in the wasteland: 9.
of the Post-Apocalyptic Dolls
by Shane Acker
who is made of burlap, has a zipper on his chest and a powerful
object inside, though he doesn’t know it until 2 pulls it
out of him. 9 (voice by Elijah Wood) and 2 (voice by Martin
Landau) are rag dolls stitched into life by a scientist in
the last days before a machine-made apocalypse. The (animated)
world the dolls inhabit is a vast metal junkyard covered in
a brownish haze; organic life has been exterminated, but scrap-metal
monsters roam under the command of an unseen intelligence.
Before 9 can fully understand his environment, feisty 2 is
abducted by a mechanized predator that hunts the dolls with
one infrared-like eye and one floodlight-like eye. As 9 finds
out, 2 was acting as a scout for a tribe of dolls under the
leadership of 1 (Christopher Plummer), a wizened elder who
keeps the tribe safe by avoiding “the Beast” at all costs.
1 philosophically refuses 9’s request to rescue 2, and 9’s
questions, such as “Why does the Beast hunt us?” are silenced
by 1’s enforcer, a much larger but cottony doll who brandishes
a butcher knife.
Directed by Shane Acker with a flair for pacing, 9
is Burton-esque (as in co-producer Tim Burton) in the best
sense: The film has a nightmarish sensibility that swerves
between gentle humor and unexpected scares, such as the creepy,
caterpillar-like decoy that sucks its prey into its hidden
intestines. The dolls and the monsters are believably living
and breathing, despite their outlandishly inorganic components,
and every tableau is a dank, clanking, wonderland of Orwellian
ingenuity. One doll finds refuge from the heavy metal landscape
in a stony enclave containing a statuary garden, and later,
twin dolls come to the rescue with their salvaged archives
of old manuscripts (providing another foray into simplified
but enjoyable debates on the nature of the origins of their
At its least original, 9 recalls both The Terminator
and The Tale of Despereaux (one doll uses sewing needles
for spears). The script (expanded by Corpse Bride co-writer
Pamela Pettler from Acker’s story) revolves around a creation
myth that holds few surprises. It’s the inventive art direction,
though, instead of the plot that gives every peril a rollicking
energy—especially after the arrival of adventurous warrior
7 (Jennifer Connolly).
Made of suede, burlap, linen, and implements from some long-ago
sewing circle, the dolls, with their curio visuals and curious
personalities, enliven the film through its murkiest turns
of metaphysical mayhem.
by Nicholas Jasenovec
Chances are that if you have any interest at all in seeing
Paper Heart, you will be prepared for an above-average
dose of twee. Michael Cera almost qualifies as a separate
category of MPAA rating by now. And the hallmarks of his work—equal
parts dry wit, precociousness and naivete—certainly inform
Paper Heart. But, though he is the “hot property” in
the flick, Paper Heart isn’t really a Cera vehicle.
This is co-star (and the movie’s co-writer) Charlyne Yi’s
story, and the movie—for better and worse—takes its shape
and feel primarily from her.
L.A.-based comedian and musician Yi plays L.A.-based comedian
and musician Charlyne Yi, a young woman more bemused than
beaten by love. She claims never to have experienced the emotion,
to the extent that she wonders if she might be biochemically
different from average folk. To investigate, she enlists filmmaker
friend Nicholas Jasenovec (Paper Heart’s actual director,
though portrayed here by actor Jake Johnson) to create a documentary
about her search for the definition of love.
Along with a cameraman, they visit a small handful of middle-American
locations, interviewing couples about their experiences of
love and romantic union, as well as discussing with scientists
the evolutionary functions of attraction and pair-partnering.
These unscripted interviews are innocently amusing (to the
varying extent that the people interviewed are), and serve
mainly to highlight the impossibility of empirically educating
one who is not in love as to what it is, or feels like.
Into this documentary, the filmmakers insert a scripted love
story, with Cera (playing Michael Cera) as the pursuer. The
appeal of this plotline will depend on one’s tolerance for
that actor’s style of bantering awkwardness, doubled—and then
some. Yi’s disconnect from the experience of love is believable,
given her presexual childishness. But, though it provides
several endearing and genuinely funny moments, it grows bland
and nearly cloying.
In keeping with the premise, Paper Heart lacks big
passionate moments. And, to one way of looking at it, that’s
admirable restraint. But, on the other hand, the combination
of the distancing mockumentary/documentary device, the use
of puppetry to illustrate intense experiences recalled by
the interviewees, and the actors’ convincingly tentative and
insecure performances makes for a noticeably neutered experience.
Even the children interviewed on an Atlanta playground evince
a greater spark and delightfully confused joie d’amour than
Heart is a witty and well- written movie, with its share
of amusing moments. But like its lead—despite her claim, “I
am a dude”—it’s got no balls.