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Friday, November 13, 2009

Do You Believe in Avatar?

To begin, I want to admit that this won’t be the most thorough look at Avatar. I’m not going to chronicle Avatar from its 1994 conception. But I am going to try and throw down why it’s such a big effing deal—Or not?

I haven’t updated a lot on Avatar over the last couple of years and that’s mostly because so little was known about it. Okay. And I just didn’t think it looked that interesting. Obviously that’s changed otherwise I wouldn’t be embedding the trailer on my blog.

So why am I paying attention to Avatar now? Read closely, because if I find something intriguing you should too. If not you’re a moron. Lets start with the obvious: James Cameron. This is the man that gave us the first two Terminator flicks and a sequel to Alien that was at the very least as good as its predecessor. Though he arguably sold out with Titanic, he did win an Academy Award for it. (Admittedly something that means less and less every year.) He ushered film in to the CGI era with Terminator 2 and The Abyss, and, to end this list of legendary titles, True Lies was funny as hell.

Okay, so enough of the James Cameron blow job. Why else should I be excited for this flick? Remember that small mention of Cameron jumpstarting cinema’s CGI era? Ready for the next big fad? Come now, you didn’t think CGI was the end all of visual effects did you? There will always be something else. In this case Cameron has invented his own Reality Camera System; an arrangement that uses two HD cameras in a single unit. This accomplishes greater depth perception making the 3-D component of the film more interactive with the audience. Couple that with Cameron’s promise of photo-real CGI characters that he’s been tweaking for two years and you have something to chew on.

I know what you’re thinking. We’ve seen a billion CGI characters. What makes this so different? Like King Kong and Lord of the Ring’s Gollum, motion capture is used for the alien creatures, the Na’vi. Old news, but new adjustments. A new skullcap has been constructed to capture 95% of an actor’s facial performance. But what makes all this really cool is Cameron’s visual camera technique. Most motion capture is integrated in to a shot in post-production. Here the director can see what the motion capture footage looks like next to his digital world in real time. This gives Cameron an extreme edge over all the past motion captured CG characters. Can we really say Gollum was that impressive? King Kong looked great, but there were some noticeably weak shots. And Jar-Jar? Scratch that. All of the CG characters in the recent Star Wars flicks looked like they came off Dreamwork Animation’s scrape pile. But the point is directors and visual effects artists can now perfect movements and designs of a digital character by immediately seeing what they’re like in real time. If you didn’t understand any of that, I’ll dumb it down to this: James Cameron has [apparently] developed a way to make photo realistic characters and sets through advanced camera technology and perfected motion capture.

Well this sounds all fine and dandy, in theory, but has Cameron created something truly groundbreaking? Is it what he says it is? Going on trailers alone, it’s hard to say. This is definitely something that must be seen on a large scale. I have a feeling even bluray discs will have a hard time incorporating all the detail this movie promises on the big screen. Ultimately the trailers look rather underwhelming, but watching it on a 19” computer screen on Youtube probably doesn’t do it the nearest hint of justice. I will say the shots look rather impressive and I look forward to experiencing them on the big screen.

The next drawback is Cameron’s idea of “original.” Though he claims to have imagined the whole thing from his little noggin, there has been some nasty talk of *GASP* plagiarism from our favorite Terminator creator. A science fiction novella, written by Poul Anderson, boasts a very similar storyline featuring a character embodying the form of blue, savage-like aliens.

“But wait! Cameron came up with this story in 1994! When was this sorry-ass little ‘novella’ written?” In 1957. “Oh.” Whether Avatar is a loose adaptation of that story or not, I don’t think it takes away from the hype factor. After all, this movie seems to be bent on sending cinema in to a new direction—No matter how good the story is the visual aspect is going to block it out. Or am I speaking too soon? Terminator 2 managed to tell a powerful tale of humanity’s will and value without becoming an over bloated effects orgy. It was new, fun technology, but it didn’t cloud the story. Can Cameron pull it off again?

Another concern I want to address isn’t so much about the quality of the film, but its success. With a reported budget of $230 million, plus other production investments and marketing, Avatar is said to cost an estimated $500 million. Say that out loud. $500 million. One more time. And this time enunciate. $500 million. Yeah, I wish I had $500 million to blow on a movie and make it all ba—Oh… Wait… Avatar hasn’t made a dime back yet has it? So what say you? Is Avatar going to be able to break even? Or will it just break Fox Studios’ executive balls? December 18th kids. December 18th.

Until that anticipated day I will cross my fingers. Because I want to believe in Avatar. I want to believe it will be a masterpiece. I want to believe it will look incredible. I want to believe it will be something I have a desire to make love with. I want to say, “Hey! It’s James! He’s back, he’s got this one guys.” But the internet age tends to hype things above expectation and I pray that’s not the case here.

End Note:
If you’ve finished this little rant and still think about The Last Airbender when this movie is brought up, you should seriously consider removing all sex organs. F—ktards shouldn’t reproduce.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW - The Men Who Stare At Goats

And I wanted to love this movie so much. I find myself constantly reminded that Hollywood’s political agenda is becoming more important than their quest for worthwhile art. (Sean Penn’s second Oscar anyone?) Although The Men Who Stare At Goats starts with a promising twenty minutes of humor it eventually spins out of control. What remains is a confused clump of shit that is never sure what to make light of.

Oh, I can praise the incredible cast, sure. McGregor, Clooney, the show stealing Jeff Bridges and Spacey all give praiseworthy performances. After all, these are men that could utter lines written by Mark Steven Johnson and still look great. But why waste such talent on this? They’re never inspiring. They never find conviction. They’re big, glamorous, bores!

As McGregor’s Bob Wilton follows the tree hugging, hippie taught, overacting, mentally deranged psychic warrior Lyn Cassady, (Clooney) we, the audience, get to laugh at the absurd idea of our government funding psychic forces. This should be funny in any time period. But whereas director Grant Heslov finds tragedy in disassembling the psychic military group in the 1960s, he considers its existence a crime in the new millennium.

I’m sorry? Did I miss something? The story was about a reporter following a crazy guy in the Middle East who claims he trained with Jedi. But when they find a newly reformed psychic military base, suddenly, we’re suppose to sympathize with these same, narcotic induced characters and hope they’re hippie ways will… Wait for it… Disassemble the same group updated for today. Why? Because the new group doesn’t connect with the hippie bullshit that the movie was mocking earlier? Or because this movie takes place during the Bush Administration and this is too good [easy] to pass up? Am I stepping on any toes?

Have you kept up with all of this? If not it’s okay. I expect my review to be as much of a mess as the film. Eventually, Clooney, McGregor and Bridges overthrow an entire base by spreading their beliefs of peace and love in the water supply. That’s right dogs and cats. The path to peace is apparently through LSD. Next, our “virtuous” heroes rescue captive Middle Easterners from the torture of Barney’s music on repeat. Never mind the probability that these men bombed and killed a fair amount of their own people. It’s humane and loving to let them go free! Well done. I’m so glad this flick appeals to my inner-pussy.

It amazes me how this movie went from mocking one thing and then using it to criticize another. It’s as if the film had no grasp on it’s issues what-so-ever. I’ve not seen such blatant hypocrisy since John Kerry’s political campaign. Uh oh! I brought politics in to this. How dare I? I’ll stop bringing it up if Heslov does, but maybe that’s giving him too much credit. In this case he simply threw some of cinema’s greatest actors in to a cesspool of incoherent political banter while developing them with the book of clich├ęs. Clooney, McGregor, Spacey, Bridges—You can all part ways now.

* out of ****

Trailer of Interest - Avatar

Well, holy shit. That was pretty... Pretty? Whereas the last trailer felt like a preview to another shitty Halo game with FernGully in the mix, this one shows some hint of testicles. Even still I'm not totally blown away, but it makes some good points when it starts using Cameron's resume to sell itself. (Although why The Abyss was omitted from that list is beyond me.) I still don't think the effects are as brain exploding as they were hyped to be, but the sequences look hot and, after all, this is the man that gave us a wealth of genre classics. Overall the trailer is far more exciting than the previous clip show. (Yawn.) I'm crossing my fingers here James! You better effing deliver.

HYPE-O-METER Scale 1-10: 8

P.S. This has nothing to do with The Last Airbender. To all you dumbasses, including my own, dearest friends, who reply "Oh, the live action version of the Nickelodeon show?" when this movie is brought up: You have confirmed you're an idiot. Insert hand grenade in ass and pull pin. I'd suggest you grow up, but if you're twenty years of age and thinking about The Last Airbender that ship has sailed.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ANIME CORNER - Mobile Suit Gundam 00 - DVD Part 2

Oh Gundam 00, you damn tease! If you found Part 1’s cliffhanger as edgy as I did, you’ll be cursing the sky for Part 2’s.

Mobile Suit Gundam 00 is supposedly a reworking of Mobile Suit Gundam Wing. This is pretty clear in the beginning with four Earth-bound Gundams sent to eradicate war through militant means, but there’s been a lot of shit hitting the fan since Part 1’s balls out setup.

Part 2’s first story arch is highly character driven, giving the ridiculously named Allelujah Haptism his much-needed back-story. Despite his praise worthy name (Haha! Woo! Man, I kill myself.) Mr. Haptism ups his bamf-ery with an origin story that will undoubtedly affect him in future episodes. I welcome that monkey wrench for all subsequent 00 battles. (Or is it a gift in disguise?)

The next story arch focuses heavily on the fictional Middle Eastern country Azidistan. Of course Setsuna, and his crazy-as-shit combat sequences, are front and center in this arch. Here we dive deeper in to the pros and cons of the seemingly hypocritical idea behind the Gundam Meisters’ plan to eradicate war. Should the world carry on peace talks like a bunch of old bureaucratic, pansy jack-offs? Or should they intervene by blowing the hell out of every tank, plane and mobile suit loading ammo? If you're one of those hippies vomiting the pansy answer then let me rephrase the question. Which is more fun to watch?

Ultimately, the Azidistan saga give us the best of 00-- At least thusfar. Setsuna’s take on achieving peace, mixed with his personal convictions develop him in to a character that embodies every spectrum of worldly aggression: Religion, ethnicity, power, money and greed embalm a character so good I think he deserves some Azidistan Princess ass. Can we make that happen?

We also have the continuing idea that these Gundam’s embody some spiritual identity. Are they really weapons of death, or the angelic saviors of a world in need of peace? With all their limitless powers, the latter wouldn’t surprise me. Gundam Wing was often criticized for its overtly powerful Gundams and the rule that only main characters would survive against them. For the most part I don’t have a problem with highly powerful Gundams, but when Gundam Kyrios gets shot at point blank range I expect at least a dent. What’s the point of giving Exia a shield if it can block fire with its arms? We get it. They’re powerful. But it’s about time we learn why these GN drives make them so god-like.

Meanwhile, the supporting characters still don’t do a lot but advance the storyline so the Gundam’s have something to fight. Super soldier Soma Peries should be one of the more interesting sub-characters—But she’s not. Lets wrap her up and give her a funeral before we drag that out too much. Graham Aker, however, has proven to be the badass I predicted he’d be. I want to see him in a Gundam!

So Part 2 seems to flesh out more flaws in the series and ends with an unwelcomed, albeit surprising, addition of new characters. Admittedly, their arrival looks like it will shed light on many questions the series has yet to answer. I’m willing to ride out these odd additions just for that. Besides, no series is perfect. 00 is still as engaging as Part 1 and easily the best Gundam series I’ve seen in awhile.

*** out of ****

Monday, November 9, 2009

Trailer of Interest - Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

It's incredible to me how this looks hokey and awesome all in one. The trailer certainly makes no apology for what it looks like and I suppose as long as it embraces its absurdity it can be pretty fun. Or it could be Disney's Chronicles of Riddick. Anyone wondering when Disney's live action adventures will strike gold again, ala Curse of the Black Pearl? Dear Disney, Mouse Ears don't need to be visible in every movie you make. Love, me.

HYPE-O-METER Scale 1-10: 4