The Films of Andrew Stanton
WALL-E (November 21/08)
Undoubtedly the first Pixar effort geared more towards adults than children, WALL-E follows the title character - a futuristic waste-collecting robot - as he solitarily goes about the business of preparing the Earth's uninhabitable surface for the eventual return of its citizens. The degree to which the almost entirely dialogue-free opening half hour is able to hold one's interest is certainly impressive, with WALL-E and his less-than-savory environment realized to pitch-perfect perfection by filmmaker Andrew Stanton. It goes without saying that the folks at Pixar have once again outdone themselves in terms of the movie's visuals, as WALL-E's jaw-dropping computer-generated effects prove instrumental in establishing (and maintaining) an unexpectedly gritty science-fiction atmosphere. The relatively uneventful nature of the film's first act - which is, admittedly, consistently involving - ultimately gives way to a second half that's downright enthralling, with the viewer's escalating emotional attachment to the central character making it virtually impossible not to root for the little guy's success. This is not to say the whole thing isn't without its problems - ie its message is far from subtle - yet there's little doubt that WALL-E is, for the most part, flat-out thrilling in its uniqueness (ie you've never seen a movie, animated or not, quite like this).
Based on the first installment of Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Barsoom" series, John Carter follows the title character (Taylor Kitsch), a Civil War-era veteran, as he's transported to Mars after encountering a mysterious figure within a remote desert cave - with the film subsequently detailing Carter's ongoing exploits on the red planet and his eventual decision to adopt the Martian cause as his own. It's clear right from the start that John Carter isn't quite the bottom-of-the-barrel disaster that one might've expected, as filmmaker Andrew Stanton has infused the proceedings with an impressively old-fashioned feel that's reflected in its myriad of attributes. And though there's certainly plenty here to admire and embrace, including the eye-popping production design and decidedly epic narrative, Stanton's decision to employ as deliberate a pace as one can easily recall generally prevents one from wholeheartedly connecting to the material - with the hands off atmosphere compounded by a disastrously overlong running time (ie this is a breezy, 90 minute popcorn flick trapped within the confines of a two-and-a-half hour missed opportunity). Stanton's grandiose sensibilities aren't, as such, able to pack the visceral and emotional punch that he's clearly intended, with the movie's disappointingly flat atmosphere perpetuated by Kitsch's competent yet bland work and by the pervasive lack of thrilling moments. (This is, in terms of the latter, especially surprising, as Stanton has jam-packed the film with an almost absurd number of CGI-heavy space battles and action sequences.) By the time the fairly anticlimactic finale rolls around, John Carter has definitively established itself as a disappointingly erratic endeavor that might appeal to hardcore fans of the source material but will surely leave newcomers scratching their heads.