Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A to B Back and Forth Review: Sherlock Holmes, Part II

Yesterday, Kozy and I started with our analysis of Sherlock Holmes, posting Part I of our back and forth conversation. So yeah, read that first. Today we conclude with Part II.


My Dear Brad,

I´m going to assume that the promise of one Rachel McAdams was enough to keep you past that 15 minute threshold. Though I must say as much as I think she´s got a ton of potential as an actress and a hottie, she really drags this film down. It could be that Ritchie simply has no idea how to create a female character. His only previous attempt was Swept Away, and the 12 people who went to see it know how badly that turned out.

I´m glad you stayed so you can help me calibrate my opinion on this film. I must say that I agree with just about everything you write, yet I still enjoyed the film a bit more than you did. I guess I had the good fortune of accepting the "modernization" (or should I say abandonment?) of the Holmes legend. It definitely freed me up to just go with the flow. Had I known Ritchie was directing, I would have made this decision before I got in the car to head to the theater. He´s all about style over substance, and this film is no exception.
More like the Holmes we would have preferred.

Regarding Moriarty, yes I think they were clearly taking baby steps, seeing if what they were doing worked, and will then bring in a top star for the role. The movie´s already grossed over $200,000,000 domestic. This was just the setup. They did the same with Batman, waiting to include the baddies we know and love until the second film.

I am of two minds here - I wish I were a more knowledgeable Holmes scholar, so I could verify how far they deviated. At the same time, I am better off not knowing. Actually, I think it´s pretty clear that not knowing is winning. Funny that you mention House MD (or as it is called here in Argentina, "DOCTOR HOUSE!"). After leaving the theater, Mati informed me that House was in fact based on Sherlock Holmes. That makes me appreciate the show all the more, but also leaves me all the more flat about this movie.

In the end, I am hard-pressed to make any profound statements about a movie that is so blatantly shallow. Again, I liked the acting by both Downey and Law, but there is nothing else to which I can grab onto in this film. I´d say I was disappointed if it weren´t for the fact that I wasn´t exactly hopeful going in. Can you wrap it up with some elementary conclusions?

Un abrazo!
Dr. Drew


Dear Dr. Drew,

I have a sex question and I am hoping you can help me. Every time I think about doing "it" I start to visualize Bea Arthur wearing nothing but a corset. How do I take it to the next level? Ooops! Sorry, this was an email I intended to send to Loveline.
Only in your dreams, Brad.

I meant, err, that I ever time I think about doing 'it’ I begin visualizing Rachael McAdams. Anyhoo. Sherlock Holmes. That’s what we were talking about! Yeah, Rachael McAdams. Our old friend from the Arcade Fire. That was awesome! And she was nice to look at as well. :-) But I must confess she has not been doing much for me lately. The Family Stone. The Time Traveler's Wife. Enough said. I totally agree with you that Guy Ritchie has no idea what to do with actresses and that surely played a role in her mediocrity in this film.
Only in everyone's dreams.

So Dr. Drew, can I answer your challenge and wrap it up with some elementary conclusions?
  1. Sherlock Holmes is pretty clever
  2. Watson is a patient man.
  3. Rachael McAdams is a hottie.
And now some predictions:
  1. Sherlock Holmes will be equally, if not even more clever in Sherlock Holmes II
  2. When we see Moriarty next, he will appear with a celebrity face -- my vote is for Mr. Bean!
  3. A2B will not review Sherlock Holmes II
I write to you on my way home from the Carnival celebration in Cologne. What a great time! German’s in colorful costumes, breaking all the rules. During this special weekend you can even cross the street when it says ‘do not walk’, without fear of penalty! At the Friday night Carnival celebration I enthusiastically spotted a small group of girls dressed as human feces. Apparently that is a hot costume for eligible 20-something ladies. To achieve this look, all four of them dressed in matching hot fudge colored shirts and pants and crowned themselves with plastic poo, complete with swarming flies.
Quoting Stan Marsh, "Dude, what the fuck is wrong with German people?" And why the hell is Brad describing this to me?

Those "scheiße" ladies reminded me of my Sherlock Holmes experience. At first glance I was intrigued, wanting to know more. But in the end, things got smelly and I was left with a bit of distaste.

Until next time my friend!
- Kozy

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A to B Back and Forth Review: Sherlock Holmes, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our tenth review - Sherlock Holmes.


What up, Homes???

I assume we won't be debating preferences for clothing or music this time around since, well, the film takes place in the 1800s, well before the invention of the noise reducing headphone. But no matter, Guy Ritchie has done his thing and put a very modern take on the classic character of Sherlock Holmes. The film is littered with slow-motion action scenes and a helluva lot of bare-knuckled punching - not exactly what I expected from Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. I'll be honest. I was a bad reviewer and didn't even realize that Ritchie was at the helm on this film until the credits rolled. Suddenly it all made sense.

I don't pretend to be an expert on the character, but I did enjoy a couple of Doyle's books when I was a lad. Needless to say, this was a departure from my preconceived notions of the characters. Yet this modern approach was a winning one nonetheless. Downey and Jude Law give plenty of oomph to the two lead characters, and even though it seemed contrived, I still enjoyed the way Ritchie brought to life 1800s London. There was just enough filth and grime to satisfy reality, and keep the film from venturing too far into Hudson Hawk territory (though I must say there was plenty of flirtation with farce).
"Just be quiet and boring and will be the easiest paycheck you've earned, 'kay?"

There was basically no effort to explain to us who Holmes is. If you had never heard of Sherlock Holmes before, you would spend most of this movie wondering what the hell was going on. But given that everyone has their preconceived notions of the character, Ritchie did nothing to adjust those notions one way or another. This was a smart decision, as it lets the viewer add more depth to the character on her own.

On the other hand, it's clear that nobody put much effort into crafting a decent story. This is all the more glaring considering that Doyle wrote 60 stories about the character. First of all, there were moments where Ritchie was intentionally misleading us, not simply the characters on screen, such as Holmes' "trip" into the cult's practices. A great mystery doesn't need such tricks. Furthermore, a mystery should not simply consist of people running around from one place to another until things get resolved. You can have an action movie and a mystery at the same time. Also, the action scenes were nothing special. I'm OK with the idea of making an action movie out of this. Incidentally, I'm one of the few people who actually liked Hudson Hawk. So I'm not that hard to win over. But outside of the Quebecois gigantor, none of the action sequences did much for me.
Most obscure reference made in an A-to-B yet? Just wait until you see what Brad rolls out tomorrow...

All that said, I must say I enjoyed the movie. The acting was superb, and the polish carried it the rest of the way. That said, I can't really think of one thing that I'm going to remember about this film two weeks from now. It was fine for what it was, and didn't do anything to offend me. I just hope the sequel has a bit more care put into the details.

So, my good Dr. Watson (or are you Sherlock? - we should let the readers decide), what say you?


My good man, Mr. Reed,

You have given a very fair review of the film. It is indeed a movie with positive qualities, but one that will not leave you asking questions weeks later. I suppose I can begin by revealing that I contemplated standing up and walking out of the theatre after just the first 15 minutes. That’s right, walking out. From the get-go there was something about this movie that just did not work for me. Days later it is still difficult to put my finger on what exactly that was. But I will try.

For beginners I was bored. I did have the benefit of knowing Guy Ritchie was sitting in the Director’s chair on this project. I liked that Ritchie brought a strong visual identity to the movie. However, for an action movie that was so dependent on CGI, I found the pacing downright plodding.

Secondly, as you aptly noted, there was basically no effort to explain to us who Holmes is. However, unlike you, I did not find this to be a wise decision. According to Wikipedia, Holmes is famous for his intellectual prowess and is renowned for his skillful use of astute observation, deductive reasoning and forensic skills to solve difficult cases. That description plays nearly identical to my understanding of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved character.

With that in mind, I spent almost the entire movie scratching my head and muttering, "is this really how Holmes would handle or approach this situation?" Of course many of the situations were so far removed from the pretext of the character the answer to that question was invariably "no." And this bothered me.
"Seriously, nobody's going to notice that we're butchering the legacy."

The Holmes portrayed by Robert Downey Jr. participates in bare-knuckled cage fight matches, narrowly escapes large scale bombings, and is so socially inept he gets a glass of red wine thrown in his face by Watson’s fiancée. Yet he is so suave he wins over the woman trying to ruin him. This was not a Holmes that deduced things through clever observation and reasoning, so really then, why even pretend the audience has gathered to watch him solve a mystery?

Equally strange was the behavior of Watson. I won’t bother to analyze his character in the same way, but I will say this. Watching Homes and Watson interact, I was reminded of another cranky Brit and his reluctant enabling partner. I am of course referring to Dr. Gregory House and Dr. James Wilson of the hit TV show House MD. I am serious, get these 4 guys together and you have the beginnings of a great support group.

Lastly, what was up with Moriarty? To begin with, Guy Ritchie chose again not to do anything to develop this character. I suppose he assumed everyone in the audience knew Moriarty. Secondly, his only purpose in this movie is to set-up the sequel. I find that extremely annoying. And lastly (but most importantly), why did Guy Ritchie not reveal the face of Moriarty? Most likely because he could secure an A-level star for the sequel, but not for throw away scenes in the original. But of course I do have another pet theory. Maybe Ritchie sat home one rainy Saturday morning with his lads watching cartoons and found inspiration. Maybe it’s just me, but the portrayal of Moriarty is shocking similar to the faceless and mysterious Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget fame.
Brad's on to you, Mister Ritchie.

So I was far more engaged writing this email then I was during my screening of Sherlock Holmes. What do you think of my criticisms? Have I given this flick to much thought when I should just go with the flow?

T. Ziens, Brad

Tune in tomorrow for Part II where things will take a turn for the gross. Just remember that I warned you.

Previous A to Bs:
500 Days of Summer
Inglorious Basterds
Public Enemies
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Star Trek
Terminator 4: Salvation

Monday, February 22, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #32: Juno - A Future Lived in Past Tense

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

This album feels like a journey...No. Wait a sec. This album is a journey, one that takes a long time. It's not so clear where we're going there, but the getting there is all around us. The ebbs and flows are taken in broad, sweeping strokes. It's an album that is brimming with self-confidence, not really caring if you follow all of its points in detail. It knows you're coming along for the ride.

We begin with only an organ and weave our way through a five minute instrumental track which is clearly just there to set the table. A bright guitar riff then kicks off "Covered with Hair," a ramshackle piece of music that intentionally never finds its groove. Of course a groove is not the point. The point is guitars that fuzz with the best of them, drums that pound in seemingly every direction, and vocals that are shouted but not screamed.

We never really get on stable footing. Each song is in its own place, then the journey continues to the next one. The centerpiece is the over 10 minute "The French Letter", a song that takes its sweet time getting to the point. But, then again, that's kind of the point as well. Once it does kick in, its patience has paid off.

Very much of its time (early 2001), it is blatantly Post-Jesus and Mary Chain/Soundgarden, and sadly pre-nothing. Had Juno come along a bit sooner, these guys would have been Sunny Day Real Estate. (Please don't say, "Who?", kiddos.) This record could have easily been regarded as the one that marked the dead end of the alternative era, if only more people knew about it.

So how does it make my Top 50 these nine years later if it's dated? Again, this is all about my enjoyment level, and while this A Future Lived in Past Tense has really never been in consistent rotation for very long, it's one I find myself returning to every year. Listening to it is like watching one of your favorite old movies - something you enjoy just for yourself. You know all the twists and turns, but you just love watching them unfold again.

Apparently they had a new album come out in 2008, but there's scant information about it. File this band in the consistently bursting "too bad they didn't make it" drawer. But maybe one of you will get into them now. As they say on "When I was In," it's all a matter of reaching.

Live version

Previous Entries:
#33 - Bad Religion - The New America
#34 - Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
#35 - Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela
#36 - Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
#37 - Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Yes, the Terminator has officially died

I don't want to sound arrogant here, but given my history as chronicler of the collective works of Schwarzenegger, I consider myself to be something of an expert on the Terminator series. Perhaps only a Zulu Expert, depending on who else is around. Yet my extensive reviews of The Terminator, Terminator 2, and the back-and-forth I had with Brad on Terminator 4: Salvation give me at least some street cred here.

After viewing the truly offensive Terminator 4, helmed by McG, I declared the franchise dead. That there was no way to rescue it. Once John Connor can face hand-to-hand combat with several terminators and survive with only (considerably ugly) scratches, the entire point of the franchise is out the window. Yet this was allowed to happen.

At this point, one of the franchise's original writers, William Wisher, is working on chapters 5 and 6 with the hope of rescuing the storyline. I contend that the only way this can work is to pretend #4 never happened (the same thing I've been trying to do ever since I walked out of the theater). Best of luck, William, but I'm not holding out much hope for ya.

James Cameron is surely arrogant, but at the same time a man polite to his peers, even those glaringly beneath him on the pecking order (to make no mention of the "talent order"). In the below video, he claims that the Terminator "soup's been pissed in," by various other people. I take this as validation of my stance.

I am still heartbroken by what unfolded in Terminator 4. I suppose that's better than actually broke, like the Halcyon Company currently is. But hey, you piss your bed, you have to lie in it. Or something like that.

Here's Cameron tacitly agreeing with me:

(HT - Mati)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Top 50 Albums of the 00s - #33: Bad Religion - The New America

Yep, we're counting down the top 50. Click here for overview and criteria.

The 90s had been kind of a lost decade for Bad Religion. In the wake of losing guitarist Brett Gurewitz, the punk outfit had trouble making their way through the Alternative Revolution. And with a Democrat in the White House politics didn't seem to be as easy to rail against. Reinvention seemed difficult for them, and each successive album offered a little less than the previous one.

The New America roars out of the gates with clanging percussion and a rippin guitar solo on the aptly titled "You've Got a Chance." It loudly and clearly announces that the band has progressed, and the album that follows loudly delivers on that promise. "New America," "1000 Memories," and "A Streetkid Named Desire" pump out a ton of energy. The whole first half of the record has a punchy attitude that almost makes you feel like dancing if you can believe that.

After a brief (but significant) misstep with the banal "My Computer," the last four tracks divert that energy to a more serious message. The songs and lyrics carry weight, pounding the listener with an intensity the band had never previously reached. Finally, "Don't Sell Me Short" speeds us to the album's exit, sending us off ready to take on the whole fucking world.

What we didn't know at the time, but is perfectly clear now, is that this was the last real salvo from Bad Religion. They came back with a halfway decent follow up, The Process of Belief, but that record had all the feel of this album's B-sides. The clearest problem was that drummer Bobby Schayer had to retire because of tendonitis. As much as the group depends on Graffin's witty lyrics and all the "oozin ahs" that are their signature sound, Schayer was the engine that drove the resurgence in the first place. So instead of a new era of one of punk's second wave stalwarts, the album serves as their death rattle (assuming they don't have another bounceback in them). But the good news is that the record still still invigorates and inspires, making what they accomplished here all the more remarkable.

Sorry for live videos. Youtube is less help for the early-decade albums.

Previous Entries:
#34 - Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
#35 - Rodrigo y Gabriela - Rodrigo y Gabriela
#36 - Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
#37 - Crooked Fingers - Red Devil Dawn
#38 - The National - Boxer
#39 - Hot Water Music - Caution
#40 - Eels - Daisies of the Galaxy
#41 - Gogol Bordello - Gypsy Punks Underdog World Strike
#42 - Okkervil River - Black Sheep Boy
#43 - Ladyhawk - Ladyhawk

Friday, February 12, 2010

On a plane

Eleven of them actually, but that´s a story for another blog. Just to tide you over, here is Yeasayer´s new single. Get into it.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One Word Review: Avatar

85: Breathtaking

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Oscar Nominations - Focus on the Foreigners

Today the Oscar nominees were unveiled in Hollywood. My initial reaction was similar to most esteemed pundits: The Blindside?!?!? WTF?

Expanding the Best Picture nominees to 10 could potentially have profound consequences on which film is the eventual the winner. Films that otherwise would have no chance are now in the running. The final vote will be more "Heisman Trophy" style in which people rank their top favorites, giving the most points to their #1. This makes an already wide-open field more unpredictable. Then again, Oscar doesn't exactly have a great track record for identifying the best film - it's not like we have a clear idea on who's doing the voting anyway. So I am left intrigued about how that trophy winds up.

I of course can't help but focus my attention on the Best Foreign Language Film category. Argentina has achieved a nomination for the first time since 2002 when the same director, Juan José Campanella, saw El Hijo De La Novia lose out to No Man's Land. El Secreto De Sus Ojos has already become the most successful Argentine movie in the country's history. Mati named it the top movie of 2009, and I must say I agree with him. For all the fawning Brad and I did over Avatar during the last two days, Ojos has stayed with me in a way few films do. The only ones that come to mind over recent years are There Will be Blood and The Wrestler. It's a remarkable film, that I called "Layered." In relief these four months later, I am still finding deeper meaning. To sum up, I really hope it wins.

All that said, I have not seen any of the other nominees. Hell, I've hardly seen any of the movies nominated in any categories. We'll probably get a rush of the nominees and I will have to spend the coming weeks at the theater.

Today in reviewing the newly unveiled nominees, Roger Ebert rather flippantly predicted that "The White Ribbon" will be the winner. But Ebert states that he hasn't seen the other films (or at the very least hasn't reviewed them). I'm not trying to pick on Roger - he is correct that The White Ribbon is the assumptive favorite. It has garnered a ton of attention and won the Palme D'Or at Cannes. But in this category, assumptions can easily be faulty (nowadays). Best Foreign Language film is one of the few that requires voters to see all five nominees. This gives every film a fighting chance.

Let's start by reviewing some recent history:
2007 - Everyone assumes Pan's Labyrinth is going to walk away with the prize. Indeed, it did three times, but not in this category. Wins in Makeup, Cinematography, and Art Direction were supportive victories, but not enough to beat out The Lives of Others for the Foreign Language prize. Ebert gave no such predictions three years ago, but nobody would have blamed him for assuming Pan's Labyrinth would win. At this time, the IMDb rating reflects the hierarchy as well, with Lives of Others getting an 8.5, and Pan's Labyrinth just behind at 8.4.

2008 - The category is more wide open with no clear lead contender, and two critical favorites missing the cut. Mongol is receiving the most attention, but loses to The Counterfeiters. IMDb says Mongol 7.4 < The Counterfeiters 7.7

2009 - Waltz with Bashir, an innovative film blending live action with animation that looks back at an invasion of Lebannon is the odds-on favorite. A relatively unknown film from Japan, Okuribito ends up winning. Once again, IMDb agrees, 8.2 over 8.0.

So that brings us to this year. Recent history shows us that all eligible films truly have a shot. The IMDb ratings show three top contenders: A Prophet 8.0, The White Ribbon 8.2, El Secreto de Sus Ojos 8.6. Now, it's very early and these ratings will likely all go down over time. But in this category, por suerte, hype means nothing, and we must say there is no favorite. Let the countdown begin!

Trailer for A Prophet

Trailer for The White Ribbon

Trailer for El Secreto de Sus Ojos (sorry, no subtitled version yet!)

A to B Back and Forth Review: Avatar, Part II

Yesterday, Kozy and I started with our analysis of Avatar, posting Part I of our back and forth conversation. So yeah, read that first. Today we conclude with Part II.


Hiya Brad. I see you!

Yet another reason to go to I-MAX: No commercials! The movie just started right up. So we're even in agreement about Jaws 3-D? I guess we won't have the opportunity for an e-mail scuffle this week, but let me see if I can find one by raising some other points that came to mind.

You asked about our friend Zoe Saldana. I gotta say that if nobody got an acting nomination for Titanic, and Andy Serkis was shut out as Gollum, I feel pretty certain that Zoe ain't going to get one for this movie. At the same time I feel compelled to mention that as hot as she was in Star Trek, she may have been even more attractive here, even in CGI form. I'm sure this was helped by her role in the story. Her attempts to teach Jake the Na'vi language were very reminiscent of my Spanish profesora here (who at times can be just as strict with me). Who knew being repeatedly corrected could be so romantic? Apparently Cameron filmed a more explicit love scene, but it was removed to keep the rating intact. I assume it will be on the DVD.
Yes, Zoe even looks good when it's not her.

But then again, I can't imagine watching this film on my flatscreen. People often talk about movies you "have to see in the theaters." I often think this is applied incorrectly. I have a kickass stereo and a great TV. Sometimes it's more about the fact that you are held captive and can't be distracted by anything. Lost in Translation is a great example. Everyone I know who saw this movie in the theater loved it, and everyone who saw it on video had an opinion that ranged between "meh" and "nah." But in this case? Without the 3-D, on a (by comparison) tiny screen, we're going to lose all that wonderful detail. Because of that I can see this movie being played on screens for years to come. There's no reason for it to leave the I-MAX because it's only taking the place of bad dinosaur reenactments. I know I'm going to see it there again, possibly soon.

A long time ago - way before Titanic came out, my brother mentioned to me that James Cameron always makes the most expensive movie ever made and then it always becomes the highest grossing picture of all time. It's hard to believe, but Aliens only cost 18.5 million dollars, but things skyrocketed from there. The Abyss cost 65 million, Terminator 2, over 100 million, True Lies, 110 million, and Titanic 200 million. Aside from The Abyss, all of these were smashing successes in the box office and beyond. And Avatar of course follows that trend. I'm sure when he presented this idea to the studio, they were skeptical. I would have been. But his track record gave him the opportunity. For that, we can all be grateful.

This may seem like a weird comment, but whenever I see a truly remarkable film, I often think of Gene Siskel. I didn't often find myself agreeing with the man, but he was passionate about film (and the Bulls!) until the day he died. I have no idea if he would have liked Avatar or not, but I sure as hell know he would have wanted to see it. It just makes me feel lucky that we can, even living in random parts of the world. As you said, this is a global experience, and we should appreciate it.

OK, I'm gonna go back to struggling with my Spanish. If only I had an Argentine avatar I could send out to do my grocery shopping. He would have a Euro-mullet and an 8 o'clock shadow, but would at least he wouldn't have to ask the lady working at the checkout to repeat even the simplest questions two or three times. Hey, if you had a Dutch one, he'd be tall enough to hang with the Na'vi!
My Spanish teacher hates when I post this picture. But I bet you don't.



Hey Reed,

I really like your idea of creating my Dutch Avatar! He could spend his time brushing aside his long blonde hair, hot-rodding scooters, smoking Marlboro’s till his lungs bleed and wearing those 28/48 jeans that have been sitting in my closet for years. And of course, most importantly, he would translate the monthly packet of pension papers I receive from ASR.
One option for the prototype Bradvatar.

I agree this is definitely a film to see in the theatre. Something I plan to do again sometime very soon at my local I-MAX. To truly experience a movie you really need to be distraction free. As you know all too well, I am notorious for watching movies at home in up to four sittings. Watch for a bit, go for a run and then start it back up! That’s been my calling card. For Avatar this would greatly deteriorate the experience.

Avatar should continue playing for years to come. As I said before, this is more than just a movie. This is an amusement park ride brought directly to you. And I totally agree with you that bad dinosaur reenactments will do little to knock Avatar from IMAX theatres.

Of course the potential fallout from this type of massive success will be tons and tons of imitators for years to come. As we both know, like cougars, when studio execs smell blood, they pounce. And the prospect of increased revenue from 3D and I-MAX has to have them foaming wildly at the mouth.This means we may get resurrected franchises, with titles like, Speed IV: In Your Face.
No, Brad! Don't give them any ideas. Look what you've done!

The only thing that could have enhanced my Avatar experience is if we had gotten to see it together while I was in Buenos Aires. Years later, this is a movie that I will recite details on ‘where I was’ when I first experienced it; kind of like watching OJ’s freeway pursuit, only this one lives up to the hype. What a great time!

Until next time, tot ziens!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A to B Back and Forth Review: Avatar, Part I

I'm teaming up with longtime friend, Kozy of April 31st to review films. We're calling the segment "A to B" because I'm Andrew and he's Brad. And he lives in Amsterdam, and I live in Buenos Aires. We generally won't get the new releases when the States do, but hopefully we can either help you reminisce or offer advice before you head out to the video store. So let's get to our ninth review - Avatar.


My main man Brad!

Today we move from counter-culture to pop-culture for a review of the HIGHEST GROSSING FILM IN HISTORY, James Cameron´s Avatar. Nobody seems to want to mention the fact that moviegoers had to pay extra to rent those 3-D glasses, jacking up the overall box office, but then again nobody ever mentions inflation, either. The most-watched movie in history is still Gone With The Wind, and that doesn´t count TV and rentales. Hey, when are we going to AtoB that one? OK, so I got our first wildly tangential comment out of the way early today. Let´s get back to the subject at hand: gigantic blue hippies.

Obviously this movie comes to us with a ton of hype. Roger Ebert loved it. The fanboys have been out in full effect. And despite my nit-picking above, the box office speaks for itself. We had to wait extra time in order to find available tickets at the only I-MAX in town because everyone told us it would be better. The I-MAX is also the only theater in Buenos Aires where you don´t buy your seat, so we had to line up one and a half hours early to make sure we weren´t stuck in the front corner. I must say that it was totally worth it. From the moment Jake Sully awoke from his cryogenic sleep, I was awestruck. He floated out of his pod and into a version of 3-D that was unlike anything I´d seen. And things just got better from there.
What's bluer and steelier than Blue Steel? These guys!

To be honest, the storyline leaves much to be desired. This is easily the most cliche movie we´ve reviewed so far, filled with good guys and bad guys and deus ex machinas. But I didn´t care. The film was a treat - a truly joyful experience. Even after 2 hours and 46 minutes, I didn´t want it to end. I would have happily sat there for another three hours if Cameron had given us more to look at.

Also, I couldn´t help thinking about Jaws III. Let me explain. When I was a kid, we used to watch and greatly enjoy all three Jaws movies on a very regular basis (thankfully, Jaws: The Revenge had yet to be invented or I would have likely grown up to be a different person). Jaws III was set in a marine park complete with an underwater glass tunnel where one could see the fish swimming above. That alone fascinated me as a child, but furthermore, the film was to be a revolution because of its employment of improved 3-D technology. What Cameron has done here is to deliver on both promises a mere 26 years later. I felt like I was inside this movie. The characters and animals weren´t merely on the screen in front of me, I felt like they were all around me. Jaws 3-D was a total flop because the story was beyond horrible. Put another way, it is the worst movie in Dennis Quaid´s ouevre. But at age 8, it was more than enough for me. I can say that at age 34 the fact that this story was limited to cliches wasn´t so bothersome either. The wonder of the look and feel of this film vastly outweighed any of its structural problems.
Seriously, there was a time when this was state of the art for 3D! I mean, my God look at that horrible thing!

I am looking forward to seeing it again, as long as I can find a decent seat at the 3-D I-MAX. So what did you think?



Hey Andrew,

I am in total agreement with you. Avatar is truly a marvel - a visceral treat. I saw Avatar in 3D, but not in the IMAX. Only through a stroke of luck did we even get tickets and great seats to the Friday night showing. The movie was totally sold out, but 30 minutes before show time the theatre release 15 unclaimed reserve tickets. Luckily I was in the right place at the right time and staked a claim!

Entering, the entire 3D thing had me very skeptical. I carried negative preconceived notions that it was a gimmick and an annoying way to jack-up the ticket price. The commercials and previews, many also in 3D did little to persuade me otherwise. A Coca-Cola ad featured a fella break-dancing, with an end routine hat flip that careened straight at my face. This had me concerned that Avatar was going to spend 2+ hours hurling asteroids and rocks at me. That would be some shit I certainly did not need after a long work week!
Stop yelling at us, Coca-cola! You're scaring everyone!

Cameron, however, chose not to break the 4th wall (too bad he could not convince the ad-men at Coke of this!!), which was a brilliant move. Like you, from the very opening I felt like I was living in a new world, surrounded by so many interesting things that I wanted to see and touch for myself. But never did I have that awkward feeling of having my personal space intruded upon.

As for the story, while perhaps cliché, I actually really liked it. The plot was simple and poignant; and I saw this as a benefit to the overall experience. Avatar offers so much to see and do that I think a complicated story would have distracted from my experience. Cameron using this movie to promote his conservationist ideology to such an enormous and diverse global audience is brilliant. The fact that he chose to tell a story with a moral, instead of just mindless action is extremely impressive.

I am glad that you mentioned Jaws III, because I as well brought up that flick in pre movie conversation. After the movie I also thought about another childhood 3D experience. As a kid I remember waiting in a long line at Six Flags to “experience” a revolutionary 3D movie. I queued for 40 minutes to sit in an IMAX theatre for 10 minutes to watch a 3D movie that basically consisted of kitchen appliance moving around. This was an offering at an amusement park. Mid-Westerners lined-up for the chance to experience it. What Cameron has done with Avatar is bring an amusement park ride to every nook and cranny of the globe. Avatar is the new standard for what a movie experience can be.
An example of the good 'ol days not being so good. Though I must admit we still look pretty stupid with 3D glasses on in a theater.

So, do you think a CGI blue hippie chick can receive an Oscar nod?
- Kozy

Tune in tomorrow for Part II where Brad and Andrew will continue with the Pandora Accords.

Previous A to Bs:
500 Days of Summer
Inglorious Basterds
Public Enemies
Slumdog Millionaire
The Wrestler
Star Trek
Terminator 4: Salvation