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Peter T Chattaway

Wall-E

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So...uh...Peter...what good are reviews and pre-screenings if a critic's review could totally change on subsequent viewing? Apparently, the least trustable time to trust a film critic is after he has seen the movie only once. :)

Not quite. The least trustable time to trust a film critic is when he hasn't seen the movie at all. :) Even then, critics can often display significant acumen... just not critical opinions.

It's certainly true that a review of an opening film is usually a record of the critic's initial impression on seeing the film once. Typically, the critic will have had at most a few days to live with the film before writing about it; sometimes not even that much. Even without seeing the movie again, those few days can make a difference, and certainly seeing the movie again can make a difference.

How much of a difference? Part of film criticism involves trying to watch movies with a level of attention and insight that minimizes the potential disparity. You try to watch and respond to a film such that your response will have some validity five years from now. You don't always succeed to the same degree, but you try to succeed to a critical degree a critical amount of the time.

Since Peter has alluded to the Star Wars prequels, anyone can go to my site and read my addenda to my reviews of Ep I and II and see how my opinion of those films changed over time. I was initially too enthusiastic and insufficiently appreciative of the flaws that emerged for me over multiple viewings. For the most part, I still pretty much agree with what I wrote in my initial reviews; the reviews needed correction not in what they said but what they left unsaid. That's a hazard any review is subject to (reviews of older films that you get to live with for years may be less subject to this hazard, though it's still possible), but like I said that's what you try to anticipate as a critic. And of course Peter has had similar experiences, for example downgrading his initial impression of Kingdom of Heaven after a second viewing.

I've also had the experience of having films grow in my estimation over time. My first go-round with Citizen Kane impressed me, but not as much as I became over time. I really enjoyed Groundhog Day when it first opened, but only subsequent viewings have revealed to me how just about perfect it is. Walking out of The Incredibles, I knew it was a terrific film, but it took some sustained thought over a few days to begin to appreciate just how terrific. Today, having seen it any number of times, I hold it in still higher esteem. It happens for lesser movies too: I now like the original Pirates of the Caribbean better than when it opened.

For the most part, though, I'm pleased to say that I find the experience of going back and rereading a review I wrote years earlier to be a confirming experience. In general, I look back at my older reviews with appreciation for the work of a somewhat younger critic whose views are so similar to my own. :)

Edited by SDG

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So...uh...Peter...what good are reviews and pre-screenings if a critic's review could totally change on subsequent viewing? Apparently, the least trustable time to trust a film critic is after he has seen the movie only once. :)

Not quite. The least trustable time to trust a film critic is when he hasn't seen the movie at all. :) Even then, critics can often display significant acumen... just not critical opinions.

Whoops! Good point. :)

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To the extent that it is based on anything that Harry Knowles says, yes. If Harry Knowles is neither here nor there for you, then carry on.

Certainly, Harry is a totally undisciplined writer with an immature aesthetic and a capricious approach to film evaluation and commentary. However, he is not a moron or an ignoramus, and he can be insightful and critically astute, amid rampant emoting and obscenity.

What a great description of Harry Knowles! He should put that in his resume. The one thing that keeps me going back to his "reviews" is his passion for film. Many critics seem to have lost that. He writes about film because he loves it, not because it pays the bills.

And that love is clearly evident in what he wrote about Wall-E. I hope this is more in line with his review of FOTR and less like his review of Cloverfield.

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I can't believe we're taking Harry Frickin' Knowles all THAT seriously.

Dave Frickin' Poland is dropping some hints that the film will be a big hit, without mentioning the film's artistic merits:

[M]ake no mistake, Wall-E may not open to quite the [Kung Fu] Panda number, but it will likely join the top level of Pixar grossers, perhaps as high as #2, behind only Finding Nemo.

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When it comes to the retail world, Speed Racer whomps WALL-E

Remembering how well the "Cars" merch sold (and continue to sell), most of the bigger toy manufacturers opted to go with the better-name-recognition, more-boy-friendly "Speed Racer" franchise instead. Which then forced Disney & Pixar to go with much smaller companies like Thinkway Toys in order to get "WALL-E" merchandise out on store shelves this year.

Jim Hill Media, June 17

- - -

Phill Lytle wrote:

: I'm not quite at that level with Wall-E, but Harry has been right before and I am enjoying the moment.

Well, he's been wrong before, too, so.

: : Let's just hope you don't pick your political candidates the way you pick your movies, then.

:

: :) You never know. Hope is a mighty good thing. ;)

The innocence of doves is nothing without the wisdom of serpents. ;)

SDG wrote:

: Certainly, Harry is a totally undisciplined writer with an immature aesthetic and a capricious approach to film evaluation and commentary. However, he is not a moron or an ignoramus, and he can be insightful and critically astute, amid rampant emoting and obscenity.

Oh, sure, I can grant that much. He's not NOTHING. But I'm hardly going to get my hopes up simply because of one of his, um, ejaculations. (Pardon the play on words, but I can think of no other word that fits.)

: It's certainly true that a review of an opening film is usually a record of the critic's initial impression on seeing the film once. Typically, the critic will have had at most a few days to live with the film before writing about it; sometimes not even that much. Even without seeing the movie again, those few days can make a difference, and certainly seeing the movie again can make a difference.

Yeah, which is why I tend to make a point of noting that I have seen a film twice, on those occasions when I review a film that I have seen twice. It is very interesting, to me, how, e.g., I actually responded MORE emotionally to a film like Atonement even though there were no "surprises" on the second viewing. Or perhaps I reacted as I did the second time BECAUSE I knew how the film was going to end. Anyway, stuff like that is definitely worth mentioning, if you've been lucky enough to see the film more than once before your deadline.

: Since Peter has alluded to the Star Wars prequels, anyone can go to my site and read my addenda to my reviews of Ep I and II and see how my opinion of those films changed over time.

Yeah, that was one of the examples I had swimming through my head.

: And of course Peter has had similar experiences, for example downgrading his initial impression of Kingdom of Heaven after a second viewing.

Gaaah, you had to remind me. (I know, I know, sauce for the goose...)

: I've also had the experience of having films grow in my estimation over time. My first go-round with Citizen Kane impressed me, but not as much as I became over time.

Citizen Kane had me at "hello". (I couldn't have been more than 19 when I first saw it. Sigh, I used to dream about making a movie like that by the time *I* turned 25, too. Anyway. How old were you, I wonder?) I do recall having a similar experience with Casablanca, though. For years, it was a film that I liked but did not love; it was, to borrow what Robert Graves said about Shakespeare, something that was good in SPITE of the number of people who said it was good. But then, one day, it became a film I loved, and I can remember the precise screening at which this happened. It was, in fact, a screening that I was attending somewhat against my will, because I was seeing a bunch of Warner Brothers classics (as part of their 75th anniversary series in 1998) and a friend of mine wanted to stick around for this one, whereas I had the attitude that I had seen it several times before so my personal film education did not require me to sit through it again. But for my friend, I sat through it again -- and by the time the screening was over, I had moved that film onto my list of "personal favorites". I no longer liked it simply because, or despite the fact that, I was supposed to. Funny how that worked.

Nezpop wrote:

: So...uh...Peter...what good are reviews and pre-screenings if a critic's review could totally change on subsequent viewing? Apparently, the least trustable time to trust a film critic is after he has seen the movie only once. :)

Well, I agree with David Gilmour when he says that you really only "see" a movie for the first time when you are seeing it for the second time; i.e. it is only after getting a sense of the entire picture -- the ending, etc. -- that you can go back and see how EVERYTHING fits into that bigger picture. I also agree that critics, like all viewers, can respond differently to films after different viewings. So, um, I guess what I'm saying is: I haven't a clue how your question follows from anything I've said here.

David Poland wrote:

: [M]ake no mistake, Wall-E may not open to quite the [Kung Fu] Panda number, but it will likely join the top level of Pixar grossers, perhaps as high as #2, behind only Finding Nemo.

Here's hoping it really is that good. (And I do mean that sincerely.)

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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David Poland wrote:

: [M]ake no mistake, Wall-E may not open to quite the [Kung Fu] Panda number, but it will likely join the top level of Pixar grossers, perhaps as high as #2, behind only Finding Nemo.

Here's hoping it really is that good. (And I do mean that sincerely.)

Since you didn't say it, I will: Poland has been wrong -- very wrong -- before with similar predictions. I hope he's not wrong this time.

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Fortunately, I have NEVER been wrong in my predictions.

Unfortunately, I have no predictions about Wall-E.

(sorry)

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Dirty Harry, formerly of Libertas, gives it 2.5 stars out of 4:

For all its charms and wonders, one moment sticks in my head and, well, craw. It also confuses me. Why? Why go there? Other than the dark chuckles from the liberal critics around me, what

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Hmmm, the Ontario film classification board has rated the film G but noted that it contains "Occasional use of words such as darn, damn, hell" (as well as "Sensitive to scenes and situations related to child's security", "Limited embracing and kissing" and "Restrained portrayals of limited violence").

This is not a deal breaker for me in any way, but I do find myself wondering if any other Disney/Pixar cartoons have used such language. I remember noticing when I was a kid that Don Bluth's first post-Disney film, The Secret of NIMH, included a "Damn!" or two, though it was rated G in the U.S. and elsewhere. Brad Bird's one pre-Pixar film, The Iron Giant, was rated PG on the other hand "for fantasy action and mild language".

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No uniform opinion emerging from the press corps at the junket... and that's usually a pretty impressionable crowd. Dunno about boxoffice, but I doubt this will get Ratatouille-like numbers at Rotten Tomatoes.

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Greg: Have you met "Dirty Harry"? Apparently this is his first junket -- and he says "Everyone [at the junket] was interested in" the film's "outrageous 'Stay the course,' shot at Bush", as he puts it.

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"Stay the course" became a popular catchphrase when Dana Carvey used it in his impression of the FIRST President Bush.

Remember? "Staaaay the course... a thousand point of light...."

So, is it fair to assume that any prominent use of the phrase is aimed at Dubya?

And man oh man, unless this quote is used in some flagrant, disruptive way in the film, I sure hope it doesn't end up dominating the conversation about it. I mean, it's been known for a while now that the old lady in Ratatouille kept her bullets in a box marked with Cheney's name, and that hasn't caused any kind of fuss among Christian reviewers as far as I've noticed.

Edited by Overstreet

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Overstreet wrote:

: "Stay the course" became a popular catchphrase when Dana Carvey used it in his impression of the FIRST President Bush.

: Remember? "Staaaay the course... a thousand point of light...."

Nope, don't remember. 'Twould be funny if Dubya were channeling someone who had been mocking his father, though. (Did the elder Bush ever actually use that line himself? I know it's sometimes common for parodies to somehow migrate into the mouths of actual politicians, at least in the memories of some people...)

: So, is it fair to assume that any prominent use of the phrase is aimed at Dubya?

Depends on all sorts of things. In this case, the character is the President, and I don't think anybody but the diehard SNL fans remember that particular line from the old SNL days. It might depend on what sorts of mannerisms this President has, and on the kind of "course" that he is trying to "stay", etc.

: And man oh man, unless this quote is used in some flagrant, disruptive way in the film, I sure hope it doesn't end up dominating the conversation about it.

Well, according to "Dirty Harry" at least, it seems it was a hot topic at the junket. Any light you can shed on that, Greg?

: I mean, it's been known for a while now that the old lady in Ratatouille kept her bullets in a box marked with Cheney's name, and that hasn't caused any kind of fuss among Christian reviewers as far as I've noticed.

I don't think that was made public until long after the reviews had been published, though. And the old lady wasn't a vice-president. And the label on the box wasn't very clear or obvious. Etc. etc. etc.

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Just noticed, CT Movies editor Mark Moring had this to say in his newsletter today:

On another note, the other day I saw one of the films I was most looking forward to all year

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Greg, re: your reference to "Ratatouille-like numbers at RottenTomatoes", I just checked and found that Ratatouille is actually tied with Monsters Inc. for third-worst rating for a Pixar film, at 95%. (A Bug's Life is at 91% and Cars is at 75%. On the other hand, The Incredibles is at 97%, Finding Nemo at 98%, and both Toy Storys at 100%.) So what you're saying is WALL*E will be one of the three worst-rated Pixar films?

Turning to Metacritic, on the other hand, we find that Ratatouille has a rating of 96%, which is ahead of ALL the other Pixar films: Cars at 73%, A Bug's Life at 77%, Monsters Ins. at 78%, Toy Story 2 at 88%, Finding Nemo at 89%, The Incredibles at 90%, and Toy Story at 91%.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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: So, is it fair to assume that any prominent use of the phrase is aimed at Dubya?

Depends on all sorts of things. In this case, the character is the President

Well, he's not really the President... He's the CEO of a corporation that runs the planet. Vast difference. Wink, wink.

Stanton, as I recall, said he couldn't remember the origin of the line, but was very emphatic that red/blue symbolism in the movie meant absolutely nothing ("Blue is the new red!"), and that any socio-political commentary was completely incidental, simply necessary to explain WALL-E's scenario. Fred Willard, on the other hand, was quite clear that the line was in the original script, and that it was a very obvious and direct swipe at George W. Bush. But that's Fred Willard.

: And man oh man, unless this quote is used in some flagrant, disruptive way in the film, I sure hope it doesn't end up dominating the conversation about it.

Well, according to "Dirty Harry" at least, it seems it was a hot topic at the junket. Any light you can shed on that, Greg?

It was a hot topic because the film makes it hot. From the opening sequences, featuring the remains of an 18-block long Buy N Large big-box store, Big Business becomes a topic of major satire. And the satire is all on the mark -- it's just so ironic coming from a pair of companies that are tinsel-town's equivalent of Big Box stores. And when they've got a "Merchandising Suite" in the press center at the junket, and require you to listen to a product-marketing pitch in order to claim your "swag bag." The whole thing was so offensive to me that I didn't even visit the suite... no matter how cool the foot-square WALL-E toy was that they were "giving away."

It's very disingenuous for the film's publicity materials to emphasize how every last detail of the animation is packed full of intentional fun references to all sorts of obscure things... and then to say that socio-political references that are very much in your face are incidental. Nobody in the press corps seemed to be buying it.

And that line is just the tip of an iceberg, most of which you've already seen by that point. That line alone won't end up dominating any conversation; it will merely be a part of whatever conversation takes place.

: I mean, it's been known for a while now that the old lady in Ratatouille kept her bullets in a box marked with Cheney's name, and that hasn't caused any kind of fuss among Christian reviewers as far as I've noticed.

I don't think that was made public until long after the reviews had been published, though.

Well, the fuss here did not originate with the Christian press, though I was certainly among the half-dozen or so journalists actively pursuing that line of questioning.

Quite telling was Garlin's, Willard's, and Ratzenberger's uniform response to the standard "what attracted you to this story or character" question. "It's Pixar. They called."

With actors, Pixar can do no wrong. Not so much with the press this time out, if the junket reaction is any indicator.

I'm pretty sure, though, that I've never before heard journalists talk about being concerned about reader backlash for writing a less-than-glowing review. Has Pixar become sacred?

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Wow, Greg, can I quote some of that at my blog?

Greg Wright wrote:

: I'm pretty sure, though, that I've never before heard journalists talk about being concerned about reader backlash for writing a less-than-glowing review. Has Pixar become sacred?

Hey, it's the same scenario we Christian critics have had to deal with when giving less-than-glowing reviews of the Narnia movies etc.!

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So what you're saying is WALL*E will be one of the three worst-rated Pixar films?

Turning to Metacritic, on the other hand, we find that Ratatouille has a rating of 96%, which is ahead of ALL the other Pixar films

I was, in fact, thinking of the Metacritic score, yes. Faulty memory there.

So what I'm saying is that lightning probably does not strike twice in a row. But it seldom does.

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Wow, Greg, can I quote some of that at my blog?

Hmmm... Not sure how I could say "no." This is a public forum, isn't it?

it's the same scenario we Christian critics have had to deal with when giving less-than-glowing reviews of the Narnia movies etc.!

Yes, I suppose it's similar to SDG's tale about Baehr pandering to his audience with Caspian in spite of his private misgivings.

I've just never heard that kind of thing coming from real journalists.

(That's a joke, btw. I'm well aware that all journalists tailor their content for their intended audience to one degree or another... even if that tailoring means "brutal honesty.")

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Two different versions of the "it's been in development so long, it can't be referring to the current political situation" approach.

Writer-director Andrew Stanton, as per the New York Times:

Environmental disaster; corporate takeover; a global psychological coma:

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No, I don't think there's any allegory there -- any more than The Lord of the Rings is an allegory.

But in the same way that "current events" can plainly be seen reflected in the events of Middle-earth, the same is true here... and it's grating, grating in the way it would have been had The Hobbit, which is a "family-friendly" book, so seriously dealt with the same socio-political concerns as LotR (and in a blatantly hypocritical and openly satirical way).

It all would have gone down much easier for me -- and joyously so, as with Anton Ego in Ratatouille -- if WALL-E's global corp., Buy N Large, had been modeled on the Magically Commodified Kingdom rather than Wal-Mart -- and if trash cans on the Axiom had been clearly labeled "WASTE PLEASE," the way that all Disney trash cans had been up until about five years ago. Or if Pixar had announced, "In the interest of cleaning up our planet, we won't be merchandizing WALL-E with land-fill fodder."

Pixar, however, seems to think itself above the fray. A vast number of their films and shorts -- including the new Presto -- can be (and have been) read as parables of their demonstrated superiority.

(For the record, I also take Stanton at his word -- and I completely respect authorial intent. At the same time, film is a highly collaborative artform, and it often reflects themes that the creator(s) may not have intended, themes that can even overwhelm the intent.)

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Well, this certainly corroborates Greg's complaints!

- - -

THE DEVIN'S ADVOCATE: IS WALL-E ENVIRONMENTAL OR HYPOCRITICAL?

When I got to the Four Seasons hotel the next day, the site of the junket for the film, and saw an entire room dedicated to showing off the marketing tie-ins, I lost the sense of irony and began to think what I was seeing was flat out hypocrisy. I wondered if maybe Stanton's denials about the messages weren't coming from a marketing point of view but from simple shame. . . .

I've had people on the message boards tell me that this doesn't matter, that the message is all that matters. But just saying something is pointless - which is actually another theme of the film. The movie ends up with the idea that sometimes you have to make hard decisions, sacrifice comfort and easy living to do the right thing, to make things better. To, quite literally, save the Earth. This is an inspiring message... that is immediately undercut by walking out of a movie theater into a world crammed full of landfill-choking plastic Wall-E crapola. . . .

The truth is that Wall-E feels like a really well-made stop smoking ad starring Joe Camel. . . .

It's important to keep in mind that none of this has to do with the quality of Wall-E as a movie on its own; my review of the film, which did not send me into space the way it did other onliners, will come as soon as the embargo is lifted. And whether or not Andrew Stanton wants to own up to placing environmental and political messages in a film that includes a robot recreation of a protest riot has nothing to do with whether or not they're there, but I think everyone seeing the movie this coming weekend will have to admit that these messages exist. And most of those people will have to also admit that they're good messages, the kind we should be happy are included in a kid's film. The problem is that these messages - intentional or not - are being undercut by a cynical marketing campaign that will likely have a bigger impact on kids than the movie itself. And worse than that, it's a marketing and licensing campaign that will help advance us just a little bit towards the environmental devastation shown in the film.

Devin Faraci, CHUD.com, June 23

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