Avatar, a review by Jon
4 out of 5 (or maybe a full five... no, actually, hold on... 3...erm. Damn, this is tough!)
A paraplegic marine dispatched to the moon Pandora on a unique mission becomes torn between following his orders and protecting the world he feels is his home.
Before I saw Avatar, I was dismayed at the reports that the film, having taken 12 years to gestate in the mind of James Cameron, was as derivative as they come. Even from the trailer, it was clear we were looking at some weird mash-up of Pocohontas, Dances With Wolves and bloody Ferngully. Played out by giant Smurfs, no less. Wow. Special.
It is all absolutely true as well. Actually, no, I haven't seen Ferngully, so I'll withdraw that one. And the Smurfs are much better close-up, so I'll let that one go too. But there is no escaping that the plot is prosaic and dumb. The dialogue is just awful, without a hint of irony and stuffed so full of exposition that any intelligent 12 year-old will have worked out the ending in no time. The pacing is bloated and uneven with a environmental message delivered like a sledge-hammer. You may also choose to take exception to the depiction of US military, but I think this well publicised criticism is a bit unfair and too easy a target. But in any case, make no mistake, this is not a proper 'film'.
However, what I have just described is like any other blockbuster movie of the last decade at least. Big, dumb, copying lots of other films and missing the point is business as usual for Hollywood and so it should be judged as such. It's no good whining about the script being written in crayon; it's our fault for listening to the hype about it being a "game changer". Nope. It's another Phantom Menace. Another Matrix even.
So if we should judge against its own kind, then it is unquestionably superb, rollercoaster entertainment. One of the best big movie experiences you could ever hope to have, because that's what Cameron does better than anyone. Action. On an epic, explosive level and he stamps his authority here. The scale of this film is just astonishing and the last half hour, a cathartic tsunami of a battle scene.
The effects are probably the best you will see. Pandora is a breathtaking creation. I wasn't convinced by the Na'vi on the trailer, but in the film I simply forgot they weren't real! I can't say better than that. The story for all its faults, is well performed and does have a lot of heart. Jake's (Sam Worthington) story is convincing, if you're so inclined. If you're going to copy, copy from the best because maybe a little soul will rub off. And visually, it would be easy to assume it is one-note, but Cameron has some elegance here, especially in his discrete slow motion and a fascinating shot of a "horse" type creature, bathed in flame.
Just look over James Cameron's history. He has got very little originality for writing; in fact True Lies is probably his best film on a personal creative level. Terminator was a superb idea in its simplicity, exploited even better. Aliens is just as exploitive of Alien. Terminator 2 was simply a remake of the first with a bigger vision. Titanic was big and stupid, but looked fantastic. Why the heck should Avatar be any different? What all those films have in common is they are not boring.
He also commands great casts. Sigourney Weaver is impressive as always and Sam Worthington has taken a lot of flak, but I found nothing wrong with him. Stephen Lang chews the scenery to great effect and Michelle Rodriguez and Giovanni Ribisi impress too. But the absolute star for me was Zoe Saldana. She is gorgeous in a beautifully judged role. Kudos again to the effects, that they didn't hide a single note.
I'm so relieved to have enjoyed this as much as I did, despite the pointlessness of 3D, which was more annoying than anything else. Actually, I'm glad Avatar wasn't a 'proper' film. It hopefully means proper film-makers won't jump on that particular bandwagon and will leave it to all the showmen! Don't get me wrong, it had its moments, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing Avatar again without a pair of sunglasses on. The colours were so muted in favour of this gimmick. But however you see it, What you go into a James Cameron movie for is unashamed excitement. Avatar is bloated, but when the action kicks in, I defy you not to hold your breath.
(From Avatar **** on February 16th, 2010)
Due Date, a review by Danae Cassandra
Problems at the airport trap expectant father Peter into riding cross-country with aspiring actor Ethan, whom he doesn't know ... and who he is the exact opposite of.
I'm not completely opposed to comedy, but I'm picky about it, so normally I wouldn't have looked twice at this film. The entire reason I picked this up is Robert Downey Jr. Because he's awesome. This has been compared a lot to Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which I haven't seen and never had any intrest in, and the big advert on the front is that it's from the director of Old School and The Hangover, which again, haven't seen, have no interest in. But Downey is awesome, so I'll watch anything he's in.
Perhaps surprisingly, I enjoyed this movie. There was some crude humor, though not as much as I feared. There was one moment that really didn't work for me, when Ethan laughs after Peter has told him about his father leaving him. The whole bit with the guy in the wheelchair also seemed way overdone and unrealistic to me - not that a guy in a wheelchair could do what he did, but just that the situation seemed unrealistic.
Tossing that aside, both of those moments are early in the film. The movie got better as it progressed, and I got involved with it, with the characters, with their journey. I was pleased that it wasn't just crude humor, that there were some genuinely touching moments, that you came to understand and care about these two people - despite Peter being a stuck-up rude prick and Ethan being a clueless ditzy stoner.
So, despite some stuff at the start of the film that felt rather forced, Due Date turned out to be a better movie than I thought it would be and I enjoyed it.
(From Danae's reviews on April 9th, 2011)
Tom's TV Pilots marathon, a review by Tom
Mr. Bean (animated)
1.01 Episode 1
This animated series had some funny moments (I only own the first six episodes though). And they captured Rowan Atkinson quite well. But I didn't enjoy the first episode much.
(From Tom's TV Pilots marathon on June 10th, 2012)