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World's Greatest Dad

Robin Williams in World's Greatest Dad

While I tend to shoot for more in-depth reviews and analytical essays here, I would like to take a moment before we dive in to indulge in the oft-reviled, but more often practiced, art of quote baiting. If you aren’t familiar with the practice, just read any review by Peter Travers or Ben Lyons for just a bevy of “electric”s, “dazzling”s, or any other word or phrase that would look great on a movie poster with an exclamation point next to it. The excitement I feel after watching Bobcat Goldthwait’s searing (that’s one), wickedly funny (that’s two), pitch-black comedy (three) transcends such buzzwords, but I still can’t help but dole out superlatives, like “hands down, the funniest film of the year” (–Adam Smith, MYYEARSINLISTS.COM).

So, for anyone just concerned with the question “Would you recommend it?”, I hope that paragraph makes my emphatic “yes, yes, a million times yes” perfectly clear. Without spoiling anything, what makes Goldthwait such a fascinating storyteller is that he never uses shock for shock’s sake, but always as a gateway to exploring societal questions and moral gray areas; this darkly funny and probing M.O. is also explored in his previous, and less accomplished, feature Sleeping Dogs Lie. With my final warning, I’m about to dive into major spoiler territory, so if you want to experience World’s Greatest Dad from completely fresh eyes, I wouldn’t recommend reading any further.

World’s Greatest Dad joins this year’s best like Fantastic Mr. Fox and Two Lovers as one of the great films about what it means to be a man. And at the heart of all three stories is a struggle of masculine identity, identifying as Jewish, identifying as a wild animal, identifying as a father and a writer. World’s Greatest Dad shows an unflinching but fair look at the male psyche (even while it leaves it battered and bloody), showing their capacity for petty territorial pissings (a rival of the lead character, upon hearing a musing on the absurdity of life, declares “That reminds me so much of my Hunter,” his two-year old son) and deep, unwavering love. The linchpin of Goldthwait’s film is both a horrifying sight and an act of mercy: after returning home from a date, Lance Clayton (Robin Williams, proving that he can pull off brilliant, affecting work without hiding inside One Hour Photo-style creeps) discovers his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara, who, in his brief screen time, throws himself into idiocy and self-absorption with fearless abandon) dead from a botched exercise in autoerotic asphyxiation. After a grueling silent shot of Lance openly weeping and howling at his son’s death, he calmly lays his son out on his bed, zips up the fly on Kyle’s signature cargo pants, and rigs the boy up in his closet, making it look like a suicide. As an extra measure to save his son (and himself) the shame and embarrassment, Lance writes Kyle’s “suicide note.” After seeing what a wholly unlikable and irredeemable prick Kyle is, the act is one of unspeakable love; Lance says it best in the film’s climactic moment, “You didn’t like Kyle. Neither did I. But I loved him. He was my son.” And that ache resonates throughout the film; the pathos of Lance seeing dirty shoe prints Kyle left on the dashboard as the last tangible thing he left behind; the deep regret of having to live with the fact that the last thing he said to his son was “Kyle, you ruin everything, will you shut the fuck up?”; having to walk through the hallway at the high school where he teaches, where he normally could walk by and barely be noticed, and now attracting dehumanizing stares, as if he’s from another planet.

And yet Kyle is still a wholly unlikable and irredeemable prick. And yet, when Kyle’s forged suicide note goes public, suddenly everyone in the high school that ignored him shapes him in their own image, filling him with newfound depth and wisdom that the real Kyle would have labeled “queer.” It’s a plot device that’s not unfamiliar to fans of the brilliant MTV animated series Daria (the episode entitled “The Misery Chick” has a similar central conceit), but while Goldthwait borrows some of that show’s cynicism (shallow people experiencing false epiphanies in the wake of Kyle’s death), he takes it a step further by showing us people whose lives are genuinely changed by Kyle’s death, like a closeted football player who found the courage to come out and the strength to not kill himself after reading the published suicide note. It tackles a question that became timely with the publication of  and subsequent controversy surrounding James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces — if a work truly touches people, how much does it matter if it is, essentially, a lie or in some part fabricated? Does the lie outweigh the potential benefit?

Luckily for Lance (and especially for us; his confession is arguably the funniest scene in a film already filled with moments that make you laugh until you’re short of breath), he decides that the answer is “no.” After sacrificing his own identity to make it Kyle’s (raising the important question of how much a man must be willing to give up of himself to make a better life for his children), Lance is unburdened; the truth has indeed set him free, even if that means everyone will hate him. Lance’s sprint through the hallways of the high school, disrobing, and diving into the swimming pool set to “Under Pressure” is the very definition of catharsis. Though the film really ought to end here, rather than tacking on a small additional scene, it is but a small concern compared to the big ideas hidden in the film’s laughs.

Which is my way of saying “Get ready for some bite-sized morsel reviews” because I’ve been busy playing quite a bit of catch-up on the decade. And with that, away we go! Not to be confused with the Sam Mendes film which has already topped one of my lists so far–Worst Films of 2009, but that’s a story for another article.

Irreversible

Irreversible

Irreversible (Gaspar Noe, 2003 – 1st viewing): This controversial French film is a tough sit. It is a film that hits the ground running with an extreme act of violence (more on that later) and whose notorious centerpiece is a 9-minute, unbroken shot of the brutal rape and beating of a woman. Having Monica Belluci in this role is almost a perverse test on Noe’s part–it’s as if he dares any guy in the audience to be excited by the scene, by mere fact of it featuring one of the most beautiful women in the world. But as Roger Ebert observed, it’s really like porn in reverse–sex and violence is our jump-off point for the rest of the story rather than the payoff. If you can get past the frightening violence, the main character’s raging homophobia in the first 20 minutes, and the wholly disorienting camerawork, you’ll find a fascinating study on revenge and, more importantly, grief. It doesn’t take multiple viewings to see two concurrent stories: Marcus’ story of stopping at nothing to punish the man who attacked Alex, and Pierre’s story of trying everything in his power not to give into that primal urge to avenge her (though Marcus is dating Alex when we enter the story, she used to date Pierre).

Zodiac

Zodiac

Zodiac (David Fincher, 2007 – 1st viewing): Every rave I’d read talks about the way the film deals with obsession, and that is handled brilliantly. Fewer had made a point of singling out DP Harris Savides for his astounding work (the use of the color in the film is particularly commendable–I saw colors in this film that look almost truer than life). I was only a bit surprised by the way Fincher catches you trying to think like the killer, forcing you to examine your own (and your society’s) fascination with serial murderers. But the real shock of Zodiac, Fincher’s finest film since Fight Club? How funny it is. Robert Downey, Jr. steals every scene he’s in. Some of the victims that the Zodiac takes his time with make absurd pleas (“If there’s anything else I can do for you, maybe I can write you a check.”). And a back-and-forth over whether to mail or fax something employs an exquisite deadpan in its send-up of bureaucracy where recent critical darling In The Loop would have opted for screaming a string of obscenities. Of my decade retrospective, Zodiac towers above the rest as my greatest find.

The Hangover

The Hangover

The Hangover (Todd Phillips, 2009 – 3rd viewing): Hey, every once in a while, you need some comfort food. But to say that The Hangover was less demanding after watching Zodiac isn’t to say it’s not interesting. Todd Phillips gives us a rarely offered glimpse of Las Vegas after the lights go out and the hot desert sun beats down across your forehead. It’s a film with two brilliant bait-and-switch moments. The first happens before the opening credits, where we’re offered the scene of a wedding being set up, something out of your typical romantic comedy. Then, with one cut, Phillips turns the entire visual language on its ear. The fullness of a crowded room is replaced by the vastness of an empty desert. Browns and greens and whites are washed out into a burned out tan and orange. Immobile cameras can’t stop shaking. It’s jarring and a wonderful kick-start to the film. The second comes after the guys’ toast on the roof. Just when we expect the film to be a bevy of amoral hedonistic delights, the party’s already over, and the boys must pay for their indulgences. On top of being a movie of impeccable timing, exciting physical humor, and clever language-based jokes (Alan’s reference to Rain Man as a “re-TARD” is particularly smart), it’s a movie that revels in debauchery, but shows that debauchery has its consequences (and in many cases, they are life and death). These men go through a major change. The film may not spell it out blatantly, but if you think that the Phil we see at the end cradling his son and being charmingly flirtatious with his wife is the same Phil at the beginning who says “I fucking hate my life,” then I can’t help you.

And that’s just a little under half of what I’ve taken in in the past week. Be on the lookout for Vol. 2, folks.

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Laura Vasiliu and Anamaria Marinca in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days

Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker is a science fiction classic notable for its unflinching camerawork. The average shot length is about one minute, with some shots lasting more than four, and for a nearly three-hour film, the rhythm can be staggering. Particularly when being viewed today, where the belief in the power of the cut over the shot (from the schools of Eisenstein and Hitchcock) and frenetic editing (from the school of MTV) is the norm, it can be an uncomfortable sit. But the world of Stalker is a perilous landscape (referred to as, simply, The Zone), where certain rules and procedures must be followed. Any attempt to defy The Zone can end in treacherous consequences.

The world of two Romanian college students in 1987, shortly before the fall of Communism, is not that different in Cristian Mungiu’s 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. And one need not look far to find Tarkovsky’s influence on Mungiu’s Palme d’Or-winning abortion drama. Most of the film’s shots could easily challenge Stalker in length, and Mungiu, DP Oleg Mutu, and editor Dana Bunescu work tirelessly to transform the camera into an unblinking, uncommenting eye. Much like Tarkovsky’s film, though, the camera works in varying degrees of caution and voyeurism. The lens will follow Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) as far as an archway, only to let her walk off to the bus on her own, as if it knows that there are certain places we cannot go with her. We see the story with an outsider’s eye, and in those moments, you can’t help but wonder if perhaps this could just as easily be one of a thousand stories just like it going on at the same time. Then, later in the film, the camera will track right up to Otilia’s face as she waits patiently in the car, waiting for Mr. Bebe (Vlad Ivanov), the man who will perform the illegal abortion for her friend Gabriela (Laura Vasiliu).

Mungiu’s aesthetic is full of grit and stays mostly within muted hues, shades of browns and grays (all too fitting for the film’s moral ambiguity), but his defining characteristic is the very specific choice of what you need to see and what you don’t. When she and Gabriela are short on the money to pay him, Otilia is forced to have sex with Mr. Bebe. The camera waits outside of the hotel room with Gabriela, eventually moving with Gabriela to the bathroom (where Otilia and Bebe are heard, but not seen). The only things we see linked to the act are Otilia and Bebe beginning to undress, and Otilia immediately coming into the bathroom after they’ve finished–the power of that act, that she must immediately wash herself is a striking and haunting one.

And 4 Months concentrates heavily on the power and importance of acts. This is a world where intentions and promises mean nothing, and only what you do matters. It is a world where the Communist regime forces rogue capitalists underground, breeding a landscape where human lives are treated or cast aside with the cold detachment of a business transaction. Even in genial jokes exchanged over a birthday dinner, women are second-class citizens to men. A woman is only introduced as the doctor’s wife, not as a successful chemist in her own right. A girl tells her boyfriend to be safer when they have sex, but he ignores her. The entire environment of the film is one where women suffer in silence because of the wishes of men. They are only given an extremely dangerous option that only ends in regret.

Which is not to say that 4 Months is a strictly pro-choice film. The image of the tiny aborted fetus lying on a bloodstained towel in the middle of the bathroom floor gives one pause. The way that Otilia must break her promise to Gabriela–instead of burying the fetus, she stuffs it in a plastic bag and tosses it down a garbage chute–is heartbreaking. In the end, these two young women are left sitting in the hotel restaurant, with nothing to say to each other, and no idea what to do next. 2007 saw another film that dealt with the issue of abortion in a singular way–Lake of Fire, Tony Kaye’s magnum opus of a documentary. Lake of Fire, like 4 Months, leaves the audience with no easy answers. These films display a raw power that cannot be found in typical partisan cinema. Whereas most films like to see the political world as flat, with two opposing sides to every story, 4 Months shows the world for its roundness and depth–that the sides of each story bleed together and are, in fact, the same.

Mungiu accomplishes a film of quiet, ferocious power through his ambiguity. Much like Tony Kaye (a narrative filmmaker turned documentarian), Mungiu has no interest in drawing clear moral distinctions (the only character that comes off even close to all bad is Mr. Bebe), and he prefers to show the events as they happen, plain and simple. He doesn’t cut away from a moment, thereby forcing you to face it, and challenging his actors to remain open and vulnerable for that much time on camera. His is an aesthetic that would make Tarkovsky proud, and a courage of tackling tough issues in “shades of grey” terms that would make Brecht long to see how far the dramatic art form has come.

Two Lovers

Joaquin Phoenix and Vinessa Shaw in "Two Lovers"

Mike Nichols opens Closer, his 2004 adaptation of playwright Patrick Marber’s treatise on sex and psychological warfare, with dual shots of two beautiful strangers (Jude Law and Natalie Portman) walking down a crowded London street. They notice each other instantly, and we can’t help but do the same. They pop out above the crowd–largely, this is a choice of focus on the part of Nichols and DP Stephen Goldblatt, but with Law’s piercing eyes and movie star good looks and Portman’s girl-next-door charm and fluorescent red hair, how can we not? These people stand out almost by habit.

Leonard Kraditor, the broken protagonist of James Gray’s Two Lovers, is not such a person. As played by Joaquin Phoenix (who, interestingly enough, briefly delves into his new career as a rapper during a ride over to a club), he’s not without his good qualities. He’s guarded, but not without wit or a certain clumsy boyish charm. His face still carries baby fat, but you can tell he would look good if he lost a little weight. He dresses shabbily, but practically, and he cleans up well. All around, a wholly unremarkable man. Even under the watchful gaze of lenser Joaquin Baca-Asay, Leonard gets lost in the crowd — sometimes, particularly in crowd scenes, it takes a good ten seconds before you realize he’s even in frame.

When we meet Leonard, he is a man desperate for something he can control. Well into his thirties, Leonard has returned home to live with his parents and works at his father’s dry cleaners after failing to make his place in the world. He has failed as a photographer. He failed as a husband — he and his former fiancee (both Jewish) tested positive for Tay-Sachs, so they were split up, rather than endure the inevitable heartbreak that could come with the increasingly likely death of any child they had. And as we first see Leonard, he’s about to become (for the second time) what Frank Zappa would call a “Suicide Chump.” However, we can never take his attempts seriously — scars from his cut wrists are across veins rather than along (i.e., less likely to be fatal) and he attempts to drown himself by jumping from a bridge no more than two feet above the water (in fact, he changes his mind halfway through the attempt and resurfaces, posing as a drowning victim). Leonard makes another bold gesture in the film’s closing moments, but he ultimately confirms it as an empty threat.

And topping off a laundry list of emasculating circumstances, he’s about to be set up with another nice Jewish girl (Vinessa Shaw), the daughter of Leonard’s father’s new business partner. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Sandra — she’s quite pretty and appreciates Leonard’s eccentricities. But meeting a new girl at your parents’ house, where you’re currently living, and being goaded to show her your photographs in your messy childhood room is not exactly ideal.

This inciting incident spurs Two Lovers along as a fascinating and hypnotic tale about regaining one’s masculine identity. For Leonard, this also means shedding his Jewish identity (though he attends his girlfriend’s younger brother’s bar mitzvah, an allusion to Leonard’s own attempt to grapple with being a man), and taking up with a friendly, if wholly fucked up, shiksa named Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow). Michelle is everything that Sandra isn’t; blonde, thin, and completely uninterested in Leonard in any romantic way. While Leonard courts Sandra in a very traditional fashion (movies, dinners, standard couples territory), his relationship with Michelle carries out in the manner of a couple of hormonal teenagers sneaking around after Mom and Dad have gone to sleep (and behind their own partners’ backs — Leonard is dating Sandra while he pines for Michelle, who is having an affair with a married man). The windows of their respective rooms are right across from each other (it’s no coincidence that Michelle’s window is on a floor above Leonard’s), so they yell to each other across the alleyway. They make late-night phone calls while looking at each other through the window. They sneak up to the roof to talk (and eventually have sex). And as the film draws to a close, they make the split decision to run off together to live in California.

The resolution of Leonard and Michelle’s tryst is completely expected, but there’s something tragic in these otherwise adolescent events because they’re occurring between two adults. What could be shrugged off as a mere crush in two teen characters is filled with all the same confusion, regret, and hurt and elevated ten-fold by two actors as skilled in their roles as Phoenix and Paltrow. It’s Leonard’s state of arrested development that makes his journey that much more urgent, and why an unspoken hurt seems to register when Sandra tells him “I want to take care of you” that forces Leonard to make a point of telling Michelle that he wants to protect her. While Leonard is constantly on the defensive, it’s only because Phoenix is so fully open as a performer, unafraid to let every insecurity and spiritual pock mark bleed through onto film. It’s this vulnerability that makes the final moments of Two Lovers (which I won’t spoil for you here, despite my bad track record with such things) so powerful in their heartbreak.

Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman in "Extract"

Kristen Wiig and Jason Bateman in "Extract"

A decade ago, Mike Judge was at the peak of his comedic genius. His King of the Hill was slowly taking the reins from Fox’s own The Simpsons as the funniest show on network television, and while his live action feature debut came and went with little fanfare upon release in 1999, nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find a college student who doesn’t own a copy of Office Space. Plenty of films have taken a swing at lower-upper-middle class malaise (including that year’s Best Picture winner American Beauty), but Judge dared to do it with a baseball bat. He put a mirror up to anyone who has ever been a cubicle drone and gave them a hero in Peter Gibbons, the untamed id of half a century of unsatisfied suburbanites setting a flame to every bad boss, sweeping up every shattered dream, and taking sweet vengeance upon every office employee’s nightmare — the dreaded printer. As in all of Judge’s best work, we saw some part of ourselves. And as I grew up with his canon, I could see myself in his bored teenagers (from Beavis and Butthead to its superior spin-off Daria), and after a summer doing software testing, Office Space became all too true to life.

Somewhere along the way, however, Judge has seemed to lose sight of these sorts of universal truths that made his work relevant and funny. Enter Extract, the multi-hyphenate’s latest offering, featuring Jason Bateman (playing a much less likable version of Michael Bluth here) as Joel Reynolds, owner of a flavored extract manufacturer on the verge of a buyout from General Mills. Joel dreams of ditching the business (where just about every worker is unspeakably incompetent) and retiring, until a major accident leaves one of his workers (Clifton Collins, Jr. as a mostly harmless rube whose sole ambition is to become the floor manager at the factory) less one testicle, and potentially a bit richer.

Office Space played well to the middle class because of the sharp focus of its satire. The bosses were arrogant and blind to just about everything. The employees were heroes, geeks with anger issues, aspiring inventors, boorish cads, and squirrelly little bastards who just wanted their stapler back. In other words, we saw varied, recognizable characters, drawn in broad strokes, but living in a real world. By trying to tell a simultaneous story from the perspective of the bosses and the groundlings, Extract loses its teeth. It doesn’t much help that none of his characters invite a viewer’s sympathy. The bosses are still arrogant and clueless, but now they hire gigolos to sleep with their wives, allowing them to cheat free of guilt. The workers lose all their charm, whether they’re incompetent, annoyingly self-righteous, thieving con artists, or just plain gullible.

What’s worse is the way that consequences seem to become completely irrelevant in Extract. If there’s a central flaw to Office Space, it’s the deus ex machina that prevents Peter’s crime from being discovered. In Extract, we see a somewhat more mature alternative — Joel ultimately decides to stick with the business. But after manipulating his wife (Kristen Wiig, toning it down and phoning it in) into an affair, sleeping with the object of his lust, and essentially being a dick to everyone around him, Joel ends up with his wife in the end. It certainly is a bit less cliche than the alternative of Joel losing his wife and gaining the new, shinier model of woman by the end. And Judge could be showing people in a world where this is the best that they will ever do, or how we’ll settle for anything these days, or how the bosses will always end up OK. No matter what, it seems to spit in the audience’s face.

With his visual palette, Judge seems like he’s aiming for a Coen Brothers style farce (with hillbillies that seem like what Raising Arizona‘s H.I. McDunnough might be like if he huffed paint thinner as a child) without a Coen quality script. Throw in stock goofy musical cues and piss-poor supporting effects (a scene where Joel puffs a bong is notable for its obviously digital clouds of seemingly endless smoke), and you’re stuck with a film that doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be. In a world where a movie like Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle has the wit and the teeth to nail social satire and brainless stoner fun simultaneously, it’s disheartening to see Extract fail to be either.

Avatar

Sam Worthington in "Avatar"

First thing’s first: you have to see Avatar. Yes, you. Because you (the collective) have never seen anything like it. Really and truly.

“Seen” being the operative word. There are images throughout (especially in the first 20 minutes) that will leave you dumbstruck. I saw colors that I thought only existed in my imagination bursting into iridescent life before my eyes. I found myself on the verge of tears just from the sheer beauty of the world that Avatar has created and so generously put on display for us.

But then there’s the script. The story is about as derivative as you’d expect from James Cameron. It’s a narrative that is largely archetypal in nature, but never quite finds the way to elevate those archetypes to the level they need to be to buy in wholly to this epic adventure.

However, the world of the future as Avatar imagines it is a stunningly realized one. Part of this is due to the exquisite attention to detail. But all that attention wouldn’t mean a hell of a lot if it didn’t have the technology to back it up and truly make it a real, living, breathing world. The achievement cannot be understated–simply put, Avatar is the single greatest achievement in visual effects and CGI that has yet been put to film. “Yet” being the operative word. In many ways, because of Cameron’s story, his message is really his medium. The story is very on-the-nose, Liberalism for Dummies territory (nature = good, the man = bad, thinking Green = good, war = bad). But Cameron uses a rather threadbare plot to challenge other filmmakers to do it better. It’s like he’s saying to his colleagues, “I’ve shown you what we’re capable of as craftsmen. Now it’s time for you to show us how we can use it as unique storytellers.”

As I was driving back to the apartment from the theatre, something occurred to me. I couldn’t wait to see what Guillermo del Toro will do with the technology made possible by Avatar. In fact, the last time I remember being so knocked out by a fully realized imaginary landscape and environment was by del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army (yes, that, not Pan’s Labyrinth, although it is a stunning achievement in his own right). Cameron made the technology possible, and del Toro, I predict, is the one who will find an original story with a unique perspective (and, one can only hope, his trademark humor, something Avatar could have used desperately) to let it really take flight.

Which isn’t to say the technology doesn’t have a long way to go. There were moments in the film that were truly photorealistic. And one of the great technical achievements of the film is that the Na’vi never truly look like animated characters. There is some hint of divine spark that makes them look truly real, even if your head can intellectually process that they obviously aren’t (on a similar note, the film’s use of 3-D is, again, easily the best use of the technology to date). Eyes, lips, teeth, tongues–they’ve never looked so true to life as they do in Avatar.

However, there are far too many moments where a fully photorealistic shot that takes your breath away is immediately followed by a shot that is so glossy and (frankly) framed in such a run-of-the-mill way that you are completely pulled out of it. There are also a couple of moments of intimacy that fall flat because it just still looks–weird, frankly. And kind of funny. There are two things that will probably make you laugh in this film: two Na’vi about to mate, and the name of the mineral that the humans are trying to mine from Pandora–Unobtanium. I wish I was making that up. Luckily, they only say the word “Unobtanium” twice in the film, but it’s funny both times. This is where Cameron shows that the technology (and the script) is far from perfect, but it is far and away the best we have at our disposal for now.

More than anything, it’s the story that gets in the way of some truly unbelievably beautiful images. Cameron paints his characters in predictable, black-and-white fashions, when the very nature of the text calls for ambiguity. In a way, the structure borrows heavily from Brigadoon, and the decision that Jake Sully must ultimately make in Avatar is no different–does he give up everything he has ever known and shun everyone he has ever cared about in order to stay in this enchanted world and preserve it or does he abandon these new people he’s come to love and destroy another way of life to preserve his own? The difference, however, lies in how they approach it. In Brigadoon, Tommy ultimately leaves Brigadoon, returning to New York, only to eventually go back to Scotland to search for it again. It’s by pure bubblegum bullshit magic that Brigadoon just happens to materialize when he gets there, a good 100 years ahead of schedule, but the point is that Tommy hesitated and had to weigh his options. Jake never really goes through such a crisis of identity in Avatar (and when a 1940s musical comedy deals with emotion more ambiguously than a 21st century science fiction film, you know there’s a problem). He is all too ready to convert completely into Na’vi, and even go so far as to kill hundreds of his former comrades in the process of saving his newfound home. It never deals with the complicated nature of his decision the way that (again, going back to del Toro) Hellboy II dealt with the ambiguity of Hellboy destroying the forest god. Cameron’s willingness to gloss over these moral dilemmas keep elements of it from being truly thrilling, and none of the action sequences really come close to matching the giddy, boundary-pushing excitement of, say, the still epic Three T-Rex fight in Peter Jackson’s King Kong (Jackson being another visionary that will push the technology further in support of narrative, more than technology for technology’s sake).

It is a deeply flawed film, but it might just be the most fascinating failure of the year.

And no matter what I say, it simply must be seen to be believed. When Cameron wows you, he really wows you. And that sort of rush is more than worth the price of admission, even if it only comes in fleeting glimpses.

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