Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Movie Reviews for Your Tree of Souls (Part 1)

It's been MONTHS since I've done movie reviews. So I'm about to give y'all two posts full of 'em! Here we go, y'all. Release the backlog!

Avatar: Oh, James Cameron. No. You guys, believe it or not, I had actually worked myself around to where I was expecting to love this movie. Too many people -- even those predisposed to hate it -- came back raving. I'm never THAT far off from public opinion. Alas. To be fair, the visual effects really are amazing -- the Na'vi are mesmerizing to look at, and more importantly you feel the lushness of the dense Pandora jungles. All total victories. In fact, if Cameron had decided to show off these groundbreaking techniques via a simulated ride at Universal Studios, it would be a screaming success. But using such cutting edge technology to tell what is ultimately a groaningly dated, tired, ham-handed, and not-that-interesting story feels like a missed opportunity at best, laziness at worst.

It's more than just "unobtanium"...though, for Christ's sweet sake UNOBTANIUM. It's setting up to immerse us in an alien world like we've never been and delivering a "love among the natives" storyline so predictable I was sketching out scenes before they even arrived. It's taking great pains to tell us what uncommon harmony the Na'vi share with every living thing on their home planet and then showing all of nature as being accessories to Big Lug O'Sullivan and Pocahonwithafist and their tale of romance. It's laying fairly decent feminist groundwork throughout only to undercut it with Sully riding in on the biggest swinging dick on the planet to save the crying women. And honestly, I'd have preferred more mixed messages like that to the decidedly unmixed messages that dominate the bulk of the movie. If there are two movie characters this year that made me feel more insulted and condescended to than the ones played by Stephen Lang and Giovanni Ribisi, I've probably blocked them out.

This is the movie that's supposed to change the way we tell stories. Don't we at least owe it to ourselves, then, to demand a good story to tell? Anyway: gorgeous, innovative visuals. Exhaustingly stupid story. What does that average to, a B? B-? Simultaneous A and C-? You figure it out?

Click below for more reviews, including The Hangover, It's Complicated, and The White Ribbon...

It's Complicated: Exceedingly uncomplicated, to a fault. This never feels like a movie that has any investment in its own outcome. Which would be fine in a movie that just sort of luxuriated in Meryl Streep's amazing bourgeois life and perfect children and delicious bakery. But it doesn't, bafflingly. It just keeps returning to this love triangle of Baldwin-Streep-Martin that it nevertheless could not care less about illuminating so that we care enough to pick a side. Meryl's great, of course, and I won't soon forget a pot-smoking sequence that culminates in Alec Baldwin shotgunning John Krasinski in a cramped bathroom, but it all falls rather flat. C+

The Hangover: Sorry, THIS was the big comedy sensation of the summer? Zack Galifanakis is pretty great, I'll say, but everything else is bleak, effortful, and completely uninterested in looking one inch beyond its Vegas-babying, shrewish-wife-cowering, boys-being-boys worldview. Also, if the world is divided between those who are part of the Ken Jeong problem and those that are part of the Ken Jeong solution, this belongs with the former. C-

Sin Nombre: Captivating and brilliantly paced, with only a couple dips into action-movie cliches to pull me back out of the story. Otherwise, it's kind of the movie I wanted City of God to be, with a sad, nonprofessional-but-in-a-good-way lead performance from Edgar Flores. His face bears the weight of everything he's done, will do, and will be done to him. B+ (A- ?)

Started off very promising, with the flirtatious chemistry between Michelle Pfeiffer and Rupert Friend popping off the screen like firecrackers. Unfortunately, the movie pays off their courtship so soon that we lose the most exciting element. It's a richer story to tell, but not one that plays to the actors' strengths. The movie ultimately slowed to a halt over the next hour or so. But Pfeiffer was still quite good, and Kathy Bates a hammy delight, but the real find here was Rupert Friend, whose charmisma and sex appeal were both incredibly evident and presented by Stephen Frears like a gift to the audience (which he was). Imagine if Orlando Bloom was able to project real sensuality and you've got it. C

The White Ribbon:
Probably the most intellectually rich movie I've seen this awards season. It flirts with floating too high above the ground on big ideas, but I was too busy enjoying the fact that Michael Haneke has delivered a movie that retains his usual themes of sweeping condemnation without feeling the need to lecture or punish the audience for simply being there. There's hope for you yet, Lars von Trier! The visuals are wonderful, conspiring in a grand deception of rural placidity. Definitely something I look forward to seeing again. B+

The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus:
Disappointing, though sadly not unexpected for Gilliam at this stage. Nothing seemed especially thought out, the plot instead meandering around and, worse yet, becoming increasingly dependent on the dubious talents of "actress" Lily Cole. That said, Tom Waits is kind of brilliant as a devil whose mumblecore sensibility is completely out of place yet welcome. And, of course, it was wonderful to spend a couple last hours with Heath Ledger.

Check back later for Giant Review Block, Part 2, featuring Funny People, Julia, and Up in the Air (and more)!


Becky said...

I stopped paying attention after "a pot-smoking sequence that culminates in Alec Baldwin shotgunning John Krasinski in a cramped bathroom." Way to convince me to see a terrible movie.

jessica said...

I wouldn't say It's Complicated is a terrible movie. I laughed pretty much throughout, when I wasn't wanting to punch Alec Baldwin for being such a juvenile cliche'. Joe's points are valid, particularly regarding the movie not so much caring about the outcome of the central love triangle, but, for my money, it's far and away the best thing Nancy Meyers has ever done.

Kirk Hamilton said...

I came out of Avatar surprised to have liked it as much as I did.... but I can't say I disagree with any of your complaints, either.

The Unobtainium thing just struck me again, too - like eating McDonald's, then burping six hours later and having to taste it all over again. Gross enough the first time around, and worse upon revisitation.

Sorry, that was pretty disgusting. But hey, so is the fact that they called it fricking "Unobtainium."

It's so dumb it's almost enough to make me start to hate on the movie retrospectively. Pretty pictures fade, but Unobtainium is forever.

Joe Reid said...

I should mention that I read somewhere (and others have mentioned to me) that unobtanium actually has some basis in fact. My answer to that being that if there were a real element called landraperium, I wouldn't use that in my movie either.

Kirk Hamilton said...

hmm. Wikipedia says that it's a slang term used to humorously refer to things that are unobtainable.

Which kinda makes Avatar's straight-faced use of the word even more ridiculous.

JA said...

"the real find here was Rupert Friend, whose charmisma and sex appeal were both incredibly evident and presented by Stephen Frears like a gift to the audience (which he was). Imagine if Orlando Bloom was able to project real sensuality and you've got it."

So true - Friend in pictures always kinda grossed me out, and in the same manner that Orlando Bloom always did/does. So I was shocked - SHOCKED I SAYS - to find that watching him in motion, acting, well he's just a hot ball of sex. I've meant to do a post on him sicne watching the film ages ago but the film itself mostly just slides right outta my brain minutes after being reminded of it.

Joe Reid said...

Did I actually write "charmisma"? That's a typo, but fuck it, I'm keeping it. Perfect description of him AND new word coinage. Do I ever stop being awesome?

JA said...

I didn't notice that until after I reposted the quote and I almost popped back in at that point to comment upon it. It's a fine word! And if I ever have need to speak of Rupert Friend again it will forever become his middle name.

Kris McN said...

You nailed the Avatar review. Simultaneously, "Oooo, look at that!" and, "Are you fucking kidding me with this story??" I actually had to leave 2 hours in because the babysitter called (Hey Joe, I have kids, did you know that?? Because I only mention it EVERY FUCKING TIME I COMMENT. Sorry.), just as the big battle was gearing up. I haven't been back to see the end because 1. I don't have to, I know exactly how it ends. Knew about 15 minutes in. And, 2. Don't care. Like, not even a little. It's not even compelling in a you-know-exactly-what's-coming-but-it-will-be-satisfying-to-see-the-bad-guys-get-what's-coming way. I might go back some rainy afternoon because the 3D is fun. Maybe. Meh.

Hipster Mongoose said...

See whereas I feel like the visuals of Avatar were nice and pretty, but the extra money to see it in 3D and IMAX didn't justify their cost.

The story was laughably bad; like they saved the money on it to spend more on the visuals.

Kris McN said...

@Hipster Mongoose - Extra money? Do you mean at the box office, because the 3D and flat showings cost the same at my local theater. We don't have IMAX in my podunk town.

M. said...

The really irritating thing about "unobtainium" is that the screenplay could have used the name for a tiny bit of (much needed) humor.

Giovanni Ribisi's character: What we're looking for is this, the largest known natural occurence of [insert a long and complex chemical name that goes on for many syllables] in the universe.

Jake Sully (after a bewildered pause): No wonder everybody calls it "unobtainium."


Col Quaritch (to Dr. Grace, early in the movie): I don't give a f--- about the f---ing Na'vi, I'm getting that f---ing unobtainium.

Jake Sully (snorting at the funny word he hasn't heard before, speaks under his breath): Unobtainium?

Col Quaritch (snapping his head around furiously): Is there a problem, Rollerboy?

I'm not saying I deserve an Oscar for that, but surely Cameron could have come up with SOMETHING.