LOG: Adaptation

I have watched this film twice this month. There is so much here to digest. The pursuit of meaning, in life, in writing. Self-doubt and self-loathing. The yin and yang of painful change and new discovery. The ability of people to inspire and catch each other when they fall. Ambition. When Donald starts getting in on the screenplay, and the alligator attacks LaRoche in the swamp, Kaufman fictionally slaps himself, and we reel for him. And it sees the film through, just as he hoped it would.

I am, however, unable to decipher the riddle/problem that is Nicolas Cage. For every Leaving Las Vegas or Raising Arizona there seems to be at least four Snake Eyes or Ghost Rider's. Is he really not capable of figuring out the difference? He's amazing in this film. How, damnit? HOW? Also, after years of resistance, I am ready to submit that Meryl Streep is, indeed, THAT good.

John Laroche
: You know why I like plants?
Susan Orlean
: Nuh uh.
John Laroche: Because they're so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.
Susan Orlean
: [pause] Yeah but it's easier for plants. I mean they have no memory. They just move on to whatever's next. With a person though, adapting is almost shameful. It's like running away.

This movie could be the soundtrack to the new year, or every year. Charlie Kaufman has made a living out of fascinatingly restating, over and over again, in the grandest and most ridiculous and wonderful terms possible, that "Life sucks. And, it's great." He's right, of course.



Once in a great while, the cinema is graced with the works of a pure poet, for whom filmmaking is less about storytelling than about conjuring the most breathtaking visuals and surreal environments that they can muster (Jean Cocteau is the standard example.) More often, however, discerning movie-goers are left to hunt for sparse parcels of poetry in more traditional "commercial" cinema offerings. Of this, Pixar studios is perhaps the reigning champion. The majority of their nine feature films (from Toy Story up to Finding Nemo and The Incredibles) all feature beautiful landscapes, artful storylines, and at least one supremely sad sequence. Pixar may have hit critical mass in this trend, however, as it's hard to imagine how a G-rated film could incorporate any more heartbreak, foreboding and despair than WALL-E does and still somehow remain fun. But WALL-E is fun.

And that's not all it is. The film has broken new ground for Pixar (and for family films) in several ways perhaps never to be breached again. Consider the elements. Our hero, WALL-E, is a robot. Right off the bat, Pixar has denied the kiddies something soft and cuddly, the plush doll they can ask for for Christmas. No, WALL-E was not commissioned to be a Happy Meal toy. Cute as he is, there's no snuggling up to this dingy, dented little dude. Call that Strike One. The film opens on a desolate landscape, barren and dry, with mustard-discolored soil whipping up and swirling around in the wind. Not a word is spoken. WALL-E enters alone, spins, shrieks, beeps, jumps, and so on, but he doesn't speak. Thus, there's no words for the kiddies to listen to. No catch phrases, no "To Infinity, and Beyond!" Strike two. Then, the story follows WALL-E as he is unwittingly caught up in the battle over (*gasp*) ..a plant. Who cares about a stupid plant!? That's gonna save the world? Strike three. And just like that, the kiddies, I suspect, are back to their Wiis and their text messaging. But not so fast, mom and dad. Don't pop that Blu-ray disc just yet. Even if the kids don't get it, sit back and let it spin. It's really quite good. Romantic, too. And very beautiful.

So what is WALL-E, anyway? Actually, you'd better ask 'who,' as Pixar endows WALL-E with the full spectrum of human emotions; fear, longing, a sense of pride in his work, etc. Take equal parts Johnny Five, R2D2, and E.T., and you'll have a pretty good idea of his demeanor. He's been outfitted with a quaint little cargo hanger for a house, filled with shelves of bric-a-brac he collects with wonder from the heaps of rubble just outside. He's even somehow found a working VCR (!) and a tape of "Hello, Dolly," which sends him into little robot fits of forlorn longing as he sings along and blips around the room. He's the last left of his kind, and apart from his cockroach buddy (ha ha), his is a lonely life. Until, at last, a ship lands, depositing EVE, a robot on a mission. EVE falls for the sheepish little WALL-E, of course (I will not attempt to detail their courtship, as it is best experienced with rapt wonder and disbelief). And after that pesky little plant arrives on the scene, WALL-E gets caught up chasing EVE through space and onto the Axiom, the massive space cruiseship which now harbors the former human inhabitants of planet earth.

WALL-E is absolutely dripping with barely-buried eco-socio-political commentary. It's not overbearing, but it's kind-of unrelenting. The Axiom is a full-out attack on the lazy consumerism of America, and it's a bulls eye. Basically, if Costco built a flying shopping mall/cruise ship and launched it into space, it would be the Axiom. It's passengers all float around on hoverchairs, complaining about the food, fat, lazy and unquestioning. Just the way they like 'em. Indeed, the act of depicting a story where robots, not humans, are the heroes, exhibiting emotions, saving the day, shows a remarkable dissatisfaction and separation from the human race as a whole. WALL-E never really comes right out and states it, but the implication is clear as day; this is the world that could exist if all these experts predicting grave consequences for the future of Earth are correct. This, children, is what could happen. It's almost become fashionable to include (or base a film on) grave prophesizing about the pitfalls of man, but no film has yet put it in terms such as these, and no film has targeted this message to those who will need to hear it most: future generations.

Progressive and forward-thinking as the film is, it does shy away from a few punches it could have landed. I wondered at first if Pixar might have the balls to leave gender out of the equation in the romance of WALL-E and his paramour, Eve. Alas, his maleness and her femininity are made very clear. It's a slight shame that they didn't, as I can't think of a better way for Disney to make it's first tiny step into acknowledging non-hetero relationships without having to really own up to it (robots ARE genderless, are they not??) Even so, in the end it's hard to argue, as the play of the two robots is irresistible, even downright romantic.

WALL-E is as memorable as Toy Story, as thrilling as The Incredibles, and somehow even more beautiful than Finding Nemo ( it cost nearly twice as much.) Got a Blu-ray player and a nice big TV? Buy it. It's beauty is simply unparalleled. This is perhaps the first film that even die-hard fans of old school hand drawn animation cannot deny to be absolutely stunning, a work of art the equal of anything in the Disney canon. It is, however, somewhat less fun and certainly more cerebral than it's older siblings, and perhaps less attractive for the little ones. Though I feel certain that any thoughtful, attentive young movie watcher will find themselves just as glued to the screen as I was.

The films of the Pixar studios exhibit a wonderful old-fashionedness found almost nowhere else in current family entertainment. This is most likely a credit to John Lasseter and his cabal of talent, who possess a childlike sense of wonder which seems totally out of step with today's fast-paced youth culture. It's as if they cradled the spirit of classic Disney, carefully and lovingly extracted it from that studio, took hold of it and raised it up once again as their own. Today, Pixar IS Disney. The torch has been passed, and Disney proper has become something else.

Pinning down exactly what makes WALL-E the best Pixar film yet (and perhaps the best movie of the year) is nearly impossible. To say that it is a combination of irresistible charm, tender budding emotion and effective commentary is to barely scratch the surface. WALL-E screams and demands to be experienced. It took a huge leap of faith to make this film, as seemingly unpalatable and uncommercial as it is. And its bigger ideas will not be lost on many. What does it say about us as a society, that we are able to produce great art such as this about our impending demise, yet still somehow seem unable to prevent it? While every Pixar movie succeeds in being some degree of wonderful, WALL-E is perhaps first that can be called not only essential, but also truly important.


DOUBLE FEATURE: An Inconvenient Truth/Who Killed the Electric Car?

ARCHIVE: from Idiot Ego Issue 2 (reprinted without permission)

The ways people exchange information are changing. Just as so many Americans now rely on The Daily Show for their political coverage and other news, documentaries are becoming a serious medium by which to mass distribute important information. The Thin Blue Line helped reverse a court decision and set an innocent man out of jail. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9-11 broke box office records for a documentary, and Super Size Me put enough pressure on McDonald's to have them effectively phase out their upsizing campaigns. They have become an effective method of socially conscious propaganda, doubling (sometimes posing) as entertainment, and vice-versa. This is admittedly a dangerous concept, but for the moment they seem to be doing more good than harm.

Here then are two unapologetically biased, heartfelt and American documentaries pertaining to issues of the environment. An Inconvenient Truth offers a glimpse of exactly what we lost when Bush was declared winner of Florida (and subsequently won the Presidency) in 2000. His then-opponent Al Gore has a public image of being dry and humorless, but An Inconvenient Truth paints Gore as a family man, dedicated forward thinker and activist. In his way, he wants to change the world. A hero for DIY policits and reform, An Inconvenient Truth is Gore's desperate plea for Americans to stand up and take notice of global warming, because it is HAPPENING. He bombards you with the facts. They are totally stunning. Gore asks plainly, "Is it possible that America as a nation should consider addressing global threats other than terrorism?" America wanted a fighter in the White House, and they got one, but what Gore lacks in fierceness he makes up for in integrity and intelligence. Alas, these are not the kind of qualities that win elections, but forget the politics. This is a film of facts. There are lots of charts and graphs and a lot of them are glanced over rather quickly, but we never get the sense that we are being misled. If anything, An Inconvenient Truth blushes and whispers in your ear when it should probably be berating you. The cold hard indicators are the facts that Gore drops on you. They speak for themselves.

Who Killed The Electric Car? examines the birth, life, and subsequent extinction of electric cars, which were first launched by General Motors (the EV1) in 1996. They leased 800 of the cars in the 2 years that they were publicly available (there were only 1100 produced,) even with GM's weak promotion and the resulting limited consumer knowledge about the car. Those who bought the cars were later denied the option to renew their leases, and the cars were all ultimately impounded by GM and destroyed. The film largely skirts the issue that electric cars do, in fact, produce some emissions, by virtue of the coal-burning power plants which currently create more than half of America's electricity. Thus, this one is less clear cut than An Inconvenient Truth, but it is made abundantly and inarguably clear that there is more to GM's decision not to produce more EV1's than simply 'insufficient consumer demand' as they claim.

Some might label these films "progressive," and that's not such a dirty word, but the sad truth is that neither of these films by themselves will motivate the giant cogs in place in these issues to move or turn any less laboriously. It is not hard to follow the dotted lines between these two films. The reason that you cannot buy an EV1 is the same reason that global warming has systematically been "repositioned" as a debate and not a fact in the media: there is too much money at stake. It's bad for American business. You can follow that dotted line further, past these films, into the oval office and 10.000 miles over the Atlantic to the deserts and oil fields of Iraq and Kuwait, if you wish. Its not hard.

Both films promote their accompanying websites, which aim to help viewers take things to the next level, and both are equally conscious of the fact that they have essentially failed unless they are able to motivate audiences in a way that they had not been motivated before. It's great if you feel impassioned after seeing these films, but it's got to move beyond that.

If nothing else, I recommend these documentaries as superior entertainment. They are, at their core, gripping human interest stories. I hope, as the filmmakers clearly do, that they might also help to reposition the environment in your list of political agendas, and perhaps renew your faith in a country which, when operating in a bi-partisan and "progressive" way, can accomplish great things. We can't let earth die screaming. These films implore you. We have to change. How could it possibly be the wrong thing to do?


LOG: Snow Angels

There's a word for what David Gordon Green has that so many others don't: Taste. He's just so damn TASTEFUL. Even when he's being distasteful (Pineapple Express,) he's tasteful. A classy dude. And young, too. Best of his generation.

I'm not sure this film ends up being everything it wants to be, but do any of his films? Until he somehow fucks it up (see, perhaps, HERE) I'll watch every movie he ever makes.

+2 for casting Amy Sedaris and Griffin Dunne, even if they don't get to do all that much. -1 for Kate Beckinsale, who is certainly excellent, but probably doesn't belong in this movie, or role.

Green has cornered the market on touching, deliberately (lightly) enigmatic, thoughtful indie dramas. Just the way I like 'em.