As far as sequels go Iron Man 2 “is a cut above most”, says Jim Vejvoda at IGN. It introduces a lot of new characters in the set up for The Avengers 2012, but it deals with it well. Read on but be aware there are spoiler alerts.
Contrary to what AC/DC says – the band of choice in the Iron Man films – hell is a bad place to be, especially if you’re Tony Stark. In many ways, Iron Man 2 is an argument for a superhero maintaining his/her secret identity. Tony is definitely paying the piper for his glib declaration at the end of the first movie that he is Iron Man. Now, six months later, the U.S. government wants his tech, as does Stark’s rival Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell, playing him as Tony’s villainous doppelganger), who has succeeded Tony as the U.S. military’s top weapons manufacturer. Tony is more arrogant than ever, and his ego — to swipe a line from Top Gun — is writing checks that his body can’t cash.
Tony brazenly shows up both Hammer and a U.S. Senator (Garry Shandling) during a televised hearing. The government doesn’t like the idea of a private citizen possessing such potentially destructive technology and wants in on how to make it. What if their enemies developed such tech? Tony dismisses their fears, saying that any such advances are at least 20 years away. But what he doesn’t know is that at that moment an old enemy of his family’s is hard at work in Russia on his own version of Stark Industries’ arc technology.
Click HERE to read the rest of the indepth two page review (Spoiler alerts).
IGN Movies give “The Losers“, 8 out of 10 stars. The movie is a “wild ride from beginning to end.” The filmmakers stay true to the comic book series and the result is a “clever, fun, action-packed movie with “all of the entertainment value of a summer blockbuster”, although we are only in April. Read on.
The Losers is full of thrilling set-pieces and amusing banter in-between (and during), but these elements alone don’t make for a complete package. For that you also need compelling characters and a cast with crackling chemistry, both of which this film has. Morgan’s charisma and physicality make him believable as a leader, a romantic hero and a genuine action star. And Saldana holds her own against her male co-stars, kicking lots of ass and showing off some too. As Max, Patric channels every idiosyncratic, over-the-top action-movie villain, combining cold pragmatism with unpredictable ruthlessness and a short fuse. When he finally shares screen time with the good guys, their encounter has been built up to such a degree that it becomes an epic turning point.
Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese takes us back to the paranoid Cold War era in Shutter Island, based on the best-seller by Mystic River’s Dennis Lehane. (Please be advised that this review may contain some spoilers.) This psychological thriller, set in Massachusetts in 1954, follows U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) as they venture to Shutter Island, home of the fortress-like mental institution Ashecliffe Hospital, to investigate the inexplicable disappearance of a patient named Rachel Solondo. To make matters worse, a hurricane has trapped the two cops on this godforsaken rock for the time being.
As they try to determine how Rachel escaped and her current whereabouts, Teddy and Chuck are stonewalled by the warden (Ted Levine) and the hospital’s urbane but shifty administrator, Dr. Cawley (Sir Ben Kingsley), who is championing a (then) revolutionary new method for treating the criminally insane. The deeper Teddy digs into the mystery of Rachel’s disappearance and what is really going on at Ashecliffe, the more he himself grows disturbed. Teddy becomes haunted by memories of his late wife (Michelle Williams) and of the atrocities he witnessed as a G.I. during World War II. Has Teddy been exposed to something sinister on Shutter Island that’s causing this breakdown, or has Ashecliffe simply unleashed demons that were already within him?
I started reading Lehane’s novel a few months ago, but stopped about a quarter of the way through for two reasons. First, I guess I didn’t really want to spoil the movie for myself after all, and, secondly, I had a hunch that I’d figured out where the story was going and what its big twist was going to be. After watching the movie — and then reading the end of the novel — it turns out my hunch was right on target. It’s tough to find a thriller truly suspenseful when you’ve figured out its big twist within the first act (or from just watching the trailers). Anyone who has seen enough psychological thrillers, or for that matter almost any given episode of The Twilight Zone, will be able to figure out Shutter Island just as easily. But that doesn’t mean you still won’t be entertained.
Rather than being able to enjoy Shutter Island as a psychodrama as it was meant to be, I instead appreciated its style, atmosphere, production values, direction and the lead performance by Leonardo DiCaprio. It’s a B-movie made by A-listers, with Scorsese fashioning his most Hollywood movie since Cape Fear (and maybe even more so than that film). Shutter Island is a great filmmaking exercise for Scorsese to make the type of pulpy, overwrought genre B-movies he grew up watching. It plays like an old Hammer horror film (Vincent Price could have played either the Kingsley or von Sydow roles back in the day), and at other times like the German Expressionist classics (such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) that reportedly influenced Scorsese in making this film. It’s also an homage to Shock Corridor, a film made by one of his idols, Sam Fuller. While it’s fun to see Scorsese having fun, it’s also a lot of effort spent on a shell game where you know which shell the nut is hidden under the entire time.
Check out the Shutter Island movie clips
DiCaprio just gets better with each film, especially the ones he makes with Scorsese. As they did in The Aviator and The Departed, Scorsese and DiCaprio have created another protagonist perpetually on the verge of losing his grip as they intensify the pressure on his psyche until the stress finally causes a climactic rupture. There are layers to DiCaprio’s performance that should be more evident upon subsequent viewings, but he is, along with Christian Bale, one of the few young actors who can bring depth, complexity and subtlety to obsessed, often unhinged characters.
The rest of the cast is solid. Ruffalo is tasked with perhaps the most challenging role in the film, while the reading of Kingsley’s character is entirely dependent on the reliability of the protagonist’s questionable perspective. I don’t want to say more about their roles than that, suffice to say their performances become increasingly critical as the narrative draws to a close. Michelle Williams’ role is a small but pivotal one. Jackie Earle Haley has one gripping scene with DiCaprio that further showcases why he’s become such an in-demand (and deservedly celebrated) supporting actor these last few years. It’s also nice to see Max von Sydow appear in a Scorsese film, albeit in a rather one-note role. Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson and Elias Koteas also have small but showy roles.
From the opening shot, Scorsese creates an atmosphere of gloom and uncertainty that permeates the entire film. He transports us to a frightening, alien world populated by untrustworthy and dangerous people. You’ll feel like you’re really inside a 1950s asylum in Shutter Island, and that sense of authenticity and ominousness – thanks to Lehane’s research as well as the cinematography, production design, costumes, score and sound design – keeps us invested in the protagonist and his plight even when the film bogs down about midway through.
Shutter Island is a well-acted, handsomely made, old-fashioned haunted house movie that’s nevertheless marred by the same elements — plot holes, red herrings, familiar genre tropes and an overall reliance on heavy-handed trickery — that have undone so many other thrillers from lesser filmmakers. Scorsese’s virtuoso craftsmanship here may be both the best and ironically the worst thing about Shutter Island, but he has unquestionably made it a far more intriguing incarceration than it otherwise could have been. A mixed bag from Martin Scorsese is still better than most other filmmakers’ best efforts.
“Edge of Darkness” is a must see this weekend. Read the review and let us know what you think.
Director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Green Lantern) revisits the Edge of Darkness in this truncated, Americanized retelling of the award-winning British TV miniseries he directed back in 1985. The original miniseries was one of a number of UK political thrillers, including Defence of the Realm and Hidden Agenda, made during and commenting on the Thatcher era. The feature film remake keeps the basic premise of the small screen original — a cop uncovers political intrigue and corporate corruption while investigating the murder of his daughter — while updating what the villains are up to.
Veteran homicide detective Tom Craven (Mel Gibson) is delighted when his twenty-something daughter Emma (Bojana Novakovic) comes home to Boston for the weekend, but she’s fatigued, sick and somewhat aloof. Something is clearly wrong with her, but before Tom can learn what that is she is gunned down in what everyone initially assumes was a hit meant for him. Everything changes, however, when Tom finds a Geiger counter and handgun among Emma’s belongings. She worked for Northmoor, a private firm with shady government contracts, and Tom comes to suspect that they were behind her death.
Tom is soon visited by Darius Jedburgh (Ray Winstone, who replaced Robert De Niro), a British “cleaner” for the U.S. government who is, curiously, as helpful in Craven’s search for the truth as he is vaguely threatening. What did Emma find out about Northmoor that got her killed? And who else was she mixed up with? These are the questions that drive an increasingly desperate and violent Craven to take the fight right to the bad guys’ door.
Mel Gibson hasn’t been seen on-screen as a leading man since 2002′s Signs, but you’d never know he hadn’t acted in front of a camera for the better part of a decade while watching Edge of Darkness. Gibson delivers one of his most restrained and potent performances here, channeling the righteous, vengeful fury we’ve come to expect from “Mad Mel” while also conveying a world-weariness befitting the role of an aging single dad mourning the loss of his only child. Gibson’s subtle performance helps elevate the film from being just another revenge movie or political thriller. (And, as a native Bostonian, I can attest that Gibson does a fine job with the accent, nailing the inflections and attitude.)
The rest of the cast is solid. Winstone is both gruffly sophisticated and subtly sinister as the enigmatic Jedburgh, whose loyalties and agenda are almost as murky as his past. Winstone damn near the steals the show from Gibson. Danny Huston plays his latest villain with a sense of entitlement and white collar aloofness that epitomizes the old line about the banality of evil. Ditto Denis O’Hare as a government stooge and Damian Young as a soulless senator. Jay O. Sanders delivers in his few scenes as a cop colleague of Craven’s. Novakovic isn’t in the movie quite enough to really make too much of a lasting impression, while Shawn Roberts, who is a dead ringer for young David Keith, is a bit forced as Emma’s paranoid boyfriend-colleague.
The screenplay adaptation by Oscar-winner William Monahan and Andrew Bovell has more shadings and nuanced characters than other genre movies of this stripe. (Monahan, a Boston native who scripted The Departed, also brings a lot of local flavor to the piece.) There’s a shorthand used in the depiction of Craven’s relationship with his daughter that’s simple but effective; his flashback to teaching a very young Emma how to shave is both sweet and moving, and will surely pull on the heartstrings of daddy’s girls everywhere. This becomes all the more poignant when Craven finally realizes he didn’t really know her as well as he thought.
Also especially effective are the exchanges between Craven and Jedburgh that mix tension, humor and even a bit of pathos as the latter begins to take stock of his own life while learning more about the former. The dialogue, especially Jedburgh’s doublespeak, is brandished like a weapon by hero and villain alike to threaten people and “clarify” increasingly complicated situations for them. But when words aren’t vicious enough, there are moments of brutality here that prove screen violence can still have genuine emotional impact and shock value.
With Edge of Darkness, director Martin Campbell, the screenwriters and Mel Gibson have delivered a thriller that is, oddly enough, as energetic as it is melancholy, a film that’s rife with political intrigue, populated with captivating characters and punctuated by sporadic bursts of startling violence.
Thirty years after the flash, a man named Eli cuts across the desert — a speck against the sun-bleached horizon. He is dressed in tattered rags and well-worn shoes. Above him, bomb-blasted freeways dead end in piles of rubble and exposed girders. A dying car battery powers the last iPod on Earth, the final notes of music in a world devoid of life or color. In his bag, beside the shotgun and long-blade, is a book. The only book that matters. And in a lawless town of mindless marauders, a civilized man named Carnegie has been searching for that book for a long, long time.
The book, of course, is the Bible — perhaps the last of its kind since the war saw them all hunted down and burned — but in a scorched world of lost souls, such a book would have the power to either liberate or control.
In a strange way, The Book of Eli is really one movie disguised as another, presenting a lyrically filmed story about the importance of religious faith wrapped in the guise of a post-apocalyptic, quasi-western action film. There is a sense as Eli progresses that beyond the awesomely constructed wasteland, the sharply choreographed action sequences and the dynamic performances by Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman, there’s something far deeper and more dramatic passing itself off as popcorn genre entertainment. It’s the very opposite of heavy-handed, subtly layered to be about something, and that’s a rare quality in a film that could deliver just as well on the merits of its action and visuals.
The Hughes brothers return to the big screen to tell the story of one man’s journey of faith, sheparding the Bible across America until chance or divine intervention delivers him to its purpose. That said, Washington’s Eli is still an apocalyptic bad-ass who can easily take down a gang of rapists and thieves with a single blade or win out in a gunfight against 25 fully-loaded shooters. He’s not much of a talker and Washington’s biggest challenge in the role is to maintain a quiet and believable presence throughout. Most of the dialogue belongs to Oldman as the black-hatted Carnegie, delivering a well-balanced performance that’s consistently engaging without ever spilling into the overly eccentric territory that Oldman has been known to explore. In many ways, Carnegie is a more complex character than Eli, played with occasional notes of sympathy and suggesting a past that might render him more than just a one-note villain.
Washington, however, plays many of his later scenes against Solara, the daughter of Carnegie’s mistress, played here by Mila Kunis in the film’s least effective performance. Kunis plays the role of Eli’s companion in the most straightforward fashion possible, never suggesting any real depth or emotional connection beyond what’s scripted on the page. She’s hardly bad in the role so much as she’s mechanical, serving the story in such a way that never pulls you out, but quite never invites you into the material. The deficiency isn’t tremendously noticeable until the closing moments when the character’s fate is finally revealed and the audience discovers that they simply don’t care. Thankfully, Washington is around to help elevate each sequence and does so with his typical bravado.
The performances are also informed by the wonderfully visual world that the Hughes brothers have created. The Book of Eli is a painterly film, crafted with style and nuance as opposed to more grounded, realistic depictions of the Apocalypse as seen in The Road. The action is fast and the camera moves — the shots — are meticulously framed. One pivotal shoot-out finds the camera floating into and through the ruins of a bullet-ridden house in a singular movement, illustrating the brothers’ distinct style and penchant for visual flare. But Gary Whitta’s script — with some help from Anthony Peckham — offers the pair a strong balance of action and substance, as does the very premise of the film itself.
Make no mistake, however, The Book of Eli is a film about religion. Or at the very least, faith. One gets the sense from various cultural references scattered throughout the movie that the filmmakers hope that viewers of any belief system might be able to make the mental switch from the Bible, to the Koran, to the Torah… That Eli isn’t carrying the Bible so much as he’s carrying a representation of the very notion of faith itself. But the fact that the set-up demands that the story choose one particular book will no doubt make the film feel very Christian to many audiences. While one gets the impression that other Eli’s may exist within this world, carrying the sacred texts of any number of religions, it’s never communicated quite so clearly as to satisfy those who are likely, perhaps fairly, to inquire, “Why is it only the Christian God who speaks to the post-apocalyptic world?”
With all that in mind, Eli is a surprisingly moving film. The action and the visuals are superbly entertaining, but there are several moments, however stylized, when the more philosophical subtext rises to the surface and elicits an actual emotion out of the audience. Sophisticated, exciting and particularly well-crafted, The Book of Eli is worth a read, cover to cover.
Part buddy film and part Indiana Jones, director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes follows the eponymous detective (Robert Downey, Jr. sporting his convincing English accent for the first time since his Oscar-nominated turn as Chaplin) and his partner-in-crime-solving, Dr. John H. Watson (Jude Law), as they help Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan) unravel a dastardly plot that threatens to destroy England.
Holmes and Watson must race against time to stop the treacherous Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong, who looks like Andy Garcia’s British twin), a former member of Parliament turned black magic-wielding occult leader who has apparently returned from the dead. During the course of his investigation, Holmes’ path once again crosses with that of the duplicitous Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), the American beauty who broke his heart years before. Holmes must not only contend with Irene, and whatever her ties are to his case, but also with the imminent break-up of his partnership with Watson, who is getting married and moving out of the 221B Baker Street flat they’ve long shared. Things hardly seem “elementary” for this Sherlock Holmes.
Guy Ritchie has made the most exciting, eccentric and accessible film version yet of the world’s greatest detective (sorry, fellow Bat-fans, but Arthur Conan Doyle’s sleuth held that title long before the Dark Knight). Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes is a breathless action-adventure that hits the ground running. While it often borders on the absurd (if not downright over-the-top), Ritchie manages to keep things on an even keel, just avoiding the cartoonishness that sank that other Victorian literary superhero romp, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He mixes the brawling and grittiness of Snatch with the cheekiness and briskness of a Mummy or Indy movie. It really shouldn’t work, but for the most part it does.
Thanks to the artwork of Sidney Paget and the Basil Rathbone films, the general public has long had the image stuck in their heads of a beak-nosed Holmes in a deerstalker cap with a portly, exasperated Watson in tow. Downey and Law may finally shatter that perception, and they are the biggest reason why the film still entertains even in its less effective moments. Downey’s Holmes is perhaps the most vulnerable and possibly manic depressive screen incarnation of Doyle’s detective, and also the most physically adept. But it’s still Holmes’ exquisite mind that makes him a great and lasting hero, and Downey is one of the few actors smart enough to believably play a genius. There’s a devious brilliance behind his eyes that convinces us he can see things others don’t notice and put together the pieces faster and better than anyone else.
Equally effective, but in a far less showy way, is Law as the Afghan war veteran Dr. Watson. With Law, we finally get a Watson who is more a partner than a sidekick for Holmes. Watson could very easily have been blown off the screen by Downey’s Holmes, but Law’s intensity and own dashing qualities keep that from happening. He also acquits himself well in his many fight scenes, explaining why such an effective detective would even need a partner to begin with. But beyond all that, we understand why these two are friends. They complement each other, with one preventing the other’s demons from getting the better of them. They love each other, dammit, and always have each others’ backs, regardless of how close or often they come to splitting up. Think of it as sort of a ye olde bromance.
Unlike Law, unfortunately, McAdams is often overwhelmed by Downey. She’s a talented actress and vibrant screen presence, but she’s simply outgunned (which is surprising considering that she held her own with Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren in State of Play). Irene Adler is never handled well here, either on paper or by the actress playing her. Is she a reluctant femme fatale? A villainess who could have a change of heart? We never quite know, and because she’s not convincing at being either a female version of Sherlock or a good bad girl, it’s tough to believe that Downey’s Holmes would fall so hard for her. Irene needed to be the Vesper Lynd to Holmes’ Bond, but instead it’s as if Halle Berry’s Catwoman were pitted against Christian Bale’s Batman. You just don’t buy it.
Strong is serviceable as Blackwood, but he’s a more interesting idea for a villain than he actually is as a character. It’s not really Strong’s fault; he’s a fine actor, but the character is neither gruesome nor broad enough for him to really sink his teeth into, so he’s simply relegated to scowling for most of the movie. It also doesn’t help that his plot, while interesting as a war on terror analogy, is essentially a Scooby-Doo-level ruse. That scheme, along with the mishandling of both Irene and Blackwood, is what prevents the overall rollicking fun Sherlock Holmes from garnering a higher score. On a technical level, Ritchie, production designer Sarah Greenwood and the visual effects team vividly recreate late Victorian era London as it enters the modern age, and composer Hans Zimmer delivers yet another memorable score.
Ritchie’s new school take on an old school icon is respectful without being overly reverential, loud and fun without becoming dumb and hollow, talky but never slow. Despite its shortcomings, Sherlock Holmes is nevertheless damn entertaining, and bodes well as another ongoing franchise for Iron Man’s Downey.
Read what Jim Vejvoda of ign.com has to say about James Cameron’s, “Avatar“. I saw it and I plan on seeing it again. It’s that good. Give yourself a Christmas present and see this one before it leaves the theaters; but see it 3D if at all possible.
The highly anticipated sci-fi epic Avatar centers on Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paralyzed former Marine who is offered an amazing opportunity after his twin brother dies. Recruited by a big faceless corporation (is there ever any other kind in a movie?), Jake travels to the distant world of Pandora, inhabited by the simple, indigenous Na’vi, blue-skinned humanoids who stand 9′ tall and have tails. Pandora is also home to a valuable mineral that could solve all of Earth’s energy problems … if only those pesky natives didn’t live on top of the richest deposits of it.
Since humans can’t breathe Pandora’s atmosphere, the company has created Avatars, in which human pilots use their consciousness to remotely-control a genetically engineered body that is a hybrid of Na’vi and human DNA. Jake’s deceased brother represented a big investment on the part of the Company, but since he shares the same genome as his twin Jake is offered to take his place as an Avatar driver. Gung-ho for action, Jake agrees and then has the pot further sweetened for him by Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang), the scar-faced leader of the Company’s private military wing. Quaritch offers Jake a deal: he wants Jake, via his Avatar, to spy on the Na’vi, learn their ways and gain their trust so that he can convince them to “relocate” off their mineral-rich land. In return, Quaritch guarantees the Company will pay for the costly operation to cure Jake’s paralysis. Jake eagerly agrees, but a few months into the job finds himself “going native” after falling for Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), a beautiful and fierce Na’vi who takes Jake into her tribe. Love and a guilty conscience, along with the realization that he has found a place to belong and call home, propels Jake, in his Avatar form, to switch sides and help the Na’vi make a stand against the increasingly violent encroachment of “the sky people.”
Wow. James Cameron pulled it off. I was a big skeptic about Avatar ever since I saw the promotional footage Cameron showed at last summer’s San Diego Comic-Con; the effects, the characters, the hype — none of them were affecting me even though I really wanted them to. I suffered through every Delgo or FernGully or Dances With Wolves joke — and even made a few myself, I’ll admit — and remain shocked that we’re a week away from the movie’s release and no one in the general population seems to be buzzing about the movie let alone fully understands what the hell it’s about. But neither the film’s marketing nor the sizzle reel roadshow that 20th Century Fox and Cameron went on have done Avatar justice. You just have to see it to believe it.
On a technical level, Avatar is a landmark in motion picture history, a film that will be remembered 70 years from now as redefining the boundaries and possibilities of cinema much the way that D.W. Griffith’s films did. It helps audiences take a giant step forward in their suspension of disbelief in what is “real” onscreen, while raising the bar for what mass appeal genre movies can be and achieve. It also validates all the hype and investment in 3-D and motion-capture animation. And if all that sounds too good to be true, then just know that Avatar is a grand, glorious and kick-ass piece of entertainment, an old-fashioned movie gussied up by state of the art filmmaking. Does Cameron cannibalize from his own films here? Sure, you can’t help but think of Aliens (the presence of mech suits and Sigourney Weaver being the most obvious), but to dismiss the film out of hand on that basis would be narrow-minded. After all, every filmmaker poaches from their own work (Scorsese and Tim Burton spring to mind). Cameron simply knows what he does best, and he does all that and more in Avatar.
My apprehension about Avatar dissipated after the first 10 minutes, by which point I knew that I was in great hands. Cameron displays such confidence here that you’d never know it’s been almost 13 years since he’s released a feature film. He has done a Toklien-esque job of creating the world of Pandora, exploring its ecology and zoology and offering an almost anthropological study of the Na’vi. (I know that all sounds very pretentious and maybe even a bit boring to some, but Cameron manages to make it all an organic part of the story as everything on Pandora is connected; the balance of nature there is such that when one part of the environment is damaged or destroyed, everything else is affected by it.) Perhaps even more so than Dances With Wolves, Avatar reminded me of what Malick was attempting to do with The New World — an exploration of nature and a native culture couched in a culture clash/love story where the white hero falls for the chief’s daughter — but done far more effectively and excitingly. (Yes, Avatar is essentially a sci-fi version of the Pocahontas story.)
Still, don’t think that Avatar is some haughty, New Age-y message movie about environmentalism and the horrors and guilt of colonialism. It certainly is about all those things and much more, but it’s ostensibly a Western set in space crossed with an undercover/behind enemy lines story. Indeed, Avatar shows how tough it is to get a Western made in Hollywood these days: you’ve got to spend hundreds of millions of dollars, set it on another planet and shoot it in motion-capture in order to tell the story of the displacement and destruction of Native Americans. (Na’vi, native, get it?) The Na’vi are sort of a cross between the Sioux and the Cherokee. Their war whoops sound like those of Indians in old Westerns (perhaps too much so; even their “horses” sound, well, too much like horses). Quaritch is essentially Andrew Jackson, a tough old soldier driven to “relocate” the natives by any means necessary. “The Company” is the railroad, while “Unobtainium” (a real term) is akin to gold in the Black Hills or oil in Oklahoma.
For a Westerns fan, U.S. history buff, and sci-fi fanboy such as myself, Avatar offered an embarrassment of riches to geek out over. However, Avatar is also just as much a commentary on the state of the world (and imperialism) today as it is the past. Metaphorical nods to America’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan are loud and clear and undeniable. The film’s private military company is essentially Blackwater in space. There’s a scene of cataclysmic destruction that overtly suggests 9/11 and the World Trade Center. The terms “terrorists” and “shock and awe” are used. Yet Cameron never gets too lost in a political argument; he is, after all, a filmaker keenly aware of the need to keep domestic audiences happy if he’s to make commercially successful movies. So by making his tale an escapist fantasy, Cameron has swiped a page from the Red Scare playbook and used genre to cloak the tougher and more critical aspects of his message.
Of course, the film’s themes and subtext wouldn’t matter if we didn’t like the characters. Like District 9′s Wikus van de Merwe, Jake Sully is capable of both kindness and treachery and is out to save himself as much as he is the aliens. Avatar is the make or break Hollywood movie for Aussie actor Sam Worthington, especially after Terminator Salvation flopped, and he acquits himself well, striking a nice balance between callowness, ambition and guilt. As for the rest of the cast, Lang is a revelation as Quaritch; it’s tough to believe that this muscle-bound old soldier is the same actor who played cowardly Ike Clanton in Tombstone and the doughy, sleazy tabloid reporter in Manhunter. Sigourney Weaver brings grace (no pun intended) and wit to her role as cranky but goodhearted scientist Grace Augustine, and the darkly comic Giovanni Ribisi shines as the d-bag suit who represents The Company’s interests on Pandora. Worse than Paul Reiser’s corporate stooge in Aliens, Selfridge is a soulless, bigoted careerist who epitomizes the expression “the banality of evil.”
Saldana, hot off of Star Trek, is solid as Neytiri, but the Na’vi themselves are rather one-dimensional characters. Cameron recycles the stereotypical screen depiction of Native Americans, but sidesteps the thornier aspects of it somewhat by making them aliens. Still, the Na’vi are all types we’ve seen before in Westerns: the noble chief, the warrior princess, the earth mother, the tough brave who is the hero’s rival but ultimately comes to respect him. These archetypes (or stereotypes, if you want) coupled with such a familiar story is the film’s biggest drawback. It could be argued that given the fantastical premise of the film and its strange alien characters, it was probably necessary to employ a more traditional storyline, something relatable for an audience since there were enough other elements that could have possibly lost them. Still, if Avatar sequels happen then it would be nice to see the Na’vi given more depth and dimension as characters.
See proof that you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Books can (and will) be written on Avatar’s visual effects. Cameron and his team have achieved a stunning level of photo-realism in the environment and inhabitants of Pandora and of the mech suits and vessels of the humans. (One thought kept going through my mind during the climactic battle: James Cameron should direct the Halo movie.) He gradually introduces us to the various fantastical elements, allowing us time to let these things become real in our minds. For the most part, the yellow eyes of the Na’vi seem alive and expressive (a first for motion-capture characters, in my opinion), although there are a few times when Jake’s looked “dead” to me. The level of detail in the Na’vis’ skin, and in the vegetation and beasts of Pandora, is astounding. Not since seeing Star Wars as a little kid have I felt so completely and magically transported to such a strange, new world.
This gradual approach has its drawbacks, though, in that it contributes to the film’s bloated running time. This is a real bladder buster of a movie, and I’d be amazed if there were any deleted scenes of importance on the eventual DVD release. For example, the “learning to fly your dragon” sequence goes on far too long, with Cameron using it as a travelogue to show off Pandora — and all the nifty and costly CGI landscapes his team created — rather than to advance the story. That’s just one example, but the film definitely could have been tightened up. The running time and the overall formulaic nature of the story is what keeps me from giving Avatar a higher score.
To say that I was pleasantly surprised by Avatar is an understatement. My advice to you is to forget all that you think you know or believe about Avatar. Just go and experience the world of Pandora and revel in the fact that one of the most entertaining filmmakers of our time is back in action.
Sandra Bullock takes on the role of a privileged Southern matriarch who takes in a failing football prospect and finds her life is transformed by sport and charity. Based on the real life story of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher, “The Blind Side” is pure Hollywood hokum — but there’s plenty of beauty in the details.
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron
I guess you’re not really a big star in Hollywood until you’ve played a character with big hair. So give yourself a slap on the back Sandra Bullock: You’ve gone toe-to-pedicured-toe with the drawling ghosts of outspoken Southern belles and held your own as Leigh Anne Tuohy — a Memphis housewife and home designer who took a kid from the streets and turned him into an NFL hopeful.
So stand back Julia Roberts and hang on to your hoop skirt Vivien Leigh. Bullock is strolling down a very storied lane in this new movie from John Lee Hancock (The Rookie), and with a little help from some well-placed bling and designer jeans, she recreates the unique blend of Southern femme fatale and matriarch that’s defined some of the best screen heroines of all time.
Based on Michael Lewis’ book, The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game, this ambitiously upbeat fairy tale formula tells the story of Michael Oher (Quinton Aaron), a kid who grew up in the bad part of town as a ward of the state.
When we first meet him, he’s on the verge of being accepted to a fancy private Catholic school for one reason, and one reason only: He’s huge, and the football coach wants a big guy to be the wall around his quarterback; he needs to be protected on the “blind side.”
Oher is the ideal candidate because he’s not just big, he’s quick, and the position of left tackle demands both.
The only problem is Oher doesn’t possess the academic skills for acceptance. Passed on without ever proving himself to any scholastic standard, the kid is perceived as a moron by most of the faculty.
Sooner than later, however, Michael finds a champion in Leigh Anne (Bullock), a society gal who decides to take him into her home.
It’s a big moment that proves life-changing for everyone involved, but there’s a sweet understatement to the scene as Hancock leaves it to Bullock to carry with a single comic glance.
One minute the character of Leigh Anne Tuohy is just another faux blond eating overpriced salads with her Botox-plumped peers. The next, she’s an accidental activist taking on a hundred years of racial history to discover true Christian charity.
In real life, watershed moments don’t come with musical scores. Half the time, we aren’t even aware a transformative instant is upon us. Life just happens in those split-second gut decisions, and from there, we face the consequences — be they fabulous or frightful.
For Leigh Anne, the impulse to take Michael in is expressed as a moment of “Mama-knows-best” behaviour. As the undisputed queen of her beehive, Leigh Anne is apparently quite adept at manipulating everyone in her family to go along with her inspired plans.
She’s got an opinion about just about everything, and because she’s so darned cute — with her expensively streaked hair and Pilates-trained tummy — she can swish in all the right spots to get her way.
Apparently, we just can’t get enough of this bossy Southern belle character. Maybe it’s because Southern women find the right balance between bosomy availability and kick-in-the-pants toughness.
Whatever the reason, a sassy broad with a mind of her own, and a great sense of humour, goes a long way in the world of genre filmmaking because they create tension with their unpredictable presence and power of self-possession.
Bullock finds all the larger than life dimensions to her character, but it’s in the smaller cracks that she makes the most of her performance and shows us the true face of transformation as it happens from the inside out.
At one point, she realizes Michael never had a bed of his own, and you can see her entire world-view disintegrate in her hands.
Bullock brings the same edge of gravitas to the scene as she did in Crash, showing us a woman emerging from the cocoon of privilege.
The film revels in the halfway point of her character’s change before finally unveiling the full metamorphosis, and that was a good strategy because the actual dilemmas in this movie are rather small — and pragmatically benign.
The real drama comes dressed in the details of everyday life and the infinite number of choices we make daily. With outstanding help from the supporting cast — most notably a clean-shaven Tim McGraw as Mr. Tuohy and Quentin Aaron as Oher — Bullock and director Hancock stretch the skin of cliche over an old drum and give it a memorable thump.
Astro Boy is proof that Pixar has virtually ruined CG animated filmmaking for its competition. In the midst of sophisticated, multi-layered releases such as Up or WALL.E, Ratatouille, it’s easy to look at a basic, well-executed, family-friendly adventure and somehow think less of it. Astro Boy, for example, is not The Incredibles, nor is it trying to be. Rather, it’s a surface level bit of animated entertainment that’s certain to please children while preventing the parents from nodding off in their seats. It aims unabashedly for the adventurous youngsters in the audience and succeeds in delivering a fun, raucous, visually polished romp through a colorful sci-fi landscape. Nothing more, nothing less.
That said, the film doesn’t stray too far from the relative darkness of its source material. The story of Astro Boy’s creation remains generally the same: The brilliant Dr. Tenma (Nicolas Cage) and his colleague Dr. Elefun (Bill Nighy) have extracted the power of both red and blue matter – blue representing positive energy and red, of course, representing evil. But when General Stone (Donald Sutherland) seizes the red energy source to power his new unstoppable war machine, Tenma’s son is caught in the crossfire and killed. Yes, killed. Not fake-killed or quasi-killed, but real, 100 percent, no-coming-back dead. And so Tenma, in his grief, creates a robotic replica of his son, Astro Boy (Freddie Highmore), equipping him with unlimited defenses, powered by the blue energy, and downloads the boy’s consciousness into the robot copy.
For all intents and purposes, Astro believes himself to be human, but Tenma quickly learns that a robot is no replacement for a son, and dismisses the boy in his confusion. Sent out into the wasteland below the city, Astro meets a group of orphans supervised by former scientist Ham Egg (Nathan Lane). Among them is Cora (Kristen Bell), a tough pre-teen with a grudge against robots. Hunted by General Stone for the blue energy source within him, Astro must come to terms with his robotic self and prove to Tenma, Cora and the world that despite being a machine, he’s equally as human.
Astro Boy deals with some pretty heavy themes – the death of a child, rejection, robot slavery, warmongering politicians – and if it fails on any real cinematic level, it’s in choosing not to explore these notions in a more meaningful way. The colorful animation and fast-paced action washes over the more complex emotional core of the film, never taking the time to explain these issues to the younger viewers and failing to address them dramatically enough to move the adults in the theater. That said, the very same colorful animation and fast-paced action are both refreshingly executed, so if your kid can either grasp the heavier themes or simply choose to ignore them, there’s a lot of sci-fi spectacle to keep them entertained.
As Astro Boy becomes increasingly aware of his powers and General Stone closes in on him and his newfound family of friends, the action escalates into some fairly impressive sequences of Astro battling giant, city-destorying robots. Meanwhile, the presentation itself is very soft, very clean, offering a stylized look that combines the previous iterations of the series with the polish of CG animation. The vocal performances are all passable, though Cage seems terribly miscast as Tenma, turning in a performance that ultimately fails to capture the character’s struggle. Highmore gives Astro a kind of “golly gee” innocence that makes the boy considerably more affable and Bell’s Cora is a suitable friend-slash-potential love interest.
Overall, Astro Boy is a reasonable, if not perfect, adaptation of the popular franchise that’ll no doubt captivate the kiddies if they can push past some of the darker themes into the vivid, sci-fi action.
Astro Boy is now playing in theater near you. Click HERE to read the synopsis and watch the trailer.