Saturday, June 5, 2010

Avatar Primer - Invictus: The 9 Lovely Crazy Edge of Daybreakers Day

Well, since I will be gone all next week, I held back some reviews to make this special jumbo sized review. As you can see from the mouthful of a post title, there was quite the variety of movies. In the spirit of Clint Eastwood (who is represented in a movie this week) we have the good (Primer, Invictus, Daybreakers, 9), the bad (Valentine's Day, Edge of Darkness) and the ugly (Legion, The Lovely Bones). Stuck between them of course, are the mediocre (Avatar, Crazy Heart). Hope everyone has a good week, I know I will. New movie reviews will be up sometime around June 14-15.

*Primer – (4 ½ Stars)

I’ll start this review off with a warning: “Primer” is probably the most confusing 
Primermovie I have ever seen. However, because of how intricately layered the narrative is, I wanted to watch it again after I finished it. “Primer” follows two young engineers who are trying to create the next big thing. What exactly they are trying to build? That’s debatable, but what they end up creating is a time machine (of sorts). Their venture into time travel results in an incredibly original take on the time travel genre.

One of the reasons “Primer” works so well is that it doesn’t lay everything out for you. It is a puzzle to be decoded and as a result it is definitely worth multiple viewings because it leaves many facets of story open to viewer interpretation (purposely). There are various articles and timelines out there to help decipher what occurs, and I do recommend checking them out, but only after you have watched the movie through at least once.
(Netflix) (77 minutes – Rated PG-13 for brief language – 2004)

Invictus – (4 Stars)

InvictusAfter spending almost 30 years in prison for opposing the apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) is released from prison and several years later is elected the first black president of South Africa. However, he still faces many tough trials in a divided post-apartheid South Africa. Looking to peacefully unite the White Afrikaners and the Black South Africans, Mandela turns to the Springbok rugby team, a longtime symbol of the apartheid.

“Invictus” focuses on these events as the basis for its story. We follow Freeman’s Mandela as he attempts to set up his new government and promote equality and eventually meets with the captain of the springboks, Francois Pienaar (Matt Damon) and enlists his help. The movie is a well acted, uplifting story. Freeman has Mandela down to a ‘t’ and the story stays very engaging, whether you know how rugby is played or not. “Invictus” is a truly inspiring movie with a good message, despite your opinion of Nelson Mandela.
 (Netflix) (133 minutes – Rated PG-13 for brief strong language – 2009)

Avatar – (2 ½ Stars)

Going into a viewing of “Avatar,” probably the most hyped movie of all time, it is hard to do so with an objective mindset.  Everywhere you turn, someone has an opinion of “Avatar” be it good or bad. With this in mind I did my best to put aside outside opinions and just focused on the movie and my own perspective on James Cameron’s opus.
Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is a paraplegic marine enlisted to journey to the distant planet Pandora where he will participate in the Avatar program, an interface that allows Jake to take control of a genetically engineered hybrid of Pandora’s native Na’vi people. Some want Jake to use his Avatar to help gain a rapport with the natives and learn their way of life, while others want him to gather military intelligence. The Na’vi are in-tune with their surroundings on a different level than humans have ever been. They literally possess the ability to plug in (via their extensive hair braid) to various plants and animals. However, situated directly below their tree home, is the planet’s largest deposit of unobtanium, the main reason humans are on Pandora.

I’ll start with what works. “Avatar” definitely does feature some of the finest CGI of any movie out there. If everything didn’t look so fantastical, the line between real and CGI would definitely be blurred. With that being said, it’s still CGI and severely overused. In my opinion, CGI should be used to complement the real effects, not be the entire movie. Make no mistake “Avatar” is all about how it looks. It’s definitely not about an original story, as “Avatar” borrows heavily from a lot of different sources (one can’t help but think of Pocahontas as one). Even the musical score seemed to borrow pieces from various other movies.

 “Avatar’s” weakest area is definitely the script. If it weren’t for the state-of-the-art special effects, I’d think I was watching a Sci-Fi SyFy channel original movie. It’s painful to hear some of the phrases that come out of these character’s mouths. This dialogue ineptitude really ends up hurting the character development as well. They seem to be more caricatures than characters. Cameron definitely seemed to dip into the well of stereotypical characters to fill out the story.

Is "Avatar" a terrible movie? No. Does it deserve to be the highest grossing movie of all time? Probably not. But, if I were to make a list of the worst movies of 2009, it would not be on it. The story, while not exactly spectacular, is still coherent and fluid and the CGI is second-to-none in most respects. In the end, “Avatar” is simply mediocre.
(Netflix) (162 minutes – Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking – 2009

Valentine’s Day – (2 Stars)

Valentine's DayFollowing in the success of movies like “Love Actually” comes “Valentine’s Day,” an ensemble Romantic Comedy starring quite a long list of stars. I’m sure this works for getting people into the theatres, but for the story it makes everything drag a bit because there are just too many people. I will give them credit for at least tying everyone together in one way or another, but some of these extra characters could have been cut in order to focus on some of the more important character stories as they only really serve as “bridge” characters. Overall, “Valentine’s Day” is a pretty typical, politically correct and overlong romantic comedy.
 (Netflix) (125 minutes – Rated PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity – 2010)

9 – (3 ½ Stars)

9Sometime in the future, the world has been rendered a post-apocalyptic wasteland due in part to mankind’s dependence on machines. The only creatures still stirring appear to be strange burlap dolls, each with a number designated them and “the monster.” “9” is a fun and inventive animated feature. It has a great voice cast, an interesting and cohesive story and wonderful, creative visuals. The movie is for an older audience, as there is some violence and some images that may be too much for younger kids.
 (Netflix) (79 minutes – Rated PG-13 for violence and scary images - 2009)

The Lovely Bones – (1 Star)

The Lovely BonesSusie Salmon is dead. She was murdered, she tells you, when she was 14. What follows in this movie, one would hope, is the tracking and catching of her killer and her family finding peace and coming to terms with her death. What actually happens? Not too much. The story starts out promisingly enough, but drags on endlessly as we follow Susie through the “in-between” as she watches her family deal with her loss. However, for whatever reason, we don’t really seem to connect to the characters due to the fractured storytelling. One “bright” spot is Stanley Tucci, who is unnervingly perfect as the neighborhood creeper who murders women out of some deep-seated need. It’s sad that the portrayal of the serial killer is the best part of this movie.
(Netflix) (135 minutes – Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving disturbing violent content and images, and some language - 2009)

Edge of Darkness – (2 Stars)

“Edge of Darkness” is Mel Gibson’s first acting gig since 2002’s “Signs.” One wonders what exactly about this script made him decide to come out of quasi-retirement. Gibson plays Boston cop Tom Craven, whose daughter is murdered in front of his eyes on the front porch. While the police think he was the intended target, Craven suspects that his daughter was caught up in something dangerous and sets out on his own investigation.

Edge of DarknessWith a setup like this, one would expect “Edge of Darkness” to be a typical action revenge thriller. Instead, we are treated to a convoluted and poorly executed conspiracy picture. The movie is very low on character development and we meet a lot of different characters, some of which we never really understand who they are or what they do. What ends up resulting is a very sloppy movie that is not quite action, not quite drama and all kinds of slow-moving. I did discover that this movie is actually based on a BBC miniseries, which makes infinitely more sense. In a mini-series I could see characters being developed and the story taking shape in a much better way. “Edge of Darkness” is just a little too long and yet still not enough happens in it.
(Netflix) (117 minutes – Rated R for strong bloody violence and language– 2010)

Daybreakers – (3 ½ Stars)

Daybreakers“Daybreakers” is a different take on vampire movies. In the year 2019, most of humanity have become infected with a disease that turned them into vampires. As a result, humans are basically an endangered species and are hunted and farmed as a food source. But, there are some humans who claim to have found a cure. The movie does a lot of interesting things with vampire mythos that work (and some that are a bit over-the-top). There are also some interesting conclusions/comparisons you can draw from the situation of mankind in the movie.

Overall, “Daybreakers” is a pleasant surprise of a movie. For the most part it keeps a brisk pace, with only a few plot points and moments that drag it down. The actors all fit pretty well for their roles with Ethan Hawke playing the vampire with a bit of a conscience and Sam Neill as the vampire who definitely doesn’t have one (he also looks quite nefarious as a vampire).
(Netflix) (98 minutes – R for strong bloody violence, language and brief nudity – 2009)

Crazy Heart – (2 ½ Stars)

Crazy HeartBad Blake is a grizzled old country music singer who is prone to drinking and all around hard living. Jeff Bridges plays the alcoholic Bad in a sympathetic, likeable way but movie just seems to aimlessly follow Bad’s exploits for most of the movie before deciding to get to his potential redemption and rejuvenation. Maggie Gyllenhaal co-stars as a reporter who gets to meet the person behind the singer and helps him try to turn things around.
(Netflix) (111 minutes – Rated R for language and brief sexuality – 2009)

Legion – (1/2 Star)
In “Legion,” God apparently loses faith in mankind and decides to eradicate them. Michael the angel disobeys and goes to protect humanity’s only hope: the unborn son of truck-stop waitress. Angels act like demons, possessing people and spouting off expletive laced diatribes, and terribly cliché action sequences abound. Every single character in this movie is completely unlikeable and it doesn’t help that the plot really goes nowhere. “Legion” is one of those movies where you think the writer and director just wanted to “do some cool things and blow stuff up.”
(Netflix) (100 minutes – Rated R for strong bloody violence and language – 2010)

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