30 June 2008

Mooney at the Movies: WALL·E

"Can I just have one more moondance with you, my love?" (Disney/Pixar)


Starring the voices of Ben Burtt, Elissa Knight, Jeff Garlin
Written and directed by Andrew Stanton

Animated films can do a lot of things. They can cause laughter, wonderment, and inspiration. In some rare cases, they do all three. But as many times as Pixar has scored that hat trick over the last 13 years, this is the first time that animation can be considered not only great film, but great art in any medium.

And that's precisely why this Pixar outing is so risky. They've done talking toys, monsters, fish, cars, and rats, but now Stanton (who directed Finding Nemo) is tackling robots, but without the talking. Yes, for the first half hour or so, this is as close to a silent movie as we'll probably ever get. Luckily, the character of WALL·E (that's Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class to be exact) is as delightful and cheery as Chaplin and Keaton.

In the smog-filled trash heap that the earth has become in the distant future (well, only 100 years), WALL·E collects and compacts trash, then stacks it in skyscraper-high piles. When he finds something that catches his eye (like a brassiere or lighter), he collects it in his ever-expanding, well-organized junk pile. And so day after day he follows his routine until the Mac-white angel known as EVE (that's Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator to be specific) lands on a mission to well, her name explains itself. When she's retrieved, it's up to WALL·E to win her back. And this is where WALL·E really takes off, no pun intended.

The gorgeous interstellar backgrounds that whir by as WALL·E and EVE make their way to Axiom, the Carnival Cruise-like ship holding Earth's population until it's declared inhabitable again, are absolutely breathtaking. Truly, no animation has been this completely perfect. Ever. I also don't think I've been as raptured in the story of a Pixar film than I was here. Previously, while the screenplays have snapped, crackled, and, popped, but you kinda knew where the stories were headed. Here, you're simply mesmerized.

And speaking of that screenplay, Andrew Stanton's got some points he'd like to make. Luckily, he doesn't use his fantastic story as simply a soapbox (sorry, Glenn Beck) for green issues and social commentary on the gluttonous road America is headed down. But even for a Disney film, his burning issues aren't glossed over. It's just the right mix of message and story.

There's not a thing about WALL·E that doesn't work. It's simply magnificent. Will it go down as Pixar's finest creation? Only time will tell, but for now it's hands down the best feature film of 2008 so far.

Mooney at the Movies: Wanted

Jolie leans with it, rocks with it. (Universal)

Wanted (C-)

Starring James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman
Written by Michael Brandt & Derek Haas and Chris Morgan (based on the comic book series by Mark Millar)
Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

You've probably seen the trailers for Wanted and gone "Whoa." But you're in for a bit of bad news: you won't say that many more times once you get to the theater. For all its mind-blowing stunts, Wanted should be more aptly titled Wanting, as in Wanting More.

You will want more out of this stellar cast. Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie have both won Oscars, but they completely sleepwalk through their roles. And James McAvoy, so gripping in last year's Atonement, whines and drifts throughout the first 30 minutes or so. You won't necessarily want more action, but you will want them to not show their entire hand so early in commercials and previews. It really takes the thrill out of this thriller when you've already seen EVERY awesome scene. And boy will you want more out of those scenes that don't involve a bullet going completely through someone's head. The dialogue either serves the plot in its constant, dry explanations about plot devices like curved bullets and the Loom of Fate from the Narrator himself Morgan Freeman. Or it's a clunky soliloquy straight from Fight Club's anarchist worldview.

But that's where the classic Fight Club and this film part ways. Sure, it wants to have it both ways: rail against the horrors of consumerism while at the same time declaring that happiness is a warm gun that shoots untraceable bullets. Basically, cubicle dweller Wesley Gibson (McAvoy) barely stays awake through his account management reports until he's rescued by Fox (Jolie) and gets recruited until he gets recruited into the Fraternity (a 1000-year old brotherhood--plus Angelina--of assassins).

And what would an action movie be without a reluctant hero? McAvoy continually tries to duck out of his "destiny" despite the constant pressure to join up and experience the Most Awesome Thing Ever. But alas, he decides to get all philosophical and wonders if it's right to dispose of wasteful, murderous cheaters. "Kill one, save a thousand," Jolie responds. And thus everything is tied up with a neat, blood-red bow and the killing spree begins.

But if this was only a killing spree, then Wanted would be more pointless than it already is. So, we get a big and unexpected twist. And while it's better than your average for a summer action flick, the writers, veterans of the Fast and the Furious franchise, use it only to serve up more killing. And while it's stylish, it's not exactly original. Sorry, Bekmambetov, the Wachowskis did all this only better almost a decade ago.

Basically, this is a movie that wants to be crazy-sexy-cool, but doesn't get all three parts. The Russian director behind this madness may one day impress us, he just needs to make sure the marketers don't show all the tricks up his sleeve to soon.

25 June 2008

Mooney at the Movies: Get Smart

Agents 86 and 99 aren't amused, but you will be. (Warner Bros.)

Get Smart (B)

Starring Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway, Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, Terence Stamp
Written by Tom J. Astle & Matt Ember (based on characters created by Mel Brooks & Buck Henry)
Directed by Peter Segal

When it comes to taking TV series to the big screen, sometimes you get a Fugitive, sometimes you get a Dukes of Hazzard. Fortunately, this is closer to Richard Kimball than the Duke boys. Still, you'll get the feeling they missed being great by this much.

So let's start with the good. First, no one could have filled Don Adams' telephone shoes better than the brilliantly deadpan Steve Carell, and he plays the role with gusto. Whether dancing with a, how shall I put this delicately, robust woman, or getting harpooned in the face, Carell's giving it all, which, come to think of it, he does with every role, good or bad. In fact, few actors have a shred of the comic timing he possesses.

Secondly, Carell and Hathaway (an actress I've always wished would invest in a higher class of pictures) play off each other very well. They won't go down as one of the all-time great duos, but it's certainly better than expected. Their chemistry is well-played; not every laugh is obvious, occasionally, the writers make you work for your laughs, which is surprising considering their, um, accomplished resumé.

Third of all, and this is surprising, it's squeaky-clean (well, aside from a tired gay joke). The action's a little intense for some younger viewers, but the fact that all involved didn't take the opportunity to stuff Get Smart full of double entendres is exciting, proving that foul language and tawdry jokes don't have to pervade every live action comedy that comes along.

But it doesn't all work so well. Alan Arkin and Dwayne Johnson, so great in their last comedic roles, are pretty much wasted here and the cameos are hit or miss. Also, the barrage of explosions and fight scenes want you to believe this as an action flick, but it really can't have it both ways. Not with the B-list talent behind the camera, unfortunately.

Overall, though, this is a highly enjoyable comedy with plenty of quotable lines and good sight gags. It's probably the funniest movie we'll get this summer. So if they continue to make a series of films out of this, well then that might just be OK, too.