Category Archives: Avatar

Spoiler Review: Gravity

Spoiler Review is a new series where I will review movies that require many spoilers in order to review them properly. This is my review of “Gravity.” This goes without saying: SPOILER ALERT.

Every time a movie comes out that uses 3D really well, like really really well, I never hesitate to call it the second coming of cinema. “Avatar.” “Hugo.” “Life of Pi.” Yes, I do strongly regret giving “Avatar” that much credit.

I don’t want to say “Gravity” has changed the game. It’s just responded to the tools of our time so well and it has done what many others only wished they could accomplish. More importantly, if you ever doubted that the wonder of the movies has been stolen by TV, then look at “Gravity,” and you’ll understand that it never went anywhere.

This spoiler review needed to exist. It is impossible to fully expound on “Gravity” without revealing many important twists and turns. Also, it is the kind of film enhanced by going in completely surprised. Once things start to explode, the story seems very straightforward. Yet, it also has such an uneasy and unpredictable edge to it. Maybe that’s because Cuaron decided to kill off one of Hollywood’s biggest stars halfway through and then let one person run the rest of the show. Cuaron pulled a similar move in “Children of Men.” I like when movies do this. Wait, that sounded bad. I’m not sadistic, but taking an event that would normally end a film and putting it so early on is always daring. Not only that, but it will always carry the film into another direction.

Clooney’s death also leads to one of the greatest fake outs in recent memory. Kowalski’s return elicited groans from the entire audience. However, it just didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. For one thing, he kicks out a window in outer space while she sits there with no helmet on. She covers her mouth and somehow is fine. This isn’t the season of “24″ with the nerve gas where everyone just covers their faces with a tissue and is somehow fine. “Gravity” can’t get every scientific detail right, but this one was too obvious.

I’m sure Cuaron knew what kind of reaction he’d get with that scene. Good job, it worked. And it just gave even more of a sense of how alone Stone was in space. “Gravity” is less about the fear of life on another planet and more about the fear that we are but a tiny speck in a vast, empty universe. As Frankenstein’s Monster once said: “alone…bad.”

After Kowalski dies, Stone is left to fend for herself. And oh what a beautiful performance Bullock gives. She takes what could have been a repetitive 91 minutes of screaming and floating and turns it into a one woman show. It’s a lot like James Franco’s performance in “127 Hours” as she displays so many altering personalities in such a short amount of time. The most beautiful moment in the entire film is not a shot of space, but rather the scene where Stone communicates with an unknown Chinese man. She hears his dogs bark and asks them to keep barking. Then she barks along with them. These two have so little common and don’t even speak the same language. She’s trying literally anything to keep herself motivated to survive.

Eventually, there is going to be a “Gravity” backlash, because that’s what happens with any movie this big. In fact, its already begun. People are going to compare it to other movies and identify a lack of originality. However, what I hope everyone will remember is that this is the anti-space space movie. “Gravity” is not against space, but rather it challenges our notions of what lies above. At the beginning, Kowalski plays an old western tune as he floats around. Space has always been labeled the final frontier, but what is rarely acknowledged is that it is so hard to conquer a frontier that we know so little about. Unlike many of its contemporaries, “Gravity” acknowledges the many dangers of space. Its opening title card makes note of how much the temperature fluctuates. A little bit later, Kessler Syndrome causes a chain of destruction that I am still trying to wrap my head around.

And then there is Bullock, who is constantly fighting the voices in her own head as she doesn’t have anyone else to talk to for a majority of the film. She constantly has to fight between holding on to any object that will keep her alive, and letting go of all of her earthly problems, which are inconsequential when the remains of a Russian satellite are hurtling right towards you. “Gravity” shows so much, but leaves much more to the imagination. The image of her driving through Illinois with the radio playing and no direction at all is a sad yet lovely one, enhanced by the fact that we never actually get to see it. With this, the film also plays against the idea of sci-fi films in which one tries to escape their earth forms in search of a better self. Ryan Stone was hired for the job because she’s a damn good technician, but I’m sure she also really needed an escape from her lonely life. Yet, orbiting above earth, all she finds is chaos.

Cuaron has proved himself a master of visual metaphors. That’s why I’ll let it slide every time Clooney says “I have a bad feeling about this,” because that is the worst foreshadowing possible. Instead, just marvel at the moment Ryan boards the ship and sheds her suit, her body curled up and looking very much like a baby in the womb. Most filmmakers would settle for a trite Jesus on the Cross reference, but Cuaron loves his baby imagery.

That was the first rebirth of Ryan Stone. The second comes at the end, as her module crashes on earth and against all odds, she survives. Watching her swim out of the ocean and then crawl onto land before slowly getting up was like watching an ancient creature evolve right before our eyes. It’s like the Star Baby from the end of “2001″ [Editor's Note: I STILL DON'T KNOW WHAT THAT STAR BABY IS] landed on earth. Ryan Stone might be born a new, but she is no blank slate. She has a hell of a story to tell. I picture the rest of her life will include telling people this amazing story of hers at fancy dinner parties, and then chiding them because they never got to experience it in IMAX 3D.

This is not a love story.

The Oscars: The Show Goes On

Despite a feud between ABC and Cablevision that left millions unable to watch the big show, the Academy Awards still went on as planned.

As expected, “The Hurt Locker” took home the big prize at the Academy Awards, along with five other Oscars. Also, as expected, “Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow broke one of the last glass ceilings and became the first woman ever to take home the Best Director prize.

Perhaps the only real surprises of the night came in the Screenplay categories. The Best Adapted Screenplay category seemed like a done deal: “Up in the Air” had it basically since it came out in December. It’s balance of comedy and drama, along with its ability to be both original and faithful, made it seem like a shoo-in. Instead, the heart-wrenching screenplay for “Precious” took home the prize. It seemed as if “Precious” had lost much of its momentum after its November release. Guess I was wrong on that one.

Meanwhile, in Best Original Screenplay, “The Hurt Locker” and “Inglourious Basterds” were virtually tied. It seemed that “Basterds” was a frontrunner, as “Hurt Locker” was much more of an achievement in directing and editing than it was in writing.

However, this night was a “Hurt Locker” sweep, so Tarantino unfortunately walked home empty handed. However, the film didn’t get totally shut out: Waltz got his well-deserved Best Supporting Actor trophy. He also gave what was probably the best speech of the night. Seriously, this man has a knack for taking ordinary words and making them sound like poetry. As Waltz’s Landa might say, “that’s a bingo!” Lets hope he rides this to a fortuitous future career.

Another win, although expected, was still no less exciting. Jeff Bridges won the first Oscar of his long career for his performance as a burnt out country singer in “Crazy Heart.” He movingly thanked his parents, saying the award was as much for them as it was for him. There’s nothing much more to say about the greatness of Bridges besides this: “The Dude Abides.”

No surprises in the female acting categories, either. Mo’Nique took home an Oscar for something that will not be lost in time and Sandra Bullock won for “The Blind Side.” I have not seen “The Blind Side” yet, so therefore I can’t judge Bullock’s worthiness. However, from what I’ve seen of her, I do know that she is a good actress, and never a great one. Perhaps she can prove me wrong.

Now, onto the show itself. It was a night of ups and downs, or as the Dude would say, “strikes and gutters.” The biggest up were the two hosts: Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. Both men are funny and charismatic, but two hosts seemed like two much. However, it was perfect in every way. The two actors read off their scripted banter in the most perfect harmony. And they threw out a few good improvised lines, as well.

The pair of Baldwin and Martin were a welcome improvement over last year, when the Academy attempted the “song-and-dance man” approach with Hugh Jackman, with little success. While Baldwin and Martin would be great recurring hosts, Neil Patrick Harris proved himself an eligible contender contented his surprise performance at the beginning of the telecast. The combination of Baldwin and Martin (along with other performers like Harris) made a mostly predictable show easier to watch.

Before the winners were even announced, the Best Picture race was defined as a race between “The Hurt Locker” and “Avatar,” a true David and Goliath story.

This isn’t the first David and Goliath Oscar race, but this was one of the very first where David came out the victor. In the past, it seemed an A-list cast and a successful box office gross were key to getting the crown. It makes you think now that maybe “Goodfellas” could’ve beaten “Dances with Wolves,” “Pulp Fiction” could’ve beaten “Forrest Gump,” or even “L.A. Confidential” could’ve beaten “Titanic.”

Will “The Hurt Locker” be remembered down the road as a cinematic classic, or one of Oscar’s biggest mistakes? Maybe in the future it’ll be known as the best film made about the Iraq War, with “Inglourious Basterds” and “A Serious Man” being masterpieces ahead of their time, “Avatar” a fun blockbuster that changed visual cinema, “District 9” a sci-fi film on the same level with “Blade Runner,” and “Up in the Air” as an example for aspiring filmmakers of how to write a good script.

What I’m trying to say is that no matter your number one preference, and no matter what won, this was a rare year where almost every film and filmmaker earned their nominations. Here’s to hoping 2010 is going to be another good year for cinema.

See the Full List of Winners Here.

The Hurt Locker: A New Frontrunner?

Well, I guess was wrong.

Just one week ago, all of the Oscar buzz was in favor of “Avatar.” After dominating the box office for over a month, the film picked up the Golden Globes for Best Picture and Director. From reporters to ordinary moviegoers, no one would stop talking about “Avatar.” It was riding an unstoppable wave to the top.
Then, one of the most important precursors to the Oscars, the Producers Guild of America, announced its pick for Best Picture: “The Hurt Locker.” While “The Hurt Locker” picked up nearly every major critics’ award, it went home empty handed at the Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Now, just one award might not mean “Avatar” is a total goner. However, the Globes are not known as a very good predictor for the Oscars (sorry, “Hangover” fans). The Guild Awards are usually much more accurate, as much of the voting body for the Guilds also vote for the Oscars. Meanwhile, the HFPA, who vote for the Globes, are an entirely separate voting body.
This news still stuns me. While “The Hurt Locker” is one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year, its box office can’t help it much. “The Hurt Locker” made about $12 million domestically. That’s less than half of what “Avatar” made on its opening day.
Now, Best Picture winners don’t necessarily need to be blockbusters like “Avatar,” however I do recall people saying that the $54 million gross was too low.
Going beyond money, “The Hurt Locker” makes sense as a Best Picture winner. Not only is it a masterpiece, but it’s a defining film of our time. It is by far the best film made yet about the Iraq War. It’s a film that combines brilliant directing and technical mastery with fantastic performances and solid writing. Not to mention, it can go down as one of the most suspenseful films I’ve ever seen.
Also, awarding “The Hurt Locker” would be something of a brilliant move on the Academy’s part. In a year where the Academy extended the field to 10 movies in order to attract bigger movies (and more viewers), nominating a little seen independent film like “The Hurt Locker” would be a hilarious screw you to the American public. Well, at least I’ll be laughing.
“The Hurt Locker” might even have a bigger shot in the Best Director category. Kathryn Bigelow did an outstanding job giving her film a documentary feel and bringing out the highest level of tension in situations that involved absolutely no blood shed. This is the kind of work someone should win Awards for, and depending on which direction the DGA goes, I have a strong feeling that this could end up being the first year a woman picks up the prize for Best Director.
Then again, the Oscar nominations have yet to even come out. Who knows, maybe voters will shock us all and nominate neither. That’s highly unlikely. One thing is for sure though: after years of easily predicted frontrunners (“No Country for Old Men,” “Slumdog Millionaire”), we finally have little clue who is going to win. This could turn out to be one of the more exciting Oscar years in our lifetime.
Side Note: I can’t forget to mention that “Inglourious Basterds,” still my favorite movie of the year, one the SAG Award for Best Ensemble. Actors make up the largest portion of the Academy, and there is always a possibility that “Basterds” could pull of an upset like “Crash” did after it beat out “Brokeback Mountain” for the Best Ensemble prize. I can dream, can’t I?

Golden Globes: A Night for Blue Aliens. And Mike Tyson

Well, mainstream comedy certainly has something to celebrate.

2010 marked the first time in years that the winner of the Best Musical/Comedy category at the Golden Globes was not a musical or a sophisticated indie black comedy. Rather, it was “The Hangover,” a comedy that worked so well and basically earned* its award because it was just so refreshingly funny.
This might mean little for “The Hangover”‘s Oscar chances. It probably has a slim shot at Best Picture, but a Best Screenplay nomination is likely its best shot.
Still, I don’t see the Golden Globes as much of a predictor for the Oscars. I think it’s more of a way of seeing what people in the inner film circles are excited about at the moment. In that case my thinking was confirmed, “Avatar” is the official frontrunner for Best Picture. Yes, voters walked onto Pandora, and now they simply can’t seem to get away. Hopefully, they’re not as crazy as these people. I’m not necessarily happy that “Avatar” is stealing the thunder from several other more worthy films, but I have to hand it to James Cameron: never in a million years did I think the entire world would fall in love with a three hour movie about ten foot tall blue-cat-monkey people.
The other film I suspected as a spoiler for “Avatar,” “Up in the Air,” faired only decently tonight. It took home a well deserved Best Screenplay award, solidifying it as by far the front runner for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Meanwhile, the two best supporting actors were officially confirmed as the front runners. Christoph Waltz was the first thing on everyone’s mind from the second audiences first saw him ask for a glass of milk. Meanwhile, I knew Mo’Nique was the only imaginable winner from the minute I saw what was then called “Push” at Sundance.
Another big film, “The Hurt Locker,” went home totally empt handed. However, it has been gaining much momentum lately so I do expect it to do much better at the Oscars. Plus, it’s sweeping of the Critics Choice Awards were a very promising sign. That $12 million at the box office though, really isn’t.
The lead acting categories are a whole other story. Robert Downey Jr. should be happy with his win for “Sherlock Holmes” and expect nothing further. While George Clooney still has something of a shot, Jeff Bridges seems like the real man to beat right now. I haven’t seen Bridges’ performance in “Crazy Heart” yet, but to Bridges’ awards success I say: Dude Abides.
The most unpredictable category this year is the Best Actress category. There are four very possible candidates right now, and two who equally have a clear shot at winning. Meryl Streep has a good shot for “Julie & Julia” simply because, she’s Meryl Streep. Plus, her performance has gotten nothing but absolute raves. Sandra Bullock’s performance in “The Blind Side” also has a very good shot. Not only has she been lauded for her performance, but the film itself has become something of an underdog. Its amazing box office success was expected by no one. Perhaps this could play into votes.
Unfortunately, there still seems like little hope for “Inglourious Basterds” besides Christoph Waltz. I have a good feeling “Basterds” might’ve won Best Screenplay tonight if the Globes split it up into two separate categories. Only the WGA Awards will be able to answer that. In the mean time, Tarantino will have to wait another few years for his long deserved Best Director Oscar. If Scorsese (who was honored tonight) could wait 40 years, then so can he.
On a side note: am I the only one bothered by the fact that Best Drama always seems to be more significant to analysts than Best Comedy? Seriously, when will people start taking Comedies more seriously.
*I would’ve voted for “(500) Days of Summer.” “The Hangover” might’ve been the funniest comedy of the year, but it wasn’t the most brilliantly made.
Full List of Winners Here.

Why Avatar Could Win Best Picture

I know, the nominations won’t be out for another few weeks, but I think I already see a winner emerging.

Even if it’s too early to tell, “Avatar,” which has basically rewritten the book on blockbuster filmmaking, will be the Oscar champion this year. Maybe voters will choose it because this year, there are 10 nominees for Best Picture. This is a throwback to the early days of the Oscars, and selecting “Avatar” might be the voters’ way of saying they missed the good old days when a studio could make a lavish blockbuster that was actually, well…good.
Even if it does contain a radically new style of filmmaking, “Avatar” has everything a voter would look for in a movie: action, romance, humor, and drama. Mostly though, Academy members seem to favor the film freshest in their minds (with the rare exception of “Crash” in 2005), and “Avatar” is all anyone is talking about. This factor seems likely what propelled “Slumdog Millionaire” to be the little-film-that-could last year.
However, as great as “Avatar” was, does it even deserve the trophy? While “Avatar” was a milestone in special effects, its story and characters lacked in certain places. A film should win Best Picture for its quality, not just its importance.
However, “Avatar” does face some tough competition. As Owen Gleiberman points out, this year’s race is mainly between the big budgeted “Avatar” and the smaller, character study of “Up in the Air.” Both films are fresh in our minds and excellent for very different reasons. One film chronicles a shift in how films are made, while another represents how a good story on film should be told.
“Avatar” could loose out to “Up in the Air” the same way the film “Avatar” is so often compared to, “Star Wars,” did. “Star Wars” lost to “Annie Hall,” another classic black comedy heavy on character and light on action.
From the way I see it, Academy voters select winners using three different techniques: their heart, their brain, and hype. If voters decide to vote with their hearts, “Up in the Air” will be the likely winner. If they vote with their brains (highly unlikely), the winner would be either “Inglourious Basterds” or “The Hurt Locker.”
This year, they’ll go with the hype and select “Avatar.” I’m not saying this because of a dislike of “Avatar,” nor am I trying to start a backlash. I have remained just as wowed by “Avatar” as everyone else has. With “Avatar,” James Cameron captured one of the most vividly amazing worlds ever created by the human imagination. This film will usher in a new era of fine filmmaking. However, without the groundbreaking special effects, the story would not have been strong enough to support “Avatar.”
Also, I don’t believe the greatness of “Avatar” is all hype. All I’m saying is that “Avatar” represents what voters think a Best Picture film should look like, rather than what a Best Picture film actually should be. That is precisely why you can count “Avatar” as this year’s frontrunner.

Movie Review: Avatar

James Cameron only makes a movie every 10 or so years. But every time he does, he seems to rewrite the rules of filmmaking. With “Avatar,” James Cameron not only rewrote the rules, but opened a whole new book.

“Avatar” is one of those films that’s not just a film, but a vision beyond anyone’s wildest dreams; it’s daring in ways one couldn’t even imagine.
Cameron’s strange yet fascinating sci-fi epic takes a few steps to break down, it’s a premise that mixes contemporary society with ancient faiths. “Avatar” takes place around the year 2154. At this point, the earth has been totally ravished by humans (and, not mentioned in the movie, run out of oil), so the human race heads toward a distant moon called Pandora. Pandora contains a race of creatures called the Na’vi, a tall, blue species with a cat-like face and human tendencies. More important to humans, the moon also contains a valuable, energy-rich rock called Unobtanium. In order to get the Unobtanium, humans infiltrate and then hope to destroy the Na’vi by slipping into their bodies in Na’vi form. These bodies are called Avatars.
War veteran Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), paralyzed from the waist down, takes his brother’s place on Pandora after he dies. He is sent to become part of the Na’vi, but in the process, he becomes a powerful member of the tribe, and falls in love with a Na’vi woman (Zoe Saldana).
In some ways, in different hands “Avatar” could have been a disaster, or maybe just an action film like any other action film ever made. But in the hands of a man with a real vision, “Avatar” is something totally different. “Avatar” is shot with a new form of Motion Capture technology that Cameron himself invented. This form looks stunningly real, from the monsters that live on Pandora, to the Na’vi themselves. While some forms of Motion Capture come out as uncannily unrealistic, there is something about the Na’vi that is incredibly human.
The film is shown in 3-D, a usually wasteful tool to add to feature length films. It is something I usually associate with the Muppet ride at Disney World. When used in most films, the only thing it is used for is to shoot raindrops or bullets out at the audience. “Avatar,” however, uses its 3-D to make its images more stunning. It seems like more of a way to put the viewer into the film than create some means of shock value. While I hope 3-D doesn’t become a regular feature in filmmaking, if it is used for this purpose alone, then I really wouldn’t mind.
The storyline of “Avatar” has many elements derived from both contemporary issues and religions. This helps turn the film into a pretty effective parable of human nature in both the past and the present. For example, Avatar comes from the Hindu faith and is the manifestation of a deity from heaven to earth. That makes sense, as Avatars are humans in Na’vi form. Also, the entire film itself seems based off the Hindu belief of reincarnation, as the wheel-chaired Jake wants so desperately to be reborn into something else.
The film also seems to take on the totally unrelated ideology of Shinto, in which it is thought that people have a spiritual connection with the natural world, a connection the Na’vi share with their own planet.
When looking at “Avatar” from a contemporary perspective, one could quite obviously point out that it is a highly critical look at man’s depletion of his own home. Some might even try and politicize the film for this reason, though politics should be left out of it.
Looking deeper into the film, one could see that it is about the horrors of imperialism. The war between the humans and the Na’vi often mirrors the destruction of the Native Americans of the United States or the Aztecs in Central America. It is also about the human instinct to act as pillagers: destroying one land, and then moving on to the next.
Moving beyond the themes, the greatest part about “Avatar” is its incredible CGI. Pandora becomes a planet that seems almost tangible. Every aspect of it, from the animals to the plants to the water, is something that could never have been thought of by anyone. In this light, one could almost say “Avatar” is the “Star Wars” of this generation that we’ve all been waiting for.
Alas, “Avatar” doesn’t go without its minor flaws. At times, some of the dialogue is a little clunky. Also, the basic storyline is one that has been done before in one way or another. However, the context it is put into is totally original.
Quite simply “Avatar” is such a great filmgoing experience because its audacious, and its exciting. The end battle sequence is one that could rival the ones from “The Return of the King” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
The very first line of “Avatar” is, “You’re not in Kansas anymore!” This shows that in “Avatar,” you’re being swept out of your comfort zone and being taken to a place beyond the imagination. It could also be nothing less than a shout out to “The Wizard of Oz,” a film that led the way to a new dimension of filmmaking with its bold use of color. Cameron is the kind of filmmaker with the vision to accomplish this.
Cameron always manages to defy our expectations. People doubted him before “Titanic” came out and they did the same with “Avatar.” Both times he totally changed the game. As Pandora was the beginning of a new frontier for humans, “Avatar” is the beginning of a new frontier for filmmakers worldwide.
Note: Earlier, I accidentally wrote that Pandora was a planet, when it is in fact, a moon. We all make mistakes sometimes, and for this one, I apologize. Thanks to Cameron Bruce for catching this mistake.