is responsible for the below par editing – I’m not usually a stickler for continuity errors, but here they’re so glaringly obvious that they simply can’t be ignored. editor should’ve been sacked for putting the film together in such an appallingly sloppy manner. That it’s Paul Hirsch, the man who edited Star Wars Episodes IV and V, comes as something of a shock
But perhaps the biggest farce in all of this is that Robert De Niro was attracted to the script at all, and more annoying that he roped Al Pacino into the mix. De Niro simply seems to be coasting on the fact that he’s considered one of the greatest actors of our time, and if he keeps going on at this rate, he’ll have that title swiftly removed. His performance is stiff at best, and completely immobile at worst – there’s nothing going on in his characters head, and even his attempts to make the character brashly charismatic fall flat because he seems utterly unable to do anything with such a poorly developed role. It would seem to me that he’s an actor circling the drain – but all he needs is a rescue line in the form of a great director and a great script to give him one last hurrah.
Faring slightly better is Al Pacino, at least bringing some anima and zest to the otherwise one-dimensional, fawn-eyed Rooster. He also manages to develop some pleasing chemistry with Wahlberg and Leguizamo, the three wisecracking to each-other in perhaps the movies sole redeeming sequence – a stake-out where they try to catch Turk in the supposed act of his fourteenth murder. The latter two themselves do well, displaying an easy camaraderie that could seemingly only come from years working together. Elsewhere, the gorgeous Carla Gugino struggles with a character completely peripheral to the main story – ‘t’would seem she’s this film’s wonderbra bearer and little more. And good ol' Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson once agains proves that he should stick to talking over music in rhyming couplets - that's rapping for the layman - because acting is clearly not his forte.
But the film’s final – and fatal – mistake is to try to homage the final sequences of Heat. To explain myself fully would be to spoil the story for those of you still interested in going to see it, but suffice to say that instead of being an homage, it’s offensively derivative, to the point where I honestly considered storming out of the cinema. This is not the promised second coming – instead we are presented with a turgid, poorly paced police thriller with no surprises other than the indictment of a once great actor’s recent poor form. Avoid, unless you want to leave the theatre with a rather foul taste in your mouth.
Last edited by Jayk; 30-09-2008 at 16:44.
Eagle Eye (2008, D.J. Caruso)
How D.J. Caruso’s Eagle Eye was able, or even keen to elude the “Summer blockbuster” window is anyone’s guess, for it is as untowardly showy as any work to hit our screens this Summer. Moreover, in keeping with the unfortunate tradition of many of those films, Eagle Eye is, for all of its visual effects and overblown set pieces, a narratively stodgy action thriller.
The second that protagonist Jerry Shaw (Shia LaBeouf) appears on the screen, so do the clichés – his character is down on his luck, and we are very hastily asked to feel sorry for him at a stage in the film where it is impossible to know anything substantial about him as a person, and thus feel any empathy to his numerous troubles. Needless to say, the bathetic attempt at character development does not resonate. At all.
Subtlety is not expected in a film like this, and fortunately, it works to the film’s strengths – it doesn’t take too long before Shaw is thrown into a wild situation in which he is framed for conspiring to commit a terrorist act, and is hauled in by the FBI. To stir the pot further, Shaw receives a warning phone call mere seconds before he is apprehended from a strangely prescient woman who ultimately saves Shaw from several big scrapes throughout the film. Thus, one must award Eagle Eye some points for intrigue – plenty is layered on, but regrettably, without much satisfying exposition at all.
For such a flimsily constructed film, Eagle Eye sports an impressive cast, both in regard to star power and acting chops. LaBeouf makes a surprisingly convincing action hero, given his youthful appearance, although this is perhaps to the foil of the chemistry between himself and romantic interest Michelle Monaghan, who plays a single mother caught between the gunfire and explosions. Meanwhile, Billy Bob Thornton makes an ever-welcome appearance as a delightfully clichéd FBI agent, and Rosario Dawson and Michael Chiklis provide adequate supporting turns.
The cast are, however, forced to contend with a script that is impossibly convoluted, in essence resembling the establishing scenes of The Matrix, yet setting them in a world that is so clearly intend to reflect our own. Moreover, the success of the narrative relies on so much coincidence and artifice that it creates a profound distancing effect toward the viewer.
This is all the more a shame considering D.J. Caruso’s solid action direction, the invariable highlight of the film. Caruso has a talent for crafting intense and kinetic action scenes – it’s just a shame that his talents aren’t lent to something more substantial.
Unfortunately, not even Caruso’s deft directorial hand can salvage a film that is fatally imbued with a laundry list of contrivances, waltzing into unintentional amusement by the half-way mark, namely as a man is spontaneously combusted by a fleet of strategically placed and implemented power cables.
From here, things only get worse – Monaghan and LaBeouf’s characters become certifiable badasses in the blink of an eye, and by this stage, believing Looney Tunes is a markedly more reasonable expectation than the helplessly, shamelessly ridiculous plot of Eagle Eye.
Not entirely empty-headed, Eagle Eye raises the same concerns of privacy and “big brother” that better films have, although adds little to this debate. At least in examining the passive danger of social networking sites, however, it is better suited to our time than films of decades past.
Once the third act begins, any morsel of gritty realism is well and truly expunged by a stultifying chase between a plane and a car that takes place inside a tunnel, as well as some elements borrowed from science-fiction fare that don’t do this purported political thriller many favours.
Eagle Eye is not a terrible film, simply a deeply flawed one, replete with shameless liftings from the likes of The Matrix and Enemy of the State. Not only content to be derivative, Caruso’s film also buckles under a narrative that does not play by its own rules – it establishes a realistic locale in which people have debt, family members die, and people are mourned, and then usurps this with barely a believable moment after the first act. The action crowd may find some visceral delight in the ridiculous action scenes (my favourite of which involves a plane blowing a big rig to smithereens), yet these scenes can be said to undercut and suffocate the film’s very real indictment of the powers that be and our individual lack of privacy. The film’s screenplay has a real voice, but you’d be hard-pressed to hear it over all of the explosions and contorting metal.
Nevertheless, Caruso has not necessarily done himself a huge disservice – there is plenty of unintentional comedy to derive from Eagle Eye, and it is as well-directed and well-performed a piece of schlocky entertainment as you are likely to find.
Last edited by asdasta; 21-10-2008 at 23:45.
Quantum of Solace, (2008, Marc Forster)
Is it unfair to judge a Bond film on the title music? Because if so, then I could well deliver a very harsh judgement upon Quantum of Solace. But I like to think I'm marginally more 'professional' than that, and despite the fact that it makes a poor impression of itself with the ridiculously overwrought title sequence - coupled with that music, of all things - it does at least attempt to redeem itself.
The story is a direct continuation of Casino Royale - Bond's got Mr White, the man he kneecapped at the end of the previous movie, in the trunk of his car and he manages to get him somewhere where he can interrogated. The information discovered sets Bond on the trail of the mysterious organisation Quantum and the enigmatic Dominic Greene. Along the way, he joins forces with Camille, a mysterious and beautiful woman who's more than her first impressions might give away.
And the story connection isn't the only thing from Casino Royale that this latest Bond movie takes advantage of - it also rides in on an absolutely incredible wave of hype thanks to Casino Royale's enormously successful reboot of the venerable franchise. But the problem is, no matter where you lay the blame - QoS not being good enough, CR being far too good - the fact of the matter is that after the high of Casino, Quantum simply fails to deliver...enough.
And in all honesty, the problem is the director. Marc Forster simply isn't an action director, and if it isn't obvious in Quantum of Solace, then it's not obvious at all. Where most action movies have maybe a 60% 'hit rate' - that 'wow that was awesome' factor - QoS scores maybe 33%, with only 3 out of the many action beats bringing real satisfaction. The first, the pulse-pounding opening car chase, is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of vehicular carnage. It's not up there with the greatest car chases of all time, but judged on its own merits, it comes out shining. A rooftop chase through Siena, Italy was pretty difficult to screw up, and the supposed balletic climax that the trailer implied is neatly and enjoyably tossed out the window in favour of a far more amusing and interesting finish. Finally, there's a boat chase which, whilst borrowing heavily from the likes of Face/Off and Indiana Jones, still comes out the other end better for it.
But then there are the other, slightly less engaging ones, and this is where it becomes clear that Forster was riding his luck, and barely got away with it. One in particular is bizarrely intercut with a performance of Tosca for seemingly no reason. If there's dramatic significance to it, it's completely lost on me but even if it weren't, it distracts from what could otherwise be a wonderfully choreographed piece of action, and at the end of the day, that's what Bond movies are - action movies. The finale, too, is simply too pacily edited to keep up with what's going on - taking a page from the Peter Berg school of climax film-making by trying to stitch two entirely separate pieces of action together in one scene. Instead of making us care about both, it instead means that there's absolutely no focus, and thus when we should be caring about one, we’re instead wondering what’s going on in the other part.
It's particularly unfortunate that elsewhere, Forster's direction genuinely shines - because the drama portions are wonderfully staged. Daniel Craig delivers another broody and layered performance for Bond, wonderfully evolving the character to keep up with the progression of the story. Olga Kurylenko completely undermines her terrible performance in the abomination that was the Hitman movie adaptation to bring a tough and genuinely likeable Bond girl that is far more than just a pair of legs in a Little Black Dress. Judi Dench throws in a decent, albeit underused performance for M, with the woman looking genuinely hard-pressed to deal with the political fallout that Bond's roguish actions produce.
Forster weaves all of the characters and the story together wonderful, which makes the bum notes in the action sequences all the more disappointing. Had he allowed someone competent in their own right to take charge of the second unit - as Danny Boyle did for 28 Weeks Later - then perhaps better action sequences could've been produced. As it stands, they're bum notes in what could've otherwise been a really rather great movie.
At the end of the day, there's still enough here to like that you can't instantly dismiss Quantum of Solace, and if Casino Royale weren't the great film that it is, then this may well have made a better impression on me. But as the franchise stands at the moment, the very first true Bond sequel adheres to the oft broken rule of sequels - the second one is always inferior.
Last edited by Jayk; 04-11-2008 at 16:52.
Quantum of Solace (2008, Marc Forster)
Quantum of Solace, the 22nd James Bond film, is the first verifiable sequel entry into the Bond canon, hot off the heels of the hugely successful, highly refreshing dose that was Martin Campbell’s Casino Royale. Campbell introduced us to a less-polished, edgier, more psychologically complex Bond, and taking the reins for the second ride is Marc Forster, helmer of Oscar darlings Monsters Ball and Finding Neverland.
Catching the hayride for a sequel is never an easy task, yet in considering that Casino Royale is held by many to be Bond’s best outing, Forster’s challenge is daunting at best. Quantum of Solace is a curiosity in many respects, not only for its 106-minute running time (making it the shortest Bond film), but for its adherence to many of the maligned and tired tropes of previous Bond films, although still managing to deliver enough thrills to entertain. Simply, Quantum of Solace is a disappointing follow-up to Casino Royale, but this is hardly surprising, or terribly detrimental.
From the opening minute, Solace is action-packed and frenetically paced, taking little time for a breather in its first half. From a car chase, to a run-and-gun pursuit, to a speedboat chase (among many more), Bond (Daniel Craig) causes bedlam in over half a dozen countries in well under two hours, yet the whole affair can’t help but feel rather empty. Well-staged as the numerous chases are, Forster feels a tad lost in the shuffle, doubtless better suited to painstaking and contemplative dramatic pieces. There are numerous instances where Forster fails to focus fully on the action as he should, causing disorientation tantamount to the (comparatively unwarranted) criticism leveled against Paul Greengrass in the latter two Bourne films.
Bond’s downtime is as minimal as possible in Solace, causing him to appear as little more than a blue-eyed Superman at times, particularly as Forster rarely lingers on any infliction of injury (contrary to Campbell’s attempts previously). Bond is dealt (and deals) far more punishment in Solace than in Royale, yet Forster never resolutely capitulates this reality, instead content to push the picture along at a daunting pace, in which Bond is considerably harder to identify with than he was in Royale.
This is not to say that Solace is a poor film, because as an action film, it works far more than it does not. Aforementioned complaints considered, Marc Forster has an eye for the picturesque and the vibrant, and even in the action scenes, there are shots of commendable ingenuity (namely as Bond and an assailant are sent crashing through a glass roof). Furthermore, Solace relies largely on organic action and stunt work, making sparing use of CGI. Thus, as a sequence of glorious set pieces, Quantum of Solace is certainly an austere action picture, although marred by a disinteresting accompanying narrative.
Bond’s quest to avenge the death of lover Vesper Lynd takes a back seat to a middling and rudimentary villain, Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), who seeks to stage a coup in Bolivia for his own mysterious means. One must commend Marc Forster for opting not to adorn Greene with any grotesqueries (a crime that even Royale is guilty of), yet Amalric’s character is neither menacing nor particularly intriguing in any way. We realise his interests soon into the film, and beyond that, there is little complex or remotely unique about him, all the more the shame for Amalric, who performed so well in last year’s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and deserves better.
It seems to be recurrent throughout Solace that the cast give their best efforts, yet their characters are either undeveloped or simply left to percolate without anything to galvanise them into action. The Bond girls, Gemma Arterton and Olga Kurylenko, cement this perfectly – Kurylenko’s character parallels Bond in the most routine of means, in also looking to avenge a loved one, and it’s difficult to see what purpose Arterton’s “Fields” character serves at all.
As hard as the supporting cast try, kudos must be meted out in greatest measure to Daniel Craig, who remains the most pronounced constant carrying over from Royale. Craig’s steely screen presence and snappy delivery mitigate the thug-like brutality of Bond, making his cause, in spite of all of its disproportionate destruction, something one can root for.
At its conclusion, Solace feels like the difficult middle entry into a trilogy – it is eager to prove its worthiness as a sequel, yet remains compelled not to give enough away for the sake of what is to follow. Solace, at times, does not feel like a Bond film, but more a robust Summer action picture – it is Craig who gives the film much-needed gravitas, and Forster’s coverage, whilst occasionally hampered, is mostly solid and commendable for a director so seemingly out of his depth. Although expectedly failing to meet the highs of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace is higher-minded than most action pictures, features stellar performances (from Craig in particular), and given the film’s break-neck pace, it is certain to say that you will not be bored.
Last edited by asdasta; 04-11-2008 at 16:20.