In the genre of 3D outer space shoot-’em-ups, there are two ways to go: Either you’ve got your humans ruthlessly exploiting oddly shaped locals on some distant planet, or vice versa. John Carter chooses the less common scenario, an Earthling being used and abused by aliens for their own purposes, while the defending champion Avatar presents a classic story of corporate greed morphing into cultural affinity. […]
You have to hand it to French science fiction writer Jules Verne. More than a century after his death, he not only continues to be a best-selling author, his books still provide ripe material for movie adaptations. 2008’s Journey to the Center of the Earth was a more or less straightforward adaptation of Verne’s adventure story aimed at kids, and while its similarly targeted sequel, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, drifts a little from its origins, much of Verne’s content is used in the movie. Essentially, both are old-fashioned, earnest, quest movies spiced up a bit with contemporary references for the target audience, with 3D added to give the kids some funky eye candy. […]
It’s November which means, for Hollywood and department stores, it’s officially the start of the Christmas season. While most of us are still finishing off our Halloween candy, the studios have already started churning out their holiday films in the hopes that one of them will join the ranks of the classic Christmas movie. […]
A Western is a Western, even if there are no trusty horses, Native Americans, brave pioneers, land barons or cowboy hats (or even cowboys).
These days we regularly construct our western mythology out of the apocalypse, looking to the dismal future and not the hardscrabble past.
Both our combatants today share a common set up: Catastrophe strikes. Society falls apart. The fight begins for the remaining pieces. This formula usually includes A Brooding Outsider and Someone in Distress. When you add monsters / mutants you have the rough outline of recent popular movies like I Am Legend, The Road, even The Road Warrior from 1982. The list is longer, but you see where I’m going.
What we have now is the hybrid genre of the Apoca-Western. This sturdy form is identifiable with or without those horses and a strong silent hero because it still showcases the sense of honor, justice and redemption that motivated John Wayne as the Ringo Kid in Stagecoach (1939) and Clint Eastwood’s Bill Munny in The Unforgiven (1992). Those characters could just as easily lived in the world of the Undead as the actual living.
While there are no OK Corrals in The Priest or the Book of Eli, good still stands up to evil in every incarnation. Let’s see how they stand up to each other. […]
This material is elastic, not sacrosanct, so cranking up the popcorn factor is not the worst thing. The new “Clash” serves up a new generation of actors you may not expect: Neeson and Fiennes and Sam Worthington (looking – with his buzz cut – like this flick could have been titled “Clash of the Avatars.” The computer generated effects give special life to the various creatures, the snake-haired Medusa and the world-killing Kraken. Ray Harryhausen is still watching movies at age 90. I think he’d be impressed with that, but not in 3-D. Honestly, the conversion is unsatisfying. It makes the compositions look like those crude cutouts on a 3-D postcard. If you enjoy this type of movie, save a few bucks and catch it in 2-D. James Cameron (“Avatar”) had it right all along: “If you want to make a movie in 3-D, make the movie in 3-D.”
I confess I’d happily watch Johnny Depp read a phone book, but even accounting for my extreme prejudice, his performance as the Mad Hatter is the linchpin of the piece. He is its heart, its Scarecrow, its Tin Man. Acting through crazily tinted contacts and a crowning frizz of unfortunate and unearthly ginger, Depp somehow manages to play a compelling leading man, a romantic lead, and an action hero. (His promised triumphant Futterwacken is a dire misfire and huge disappointment, a limp noodle of a magical victory dance.)
The rest of the cast performs admirably enough. Anne Hathaway Glindas it up as the White Queen, Crispin Glover plays the Knave of Hearts as elongated creepy courtier, and Helena Bonham Carter goes ghostly pale once again, this time a vain and giant-noggined Red Queen. She’s delicious and mordantly funny, and her decapitated head-filled moat provides enough nightmare food to keep kiddie nightlights burning for a good long time.
Allegorical movies are tough. On one hand, the social messages are essential to keeping cinema relevant and meaningful. Yet I always grow wary of a movie made for the sake of a message and not for the sake of entertaining audiences. The best way to judge that may be to measure Avatar against another film that it shares some themes with: Dances with Wolves.
Both films, for example, discuss imperialism against the epic backdrop of human emotion and struggle — only one does it here on Earth, the other on a faraway planet. But what about the entertainment value? The story? The characters? Which film goes the farthest beyond preaching and instead involves its audiences in the big question: What would it take for me to go up against my own kind? […]