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Wall-E (2008)

by Steve Habrat

Of all the Pixar movies that I have seen, my favorite one is without question director Andrew Stanton’s Wall-E, the film that I believe has the most heart and soul out of all the Pixar films. I absolutely love that this is a silent film for half the runtime, allowing us to get sucked in to actions rather than the words. It is very hard to not fall for the peculiar little robot that loves Hello, Dolly, has a cockroach for a pet, and is puzzled over a bra. You won’t be able to get enough of the moments where Wall-E discovers that he is in love with fellow robot EVE, mystified by her sudden presence in his lonely little world. I felt for him in his desperation for a friend, someone he could share all of his interests and chat with in his hysterical little robot blips and squeals. When Wall-E isn’t overtaking you emotionally, you will be shocked to see how intelligent this film truly is. With Wall-E, Stanton points out that big corporations control almost every aspect of our lives and have made us the overweight slobs that we are. They control fads, what we eat, drink, what we should fear, what we should see, etcetera. Tell me that is not thought provoking for a children’s film! And yet Wall-E still fills me with childlike wonder as it shows us how beautiful love can truly be.

Wall-E begins in the distant future, with earth having been abandoned by her polluting children and left to be cleaned up by a garbage-collecting robot named Wall-E. Wall-E has been by himself for quite a long time without anyone to connect with except for his pet cockroach. He spends his days working at a task that seems like it will never be finished and he spends his evenings watching Hello, Dolly and staring up at the stars, hoping for a savior to come and take him away from the mundane. One day, Wall-E sees an enormous spaceship land and send out a sleek robot named EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), who is on the hunt for plant life. Wall-E immediately falls for EVE but she is so consumed with her mission on earth that she barely even notices the sweet Wall-E following her around. The two eventually connect but when Wall-E shows her a small plant he has found, EVE scoops up the plant and heads back out to space to the Axiom, an enormous spaceship that contains what is left of the human race. Wall-E chases after her but once he boards the Axiom, the lovable duo discovers a plot that would prevent the humans aboard the Axiom from ever returning to earth.

While Wall-E remains consistent its entire runtime, the first half of the film is such a breath of fresh air, it remains one of the crowning moments for the Pixar team. When you aren’t wrapped up in little Wall-E’s daily routine of compacting and rummaging through trash, you will be pulling for the little guy to find that spark with EVE. I absolutely love watching Wall-E discover a Rubik’s cube, car keys, and a fire extinguisher. He has grown bored with the monotony of his day to day, desperate to find something that will entertain him enough to forget about the tedious task of shuffling garbage. We also get to meet his pet, a cuddly little cockroach (Did you EVER think a cockroach could be cuddly?) that crawls around Wall-E’s insides, making him giggle and fidget. Watching the two get out of bed was a chuckler, Wall-E so groggy that he bumps into things as he tries to get himself ready for the day. When EVE shows up, Wall-E really perks up as he zooms after EVE, hiding out of bashfulness as he attempts to work up the courage to approach her. The two share a moment in Wall-E’s little house that is movie magic at its absolute finest.

The second half of the film is just as entertaining but it marches to a different beat. We get to meet tons of robots that prowl the Axiom while the humans all lounge around on hovering recliners. The humans are all obese slaves to a corporation called Buy N’ Large that announces over loud speakers what the current trend is in fashion (Keep an ear out for a voice cameo from Sigourney Weaver and an eye out for an appearance by Fred Willard). Buy N’ Large provides the humans with endless amounts of soda as they video chat into screens that obstruct their vision. Wall-E accidentally knocks out one human’s screen, a man named John (Voiced by John Ratzenberger), who discovers a world around him that he has been completely oblivious to. Wall-E and EVE also manage to short out another screen that belongs to a woman named Mary (Voiced by Kathy Najimy). John and Mary meet up and they quickly fall for each other, laughing over the quirky, love drunk robots that brought them together. Aboard the Axiom, Wall-E gets a bit preachy, a call to shake ourselves out of current fads and trends that are controlled by others and explore the world around us. We also get to meet the ships captain (Voiced by Jeff Garlin), who is clueless to what Earth is until he begins to research it. Wall-E comes equipped with a green message, wagging its finger at us for polluting the earth in addition to our brains and bodies.

Wall-E takes its good old time developing the love story between Wall-E and EVE, forcing us to emotionally invest in these little joys and I’ll be damned if the payoff isn’t overwhelmingly satisfying. Not one aspect of the film seems rushed, despite the fact that the film only runs an hour and a half. The standout sequence of Wall-E has got to be when Wall-E and EVE dance around in space, their love deepening with each spin through the air. The film does get a bit intense in the final moments as our lovable little hero gets badly wounded and barely clings to life. It falls on EVE and the captain to save the little guy AND the humans aboard the Axiom. Wall-E is such a pleasant film because it allows us to really get to know this little guy inside and out. His binocular eyes practically overflow with intrigue, curiosity, and wonder at the world around him. It is astonishing that Wall-E’s eyes are more alive than the eyes of the “human” characters found in most other animated offerings. In the multiple times I have seen Wall-E since it was released on Blu-ray, I haven’t been able to find a single thing wrong with the film, a rarity considering most newer films are far from perfect. Wall-E turns out to be a great cinematic love story and a masterpiece of animated filmmaking. Don’t be afraid to fall for this one!

Grade: A+

Wall-E is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

American Wedding (2003)

by Steve Habrat

American Wedding, the third installment of the American Pie franchise, should have been the most mature entry in the series. The film, after all, is about our horny hero Jim marrying kinky band geek Michelle and living happily ever after. Our little man is all grown up and embracing adulthood! Instead, American Wedding turns out to be the most immature of all of the films. Director Jesse Dylan and screenwriter Adam Herz basically edge Jim out of the frame every chance they get and replace him with the abrasive Steve Stifler, who hogs most of the spotlight in this warmed over installment. There are still a few laughs to be had in American Wedding and the inclusion of some new faces is a welcome break, but half the original cast missing takes quite a bit of the fun out of the festivities. Seriously, what did Mena Suvari, Chris Klein, Shannon Elizabeth, Tara Reid, and Natasha Lyonne have to do that was more important than the franchise that was keeping money in their bank accounts? At least Eddie Kaye Thomas and Thomas Ian Nicholas had the good sense to say yes this project.

American Wedding picks up with Jim (Played by Jason Biggs) and Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan) dining at a fancy restaurant where Jim plans to pop the big question. Naturally, Jim gets himself into a humiliating situation and makes a complete ass of himself, but the red headed Michelle says yes to becoming his bride. Then, the planning for the big day begins. Jim frets over the big day while his best buds Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas) and Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas) continuously reassure him everything will turn out okay. Jim’s fears become reality when Steve Stifler (Played by Seann William Scott) crashes the couple’s engagement party and insists that he be included in the wedding party. In return, he will teach Jim how to dance, something Jim is far from good at. Jim reluctantly accepts Stifler’s offer and allows him into the wedding party. Naturally, Stifler begins destroying the wedding and things go from bad to even worse when Finch and Stifler begin fighting over Michelle’s younger sister Cadence (Played by January Jones). Meanwhile, Jim finds his own embarrassing situations to get himself in, continuously making himself look bad in front of Michelle’s parents (Played by Fred Willard and Deborah Rush), making them begin to question if he is fit to take their delicate daughter’s hand.

American Wedding is the most lavish looking American Pie installment yet, one that is obviously a big Hollywood production and rich with Michael Bay-esque lighting. I’m stunned there weren’t a few explosions thrown in for the hell of it. For as good as everything looks, it can’t make up for the fact that the jokes are hitting rock bottom. Things really get desperate when Stifler has to eat a dog turd just to get a few belly laughs out of the audience. Don’t get me wrong, there are some jokes that land and sequences that play out smoothly, but they all just seem so grandiose for a film about a bunch of hornball teenagers. It’s borderline cartoonish at points and a bit hard to wrap your head around. An impromptu bachelor party is smooth and chuckle worthy but ends up going a bit too far the longer it plays out. Another sequence in a gay bar, where Stifler finds himself in a dance-off with another man, is just plain nonsensical and wholly unfunny. Even the awkward moments that Jim finds himself in are getting a bit thin, especially when Michelle darts under a table in the middle of a fancy restaurant to perform fellatio on him when suddenly, his dear old dad arrives and sits down in the middle of it.

While Biggs and Scott used to share the laugh spotlight, American Wedding sees Biggs taking a backseat to Scott. This is Scott’s film from start to finish, even if Biggs has been our hero of the franchise since that beginning. In this film, Herz forces Stifler to learn some hard life lessons, especially leaving his party boy ways in the dust. The film does make the clever move of asking Finch and Stifler to switch personalities to win the affection of Cadence, hysterical because Finch and Stifler are mortal enemies. The personality switch is by far my favorite part of American Wedding and I did enjoy Stifler’s transformation, but I wish we had stuck more with Jim than Stifler and the side characters. Another gripe I have with American Wedding is that the film does absolutely nothing with the character of Kevin, who stays in the background for the most part. It’s almost like they just stuck him in to reassure us he was still around and that Nicholas said yes to attempt to hold on to some aspect of fame.

American Wedding is never a terrible film and there are some moments that are rambunctious fun. There is, however, a lot wrong with American Wedding, some of which could have been resolved by giving the franchise a little bit of a break. They didn’t need to dump this thing out as quickly as they did. My advice would have been to wait a little longer and try to work in the rest of the original cast. At times you can tell the film was rushed into production, as some aspects of it seem under developed, weak, and more than a little desperate. The end result is a mixed bag, one minute you are wrapped up in the film and the next minute you are checking your watching, wondering how much more you have to endure. It is no surprise that the series went straight to DVD after this installment because, lets be honest here, there was nothing else left to elaborate on other than making Stifler grow up. Like a slice of apple pie that has been nuked in the microwave, this piece is a little soggy, stale, and warm only in places, but is still edible.

Grade: C+

American Wedding is now available on DVD.

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