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Enthiran – The Robot ~ This is a film whose reputation precedes it. Called the Avatar of its country, reputedly this is the most expensive film made to date in India, and also its highest grossing film. Not strictly a Bollywood film, but more accurately a ‘Kollywood’ film as it was made in Tamil Nadu, it is s work of science fiction, but as with all Indian films, it is truly a creature of mixed genre.
Also known as Robot, and Robo, and Enthiran, and a dozen other titles and spelling variations worldwide, this is roughly a Frankenstein story – a scientist makes a man in his own image, scarily Elvis-like, which tries to be human but eventually is looked upon as monster. The Robot, Chitti, is played by award winning veteran Indian actor Rajinikanth, who also plays his creator. His deadpan performance as the Robot is both fearsome and hilarious.
Written and directed by Shankar Shanmugam, or simply Shankar, the film has changed the way the world views Indian science fiction. And as the film is called the Avatar of India, similarly Shankar is called its James Cameron. No doubt he is one of their greatest visionaries.
The music is by A.R. Rahman, who also did the music for Slumdog Millionaire, Couples Retreat, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and dozens of Indian movies, among others – but this soundtrack was a worldwide instant blockbuster. That’s the popularity power of this flick.
The real star here is the special effects. CGI and animatronics from a company called Legacy Effects, the brain child of special effects wizard Stan Winston. From the robotics that make up our hero to the evil robot rampage to the outrageous cartoonish but reality based feats later in the film, as the evil robot fights everyone, and of course, the climax, the effects are king. More cars and guns than you have perhaps ever seen on the screen. Mind boggling. Matrix and Terminator, step aside.
This movie has everything. Adventure, romance, comedy, musical sequences, violence – both cartoonish and realistic (lots of gunplay and a very scary and racially offensive attempted rape scene, so it’s not for the kids), it’s all here. In many ways it’s a superhero movie sans costumes. This three hour long Tamil science fiction masterpiece, like Avatar, must be experienced at least once. Recommended.
The Amazing Spider-Man ~ I have to confess, when I first heard they were rebooting Spider-Man for film, I couldn’t believe it. As my friend Andy Burns has noted in his spoiler-free review, it was “too soon.” But alas to the Hollywood folks and their revolving teenage demographics, sadly the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy may have been decades ago.
While I hated Raimi’s third Spidey movie with its pseudo emo goth Peter Parker making an ass of himself in the jazz club (I’m not even going to mention Venom), I still would have liked to have seen John Malkovich as the Vulture, Anna Hathaway as the ironically catty Felicia Hardy, and finally to see Dylan Baker portray the Lizard. It was not to be. Apparently like Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3 was a franchise killer.
Hearing about the new film was one thing. I knew Andrew Garfield from the stage, and thought he looked the part, but was still unsure. When photos began to surface, it seemed there were going for a much younger demographic, and that the emo Spider-Man was going to be done seriously, not for irony or laughs. When I further heard that major characters like Mary Jane Watson and J. Jonah Jameson would not be involved, I was further repulsed. I had no interest in this film, perhaps, just because it was a superhero movie, I would eventually see it on DVD or on cable, if at all.
Then I saw the previews. The previews, both in 3D and 2D were incredible. They had found a way to take what was cutting edge technology in 2002 and blew us away with Spider-Man swinging through the streets and make it more mind-blowing. Much like a new rollercoaster or a new attraction at Walt Disney World, I had to see this flick. Emo be damned, I was on board. So much so that when The Bride suggested, on a whim, that we see the 1:45 AM showing of The Amazing Spider-Man the night before the Fourth of July, I was like aw yeah baby.
This was the full-on bells and whistles version I should note, and it has quite a bit to do with my enjoyment of the film. Counting snacks, IMAX, and 3D at an AMC Loews theater (a place regular readers know I have sworn off for the most part), this late night evening out came to well over sixty dollars. This movie had better be damned good.
Marc Webb, whose only other theatrical film is (500) Days of Summer does an amazing (pun intended) job at direction, especially when it comes to Peter Parker being a kid in high school. I dare say he may have even been bullied as well. This is a very real picture of the high school feeding frenzy hierarchy. Even though his Parker is a skateboard shredder science geek outcast, a nice updating here actually, Andrew Garfield breathes more life into the role than Tobey Maguire ever did. I honestly would not have thought that possible. Garfield also brings that smart ass Spidey personality out in a way Maguire never did.
Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a conundrum. At first I did not like her at all. She was sooo not Gwen Stacy. She seemed too old, she seemed too smart, she seemed, well, not poor doomed Gwen Stacy. As the movie went on, I did warm to her, and started to root for her. The movie Gwen was a different entity, and in the just over two hours I experienced her, I started to like her. And then, the script fell into the toilet. More on that later.
Rhys Ifans was a decent Curt Connors, although somehow I didn’t expect him to have that sort of accent. Maybe a southern accent being from Florida and all, but British never occurred to me. Ifans is suitably troubled as Connors but having the same well-spoken voice, clear of stereotypical but expected lisps, as the Lizard was quite a surprise. The Lizard’s maniacal super-villain turn surprised me, as its specifics didn’t seem in line with any version of the character I had seen before.
The connection between Dr. Connors and Peter’s parents, a plotline nearly promised in previews (there are posters calling this flick ‘the untold story’), is left hanging and vague, obviously hopefully waiting for sequels. With the Lizard, is where the film starts to fall apart for me. Why a lab in the sewers? How did he get all that equipment down there? We see at one point that some points in the sewers are too small for the Lizard to get through. Why are lizards attracted to him? These things are never addressed, never explained, and frankly pretty silly.
Webb’s casting of notably younger and quite famous actors as Aunt May and Uncle Ben is an interesting one, perhaps to bring the older fans in who would be alienated by the casting of Garfield and Stone, actors they might not have known. Sally Field, despite her real age still seems much too young to play Aunt May, although it must be said she does a wonderful job, everything on mark. I really have no complaints. But. She’s no Rosemary Harris.
Martin Sheen as Ben is an interesting choice. He looks the role, and I can never say ill of any performance he gives, as he’s one of my favorite actors. I thought it an interesting coincidence that both Sheen and the previous Ben, the late Cliff Robertson, had shared a role before – John F. Kennedy. Sheen is wonderful in the scenes he has, but I have one complaint, and it’s a big one. He never says “With great power comes great responsibility.” Blasphemy! That’s like telling Superman’s origin and not having Krypton explode. It’s essential.
The rest of the cast is rounded out well. Nice transformation of Flash Thompson, as played by Chris Zylka from “The Secret Circle.” I also liked Denis Leary as Captain Stacy, although he essentially plays himself throughout the movie. That could be construed as a complaint, but it’s not. I like Denis Leary, and he’s at his best when he is himself. His fate here is a bit convoluted when compared to the comics, but it is what it is.
There is much to like about this new version of the Spider-Man legend. I liked the various updates, especially in the technology. The origin is brought into the present a bit. I really liked that we have the web-shooters back despite how much the organic ones from the Raimi trilogy made more sense. I didn’t like that it seemed like he stole them from Oscorp however. Overall this was a great flick for the first hour or so. And the visuals are stunning, especially in 3D IMAX.
And then, in the third act, it crashes, hard. I’ve already mentioned my problems with the Lizard, or at least some of them. He seems to also have the same CGI dilemma that Sean Connery had in Dragonheart, he changes size and shape depending on the circumstances. Sometimes he is man-sized, and sometimes dinosaur-sized. Make up your mind and stick with it.
Gwen, likable as she is by the third act, is quite the little heroine herself. She stands up to Flash Thompson, her father, and even the Lizard, but at the end is told to ‘wait in the car,’ like a good little girl. What? What?? And then she does. Wow. That’s where that sixty dollars missing from my pocket started to hurt.
And then there is Garfield himself constantly taking off his mask. I understand the actor’s need to emote, and be seen, but let’s face it, if the role you are portraying is Spider-Man, it should be understood you will be wearing a full face mask throughout the film. If that’s not good for you – guess what? This role is not the role for you. It’s called a secret identity for a reason, Andrew.
When the crane workers of the city somehow got to their vehicles in the middle of the night, the have their cranes ready for a wounded Spider-Man to web and make his way to the Oscorp building… I was livid. How did they get through one of the largest and most populated cities on Earth to do this while it was being evacuated? And how did they know Spider-Man was going to the Oscorp building? And why couldn’t Spidey just web buildings as he usually does? It was his leg that was injured, not his arms. And if the police were on his side at that point, and they were, why couldn’t they just give him a ride with their helicopter? We do know that Stacy was going that way too.
All of the good will toward the movie was draining away at that point. Sixty dollars and an hour and a half of great movie with stunning visuals – and it falls apart in the last twenty minutes? I’m sorry, folks, but a wonderful dinner can be ruined and forgotten easily if you choke to death on the last bite.
The Amazing Spider-Man is a good movie up to a point. It’s definitely worth seeing in an Avatar to see the effects, but be prepared not to get your money’s worth with the script logic. Don’t forget to stay through the credits for a teaser for more Spidey movies. See it, but be warned.
The Last Airbender ~ Long before a friend turned me on to the beautifully animated TV series, I saw large chunks of this movie while on a cruise. You know how television on a cruise ship is like half a dozen movies on a continuous loop? This was one of them. I was unimpressed.
At the time, I had no foreknowledge of “Avatar” or bending or any of the mythology involved. I was bored by many undialogued scenes, cool special effects but without substance, and what seemed like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo and clever subtext that I just didn’t understand. Pretentious was the word I was looking for. And I was bored by it. If memory serves, I actually found Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time more interesting.
Of course the other factor at work here is M. Night Shyamalan. I love M. Night. I even have loved M. Night after it was uncool to love, or even like, him any more. When the critics turned on him and left to drown in low box office and derivative stories I loved the guy. I even dug Lady in the Water, but even I was let down by The Happening. And though he only directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for this one, I was hopeful this would not continue the critic’s curse. It sure didn’t seem like it from what I saw however.
In the pre-“Legend of Korra” excitement, and having also watched a dozen or so episodes of the original series too, I decided to give the feature film another shot. The first thing that struck me about The Last Airbender is the somberness of it, the almost lack of humor. That said, it is respectful of the source material, but almost too much so. It’s like M. Night wants so badly to give it a serious treatment, he forgets it’s a story about kids, he forgets to have fun. This is just not about childlike wonderment, it’s about being a kid too, despite the world it takes place in.
The Last Airbender also has something in common with many of the films made from Stephen King books. If you have read the books, you already know what the characters are thinking and feeling so you dismiss any absence of same on the screen. This also works with this movie, having seen the source material. This is why it felt so empty the first time I saw it, but on more recent viewing, I understood it.
The two hour movie is essentially shorthand, or Cliff’s Notes if you will, of the fifty plus episodes of the animated series, or the first third of them at least. M. Night strives to keep a lot of it in, even when it has lost its context. It’s a lot of tell over show, and any writer will explain its the other way around. Much is lost by M. Night being meticulous. Without knowing ahead of time what is what, the film becomes a convoluted mess.
Despite all that, the second time around I enjoyed the film quite a bit. There are some wonderful visuals, some that I wouldn’t have thought this director capable of, but again, it’s not the animated series, but it tries in its own way. And in that way, The Last Airbender is a great companion piece to “Avatar,” just not alone.
Those who know me well know that I struggle with insomnia. Last year when I purchased an iPhone, coupled with the insomnia, I started to develop a bad habit – watching entire runs of TV shows while I sat awake in bed. After I had finished up “Nip/Tuck,” I asked on Twitter what folks thought I should watch next.
Other than things I had already seen, I got all the usual stuff thrown at me like “Buffy,” “House” and “Babylon 5.” Sigh. Friend and Vidcast partner Allison made a suggestion that at first I thought was odd – “Avatar The Last Airbender.” I’m not much of an anime guy. Other than the old old school stuff like “Speed Racer” and “Kimba,” the only anime I’ve ever been into was “One Piece.” But I respect Allison’s opinion a lot, despite appearances on the Vidcast, so I gave it a try.
I was more than surprised, I was blown away. I was introduced to a fantasy world in which some people have the ability to ‘bend’ the elements, in other words, to control the earth, the air, the water, and the fire. One being, the Avatar, has the ability to bend all four, and is basically proclaimed the savior and leader of people by example. In this world, the Avatar has been absent for over a hundred years and is released from an icy tomb. Once free, he must finish his training and grow up. The young boy Avatar and his friends together defeat the Fire Empire that has ruled much of the world with a fascist regime.
Along the way, I fell in love with the characters, the story, both episodic and overarching, and the beautiful backgrounds and animation. It is an amazing series that I can not heap enough praise upon. I was mesmerized and devoured well over fifty episodes in just under two weeks. Yeah, it was that good. But then it was over.
Imagine my surprise recently when I learned that Nickolodeon, the network who made “Avatar,” was working on a sequel by the same folks. I was thrilled. Several weeks ago “The Legend of Korra” began airing. The story picks up almost a century later. The Avatar has brought a new age to the world, one of prosperity and enlightenment. Republic City is the capital of much of the world, a world in the midst of a cultural and industrial revolution. Into this turn of the century steampunk world of Republic City comes Korra the spunky new Avatar in training.
The creators could have gone the easy route, a rehash of the original series, a proven formula that worked, but they went different. This is a whole new spectrum of the concept. Korra is in a cityscape, she’s a bending athlete, and the world is in upheaval between the benders and the non-benders. Much like “Avatar” before it, I love this show, and can’t recommend it enough. This is an amazing show. Watch it.
Boys night out, and the decision was made to see a flick that we couldn’t go see with our significant others. Something those of us who are married know, and those of you who are not yet will find out, is that after the rings are on, you can only go to movies that you both agree on – or, in other words, movies she wants to see.
This might sound sexist, and it might sound harsh, but let me tell you, after tonight, sometimes the woman is always right. Her decision not to see Predators was dead on. I should let The Bride review the movies from now on…
The choice was this, Inception or M. Night’s Last Airbender. I pushed for Predators because it was produced by Robert Rodriguez and I liked what I had heard about it. Apparently I had heard wrong. My two buds unanimously decided that I don’t get to pick movies any more after the flick ended.
What bugs me is this could have been good, Rodriguez produced after all. I guess it just goes to show you that even a good premise, some cool special effects and an excellent cinematic mind producing still can’t put it all together. All the twists of the plot are predictable from the start, the acting is bare at most, the gore and violence is gratuitous, and worst of all – it doesn’t even have an ending. It’s like they just said, cut it here, it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t.
And how the heck can you have night on a planet where the sun doesn’t move? Next time, if there is a next time, and I get to choose – it’s Inception. And it better be good.
Alice in Wonderland ~ This 2010 edition of the Lewis Carroll stories was masterminded by Tim Burton and presents a tale that is both a sequel and a re-imagining of the Alice saga. It’s been highlighted with the best special effects CGI and Disney Digital 3-D and IMAX can offer.
There’s been a lot of hype about this movie, and just like its creative predecessor, Avatar, I had the same thought leaving the theatre – where did the money go? Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s up on the screen, but it’s neither in the writing nor in the acting. The plot is at times slow and boring and at best predictable. Title player Mia Wasikowska and Knave of Hearts Crispin Glover aside, the cast sleepwalks through this special effects extravaganza. Wasikowska is someone to watch.
And those that don’t drift through – Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter and Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, both day-glo nightmares given CGI life – overact and hog the screen mercilessly. And none of it is pleasurable. I cringed when either of these two were on screen. Depp is really only likable for a few moments toward the end, but by that time it was too late.
This is a good film, and a visual spectacle that must be seen – preferably in 3-D and in IMAX to get the ful effect, but I couldn’t help thinking it could have been much better. I mean, if you’ve already spent, let’s say, $300 million, why not invest another five mil to get the script up to snuff? The all-too-brief bright and shiny scenes in which we see the young Alice experiencing the original Wonderland adventures made me yearn to have seen more. Perhaps half that and half this dark Burtonesque Wonderland with the adult Alice would have worked better both visually and storywise.
All in all, this is recommended, but on the whole a disappointment of what could have been. The battle at the end is a sight that is on a scale with the end conflict of Avatar. Definitely see it, despite my small quibbles, and see it on the big screen.
First up on the agenda is the wild number of films up for the best Picture Oscar. The Academy is rather transparent in this ploy. Open it up to some super-popular blockbusters and maybe more folks will be interested, root for their favorites and tune in. Ratings equal money, awards for accomplishments be damned – this is America after all.
No matter how many hope for their favorite ‘popular’ movie, it’s probably not going to win. That’s just not how the Academy works, thankfully. It’s how their publicity people work, but not the Academy. Yeah, Up and Avatar are in the mix, but no one’s voting for them over The Hurt Locker or Precious, trust me.
And there are important oversights this year. Most notable is Sam Rockwell with his acting tour de force in Moon. Oh yeah, I forgot, with rare exception, the Oscars are only for films that came out in the last two months of the year. Oh well, the ‘rules’ eliminated that one, but what about Anthony Mackie in The Hurt Locker? He acts the ass off Jeremy Renner who is nominated.
And I bet Julia Roberts is steaming that Sandra Bullock cleaned up this year with roles that Roberts turned down, and may even win an Oscar for one. I really hope Julia is on hand for candid reaction shots Sunday night.
Nothing for Watchmen. Wow. I’m really surprised, especially after the way the Academy kissed the butt of one of the worst superhero movies ever, The Dark Knight last year. You’d think they’d have a little something for one of the best. And speaking of genre films – where was Ponyo? Not in foreign or animated. Damn.
Well, enough rambling and bitching. Here are my picks – and let’s keep in mind, these are who I think will win, not who should win…
Best animated film – As much as I’d like to see The Princess and the Frog take it, it’s Up all the way. It’s easily one of the best films in some time. Of course, had Ponyo been here, it would have won.
Best documentary – I think the politically correct Academy will bow to the Health Nazis this year and give it to Food, Inc.
Best song – This one depends on other awards I think. If Jeff Bridges doesn’t get best actor, they’ll give it to “The Weary Kind” to make up for it. And if Up doesn’t get best animated it will take the song here, probably with “Down in New Orleans.” My bet is “New Orleans.”
Best original score – I’m a huge Michael Giacchino fan so my heart leans toward his score for Up but I also think Hans Zimmer’s Sherlock Holmes blows it away. Why wasn’t Giacchino’s Star Trek nominated? That was the best soundtrack of the year easily.
And as much as I’m tempted to pull a Bill Murray from the classic days of “Saturday Night Live,” I do think these categories matter…
Best supporting actor – This is between Christoph Waltz’ chilling Nazi in Inglourious Basterds and the ever-talented Stanley Tucci. I think the Academy will count Tarantino against Waltz and give it to Tucci. Not the way it should be, but the way it will be.
Best supporting actress – No question, if we can’t have the Nazi villain as a winner, we’ll take the evil mother. Mo’Nique is a definite here.
Best actress – I think that Gabourey Sidibe has good odds, but I also think this may be Sandra Bullock’s year.
Best actor – It’s between Jeremy Renner and Jeff Bridges, although it might go to Morgan Freeman for body of work. Renner is young and it’s about time for Bridges. My money is on Jeff Bridges.
Best picture – The Hurt Locker. It’s a hell of a film, powerful, well acted, and brilliantly shot. Kathryn Bigelow deserves it.
Best director – James Cameron, for Avatar. It’s a hard call, but he’ll get it for advancements in film and special effects. But then again, if that were actually how things worked, the Wachowski brothers are owed a few direction Oscars for Speed Racer and the Matrix trilogy. But who says these things are fair. And if I’m right on these first two awards, it should be a happy night in the Cameron/Bigelow household.
There you go, folks, place your bets. See you late Sunday night!
Pandorum ~ When this first came out so many of my friends were buzzing about saying “You have to see this.” Having finally seen it, I really don’t understand what the big deal was. It’s a horror flick on a spaceship. Old idea, and it’s been done before – and one of the first – Alien – is still the best.
In the future Dennis Quaid and Ben Cooper (looking distractingly like Justin Timberlake) wake up from hypersleep missing huge chunks of their short-term memory – specifically who they are and what their mission is. They start to explore what at first seems like an empty spaceship and find – surprise surprise – they’re not alone. Hilarity ensues, as they say.
What follows is pretty much textbook O Henry and “Twilight Zone” fodder. It’s predictable, but nowhere near as predictable as Avatar. Pandorum is good if you see it for free, but don’t pay for it. Dennis Quaid could really do better.
This is a good movie, a really good movie, but I think the hype may have killed it for me. I had friends rave when they initially saw the trailer. I read much about the money spent and the effects process involved. I was impressed, yes, but I’m unsure if the product really lives up to the hype. Based on box office (phenomenal, but surely not as phenomenal as the producers might have expected, or wanted), I have to wonder if I’m alone.
The plot has Cameron taking a pseudo-political stance, and its preachy bits are one of the places where he loses me. The human race in 2154 is strip-mining the planet Pandora where the indigenous population is psychically linked to every living thing on their world. A paraplegic takes on the role of one of the genetically created inhabitants to live among them and learn more about them – and eventually leads them against the human oppressors. I’m not giving much away, as predictability is one thing Avatar excels in. That’s not bad though, there’s a lot that makes up for it.
Other nitpicks would be that the deus ex machina at the end is a literal deus ex machina, which is a bit of a letdown. I like to see characters triumph against impossible odds on their own – after all, that’s what makes them heroes. And the prayer scenes almost made me break out in laughter as I was reminded of old kaiju eiga – the way they were chanting I kept waiting for Mothra to show up.
It’s not all bad though, by no means at all really. Visually, Avatar is stunning. The special effects of having actors shine through their CGI forms is mind-boggling. Truly alien constructs display and react as the real actors would and look like their puppet masters flawlessly while maintaining their fantasy forms. The backgrounds like the floating islands are staggering. I wouldn’t recommend not seeing this film in IMAX or 3D – it must be seen in full effect.
This is an outstanding film, a definite must-see for the eye candy alone, but the battle sequences go on much too long and my eyes really started rolling when the it got preachy. It’s no Terminator or Aliens or even Titanic. I’m glad I saw it, but in hindsight, I wish I’d seen Sherlock Holmes Christmas night instead, or maybe even The Squeakquel.