Posts Tagged ‘avatar

06
Jan
10

Top Ten Movies of 2009

What a year it has been for movies. From a film for fanboys (“Watchmen”) to a teeny-bopper supernatural romance (“New Moon”), from a Jarhead visiting a world of blue people (“Avatar”) to ugly aliens visiting our own (“District 9”), from man’s continuing struggle to against the machine (“Terminator Salvation”) to the machines having taken over and a scientist’s soul divided into mini-creations trying to survive (“9”), from the return of 80’s cartoons as live action (“G.I. Joe”) to the return of 80’s horror (“The Stepfather”) and everything in between (there were TWO movies about mall security cops), it truly has been a year.

As far as film goes and in my own opinion it’s been a tough year. One can blame the economic recession/depression for monetary aspects, but it’s been an overall success for the Industry for the year. This year was more about the aftermath of the 2007-2008 writers strike than any other single factor.

It was difficult making this year’s list because the overall feeling from watching movies this year was “meh.” I enjoyed quite a few movies, but the indies seemed to have peaked the year that “No Country for Old Men” saw release and the blockbusters haven’t held the caliber of “Iron Man” (although “G.I. Joe” was more fun than “Transformers 2”) Another problem with constructing the list was that three of my favorite films I saw this year (“Frost/Nixon,” ‘The Wrestler,” “Gran Torino”) were limited release 2008 in cities such as NY and LA and therefore had to be struck from the list.

Here, in order of release/when I viewed them, are my Top Ten movies of 2009 and my thoughts:

“Star Trek” – “Alias” and “Lost” creator JJ Abrams was given the keys to Kirk and Company and made a fun and enjoyable movie that was truly a reason to go to the movie theatre. Chris Pine channeled a bit of Shatner while Zach Quinto did a spot-on Spock. Some have called it “Star Trek for Star Wars fans” and that may have a bit of truth to it, but it doesn’t take away from being a solid, enjoyable film.

“Up” – If this year had a theme it would be “films that other people thought shouldn’t work but did.” “Up” was being crucified before it got to the theatres. I saw an article where “Wall Street” experts were predicting it as a failure for Pixar. The result? A heartfelt, beautifully colored solid story about a former balloon salesman uprooting his house for the ultimate adventure of his life taking along a stowaway who needs a father figure. It may not have the technology of “Avatar” but the story was original and solid and Pixar up’d their technology work with the brilliance of their color palette.

“The Hangover” – A movie I probably would not have watched had it not been for the free screening. The initial WB test screening went so well they ordered a sequel, which I had never heard of happening before. My brother and I went to a PACKED screening at the Commerce Crossings theatre two weeks in advance. Walking out of the movie my brother gave it the best endorsement I’ve ever heard for a movie: “I would pay to see that again.” So would I.

“District 9” – Following “Moon,” (which gets Honorable Mention) director Neil Blomkamp took racial prejudice in South Africa and changed it to alienation of aliens. Shot on a limited budget and handheld/doc-style, it was an innovative sci-fi film and one that should raise the bar for doing science fiction films.

“Inglourious Basterds” – Tarantino threw everything but the blender into this one: a hodge-podge of war films, exploitation, film geekness, and World War II. This film ran the risk of being exclusively for those who love films and/or Tarantino and while that concept may seem to be running on fumes, and trust me it has its faults, overall it tied together at the end. It’s not “Kill Bill” or “Pulp Fiction,” but it’s a worthwhile addition to the Tarantino catalog.

“Capitalism: A Love Story” – One of the most personal of Michael Moore’s films and his best since, “Bowling for Columbine.” It got snubbed for next year’s Academy Awards and that just goes to show Californians DO love their money…

“Paranormal Activity” – Most likened to being this decade “Blair Witch,” this really IS the little movie that could. Done for $15,000 and shot in one location this preyed on those times when you sit in a house, alone, and hear the creaking of the floors, strange noises, etc. This is a film that works best on people who have imaginations, as opposed to those who enjoy the “idiotic group of college teenagers going out to an abandoned shack” formula. I caught a late showing on a Tuesday night and couldn’t get the final scene outta my head. On DVD next week!

“The Blind Side” – So I had to put another “heartwarming” movie on the list. It wasn’t groundbreaking and you could tell the smarminess from the get-go, but I enjoyed the film. Not everything I watch has to be earth-shattering or socially conscious; sometimes it’s nice to fit in an “uplifting” movie.

“Me and Orson Welles” – Charming, amusing movie rooted in its when and where. I am not a big fan of Orson Welles as a person or his personality, but Christian McKay did such a spot-on job with playing Orson Welles it’s uncanny. It was great speaking with Ed Hart about this one; it truly deserves to be recognized. I wish it luck.

“Avatar” – I initially thought against putting this in the Top Ten but Cameron’s attention to detail and use of 3-D technology make this one to be seen. It’s not a great story; in fact, you’ve already seen it as “Dune,” “Dances with Wolves,” etc. The attention to detail and world of Pandora that Cameron created are what sets this above the others.

There are others that deserve mention (“Moon,” “Zombieland”) but these were the ten best for the year (that I watched). Feel free to give your comments. Happy holidays and see you at the movies!

Chas Andrews

Advertisements
30
Dec
09

Movie Review: Avatar

A little “Aliens,” a whole lotta “Dances With Wolves.”

Starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Giovanni Ribisi, and Stephen Lang. Directed by James Cameron.

NOTE: I viewed the movie in IMAX 3-D. Oh yeah.

“Avatar” is here, and it’s a benchmark in filmmaking. Maybe not the best benchmark, but it’s important just the same.

I had reservations about seeing the film. While I am a fan of a good chunk of the Cameron catalog (“Aliens,” “The Abyss,” “Terminator 1&2,” “True Lies”) “Titanic” left a bad reaction to the world of film. Yes, the film made serious BANK and still sold more tickets than last year’s uber-blockbuster, “The Dark Knight” and yes, the recreation of the “Titanic” as well as its effects was incredible. The big problem was that the script itself (girl marrying for money meets guy from wrong side of tracks and falls in love with him on a doomed ocean voyage) was so formulaic (read: bad) that it might as well have been culled from a Final Draft template. For all I know, it probably was.

That was part of the problem facing James Cameron as he released his first feature film in 12 years. While Cameron is an incredibly gifted technical director, his screenplays leave something to be desired. Maybe “The Abyss” didn’t need much of one, and “Terminator 2” was the first “Terminator” script extended, but “Aliens” and “True Lies” had reasonably good ones. “Titanic” brought forth the idea that Cameron may be foregoing good storytelling for special effects. “Avatar” was Cameron’s chance to redeem himself as a storyteller/filmmaker.

So, is it everything and a bag of chips? On the technical side “Avatar” is not only the bag of chips, but the chip factory. On the story end, it’s slightly better than “Titanic” but not without its faults.

Speaking of, the story goes like this: Corporal Jack Sully (Sam Worthington) is a disabled Marine; his legs don’t work. His twin brother, who happens to have earned a PhD, was recently killed. Sully is given an opportunity for a change in scenery: the planet Pandora.

Sully gets to the planet and is immediately greeted as “meals on wheels”: he has to use a wheelchair to get around. He meets Pandora lab researcher Norm Spellman (Joel Moore) who shows him to his current assignment: the Avatar project. Using a hybrid combination of Na’vi (12-foot tall indigenous blue people of the planet) and human DNA, the “Avatars” are used for diplomacy because the Na’vi people refuse to speak with humans. Fancy that.

Norm then introduces him to Dr. Max Patel (Dileep Rao) and Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver). Augustine is pissed-off about the growing hostility between the humans and Na’vi, the fact that her research funding is strained, and that one of her scientists is being replaced by his twin brother; a simpleton self-proclaimed “Jarhead.” She confronts Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi playing mini-putt and channeling Peter Boyle’s character from “Outland”) who tells her that the reason the entire operation is happening at all is because mineral rock located under the Na’vi homeland tree is worth serious BANK (again, “Outland” anyone?). They allow her to do her research because genocide looks bad on the Corporation and that she needs to put up with the new recruit.

Meanwhile, Corporal Sully goes to check-in with Marine Command. Specifically, Colonel Miles Quaritch (Lang). Quaritch is your hard-ass, war-hardened commander with facial scarring who proclaims that going to Hell would be a vacation compared to their stay on Pandora. He secretly speaks with Sully and promises that if Sully can get him some intel, then he can get Sully’s legs restored.

Sully is loaded into what the “Avatar” interface system, which looks like a giant tanning bed with gel-filled padding and a wire “body” cage. Instantly his mind is “transferred” into his avatar and he’s up and gone. He can run again, climb again, swing, jump again, slide again… he’s got legs again and it’s great. Grace and Norm have avatars as well When he wanders off he makes a stupid movie, jeopardizes the people he’s with, and winds up alone to fend for himself.

He attracts a group of “wild dogs” and is saved by Na’vi native Neytiti (Zoe Saldana). While the reasons she saves him are unclear, she tells him to get back to where he once belonged. He follows her and upon being covered in special “seeds” that float around inside the home tree, she brings him to her folks.

Lucky for him her father Eytukan (Wes Studi) is the Chief of their Na’vi clan and his wife/her mother Moat (CCH Pounder) is the psychic spiritualist. In an act of “brainless wonder” he tries introducing himself and they find he’s a “warrior” and which, unbelievably, leads to them deciding to bring him into the clan, teach him their ways, etc. (see also: “A Man Called Horse,” “Dances With Wolves,” and every-other movie where the “civilized ignorant” must go through tribal initiation in order to find his own humanity and get a better grasp of mankind before the eventual disaster that looms on the horizon approaches).

Sully returns to the main base where all sides applaud him for getting initiated into the Na’vi, having gotten farther than anyone previously. The Corporation and the Corps eye him as an asset for intel they had previously not been able to get. This affords Augustine and her team money and opportunities. Selfridge gives Sully an ultimatum: get the natives out of the tree within three months or the Corporation will bulldoze over it.

Sully is required to video after each avatar session and the longer he stays an avatar, the more he wants to be one of the Na’vi. He, along with Augustine and Company, learns that on Pandora everything is interconnected. His name in Na’vi means “moron” but he gainfully receives their attention and appreciation, finally becoming like them. It’s only when the three months are up and he realizes what he’s done that the shit hits the fan and he must fight against the Corporation and the Corps in order to do the right thing and win back the respect of the Na’vi.

Let me talk for a second about how the film succeeded: technically, the movie is f’n incredible. It’s one thing for advertisers to say, “You’ve never seen a movie like this!” and it’s another for the movie to BE that way. Quite literally, you have never seen a movie like this. The colors and the attention to minute detail (reflections on glass, seeing through objects, etc.) and in a 3-D environment make for an incredible watch. This movie was made for IMAX 3-D, and it utilizes as much of it as it can. I cannot state enough how visually cool it is. One of my favorite things was the projected holographic display monitors. I’m tech-geek like that…

Moreso than a lot of movies of this year, this one invokes multiple emotional responses. Heart-pounding action sequences and breath-taking effects are literally that. At moments you can be wowed, saddened, or even cheer for the eventual comeback of the Na’vi people. Some moments are flat, while others are incredibly in-depth. This is filmmaking that raises the bar, and filmmakers (and ones standing in the wings) should take notice and learn).

To be fair, I also have to mention where the movie failed me and that lies primarily in the story. The opening setup worked out well enough but the characters given dialog that, for the most part, felt left-over from “Aliens.” And yes, from a farther-away viewpoint the plot does sound like “Fern Gully.” When the film relies on formula conventions, such as the tribal chief accepting Sully because he is a “warrior” and because of his daughter… it was hard to forgive it for that and it took about an hour to rebuild my believability in the film. Just as the moment of Redemption occurs, there’s another big snafu: the ultimate battle between Quaritch and Sully.

One of the most difficult scenes/parts of this formula is that battle. It has to be believable. It has to be warranted. You’ve seen it dozens of times before and it’s pretty much a convention of filmmaking. In my lifetime Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader would be the first instance I know and remember. Then there’s Biff Tannen versus Marty McFly (or George) in “Back to the Future.” Sometimes, it doesn’t come off so well; I love the film “Dark City,” but the face-off between Mr. Book and John Murdoch didn’t work for me (it has since gotten better with the Director’s Cut). In “Avatar,” Quaritch uses one of the robotic mechs (like the robots in Mechwarrior) and uses a rifle, as well as an overly-large Rambo knife, to kill Sully and his avatar. My suspension of disbelief on this one got shot to hell.

So, why watch this movie? It’s colorful, innovative, breath-taking, and innovative with heart-pounding action sequences and incredible attention to detail. The script/story isn’t perfect (very few are) but when it works, it works well. The general public should see it because there’s not another movie like it (sorry Pixar) and overall it’s good. Filmmakers should watch it to see what can be done with 3-D, and the fact that Cameron raised the bar on how to tell a story (how to tell, not necessarily what the story was about). Writers should see it to get an idea on how to construct a world (and be jealous of Cameron’s visuals).

My grade: B+/A- (technical alone was an A+, but it lost points for story)

30
Nov
09

December Movie Release Schedule

“Armored” – A crew of armored transport guards engage in a heist against their own company. Stars Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Laurence Fishburne, and Fred Ward. Pushed back from its original release date of 9/18. Opens December 4, 2009

“Brothers” – Jake Gyllenhaal and Tobey Maguire are brothers. When Maguire goes off to war and is presumed dead, Gyllenhaal helps out his brother’s family and falls in love with his sister-in-law (Natalie Portman). When Maguire is found and returned home, family dynamics and loyalty come into question. Opens December 4, 2009

“Everybody’s Fine” – Robert De Niro is a father who, upon realizing his late wife was his only connection with his children, sets out to reunite with them. Also stars Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell, and Kate Beckinsale. Opens December 4, 2009

“Invictus” – Clint Eastwood-directed movie about how Nelson Mandela joins forces with the captain of the South African rugby team and rallies behind them as they go for the 1995 World Cup Championship. Stars Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman. Opens December 11, 2009

“The Lovely Bones” – Peter Jackson (“LOTR,” “King Kong”) movie based on the Alice Sebold novel about a girl who views life after death –literally. Stars Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz, Stanley Tucci, and Susan Sarandon. Opens December 11, 2009

“The Princess and the Frog” – Disney’s re-imagining of “The Princess and the Frog,” taking place this time in Louisiana. Opens December 11, 2009

“Crazy Heart” – Jeff Bridges is a country singer who has lived more than the song. When a journalist (Maggie Gyllenhaal) interviews him, he opens up to her in hopes for redemption. Opens December 16, 2009

“Avatar” – James Cameron has spent the last 4 years working on this one: a complete CG movie filmed in IMAX 3-D. Tickets are on sale now! Opens December 18, 2009

“Did You Hear About the Morgans?” – Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker are a couple headed for separation until they witness a death and are put into the Witness Relocation Program where they have to spend time with each other. Opens December 18, 2009

“Nine” – Daniel Day-Lewis plays film director Guido Contini who is struggling between personal and private life while making his current picture. He tries balancing between his wife, mistress, mom, a movie star muse, and others. Opens December 18, 2009

“Alvin and the Chipmunks 2: The Squeakuel” – The Chipmunk voices are back, but Jason Lee isn’t. Opens December 23, 2009

“The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus” – Long-awaited Terry Gilliam movie about a traveling magician who sells his daughter’s soul for magical powers and the person who is trying to get her soul back. Heath Ledger’s last performance on film. Opens December 25, 2009

“It’s Complicated” – Alec Baldwin is Meryl Streep’s ex-husband and Steve Martin is Baldwin’s friend who falls in love with her. Romantic comedy directed by Nancy Meyers. Opens December 25, 2009

“Sherlock Holmes” – Guy Ritchie directing a ‘Sherlock Holmes’ movie with Robert Downey, Jr. as the detective and Jude Law as Watson. Also stars Rachel McAdams. Opens December 25, 2009

“Up in the Air” – George Clooney is a jet-setting corporate hatchet-man who is required to spend more time at home just as he falls in love with a woman and is close to his goal of 5 million frequent flyer miles. Also stars Vera Farmiga and Jason Bateman. Opens December 25, 2009

“The Loss of a Teardrop Diamond” – Bryce Dallas Howard plays Fisher Willow, a Memphis debutante who falls for a farmer’s son (Chris Evans) and tries to pass him off as a socialite. When a diamond comes up missing, their relationship is further strained. Based on a screenplay by Tennessee Williams. Opens December 30, 2009

27
Aug
09

Movie News and Views August 27, 2009 Trailer Edition

“A Serious Man” – Coen Bros. movie about a man trying to find clarity in the Sixties. Opens October 2, 2009.

“Youth in Revolt” – Michael Cera is a teenager who falls for the girl of his dreams and develops a split personality who creates havoc. Wasn’t this “Fight Club?” Also stars Ray Liotta, Steve Buscemi, M. Emmet Walsh, Justin Long, and Fred Willard. Opens October 30, 2009

“The Fourth Kind” – Milla Jovovich in a thriller based on the real-life story of a town in Alaska where people have been disappearing and where they fear there’s a government coverup. Opens November 6, 2009

“New Moon” – Episode Two of the “Twilight Saga” based on the books. Opens November 20, 2009

“Avatar” – James Cameron has spent the last 4 years working on this one: a complete CG movie filmed in IMAX 3-D. Tickets are on sale now! Opens December 18, 2009

“Legion” – Paul Bettany is an archangel trying to save humanity after God gives up on it and sends an army of angels to begin the apocalypse. Mankind’s future rests on a woman about t give birth to a child who will be the next Christ. Also stars Dennis Quaid and Tyrese Gibson. Opens January 22, 2010

“The Wolfman” – English period piece with Benecio del Toro returning for his brother’s funeral only to find that he was mauled by a werewolf. Benecio gets attacked and bitten as well and begins to change. Also stars Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt. Opens February 12, 2010.

“Inception” – Sci-fi from suspense director Christopher Nolan (“Insomnia,” “The Prestige,” “Batman” movies) Stars Leo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Michael Caine, and Ken Watanabe. Okay, now I’m curious… Opens July 16, 2010

“The Ghost” – Ewan McGregor is a novelist hired to ghostwrite a biography on a Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan). He begins to uncover secrets that put his life in jeopardy. Also stars Kim Cattrall, Tom Wilkinson, Jim Belushi, and Timothy Hutton. Coming soon!