Disney/Pixar’s “WALL-E” Animates the Future and Mirrors the Present

June 24, 2008

Saw Pixar’s newest animated movie “WALL-E” at a MoMA preview on Sunday. Directed by Andrew Stanton (who won an Oscar for Best Animated Feature, for “Finding Nemo” in 2003) and released by Disney, the animated narrative unfolds around two robots, WALL-E and EVE. It’s (shall we anthropomorphically call it…) a love story set in a dystopic and divided auto-consumerized future, which eventually becomes the ground for a new, more human, Earth.

Hands down: the animation is gorgeous. You know something’s picture-perfect when you don’t even think it’s an animated production. I still remember seeing-but-not-believing its first animated feature “Toy Story” back in 1995. “Wall-E” is Pixar 2008 and Disney 21st Century. Baudrillard might have called it a simulacrum so seamless you forget it’s a fiction. There are moments in the first part of the film when you really think there’s a crew filming WALL-E’s dust-ridden, junk-filled terrain.

WALL-E itself is a friendly garbage-collecting-robot that looks strikingly like Johnny 5 in “Short Circuit” (1986). It’s the last remaining robot on Earth. It’s been tirelessly doing its job for about 700 years. (Since the movie is set in the year 2700, we might assume that the writers are trying to tell us that WALL-E was probably created right about now.) It’s got a soft spot for old-fashioned romance musicals.

Suddenly, WALL-E encounters EVE, a futuristic cyborg/militarized automaton who has landed on Earth to look for sustainable life. WALL-E’s got it, in the form of a single plant. EVE, it turns out, is a probe from a spaceship in which the last remaining humans are consuming themselves into an overweight and immobile oblivion. The two robot-opposites attract and the rest, as they say, is history. Or maybe the future.

What do we expect from Disney? It’s a classic love story, along the lines of Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella. Set against an environmental catastrophe and “An Inconvenient Truth”. Disney sure knows how to tug at them heartstrings — a lot for a movie with minimal dialogue.

While I did honestly enjoy “WALL-E”, I also found myself asking how much it illuminates our current state of affairs: I’m watching a love story about two inanimate machines, who are somehow more human than humans. I’m looking at the effects of hyper-consumerism and technology-driven simulation — through a Disney/Pixar creation. And I’m facing a screen, blogging about this to a largely-unknown group of readers. We are living the foundations of this science fiction. WALL-E mirrors our time.

In short: good movie, good soundtrack, great animation. Go see it! Opens June 27.


Madonna’s Documentary on Malawi at Cannes Film Festival

May 22, 2008

malawiThe Guardian reports tonight on “I Am Because We Are“, a documentary film produced by Madonna and directed by her former gardener/current filmmaker Nathan Rissman about poverty and AIDS in the southern African country of Malawi. Apparently, the documentary was well-received at the Cannes Film Festival. This was not the reception it received when it premiered a month ago at the Tribeca Film Festival. According to Fox411 (so take this with a grain of salt because the Material Girl probably tops their list of Most Evil), the documentary is propaganda for the Kabbalah Center of Los Angeles, its teaching curriculum, “Spirituality for Kids” (SFK), and Madonna’s foundation, Raising Malawi.

According to the film’s website:

“Madonna leads viewers through heart-wrenching stories that ultimately remind us how interconnected we are… As we try to uncover what is in the heads and hearts of Malawi’s one million plus orphans we begin to understand that this is not just a story about the orphans of Malawi, rather a story about all of us. We are reminded that whether we are talking about the children of Malawi, or anywhere else in the world, if they don’t have a vision, they’ll never have a future. If they don’t know where they are going, they’re never going to get there. If we can create a belief in children, that they have the power to impact their future, that they really are their own potential… then we can change everything.”

There’s something deeply disturbing, dangerous, and patronizingly colonial about pseudo-humanitarian statements like this: the underlying assumption that people live in poverty because they haven’t helped themselves, don’t have a vision, and don’t know where they’re going. Now thanks to the goodwill of celebrity and wealth from the First World, these children are going to be educated, pick themselves up, and really, just get themselves together. Thank you, Madonna. Now we get it.

Both Madonna and Rissman are working on their next film project, which will be based on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Run, don’t walk.

David Lynch on Mobile Movies

May 5, 2008

Tech and telecom companies around the world have been betting big on the next frontier: mobile. Today, the NYTimes reports that mobile TV is spreading in the U.S. and Europe as more and more people are watching direct broadcasts on their cellphones, and more and more companies are investing in infrastructure, devices, and programming. Japan leads the direct mobile TV audience, with 20 million cellphones equipped with TV receivers, followed by South Korea with 8.2 million.

From Kevin J. O’Brien’s NYTimes article:

“On Sunday, AT&T Wireless, with 71.4 million phone customers, started AT&T Mobile TV in the United States. The 10-channel service, costing $15 a month, includes Pix, a channel with movies from Sony Pictures. AT&T will sell cellphones made by LG Electronics and Samsung that can receive the TV broadcasts.

Britain is auctioning wireless spectrum this month that could be used for mobile TV. France plans to award a license for a 13-channel mobile video service in June. In Germany, Mobile 3.0, an investor group led by a South African-based media company, Naspers, plans to start a video service this year…”

Now wait a second. Before mobile operators do to TV or movies what the ipod did to music and video (which is shift from collective listening/viewing to individualized on-demand listening/viewing), please watch this absolute gem of a video with filmmaker David Lynch, one of the best American directors working today. (I’m not sure when this was recorded, but it’s arguably one of my most favorite finds on YouTube.)

Junot Diaz Speaks

April 5, 2008

Yesterday at 7pm at the Village Community School: Listened with awe to Junot Diaz read from two of his major published works to date, “Drown” (1996, a collection of short stories) and “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (2007, novel). Diaz gives me hope that the structures and institutions that restrict, antagonize, and exclude can also be fertile ground for criticality, complexity, compassion, and good old common sense.

Impossible to speak for, or even summarize, the richness of Diaz’ thoughts. So here’s a 45-minute video of a reading/talk he gave in September 2007 at (sorry) Google. The Q&A after his reading is precious and liberating. (This clip is NOT a sound bite. It’s sustenance for your soul without religious or ideological pretense, so go grab a cup or glass of whatever and have a listen.)

Vogue Cover Sparks Racial Charges

March 26, 2008

Basketball superstar LeBron James and Brazilian supermodel Gisele Bundchen are featured on April’s cover of Vogue. In early March, the choice seemed to spark media interest mainly because James is only the third man to grace the cover of Vogue in the title’s 116-year history (following Richard Gere and George Clooney). Today, however, the choice seems to be igniting controversy and sparking debates about stereotyped media representations, particularly whether the cover’s striking resemblance to King Kong iconography actually critiques or merely strengthens racism against African American men, as well as sexism against women in general (although the latter is so rampant in fashion that the uproar is largely over the more-unusual former.)

While pundits, talk show hosts, and bloggers continue to spin this in millions of directions, consider the trio of images above: on the left, Vogue’s April cover; middle, Jessica Lang and King Kong in the 1976 remake directed by John Guillermin; right, Naomi Watts and King Kong in the 2005 remake by Peter Jackson. You decide.