Archive for December, 2009

Avatar (2009)

Posted in 2009, Action, Blockbuster, Drama, Romance with tags , , , , , , , on December 21, 2009 by filmglutton

Yesterday I saw James Cameron’s long-awaited blockbuster Avatar.

The year is 2154 and a human corporation is living on Pandora, a far-off moon in a far-off galaxy that has a precious mineral called unobtainium that the corporation wants to mine and sell at a huge profit. The only problem is that Pandora is home to a native species of humanoids called the Na’vi. The story starts in a blur or story set-up as we meet our protaganist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), a paraplegic ex-marine. Dr Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) leads a team of scientists and researchers on the Avatar Program, which involves blending human and Na’vi DNA to create an Avatar that resembles a Na’vi. The development of these Avatars is extremely expensive. Jake’s twin brother was a scientist in the program but he died so Jake, who shares Tommy’s DNA, takes his place in the Program, and is esctatic about being able to walk and run in the body of his Avatar. Jake inflitrates the world of the Na’vi, where he learns about their ways and reports back to both Grace and the sinister Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), who wants to destroy the Na’vi to get to the unobtanium (which is deposited in the ground below the Na’vi hometree, the centre of their literal and spiritual life). As Jake begins to learn and love the ways of the Na’vi, and develops a relationship with a female Na’vi warioress named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), he is at odds with the goals of the corporation and must fight to do what he thinks is right.

Phew, seems complicated (I do hate writing synopses)! There has been so much hype surrounding this film, and a lot of pressure, not unlike that of his last project, a little film called Titanic. Much of the hype has been about the CGI and the amazing new 3D techniques. I saw Avatar at a cinema that was not equipped for 3D films, and it really did not matter at all. The film stands without the 3D, but I am keen to see it in 3D now…although, a friend of mine did see it at Imax and she was annoyed a) because it didn’t fill the Imax screen and b) because it made her feel a bit motion sick, so perhaps that’s something to consider. As for the CGI, it’s certainly very elaborate. We see some of the characters as both humans and Na’vi, such as Jake and Grace (can I just say, there was something a little creepy about Sigourney Weaver’s Avatar, maybe it looked a little too much like her!!), while some of the Na’vi are never seen in a human form (such as Zoe Saldana). Their work is projected in an entirely CGI form. Motion capture has made them so human yet so different – the detail on their faces is amazing, it’s incredible technology that’s getting closer and closer to photoreal but it does still have that CGI ‘look’. Not that motion capture is anything new, but I don’t know if it’s ever been done quite to the extent of this. While CGI can get a bit overwhelming at times (and I will say that even without 3D the image can make your eyes go a bit funny), the CGI in this is amazing. It really brings this world and this story to life.

Which brings us to one of the strong points of the film, which is the story. Now, some will say that the story is the weak point, which in many ways it is. There are some corny things happening here, but overall the story is so incredibly immersive that you won’t care about the cliches. Avatar goes for about two-and-a-half hours but I hardly even noticed, I was engrossed. All of the actors were good, though some of the human characters could have been a bit more multi-dimensional.The film is technically amazing and should pick up some prizes at awards time!

Sure, there are plenty of things you could criticise about this film. Maybe you won’t like Sam Worthington’s America accent, or the voiceover, or the not-so-hidden references to imperialism, colonialism and environmentalism. Maybe you will roll your eyes at some of the corny one-liners, or that there is a love story amidst the action. Maybe you will hate the CGI world, hate the over-the-top spirituality of the Na’vi that’s a weird blend of Native American and African, and find the whole thing either to sentimental or too stupid. But I didn’t really think of any negatives until I left the cinema, because this is such an accomplished, impressive film that draws you in and delivers on its promises. Actually, I lie, there was one thing that really bugged me…a damn pop song coming in over the closing credits! Now, maybe James Cameron and James Horner (just as a side note, there are quite a few Titanic-esque moments in the score, you definitely know it’s James Horner again) are trying to recapture the success of My Heart Will Go On, but I just cringed, it was so out of place. Run from the cinema before it ruins the aura at the end!!

Forget the negatives, just enjoy this for the great piece of entertainment it is. I’m not going to talk any more about this, just go see it!

My rating:

Bad Taste (1987)

Posted in 1987, Comedy, Horror, Reviews, Splatter with tags , , , on December 15, 2009 by filmglutton

In Bad Taste the government has enlisted the help of “The Boys” – Derek, Frank, Oz and Barry – to stop Lord Crumb and his army of aliens from killing mankind and selling us as intergalactic hamburger meat! Set in a sleepy New Zealand town, The Boys face a series of human-like aliens that want nothing better than to eat them for dinner! A cult classic, Bad Taste is an outrageous and hilarious comedy/horror that’s so bad it’s good. It’s also incredibly disgusting…in a good way!

Bad Taste was made over a four year period when Peter Jackson worked as a photo engraver at the local paper. A long-time film fan and special effects nut, Peter purchased a 16mm camera and originally intended to make a short film that he could enter into festivals. That short film, Roast of the Day, kept getting bigger and bigger until it eventually became what we now know as Bad Taste. The film was made on an extremely minimal budget by Peter and his work colleagues and schoolmates. Obviously the acting talent is minimal, but it doesn’t matter in a film like this. I actually thought a couple of “The Boys” were quite good, and Jackson is almost unrecognisable as Derek, really funny performance from him. He also appears in a more recognisable form as Robert the alien, hilarious!

The DVD case warns us (semi-jokingly) that “people of a weak disposition should not watch this feature”. There sure is a lot of blood and gore in this movie, but it’s fantastic. I generally can’t stomach violent films, but the violence in this is just so absurd, and the blood is such a shimmering shade of red, that it won’t truly gross you out. All the gory bits are played for laughs, eg there’s a gaping hole in Derek’s scull, and he keeps rearranging bits of brain. There’s also vomit-guzzling and brain-consuming. An exploding sheep is a highlight, but in general there’s no shortage of vomit, guts, brians and blood. The whole film is very witty and funny, just a big joke.

The film quality itself is not spectacular, and the sound is quite average, but considering this was made 20-25 years ago by a completely amateur group, the movie holds up really well. The plot is a bit muddled (due to the constant script and concept changes over four years) but again, doesn’t matter. The special effects are fantastic, with some really innovative ideas. The film even has a few car chases, a car explosion, and a flying house! Not bad for an amateur film…

If you love splatter movies you will absolutely love Bad Taste. Even if you don’t (this is the first one I’ve ever seen and, as I said, I usually hate films with violence) this film is so funny and original it will win you over. The violence is so over-the-top, it’s great. On the DVD I have there is a featurette Good Taste Made Bad, which was made in 1988, and it has some great interviews with Peter Jackson, his parents, and “The Boys”. Jackson fans should not miss it. Film fans should be inspired by Jackson’s ‘just do it’ attitude, anything is possible if you have the drive, a few good mates, and lots of fake blood…

My Rating:

Adventureland (2009)

Posted in 2009, Drama, Romance, Teen with tags , , , on December 15, 2009 by filmglutton

Adventureland, set in 1987, focuses on recent college graduate James (Jesse Eisenberg). James has planned a summer trip to Europe with friends, followed by a journalism post-grad degree at Columbia University. His plans unravel when his parents tell him they can no longer afford to fund his trip and that he must get a job if he wants to make it to Columbia. So James, with limited work experience, has no other choice than to get a job at Adventureland, a run-down theme park in his hometown of Pittsburgh. We can all relate: that sucks. The job is far from glamorous, but James meets an eclectic group of young people his own age, including the alluring Em (Kristen Stewart), with whom he embarks on a tentative friendship/relationship.

Adventureland was directed by Greg Mottola, who also directed the hit teen film Superbad. I haven’t seen Superbad, but I rented this after reading a few favourable reviews. I’m glad I did. Adventureland was a really enjoyable film, a sweet exploration of the lives of these 20-something people who are trying to figure out what they want. I think that’s a strength of the film, it shows 20-somethings for what we are: slightly older teens with more freedom. We don’t hit our 20s and suddenly grow up, have corporate jobs. Most 20-somethings are still unsettled and changing university degrees or careers. I thought this film captured the age group really well.

The performances are good. Jesse Eisenberg is really likeable and natural as James (and he actually looks around the right age, which is a rare thing); he might draw comparisons with Michael Cera, but he is less awkward (and less funny, I guess). Kirsten Stewart is quietly charming as Em. I haven’t seen enough of her to judge if she is a versatile actress, but I really like her onscreen, I can’t help but be drawn to her. So much better that her work in Twilight, which was released at the cinemas not long before this one. All of the supporting cast are good too (Ryan Reynolds has a small role), and I liked that they weren’t insantly recognisable, it made me feel like these could all be real people, unlike the shallow, fake versions of real people that we so often see.

I think this was billed as a comedy-drama, but it’s not actually very funny. In fact, the parts where it tries to be funny (such as with the immature ex-friend who keeps hitting James in the crotch) are quite unfunny and a little annoying. I also didn’t particularly like Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as the managers of Adventureland. This film is not an absurd comedy (as I’ve heard Superbad was), and these two were a little over-pronounced in their roles, desperately trying to milk laughs but falling a bit flat (especially Wiig; I quite like her, but I swear she does the same thing in every film…)

This is much better than standard teen fare, but there is something missing, even though the performances are good and the story is quite fresh. I think the problem is that, as a drama, it lacks emotional punch (I know I just said a similar thing about Julie and Julia, but emotion matters, dammit!). The narrative development is fine and the characters themselves do experience turbulent emotions, but as an audience member you never feel too connected to the characters. You might recognise them, but you don’t really empathise or worry about what will happen to them. I hate melodrama, but a more focused emotional through-line would have been nice.

Still a film worth watching on a quiet night in. It might have some cliches, but it is well executed…and hey, who doesn’t love the eighties?!

My Rating: