Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review Avatar

Like many people in Arizona, I was beginning to wear my ignorance as a source of pride. As if I was in state of constant innocence and bliss, I knew nothing about Avatar. Oh sure, I knew that a bunch of blue-cat humanoids were involved, and that a scene involving cross-species coitus were to occur, but I tried to navigate the shoals of all things James Cameron with a sense of mental dexterity. After missing the proverbial boat several times (I was ditched on two occasions), I thought: Fuck it, I am not going to watch it. It was a state of blissful ignorance really. I didn’t have to engage in the prattle about 3D effects; nor, did I have to participate in the water cooler talk of a new found environmental evangelism. But one day, I bit the proverbial blue apple. I saw Avatar. Where many have commented about how Cameron was the founder of a new renaissance in movie making, I see something much more apocalyptic. My prediction, we are going to have more movies with cacophonous explosions and scenes that will assault our eyes. Our visceral reaction will be to watch agog as our senses are assaulted with CGI, but unfortunately Dear Reader, our souls will be unfed, because the characters and script are empty. As one of the last lines in Avatar ends with two star-crossed lovers mutter in a nauseating way “I see you.” It is most unfortunate because all we see is a blank fancy canvas.

I will try to reduce the story into three lines. Corporation wants ore on land that indigenous people lives on. People won’t leave, so corporation takes the land with violence. Flawed character becomes a messianic character and rallies the peoples; consequently defeating the venal corporations and ignorant military. If you think you have seen this script, well you have, think: Fern Gully, Pocahontas, Star Wars, Star Trek: Insurrection, Hero, Underworld, and X-Men. Instead of spending all this money in generating every brick and branch, Cameron should have spent some time in not plagiarizing Disney or every other summer blockbuster.

With a generic plot comes the dreaded generic-character. I hate stock characters, and Avatar is filled with them. We have the stern environmentalist who becomes the matron figure of the movie. There is the love interest that initially approaches the hero with open contempt, but ends with open loins. Let us not forget the craven corporate suit (played by Giovanni Ribisi out of all people) willing to kill for all who stands against him in his pursuit of a promotion. Cameron would be remiss to omit the Jesus figure. Oh, and let us not forget the real villain, an ignorant military general who is willing to destroy an entire civilization because he has some masculine desire to engage in cinematic masturbation.

What a villain he is, so evil – oh the horror - that he is drinking coffee when he blows up a tree. It is the villain I take most cause with. Oh sure, Cameron wants us to get mad at Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld et al. and we are suppose to leave the movie with a certain disgust over our involvement in the Middle East. But the problem with the villain, is that I don’t hate him – at all. In fact, I am just really annoyed. He is a loud-mouthed frat boy I would punch in the face, but I don’t hate him like I do other classic villains. Dear Reader, I posit, there are only two good archetypes for villains. One is the purely evil. And what I mean by this is essentially the Biblical sense. We are talking about Satan, or the Antichrist, some character that really exemplifies the destruction of not just what we believe in, but the obliteration of ourselves. Three years ago, Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal made an interesting point, not since the Exorcist have we had a real villain. He pointed out correctly that even Emperor Palpatine, and Sauron were not really evil, they just wanted to take over the world thinking their form of government was vastly superior. Now, I do take some cause with Morgenstern’s article, I thought Ralph Fiennes in Schindler’s List was evil enough. Regardless, the audience needs an evil character, because it makes the triumph of good all the more satisfying. A similar vein of the absolute evil archetype, is the “Entertaining Evil, the one we like more than the hero, such as Heath Ledger’s “Joker.” I concede that one could make an argument that the Joker is evil personified, but what makes him different than say Satan in the Exorcist is the level of entertainment the Batman villain provides. Nobody roots for Satan, but I know many who wanted to see the Joker kick Batman off the building in the end. The villain in Avatar, was neither, he might not have even been evil. If he entered my parent’s restaurant, I would tell him to leave. If the Joker came in, I would run.

The villain is exactly what is wrong with Avatar. The audience would be bombarded with scene after scene meant to make us awe in wonder. But where is the awe in the story telling? I fear that more movies are going to be like Avatar; just a bevy of fancy empty vessels. “I see you.” God, how I wish I didn’t see.

Grade: C-

Last weeks grade for Sex and The City 2 was a D.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movie Review - Sex and the City 2

Sex and the City 2

Dear Reader, I rarely show enthusiasm for anything.  I like to blame it on my heritage and upbringing – because being stoic is considered a virtue.  But in all fairness, being stoic does not appeal to me; for example, if I was really a stoic, I would be even tempered.  No, I rarely show enthusiasm because I am afraid that once when the world learns of my excitement, the world – like a cruel lover, takes it away and sends me an invoice for the balance.  But even operating under such a paradigm, I had to admit, I was damn excited for Sex and the City.  So excited, that I even tried to corral legions of fans to a watching with me.  Like a lovesick teenager waiting in homeroom for her crush, I was eagerly anticipating the sexual exploits of Samantha, the Pollyanna chirps from Charlotte, the cosmopolitan insight of Carrie, and the bitchy but familiar vocal ejaculations of Miranda.  Well Dear Reader, none of that occurred.  All that waiting was all for naught: there was no “City,” for most of the movie inexplicably took place in Dubai; and there was no sex – any burning in one’s loins was replaced by a mild stirring in a teapot.  I wish, oh how I wish that this movie was taken away from me. 

I have two rules with movies: make me care, and the characters must be consistent.  The first rule is probably a universal rule between all moviegoers.  If you don’t care about the characters, you don’t care about the movie.  A recent example where I stared at the screen agog with adoration for its characters was Pixar’s “Up.”  The movie had me at its first fifteen minutes.  I was particularly invested in one character that had ten lines for a brief period.  When she exited the stage, I was an emotional wreck.  The dust and cobwebs that clogged my tear ducts were actually washed away.  My body was warm, my chest heaved in anticipation.  Please live.  Please.  "Up" made me love. 

On a more personal rule, and one that I am sure not everyone holds in high regard, is that the characters of a story must be consistent.  Now you think this would be a universal rule, but Dear Reader, please explain the inane popularity of “Will & Grace.”  Karen was usually the greedy harlot with very little redeeming quality, until the writers need a plot foil, and then she was as pious as Christ.  Or Will, the level headed attorney who always placed profession before romance.  Unlike Jack, Will was the stoic homosexual who could never get a date because of his social awkwardness.  Well, that is Will, until he consciously makes a bevy of poor professional decisions and seems to get a date betwixt every episode. 

These are my rules.  Oh sure there are other things, like my disdain for cookie-cutter plots (See anything Michael Bay), or illogical plot devices (See another Michael Bay movie, “Transformers.” Why the Decepticons should choose to engage in a war rather than just buy the glasses through Ebay still gives me conniptions).  But there are often times where I can disregard an inane story and still watch a movie with rapt eyes and captivated attention (See most Stephen Chow movies, especially “Kung Fu Hustle”).   My rules are simple, make me care, and respect my intelligence by being consistent.  Sex and the City 2 violate these two rules.

I just don’t care about characters' problems.  I don’t care if Miranda has a bitch boss.  I don’t care that Samantha is having menopause problems.  I don’t care about Charlotte’s children.  And I don’t care that Carrie is having buyer’s remorse.  But here is the rub, under a more skilled hand, I would have cared.  We have all been placed in those situations (maybe not menopause, but there are universal and parallel similarities that could be used as an example).  But the problem with this movie is that all those universal and weighty issues, are manifested within 2 minutes.  Miranda doesn’t like her new boss, so within the first 15 minutes of the movie – she quits.  Charlotte is having all these problems at home, so she goes to Dubai for a trip.  Nothing in the movie is fleshed out.  One may argue, if we were to engage in a detailed character exposition, the movie would last forever.  That may be the case, but “The Queen” starring Helen Mirren, which was essentially two hours of character exposition, never seemed to linger - and I was more familiar with Miranda than I was with Elizabeth!  More importantly, the argument that the movie would be too long is a specious one at that.  In 15 mins of “Up” I cared, why couldn’t I care about Carrie in two and a half hours?      

Yes, the writers could have fleshed out the lives of the girls we loved so much.  We haven’t heard from them in years.  But instead of catching up with dear friends at a coffee shop, the writers tried to give us sexual rendezvous between two horny homosexuals.  And what a fag’s wet dream this movie was.   Liza Minnelli inexplicably spent a good 5 minutes singing “All the Single Ladies” at a stereotypically gay (there were fucking swans!) wedding.  Five jokes were puzzlingly wasted on Samantha’s servant, an ever increasing effeminate one at that.  And the most gag inducing were the countless times men were enigmatically seen waving at the girls whenever the camera would pan out.  I understand the spirit of “Sex and the City.”  Its qualities naturally appeals to the gay aesthetic: Gucci, abs, bitchiness, and sisterhood.  But when you sacrifice the important things, when bitchy comments are sacrificed in lieu of what an adolescent homosexual would consider entertaining, we no longer have “Sex and the City;” we have “Queer as Folk.”        

And consistency – my God!  Carrie, mysteriously changes.  She doesn’t want to stay at home. She wants to maintain the “sparkle.”  Forget the fact that she selfishly wants Mr. Big to go to a party on a MONDAY night, she doesn’t even want to stay at home with him at all.  Forget Seasons 1-3, 5 and 7, where all she wanted was for him to spend the night.  Or what about Charlotte, who finally gets the children she wants, but then finds out it is kind of tough being a mother.  So what does she do?  She agrees, after 30 seconds of goading from the other girls and goes to ever woman-friendly Dubai.  The mythos was destroyed.  Sure there were nice clothes, and hot men, but the characters were no longer the characters I watched for a decade. This movie was a cancer, an irrevocable and terminal one at that. There was no Sex, there was no City;  just a bunch of teenage fags writing a script.