Avatar

Movie poster

I didn’t know much about the sci-fi movie Avatar (dir James Cameron), and I had a mind to keep it that way. I really wasn’t motivated to see this film. Perhaps it was the marketing that turned me off (paying full admission price for a sneak peak). Perhaps it was the really uninspired ads for Avatar that you didn’t have to pay for that left me cold. Even more so, as a director James Cameron hadn’t done anything in a while. I wasn’t interested.

A friend wanted to see it, and I decided, why not. It can’t be as bad as some flicks I’ve seen this year.

What I got was a mix of live action scenes and some really great animation. Everything looks beautiful on Pandora, and alien. I think the voice actors did a superb job. I recognized CCH Pounder’s voice immediately. Cameron knows how to put together his action scenes as well!

Visually the space ships (interior) and constructions on the planet felt very familiar, reminding me of Aliens and Terminator 2. I love the rigidness of the steel and cramped confinement. They contrast the jungles of Pandora perfectly.

That rigid metal symbolizes the inflexibility of the corporation. A corporation ready to plunder the planet for all its natural resources, and having inability to see the native Na’vi as anything but a roadblock to their wealth.

The corporation’s lack of compassion or humanity makes it the perfect antagonist. Even further the arrogance of humans not trying to save the planet or even help the Na’vi. It’s humanity as a cynical, dark, soulless persona.

As the story progresses, one can see the parallels between the Na’vi and the plights of Native Americans in US history. One can also look at the Amazon rainforest and compare the loss of the ecology to this film. It’s not a bad story to tell or even retell. Human greed and folly make for some compelling drama.

The Navi

Within the story, Jake Sully, a human (Sam Worthington) uses a cloned human/Na’vi hybrid body he can mentally link to and talk with the Na’vi. His original orders were to learn and report the weakness of the culture, which would allow the corporation to evict the Na’vi. He learns the ways of the Na’vi and falls in love, not only with the culture, but with his teacher, Neytiri (Zoë Saldaña).

The film becomes very predictable, as it becomes obvious that Jake was going to fall in love with Neytiri, but that he would join the Na’vi against the corporation. Honestly I felt Avatar sandwiched between Aliens and Terminator 2. A companion piece, if you will. The plot needed to be updated a little, and some of this movie cut down. I felt like I was waiting for situations to happen, and the dialog was a little on the boring side.

I love the scenes in the jungle. We do get into the philosophy of the Na’vi and the spiritual aspects of their world, which easily could mirror our own. Is Cameron critiquing our use of technology and life, while simultaneously using advanced technology to make his film and message? After all, in Avatar, the Na’vi has a strong tie to nature, and in fact, lives in harmony with nature. It could be easy to dismiss, but I think there’s a point to showing us that killing for food is important and excess leads to ruin.

Visually, we get a great feast for this film. Narrative wise we have something that could have used a lot more editing and polishing.

Twilight Saga: New Moon: A Vampire Weepie

I went to see New Moon (dir Chris Weitz, adapted from the novel by Stephenie Meyer) with the film posse. I really had nothing to lose (so I thought). This was film time with friends. It would offset the heavy world cinema films I was watching (which were all good, BTW). I thought there would be a disconnect when I saw this film. That I would not like it based on the fact it’s a generation thing. I dismissed this notion knowing my love for supernatural creatures would win out.

Mind you, my ears have been burning about how bad the Twilight books are. Only two people I know actually read them, but it’s got vampires AND werewolves! How can that be a fail? This is gonna be fun!

Well I am most disappointed in this film. While it’s billed as a romance/fantasy, it fails at both.

At first glance, New Moon has a lot in common with soap operas, romance novels, and to a great extent shoujo manga (girl’s comics)/anime. I say shoujo manga cause let’s face it, where else do characters sparkle? I did expect rose petals or feathers to fall from the sky too. It was that kind of scene when I beheld Edward’s “skin glow” moment. I confess to laughing. I wasn’t ready for it. Shoujo usually brings the romance, the love triangles, and the melodrama, which can range from excellent to sweet or syrupy. Bella’s depression reminds me of how some female characters in manga/anime behave. Her tailspin lasts for months.

The pacing of this film is disgustingly slow. So slow my mind began to stray from the film, which is never good. There is a lot of standing around and hearing plenty of dialog. What’s up with that? The film slows itself to a crawl that by time the action comes in, I was hoping it would stay.

New Moon could be better served if the director removed several chunks of the dialog, and added much more action. As an adaptation, I don’t think a few liberties would be too upsetting to make cuts or add action. Not necessarily fighting action, but doing something other than standing around. There so many long-winded speeches that lack any wit to make them fun.

Typically in a romance you have a triangle, which is not surprising that Jacob comes in the picture. Here’s the problem: Jacob never has a chance with Bella. He’s on the edge, waiting for a moment to make a move. Bella keeps him at bay in such a way it appears she’s toying with his emotions.

I like the character of Alice (Ashley Greene). She seems a little kooky, but real at the same time. She also speaks the truth to Bella about getting herself into some really dumb situations.

As a romance it lacks the depth that I’d like to see. Edward’s love seems on the surface. Bella (Kristen Stewart) seems far more interested in being a vampire, and literally harps on the fact of being made into one. Maybe that’s why Edward walked away. She’s such a damn nag.

Looking at the character of Bella, she is most annoying, and prone to acts of great stupidity. She begins taking on high risk behaviors by riding with strangers, bike riding (nearly killing herself), and cliff diving. Her friends are appendages and she ignores them as well. Her poor father is confused and unable to help her at all.

None of her risks seem to pan out. She keeps seeing ghost images of Edward (Robert Patterson). This is how we know Jacob and her won’t hook up. She’s got Edward on the brain all the time. She knows she’s using Jacob (Taylor Lautner), but she doesn’t care. That’s jerky for someone in emotional need.

Speaking of jerks, what’s up with Edward? Why does Edward he leave Bella so completely unguarded when he knows Victoria wants to kill her? Edward acts completely moronic to service the plot, which to me equates to failure in the story. Even further evidence of Edward’s stupidity comes when a phone call is all it takes to confirm that Bella’s died. Had he done a little investigation of his own, he would have known the truth.

Edward should be smarter than this. Someone suggested that this is a “young adult” to me, therefore it should not be allowed to have crappy plots. That is a feeble excuse for piss poor writing. The statement suggests that young adult readers don’t deserve a good plot or consistent characters.

On the other hand, as I stated about George Lucas films, I suspect the story is rife with old school melodrama influences. It is an outdated method of story telling where things can happen to characters for no real reason. For a modern audience, we need contemporary storytelling techniques. There can be a dozen reasons for Edward leaving Bella that kept the character intact, and still retain melodramatic elements.

As vampires we get some really neutered and spayed blood drinkers. They aren’t predatory (except Victoria). They’re kinda sweet and misunderstood. In other words boring and safe. Who the hell creates boring and safe vampires. That;’s like a cocaine dealer who’s cocaine only makes your nose “tingle a little bit.” Seriously. Why introduce a dark, supernatural creature only to pretty it up? We have a taboo relationship that only flirts with danger, then plays it safe.

The Volturi (ancient vampires) look promising with their ancient, grandiose ways. Actor Michael Sheen (who played the werewolf Lucien in the Underworld series) plays Aro with some weight and bite to his role. Too bad he’s not featured more into the plot. He’s have brought more shine than sparkle to this film. Only in Italy do we see how dangerous the vampires are, not only to Bella and Edward, but to tourists whom they prey on.

Can we call Jacob and company, “werewolves?” They’re more like mutants who turn into giant sized wolfs. Mind you, they look intimidating enough, but the aspect of a wolf with human attributes (which could be genuinely creepy) gets lost here. They’re more like animal totems.

To me, Twilight is a phenomenon that refuses to acknowledge characters, plot, or even real vampires. It does know how to turn up the old school melodrama AND the scenery. In other words, “oooh pretty.” I found myself calling this the first the many Vampire Weepies!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Jedi Knight Kit Fisto from "Lair of Grievous"For the record I’m speaking of the 2008 animated series that completed season one in 2009. There is another animated SW micro-series of the same name, for those not in the know, in 2003-05. The major difference is that the 2003-5 series is 2-D animation. The current series is 3-D and the supervising director is Dave Filoni, who worked on Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series.

One can see the style of the 2-D series infused into the new series with the sharp angles and geometrical forms. In fact, the characters resemble marionettes. As their hair does not move, yet clothes do. I do not find this a distraction from the stories. Mind you, I hang out with animation and special effects majors. They either like the show or hate it.

In respect to continuity I’ve encountered resistance from several fans of the original trilogy, and the expanded universe of Star Wars (comics, novels and video games). A few people mention their dislike of Asoka Tanno, Anakin Skywalker’s plucky Padawan Learner (Jedi in training).

Granted Asoka can be a little obnoxious, but she comes off very likable. She has a lot to learn about being a Jedi, and Anakin’s roguish training rubs off on her. Many of the resistance and complaints I hear about Asoka relates to the fact that she’s new to the Star Wars universe, and therefore rejectable.

What I do like and noticed right away is that Anakin appears heroic. This is a mild contrast to the live action movies, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith, where Anakin’s portrayed spoiled, bratty, whiny, and annoying. A lot of fun comes from his hotheaded behavior, but watching him do good (which makes him a better tragic figure)

I never bought Anakin’s conversion to the dark side in the films. It felt to simplistic and without any reason behind his actions. Clone Wars offers us some glimpses into Anakin’s tragedy. What happens to Asoka? Does she die in the animated series? Wouldn’t that push him over the edge?

Some of the villains come off more developed than before. General Grievous displays his skills as a fighter and a general with short patience. Count Dooku often plays in the background as an imposing godfather, so does Darth Sidious. Asajj Ventress is a Sith assason. She’s quite the vicious fighter, and trained by Dooku. A new villain, Cad Bane makes his appearance in the last episode, and exudes a cool under pressure that makes him appealing.

The scenery looks gorgeous, full of various colors along with sound effects that we all know and love (light saber duels). All sorts of planets and stations appear within the series.

Two great episodes I do love is, “Cloak of Darkness,” and “Lair of Grievous.” Both stories center around Dooku’s agents failing him, and needing to redeem themselves in his eyes. “Cloak of Darkness” shows Asajj completing a retrieval mission of one of her allies. Her mastery of treachery comes off very clear as she executes the mission “too the letter.” In “Lair of Grievous,” The general finds that Dooku’s dissatisfied with his performance as a leader. In Sith fashion, failure means a test of the worst kind.

The Watchmen

I watched The Watchmen (dir Zack Snyder), and liked it. Mind you, this is in no way the best film ever, but I liked it. I admit my bias for crime and mysteries in addition to superheroes. You’re not going to go far into this film without knowing that it contains the aforementioned elements.

Adapted from the comics of the same name by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the original series heralded the coming of the modern age in comics. ASIDE: calling Watchmen a “graphic novel” feels a bit pretentious of me since I remember when it was a 12-issue comic).

With Watchmen, there is a dark, cynical tone present with an emphasis on realism. Underneath it all we feel that gritty, relentless aggression of the real world. Heroism became vigilantism. It wasn’t pretty or escapism. It erased the naivety (innocence) of super heroes and magic.

Forget rescuing the girl or saving the day at the last moment. Being a vigilante means a harsh existence, and seeing the ugly side of humanity exposed.

We see several scenes that appear lifted from the comic itself. Quite painstakingly, I’m sure. This movie gets violent real fast. No character has easy choices.

With the original series, Moore and Gibbons managed to complete this task with substance and style. The comics used multiple literary motifs such as symbolism, metaphors, and foreshadowing. There were also tangents that may have been distracting (The Black Freighter pirate storyline). All of which have parts to play in the actual film.

From where I sit, I see a mystery unfolding. Someone kills the Comedian the testosterone-fueled anti-hero, which was no easy feat. The Comedian was outfought and killed barehanded, and tossed out of a high rise building. A conspiracy unfolds, and we see the players.

The adaptation keeps with the characters, making modifications here and there. Cosmetically the costumes changed, and certain story elements altered. No “tentacle creature,” which has nothing to do with hentai. The costume changes do show some fun and sensibility. Silk Specter II looks more practical, and still provocative.

I found Dr. Manhattan’s narration of his origin to go from drag to annoying. Mind you, I realize that it humanizes Manhattan (who is detached from humanity). The past seems to be all he’s interested in, and he’s a jerk to his old girlfriend.