December 31, 2009

Retrospective: The 2000s in Review

My, my, my. Is it 2010 already? Wow. I’m gonna be going to college in August (hopefully). Oh boy! Yes, ten years have passed since we ushered in the new millennium. Many things have transpired since then. We finally have a black president; we started (and have yet to finish) two wars, gas prices sky rocketed, and the country was hit with a recession on par of the Great Depression. Some bad things happened as well.
I kid! I kid! Regardless of all the political shit that went down since January 1, 2000, the entertainment industries that the general populace of this nation thrives on have flourished. This is nowhere more apparent then in the film industry. Some people will no doubt disagree with me, the but the 2000s was a great decade for movies. The decade saw many trends. The superhero film became officially legitimized as a quality medium for story telling. The ever evolving technology of special effects gave us images that wowed even the harshest critic. Directors gave us some of their best works, while some continued to disappoint. Awards were won, people were snubbed, and, we kept flooding the theaters. For a decade filled with dark knights, love struck vampires, wild things, orcs and elves, cops and criminals, serial killers, zombies, robots, gay cowboys, flying martial artists, spartans, webheads, distraught soldiers, super secret agents, super powered computer hackers, lucky slumdogs, sociopaths, psychopaths, horny teens, pregnant teens, sweet teens, boxers, gladiators, oil tycoons, hitmen, politicians, journalists, invaders, defenders, heroes, villains, musicians, frat boys, sorority girls, geniuses, idiots and Na’vi, I’d say the last ten years have, is some way or another, offered something for everyone. But, that’s not why you’re here, is it? No, you want me to thrown down the hammer and tell you what the absolute best movies of the last 3650 days were, and what the absolute worst were. Very well, you’re wish is my command!

The Decade in Review: Top 20 Best

20. United 93 (Paul Greengrass) Some people cried foul when it was announced that a film was in the works which documenting the heroic deeds of the passengers on flight United 93 on September 11, 2001. I was among them. It seemed like Hollywood would trivialize the heroism and bravery of those men and women in their attempts to get cash from our pockets. Then I found out they would get Paul Greengrass to direct, hire a cast of unknowns, and even employ actual FAA workers and military personnel to add a greater level of authenticity to the picture. They succeeded admirably. By the end, I was moved, shaken, and filled with respect, and you will be too. Hats off to everyone involved!
19. 28 Days Later... (Danny Boyle) Before 28 Days Later... zombie movies were fast becoming dumb, boring, gore filled, snooze fests that we only went to to laugh at the idiocy of the still living people on screen. 28 Days Later... gave the genre the massive jolt of adrenaline that it needed. This terrifying, unsettling, completely plausible piece of horror still sticks with me today whenever I watch it, despite the fact that it came out over six years ago. From the haunting images of a deserted London, to the bloodcurdling shriek of the infected, this is a movie that will haunt your nightmares. Also, the zombies run. They don’t shuffle any more; they run! So scary!
18. Collateral (Michael Mann) A simple premise, an assassin holds a cabbie hostage and uses him as transport to his next targets, handled with deft hands and bolstered by terrific performances. Collateral kicked off Jamie Foxx’s breakout year, and showed a side of Tom Cruise that we had never seen. It remains as Michael Mann’s best work since Heat.
17. Minority Report (Steven Speilberg) Tom Cruise doesn’t make very many good films. In fact most of them tend to suck. But, when they are good, they are really good! Minority Report is Cruise’s best film since Born of the Fourth of July, and Steven Speilberg’s best of the decade. From the haunting and subtle visuals, to the mind fuck of a plot, this is one piece of plausible sci-fi you don’t want to miss.
16. Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino) A film by Quentin Tarantino in which Brad Pitt and a group of American soldiers go around France killing Nazis? Hell yeah! I was on board with Basterds before it even came out, and when it did, I was amazed at how good it actually was. Fine performances from Pitt, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, and Melanie Laurent hold down the foundation, but it’s Christoph Waltz’s superb turn as the eccentric, villainous, milk swigging Col. Hans Landa that steals the movie. Funny, quotable, bloody, and exciting, it’s Tarantino’s finest since Pulp Fiction.
15. In Bruges (Martin McDonaugh) This is the movie that all those Tarantino clones were trying to be. Forget Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels! Fuck Smokin’ Aces! In Bruges is where it’s at. This wonderful little film pretty much came and went, and got little recognition, which is a crime. It is, at one moment, hilarious, and then, at the next, dark as hell. Colin Farrell, Brenden Gleeson, and Ralph Finnes all perform at the top of their game. I can’t wait to see what McDonaugh has in store for us next.
14. Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo Del Toro)This movie is not a movie. Of any film on this list, it comes the closest to being defined as art! Guillermo Del Toro delves deep into his screwy mind to deliver a fantasy world, filled with danger and mysticism. But, we expect that from him. What makes Pan's Labyrinth so good is how Del Toro handles the other, real world half of the story. The portions dealing with the Spanish Civil War, the resistance, and the crazy evil Colonel, are all given just as much care as the fantasy sequences. Moving, beautiful, and haunting, Pan's Labyrinth sticks with you unlike any other film.
13. The Lookout (Scott Frank) This movie sort of came and went. Have you even heard of it? Didn't think so. Well, now that you know of its existence, go out to the store, or log onto you Netflix, and watch this brilliant nuanced crime thriller right now! Jospeh Gordon-Levitt only reaffirms my love for him; Matthew Goode is charming, slimy, and superbly twisted as the crook, and Isla Fisher shows us that she's more then a pretty face. First time director Scott Frank, known for writing such screenplays as The Interpreter, and number 17 on this list, is a genius with his camera, lighting, and sound, highlighting the depression that Chris Pratt is going through. This movie is hard to approach, but, believe me, you will not be disappointed.
12. Zodiac (David Fincher) In 1995, David Fincher gave us Se7en, a terrifying story about the hunt for a serial killer. In 2007, he gave us Zodiac, a terrifying story about the hunt for a serial killer that, this time, delved deep into the paranoia and obsession of the journalists and cops hunting the killer down. Jake Gyllenhaal is remarkable as journalist who sees his life fall apart due to his obsession with the case. Robert Downey Jr. returns to the screen, letting the world know that he is a serious actor once again, and Mark Ruffalo does a fine job as the detective assigned to find the killer. After a blood drenched first 30-40 minutes Zodiac really starts to mess with you, but in a good way, as the characters on screen get more and more fucked up! David Fincher delivers a nuanced and subtle piece of work that turns out to be more terrifying then all the blood filled slasher movies of the decade. Not bad coming from the guy who gave us Fight Club!
11. WALL-E (Andrew Stanton) The best animated film of the decade, indeed, ever! WALL-E is completely unlike any other animated film, from Pixar or otherwise. It sneaks up on you in the beginning, with its foreboding visuals and complete lack of organic life. Let it take hold of you, and you will be whisked away on a beautiful and majestic journey, with one of the quirkiest and most eccentric lead in recent memory. Sure, it's geared for kids, but, it's probably the most mature kids movie ever made. Adults will have no trouble falling as hard for it as I did.
10. The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) The best super hero movie ever made, and my favorite film from last year, deserves a spot on this list somewhere. To call The Dark Knight a comic book film is to do it a disservice. It is a crime thriller, taking place in a city where there happens to be a man who dresses like a bat an fights crime. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Aaron Eckhart, Gary Oldman, and Maggie Gyllenhaal all play their roles to perfection, but it's Heath Ledger's mad crazy brilliant turn as the Joker that will stick with you for days on end. The superhero genre is officially legitimate! Thanks Batman!
9. District 9 (Neill Blomkamp) These days, it takes a whole ton to get noticed as a truly original sci-fi movie. What with so many films like Transformers, Star Trek, and Terminator clogging the theaters these days, the truly original stuff rarely comes along. District 9 is an original sci-fi film, and a damn good one at that. District 9 takes the alien invasion sub genre and promptly turns it on its head, doing away with all the cliches that plagued us for so long. In their place, director/producer team Neill Blomkamp and Peter Jackson have given us a completely believable and engrossing vision of a world where aliens are an everyday part of life. Throw in bloody disgusting action, political satire, and a genuine sense of heart, and you've got the sleeper hit of the decade. No one went in expecting greatness, but that's what they got!
8. Once (John Carney) Easily the smallest film on this list Once is a great little musical that sweeps you off your the second you hear Glen Hansard's guitar. Made for less then 20,000 dollars and shot in only 11 days, Once just goes to show how good art can be for next to nothing. Falling Slowly is a song for the ages. Ignore that R rating on the back of the box. A few uses of the f-bomb aren't going to hurt the youth of America. This movie is harmless. It's sweet, uplifting, and altogether fantastic!
7. Where the Wild Things Are (Spike Jonze) There are a bunch of movies on this list that are on the list because they nailed certain aspects of everyday life. Some nailed love and romance, other's nailed depression and sadness, others nailed fear and paranoia. Of all of them, the one I connected with the most was Where the Wild Things Are, which nailed what it was like to be a kid, angry, imaginative and rebellious. Director Spike Jonze has given us a beautiful, touching, moving, and absolutely wonderful fantasy story. Max Records as Max is sublime! The voice actors of the wild things are fantastic. The mix of CGI and puppets to create them is great! Like those memories of when you were a kid, playing in your yard or with your toys, Where the Wild Things Are brings up that blissful nostalgia of your childhood like nothing else can.
6. High Fidelity (Stephen Frears) With the exception of the best movie of the decade, High Fidelity is the only movie that I can think of that accurately captures the craziness and insanity that is love. It is, at times, painful to watch, but, that's a good thing. The movie is so honest, so sincere, about relationships and love that anyone who sees can't help to feel some sort of clenching feeling in their stomach. Don't worry. There are plenty of laughs to quell the pain. John Cusack gives his best performance, and has yet to live up to it as of today. And hey, this is the movie that introduced Jack Black to the masses. I think we can all appreciate it for that, at least.
5. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Peter Jackson) Oh, come off it! Of course this would be on the list somewhere. Sure, individually, each film has its problems. Fellowship of the Ring is often hard to follow as characters are introduced willy nilly; Two Towers deviates from the book a little too much; Return of the King can’t decide where to end and shoves five chapters worth of content into twenty-five minutes. But, as a whole, The Lord of the Rings is virtually untouchable! The sheer amount of work that Peter Jackson and Co. Put into this epic trilogy is mind boggling! It is even more so when you see the finished product and how good it is! The best special effects in any movie, ever (save one), tons of satisfying action, coupled with real characters, strong dialogue, and a wonderful sense of heart make this the pre-eminent fantasy epic of our generation!
4. The Departed (Martin Scorcese) This mind bender of a cops and crooks thriller, adapted from the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs is a sight to behold. Martin Scorcese worked his ass on this film and earned that overdue Oscar. Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon turn in career best performance, Vera Farmiga stepped into the spotlight and declared herself a major talent, Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg are righteous hoots as foul mouthed cops, and Jack Nicholson played the villain again, and had oh-so-much-fun doing it! Haters can shut it! This film earned every spec of praise it received!
3. Avatar (James Cameron) Remember how I said that The Lord of the Rings had the best special effects ever, save for one movie? That movie is Avatar, James Cameron’s magnum opus, twelve years in the making. It may seem rash, putting a film that only came out a few weeks ago so high on the “Best of the Decade” list, but, you know what? I don’t care! Avatar is simply gob smacking! No other film transported an audience to a new world this decade like Avatar did. No other film boasted special effects up to the level of Avatar. No other film was subject to this much hype, both good and bad, only to turn out better then everyone thought it would be! What can I say? It’s the Star Wars of this generation!
2. The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass) This is what James Bond always should have been. Indeed, the new, Daniel Craig version of the British super spy owes a whole ton of credit to Jason Bourne. Sharply directed by Paul Greengrass and spearheaded by sublime performances by Matt Damon, the last two entries into the Bourne trilogy are the perfect example of an action movie. Smart, exhilarating, witty, and never boring, The Bourne Supremacy/Ultimatum make all other blockbusters of the decade look mighty sluggish by comparison.
1. (500) Days of Summer (Marc Webb) You didn’t see that coming, did ya? Out of all the art house pictures, Oscar winners, summer blockbusters, and sweeping epics, a small little romantic comedy wins out. Sometimes, love is all you need! I saw it before school started, and I still can’t get (500) Days of Summer out of my head. I can’t forget how sweet it is, how funny it is, and, above all, how true it is. Even more so then High Fidelity, (500) Days of Summer absolutely nails how love can hurt, heal, uplift, and bring down. Pitch perfect performances from Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are only icing on the delicious chocolate cake that is (500) Days of Summer! In the same way Tom falls for Summer, I am absolutely in love with this movie!

Honorable Mentions: The films that didn’t quite make the cut, guilty pleasures, and the best in cheap entertainment. Even though none of these are on the Top 20, you won’t hear anything but good things about them from me, and you should see them all, if you have time.

28 Weeks Later..., 300, A History of Violence, About a Boy, The Aviator, Babel, Batman Begins, Blood Diamond, Brokeback Mountain, Casino Royale, Children of Men, The Constant Gardener, Crash, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Eastern Promises, Finding Nemo, Flags of our Fathers, Funny People, Gangs of New York, Gladiator, Good Night and Good Luck, The Hangover, Hero, Hot Fuzz, Hotel Rwanda, The Hurt Locker, The Incredibles, Iron Man, Jarhead, Juno, Kill Bill: Vol. 1, Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Knocked Up, Little Children, Little Miss Sunshine, Letters From Iwo Jima, Love Actually, Milk, Million Dollar Baby, Munich, My Summer of Love, The New World, No Country For Old Men, The Ocean’s Trilogy, The Prestige, The Queen, Serenity, Shaun of the Dead, Sin City, Slumdog Millionaire, Snatch, Spider Man 2, Star Trek, Superbad, Sunshine, Thank You For Smoking, There Will Be Blood, Tropic Thunder, Up, Up in the Air, Volver, Watchmen, Y Tu Mama Tambien

The Decade in Review: Bottom 10 Worst

10. Pearl Harbor (Michael Bay) It's not the worst Michael Bay movie to come out this decade. It's getting recognized on this list because it is the most disappointing. Pearl Harbor had potential, and it was all squandered. Bay, at one point, tries to show how he is maturing as a film maker by keeping the first hour and half of this three hour movie restrained and laid back as he deals with a love triangle of sorts, but he is hamstrung by his usual problems when it comes to actual human actors. He can't direct humans for shit! He seems to realize this at the half way point, resorts to his old tricks, and starts to blow everything up. These scenes are sort of cool, but you realize that all accuracy and respect for facts has been thrown out the window in favor of bigger explosions. The rest of the movie is just dead on the water! Bay tried so hard to make a serious film. I would say, "Good effort," had he not failed so epically!
9. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Steven Sommers) It pains me to put anything that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was involved in on this dreaded list, but, even his talent couldn't save this sinking ship! I said that GI Joe was a fun guilty pleasure when I first reviewed it, but, upon revisiting it, all the fun had evaporated and I saw the film for what it really was. A cheap, poorly made, badly acted, terribly directed shoot em' up that was only released to ride the Transformers, toy-into-movie craze! Gordon-Levitt is the one good thing about this movie, but he's barely in it until the end, so, he's not even worth mentioning. Dumb, loud, boring action, the worst special effects of any blockbuster this decade, and some really bad acting easily slot GI Joe in at number 9. I'm rooting for Cobra!
8. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Jonathon Mostow) This one also falls into the "Not exactly terrible, but so friggin' disappointing that it must be recognized," category. Terminator 3 offers the odd thrill now and then, and Arnold is a badass as ever, but, this was the follow up to Terminator 2, arguably the best science fiction film since 2001. While T2 took time to explore the characters and make us care for them, T3 opts to just blow everything to hell. Where T2 was (semi) subtle and restrained, T3 is just bombastic and in your face. I mean, the first shot we see is a massive nuclear explosion, and the bad terminator is a skin-tight leather wearing sexbomb! T3 took a series that had previously been revered as the preeminent, adult, sci-fi franchise, and brought it crashing down to the level of Transformers and the Star Wars prequels! Boo!
7. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (Rob Cohen) Eh, I don't know what else I can say about this. All the TOTDE is, is a rehash of the last two mummy movies, only this time we don't have Rachel Weisz. No, instead we have to contend Maria Bello, as she gives one of the worst British accents ever, and successfully kills all good will I ever felt towards her. This is just an unfunny, unexciting, poorly made fantasy romp that you forget about the second the credits start to roll.
6. Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Dave Filoni) It's an animated Star Wars movie. Think Phantom Menace, only exponentially worse and you'll get a sense of what it was like to sit though this pile of garbage!
5. The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Chris Weitz) What can I say about this movie that I haven't already said. It's just terrible! Even though it is an improvement over its predecessor in many fields, said improvements are so underutilized and poorly handled that they aren't even worth mentioning. I'll reiterate. The movie that the characters go to see, Face Punch, sounds like real stinker. But, you know what, I would rather watch that, then New Moon!
4. Max Payne (John Moore) I didn't pay to see this movie (saw it online), and I still felt ripped off! Based on a really excellent video game, Max Payne could have been good, if they had stayed true to the game. It didn't, and what we got was a boring, by the numbers, cop thriller with barely any exciting action and putrid performances; Mark Wahlberg has never been worse! Throw in a plot that makes no sense, an overbearing sense of style and direction, and you have yourself one hellish creation. Sure, it's the best video game adaptation ever made. The again, that's like saying ebola is a more appealing option then smallpox!
3. Battlefield Earth (Roger Christian) Oh my God! I came this close to not including Battlefield Earth on this list. It is so, horrendously bad, that its actually kinda funny to watch! Just watch the video posted below. You'll see what I mean. But, even though it's hysterically awful, it's still awful. You can cover shit with glitter, but it'll still smell bad. Really bad CGI, the ugliest, stupidest aliens ever, a complete lack of color, and the worst script ever! L. Ron Hubbard wept!
2. Doom (Andrzej Bartkowiak) Here is a movie that deviates so far from the source material that it's not fair to say that it is based on it at all. Another video game adaptation, Doom is about some marines who go to Mars and fight zombies. In the game, they were fighting demons from Hell, but I guess the film makers thought that wouldn't be realistic enough. Bad performances from good actors Dwayne Johnson and Karl Urban, a complete lack of suspense or scares, and that nauseating, horrendous first person sequence all add up to the second worst movie of the decade!
1. Twilight (Catherine Hardwicke) I know I put Max Payne ahead of Twilight in my Worst of 2008 post, but the recent release of New Moon has given me an opportunity to reflect and determine that Twilight was, far and away, the worst movie of the decade! Stiff direction, laced with no style to speak of, coupled with terrible performances by everyone involved, make this the most painful and grating of films. The careers of Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner may flourish in the future, but they will always bear the hideous mark that this movie put on them.

Dishonorable Mentions: The pieces of crap that aren’t quite bad enough to warrant mention in the “Worst of...” list, but still putrid enough that you should sat far away!

10,000 BC, Alone in the Dark, Babylon A.D., Bad Boys II, Fantastic Four, Jennifer’s Body, The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Saw I-VI, Smokin’ Aces, Spider Man 3, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Stealth, Transformers 2, Wild Hogs, X-Men Origins: Wolverine

There you go! Happy? I hope so! Excited for the next ten years? I sure am! It'll be interesting to see what gets served to us. Will James Cameron wait another eon before making
Avatar 2? Will The Twilight Saga get good? Will the superhero genre maintain its supremacy? Well, we'll find out won't we? See you next time! Happy New Year!

December 28, 2009

Only Mildly Elementary...

I'm gonna keep this short. I have some college apps to finish...

So, Sherlock Holmes is a reimagining, of sorts, where the super sleuth looses the deer stalker cap and magnifying glass, and is instead a tough-as-nails, hard drinking, badass with an attitude. His partner, Dr. Watson is about to move out of their flat on 221 B Baker Street with his fiance, which is leaving the good detective in a funk. Nothing like a case involving an evil lord returned from the dead, the occult, and a plan to overthrow the entire British government to liven up one's day. It's an interesting plot, but it ends on a pretty anti-climatic note. It's enough to keep you interested in between brawls.
Robert Downey Jr. plays Holmes. He's a pleasure to watch, very funny and tough. Jude Law is Watson, who is also good. His verbal sparring with Downey Jr. is some of the best this year. It's an interesting interpretation of the first bromance in history. Rachel McAdams is Irene Adler, the love interest for Holmes. She's fine, I guess, but she is just overpowered in every scene by Downey and Law. Mark Strong is the villain, Lord Blackwood. He's very good up until the end. At first he's quiet, subdued, and oh so scary. Then he drops all that in favor of a bombastic and loud revelation to the masses. Performances are alright, with Downey clearly the best.
Guy Ritchie, who, as you know, is responsible for films like Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Rock n Rolla, directs, with his usual frenetic style. There are some undeniably cool scenes, but it gets boring after a short while, so that the final confrontation of top of Tower Bridge just feel halfhearted. There are some funny moments, especially when Holmes and Watson are bickering, but the rest of the plot makes very little sense, and just seems like filler so that we can get to the big twist in the very end that sets up inevitable sequels. I hate it when people do that.
Sherlock Holmes is alright if you are just looking for some cheap movie going fare for the rest of your holidays. But, at 128 minutes, it's almost as long as Avatar, which is much better use of your money. There's some hope for the franchise, if this is the direction that the character is going, but, as it stands, Sherlock Holmes is fun, but completely unnecessary. B-

December 18, 2009

Tangled Up In Blue


Holy shit! That was awesome! That's right, AWESOME! So, all you skeptics out there? SHUT UP!! You have no idea what you are talking about. After 12 years away from feature filmmaking, the master of science fiction, James Cameron, has returned to the big screen with Avatar. Let's get this out of the way first thing, because everyone is going to ask this question. Is Avatar better then Cameron's last film, Titanic? Answer: Damn right it is! Mr. Cameron has, with the help of the most convincing digital effects ever utilized on screen, successfully created a world, so immersive and believable, that you forget you are watching a movie. It doesn't hurt that he gives us a good story as well.
It's the year 2154, and the Earth, go figure, has run out of resources. Fortunately enough, all the resources needed to cultivate humanity can be found on Pandora, an Earth sized moon orbiting a gas giant billions of miles away from our planet. No problem. Just send some miners over there and tear the place up, right? No. As it turns out, Pandora is an incredibly hostile environment, with a toxic atmosphere, wildlife with a taste for human flesh, and an indigenous population of humanoids, the Na'vi. So, what's a money grubbing corporation to do? They start the Avatar program, which allows a human to link his conscience into the body of of a human/Na'vi hybrid, which lets him explore the planet and interact with natives. Enter Jake Sully, a paralyzed marine who is given the chance to pilot an avatar when his brother dies. Initially, he is only interested in furthering the humans plans, with the promise that, if he succeeds in convincing the Na'vi to relocate their home, the military will pay for an expensive operation that will give him the use of his legs back. But, not surprisingly, he gradually begins to shift sides, as he learns the ways of the Na'vi becomes intoxicated with Pandora and the Na'vi's otherworldly connection to it. Oh, also, he falls in love with his Na'vi guide, Neytiri. Eventually, the military rolls out to oust the Na'vi from their home, and an epic battle ensues, one that will decide the fate of both civilizations. In terms of originality, Avatar isn't there. We've seen this type of story a thousand times in films, i.e. Dances With Wolves. But, in terms of quality of the storytelling, Avatar has it in spades. You completely buy Jake's transformation as he switches values from that of a human to that of a Na'vi. Mr. Cameron has had this script cooking in his head since he first started making movies. All the time paid off.
Sam Worthington, hot off Terminator: Salvation firmly cements his place as an A-list star with Avatar. As Jake, he conveys all the pain that comes with being a paraplegic, all the confusion felt by someone in a new world, and all the fury and passion that someone feels when everything they have come to love is on the brink of destruction. He is superb. Other human performances include a seriously evil Stephen Lang as the cruel and brutal Colonel Miles Quartich, Giovanni Ribisi, oozing slime as the corporate douchebag, Michelle Rodriguez as a military pilot who sides with Jake, and Joel David Moore as fellow avatar driver, Norm Spellman. Sirgourney Weaver, Cameron's go to girl, is here, playing the head of the avatar program, Grace Augustine. Weaver does a fine job, working with the man who made her a star. The performances by humans are all great, but that's only half of the cast. The rest are entirely CGI created Na'vi, played by actors, and digitized with motion capture. Zoe Saldana (Uhura from Star Trek) is Neytiri, and she is amazing. Maybe it's all in the ridiculously good CG, but Saldana imbibes Neytiri with a tenderness and fierceness most actors these days can only dream of bringing to their characters. I know it won't happen, but I'd totally be for her getting an Oscar nomination. Other Na'vi CGI creations include Laz Alonzo as the perpetually angry Tsu'Tey, and C. C. H. Pounder as the Na'vi queen, Mo'at. Performances across the board are impeccable, with Worthington and Saldana leading the way, completely dashing away the doubts that they aren't cut out for this business.
So, let's move on to the main topic of interest with Avatar, that being the special effects. James Cameron himself made the brash statement that Avatar will revolutionize and pioneer a new, improved style of special effects, and that it will change the way we see movies. Verdict: Done and done! Is it a stretch to say that Avatar is the most visually impressive movie ever conceived? It'd be a stretch to say that it isn't. What Cameron and his effects team have done is nothing short of genius. First off, the Na'vi and avatars are all CGI, created with mo-capped actors, but you wouldn't know that watching them. They all look completely real; their skin and flesh behaves like you would expect, their faces are incredibly expressive, and the uncanny valley that is usually seen around the eyes when motion capture is employed (i.e. A Christmas Carol) is completely done away with. And it doesn't stop with the actors. The wildlife of Pandora, the fauna, the fucking floating mountains, the human war machines. Everything looks so realistic that you can't tell it's all CG. Now, all of this would count for nothing if there wasn't some originality brought to the visuals, and, thankfully, Cameron has brought tons. The world of Pandora has been crafted down to the minutest detail. You haven't seen anything like this before. Everything is handled with such care and love for the world Cameron is envisioning. It's the best example of this type of art since Lord of the Rings. Hell, it's even better then Lord of the Rings! And what special effects extravaganza would be complete without an epic battle? Boy, does Cameron deliver on that. The last twenty or so minutes is taken up by a massive confrontation between the entire military force and thousands of Na'vi. Thousands of gunships engage thousands of dragon riding Na'vi in the air, while thousands of troops with guns and mech suits engage thousands of Na'vi on horses on the ground. It's exciting and intense and full of cheer worthy moments!
James Cameron is a smart man! Sure, he's been selling the fact that the CGI is revolutionary, and all that, which it is. Here's the thing though. He forgot to mention that there's an actual story here, with, you know, substance. It's the most cliched plot in the book, but Cameron handles it and his actors with the mark of a true master. He takes the time to help you get to know the characters, make you connect and feel for them, before he sets off the fireworks. It worked in Titanic, and it works here to an even greater extent. Cameron does resort to the classic third act formula by giving us the massive, final battle, but, it's not just out of the blue, like in some other movies; there is an actual reason for the characters to be engaging in combat. The final battle seems like the natural conclusion to the story that Cameron is telling, rather then an explosion orgy thrown in to appease the crowd. James Cameron hasn't made many films, but they have all been great. With Avatar, his record has gotten that much better.
I know it's a brash claim, but I'm gonna say it anyway. Avatar is the Star Wars of our generation. No movie in the last 30 years has successfully transported the audience to a new world the way Avatar does. From the phosphorescent beauty of the forest at night, to the way the Na'vi move and emote, to the thundering boom of the human's missiles, you are sucked into the world of Pandora. Everything is so believable, everything is handled with such deft hands, that you are left in a state of slack-jawed wonderment. James Cameron once proclaimed himself king of the world. Doesn't look like he's giving up his throne anytime soon! A

December 17, 2009


Gah! Sorry the video's cut off. I'm still working on how to fix this...

December 13, 2009

Been Awhile....

I know. I know. I've been ridiculously busy and stressed, what with school and the impending college acceptance letter coming in a few days, so, I haven't been able to get to the movies as much as I'd like. So, basically, I've missed out on my chances of seeing and reviewing The Road, Precious, A Serious Man, Fantastic Mr. Fox, or Brothers. I'll probably see them, and make mention of them in the year end retrospective if they warrant it. On a different note, I fully intend to see Invictus and The Princess and the Frog sometime soon, and post something about them. But, I have to see Avatar first. Sorry. I don't care if you think a movie about ten foot tall, blue aliens with tails squaring off with a contingent of marines isn't your thing. The early reviews of James Cameron's Titanic follow-up have been good at worst, and stellar at best. I fully intend to experience this thing in all it's glory. That means, IMAX, in 3-D. I don't care if the glasses make you look ridiculous. It will be awesome. Also to come (and I'm serious about this; I will see and review these movies) Nine, Sherlock Holmes, The Lovely Bones, Up In the Air, and, maybe It's Complicated and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. We'll see. Until then...