Tag Archives: Wall·E

Oblivion – Ob-li-vi, Ob-li-va, Earth goes on, bra!

Last Man Standing: Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Last Man Standing: Tom Cruise in Oblivion

Torturing us all for the shock success of Battle: Los Angeles back in early 2011, Hollywood has begun its own alien onslaught, flinging some half dozen end-of-the-world science fiction films at us this year.

The first up is Oblivion, Joseph Kosinski’s follow-up to the flashy and distracting, if slightly moronic and empty, Tron: Legacy. An eye-wateringly glossy post-apocalyptic mystery adventure, it is a finely assembled work, that has been finely assembled from other, better films.

Seventy years after a war with alien scavengers, the Scavs, Earth has seen better days. The destruction of the Moon has caused geographical discombobulation on an Emmerichian scale, and the plundering of the resources of what used to be the blue planet has meant that mankind has had to relocate to one of the moons of Saturn. The Scavs, defeated, have scurried in fragmented numbers underground.

Tom Cruise plays Jack Harper, one of the last humans remaining on Earth, as part of a clean-up detail. A high-tech mechanic, he repairs the drones and devices that keep the Scavs at bay and recoup the last of Earth’s energy for the new human homeworld. His only contact is with his communications officer Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), who keeps him advised on every move he makes. They live together in a Big Brother house in the sky, and, at the slightly creepy encouragement of their mission commander, Sally (Melissa Leo), who directs them in fractured messages from beyond the stratosphere, to engage in carnal discourse, because that’s what makes “an effective team”.

But not everything is as it seems. Jack has incomprehensible flashbacks to a time before the war, despite his memory having been wiped for mission security reasons. He collects trinkets from the once great civilisation of New York, now flooded in silt and rubble: toys, records, books, a Yankees cap. Soon the Scavs begin to take a personal interest in Jack’s movement, and then the woman of his dreams literally comes crashing back into his life. What, exactly, is Jack and Victoria’s mission?

Date with destiny: Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise recall better times

Date with destiny: Olga Kurylenko and Tom Cruise recall better times

If any of this sounds familiar, you shouldn’t be surprised; it should. “Derivative” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and in relation to science fiction it’s as commonly used as “darker” is in superhero movie reviews. But Oblivion might just be the most derivative film ever made. Like, class action lawsuit derivative. Its central ideas and themes are fused from a number of recent and classic science fiction films. Visually, its space pods and structures hearken back to countless other sci-fi designs. Even its action scenes seem overly familiar in pace and choreography.

Take the drones – almost identical to the pods from 2001: A Space Odyssey, they are similarly controlled by a red electric eye. Instead of claw arms, they have cannons which fold out from their sides like EVE from WALL•E (and they share her iPod veneer). But reacting to Cruise’s raising of his weapon, and failing to react to his lowering of it, the drones show an identical programming to ED209 from RoboCop. When a drone is summoned for termination purposes, a drone without a minty white coating appears, revealing a black skeletal series of patterns across it in the vein of a T-800. At a moment of supposed high tension the Terminator allusion is simply guffawable. That’s four films unmistakably sampled in one brilliantly realised prop.

Other films blatantly referenced or “borrowed from” in Oblivion include (in alphabetical order to avoid spoilers): Aliens, I Am Legend, Independence Day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix Revolutions, Moon, Planet of the Apes, Predator, The Road Warrior, Silent Running, Solaris, Star Wars, Stargate, Total Recall, Transformers: The Movie, War of the Worlds. It’s actually a fun game to count them, although repeatedly it forces you out of the film, as Oblivion makes you think of beloved classics instead of, well, the story in progress. Kosinski, directing from a script polished by Toy Story 3’s Michael Arndt and The Departed’s William Monahan but based on an unpublished graphic novel he had written himself some years back, is all too unsubtle in his inspirations, and they cloud the fact that at many levels Oblivion is quite a strong film.

Cruise takes a role that only a select few actors could have made work and, despite limited characterisation, holds the movie together when it is at its weakest, most ramshackle points. Riseborough plays the increasingly Pod Peopled Victoria with some admirable restraint. Olga Kurylenko does her best in a role the film’s four writers all managed to overlook, while Morgan Freeman shows up to take the most relish he has in any role since Wanted.

On a technical side, the movie looks sublime, and not much of that can be handed to its… influences. Kosinski has a great feel for the visual, and refusing to shoot in 3D to keep the whites dazzling and the blacks standing out  was a great decision that shows a huge amount of confidence in the director on behalf of production studio Universal. Life of Pi’s D.P. Claudio Miranda brings every image sharply to life, while the soundtrack by French electronic outfit M83 pulses with an energy that drives much of the film forward and escalates some of the weaker drama.

In the end, Oblivion falls on its own laser sword*. It looks and sounds great throughout, but assembled like a Frankenstein’s monster from so many superior films not only dilutes the enjoyment but dilutes its own sincerity. “Earth is a memory worth fighting for” runs the tagline, but the memories on display here are all film memories, scavenged from the sci-fi greats of the ’50s to the present. They are worth fighting for, and remembering their origins and not the film that dared to harvest them all is what matters.

Oblivion is a superbly crafted film, but its memory will not be long for this world.

3/5

 

 

*Laser swords are one of the only clichés of the genre Oblivion skipped, thankfully.

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The 81st Academy Awards – Live!

Good evening and welcome to my coverage of this year’s Academy Awards, live from Hollywood, California. Well, not the coverage, the Oscars. It may feel now like it’s going to be a predictable evening ahead, but who knows what the night will bring.

For the sake of clarity all posts will be submitted in Pacific Standard Time, which should help me tricking my brain into not thinking it’s 4am.

Enjoy!

5.57pm – Almost ready to go. The stars are prancing their ways down the red carpet. I’ll avoid commenting on the fashion, that’s not quite my style, but I may make the odd comment here or there. Have I any last minute predictions? Well, I hope Winslet finally wins, and I am certainly backing Slumdog Millionaire for Best Picture. Other than that, let’s just hope Wall·E takes Best Original Screenplay. Here we go…

5.10pm – Bored waiting, here’s some clothes commentary: Sarah Jessica Parker seems to think this is the Princess Awards. She’s dressed like a 6-year-old girl on Hallowe’en. But Marisa Tomei is totally working whatever the hell kind of dress that is. And Kate looks gorgeous as ever. And while Taraji P Henson and Viola Davis have no chance of winning anything, it’s nice to see them dressing to the occasion. I see Angelina Jolie has gone for 1950s super-slut. Good for her.

5.13pm – Have they started yet? I’m sleepy.

5.23pm – Somewhere in Hell is a room waiting for me, in which there is always the promise of something entertaining, but instead I have to watch Sky Movies’ introduction… and it never ends.

5.26pm – I’m going to have to throw Best Actor to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler. While I think Sean Penn is a great actor, I really dislike him as a person. I must admit however that Rourke’s performance comes down largely to such a wonderfully scripted character. Still, Rourke to win.

5.32pm – Live from the Kodak Theatre – it’s sleep deprivation!

5.33pm – I hope that’s fake crystal, there’s a recession on, or something.

5.33pm – Good evening Hugh.

5.34pm – Australia jokes. Solid start.

5.37pm – Super-cheap musical number? Good stuff so far. Oh dear, poor Anne Hathaway.

5.38pm – Hang on, I suspect she knew that was coming…

5.40pm – “I’m Wolveriiiiiiiiine!” Great end to a fun opening number, and some good old-fashioned whoring out for free advertising!

5.43pm – There’s something rather charming about Jackman’s interaction with the audience. He may not be a comedian but he has a lot of personality.

5.44pm – Oh dear, was there a giant curtain malfunction there? Seriously, WTF?

5.45pm – Hey look, some famous Best Supporting Actresses. This had better be going somewhere.

5.46pm – Doubt still hasn’t come out on this side of the Atlantic. I can’t help but feel very in the dark here.

5.48pm – Sweet, nun jokes. As for Taraji P Henson, am I the only one who thinks Tilda Swinton should be up there (well she is, but I mean nominated) for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button?

5.49pm – Hooray for Penelope Cruz, looking a tad swan-like. Her squeaky lisping voice is a delight for the first award. A predictable start though, we may not get many big surprises tonight.

5.52pm – “Art is a universal language.” Well said. Not too soppy at all that.

5.54pm – Steve Martin and Tina Fey appear with at least one great gag. Here comes Best Original Screenplay. Go… Wall·E!

5.56pm – “No-one wants to hear about our religion.” Scientology, take that!

5.58pm – Milk it is. I guess I’ll allow it.

6.00pm – A touching speech to the gay community of America. Too bad it was said in a tiny liberal bubble.

6.02pm – Adapted Screenplay: does Benjamin Button even count as adapted? It has barely a thing in common with the original story. The first award for Slumdog, perhaps?

6.03pm – Yup. I think the night is pretty much spelled out now.

6.06pm – Jack Black bets on Pixar! Priceless. The animation yearbook – this should show why Wall·E must win over Kung Fu Panda.

6.08pm – Wall·E wins it! How gloriously wonderful!

6.12pm – It always bothers me that the short animations are so hard to come across. No carrot for Presto. La Maison en Petits Cubes wins. I did love Presto, but I didn’t see this so I can’t judge this – it looks pretty. Ha! Japanese robot humour! Domo arigato yourself, good sir!

6.16pm – Huh, backstage for the design awards. How very strange these Oscars are.

6.17pm – I predict a series of wins for Button here, though I’ll happily be proved wrong.

6.18pm – I was right so far. A deserved win for a very pretty film.

6.20pm – Craig and Parker are going to do all of these, no wonder they’re expecting to get through these so fast this year.

6.21pm – Ah, The Duchess. Fancy that.

6.23pm – I could think of more adjectives for Keira Knightley than just “classy”.

6.24pm – Button beats Hellboy and Dark Knight to make-up. Maybe a cleverer usage of make-up, but not necessarily more impressive since you can’t see where much of the make-up ends and digital effects begin.

6.26pm – Amanda Seyfried, so pretty. And that guy from Twilight. I never saw that film, because I’m not an angsty teenaged girl.

6.29pm – Romance. I’m kind of enjoying these genre mash-ups. Another moment for Wall·E to steal the show!

6.31pm – Cinematography. This has to be one for Slumdog. Hmmm, do we give credit for beard-related comedy? Not funny so far. Bad Stiller. Bad.

6.33pm – This is agonising. Is he parodying Joaquin Phoenix? Or is he just here to annoy me?

6.36pm – Predictable. This is really gearing up for a three-way race between Slumdog, Milk and Button for the big wins. “I’ll try to thank people more.” There’s a good rule to live by. What moral Oscars these are.

6.40pm – Is Jessica Biel lecturing me on technology history?

6.44pm – Oh wow, a Pineapple Express-themed comedy montage! And they’re laughing at the Holocaust movie! And calling Stellan Skarsgård Irish!

6.46pm – That was very trippy. What an odd trio these guys make. Did I see any short films this year? Isn’t one of them Irish?

6.48pm – Nothing worse than when the winning film is unpronounceable.

6.52pm – And we’re back! What will Hugh do now? Oooh, the musical is back he says – I think I see where this is going. I think The Reader would make a good one.

6.53pm – Jackman and Beyoncé do Fred Astaire. This is getting strange… do I like this?

6.57pm – Ok, High School Musical kids and fascist Mamma Mia marching. This has stopped working. And now it’s over.

6.59pm – My crush on Amanda Seyfried seems to know no end. Oh Baz Luhrmann, do you hear old musicals in your head at all times?

7.01pm – Who will be our Best Supporting Actors from Oscar Past?

7.03pm – Does Ledger deserve it? Probably. Has he a chance of not getting it? Not a fucking chance in hell.

7.04pm – Why is Philip Seymour Hoffman dressed like Ghost Dog?

7.06pm – Cuba Gooding Jr: “Brothers need to work.” Nice job retelling the joke to the comedian.

7.08pm – If Ledger doesn’t win there will be riots in the street.

7.09pm – Here come the Ledgers. Tissues at the ready…

7.10pm – A touching speech by a nervous non-professional.

7.11pm – And straight into documentary. I have shamefully seen none of the nominees this year yet.

7.13pm – I am torn between backing the legend that is Herzog, or Man On Wire, which covers a subject that is so fascinating and one-of-a-kind.

7.14pm – Did Bill Maher just make a Heath Ledger joke? And then pimp his movie?

7.15pm – It’s Man On Wire. Well done! And here sprints Phillipe Petit! Hooray for the crazy Frenchman.

7.16pm – YES! Magic and a hilarious insult to the Oscar itself! Balancing acts have never been so much fun. Maher’s right, that deserved an extra Oscar all of its own – just to balance it again!

7.18pm – Seriously, where does one get to see a Documentary Short Subject? I mean, honestly!

7.23pm – Now the post-production run. Might be some surprises here.

7.25pm – Oh dear. Here comes some serious grinning…

7.26pm – Ah Will Smith, trying to justify his career. I have no idea what will win Visual Effects. Button?

7.27pm – Yes it is. A technical treat that film was. I just hope its wins stop here.

7.29pm – Smith trips up over his words while delivering Sound Editing. How ironic. Wall·E or The Dark Knight?

7.30pm – The latter. Good job. Would have been happy with either. Never did think Wanted would get a nomination!

7.31pm – Ah Sound Mixing, the award not even those nominated for it understand.

7.32pm – An unexpected tech award for Slumdog. Great to see (hear).

7.33pm – My God Danny Boyle looks happy!

7.34pm – Editing is far too big a deal to be slumped in at the end of these tech awards. Gotta be Slumdog!

7.35pm – It had to be, there’s more energy in that film’s editing than there is the entirety of Benjamin Button.

7.42pm – Jerry Lewis wins the Jean Hersholt Award. This could be amusing… or maybe not.

7.45pm – A standing ovation. The man looks fighting fit for 82. Maybe even more so than Eddie Murphy.

7.47pm – I’m not complaining, but why exactly is Heidi Klum there? I mean, wow, but still. Why not just scatter Victoria’s Secret’s finest all throughout the crowd?

7.50pm – Here come the music awards. Surely two more for Slumdog Millionaire.

7.51pm – God, could the Defiance score be any more desperate to be Schindler’s List?

7.52pm – Now that I hear it alone, there are some instruments in the Wall·E soundtrack that I’ve never even heard of before. But the Slumdog music is beautiful also.

7.55pm – Had to be Slumdog, one more to take back to India. Well, England. Now a fight to the death with Wall·E for best song! But the little robot is outnumbered two to one.

7.56pm – “MUSIC.” “LONG.” Who is this woman?

8.oopm – Wow, mixing the songs together… it actually works! I don’t care who wins, these three are all great. Though I gues I’d give it to Slumdog.

8.02pm – Well-deserved for Slumdog, though I can’t help but feel sorry for little WallE left without any more Oscars. It deserved so many. “Choose love” reminds me of a Danny Boyle movie I once saw…

8.05pm – Liam Neeson and Freida Pinto. Hot stuff.

8.07pm – Departures eh? I know nothing of it. Look forward to hearing more though. And the Academy laughs racistly at the winner’s lack of English. Oh dear…

8.11pm – Queen Latifah introduces the sad part with a song. Wait for the sound that comes when they show Paul Newman. Sigh.

8.16pm – Yeah, that was sad. Always is. Nice to look back, though it wouldn’t have hurt to allow some dialogue out.

8.19pm – Oh dear, two seperate dresses crashed into each other at high speeds and made what Reese Witherspoon is wearing. Best director time. As predictable as we expect or will there be a split this year?

8.20pm – Danny Boyle! Good show. He’s been grinning about this win for hours now. Now he can start sulking. And hopping apparently.

8.21pm – Boyle compliments the show’s stagecraft. Nice that someone said it. Aw, Boyle’s kids are delighted.

8.23pm – Mumbai – “you dwarf even the sky.” Wonderful!

8.25pm – We’re in the thick of it now. Here come some famous actresses, most of them found out of work nowadays no doubt.

8.26pm – Damn. Sophia Loren. Just damn. What age is she now? Give the award to her.

8.27pm – Did Anne Hathaway just get a “don’t worry, you don’t have a chance” pat on the back from Shirley MacLaine?

8.28pm – Kate’s tearing up and she hasn’t even won yet…

8.29pm – So… does someone want to tell me who Melissa Leo is?

8.32pm – WINSLET WINS IT! Here she comes. I think I know what’s coming now.

8.33pm – “It’s not a shampoo bottle now!” One of the nicest lines of the night. She’s holding herself together rather well so far. Her dad whistles. Impressively loudly.

8.35pm – An excellent speech – all her critics can shut it. Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack get their deserves. But did she just slam Meryl Streep?

8.36pm – And now the old actors, who will it be…?

8.37pm – Wow, a great selection! No Day Lewis this year. Odd that. Man, imagine the film you could make with those five!

8.39pm – Seriously: Douglas, Kinglsey, Hopkins, Brody and De Niro. Amazing. And now Sean Penn’s sexuality has been questioned. Brilliant!

8.42pm – Might be a big toss up here between Penn’s Milk and Rourke’s “bleech blonde battered bruiser”. Tense stuff here.

8.44pm – And Penn takes it! Maybe the only big surprise tonight. Milk is back in the running. Voted for “commic, homo-loving sons of guns”! Good stuff.

8.47pm – A call for equal rights. A powerful end to his speech. Or is it… there’s more… final praise for Mickey Rourke. How nice. Shame he has no Oscar though.

8.48pm – Steven Spielberg is here to tell us we’re inspired. Thank goodness for him, or we’d never know. Any chance of Slumdog not winning this?

8.53pm – Wow, a terrific night for Slumdog, pretty much a clean sweep! Great to see a deserving work do so well.

8.54pm – Everybody on the stage now. Hee hee, look how cute the kids are!

8.57pm – Well that’s almost it. Now they show us clips from next year’s films? Bullshit! That’s just free advertising, and totally making next year’s show biased before it begins. Bad Hollywood. Bad.

9.04pm – Eugh, a nasty way to end what was otherwise a surprisingly pleasant show. Well, that’s it for this year. It’s been one hell of a night, if only in terms of Slumdog‘s success and my sugar intake. Thank you for staying with me, and now to bed…

Goodnight!

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2008 in Review – The Year the Audience Sat Still

Best of 2008

There seems to be plenty of division over whether 2008 was a successful year at the cinema. Certainly, as the world collapsed around us in all other respects (or so it seemed), the movie world kept up a steady output and, at least in Hollywood terms, continued to turn a profit.

There were enough films to both keep minds racing and allow them to shut down, and films from either side of this divide fared as well as one another.

There was plenty more comic book nonsense in cinemas, but also some of the best films of that newfangled sub-genre thus far came out in 2008.

At the Oscars and the various other award shows, there were few surprises, but also few cries of films being undeserving of their awards as in other recent years.

Even here in Ireland the Irish film industry reacted to one musical award success by producing some of the best Irish films in over a decade, slowly beginning the long crawl out of the gutter of inadequacy.

There were losses of course; Heath Ledger died early in the year and left expectant fans gobsmacked, while Paul Newman and Sydney Pollack – to name but two – passed after tremendous careers in cinema.

There were films I was sorry to miss; I was too cowardly to see 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days alone, and couldn’t find anyone who dared accompany me. Waltz with Bashir came out when there was simply no time available to see it. Man on Wire also passed me by. These and many more will be caught up with in the coming months.

There were disappointments as well, mostly in films by reliable filmmakers, and indeed in reliable franchises. Hellboy 2 smacked of fanboyism instead of relishing in the same beautiful darkness of del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Indiana Jones returned; needlessly. And James Bond’s 22nd outing was so sloppy it sadly undid much of the greatness of Casino Royale.

As for me, I personally had a great year, cinematically speaking. The highlights are numerous; watching Lawrence of Arabia in 70mm as the centenary of David Lean’s life passed by (I also saw Great Expectations, Oliver Twist and Brief Encounter for the first time over the year); stumbling upon Wings of Desire, Amores Perros, The Leopard and many others for the first time; watching Crank with a selection of my closest, and most sugared-up, friends at an absurd hour of the night. Laughing til I could no longer breathe at Robo Vampire. These are the sort of films you never forget not just because of how great (or terrible) they are but because of where and how and who you were at the time you saw them.

Similarly there were other special, more personal moments. I had the privilege of interviewing both Will Ferrell and Michael Palin in the space of just a few months. At the Irish premier of There Will Be Blood I had a remarkable – if utterly terrifying – encounter with Daniel Day-Lewis. Jeremy Irons invited me to dinner, though never followed through.

As well as all that, this blog was begun.

Thus far in 2009 the crop of films looks tantalising, and one can easily look forward to Milk or Revolutionary Road as much as one can to Watchmen or even the sequel to Transformers. Here’s hoping for as memorable a 2009.

And now, what you’ve been waiting for, here’s my personal selection of the best films I saw in 2008.

(Note: this list is made up entirely of new films released in Ireland in 2008, that I saw. Thus, certain films released internationally in 2007, such as Juno, are present here. In turn, late 2008 international releases, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, will not appear until next year.)

20. Lust, Caution
Ang Lee’s follow-up to Brokeback Mountain was somewhat of a letdown, and was undoubtedly overlong, but the photography, taking in countless greys and greens, was beautiful, and the central performance by Tang Wei was superb. A shot late in the film, of a diamond-laden ring representing betrayal finding its equilibrium on a hard wooden table, was one of the year’s most impressing images.

19. Things We Lost in the Fire

The American debut of Susanne Bier was disappointing for reasons somewhat out of her control. The script’s abandoning of its fractured storyline after the first act was unsettling, and the casting of Benicio del Toro in a film so similar in feel to 21 Grams was a mistake. But it was shot in a very personal style that felt distinctly un-American, and for which it went largely unrecognised by critics and cinemagoers. The performance by Micah Berry (no relation to Halle) as the young son was notable, while David Duchovny gave what may stand to be the performance of his career.

18. Kung Fu Panda
Dreamworks may not have broken the mould with this latest animal caper, but it certainly moved into a more mature, less spoofing area of family comedy with some clever gags and superbly arranged action. Sweet in nature and low on character development, it took delight in its own silliness and provided some splendid animation, particularly in its opening sequence.

17. Lars and the Real Girl
Sweet may not be the word, in fact, Lars and the Real Girl was at times undeniably creepy, but it had buckets of wit to support itself on. The story of a man so awkward and retreated that he can only express himself through the love he shares (romantically, only) for a life-size sex doll is so inventive that it could hardly be anything less than charming.

16. Juno

Perhaps lacking the ambition of Thank You For Smoking, Juno certainly had heart, a solid script by Diablo Cody and an adorable cast. Ellen Page got the majority of the credit, but really it was Michael Cera as the stupefyingly realistic teen dad-to-be and JK Simmons and Allison Janney as Juno’s reluctantly supportive parents who deserve the most credit. The quirky soundtrack and dialogue added to the fun of the proceedings and let the film skirt around its unwillingness to genuinely tackle the issue of teen pregnancy.

15. Iron Man

Comic book mayhem got a whole bag of cool dropped on it this year. Robert Downey Jr played Tony Stark/Iron Man like a father hastily unwrapping his son’s new train set on Christmas morning. Gwyneth Paltrow emerged from who-knows-where to play his long-suffering and ignored love interest with more class than the film deserved. Yes, it was all a little rushed, the villain was terrible and the final action sequence was a mess, but – hey look! Another explosion! Fun!

14. Cloverfield
Seriously, who needs well-developed characters when you have nauseating camerawork and a giant alien crab-lizard tearing up Manhattan?! The night vision subway sequence was superbly built-up and executed, while the whole film gave off a 9/11 but with popcorn feel.

13. Caramel

As sweet as its delicious title, this Lebanese delight from all-round talent Nadine Labaki was the film most deserving of out-the-door queues of chick flick-eager women. Beautifully acted and shot, Labaki chose to ignore the politics and strife of her country and focus on the simple pleasures and sadness of everyday life.

12. Mamma Mia!

Not what one would consider a true piece of art, Mamma Mia! burst at the sides with so much energy and fun that even the dire karaoke singing of most of its leads couldn’t hold it down. Much prettier to look at than it ever needed to be, few were able to resist its cheeky charm.

11. Wanted

For years we’ve waited for a film in which two bullets, shot by two characters at one another, would collide in slow motion and fall to the ground. But who knew we were waiting for a keyboard, shattered across a man’s face, to spell out “Fuck you”? It turns out we were! Hectic, noisy and decidedly over-the-top, Wanted showed enough ‘mad as hell’ attitude to make it more memorable than your average blockbusting tripe. A cautiously curious squeak from a doomed rodent may have been the year’s funniest sound.

10. In Bruges

Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s feature-length debut was as dark as dark can be. Obvious targets for humour, such as overweight American tourists, were made funnier by Colin Farrell’s violently disrespectful delivery of lines we’ve all thought and bottled up inside. Brendan Gleeson also brought a feckload of fun to the proceedings as a simple hitman with a fondness for historical architecture. The duo were unfortunately outgunned and outclassed by the scenery-devouring Ralph Fiennes. The profanity was wonderful, though the ending attempted a philosophical sentiment that the film couldn’t really support.

9. Gomorrah

Violent and gritty, the underbelly of the criminal world has never been portrayed quite like this. There were times when it felt like the cameras were intruding on real events where it was dangerous to be filming. Amazingly, if simply, realised.

8. Persepolis

From Marjane Satrapi’s bittersweet graphic novel came a film that dared to change little from its source material. The growth of little Marji’s confidence in the film’s first act was reflected by her subsequent disillusionment with life in Iran and the world as a whole. Iraqi gasmasks became alien faces and burka-clad fundamentalists became snake-like nightmares through the simple but mesmerising animation. Honest and full of wit.

7. The Orphanage

At the same time clichéd and yet utterly original, The Orphanage was that rare joy – a horror film where nothing really happens. Using the simplest tricks of the trade – a motionless child, creaking floorboards, never-resting cameras – Juan Antonio Bayona created a house of largely unseen horrors, where everything you feared was only what you assumed you should fear. Likely to become a classic of the genre.

6. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A late release in Ireland allowed this gem to make the cut for 2008. Harrowing and beautiful, the story of Jean-Dominique Bauby’s stroke-imprisoned body allowed for a rich story of hope and sentimentalism while allowing director Julian Schnabel to experiment with camera trickery, light and inventive editing. Mathieu Amalric gave one of the year’s best performances as Bauby, so full of life at one moment, the next, frozen.

5. The Dark Knight

Building on the back of Batman Begins, already a pinnacle of comic book movies, Christopher Nolan drew back on Bale’s Batman and allowed other characters to move to the fore, particularly Gary Oldman as Lieutenant Jim Gordon and Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent. Though hindered by a necrophiliac curiosity, Heath Ledger’s Joker was certainly one of the most impressive performances of the year. Broken up by clumsy plot holes and an at times overly complex narrative, The Dark Knight thrilled and impressed on several levels, and deserves much of the acclaim it has received.

4. There Will Be Blood

As grandiose in its scale as is the figure at its centre, this beast of a film could not be ignored in 2008. Violent in tone, like many of the best films this year it sought to look at what makes a man, and what a man can be at his worst. Succeeding through Daniel Day-Lewis’s authoritative and terrifying performance (one should not overlook the quality of the writing however), the finale answered that question of what happens when an unstoppable force hits a formerly immovable object. Paul Dano can easily be overlooked due to the towering Day-Lewis, but gave a truly impressive performance as Eli Sunday, a young man twelve fathoms out of his league. The music kept the viewer on edge, while the shocking photography echoed the greatest films of American cinema, from Greed to Gone with the Wind.

3. Hunger

More of an experiment with the possibilities of the camera than a political eulogy, Steve McQueen’s biopic-of-sorts of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands is slow, contemplative and utterly intense. From the beautiful yet ghastly art of a faeces-smeared prison wall and the wasting away of Sands’s body (Michael Fassbender is a revelation in the lead role), to the lighting of a cigarette by bloodied hands and the slow and haunting washing a prison floor, Hunger is nothing less than a work of art. It may become more famous for its exhausting single take sequence in which Sands debates his fate with Liam Cunningham’s priest, but the shot that sticks with you is a blinding beam of sunlight blasting through a bus window.

2. No Country For Old Men
The Coen brothers’ returned to their best this year, again taking a dark and twisted look at humanity, but this time with less wit, and a greater awareness of the potential of the story they were telling. Using Texas in 1980 as a wilderness representative of man’s emptiness, the story injected a pulse-pounding thriller into this void that never stopped pumping til the last minute. Eschewing a musical soundtrack in favour of fear-drenching silence, No Country took several thrilling set-pieces – a river escape from a vicious dog, a darkened stand-off at a hotel door – and divided them with moments of simple reflection that asked no deep questions but invited you to contemplate the answers. The decision to remove some of the most important sequences from the film adds to its sense of chaos and disorder. The stellar cast acted it with such honesty you might believe they were in fear of the script itself.

1. Wall·E

Arguably Pixar’s greatest achievement to date, Wall·E demands to be taken seriously. Almost utterly-dialogue free for the duration of its first act, the film builds a romance between two robots in a future where mankind has lost all sense of humanity. Building on the great debates of science fiction; what does it mean to be human?; what are the effects of our unending obsession with commercialism?; how will our relationship with nature affect the future?; Wall·E repackages them in a new form that is a glory to behold. Spellbindingly beautiful and sickeningly sweet, this animated marvel can appeal to anyone of any age, and will forever have something to say to those who watch it. That there is even a supply of heart-warming gags to boot only seals this as one of the most wonderful products of American cinema in a generation.

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And now, as an extra treat, here are the five worst films of 2008, in my embittered opinion.

5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Great talent wasted on a cacophony of wretched melodies, the clever production design couldn’t hide the hideous CGI nor excuse such a great collection of actors (Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Helena Bonham Carter) reduced to their very worst. The one amusing joke – an unexpected light-hearted slicing of the throat – is a gag, if you’ll forgive the pun, that gets utterly done to death.

4. Be Kind Rewind

An unpleasant and confused little oddity that sees two capable actors (Jack Black and Mos Def) compete for the title of most irritating. It not only never quite gets its tone right, it also came out about 10 years too late to be of any real relevance. The adoration it attempts to show for the cinema really comes off as a pornographic irreverence.

3. Aliens Vs Predator: Requiem

Two once-dominant franchises reduced to teen horror nonsense. One earnestly suspects that no-one involved knows what the word ‘requiem’ means.

2. The Other Boleyn Girl

As ugly as it is dull, this film forced two hours of the most horrid characters upon its unsuspecting victims. Eric Bana appears utterly bemused by where he is and what he is supposed to be doing, while Johansson and Portman repeatedly do their bests to out-bitch one another. The ending hilariously draws you away from the story to focus on the future Queen Elizabeth, as if to try and make you leave the cinema thinking fondly of a far superior film.

1. Ghost Town

A wretchedly nasty little film, an attempt at a comedic The Sixth Sense, sees the talents of Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni squandered in what just might be the most blatant victim of the writers’ strike. One moment of genuine sweetness is so heavy in saccharine after an hour of hell that it feels violating and manipulative. The open-ended finale may have seemed original and smart, but makes it feel as if those involved had no real idea of where they wanted this aimless mess to go.

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Notes on a Small Robot

Things have been far too slow on here as of late, largely due to a painful two-week lull where I was devoid of internet access (ironic seeing as dependence on technology is a major theme of the forthcoming blog entry). Since then, the time to review Wall·E has come and gone, so rather than tiptoe around plot points and hint at what to look for, I have instead decided to opt for a more discursive approach, which will observe the film under the assumption that the reader has either seen it, has elected to not or never see it, or feels that what merits the film will have for them cannot be damaged by certain revelations or “spoilers” found within.

Wall·E was always going to be special. Pixar have so far had one of the greatest strings of successes in animation history; nay, in cinematic history. There have been blips of course. Cars is somewhat hackneyed and becomes utterly confusing when analysed beyond being a simple kids film (just how did that world evolve?). The Incredibles is, alas, not to everyone’s liking, and A Bug’s Life and Monsters, Inc. suffer moments of weakness. But from the moment Wall·E first appeared in trailers a year ago he captured instantly a piece of the magic that has made Pixar the rightful successor to Disney’s practically vacant throne.

His eyes of course instantly remind audiences of Lenny the clockwork binoculars in Toy Story. He also recalls E.T., particularly with his rising neck, brownish colouring, voice and curious nature. There is even a generous sprinkling of Johnny 5 in the mix. The loneliness and humour portrayed in trailers made for adorable Pixar shorts of their very own, so the fact that this was to be a full-length feature, after the witty and ambitious Ratatouille, was a favourable sign for Pixar and audiences alike.

So much has already been said about Wall·E and its messages, with political and social backlashes and support seen from all sides. There are few punches pulled, as was the case with Cars, but the message being presented here is far greater than the disappearance of small town America. In Wall·E, by 2815 America, and the whole world, has become a dusty trash pile representing a long since forgotten human presence. Skyscraper-filled skylines (made up of both actual skyscrapers and monolithic slabs of compressed garbage) echo our modern cities, while the hazy pollution is all too familiar from previews of Beijing’s pre-Olympic cleanups.

Wall·E is the typical last man on Earth, barring the fact he is a robot. He plays with the objects he finds, with the emptiness around him, and befriends an unlikely companion in a cockroach. By observing the remains of human society (summarised by segments of the 1969 musical Hello, Dolly!) he becomes considerably more human than the humans he will later encounter. Ironically, while we can see the worst of ourselves reflected in the evolved abominations aboard the Axiom cruise spaceship, the best of humanity is summed up in Wall·E, the little robot that could.

Buy n Large, the hyper-Wal-Mart monstrosity responsible for the current state of affairs in Wall·E, is about as unsubtle a satirical creation as can be. The company owns everything from banks to shops, giving it complete control of all financial and capital movements. Its president, played by Fred Willard in live-action video footage, addresses customers from a White House press room look-alike podium, implying that Buy n Large literally ran the world, and not just from behind the scenes. Indeed Willard is an odd casting choice, so often playing the buffoon, that parallels are instantly drawn to the current US president; both joke about their apparent cluelessness, both are aware of corporate agendas beyond the greater good. Even a scene where Willard wears a gas mask on his chest recalls George W Bush’s photo op in full fighter pilot regalia.

One could go on. Aboard the Axiom the people are so pandered to by Buy n Large, who wish only to satisfy their customers fully to ensure that they remain content, that they have evolved into nightmarish visions of white middle-class Americans. Quite literally everything is controlled by the market, which is solely Buy n Large. Indeed, when the final credits have rolled after the film, the Buy n Large logo flashes one last time, as if to imply that the company is so all-encompassing that it has somehow retroactively co-financed this film!

So that’s enough about the worst of humanity. Let’s get back to Wall·E, and also on to EVE. EVE’s introduction, heralded by a cooing “ooooh” from Wall·E, is truly when the film begins. In appearance half iPod, half swaddled baby Jesus, the life-detecting robot (and arsenal of hugely destructive capability) is a complete mismatch for the living robot, with a girly laugh the only indicator of the humanity she will come to possess. She is an Asimovian robot; free to do whatever she wills until a rule that must be obeyed (referred to repeatedly as her “directive”) rebukes her freedom.

Wall·E, through his isolation, has evolved beyond these I, Robot limitations, and thus while rusty and broken, he is indeed the most advanced machine of all. When EVE temporarily shuts down, Wall·E acts not like a loyal dog, but like a loving human to a bedridden partner. He cares for her through wind and rain and sandstorm (her egg-like shape adds an extra natural aspect to his protective behaviour). Arguably his attempts to have her address his loneliness through handholding verge on cybernetic necrophilia, but we can chalk it up largely to his rather childlike and human misunderstanding of the situation.

In one of the film’s most touching sequences EVE bares witness through security footage to the kindness Wall·E showed her during her hibernation, and the human feelings she experiences allow her to overcome the confines of her robotic existence. She breaks the directive that is her sole purpose because she has found a greater good in Wall·E. The message is simple, but it is sweet and delivered note perfect.

Wall·E’s humanity is as contagious as a virus. It’s a wonderful life he ends up leading, as like George Bailey before him, the most minor of events make the lives of others better. M-O, a teeny robot with OCD, is forced to stray from his set path by Wall·E’s bio-hazardous presence, and discovers adventure and friendship on the way. John and Mary (voiced respectively by Pixar must-have John Ratzenberger and King of the Hill’s Kathy Najimy) are two generically named human blimps aboard the Axiom whom contact with Wall·E frees them the Matrix-like hold of Buy n Large. The ship’s captain (Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Jeff Garlin) discovers the importance of learning, humanity and taking action after being inspired by one brief encounter. The idea is of course that what makes us human cannot be undone even if it is buried behind layers and layers of fat and stupidity, it just takes the right little something to reignite the spark.

What’s amazing about Wall·E is just how dystopian its clean white future is. The grungy mess on Earth is nowhere near as hellish as the beautiful decks of the Axiom. At least on Earth man, robot and roach can be free. The customers of Buy n Large on board the Axiom are slaves of the worst kind. They are slaves to their bodies, which can barely move for them given their size, shape and weakened states. They are also slaves to the system; their tastes and styles are selected for them. By the look of surprise on their faces when John and Mary touch hands, we can assume human contact is utterly new to them, implying that the babies we have seen were hardly produced by coitus (not something that a children’s film will dwell on of course, but subtly implied). Indeed, the children are hooked to the corporate Matrix from birth and even then receive no human contact, somewhat of a throwaway gag in the film (“A is for Axiom, B is for Buy n Large…”), but truly disturbing when considered in depth. Unlike the world of The Matrix, where being in the Matrix is arguably favourable to living in a sewer and attending horrible raves, there is no evident pleasure to be found in the lives of the Axiom’s cruise passengers. John and Mary on the other hand, unhooked, can enjoy the stars, the pool, and life off the lighted track.

Portends to classic sci-fi don’t end there, there are also numerous references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, most notably in the ship’s malfunctioning-due-to-clashing-orders auto-pilot, Auto, who as a red dot in a ship’s wheel is quite literally a maritime HAL-9000 (one is left wondering how much easier Dave Bowman’s last day might have been had HAL simply had an AUTO/MANUAL switch!). Sigourney Weaver voices the ship’s main computer, which might as well be called MOTHER given how it dotes on the captain. One could even question if the fact that Wall·E feeds his pet cockroach on cream-filled pastries is in reference to a gag in TV’s Family Guy that the only things that can survive a nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Twinkies.

Not all of Wall·E is as faultless as I may be implying, and to be honest I am rather looking at what should be taken from the film than putting forth reasons that demand it be adored. The misfit band of broken robots that Wall·E befriends for example is a little too in-your-face nice. The message that it is ok to be different is already evident without a robot that puts make-up on everything and a robot umbrella that can’t stay closed – although admittedly the sequence where a broken massage robot goes twenty-ninth century on the asses of countless robot guards rouses one of the film’s greatest belly laughs.

The film’s final return to Earth does leave us wondering whether the cycle of history will repeat itself. Can these jelly-filled excuses for humans ever hope to bring Earth back to its former glory, even after discovering the joys of individuality and working for oneself? Surely they’re screwed, or will the robots help them out? The idea of history repeating itself is suggested (although this negative spin is perhaps unintended) in the gorgeous closing credit sequence, where future history is played out in the styles of our own history of art, from hieroglyphs to a stunning Monet/van Gogh fusion of Wall·E and EVE in a field. These are followed by an 8-bit computer graphics retread of the entire film around the scrolling credits (in which, perhaps intentionally, Wall·E looks all too like the Atari envisaging of E.T.).

Worth mentioning is the usage of live-action footage to represent the humans that were circa 2105. While the imagery is effective and clever, one does get the idea that Pixar may finally be admitting that they do not have faith in their rendering of human beings. Whatever the case may be, they have escaped persecution this time around, but it will be worth seeing how humans appear in their future films. If they are to take Disney’s crown for good, their humans must appear as charming as those in Disney’s animations.

Morally you can’t argue much with a film this sweet. Humanity triumphs, albeit emerging from an unlikely source. Pollution is bad, we know this. Corporations should be kept out of politics and out of our private lives (I’m talking to you, Google!). Sacrifice is a necessity. The heartbreaking finale, where Wall·E reverts to a mechanoid state with no emotions or personality spells it out. Wonderfully, in a classic fairytale twist, it is a kiss from the heroine that wakes him from his death-like slumber. This touching gender role reversal is a fitting ending to a film that hits so many of the right buttons from the get go, in its attention to detail and in its genuine sense of rightfulness and humanity.

Wall·E is a robot that’s built to last, and he will continue to touch and entertain audiences well into the future.

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