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James Cameron’s “Avatar” has wow-factor to spare (Review) December 19, 2009

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James Cameron’s AVATAR is, to put it mildly, the WOW-movie of the year. Or any year. You’ve never seen anything like this. Nobody has ever seen anything like this.

You know you want to see it — so just go see it. It’s everything it has been proclaimed to be. But before I even go any further, make sure you see it in 3D, or better yet IMAX Real 3D. Some theaters are showing it in the standard format 2D as well — DO NOT SEE this 2D version. This is a film that is designed in 3D and is meant to be seen in 3D, and the only way you will truly immerse yourself in the world of AVATAR is to see it in 3D. If you see it in 2D, you are likely to leave the theatre scratching your head as to why the amazing reviews — it’s not the movie itself that is getting raves, it is the WAY you see this movie — fully immersed in the 3D world of CGI film.

There is a star-turn here in Sam Worthington’s Jake Scully. He has personality to spare, and his Australian accent only once makes itself apparent. He made a blip on the American audience radar last summer in Terminator: Salvation. Here he becomes a full-blown star. Also turning in a showy performance is Stephen Lang. Great to see him on the screen again, he has been absent too long. Here he plays a blustery army general in a performance worthy of an oscar nomination — and that’s an amazing feat in a film that is 95% CGI. Sigourney Weaver has a showy role as a biologist and educator, and both Joel David Moore and Michelle Rodriguez turn in fine performances.

Not a month after 2012 set the CGI standard to beat – now comes AVATAR with visuals that you have never seen before…correction…you’ve never seen them this way before…it brings a new standard to 3D film-making as well. There’s no cheap tricks here – and no breaking of the 4th wall. Nothing comes hurling or poking at your eyes (think Walt Disney World 3D movies) — instead, it’s used to enrich the stunning visuals and bring you into the movie. Within a few minutes you are there. You feel like you are IN this movie. And I don’t say that lightly.

Those who suffer migraines, easily become nauseous, or otherwise suffer from visual difficulties will not enjoy watching this movie, and perhaps that is why there is a standard 2D release, other than accommodating those theaters that are not equipped to run 3D films. But if they don’t catch up soon, they’ll find themselves shuttering down, since this is the dawn of a new movie-making age. 3D not only comes into its own here, it blazes the path for what future films can accomplish with the techniques.

Also noteworthy is a return to SciFi which is bright, colorful, and visually appealing. You won’t see any of the Matrix-type inspired scenes here — there are no heroines wearing sunglasses and leather. The first scene on planet Pandora reminds you more of the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the door to Dorothy’s house opens and you see OZ in technicolor. AVATAR has that same magical moment — followed by another shortly afterwards as Pandora comes to magical, glow-in-the-dark colorful life.

There is some clunky dialogue here — your not going to care. There is a standard good-guys-win storyline here as well — again, your not going to care. But more importantly, you never feel the 2 hour 46 minute length of the movie is too long — and it’s not. The richly developed characters have immediate emotional resonance, and it makes the drama in the final scene battle (think Lord of the Rings stuff) dramatic, exciting, and sad.

By the way — it’s not for the kiddies — its rated PG-13 for a reason, and it’s not appropriate for young’uns, even though they will want to see it because of the commercials and McDonald’s happy meal tie-ins — which are misbegotten.

Go see it. It’s awesome filmmaking, and you will find yourself finding time to go see it a second time. I’m going again on Monday. It is that good.

Roland Emmerich’s “2012” is insanely entertaining November 13, 2009

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If you’re not a fan of “Independence Day” or “The Day After Tomorrow” or “Armageddon” or “The Poseidon Adventure” by all means, bypass 2012 at all costs and you can stop reading now — but if you did like any (or all) of those movies, then run, do not walk, to your local theatre to see Roland Emmerich’s insanely entertaining end-of-the-world disaster film.

Let me say right off the bat that I love destruction and explosions and volcanoes and tidal waves in my movies, so right off the bat, I knew this was going to be great fun. And it is. It’s bigger, louder, visually eye-popping science fiction — with a big emphasis on the fiction. It’s 2012 and as predicted by the Mayan calendar thousands of years ago, the planets and sun are in perfect alignment – solar flares cause a heating of the earth’s core, and the fun begins when the earth’s plates start to shift around. The science is murky and not referred to a second time, but that’s all you need to set the story into motion.┬áPresidential advisors sound alarms, noble acts are committed, ignoble ones are defeated, and for the lucky ones, half a million implied survive in arks. Yeah, you heard me right, arks.

But getting there is one rollercoaster ride of a grab-your-popcorn-check-your-brain-cheer-for-the-CGI-destruction experience. John Cusack tries to salvage family ties (he apparently was too distracted writing a fiction novel about the end of the world to pay attention to knock-out Amanda Peet and the kiddies). Woody Harrelson has the strangest cameo as a pirate radio host who predicts it all and narrates it as he watches Yellowstone erupt (this is of the Randy Quaid in Independence Day strange variety). Every character is a paper-cutout as far as backstory and interest. But who cares about the people here. It’s about the effects — and I do not say this lightly — the effects here don’t border on Art…they define CGI Art.

There are wonderful things here — and there are laughable things as well. Emmerich knows that the best way to approach the (bad) script is to make fun, and let the audience laugh along. And you do. There are times you laugh with the movie, and there are times that you laugh at the movie. And it’s all perfectly blended into one extraordinarily entertaining motion picture.

One scene about 3/4 of the way through this (almost three hour) movie finds our family and other stragglers having crash-landed in the mountains, watching helicopters carry a surprising load to their final destination: it’s both art and ludicrous at the same time. It made me smile for many minutes.

I just loved this movie, and I can’t wait to go see it again. Seen in a surprisingly full movie theatre in Ann Arbor this afternoon (I thought I was the only person that didn’t work on Fridays), this is sure to be the fall blockbuster the movie studios have been waiting for. I can’t wait to see the grosses on this one come Monday morning…one caveat — as in many recent adventure action movies, there are several scenes of children in peril: not as intense as Jurassic Park, but enough to cause parents pause to think about their young-ones and their tolerance for this kind of mass-destruction and death and counterbalance it with their estimate of their own kids nightmare quotient before bringing them into the theatre. It’s typical PG-violence — bodies fall but don’t land — drownings, fire, crushing, crashing are mostly implied — bodies fly, they occasionally cling to things in the distance, but for the most part disappear. Again, it’s about the special effects, not the people.

Visual parallels can be drawn to Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow – complete with space-view shots of the world below. But it’s a formula that works — and here, it works bigger, faster, louder, and better. It’s the disaster movie to end all disaster movies. And I absolutely had a ball. There is nothing to think about here after you leave the movie theatre, except how amazing the special effects are. And that is exactly what I needed this afternoon. And that’s the view from Ann Arbor today…

UPDATE: Sunday 11-15-09 — The first weekend boxoffice take for 2012 was 65 Million Dollars over three days.

Who’s that Boy?….could 2009 be the year… March 1, 2009

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Today’s blog — breakout actors for 2009…some are better known than others, but here’s my personal rundown…


Let’s start with Yvan Pedneault….currently starring as Galileo in We Will Rock You in Toronto, Yvan has had lead after lead in French and English, from Roger in RENT to Linda Lamay’s UN ETERNEL HIVER…and his first CD is finally being released as we speak. This might be the breakout year for this French Canadian actor/singer/dancer.


Jamie Parker….you’ve seen him with great acting featured roles in THE HISTORY BOYS (West End, Broadway, and the movie), and as Tom Cruise’s young assistant in VALKYRIE. Keep an eye on this up and coming Brit.


Speaking of Brits, this is the year Matthew Goode finally becomes a bonafide superstar in America…with a flashy role in WATCHMEN, and last year’s wonderful BRIDESHEAD REVISITED, this Brit (hanging around waiting for superstardom since CHASING LIBERTY) has finally arrived.


Maulik Pancholi has been flying under the radar for years — first, while playing the showy Sunjaya on WEEDS, and most recently, and hilariously, the closeted Jonathan on 30 ROCK…someone give this man a movie role worthy of his versatile talents please!….


Pablo Schreiber (yes he is Liev’s little brother) has finally made it to the small screen after many years of Broadway and off-Broadway work…his recent showy role as a featured actor on LIFE ON MARS might finally send his career spinning in the right direction…


Argentinian Juan Pablo di Pace might finally break through in the US this year — already an Argentinian superstar, he made his first breakthrough American appearance as Colin Firth’s hunky Greek lover in MAMMA MIA. For a real eye-opener, google his name + penis + opera and you’ll find one of the most amusing stories of 2008…He’s the new Antonio Banderas…


Stanislav Ianevski….try saying that three times fast…better known as Victor Krumm in the HARRY POTTER movies…need I say more….


The last breakthrough artist of 2009, Clark Gregg (Okay, he’s already a mini-star on THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE playing Richard, Christine’s ex husband) is another triple threat — he acts, he directs, he produces. Big things are coming his way this year…and it pays to plug people I knew while I was at NYU, even if they do have two first names and no last name…

And that is the view from Ann Arbor today…