Saturday, June 28, 2008


To sum up my reaction to Pixar's WALL-E in one word: "astonishment."

I am astonished not only at the beauty and craftsmanship of WALL-E as a film, but at the very fact that such a narrative would unspool on the heels of the Walt Disney Pictures logo. Though the film is certainly appropriate for young audiences, and the children in the theater when I saw the film seemed transfixed enough, this is a piece of genuine, mature science-fiction, with all the attending Big Ideas and Complex Themes associated with that tradition. With this movie, Pixar completely steps outside of the realm of "family entertainment" to create something that is not only entertaining, whimsical and cute but also provocative and vital. It could very well end up being the year's best film.

Think I'm overstating the case here? WALL-E opens on a dystopian future Earth where all the humans have vanished and everything's coated in a thick layer of trash and grime, most of it bearing the logo of the Buy 'N Large Corporation. That's got to be a first in the Disney canon, right? Apocalyptic visions of the future in which rampant consumerism has somehow led to the end of human life on Earth?

A plucky, self-aware robot named WALL-E wanders around this hellscape picking up crash and crushing it into neat blocks. He does not speak. His only friends are a cockroach, the only living thing that seems to have survived the calamity, and the trinkets, remnants of human civilization, he finds during his travels.

Things change for WALL-E when he falls in love with another robot, EVE, who has flown to Earth on some kind of intergalactic mission. It's a tentative romance: neither WALL-E nor EVE have lips, nor can they speak, which can complicate such matters.

And it's about at this point that the tightrope Pixar is walking comes into clear relief...This is a complex love story about two robots, told without any dialogue. For pretty much the film's first half, the storytelling is entirely visual, pure animation. These characters are brought to life with such clarity, even their tiny gestures carry meaning and move the story forward.

Typically, when I hear people praise Pixar's animation, it's because of the gorgeous, eerily realistic, colorful worlds in which their stories take place. The bustling Scream Factory of Monsters, Inc., or the Paris of Ratatouille, or the scenic desert vistas of Cars. WALL-E certainly carries on this tradition.

After the film, we were discussing how accurately the animators managed to covey weightlessness when the characters are in space. All of the film's environments have been rendered in lush detail, from the brown, sand-coated Earth to the sleek, immaculate interiors of the Axiom Spacecraft. In a particularly nice touch, ancient live-action footage of the Big 'N Large CEO (played by a perfectly-chosen comic actor) urging you to shop till you drop plays on video screens in the background on Earth.

But beyond all the majesty of the settings, WALL-E works as well as it does because of the character animation. I'd say the work done here on WALL-E himself, the way his camera lens eyes constantly focus and refocus to take everything in, the way his neck extends slightly when he feels encouraged, his slight mechanized klutziness, more closely resembles the classic era of Disney Animation than anything the studio has released in my lifetime.

But WALL-E has more emotional resonance and adroit social commentary than many of Disney's animated classics (not all, but some), which sometimes used brilliant animation in the service of disposable fairy tale retreads. It's nothing less than a movie about the human race and its place on this planet, how the choices we're making right now about the way we live impact both ourselves and our environment. Plus it stars the voice of Jeff Garlin. Oh, just go see it already...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The REAL Love Guru

Dmitri, you are my hero. Most of us would not dream of calling an attractive woman who had just given us her number and telling her to look up the meaning of the term "passive aggressive." But that's because we're not the Mack of the Century.

[Link via D'Emilio]

Sunday, June 22, 2008

RIP George Carlin

I know he was pretty old, and lived an amazing, full life, so this isn't really a tragedy, per se, but I'm seriously bummed about the loss of George Carlin today to heart failure. I think you could pretty easily make the case that Carlin's the greatest single stand-up comedian of all time.

No point in trying to sum up this guy's career and impact in a single blog post, so I'm just going to leave you with one of my favorite of his routines...The "stupid, full of shit, nuts" routine:

I had the pleasure of seeing Carlin perform a few times in person, including a classic "Tonight Show" performance back during my UCLA days. The man was a genius. He'll be missed.

The Dream Police

Okay, some background: I'm trying to write something about a guy trying to remember his earliest memory. So, in order to capture the realism, which is what writers do, I'm myself trying to discern my earliest memories...

I know one, probably the earliest. When I was about 4 (which would make this the summer of 19831982, I believe), I think my mother may have even been pregnant with my brother at the time, we took a trip from our home in Pennsylvania to California. We stayed at this complex in Burbank right across from an office building that had the General Lee from "Dukes of Hazard" mounted on the roof. You could, like, see this car on the top of this building from the street. And obviously, it made an impression on me, because I remember how this thing looked all these years later.

I think tonight I may have just isolated my next-earliest memory. I recall distinctly riding to school in a neighbor's car, leaning my head against the window, while The Police's "King of Pain" was playing on the radio. Because the song a single from the 1983 Synchronicity album, which would correlate neatly with the era in which I would have carpooled with this neighbor to school, I'm thinking that puts me at roughly 4-5 years old.

It's just weird how certain little things like smells or sounds can trigger these kinds of peculiar, random memories. I'm pretty sure there was nothing significant about that ride to school when this song came on. I mean, it's kind of a creepy song, maybe it spooked me a bit.

(I also recall a time, probably when I was more like 6 or 7, when I was lying in bed with the radio on - because I liked the radio on while I fell asleep when I was a kid - and I got really creeped out because fucking "Thriller" came on, and it had that part with Vincent Price cackling. Man, 6-year-old me was such a wuss...)

While we're on the subject of "King of Pain," every lyrics site on the Internet says that Sting is singing:

There's a skeleton choking on a crust of bread

But it sounds nothing like that in the song. It's like, "There's a skeleton...choking on a crux bray!" Or something.