Avatar Review   December 19th, 2009

Avatar was a fun movie. Plot wise there were lots of familiar and predictable tropes so there weren’t many surprises. It got heavy handed with the themes of the evil imperialists against the magic natives at several times though. There were some sympathetic characters and the interplay between the scientists and the marines butting heads was entertaining.

The biggest fault of the movie was it didn’t fully set up the reason for strip-mining the planet. I believe one of the trailers mentioned something about saving Earth, but that wasn’t in the film, save for a throw-away line near the end about a dying world. Otherwise it was just that the fantastic mineral unobtanium (which was a perfect name for this film) was worth a lot of money and it was all for a greedy corporation. Aside from that, the film did have some characters you could care about and there was some good drama to it. Plus there was plenty of epic action, so while it’s not going to win any Oscars it was definitely engaging and fully entertaining.

The movie’s strengths of course were its visuals, which is to be expected. It was a huge spectacle of modern CGI wizardry, but it also had soul to it. The world they created was in equal turns breathtakingly beautiful, definitely alien and absolutely dangerous. The designs of the flora and fauna were amazing and showed a lot of care went into their design. Every scene immersed you in this wonderful alien landscape and it was a beautiful ride. The first night scenes with a forest aglow with bioluminsecence was very emotionally evocative.

Then of course there are the exotic Na’vi. They were beautiful to look at and there were several shots of fan service appreciating their alien beauty. Beyond that though, the character design was well thought out and intriguing. The size difference between the humans and 8-foot giants was an interesting twist and their slender and elongated forms played well into the design of the lower-gravity world.

Story wise Avatar is much better than Ferngully but not as good as Dances With Wolves, both films it shares plot themes with.

For ratings,
Story: 3/5 stars
Visuals: 5/5 stars
Overall 4/5 stars

Fantastic Mr. Fox is probably the most accessible Wes Anderson film, though it’s still quirky in places, especially with the odd dialog and affected character deliveries. However, the the visual flairs that his films are known for were a treat to watch. The stop-motion puppetry was a little jarring at first, and the tall and thin character designs looked a little odd, but it was easy to get pulled into the world they created.

The movie both embraced, and at points highlighted, the limitations of the medium, but in a nice way and the film was wonderfully charming. There were spots where the previously mentioned dialog dragged things down a bit, but on the whole it was a lot of fun. The film might not be for everyone, especially if you don’t appreciate at least some indie film styling. It might also be a little weird for young kids, but older children and hip teens and adults could dig it.

Where the Wild Things Are was a surprisingly good adaptation and expansion on a children’s picture book. It’s more of a film for adults who remember what it was like to be a kid, with all the joys and heartaches than it is a kid’s movie as it might be a bit emotionally intense for at least young kids. It’s a lot like other Spike Jonze’s films (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind) where the story is more about characters’ relationships than a lot of action happening, so based on that you’ll either love or hate the film.

It was very engaging and moving, emotional, sweet, disturbing and sad, and I appreciated how evocative it was.  The character design and animation of the Wild Things was wonderful, giving them both physical realness, but with some cartoony physics, to make interesting and fantastic visuals.

District 9   August 15th, 2009

District 9 is quite a compelling movie. The film is like Alien Nation with a more interesting, realistic and gritty plot. The fact that the disabled space ship came to rest over Johannesburg, South Africa is no accident.

The film is a study of race and the mistreatment of refugees. The social critiques are obvious but deftly handled, starting out with dark humor and building into a mounting dread. There is a fair amount of violence and gore, but it feels organic to the plot as it mounts to its conclusion.

The creature effects are wonderful. They created a race of aliens which are truly alien. The bipedal shrimp-like “Prawns” are both pathetic and unnerving as they eke out their existence in the settlement camp. It’s only later when we get to spend time with them as characters do we get to identify with them more.

The plot is brilliantly economic with the back-story, not answering all the questions, but showing enough to relate to the drama of the situation. It all adds up to a very impressive and moving film.