Tag: cgi

Shark Night


Shark Night (2011)
★ / ★★★★

A group of college students (Sara Paxton, Dustin Milligan, Chris Zylka, Sinqua Walls, Alyssa Diaz, Katharine McPhee, Joel David Moore) visited a lake house in Louisiana for some fun in the sun after finals. One of them, Sara (Paxton), was from the area but she left her hometown three years ago and never went back. Her friends thought it was strange how Sarah, in all the years they’ve known her, never became intimate or even hooked up with a guy. Meanwhile, the barely clothed undergraduates, gleefully playing in the lake, were unaware that the water was infested with sharks. “Shark Night,” based on the screenplay by Will Hayes and Jesse Studenberg, lacked the courage to come off as completely ludicrous. If it had been more confident, it could have worked as a parody or even a satire. From its first scene involving a topless girl who had to search for her swimsuit in the water, it was obvious that the material wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. The shark attack lasted for about three seconds of choppy editing and it wasn’t scary in the least. While a handful death scenes, aided by CGI, were rather neat, the few seconds prior to the characters’ deaths felt almost like wasted time. There was no patience from behind the camera prior and during the attacks. The formula was this: The camera would go underwater and about five seconds later, someone screamed out of pain. Sometimes having a character just pulled from underwater by a very strong shark and its victim never having to scream for help could work just as effectively or even more so. Let the camera linger for about five seconds on the surface of the water. Doing so would give us a chance to observe waves created out of panic turn into utter quiescence–an illusion that a shark attack never happened. Moreover, the movie could have benefited from more extreme typecasting. For instance, Nick (Milligan) was supposed to be the geek who wanted to become a doctor. He had his MCAT coming up but the only reason he decided to come with was because he pined for Sara. They knew each other through other friends but he lacked bravado to ask her out on a simple date. He didn’t think he was good enough for her. Yet without his glasses, he looked like another jock who should have all the confidence in the world. How were we supposed to believe that he had something to prove? The one character I found most interesting was Blake (Zylka), the blonde Adonis obsessed with fake tanning. He wasn’t especially smart, even self-absorbed at times, but when tragedy struck, it turned out he was the most sensitive and relatable. Having a final girl, which inevitably just had to be Sara because it was her hometown, was anticlimactic and frustrating because the character wasn’t established as strongly as she should have been. As a rule of thumb, for horror movies that require a “final girl,” the protagonist has to be someone we will be behind no matter what. Sara wasn’t that person. Ironically, it was Blake. It could have been an excellent twist if the writers had been more aware of and fleshed out the inconsistencies in their screenplay. Directed by David R. Ellis, “Shark Night” was tame compared to other bloodfests like Alexandre Aja’s “Piranha.” It wasn’t even as fun.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale


Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Pietari (Onni Tommila) and Juuso (Ilmari Järvenpää) snuck onto a restricted mountain where so-called seismic researchers, some Americans, were assigned to excavate something mysterious deep within the ice. The two boys overheard that what was embedded inside was going to redefine the world’s notion of Santa Claus and Christmas. When Pietari got home, he began to research about Old St. Nick and his origins. It turned out that the legendary figure was far from nice and jolly. According to the books, every Christmas, he kidnapped naughty kids, put them in a cauldron, and ate them. Pietari was determined not to get taken. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, “Rare Exports” brimmed with scintillating originality, enough to inject kids with increasing unease and force the adults to watch with fascination. It was fun to watch Pietari run around and put pieces together because there was something innocent and bold about him. Since he wasn’t taken seriously by adults and fellow children, he felt he had something to prove. His determination and thirst for adventure was similar to the beloved kids from Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial,” Richard Donner’s “The Goonies,” and J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8.” But like the aforementioned flicks, the film worked as a family drama. Pietari and his dad (Jorma Tommila) lived by themselves where interaction with others required a vehicle due to distance and safety issues. There was a moving scene during Christmas Eve when the two sat on the table and ate gingerbread cookies. Nothing else was prepared. The absence of the key woman in their lives was palpable. Even though it wasn’t fully discussed, we were able to infer that Pietari and his dad were still mourning from the death of his mother and wife, respectively. The son asked his dad whether it would make a difference to him whether he, too, would “disappear” and if he had been good this year. The father deflected the questions with a loud command of sending his son to bed. Sometimes it’s easier to circumvent the truth. On Christmas day, Pietari found that the bait for the wolf trap his father had set the day before was gone. Instead of finding a wolf in the pit, there was a skinny man with a beard. The film played with our expectations some more and threw around very strange red herrings like a kid opening presents with delirium. Our lack of knowledge involving the origins of Santa Claus in their part of the world served as a wonderful, magical, creepy source of tension. The man that the father and son found was critically injured and seemingly unable to understand language. He only responded, with extreme alarm, when Pietari was around. Pietari thought it was Santa Claus and he just had to tell his friends given what he knew. But none of them were to be found. Toward the end of the film, CGI was used profusely, but it was utilized to enhance the experience. “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” was unafraid to tackle darker material yet it was quite satirical. Its brazenness and creativity in putting our little protagonist in the face of danger without coming off as exploitative was admirable.

The Thing


The Thing (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

In John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” the opening shot featured two men in a helicopter shooting at a dog in order to prevent it from reaching an American research facility. “The Thing,” written by Eric Heisserer and directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., consisted of the events that led up to aforementioned curious scene. When a group of Norwegian researchers, led by Edvard Wolver (Trond Espen Seim), stumbled upon an alien space craft in the Antarctic ice, Dr. Halvorson (Ulrich Thomsen) was immediately alerted. But before the scientist and his assistant, Adam (Eric Christian Olsen), could get there, Dr. Halvorson recruited an American paleontologist, Kate Lloyd (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), for her expertise. Upon their arrival, they learned that not only was there a craft, there was also an alien trapped in ice a couple of meters from the wreckage. What I enjoyed most about the film was it successfully emulated Carpenter’s paranoid tone. Although I knew what the alien was capable of, there was a sense of excitement in the way Kate and the Norwegian crew opened up the alien’s body and explored the grim and disgusting details inside. When the camera showed the guts and the organs, I felt like I was in that room and I wanted to participate in touching the viscera and the accompanying slime. If anything, the picture proved that even though most of the audience knew what was about to transpire, as long as the journey that led up to the characters’ discoveries was interesting, the project could still stand strong. The prequel shared the same main weakness as Carpenter’s movie. There more than ten characters but we only somewhat got to know Kate. There were at least two other characters worth knowing more about. For instance, how well did Adam and Kate know each other prior to their mission? It seemed like they had some history. If their relationship was more defined, the latter scenes in which Kate suspected that Adam was possibly infected by the alien virus would have had more impact. After all, if you think that someone you’ve known all your life is no longer that person you’ve grown to love and care about, that he or she is simply a replica of an extraterrestrial, and it is necessary to kill that certain someone, wouldn’t you feel rotten before and after deciding to eliminate that person/being? To some extent, I would. Even though, in truth, that friend is an alien, it has the face, the voice, the mannerisms of a human being. I also wanted to know more about Sam (Joel Edgerton), the helicopter pilot. There were a few scenes which suggested that there was an attraction between Sam and Kate. Again, another possible human connection that could have been milked more with the regards to the bizarre happenings. “The Thing,” based on the short story called “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell Jr., while suspenseful most of the time, it was ultimately let down by having too much CGI. I didn’t need to see the craft being activated when it didn’t even get to fly for even a few inches. What I wanted to see more was the creature, hiding inside a human, just biding its time till its prey inevitably lets his guard down.

Dreamcatcher


Dreamcatcher (2003)
★ / ★★★★

Four friends developed psychic powers when they were kids after they rescued a boy with Down Syndrome, Duddits (Donnie Wahlberg), from bullies. They decided to camp in the snowy mountains but noticed an oddity. Animals seemed like they were running away from something and the military had quarantined the area. While Henry (Thomas Jane) and Pete (Timothy Olyphant) left to pick up some beer at a local convenience store, Beaver (Jason Lee) and Jonesy (Damian Lewis) invited a man inside their cabin, unaware that the man’s body encased an alien creature. Based on Stephen King’s novel, “Dreamcatcher” suffered due to a lack of flow. There were essentially three stories and their connections weren’t fully fleshed out. There was the aforementioned four friends dealing with nasty aliens in the woods, the flashback sequences when they were children and how they got their powers, and Col. Abraham Curtis’ (Morgan Freeman) desperation to solve the alien mystery, which he had been involved in for twenty five years, before he retired. The screenplay jumped one from one strand to another which often broke the tension. For example, when Jonesy and Beaver saw a trail of blood that came from the bedroom where the man slept, it was interrupted by a scene with the colonel delivering yet another speech about how driven he was to finish what he started. If the bloody trail scene had been allowed to finish without interruption, the horror would have been more effective. Adding a scene with a completely different tone allowed us to breathe and maybe even take a bathroom break. The CGI let the picture down immensely. I didn’t mind seeing the worm-like creatures (I have a weakness for creepy crawlers) but showing a full-bodied alien didn’t leave anything to our imagination. The aliens could take in any form because they had the ability to project what we wanted to see. One of the characters claimed that he had seen an alien in its natural form and it was horrific. The filmmakers should have stayed away from showing the extraterrestrials’ true form and let us wonder because I didn’t think they looked scary at all. CGI becomes outdated but the images we form in our minds do not. “Dreamcatcher,” directed by Lawrence Kasdan, failed to answer a number of critical questions. For instance, why did the four friends eventually stopped seeing Duddits? Their gifts seemed more like a burden in their lives so did they feel some sort of bitterness toward their childhood friend? The film lasted over two hours so leaving out answers was no excuse. Perhaps if there had been fewer scenes of military men and more scenes of the four friends’ struggle, I would have cared more.

The Gravedancers


The Gravedancers (2006)
★★ / ★★★★

Three friends from college, Harris (Dominic Purcell), Kira (Josie Maran) and Sid (Marcus Thomas), decided to go back to their friend’s fresh burial ground for a final goodbye. After alcohol affected their brains, probably not dissimilar back when they were still in school, Sid found a letter, decided to read it out loud, and the trio danced on strangers’ graves. Weeks after their unwise–to say the least–grave desecration, strange things began to happen in their homes. Later on, with the help of two somewhat amusing paranormal investigators (Tchéky Karyo, Megahn Perry), they found out that the letter was a spell designed to awaken spirits. The three angry ghosts, an axe-wielding piano teacher, a child pyromaniac and a judge with a penchant for sexually mutilating women, were not going to stop until their victims were dead. “The Gravedancers,” written by Brad Keene and Chris Skinner, was at its most interesting when the pesky CGI didn’t get in the way of story and old-fashioned scares. Notice the scene in the bedroom when Harris woke up and saw what he believed to be his wife’s arm around him. When he recognized that his actual wife (Clare Kramer), Allison, had just stepped out of the shower, the picture quickly revealed the rotting corpse. Chances are, someone who’s seen a number of horror movies is familiar with that set-up. What disappointed me most was the director, Mike Mendez, failed to milk every second of it. Waking up next to a dead body was horrific in itself. But there was no next level of fear. It seemed like either Mendez just didn’t care to put his signature or he didn’t have real control of the material. After about two reaction shots from the lovers, the corpse was in the middle of the frame and the CGI, the spraying of the glass, took over. Why did the window have to break? Sometimes less is more. Another aspect that didn’t make sense to me was that the ghosts were willing to kill those that didn’t dance on their graves. It gave me the impression that the body count mattered more than the storyline. Lastly, the rivalry between Allison and Kira felt contrived. Instead of increasing the tension, every time Allison got jealous of Kira, I felt like I was watching a bad soap opera. The rolling of the eyes and the awkwardness in the air hindered the momentum of the rising action. They were adults but I felt like they were stuck in high school. Nevertheless, the film had some good scares in the superior first half. The opening and closing of the doors, the strange creaking noises, and the piano-playing in the middle of the night were creepy. Too bad it was always a dark, rainy night. I wondered if the writers ever heard of a thing called diminishing returns.

Paul


Paul (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Graeme (Simon Pegg) and Clive (Nick Frost), British comic book fans, on their way to explore the legendary Area 51 came across an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), on the run from government officials who wanted to exploit his extraterrestrial abilities. Written by Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, “Paul” was a quick-witted buddy road trip comedy equipped with a plethora of references to various sci-fi pop culture, obscure and mainstream. The film opened at the San Diego Comic Con. While it did make fun of fans dressing up as their favorite movie and comic book characters, it was never mean-spirited in its approach. In fact, it was a rather good start. Its bona fide sense of humor, situational or otherwise, was exactly why we wanted to follow Graeme and Clive in their epic, awkward, exciting adventure. As usual, Pegg and Frost had wonderful chemistry. The way they delivered their lines and the way they moved around each other convinced me that their characters were true BFFs. I looked at the CGI Paul with grand curiosity. Initially, I found him to be rather stoic. But the longer I stared at him, the more easily I could identify his subtle facial expressions; I almost wanted him to be my pet. He was funny and rather harmless. More importantly, the writing took advantage of the strange creature on screen. We learned specifics in terms of his abilities. For instance, while he had the power to become invisible by whim, he could only do it if he held his breath. Gifts with limitations are interesting. The government agent in charge of capturing Paul was called Agent Zoil (As in Lorenzo Zoil–get it?), gleefully played by Jason Bateman. Bateman being serious in a picture like this was like watching a giraffe attempting to do somersaults. It just didn’t ring together. However, it worked. His attempt to suppress his little ticks was what made the role funnier than it should have been. Also, there was a balance. We saw glimpses of how dangerous he could be. As he aimed his gun toward a moving target, I found myself holding my breath. I took the intensity in his eyes quite seriously and I didn’t expect to. His fellow agents (Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio), ambitious but incompetent and rash, highlighted the man in black’s intractable goal of getting to Paul first. One of the qualities I admired most about the film was it didn’t overwhelm us with cryptic allusions. There were obvious camera angles which served to highlight an important science fiction actor walking in on a frame. I didn’t get some of the references but I wasn’t bothered by them. Either I felt like I was still in on the joke or I was too preoccupied wondering what would happen next. “Paul” was sweet but never sentimental, funny but never obnoxious. I did wish, however, that we could have seen more of the alien hotspots that Graeme and Clive visited. After all, they were supposed to be on an epic road trip. And I would have been floored if Special Agents Mulder and Scully from “The X-Files” made brief appearances. Still, the picture did do without.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark


Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Sally (Bailee Madison) was sent by her mother to live with her father (Guy Pearce), Alex, in Rhode Island while he and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes), Kim, restored the historic Blackwood mansion. Despite the manor house being dark and creepy, it wasn’t haunted by ghosts. It was, however, home to little creatures in the basement whose diet consisted of children’s bones and teeth. Based on the screenplay by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” reached a synergy between horrific and fantastic elements. Although Sally had the tendency to mope about, we loved her because she was sassy, and we cared for her because her childlike curiosity often got the best of her. It could have taken the convenient path of simply putting children in peril to deliver cheap thrills, but the material strived to be more than that. It provided us with a proper background story that involved Blackwood (Garry McDonald) and his desperation to save his eight-year-old son from the teeth-hungry creatures. Like the best horror movies, I found myself wanting to know more about the source of horror and why the antagonists were motivated to do the things they did. The jump-out-of-your-seat and cringe-in-your-seat moments were earned. Naturally, Alex didn’t believe in her daughter’s stories. He believed the stories were a product of adjustment issues. After all, Sally felt like she wasn’t wanted by her mother, claiming that she had been given away. It was expected that the father would eventually realize that the creatures from her daughter’s imagination were actually real. It was a matter of exactly when. Perhaps as he looked through a keyhole and a needle was waiting on the other side? When Sally took pictures using a polaroid camera during an important dinner? It teased our expectations and the answer was given to us when we least expected it. However, I wish the filmmakers showed less of how the creature looked like. It didn’t help that their bodies were revealed early on. It didn’t give us time to speculate. The teeth-lovers were CGI and I wasn’t too convinced that the animation complemented the gothic interiors of the mansion. It would have been just as effective if we only saw the creatures’ glowing eyes as they hid in darkness from under the bed and staring ravenously on the other side of the hallway. Furthermore, Kim could have been more developed. She was Sally’s eventual mother figure (rather than an evil stepmother) who was reluctant in her ability to parent. That struggle was interesting and an exploration of her feelings of inadequacy would have added another layer of emotional resonance. “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark,” directed by Troy Nixey, was accompanied by a gorgeous art direction and cinematography. Like the towering Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” it made me want to explore its interiors as well as its grounds.

I Am Number Four


I Am Number Four (2011)
★ / ★★★★

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) was an alien passing as a normal teenager. John and Henri (Timothy Olyphant), his guardian, led a nomadic lifestyle because the Mogadorians, an alien race that destroyed their planet, were on the hunt for the nine chosen ones. John happened to be number four on their list. John and Henri moved for Paradise, Ohio and it seemed like any other town in the middle of nowhere. But when John met Sarah (Dianna Agron), he found a reason to stay. “I Am Number Four,” directed by D.J. Caruso, could have been an interesting if the filmmakers had paid more attention to the characters instead of the CGI. When the best part of the film consisted of a battle between two giant CGI monsters, that is usually not a good sign. Casting was partly to blame. Pettyfer lacked enough dimension and angst for us to want to get to know him. The deadpan delivery of his lines worked against him because the script was already so thin. He was charismatic when he smiled but that was about it. There were some shots where I thought his pose could’ve made a great American Eagle summer ad, especially in the beginning when he was at beach, but I wasn’t interested in John’s story. I found myself more interested in the stronger actors like Sam, John’s friend who was bullied at school because he was interested in aliens, played with wit by Callan McAuliffe. Since he was pushed around like a nobody yet never seemed to fight back, most of us could easily relate to him. We wanted him to throw a punch or try to pull off a mean prank against his tormentors. He said cheeky things like his life being one big episode of “The X-Files.” But as the picture went on, Sam wasn’t given very much to do, perhaps because he didn’t have any superpowers. Instead, he ended up babysitting John’s dog. The picture had serious issues in terms of its pacing. It took too long to get into the meat of the story. I found it too preoccupied with delivering clichéd images like someone, in slow motion, strutting away from a massive explosion. Questions such as why the Mogadorians wanted to kill the nine, the importance of the rocks Sam’s father collected, and why Number 6 (Teresa Palmer) was intent on finding Number Four were awkwardly tacked on during the last forty minutes. Lastly, the villains were completely forgettable. All of them looked alike–bald and with teeth in desperate need of braces. If one stood out as a character foil against John, it would have been far more interesting. Based on the novel by Pittacus Lore, “I Am Number Four” was too much computer and not enough imagination. It felt like a very rough sketch of a television pre-teen flick on the CW.

Don’t Look Up


Don’t Look Up (2009)
★ / ★★★★

I can withstand a lot of bad movies but the really memorable ones are the movies that make me angry during and after I watch them. “Don’t Look Up,” directed by Fruit Chan, is a prime example. Marcus (Reshad Strik) was an aspiring filmmaker with psychic abilities. When he visited places with bad histories, which often involved a grizzly murder, he would receive visions and he would incorporate what he saw onto his script. While shooting a movie in Transylvania, his crew discovered an old footage of a prior film shot in their set. Soon “accidents” started to happen which led to a series of deaths until the film crew finally called it quits and left Marcus to deal with his demons. Everything about this picture was exaggerated. The acting was shockingly bad, the gore was gratuitous and unconvincing and the CGI was completely unnecessary. It was so bad, the movie tried to scare us with CGI flies. The last time I checked, CGI flies are not scary. It might have worked in Sam Raimi’s “Drag Me to Hell” because that particular film had a nice balance of cheekiness and horror but “Don’t Look Up” desperately wanted to be taken seriously. Its desperate attempt to be liked left a bitter taste in my mouth. I did not appreciate its references to movies like the Takashi Shimizu’s “Ju-on” and Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu;” instead of paying homage, I felt like the movie was parasite and was an extremely unsatisfactory leftover. The horror did not work because it acted like it was above trying to tell a story that was interesting, involving and, most importantly, a story that made sense. I didn’t understand the connection between Marcus and his ill ex-girlfriend other than to serve as a stupid twist in the end (something along the lines of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Sixth Sense” only lightyears less elegant). Eli Roth playing a director in the 1920s left me scratching my head. And there was no explanation why the girl was murdered back in the day and what the apparitions wanted to accomplish. A “seed” was involved which I thought was metaphorical at first but it turned out to be literal. It was just a mess and the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to burn the DVD so the next person interested in watching it can use his or her precious time doing something else (perhaps read a book or volunteer at a homeless shelter). “Don’t Look Up” is a smogasboard of everything bad about modern independent horror movies that heavily rely on special and visual effects. I just don’t believe anyone in the world can actually enjoy it. I am at a loss with why it was released in the first place but I suppose connections can go pretty far. If I can prevent at least one person from watching this, I consider it a triumph.

Jumanji


Jumanji (1995)
★★★ / ★★★★

The constantly bullied Alan Parrish (Adam Hann-Byrd) was the son of an emotionally distant factory owner (Jonathan Hyde) who stumbled upon a magical board game called Jumanji. After a row with his father about being sent to boarding school, he rolled the dice and he was sucked into the game and lived in the jungle for 26 years. The new residents (Kirsten Dunst, Bradley Pierce) of the former Parrish mansion then found the game and started playing, all the while unaware of the dangerous situations of which they were about to face. With the help of Alan and his crush (now 26 years older played by Robin Williams and Bonnie Hunt), the four had to finish the game in order restore peace in their town. “Jumanji” was one of those films I watched so many times when I was a kid because I couldn’t get enough of its manic energy and wondrous sense of adventure. It had emotional resonance for me because the heart of the picture was the bond between the father and the son and at the time my dad was in America while my mom, brother and I were in the Philippines. Every time I saw the movie, I thought about my dad and how much I missed him. I identified with Dunst’s character–how imaginative she was and how she had to take care of her brother. I guess it helped that Pierce looked somewhat like my brother with his curly hair and wisecracks. One of the elements I found to be most effective in the film was its increasing amount of danger every time a character rolled the dice. The board game started off with giant African bats and only became more impressive from there. I found my eyes being fixated on the screen in suspense just in case something would suddenly pop out from nowhere. To balance the excitement and suspense, the picture also had a great sense of humor. I loved the small details like a rhinoceros being barely able to keep up during the stampede, Hyde also playing the villainous Van Pelt whose goal was to kill Alan (talk about father-son issues), all the looting that happened in stores when the town was in absolute chaos, and even the dated CGI (those creepy monkeys!) was all part of the fun. It didn’t take itself too seriously but it didn’t dumb down the material for its audiences so it became a solid popcorn entertainment. The film could have been stronger if it had more scenes between Alan when he was a kid and his father. There was a real pain and sadness in their strained relationship. The revelations that happened much later would have been more moving and bittersweet. For a movie being older than 15 years, “Jumanji,” based on the novel by Chris Van Allsburg and directed by Joe Johnston, is still fresh and better than most kid-friendly adventure movies out there today.

Clash of the Titans


Clash of the Titans (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★

Perseus (Sam Worthington), a demi-god who was unaware that Zeus (Liam Neeson) was his father, decided to take revenge on Hades (Ralph Fiennes) for killing the family that raised him. On a bigger scope, the gods were upset with man because they stopped praying (it’s the source of their power); man was upset with the gods because their quality of life was not as great as it used to be. Both sides could not seem to understand where the other was coming from so the two sides waged war. I think this remake generated a great load of negative reviews because a lot of fans of the 1981 version couldn’t (or wouldn’t) accept the changes that this updated version had to offer. It’s completely understandable because we all have our fond memories of certain older movies but those who choose to compare the 2010 to the 1981 version, half the time, are not completely objective. Furthermore, half of the objective reviews had a problem with this movie’s interpretation of the gods–who they were, their motivations, their powers. A lot of questions such as, “Why change this?” or, “Why change that?” quickly get tiresome so I ask, “Why not?” From my share of films involving Greek mythology, none of them 100% follow how the gods were like from the original source. Therefore, I think it was unfair that this specific movie received negative reviews for being inaccurate. For me, it was simple: I saw “Clash of the Titans” from an fantasy-action-adventure perspective and pretended I had no knowledge of who the gods were or how they were supposed to act. From that angle, I thought it worked because the action sequences were exciting (I loved the scene with the giant scorpions), the CGI was well-done even though there were times when it was obvious that the filmmakers used a green screen, and I had fun with how seriously it took itself because there were a handful of unintentionally funny moments. I also liked the fact that this did not follow the overrated film “300” in terms casting men with buldging muscles and constantly (and painfully) showcasing hypermasculinity. It was nice that I don’t have to look at fake abs and men constantly having to prove their manhood by yelling at each other. In other words, it was more focused on trying to tell a story despite the oversimplification of the politics between god and man. Directed by Louis Leterrier, “Clash of the Titans” was no doubt in need of more heart and complexity, especially Worthington’s character, but I do not believe it is as egregious as everyone claims it to be. If one leaves nostalgia out the door, one can see some potential here. Although I would have loved to have seen the Kraken for more than three minutes.

Avatar


Avatar (2009)
★★★★ / ★★★★

James Cameron has always given us movies that are beyond anything we would expect whether it’s about an upcoming apocalypse (“The Terminator,” “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”), a rescue team plunging into an alien-colonized planet (“Aliens”), a secret agent finding out about his cheating wife (“True Lies”), a romantic interpretation of a tragedy (“Titanic”), or a real-life deep sea adventure (“Aliens of the Deep”). So when he releases a new movie with an extremely high budget and spent years and years shaping it, it saddens (and angers) me that people expect it to be downright disappointing. That lack of appreciation for a director who obviously loves his work and cares about his audiences just doesn’t fly with me. That group-think of hoping someone would fail is such an ugly quality and I don’t ever want to be a part of it. As I expected, “Avatar” exceeded expectations and I cannot help but rub its success on the faces of those people who judge a movie by its trailer (including the fools who claim “it sucks” without proper justification such as actually watching the film). Whatever happened to giving something the benefit of the doubt?

“Avatar” tells the story of humans–divided into researchers and the army–who go into another planet called Pandora in hopes of extracting the mineral Unobtainium to save Earth from an energy crisis. The catch is that the area where most of the element of interest is found underneath a giant tree that is inhabited by the Na’vi, the blue-colored, highly spiritual natives who do not get along with the humans despite efforts from the lead researchers (Sigourney Weaver, Joel David Moore) to get to know their culture and customs. After waking up from a coma and finding out about his twin brother’s demise, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington–words cannot describe how much I love this guy) is hired by a colonel (Stephen Lang) to gain the natives’ trust (through transfering his mind into an avatar–a DNA hybrid of man and Na’vi) and double-crossing them in the end. In exchange, the colonel promises to give Jake the functionality of his legs by means of an expensive spine surgery. However, things quickly got more complicated when Jake falls in love with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) and the fact that Jake finds it more liberating (or meaningful?) to be in a Na’vi than a human.

One of the many qualities I loved about this film was its ability to be about a lot of things (love, self-awareness, faith, discovery…) but never losing the wonder of meeting and interacting with an alien culture. Note that I use the word “culture” instead of “species” because we really got to know what they were about and why we ultimately root for them. Right when we plunged into the dangerous world of the Na’vi, I felt like I was experiencing something completely new. Like the lead character, everything was fascinating. I wanted to touch the strange-looking flowers and I wasn’t sure whether a certain creature was friendly or ready to attack. The theme of rebirth was consistently tackled throughout the picture in meaningful ways. Although some may see it as having a religious perspective, being not a religious person myself, I was moved by the possibilities and the interpretations made me feel more alive. I just wish that there were more metaphors and discussions regarding the science. I was interested in how they created an avatar. They did mention DNA hybridization but I’m sure that’s not the complete story. “DNA hybridization” may sound complicated to most people but once one has studied the basics (I have), it’s really a quite simple concept. Having set in the future, it could have really increased that “wow” factor by offering us unconventional explanations and poking fun of the limited technology we have now. (Since we think we’re so technologically advanced nowadays.)

I was very engaged when Weaver’s character was explaining the parallels between the neural connections in our brain and the Navi’s complex relationship with mother nature. That particular scene really supported my ethics and beliefs that a true scientist is sensitive to its subjects and not just all about the cold science. That message is really important to me because, from my experiences, every day I’m surrounded by a lot of people who are all about the brain but who are seriously lacking emotional intelligence. The director makes it apparent that this is about brains vs. brawns (scientists and Na’vis vs. the army) but I think it’s much more layered than that because there were scientists in the film that didn’t care about the natives and there were members of the army that did care (Michelle Rodriguez). Despite all the extended action sequences, I thought it had something more in its core and that’s why I couldn’t help but admire the picture. Admittedly, the story could have been much stronger but when I look back on it, the only way it could strengthen that aspect is to have another hour or so. I certainly wouldn’t cut a scene from the final version because I thought each one had something special to offer. It definitely had Pocahontas elements to it yet it’s different because it was able to offer a modern (or futuristic?) interpretation.

“Avatar” is an outstanding achievement in filmmaking, especially when it comes to its visual effects. I would not be surprised at all if it won every single technical awards in the Oscars or perhaps a Best Picture nomination. With a budget of over $300 million (from what I read from multiple sources), I thought the budget really translated onto film. Not only did the CGI images looked sharp by themselves but it was also amazing to see the CGI mesh so well with live action and the live actors. My experience was also magnified because I saw the movie in 3D. (I suggest you watch it in 3D as well.) With a behemoth of a running time that is 160 minutes (personally, I wish it ran longer), it may seem intimidating at first. But once all the action and imagination starts, you will not want to take a bathroom break. I can only hope others will have a chance to be absorbed in this world that Cameron has created for us. Most of all, I wish that people would stop hating on huge projects such as this one and show more appreciation and humility toward people who work so hard to offer us something new. It’s alright to express distaste after actually giving the final product a chance. But it’s important to still have some respect because what we project to the world is ultimately a reflection of us.