Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hancock (Peter Berg, 2008); Wall.E (Andrew Stanton, 2008)

Perhaps the best part of Andrew Stanton's Wall.E (2008) is the largely wordless first forty minutes depicting the robot's goofball infatuation with Eve, the sleek 'droid sent to Earth on a classified mission. Stanton manages to creat a remarkable junkyard world of rusted metal and scrapped items, and his main character (much as Chaplin or Fred Astaire did decades before) turns each sample of pop culture into an object of mystery, inventive comedy, wonderment (funny how much of it comes from '80s America (even the recording of The Music Man (1962) is replayed in the form of a VHS tape)).

The latter half cribs its best ideas from Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; turns out the humans here have degenerated into immobile fat slobs, and have their lives planned and acted out for them. Consumerist society satire--rather broad satire at that (rim shot); what doesn't quite compute is the speed in which the humans spill out of their traveling sofas to take action, and why it's so all-fired important to get that silly seedling to the holowhatsit to confirm that life indeed exists on Earth . The end credit roll is a direct steal from Miyazaki, where the end credits continue the story after the final image.

All in all, not bad--Pixar's a decent enough animation outfit, probably the best in the United States--but still largely aimed at children, and still years behind what the Japanese are doing now.

Now Hancock--Peter Berg uses too much shakey-cam, edits incoherently, veers wildly all over the place in terms of emotional tone and can't seem to build up any momentum or dramatic tension for any appreciable length of time, yet the movie has enough of a subversive kick to be more interesting than Iron Man or the recent Hulk movie. The sight of Will Smith weaving and stinking of booze is enough to make one sit up and take interest; yes, Robert Downey downed a few martinis as Tony Stark, but when he dons his overcomplicated tin suit (stray note: how do we know--like Tom Cruise in one sequence in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002)--that something won't go horribly wrong when he's being fitted into that suit and get skinned alive?) Stark is pretty much a teetotaler (it's Marvel--can't have their heroes be too negative; scares the kiddies). Smith is a pissed-off superhero; he does good, but doesn't get any Boy Scout sense of righteousness out of it. He's angry, and that anger coupled with the possibility that he might lash out with it at any moment, for any reason, is what makes him so intriguing.

Well, not that intriguing; I wish they made him a lech as well--but hey, I'm grateful for what I have (somewhat).

Think it's a relief too to see him have such intense chemistry with Charlize Theron--when since the days of Richard Fleischer's Mandigo (1975) did sexual sparks fly so unapologetically between a black man and a white woman? Even Spike Lee's Jungle Fever (1991) implicitly condemns such a union, and Craig Brewer's Black Snake Moan (2006) confines the fireworks to the film's frankly exploitative poster. I'd love to have seen more but hey, in these timid, feebleminded times, just the suggestion that Smith and Theron were once husband and wife seems somehow satisfactory (like I said--grateful for what I have). Interracial sex? Absolutely, I'm all for it, more power, and hope to see butt cheeks with more shades to it than boring white on the big Hollywood screen.

The picture ultimately self-destructs faster than Superman mainlining uncut powdered Red Kryptonite, but even falling flat on its face Berg manages to make it compulsively watchable--I mean, the idea of an ideal other half being the basis of a superhero mythology (the Greek gods, come to think of it, were some of our first superheroes); or a second-rate villain being dangerous not because he's any smarter or any more powerful, but because Hancock's Achilles Heel (in fanboy speak: his Kryptonite) has been found; or an ordinary man becoming genuinely heroic (okay, maybe not that last one--but Bateman as the improbably idealistic PR man is improbably entertaining).

Like I'm saying--not good, exactly, but interesting. And better than the cookie-cutter superhero movies coming out of Hollywood recently.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed Wall-E, but I think people are too quick to call it artful and on par with Ghibli. The "silent" portion of the film was neat, but it wasn't very long or silent. The characters called out one another's names with very obvious emotional inflection and the music also told you exactly how to feel just in case you didn't get it. If that is challenging art then so is Pikachu's Big Vacation (which was also a pretty good film).

Noel Vera said...

I think Pikachu's the equivalent of MacDonald's--convenient and cheap but bland and nutritionally useless.

Pixar's more like the Red Robin chain of burgers--classy, but basically a chain, with bright decor.

Ghibli's more like a db Burger, ground sirloin stuffed with deboned short ribs braised in wine, black truffles, and a mirepoix of root vegetables.