The High Countries

because it’s all paperweight…

WALL-E (2008)

WALL-E lifts his gaze in Pixar's wonderful 9th animated film

On top of the world, WALL-E lifts his gaze...

A Home and a Hobby

Robotic romance, one spark at a time.

by Bryce VanKooten

Whenever it happens, I’m usually just staring. It usually comes right around midway through and I don’t take my eyes off the screen till it’s done – right on through the credits. It’s only about once every decade or so that a film breaks out of its genre with the ferocity to be remembered as something more. Braveheart became one of the greatest romances of its generation. Saving Private Ryan, despite its violence, transcended its audience and brought highly charged drama (along with its bullets) to the big screen. It’s becoming very rare for me to be able to sink into my seat, put a timer on the day’s stress and just get lost in a film, let alone an animated one. It’s easy to make the connection to animated characters – lovable, hilarious, colorful as they are– but often difficult to transfer that connection to an everyday reality.

WALL-E changed all that.

Pixar’s ninth feature film, WALL-E (spelled with a bullet) takes us to the future of Earth, circa the 22nd century, only to show us that our planet has become far too trashy to inhabit. The humans have left on the Axiom — a ‘premier, space-cruising starliner’ created as an alternative to the wasted existence left back on Earth by Buy-n-Large, the pre-apocalyptic, world-ruling, corporate juggernaut. And as the movie opens, we see the scope of their reach: Buy-n-Large is everywhere. Billboards and buildings, everything holds the Buy-n-Large name, even WALL-E himself. There’s little – strike that – there’s no dialogue throughout the first half hour except for faint ‘beeps’ and ‘blurps’ from WALL-E and his best buddy: a nameless, happy-go-lucky Cockroach. Its not long before the theater follows suit – most children awestruck by Wall-E’s hapless charisma, most parents the same. A simple machine with complex emotions, WALL-E is the last of his kind. The sole survivor, programmed to clean up the mess that we left behind – left back on Earth to figure it all out.

As the days move on and on (as if the silence wasn’t daunting enough), we quickly realize that earth and all its advertisements are completely wasted, nothing worth more than the screens they’re projected upon. But WALL-E cruises on, not a care in the world. We can almost hear him on his trek, ‘Waste Allocation Load Lifting isn’t that bad…’ as he sings his way from site to home – an abandoned trailer, smack in the middle of it all. He’s surrounded by the waste around him and content with his toys: a spork, a Rubix Cube and a VHS copy of Hello Dolly!. WALL-E’s content. When day breaks, this little guy’s legitamately happy. He’s content with life as is, but can’t help but think, like the rest of us, ‘I wonder if there’s something else…’

As you can imagine, that something else comes quickly in the form of a true beauty. A futuristic robot named EVE (Earth Vegetation Evaluator), sent to Earth to find plant life. Thus begins the wonderful love story that is WALL-E, Earth’s most recent animated creation and without a doubt, my favorite.

WALL-E and EVE journey over the course of two hours and show us why film is different, why it’s the exception to the rule. WALL-E is speechless to the world around him. He doesn’t hold much of an opinion on life and the fast-living; he’s content where he is — what a profound outlook to a strikingly discontented world. In our fast-paced living, the silence we heard as WALL-E trampled from one dump to the next was as blissful to us as a Saturday afternoon breeze — if we hear it.  Life is a pushy thing. WALL-E refused to push back.

In one stark moment of clarity, time really did stand still. Shot out of the Axiom, WALL-E is met by EVE — no background, no foreground, no ground, just space — as they dance to the tune of their own affection.  Many of us experienced true silence for the very first time during this waltz. All sound specifically filtered out of the theater, WALL-E and EVE danced the only way they knew how, leaving us to our own silent pursuits.  We sat and stared. We stilled and sighed while two robots, hopelessly in love, danced in silent space while the humans both back on the ship and just off screen tried to learn all about it.

As I watched these robotic eyes and tractor toes, it sort of hit me all at once.  I had worked at Disney for the past eight months. WALL-E was and is very near and dear to my heart. About midway through my third viewing I realized the simplicity of it all. WALL-E had a home, a friend and a hobby, that’s it. And he was happy. Truly joyful. How much more do I have? How much more do I need? WALL-E was ready for EVE. She came in his life and filled the only thing he had left: a heart for the taking. It was all cleaned out, ready to be stolen.  He’d been preparing for her. He’d been cleaning it up for years.

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August 19, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Pineapple Express (2008)

(Left to Right) Seth Rogan, James Franco and Danny McBride walk back from a long, crazy night.

(Left to Right) Seth Rogan, James Franco and Danny McBride walk back from a long, crazy night.

One Crazy Night

High as a kite — eh, a great summer escape.

by Bryce VanKooten

There I was, back in high school, watching two grown men wander the streets of their hometown in search of friends and foe, drugs and dreams. I didn’t have to try very hard to see them walk through their front door to standing parents, awaiting their arrival; their disapproving looks saying it all. Before speaking they pause, minds spinning from the night’s many adventures, they rewind, trying to start from the beginning.  Then, very slowly and seriously, they begin, “You guys…I can explain. This could have happened to anyone.”

Armed with a throwaway job as a Process Server and a mediocre high school girlfriend (the very cute, Amber Heard), Dale Denton (Seth Rogan) has his daily sites set on two things: getting high today and preparation for his high tomorrow. Generally, the only thing deterring him from these goals are the minor obstacles in his path – new costume ideas for the next ‘serve’, scraping together enough cash for tonight’s purchase, calling his girlfriend – and even they rarely seem to keep him from his hazy utopia. In Denton’s eyes, he lives in the pinnacle of life’s glorious drag, sucking down joints like yesterday’s leftovers. Its comic genius, I must admit and no joke is lost among the laborious scenes of everyday puffing.The mellow attitude with which the film opens is only enhanced after we meet Saul Silver (James Franco), Dale’s just-as-lazy drug dealer. If Dale’s a pothead, I’m not sure where that puts Saul — maybe, Dale in a decade?

**Spoiler(s) ahead**

The movie stays in its smoky saga only long enough to paint the scene. After Dale witnesses a cop’s murder by the hands of a crocked dealer (Gary Cole) and leaves a joint of the infamously rare Pineapple Express at the scene of the crime the movie switches gears after he finally begins fearing for his life after realizing the rare weed’s traceability and just like that, we’ve got a full blown mouse hunt on our hands. Between Silver’s lackluster zeal for much of anything and Dale’s predisposition to practicality, the jokes are brilliantly normal and the comedy perfectly understandable. What did we expect, really? Every Apatow movie to date has been about the average man; each time finding himself in an increasingly more improbable, but never impossible, situation. Pride yourself on cleanliness and 1980’s comic books and you could be a 40 Year-Old Virgin. Hook up with a girl out of your league and both of you could very well be unhappy and Knocked Up. Follow around high school boys trying desperately to swipe the V-card and successfully purchase alcohol with a fake ID and I guarantee you the footage will be Superbad. Pineapple Express is no different. Smoke enough weed in a short period of time and this could actually happen to you, there’s not a doubt in my mind.

Don’t read me wrong here, this movie becomes more and more outlandish with each passing turn, but the jokes are never too far – save the fighting ninja warriors, those were a bit much, I suppose. After these modern-day Cheech and Chongs realize their notorious stash of PE can be traced back to them, they decide to sprint for the middle man — tweener-dealer Red (Danny McBride) and easily the funniest character of this film (and maybe the entire last year).

Each twist of fortunes finds Red fighting against someone else and by the end of the film the now-famous clip of the neck brace-wearing Red chirping, “thug life…” has never rang truer. With the dealer’s goons (The Office’s Craig Robinson and Superbad’s Kevin Corrigan) hot on their tracks, the three underdogs embark on the save-all-except-themselves mission using the PE to finance the necessities: Slurpees and snacks. After Dale gets arrested for blatantly selling to minors, their plan seems thwarted — all hope lost. Arms behind his back, trying to explain to the driving police officer, Dale glances up to see his counterpart – a Slurpee-holding Saul – standing directly in front of the speeding vehicle, willing to take a hit for his friend. The slushy drinks erupt, mostly on the windshield, make the Police cruiser now both their getaway and a seemingly obvious hit-and-run homicide. Misconception…all one big misconception, but hilarious nonetheless. I wouldn’t want to spoil the rest of the film for you, but bottom line: it’s worth a watch if you feel like a night off from responsibility.

August 6, 2008 Posted by | Entertainment, Film Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment