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The last “man” on earth: WALL-E.

More Human Than Human

By Laura Leon

WALL-E

Directed by Andrew Stanton

Merging the seemingly disparate sensibilities and visual styles of futuristic sci-fi flicks such as Alien with Nick Park’s whimsical approach in the animated Wallace & Gromit: A Grand Day Out might at first seem like a strange, if not altogether bad, idea. However, the brains behind Pixar’s new movie WALL-E have nailed it in such a way as to intertwine a lyrical love story with a dire warning about global warming. Bonus points: This movie doesn’t feature tap-dancing penguins.

At some future date, all of Earth’s inhabitants have taken refuge in a starship outfitted with every possible luxury, all attainable by the mere push of a button. Needless to say, all of Earth’s inhabitants have gotten extremely fat and useless (which begs the question of why the starship has so many adorable, if too chubby, babies, but I digress). Robots and computers keep everything and everyone running smoothly, including the captain (Jeff Garlin), who requires their assistance just to haul his heft out of bed.

Meanwhile, back on the mother planet, a sole occupant remains busily occupied; Waste Allocation Load Lifter-Earth Class, or WALL-E, assisted only by his trusty cockroach pal, spends his days hauling the mountains of trash left behind and converting them into compact cubes, which then become the basis for enormous skyscraper-type structures. At night, in the shelter of a metal trailer, he mulls over his collection of artifacts (Rubik cubes, etc.) and enjoys grainy rewinds of Hello, Dolly! The monotony of such an existence is permanently altered when a research probe from the starship, Eve (Elissa Knight), lands in search of signs of intelligent life. What follows is the burgeoning of a lovely romance that evokes the best Chaplin or Keaton silent-screen moments, made even more memorable by Pixar’s seemingly impossible accomplishment of making two non-humans, one a rusty, hard-angled robot and the other resembling the latest ladies’ electric shaver, eloquent and empathetic. As with Chaplin or Keaton, WALL-E is the slower, less worldly of the two, whereas Eve is a cool sophisticate, preferring to maintain a Garbo-like allure unless, if surprised, she’s forced to use her laser gun.

When Eve returns to the ship, she’s carrying a “contaminant,” a green plant WALL-E had given her. The captain, with such evidence of sustainability, determines to adjust course and return, but the robots will have none of it. When a desperate but determined WALL-E finds a way to follow Eve, the two endeavor to stay together despite the odds. Meanwhile, as in all good sci-fi, some of the starship inmates, namely John (John Ratzenberger) and Mary (Kathy Najimy), come out of their mindless existences just long enough to connect, to note that they’ve been pod people for too long, and to assist the captain in his quest for human mastery of machines. Sounds lofty and possibly yawn-inducing, but somehow, screenwriters Stanton and Jim Capobianco give this largely gloomy story a positive spark, and imbue its human characters with the chance for redemption.

WALL-E does a superior job of depicting the collapse of a civilization, through mindless intakes of entertainment news, empty calories, new gizmos and utter lack of will and commitment. The starship is like a supersized Wal-Mart, only in this case, it’s the conglomerate B&L, or Buy’nLarge; interestingly, much of the refuse and remaining structures that remain back on Earth are B&L as well. The earthscape that WALL-E, and later Eve, scoot around is an otherworldly yellow, with lots of dust, battered metals and crumbling concrete. The emptiness is palpable, but it’s ironically similar to the emptiness of the way-too- colorful, automated starship.

In either case, it’s clear that people have the power to make what they will of technology and new inventions, and, by extension, their byproducts. There’s a telling moment, early on, when Wall-E sifts through his souvenirs. For all the junk that abounds on the shelves, in our closets, in the airspace and on the web, there exists brilliance, innovation and just plain fun. Both WALL-E and Eve are the most obvious examples of the benefits of technology, so it is befitting that the two assist the captain in his efforts to salvage his and his passengers’ humanity. I went into WALL-E expecting not to like it, as I generally don’t like science fiction (nor do I find robotic anythings particularly endearing), but I came out impressed with an unexpected sense of wonder, possibility, and most of all, hope.

Hero, Schmero

Wanted

Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

In spite of itself, Night Watch director Timur Bekmambetov’s kill-a-minute actioner Wanted is ridiculously entertaining. The “in spite of itself” part is the film’s story, a comic-book mythology that is among the stupidest fucking things I’ve ever encountered in any kind of fiction. It’s something about medieval weavers finding binary code in the fabric produced by a magic loom, and how they pass the secret of this heavy wisdom down through the centuries to a league of assassins led by Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie.

Whatever.

What it’s really about is a nerdy office drone named Wesley (James McAvoy), and his violent, bone-crunching journey from being a slave to TPS reports to his true self—an assassin. (Don’t let the ads fool you: McAvoy is the star of the picture, not Jolie. She has almost as little dialogue as the title character in WALL-E.) He’s so uptight, so repressed, that psychic self-suffocation has made him stupid. Naturally, the task of transforming him from quivery wreck to cool-eyed, quasi-mystical superkiller—a task entrusted, of course, to the enigmatic assassin Fox (Jolie)—is unpleasant.

It’s this unpleasantness that makes the film work, however. A physical and mental price must be paid to free oneself from this level of repression, and Wesley pays it. Scotsman McAvoy, best known for his showy performances in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement, plays an office-bound American loser so well, one would think he’d really grown up in some cul-de-sac nightmare of a suburb, flat accent and all.

This palpable sense of pain balances the absurdity of the ho-hum, seen-it-all-before special effects and endless CGI phoniness.

Among the cast, Jolie is good; Freeman is a little better. Terrance Stamp turns up as a Moravian monk, and has more dignity than the entire picture.

The story may be dumb, but the screenwriters do a nice job of tying everything together. (And, of course, setting things up for a sequel.) It’s deeply silly stuff—but you’ll probably enjoy it as much as I did.

—Shawn Stone


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