Movie Review: Wall-E

Wow, what can I say? I’ve been anticipating every new Disney/Pixar release since they wowed me with their first theatrical release, Toy Story. Now Wall•Eis out and I’m as impressed as ever!

Set far into the future we encounter Wall-E as he happily labors away at a job he’s been doing for the last 700 years, which is cleaning up the Earth. As he’s worked through the centuries, he’s developed a few quirks: He’s befriended the last living inhabitant of the Earth (that we know of), a cockroach. He watches the songs and dances from Hello Dolly over and over and fantasizes being able to have someone to love and sing to of his own. And he collects things that he finds interesting. Everything from rubber duckies, to lighters. As far as Wall-E is concerned, he’s a robot who has it all.

Soon a probe ship arrives at Earth and launches EVE whose mission it is to seek out signs that the planet is once again able to sustain life. Of course, as far as Wall-E is concerned, when he sees EVE it’s love at first sight.

From here we embark on a wonderful adventure of Wall-E discovering what has become of the former inhabitants of the Earth as he attempts to stay close to EVE. The wonderful part of this movie is how the simple fact of Wall-E’s presence impacts every person he comes in contact with, and changes them all in very positive ways.

Wall•Enot only displays Pixar’s state-of-the-art expertise in computer animation, but it’s also a showcase for the skill level of their animators. There is very little dialogue in this movie at all. Most of everything we learn about Wall-E and the other robots who inhabit most of this film is done through synthesized voices and pantomime. It’s quite a joy to watch these seemingly inanimate objects display a wide range of emotions that allow us to empathize with them.

For the first time in a Disney/Pixar film, the future looks bleak. With our planet so polluted that we’re forced to evacuate to space and humanity evolving into helpless blobs because the technology they’ve developed spoon feeds them everything they need, it’s really the boldest statement about world issues that Pixar has ever made. I’m sure that many people will take environmental messages from this film, and maybe appropriately so, but the strongest message that I got out of it stems from some of my personal relationships with people who have let their health go so far south that they need full-time caregivers to help them accomplish simple tasks in their daily lives. The message I got from this movie is to never give up your ability to control your own life, whether it’s your personal abilities or social freedoms, because if you ever do, it’ll take nothing short of a revolutionary effort to gain it back.

Thomas Newman - WALL?E (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)Watching this movie, I fell in love with Wall-E in much the same way I fell in love with E.T. when I was a child. My favorite part was in the beginning when we got to see him doing his daily work, and then watch him stop to take in the wonder of the simplest of things. That child-like curiosity is something that I could have watched for hours.
Whether or not you have children, you owe it to yourself to see Wall•E. It’s a visual delight and a heartwarming treat that’s bound to inspire and touch audiences for years to come!
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Game Review: Lego Indiana Jones

>I’m a fan of the Lego Star Wars video games that have come out over the last few years. The classic stories that I loved growing up portrayed with the playful Lego building blocks combined to provide hours of fun with lots of replay value. Naturally, Lego Indiana Jones is a title that I was anticipating and when it was released I got it for the Playstation 2 and the PSP. So far it’s been a great game!

Those who’ve played the Star Wars versions will remember how linear and story-like the levels of those games are. It’s easy to play those games and just go with the flow. In contrast, when I first started playing the new Lego Indiana Jones, there were some areas where I felt a little lost. I was nearing frustration when I realized that the nature of this game is a little different in that the levels are more puzzle-like, meant to be explored and discovered much like the world of an adventurer archeologist like Indiana Jones would be. Because of this, gameplay is a lot more casual, and encourages you to take your time. This only gets discouraging when you spend a lot of time trying to figure something out and then realize that you can only accomplish it in freeplay mode with a different character with special abilities. But that just goes to increase the replay value.

The story cut-scenes are light and humorous as they segue from one scene to another. My only complaint, however, is that they don’t always handle the plot exposition as effectively as they would if there was dialogue. I found myself having to fill in the blanks for my 8 and 10 year old daughters on a few parts because they haven’t seen all the movies and couldn’t figure out what was going on.

The cooperative play in the game is rewarding. Playing with someone else makes it a very social game because you really have to plan out how to tackle some of the challenges. I play with my kids and we all have a great time. My non-gamer wife has even joined in and has had a good time. Unfortunately, there is no two player option in the PSP version whatsoever.

So far I haven’t been able to determine if there are any differences between the PSP and PS2 versions other than the absence of 2 players for the PSP, so if you’re deciding between the two platform versions, that’s about the only thing to consider.

All in all, I’d recommend this game for both adults and children. For adults, it’s a fun way to relive stories and characters we’ve grown up with, and for kids it’s a great introduction to a movie series that might be a little too scary to watch otherwise.

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Movie Review: Kung Fu Panda

>When I saw the first trailer for Kung Fu Panda, I was more interested in the comedic prospects of Jack Black than I was in a martial arts movie set in the animal kingdom. What I wasn’t expacting was how wonderfully the comedic acting would be portrayed through animation and how much I would care about all the characters by the end.

Kung Fu Panda is about Po (Jack Black), a panda who is inexplicably chosen to become the Dragon Warrior—the lead fighter of the marial arts team he idolizes. The only problem is that the closest he has come to kung fu training is his fantasies with his action figures in his bedroom. What follows is an entertaining exposition of what can happen when you try to fit a very round, bloated peg into a very square, ultra disciplined and trained Kung Fu hole.

As a long time fan of animation, I was pleased to see how they used very understated animation when the characters were interacting. They never resorted to the over exaggerated, Tex Avery-style of movement that can easily become a crutch for animators—the clearest example of which is Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It was really just a joy to watch the simplest dialogue scenes.

With an excellent cast of supporting voice actors, I was dissapointed that we didn’t hear more from them. For example, Jackie Chan was the voice of Monkey, but, sadly, he only had about two short lines. However, I am starting to get a greater appreciation of Dustin Hoffman, who voiced Master Shifu, who’d unfortunately burdened with helping Po become the Dragon Warrior. Even though this is an animated film, Hoffman doesn’t shy away from altering his voice and delivery to become the character, when it would have been just as easy to give a straight delivery so that his presence could be instantly recognized—which shows me that improving the quality of the movie was his ultimate goal.

My favorite sequence is when Master Shifu realizes the technique to bring the fighting talent out of Po. I was disappointed when this “special talent” of Po’s didn’t resurface more than once during the climactic battle with Tai Lung (voiced by Ian McShane), the snow leopard bent on claiming the title of Dragon Warrior for himself. I thought it would have made that sequence more entertaining than it already was.

I would definitely recommend this movie for the whole family. I don’t think any kids would be disturbed by the action in this movie. It’s all very stylized and there are very few, if any, visible deaths—although there are a few implied. There is even enough great sophisticated humor in it to keep child deprived adults entertained.

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Movie Review: The Incredible Hulk

Unlike most people, I didn’t hate Ang Lee’s Hulk that came out in 2003. It wasn’t my favorite movie ever, but I enjoyed it enough to not feel like I’d wasted my time, although it’s not a movie I feel like watching over and over. When I heard that they were making a new version of the Hulk with Edward Norton that was going to abandon what was started in the 2003 feature, I was relatively pleased because there wasn’t really anywhere they could go with the Hulk in a sequel after Lee’s version.

This new version, entitled The Incredible Hulk, begins as Bruce Banner, played by Edward Norton, is hiding out in Brazil as he’s searching for a cure to his little green problem. We soon learn that he has good reason to be hiding because the man responsible for the experiments that got him infected with gamma radiation, General Ross (played by William Hurt), is ready to move in on him the instant he gets a hint of where Banner’s hiding.

The Incredible Hulk is well enough balanced with backstory, character development and action to keep my attention riveted. Gone was all of the heady, psychological drama that dragged down Ang Lee’s “find your inner Hulk” version. But If you’re a fan of Ang Lee’s version, you’ll be happy to know that, aside from a couple of contradictory references to the Hulk’s origin, there’s not much in this that goes against what was developed in Hulk.

Edward Norton is great as a tormented person searching for a cure who is sincerely concerned for the safety of those around him. Liv Tyler, while being a little too pretty to be belived as a college professor, gives a touching performance as Betty Ross, Bruce’s lost love. Their reunion was very moving.

This film is a definite improvement on the last and will surely please anyone from casual moviegoers to die hard fans of the comic book and 70s TV show.

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If you have bears to hug, hug them now.

Here’s my Illustration Friday entry for this week. I was in a meeting this morning and thinking about the theme for the week and this is what I came up with for the topic “Forgotten”.

This is perhaps the saddest thing I’ve experienced with my kids growing up. I think I get more attached to their toys than they do. Whenever I see my daughter’s favorite bear from when she was 3 lying around (she’s now 8), I always have to pick him up and put him on his comfy spot on the bed. I think that Jessie the Cowgirl’s song in Toy Story 2 really affected me.

I thought I’d also include the sketch from this morning. I tried to blacken the lines with my pencil before scanning it so I didn’t have to redraw the lines in Illustrator. I kind of like the way it turned out so I may try to do it that way more often because it was much faster.

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