THE WEEKEND MARQUEE: At Long Last ‘Avatar’
According to dictionary.com, an avatar is “a graphical image that represents a person, as on the Internet.” The word has also become synonymous with 21st century filmmaking because, of course, it’s the name of James Cameron‘s highly anticipated new blockbuster. The film has been the subject of much speculation (particularly its rumored $500 million budget) and an unbelievable amount of advance buzz.
Avatar is 14 years in the making and comes 11 years after Cameron’s last film, Titanic (we all know how that one turned out). A few years ago, technology finally caught up with his imagination and, today, audiences finally get to see what all the fuss is about.
The plot of Avatar centers on a paraplegic marine who is dispatched to the planet Pandora on a top secret mission (not that the plot really matters all that much). The actors on board for the ride are Sam Worthington, Sigourney Weaver (it’s an Aliens reunion with her and Cameron), Zoe Saldana and Stephen Lang.
“James Cameron’s Avatar is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in years. Amid the hoopla over the new power of 3-D as a narrative form, and the excitement about the complicated mix of digital animation and live action that made the movie possible, no one should ignore how lovely Avatar looks, how luscious yet freewheeling, bounteous yet strange.”
Cameron’s use of 3-D technology even made a believer out of Roger Ebert, who normally deplores the process. In The Chicago Sun-Times, he writes:
Cameron promised he’d unveil the next generation of 3-D in Avatar. I’m a notorious skeptic about this process, a needless distraction from the perfect realism of movies in 2-D. Cameron’s iteration is the best I’ve seen — and more importantly, one of the most carefully-employed.
Manohla Dargis of The New York Times calls the film “a trippy joyride” and says:
The movie is a song to the natural world that was largely produced with software, an Emersonian exploration of the invisible world of the spirit filled with Cameronian rock ’em, sock ’em pulpy action. Created to conquer hearts, minds, history books and box-office records, the movie — one of the most expensive in history, the jungle drums thump — is glorious and goofy and blissfully deranged.
In The Chicago Reader, perhaps getting slightly too giddy, J.R. Jones declares:
Watching it, I began to understand how people in 1933 must have felt when they saw King Kong.
Take that New Moon! And don’t forget, Avatar is playing at all IMAX theaters across the country. That is undoubtedly the way to see it.
When a highly anticipated action blockbuster like Avatar hits theaters, you can expect an assortment of counter-programming. This can be a highly effective strategy for studios (Mamma Mia! became a huge hit despite opening against The Dark Knight in 2008)…but this only works if the counter-program actually speaks to an audience. Marc Lawrence‘s Did You Hear About The Morgans?, a rom-com starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant as an uptight Manhattan couple hiding out in Wyoming, doesn’t really speak to anybody.
“Each of its theoretical punch lines is preceded by an eerie second or two of dead air, followed by the jokelike ‘payoff,’ guiltily delivered by one of its game cast members, followed by a longer awkward pause. It’s not just the sound of crickets you hear watching this movie. It’s the sound of dead crickets.
Simply put, Colin Colvert of The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “a painful failure, lumpish and crude.”
Do couples care about the quality of a rom-com? Not really. They went in droves to see The Ugly Truth last summer. But Morgans is really pushing it.
The real counter-program to see this weekend, if you’re in the 1% of filmgoers who will be skipping Avatar, is Crazy Heart, written and directed by Scott Cooper. It’s a drama about an aging country singer named Bad Blake (Jeff Bridges) who, as he nears the end of long and tiring career on the road, is in search of redemption. The co-stars include Maggie Gyllenhaal. Robert Duvall and Beth Grant.
Bridges, who is hotly tipped to receive an Oscar nomination for his performance, says that the music is what cued him to accept the role. He tells MoviesOnline:
“When I first got the script, there wasn’t any music attached to it, so I took a passer on it. And then, when I found out from my good buddy, T-Bone Burnett, that he was going to do it if I was going to do it, then that filled in that empty, missing piece. So, when he got involved, I knew the music was going to be top notch, and that got me to the party really quick.
“No scene feels obligatory, and Crazy Heart shows a pragmatic but tender understanding of the relationship between physical breakdown and the discovery of morality. It’s merely a well-done, adult American movie—that is to say, a rarity.
And Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says:
It’s a juicy, career-crowning role, and Bridges — a master of subtle brilliance — plays the hell out of it.
There are also plenty of other movies opening in extremely limited release this weekend (which translates to “good luck finding them”):
Jean-Marc Vallee‘s Young Victoria, starring Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada), Jim Broadbent (Iris) and Paul Bettany (The Da Vinci Code), is a historical drama about Queen Victoria’s fight for the English throne. In The San Francisco Chronicle, Mick LaSalle writes:
If you like this sort of movie — and actually, cards on the table, I like this kind of movie — you will not be sorry you saw it. But you will not come away from the experience feeling that you’ve seen Victoria, young or otherwise.
Toy Story 3 may not be out ’til this summer, but if you’re looking for an animated kids flick about toys, then Town Called Panic is the one for you. Stephanie Aubier and Vincent Patar employ stop-motion animation to create a surreal fantasy about three toys who encounter one strange event after another. Stephen Witty of the Newark Star-Ledger says:
It’s silly, of course, but also wildly inventive and oddly adult.
Ricky, a fable about an extraordinary baby, is the new feature from Francois Ozon (Under the Sand, 8 Women). As usual with his work, critics are finding it hard to take in. Boyd van Hoeij of Variety writes:
Because Ozon doesn’t develop his characters once Ricky shows his true nature, the movie’s slightly overcooked working-class realism quickly morphs into a grotesque story of a mutant baby. The film’s two halves feel almost mutually exclusive.
And, lastly, we have Nobody’s Perfect, a documentary by Niko von Glasow about 11 people who, like himself, were born with birth defects due to the drug Thalidomide. They have all learned to accept their conditions and, in the end, love themselves (and their bodies). In Variety, Andrew Baker writes:
The film is alternately hilarious, insightful and sad, and entirely allergic to sentimentality or easy platitudes.