Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sunday Funnies & Arts




As always, click to enlarge...


Avatar 3D. D: James Cameron. Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang. A great Disneyland ride of a movie, Avatar offers such an enchanting vision of the planet Pandora and the world of the indigenous Na'Vi that one very nearly overlooks its length and pedestrian, timeworn plot. The film's designers and art crew must have thought that they'd died and gone to heaven, as it's apparent from the outset that the producers spared no expense in nailing down every detail. Embers flutter by, glistening; insects buzz from the background to the foreground and back again; a jellyfish-like amalgam of flora and fauna presents itself from every possible angle. Meanwhile, the lush greens and blues underlie an ecological paradise that visually justifies the New Age environmentalism of the Na'Vi. It's all that much more compelling in 3D: The characters look three-dimensional, not like cutouts stacked one upon the other. Clearly, Avatar sets new standards for science fiction and fantasy movies. I can't imagine that anyone would leave Avatar feeling less than satisfied.

Having said that, it's a shame that all of this hangs on stock characters and an ancient plot line. A corporate-military consortium, presumably from the United States, arrives on Pandora with the the aim of extracting its supply of unobtainium, a precious element buried under the Na'Vi's sacred tree of life. The consortium would like to negotiate with the Na'Vi, but it has no problems bulldozing the tree and forest out of the way and subjugating the native population. Jake Sully (Worthington) undergoes a procedure in which he becomes an avatar -- a Na'Vi look alike -- with the mission of reporting back to the consortium on the Na'Vi's willingness to negotiate. He concludes that they won't, and says so despite his growing affection for the people and his infatuation with Neytiri (Saldana).

This being Hollywood, everything turns out for the best. The Na'Vi accept Tully as one of their own and he leads a successful resistance against the consortium. Unlike what has been happening to native populations since Cortez invaded Mexico with superior technology, the Na'vi repel the technologically superior consortium. Along the way, there are the usual unavoidable cliches ("Noooooo"; "Oh...My...God"; and Na'Vi war cries that resemble high school football yells). But while all of this may prevent
Avatar from being a great movie, that's almost beside the point. It's a great experience that very nearly transcends its medium.

I've long resisted special effects for their own sake. One of the many things I appreciated about the
Lord of the Rings cycle is that it employed its effects and computer animation in the service of a fine story. Avatar lacks LOFTR's narrative, but its presentation is impeccable, and a quantum leap over many of LOTR's effects. For possibly the first time since science fiction took to the screen, one can sense and feel what another world and its people might actually be like.

Up in the Air. D: Jason Reitman. George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Natalie Keener, Jason Bateman. Ryan Bingham likes his life just as it is. He travels over 250 days a year and is very nearly a member of American Airlines 10,000,000 Mile Club. Sure, his job is no great shakes: He's a consultant who specializes in downsizing and travels all over the country telling people that their jobs have been eliminated. He also lives -- on the few days that he's there -- in a one-bedroom apartment in Omaha and reports to a thoroughly sleazy boss (Bateman). But, he's good at his work, beholden to no one, and enjoys first-class travel, good meals out, and fine hotels.

Then he meets the luscious Alex (Farmiga) who shares his cynical humor and whose emotional unavailability punctures his amiable facade. Moreover, recent B-school grad Anna Kendrick (Keener) joins his company and comes up with a way of firing people on-line, thus eliminating the need for travel and saving the company millions of dollars. Bingham takes Kendrick on a trip to show her the error of her ways and, in spite of himself, begins to develop some empathy for his victims. (With a few exceptions, director Reitman uses non-actors in these parts, and to great effect.) He takes time off to squire Alex to a his rural Wisconsin home for a family wedding, and improbably cures the groom of a case of cold feet. He returns to the road with Anna, where they disastrously misjudge one woman's reaction to being fired. Without revealing too much, Ryan ends the film sadder but wiser while Kendrick discovers a layer of humanity beneath a frosty surface.

It's a fine movie, both funny and oddly touching. Regardless of the part -- and he's ranged from Ryan Bingham to Bob Barnes in
Syriana -- Clooney seems incapable of rendering a poor performance. Like a classic star of the Thirties and Forties, he brings a certain flair and personality to each part. But he's a modern actor, too, and just as ably inhabits an individual role, bringing it to unique life. Here, he slides into the part of Ryan like it's one of the designer suits he wears so well.

Up in the Air is an adult film without the ambitions of Avatar. Its themes of commitment and work are definitely of this planet. It evokes them with a wit, style, and insight unfortunately rare in contemporary films. So don't miss it: This might be your only chance in a while to witness these artistic values executed so well on the big screen..

PWALLY recounts the wild times with Mr. and Mrs....
Mrs. Karl Rove finally sees the light...
Mmm. Grits. Better yet, grits Texas style...
Some people go for those sultry evenings, sipping cocktails in the blue, red and grey...

4 comments:

K. said...

Rereading my review of Up in the Air, I realize that I shortchanged the contributions of the two actresses, especially Vera Farmiga. Her bemused, sensual Alex easily charms Ryan and believably infiltrates the wall around his heart. Meanwhile Natalie Keener is entirely credible as a flinty MBA whose exposure to the real world undermines her self-confidence.

willow said...

Heh-heh, the Homeland Security cartoon hit the nail on the head!

Roy said...

Big George Clooney fan here; looks like I might have to give Up In the Air a view.

The Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon gave me a big chuckle yesterday when I read it. Judging from the comments under it, 10 out of 10 Republicans didn't get the joke. Figures!

Ima Wizer said...

Thank you, K!!!