Friday, January 29, 2010

Avatar (2009)

— SPOILER ALERT — I intend to discuss the ending and certain key elements of the movie while I explore what I believe they imply.

The movie is excellent and gets 5 full and unabashed smilies. So go see it and then see if you agree with my somewhat grim assessment….

AGAIN — SPOILERS AHEAD — do not read this if you haven’t seen the movie….





Ok, then I will assume that if you are reading this that you have seen the movie and still have some curiosity about what I have to say. First, a rave — probably identical to nearly every other rave that floats on the internet ethers — the movie is gorgeous! The sound/ music is compelling, not too loud or brash — try listening to Batman or Transformers without ear plugs! The villain menaces wonderfully. And the setups for future events telegraph nicely.

Well, I guess that last one may not exactly be a total positive. Toward the end when Ripley, er, whatever Sigourney Weaver’s character is called, has her not exactly successful encounter with the Tree of Souls it’s pretty obvious that Our Noble Hero (hereafter known as ONH-Big Blue) will have his hour in the spaghetti pot. And even before that when the Pretty Young Blue Thing shows ONH-Big Blue the skull of a Big Nasty Flying Thingee and reports that her Great-Great, et-cetera Grand father had tamed one…. Well, it seemed pretty obvious that ONH-Big Blue would have to duplicate the effort.

But the setups work (despite my somewhat sarcastic remarks) in that when the obvious does play out it’s actually pretty nifty and not overdone (thank you very much).

No, my concern for the movie has to do with the Glorious Noble Savage Living in Paradise theme. Or, as I prefer to think of it: Custer’s Last Stand from the winner’s perspective. That’s (part of) the premise. But the victory against presidential hopeful George C was the last victory and Wounded Knee followed (oops!).

But let’s go back further. The movie has a direct parallel to even earlier events and people.

In the late 1700s/ early 1800s the scourge of the west (by which I mean western Ohio) was a fellow named Simon Girty. He, not unlike ONH-Big Blue, had joined with the native peoples against his anglo ancestry. The story is actually pretty complex and involves Simon spending most of his childhood among the Seneca peoples and then deciding to stay loyal to the British king during the American War of Independence. Since he had first joined with the colonials in revolt he found his name associated with traitors (think Benedict Arnold).

Simon spent a good part of his life either living with or socializing with the native Americans (think a ‘bad’ version of Hawkeye of the Leatherstocking Tales), although his involvement in combat between native peoples and anglos seems to have been exaggerated.

But, anyway… back to ONH-Big Blue. He went native and definitely assisted in warfare against the ‘nasty’ human invaders - the Sky People. And we cheer him on. Whoopee! Knock another of them there sky machines out of the air….

And the good guys won…. Indeed we see the corporate drones and their (surviving) mercenaries shuffling in humiliation onto transporters back to… well wherever they came from (Earth is described as a destroyed wreck, so I wonder if that’s their home base). And the natives go back to singing and swaying in the Mamma Tree place. And everybody (who wasn’t slaughtered in the earlier battle) lives happily ever after….

Or do they?

Early on the mineral sought by the corporates was valued at about a million dollars a pound. I might have suggested verisimilitude and have said a million euros or, more likely, a million yuan, but let’s not quibble. Whatever the value it’s enough to have an army of mercenaries complete with gunships, helicopters (or whatever they were), transporters and nifty big mean walking armor monster thingees. And then there were the REALLY BIG machines they used to dig dirt and whack trees. Lots of stuff that must have cost a few yuan!

And despite all this expense it’s safe to assume the enterprise of mining this place still made a profit, since we hear the magic phrase ‘quarterly profits’ at least once.

Ok, now think back to Simon Girty and his native friends…. They did pretty well for a while, but eventually Civilization Through Superior Firepower won out over the Noble Savage.

And, hmm, now that I think about it, howcum the Sky People hadn’t already just exterminated the indigenous people with disease? We Americans did it with gifts of blankets taken from smallpox victims beds beginning back in the 1600s, so why not just use that universal expedient. It’s simple. It works - and in people with no immunity it REALLY works (if memory serves, the native population of North America was estimated to be about 25 million in 1491 and less than 6 million by about 1700 - give or take about 50% because I’m too lazy to look things up, but you get the drift….). And most important it has deniability - first give everyone a fatal disease and then send doctors to treat them (not cure them, of course, that would be crazy, but, yea, treat them….).

So, now back to our beautiful blue folk….

Wanna put odds on how the sequel spins out? Not the gazillion dollar one Jim Cameron may (or may not) have in mind, but the one that tells what actually happened to the poor bastards.

A million yuan a pound is a lot of temptation to come back for a visit. And this time bring some SERIOUS firepower!

I’m just sayin.’

5 Smilies out of 5.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Able Edwards (2004)

Written, directed and edited by Graham Robertson…. That should tell you what you need to know about this film! The movie also went direct to video!

It should be awful, but it’s actually quite good.

I listened to it twice within a 3 hour period, the second time with the director and producer talking about the film. These voice overs are normally pretty boring, often little more than a litany of ‘wow, look at how great we are!’ But with Able Edwards it manages to become interesting.

For example, Graham tells of the time he had 10 or so hard drives spread over the floor (!) and then dropped something onto his processor (or whatever…) causing his entire system to die the death.

After some scrounging he managed to plug in a new thingee and was operational, only to discover that the software he used had locked itself onto his earlier processor (or whatever…) and would no longer work with the new one. Everything he had done had disappeared and what he needed to progress had locked itself into a metaphorical hyperstasis vault.

Obviously Graham managed to find a solution to his dilemma but the key to the story seems secreted in the notion that he actually edited the movie in his living room with hard drives stacked about the floor!

In another wondrous moment Graham realized that he had to have a face for 3 critical albeit brief moments in the movie, so remembering a neighbor from the apartment down below, he trotted down, tapped on her door with his digital camera in hand and asked if he could take a few pictures for his movie. She complied and, although she never says a word nor even moves (think still camera), she has a critical role to play in the cycle of the story.

How excellent.

I could go on but really what’s the point. Obviously Graham made this film for his love of movies (it’s an homage to Citizen Kane — among other things), but is it any good?

Every film I review begins with a ‘Gentleman’s’ grade of C — average — and then we see what we see. Or at least in theory this is what I do (I have a weakness for even mediocre Fellini films).

So let us see what happens with Graham’s film.

We start with 3 points (a ‘C’). Loose a half point for strange things happening to bodies and faces when the green screen is filled in (did I mention that the entire film was made against a green screen? No? Well, it was.).

Gain a full point for use of the green screen for the whole movie.

Gain a full point for being in black and white. Loose a half point for not being in color….

(I know. I know.)

Lose a point for flakey looking moments when characters are walking and clearly not walking (you’re understand when you see the movie).

Gain a point for this being an echo of Hitchcock and done deliberately.

Gain a half point for the android played by Steve Beaumont Jones. There is a key moment in the movie when the power structure inherent (and hidden) in the world of Able Edwards decides to end the ‘exercise’ and tells Gower (our android friend) to stop the process and (well I’ll quit here since I’m really close to a Spoiler)….

Let me just say that Gower / Steve gives his character a blank android ‘look’ that both says nothing and everything. It’s a wonderful moment. And then there’s the ending where Gower…. Nope, Spoiler lurking. Edit! Edit!

Ok, where was I?

Oh yes, counting coup, er, points.


So I will steal a couple of comments from another reviewer, Mahaus (a reviewer from West Chester, PA on Netflix).

First one: “The musical score is one of the best I can remember in any film I’ve seen.”

Yep — what he says. The music is great. Hmm… that sounds flat, but since I don’t have an MP3 of the representative tunes, I’ll let it go at that, but do listen to the music — it’s more than background.

Mahaus goes on to suggest something both obvious and that I hadn’t quite digested before I read his/ her note: “… the film has one of the most unique and unexpectedly upbeat endings in film history.”

Ok, here’s my thing: I thought the ending was a bit downbeat! And here’s friend Mahaus (from PA) saying it’s upbeat! What’s going on here?

Perhaps if I told you the ending you’d understand the ambiguity.

Nah. That would spoil it.

But suffice to say the photos Graham took of his attractive neighbor down the stairs plays a part as does Gower….

You can find another clue in an early moment where Able, beta version, is instructed to look upon the history of the earth and we (as digital audience) may pause our machines and read a few headlines which might make one wonder about what may really be going on (or not).

And then there’s the senator who physically appears in only a few seconds of film, but actually plays a part in the meaning of the ending — the meaning of the UPBEAT ending of the movie (yep, Mahaus is right…) and the oh, so deeply hidden meaning (subtext?) of Able’s frequent rants about making it ‘real.’

Did I say this was a sci fi film?

… Or that it echoes the life/ career of Walt Disney?

And, hmm, one more thing… I’ve avoided telling you anything (directly) about the plot because it’s a good story and one that you should see and enjoy without foreknowledge.

5 Smilies out of 5 (bumped up because of the great music and ending).