Domo Ariagato, Mr. Roboto

I'll tell you right off the bat what I like about Pixar - whilst all the other CGI animation houses out there (as if there's any other kind anymore) are busy cranking out one Talking Animal Picture after another, those fine Emeryvillains just keep trying new things. I wasn't the biggest fan of Cars, but it had the virtue of being something different. And while, yes, last year's Ratatouille did, indeed, feature talking animals, you have to admit that it was a Talking Animal Picture of a very unconventional sort. While the other studios are busy with crap like Kung Fu Panda and Space Chimps, Pixar's out there taking risks. I mean, you've got a lot of virtuoso filmmaking to do if you want to make the idea of rats in a kitchen appealing rather than repulsive. But on the other hand, you can make an animated rat pretty cute, and the target audience - kids - have a pretty natural empathy with animals (thus, the glut of T.A.P.s, but I digress). So it's a risk, but not necessarily a huge one. On the other hand...

Let's say you're pitching a movie, and you're not Pixar, and the chief of the studio you're pitching to isn't John Lasseter. So you say, "Okay, the basic idea of the movie is that it's about a robot left behind on Earth to clean up after the human race has turned the whole planet into a landfill and abandoned it, and the robot is lonely until a girl robot comes along - and before you ask, no she's not a sexy humanoid-ish kind of robot with rivets on her ro-boobs where the nipples would be, she's kind of just a flying egg with wings. Anyway, the clean-up robot is obsessed with a Barbara Streisand musical, but he's straight anyway, and he falls in love with the flying egg girl robot. There's almost no dialogue in the movie, the only songs are going to be from that aforementioned Barbara Streisand musical, and the whole thing is pretty much a satirical take on modern consumer culture. Whaddaya think, boss?"

Few studios would go for it, I think - the pitch doesn't exactly scream "big summertime commerical hit." But the Pixar crew loves taking risks, and thus, WALL-E.

Roger Ebert has a short list of movies he describes as out-of-body experiences. The theater disappears, the smell of popcorn fades and the rest of the audience vanishes. The movie is real, and happening, and the real world doesn't exist for the duration of the movie's running time. WALL-E worked like that for me. The sneak preview crowd, noisy and filled with children raised on home video who have no understanding of the manners of going to a movie as it was, simply vanished, and the world the movie created was the only one that existed for 90 minutes or so.

The movie drew me in instantly, with a beautiful starscape and the opening lines of "Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from the 1969 film version of Hello, Dolly! I laughed, amused by the odd musical choice. Within moments, though, I understood it, as it became clear that this was not merely soundtrack but source music. WALL-E is listening to it as he works, creating tiny cubes of garbage and stacking them into enormous, horrifying and yet oddly beautiful towers, each the same size as the skyscrapers in the inundated city in which he works.

It is after the arrival of EVE - the flying egg girl robot - and her subsequent departure back to the mother ship (followed by WALL-E) that the movie really kicks into high gear. Wall-E encounters the remnants of humanity aboard the Axiom, in which the species originally fled from their own mess, and what a sorry lot we've become. People are shapeless, blubbery masses, drifting around the ship on floating chaise lounges, communicating exclusively through video screens, accomplishing everything they do by pushing buttons that activate robots, and consuming all sustenance through a straw ("Don't forget to get your complimentary cupcake in a cup," the captain announces in commemoration of the 700th anniversary of the 5-year cruise). Everywhere the passengers look (if they glance up from their video screens), they are surrounded by advertising. The job of the ship's captain is primarily to listen to the ship's computer's daily status report and make the daily announcements to the passengers.

Every moment of this movie is simply beautiful to behold. Pixar's movies have always been visual delights, but here, they've completely outdone themselves. Every corner of every frame contains something to look at. The garbage mountains are astounding, the starship is breathtaking. Every moment of running time, right down to the end credits, is a visual feast.

WALL-E himself is a strikingly charismatic and appealing lead. In visual terms, he owes a little something to the robot from Short Circuit - my dad, who clearly doesn't have the same memory I do for important information like terrible mid-'80s Steve Gutenberg/Ally Sheedy comedies, thought from seeing the ads that it was meant to be the same character. In terms of action and personality, well, I just can't imagine the hours the animators must have spent studying the films of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. For they, rather than "Johnny Five," are clearly the true inspiration for WALL-E. His face, such as it is, is at once impassive and yet oddly expressive, much like Keaton's. He explores the comedic possibilities of every prop he comes across, much like Chaplin. And like the great silent film comedians, he's escapes by the skin of his proverbial teeth in ever-mounting peril, against an entire world that's bigger and meaner than he is.

There is, of course, no small irony in a giant mega-corporation like Disney releasing this movie, with its wry take on giant mega-corporations (a conglomerate known as Wal-Mart Buy-n-Large is primarily responsible for both the trashing of the Earth and the sorry state of humanity). There is also no small irony in the certainty that this summer blockbuster, with its appealing robot characters just screaming to be turned into Happy Meal toys, is certain to be heavily licensed and merchandized, unleashing another tidal wave of cheap plastic crap onto the world. But maybe, just maybe, a few smart kids out there will see this movie, understand it, and just maybe decide not to scream to Mom about how they just neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed the fully-articulated WALL-E action figure on the family's next trip to Buy-n-Large.

Indiana Jones and the Peril of the Insane Fanboys

It was bound to happen, really.

I mean, when they announced Indy 4, you could practically feel the electric glee emanating from that certain class of Fanboy across the internet. You know the kind I mean - the ones who, once Revenge of the Sith had come and gone back in 2005, figured they would never again have the opportunity to type "George Lucas raped my childhood!" again. And then there was Indy 4.

I've read more than a few negative reviews of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull over the last couple of weeks. And of course, people are perfectly entitled to like or dislike the movie. It is, as I observed, certainly the weakest of the cinematic adventures of the good Dr. Jones.

But there is a certain class of movie-goer - the Fanboy - who works by an entirely different set of rules. To the Fanboy, there are only two kinds of movies - The Best Movie Ever (which almost never happens) and Absolute Garbage. And if it's Absolute Garbage, well...if it weren't bad enough that it's a bad movie, that also makes it "an Insult to the Fans," which is (in the eyes of the Fanboy) the worst offense any creative type can commit. I suspect that many of the Fanboys went in - put down their $10, no less - not only expecting but hoping to dislike the movie, because it would give them something to bitch and moan about on their message board of choice, and one more opportunity to recite the Fanboy Mantra, "George Lucas raped my childhood."

The most frequent refrain I've heard in the negativity surrounding Crystal Skull has to do with the scene wherein Shia LaBeouf's character pulls a trick out of Tarzan's book, swinging through the jungle on vines, surrounded by monkeys.

This is the moment that exemplifies what makes this movie terrible, I guess. This is where it lost those last few Fanboys who were still hanging in there. Because...well, I'm not sure why. Because it's implausible? Because it's unbelievable? Because it makes them think of Tarzan? I don't know.

In my original review, I mentioned a couple of things about the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Let's go back and take a look at that scene again, shall we?

So Indy and Crew make their way to some sort of hidden, ancient temple. As Indy and Dr. Octopus make their way into the temple's depths, Indy says, "Stop. Stay out of the light!" Confirming his suspicion, Indy sticks his hand into the shaft of sunlight that illuminates the temple's gloomy interior. Instantly, deadly spikes pop out of the wall, which would have impaled them if they had blindly entered that shaft of light. That's right...the ancient Incas (or whoever) constructed a death trap that was triggered by entering the shaft of light. This is followed, of course, by Indy accidentally triggering the trap when he removes the idol from the altar (and of course, we all remember from school when we learned about the Incas' ingenious counterweight-triggered death traps, right?), leading to him being chased out of the tunnel by a giant, perfectly spherical boulder ten feet in diameter.

So...Mutt pulling a Tarzan stretches the bounds of plausibility...but the very first appearance of Indiana Jones does not?

Everyone's also complaining about Indy escaping from a nuclear blast by climbing into a lead-lined refrigerator. Admittedly, at any of a half-dozen or so given points in that sequence, Indy ought to be dead. But he also survived the Ark of the Covenant's destruction of the Nazis not out of any special virtue or holiness or divine protection...but because he kept his eyes closed. Indy should be dead a hundred times over during the course of the first three movies...but he always manages to survive. That's kind of the point. To me, half the fun is the absurd ways he manages to survive the unsurvivable. Sit back, put yourself in the right mindset, and go with the flow.

That's the thing about the Fanboy. He's absolutely unable to even detect the flow, much less go with it. A Fanboy of my acquaintance was the type who couldn't stand The Lord of the Rings movies because they'd replaced Glorfindel with Arwen and cut out Tom Bombadil and the adventure with the Barrow-wights. Some friends were discussing the Revenge of the Sith trailer, thinking that it looked pretty good, and his sole contribution to the discussion was, "Oh, it's just going to be so insulting if this one is good!" Yes, because nothing is so insulting as a good movie.

The Fanboy can only nitpick. The Fanboy can only see Spider-Man and complain about organic web-shooters. The Fanboy can only see X-Men and complain that Wolverine and Storm weren't original members of the team. The Fanboy can only see Transformers and complain that Optimus Prime transforms into the wrong kind of truck. The Fanboy wears Rose Colored Glasses, remembering Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark as he first saw them, as a credulous child - but he's incapable of seeing Revenge of the Sith and Crystal Skull in the same way, because he's a jaded quasi-adult now. The Fanboy feels that anything that doesn't live up to his impossible standards isn't just bad - it's a personal slight.

No, I'm not trying to convince anyone who disliked Crystal Skull that they're wrong. I'm just saying that saying it's a bad movie for the reasons that the Fanboys are claiming without subjecting Raiders, or Temple of Doom, or Last Crusade to those same standards is insane. It's not so much that the Fanboy can't see the forest for the trees as that he can't see the trees for the pinecones, and is entirely unaware of the concept of the forest.

Or maybe he's just ignoring the forest because it's got Shia LaBeouf swinging through it on a vine.



Hopefully, this means that we don't have to hear Hillary put her foot in her mouth one more time speculating about just when and where Obama might be assassinated.

Hopefully, this means that we don't have to hear another word about all the poor, "disenfranchised" voters in Florida and Michigan who got screwed over by their state parties.

Hopefully, this means that we don't have to hear more whining from Hillary supporters about how the only reason Hillary could possibly be losing is blatant, unremitting sexism.

Hopefully, this means that we don't have to have our fond memories of Bill Clinton tarnished any further by his role as Hillary's snarling campaign attack dog.

Hopefully, this means that it is time to stop talking about the absurd idea that being First Lady somehow gives one lots of vital experience for the role of president and imaginary Bosnian snipers.

Hopefully, this means that it is time to get down to business, and spend the next 22 weeks reminding the country that John McCain is the wrong man for the job.

Hopefully, this means that it is time to start talking about the fact that it doesn't matter how old John McCain is, only that he's running on a platform of more of the same old shit from the last eight years that got us into the mess we're in in the first place.

Hopefully, this means that we're about to enter a new era of discussing problems instead of ignoring them, creating real solutions instead of fantasies with Orwellian doublespeak names, of acknowledging and appreciating our differences instead of accusing anyone who dares to disagree of "hating America" and being "with th' Tara-rists" and then waving our miniature American flags.