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- ?)
Cheri: 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)!