Jan 1, 2010

Movie Reviews @ The Temple

Avatar – Well, jeez, lot to say here, but pretty much all of it has been said. It’s an amazing movie in many ways, though not all ways. The plot is, obviously, the weak point. It is, as I had heard, just Pocahontas slash dances with wolves sort of thing. Military dude falls for a chick, goes native, fights against the white man. It’s a hard thing to do, writing a story about natives. It’s hard to not be subtly racist when a white man writes a story about not-white people. Just because they are blue doesn’t make the parallel movies any lesser. But, in theory, there’s no reason you can’t write that story, it’s just hard. All things considered, it was handled well. The plot itself is troublesome. You want to cheer for the natives, of course, you want them to win. And let’s pretend for a moment it’s not obvious who will win in this kind of movie. But looking past that, humans have spaceships. They can bomb the planet to a crisp and no manner of native juju will save them. The idea that this story can have a happy ending won by violence is ridiculous. It’s almost sad that the only way to win against the big bad white man slash humans is with big bag of violence. It’s an odd moment I had - to think it’s too bad there isn’t another way. It’s a very hippy sentiment that there ought to be a peaceful way of managing things. But oh well, that’s not how stories like this go. Besides, peace isn’t very exciting, even in 3D. So let’s get to the good stuff. The movie is effing fantastic looking. I won’t go over what James Cameron did here, technologically. It’s essentially real-time rendering of CGI environments and characters so that the director can visualize what he’s making. There’s a lot more, most of which I don’t know, but has, theoretically, the ability to change the way some people make movies. However he did it, the movie is beautiful. Nearly everything is CG, but it looks as real as any CG ever has. The blue people are stunningly realistic. The scenery is gorgeous, though it does have a cartoony quality to it. This is largely due to the otherworldness, and due to the fact that everything on this planet glows for no distinct evolutionary reason. But then when you aren’t paying attention there will be a plain old normal tree that looks like life. Then there’s the 3D, of course. I am historically pretty anti-3D. If I can be annoyingly self obsessed and quote my review of monsters vs. aliens in 3D:

3D is still gimmicks, it offers no value. Shit flies at you, you duck, it’s a novelty, it means nothing. Some day in the future 3D will be a fundamental medium for art, just as radio, then pictures, then color pictures. It will give us something we can’t get otherwise. But right now all it gets me is balls in my face. And no one likes balls in their face.

This isn’t the holy grail, yet. We have not achieved a new level of story telling. But for the first time literally ever, I see that potential. There are a couple balls in your face moments, but as a rule 3D is used more for setting up environments than for making you duck. The 3D places you in a world that is slightly more alive because of its depth, no pun. Its particularly effective when it comes to the futuristic hologram computer displays everyone uses. It makes the holograms feel like actual holograms, it’s pretty damn cool. The particle effects are pretty amazing. At one point he’s walking around with ash falling around him, and it gives the scene so much character. It’s also the first battle I’ve ever seen in 3D. The closest thing is Beowulf, which wasn’t very good. The rest of the time 3D is used for cartoons or horror crap. But this had honest to jesus dragon vs. jet plane air battles in 3D, and that’s damn cool too. I don’t want to overstate, I wouldn’t say we’re in a new story telling medium. But I can imagine us saying, in 50 years, that this was a huge step. A real step, not a gimmick, in the way we show stories.

Sherlock Holmes – Damn, this movie had a lot of good parts, but it just didn’t come together. The fight breakdown is just about the coolest thing I’ve seen all year. And I saw it last year, so shush about the technicality. And there are a lot of other good things. Ever actor does well. It’s pretty funny. The look of the movie is great. I’m fine with a violent Sherlock Holmes. If you ask me about any one aspect, I’ll give you a positive response. But the movie as a whole just doesn’t work. It’s too slow or has poor pacing, I felt bored for too much of it. Someone suggested it lacked dramatic tension, and I think that’s right, it almost plodded through. And the whole big reveal ending was actually really bad. Holmes goes through and explains all the things he figured out to solve this mystery and that. Except not a single one of them is interesting. In every single case we understood that there was a trick, that worked something like “this”. And in every case he explains the exact poison, explosive, compound, or mechanism that allowed the “this” to happen. But none of those things are interesting. It’s like knowing who Kaiser Soze is all along, but at the end revealing that he learned to speak in a different accent in grade school when Jimmy Collins gave him a book called How To Speak In Accents written by Frank Smith who was born on a farm in Kentucky. Who the fuck cares?? Okay, going a little strong there, but mostly because I’m disappointed. It should have been good, it had good ingredients, hopefully the sequel that’s clearly planned will put them together into a good soup.

Role Models – Alright movie. I was only semi-conscious watching it and it took me 3 tries, through no fault of the movie (sickness), so I might not have got all the delicate nuances, but I think I’m good. You saw in the ads that they had LARPing, but I was surprised at the extent to which they really focused on it. It’s a cute movie, I laughed, not a lot, but enough for a sick day.

Dune – Hajeez. This movie should not have been made in 1984. And it should not have been made by David Lynch. I just read the book, so I figured I’d see the movie again. It screws up pretty much everything. Part of it is the era. The body shields are hilariously bad. Nothing that came after star wars should look this bad, it’s really awful. Elsewhere the tech is clearly at fault, you can’t really blame it. At the same time, James Cameron wouldn’t make Avatar until he could do the tech he wanted, maybe they should have waited until someone invented After Effects for arguably the most famous and critically loved science fiction book ever. The next problem is the director. You can’t give something like this to a director who does such weird shit. How could he not go off and “make it his own” God forbid he leave a classic well enough alone. I’m being harsh, he doesn’t mess with SO much, but nearly every perturbation is a bad one. There’s no reason to make the Bene Gesserit bald, black, and menacing. They are menacing without being overtly evil. These women are companions, consorts, wives, and queens. They needn’t dress like witches just because that’s what they are called. The weirding modules are the stupidest idea ever. Lynch said he didn’t want “kung fu on the sand dunes” so he ditched the weirding way as a martial art. Okay, I almost buy that, but you turn this internal physical mastery into knowing how to yell into a gun. And without that gun, the only person you can kill is someone with a heart condition who isn’t expecting you. The third stage navigator threw me off, but the idea grew on me, and apparently Herbert threw it into his later books. I know a director has to put his own spin on a source. But you can either be Jackson with LotR and Zach Snyder with Watchmen, or you can think you know better than a literary genius and make the Baron fly into the mouth of a sandworm, your call. The rest isn’t really anyone’s fault, the movie just doesn’t live up to the book. The fremen aren’t convincing, they are supposed to be weathered desert people, not hippies on a camping trip. Some actors are fine (the duke, stilgar, gurney), the mentat’s are weird, too weird just for the sake of weirdness. Besides Piter will always be that bald wretch from Dune 2: Battle for Arrakis, Duncan isn’t in it enough to make a presence. Sting is unnecessary (as per usual). The Baron is probably the biggest disappointment. His voice in the audiobook was so fantastic. Slovenly, menacing, proud, evil. This guy is evil, but more fanatical, more comically crazy than menacing, which is too bad. The best thing the movie does is the worms. For all the poor tech in this movie the worms look pretty great. They are simple, not terribly overused or overshown, the way a monster like that should be. The other big fault with the movie I have no recommendation for – it has a lot of internal monologue. But the book has a lot, and it is critical to the story. There’s no way to communicate these feelings and plottings and doubts without internal thoughts. But that is nigh impossible to do without being corny (cheesy noir style), creepy (whispering narration dune style), or obstinately overstated. Even today this is a very hard movie to make, but then, I’m not a filmmaker, someone ought to figure out a way.

West Side Story – Part of the musical discovery (I think more of these will be coming). I actually fairly well liked this. It’s corny as all hell. In addition to being made a few decades ago, which is understandable. The whole idea of gangs that fight with dancing is hard to take. The scene where the jets are just SO ANGRY that they have to POSE and DANCE and POW! It’s honestly laughable. But, putting that silliness to the side, it’s a pretty good musical. The music is mostly enjoyable, there’s this weird (but purposeful) choice to have actors that don’t sing all that well. The rooftop scene is my favorite, with that america song that’s famous. I love the whole parallel to two gangs fighting it out was really fantastic. The rest of it is just kind of romeo and juliet, obviously, but despite all these things I say are corny or something, I did like it.

Mad Max – I had never seen this! It’s kind of both a dude and a nerd staple, somehow. But, for whatever reason, I hadn’t seen it. It’s not quite as… mad as I thought it would be. It’s more like… I’m a cop, okay now I‘m retired, okay now bad stuff happens, okay now I’ll be mad for like 15 minutes. It wasn’t a bad movie, it just wasn’t quite the rampage I expected. The world they set up is pretty decent. The bad guys are capably bad. I’m a little underwhelmed, I guess. I’ve heard that it’s the sequels that are really the big deal, Thunderdome in particular, and those will come in netflix soon enough. If I didn’t know this was a big deal movie, I would have thought it was pretty forgettable.

Flags of our Fathers – Finally got around to seeing this one, the sequel will follow soon hopefully. It’s a pretty sad movie. Sad because it once again points out how ignorant I am. I didn’t know there were two flags, I didn’t even know freaking Roosevelt died during the war! I knew Truman came in at the end, somehow I thought Roosevelt just ended his term. Jesus, someone needs to make me take high school again. Anyway, the movie is also sad because it’s really sad. War is always sad, the reality of people is always sad. And yes, there is an uplifting character to the nobility of soldiers. But that too is sad, because it’s misused, misrepresented, and too often just not true. But it’s a good movie. Beautifully shot, well acted, and obviously informative. Looking forward to the sequel. Not a favorite ever or anything, but definitely good.

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