Random Factoid #237

22 03 2010

After seeing “Avatar” yesterday for the second time in 3-D, I have come to this conclusion: it is the only 3-D movie that has not given me a headache or made my eyes hurt.

I don’t know if I have just been broken into the technology that much more or if James Cameron’s movie has really raised the standard that much.

Does anyone know?  Seriously, let me know in the comments!

Advertisements




REVIEW: Avatar

23 12 2009

It takes more than just gumption and chutzpa to get up on one of the world’s biggest stages and declare yourself king of the world; it takes conviction.  When James Cameron did just this at the Academy Awards in 1997 after “Titanic,” it was shocking to some and bombastic to others (I’m too young to remember the occasion).  What had he really done to gain the title “king of the world?”  What separates him from the dozens of directors who stood in the exact same place as he had?  What is the legacy of “Titanic” other than a firm position in the highest echelon of box office performance and a hefty loot on Oscar night?  According to IMDb, it is now the lowest rated of the five Best Picture nominees that year.  From what I understand, the movie electrified the people and was simply too popular to ignore.

Fast forward 12 years to today where James Cameron has just released “Avatar.”  If he got up on national television and screamed, “I’M KING OF THE WORLD,” I just might buy it.  His latest project is one fifteen years in the making, and he may have just sparked a revolution in cinema.  “Avatar” is breathtaking moviemaking at its finest, with astonishing visuals that are designed to do more than just floor you.  They engulf you and transport you to Pandora, a land of untold beauty complete with its own indigenous people, language, and wildlife, for an exhilarating ride and fascinating experience.

I knew the effects would be a slam dunk victory for Cameron, but I had my doubts about his ability to craft a story after “Titanic,” whose melodramatic plot I can usually summarize in one sentence (Leo and Kate have a lot of fun and the boat sinks).  Much to my surprise, Cameron actually constructs a very engaging story with undertones about the dangers of imperialism.  Cynics might call it the Smurf County production of “Pocahontas,” but the story still feels fresh even though it is a bit recycled.  Jake Sully (Sam Worthington of “Terminator Salvation” fame) is a paraplegic Marine who is torn between the two competing human forces on Pandora after he develops a special bond with the native Na’vi.  The scientists, led by the sassy cigarette-smoking Grace (Sigourney Weaver), want to discover how the Na’vi think in order to live in harmony with them.  The military operation, commanded by the hulking Colonel Quatritch (Stephen Lang), works in tandem with the financial side of the project, run by a thundering businessman doing his best Ari Gold impersonation (Giovanni Ribisi), to figure out the best way to get their hands on the bonanza underneath the sacred tree of the Na’vi.  They would prefer relocation but are not afraid to resort to subjugation if the natives prove to be a handful.  While Jake tries to serve two distinctly different agendas, he becomes quite taken by the Na’vi and the way they live in cooperation with nature – and not to mention quite smitten by the Amazonian Neytiri (Zoë Saldana).  Soon, the two forces tugging for Jake becomes not scientists vs. military but Na’vi vs. humans. Read the rest of this entry »





REVIEW: A Christmas Carol

29 11 2009

Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” gets the title “timeless” bestowed on it because every year at Christmas, some new version of his story is spawned.  Robert Zemeckis is the latest filmmaker to take a stab at the tale.  Rather than revamp, retool, or recondition the story, he simply uses modern technology to retell it in a fun way that stays true to the source material and keeps the soul intact.  His “A Christmas Carol” bottles up the real spirit of the holiday season like no recent movie and spreads it through the audience.  It really is an empowering feeling to walk out of a movie inspired to put that twenty-dollar bill in the Salvation Army bin, not in the cash register at the mall.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge is probably the second most well-known holiday yarn, weaved into the very fabric of the holiday season itself.  We all know it: the old miser with a heart colder than the snow packed on the London sidewalks gets a wake-up call that changes him.  Prior, Scrooge scoffed at Christmas with a “bah, humbug.”  He scorned those who wanted to care for him and refused to give care to the people that need it the most.  He treats his employee like dirt and gives him wages that amount to little more than that.  But Scrooge gets a visit from three ghosts – the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – that change his perspective by reminding him of the joy that the season used to bring, the plight of those less fortunate, and the bleak future that awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways.  The result is a more tender-hearted man who appreciates Christmas and the giving spirit that accompanies it.

Read the rest of this entry »





What to Look Forward to In … October 2009

29 08 2009

We give the movie industry late August and all of September to recover from the busy summer season, but in October, it starts to kick it into gear again.  Unfortunately, my most anticipated movie in October, Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” was pushed back to February.  But the month still puts forth several great movies for all tastes.

October 2

This week, I can promise you that I will be throwing my money not at a new release, but at the re-release of two staples of my childhood.  “Toy Story” and “Toy Story 2” will hit theaters again for a few weeks.  1 ticket.  2 movies. 3-D.  Need I say more?

The week also gives us “The Invention of Lying,” which could be a sleeper comedy hit. The movie stars Ricky Gervais, who was the lead of the British version of “The Office.” Around this time last year, he starred in “Ghost Town,” a comedy with a heart that you need to go rent now, that was dismissed by audiences. I have high hopes for his latest, in which he plays a man who tells the world’s first lie on an alternate Earth. He continues to wield the power to suit his own selfish needs. The movie also features Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and the always funny Tina Fey.

And not to mention, the week delivers Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, “Whip It.” The movie stars the irresistible Ellen Page (“Juno”) as Bliss, a teenager weary of the beauty pageants that she is forced into by her parents. One day, she discovers the world of roller derby and she finds the happiness that she has been so desperately seeking. The movie boasts a hilarious supporting cast including Kristen Wiig (“SNL”), Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, and Barrymore herself.

And it just keeps getting better.  The Coen Brothers (“No Country for Old Men”) are back with their latest feature, “A Serious Man;” they also wrote the original screenplay.  The movie seems to be a big risk.  It features no marquee names other than the Coens themselves. The trailer is cryptic, giving no indication of what to expect from the movie. I don’t mind an aura of mystique, but this is an aura of confusion. The movie is being marketed as a dark comedy, and I pray that it is the polar opposite of the Coens’ last foray into the genre, “Burn After Reading,” which I didn’t find funny at all. The movie starts in limited release and then will slowly expand from New York and Los Angeles.

The other major release of the week is “Zombieland,” a horror-comedy with Woody Harrelson.

October 9

The only exciting movie hitting theaters across the country this weekend is “Couples Retreat.”  A comedy centered around four couples at a luxurious tropical resort that is revealed to be a marriage therapy clinic, it appears to provide something for everyone.  It has pretty women (Malin Akerman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis) AND funny guys (Jason Bateman, Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau).  The movie is the directorial debut of Ralph Billingsley, best known for playing Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” and the screenplay is written by Vaughn and Favreau.  Hopefully it can provide some good laughs in a season usually replete of hilarious comedies.

Opening in limited release is “An Education,” a movie that has been garnering massive Oscar buzz for months now.  Most of it has centered on the breakout performance of lead actress Carey Mulligan.  In the movie, she stars as Jenny, a 17-year-old in 1960s England who is set on going to Oxford.  However, an older gentleman (Peter Sarsgaard) comes along and sweeps her off of her feet, introducing her to a lifestyle that she immediately loves.  But reality bites, and Jenny is left at a crucial crossroads.  The movie has also generated buzz around supporting actors Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike (the red-haired villain of “Die Another Day”).  Raves are also flying in for the screenplay, written by author Nick Hornby, writer of “About a Boy” and “Fever Pitch.”  And with the 10 nominees for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars, many people say it has a good chance of claiming one of the ten.

Read the rest of this entry »





FEATURE: What’s All The Fuss About “Avatar”?

22 08 2009

It has been 12 long years since James Cameron’s “Titanic” took the movie world by storm, becoming the sixth highest selling movie ever (NOTE: I didn’t say “highest grossing” movie because ticket prices have fluctuated so much over the years that the most fair way to gauge a movie’s success is through its adjusted gross.  This method takes the amount of tickets sold and multiplies it by the ticket price in the current time).  With “Titanic,” he got girls to come back week after week, swooning at Leonardo DiCaprio for over 3 hours.

Now, Cameron is aiming for a new group of moviegoers: the visual effects nerds.  “Avatar” has been hyped for years, and now we are finally getting to see what Cameron has been crafting for over a decade.  He has had the idea for quite a while, but he wanted to wait for the technology to be developed to make the movie the marvel that he imagines.  Because Cameron so deeply values the role of technology in making movies, I figure I should briefly explain how they are making this fantasy world.  The movie uses an advanced version of the motion capture technology used for movies like “The Polar Express,” allowing Cameron to see and control the virtual environment, normally added later, alongside the actors on the virtual stage.  They are also experimenting with allowing the actors while they are on the motion capture stage to interact fully with computer-generated characters.  The team has also made improvements to the motion capture technology, making the characters and their expressions look even more real.

The project has been mysterious for many years, and the first time that the general public really got a glimpse at it was at Comic-Con in San Diego a few weeks ago.  It was there that Cameron announced that he would be screening 15 minutes of the movie in select IMAX 3D theaters across the country, calling it “Avatar Day.”  That was yesterday, August 21st, and I was fortunate enough to view it.  The first official trailer for the film was released the day before, and all of a sudden, “Avatar” is everywhere.  Yet due to the project’s enigmatic nature, many normal moviegoers have no idea what all the buzz is about.  So, hopefully I can answer the question I posed in the title of this post. Read the rest of this entry »