Saturday, December 19, 2009

Now that's a knife

My fresh-out-of-prison friend invited me to his daughter's birthday on Sunday. Fuck, that means I have to buy a gift. I didn't ask to go to this fuckin' thing, and he has like six kids from three different mothers, so if I go, that will open up a whole new expensive can of worms I have no interest in purchasing. I think what I'm going to do is show up, which would make me look like a good guy, but not bring anything, which would make me look like a bad guy. Faced with this confusing duality, his wife -- and it WILL be his wife -- will then tell him afterwards never to invite me again because I didn't bring anything. Even if I could afford it, his kids are assholes and not in the way that all kids are assholes (i.e. aloof douches), I mean these children are fucking jerk-offs.

I'm basing this off my one visit to see them, where I was greeted with ugly strange dagger-shooting looks, like I'm Stanley Tucci from The Lovely Bones over here. The only one who was cool to me was his stepson, but the fact that he was wearing a shirt that had an outline of a farting dog with the words "Blame the Dog" under it and was going to wear that for his dinner at Hometown Buffet gives me pause in praising him. My neighbors have these two adorable kids, and I would love to get them something if I had the cash. They always say Hi, even if I don't see them. I see hope when I look at those kids. My friend's daughter, on the other hand, I don't see anything resembling hope. She will most likely grow up to become a drug addict like her aunt and grandmother or she will end up doing time in juvy, like her half-brother. Sometimes it's best not to buy Barbies for the doomed.

But I will buy two tickets to see the new flick from my boy James Cameron, the fuckin' crew-killer himself. I know he did like 2 or 3 IMAX movies about the deep blue sea, but who gives a fuck about that shit, he's back with a real movie called Avatar. Most of his downtime was spent creating the technology necessary to make the movie with. Whatever, I just want to see a new Cameron movie. I found out that he shot the movie in 3-D, and apparently he has a real hard-on for the format, calling it the future of cinema or something, and this is how all his movies from now on will be shot. But the dude also understands that not every theater around has 3D capability (and even if it did, not every moviegoer wants to pony up the extra 3.50 for it), so he also has a flat 2D version going around. What I found interesting is that the 3D version is in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio while the 2D version is composed at 2.35:1. Cameron said that 3D is more pleasing when presented in a taller frame while a flat picture still looks best in a wider one. OK fine, but when it comes down to it, the movie should be awesome regardless of what format it's shot on.

I want to judge a James Cameron movie without a fuckin' asterisk next to it denoting that the shit has to be seen in 3D. When all is said and done, if I'm going to be re-watching this shit like I do with his other flicks, it's most likely going to be in the flat format. When all is said and done, this movie better be entertaining as fuck, that is more important than whether things are coming at you out of the frame. So for the opening midnight show, I went to see the 2D version. Besides, the 3D version was sold out.

So the movie takes place in the very distant future on a far off planet called Pandora, where a tribe of giant blue aliens called the Na'vi reside. Currently, the Na'vi are not happy with the visiting humans (working for a big corporation that might as well be Weyland-Yutani). The humans are interested in a very valuable substance within the planet that they refer to as Unobtainium. Holy shit, I thought that was lame shit Cameron made up, but it turns out it's a real word and I'm an idiot. The problem is that the most Unobtainium is directly located under the Na'vi's stomping grounds, and they're not looking to move. So now you've got Marines showing up a la Blackwater and trying to muscle the natives out of there with machine guns, bulldozers and some fuckin' Robotech shit. But the natives give as good as they get, fighting them off with poison-dipped arrows among other things, and now everything is at a standstill because of this standoff.

Some PhD was gonna join the scientists there to help smooth things out with the Na'vi, but he ended up catching a terminal case of lead poisoning (by way of mugger) so his twin Marine brother takes his place. He's played by the guy from Terminator Salvation who isn't Christian Bale and his character caught a bomb or something in combat because he's now in a wheelchair. They need him to control his brother's "avatar", a genetically-engineered creature that a motherfucker can control by entering one of those Michael Jackson pods and mind-melding with the motherfucker or something. Avatars are needed because Pandora is like some Battlefield Earth shit which means if you're a man-animal, you won't be able to breathe here, plus avatars look like Na'vi and I guess that helps when you're trying to do business with these savages.

I avoided watching any commercials or trailers for this one, just because, and all I ever saw about it was the Internet banners. So I had an idea what the Na'vi looked like and that was about it. For the first half-hour or so, I wasn't too impressed with them, and they didn't seem too "photo-realistic" to me. Maybe they made this movie in sequence and got better as they went along, because somewhere along the way it seemed like the Na'vi started looking better and better. It was real trip watching the expressions on their faces; I eventually forgot I was looking at CGI shit and thought I was looking at the real thing for the most part. What I'm wondering is if the alien faces had something to do with that, I mean, if they did the same shit in another movie and instead of aliens the CGI characters were human, would it have been as WOW-ish or would we get that dead-eyed Uncanny Valley shit we've seen before, aka The Zemeckis Special? I don't know, but it looked good here.

This is a pretty cool story, nothing incredibly original, but it does what it sets out to do. You cheer for the good guys and jeer the bad guys, but unfortunately because this has kind of a Love The Environment/Fuck The Evil Corporation thing going for it, I wouldn't be surprised if the Fox News types start calling for Commie Pinko Lefty Cameron's movie-making license to get pulled. They're gonna forget that they were busy creaming their slacks back in '94 when he was giving them 140 minutes of Arabs getting blown up, they're gonna look at him the same way those soldiers looked at Costner in Dances with Wolves when they had him in custody; "Turned Injun, didn't ya?"

When you think about it, all of Cameron's films (except maybe The Abyss, his best work IMHO) suffered from the same shit people complain about with Titanic and will complain about with Avatar. They go on about the horrible dialogue, and I'm like, really? Motherfucker, I was cringing as far back as "If you want to shine them on, it's 'Hasta la vista, baby'" and "Ditch the bitch!". It was never his strong suit, and while he was capable of writing some clever shit sometimes, well then yeah, what did I just say? Sometimes. I'll straight out say he's one of the best storytellers in the motherfuckin' business, but was always 50/50 when it came to character and dialogue. When he got it right, he got it so fucking right, and when he got it wrong, then most likely it was a bad guy he got it wrong with. The villains in his best films were single-minded killing machines and they never really got any better, so I wasn't bitching about how Mr. Slam Evil in Titanic wasn't a fully-fleshed out character, I was just enjoying what a piece-of-shit he was when he did things like snatch little girls to ensure himself a seat on a lifeboat. So even when Cameron never got into what makes the assholes tick, he still did a bang-up job making you hate the motherfuckers and in the end, that's all you need.

What I'm trying to say is to expect the same kind of shit here; the two villains in Avatar are played by Stephen Muthafuckin' Lang and Giovanni Ribisi. To me, Lang will be Awesome For Life because not only was he Stonewall Jackson in Gods and Generals, but because he was the fuckin' Party Crasher in The Hard Way. He got owned by Tom Noonan in Manhunter, but looking at him now with his two tickets to the gun show, I think in real life he would be the one doing the owning. His character here is such a fucking badass, it almost makes you sad that he turns out to be such an asshole. Ribisi, on the other hand, plays the role he's been working towards his entire career -- an annoying douchebag you want to throw out a window. I liked to think that his character was somehow related to Paul Reiser's character from Aliens.

They say that Cameron is a real asshole to people on his sets, and for a long while I always thought that maybe Sigourney Weaver felt that way about him. Don't ask me why, I just did. Well, either she never had a problem with the guy or they paid her a shitload of money to forgive and forget, because here she is playing a botanist who is an expert on Na'vi and Pandora. I don't know what else to write about her, except that I would still hit that. The main Na'vi chick is played by the new Uhura and her CGI Na'vi has the best facial expressions out of all of them, she's always scrunching up her face or hissing or doing that weird wrinkle thing chicks do before they cry. I guess guys make that face too, but I don't spend my time trying to make guys cry. But yeah, I'd say New Uhura and Stephen Muthafuckin' Lang give the best performances of the entire film. I'll give Michelle Rodriguez an honorable mention; it seems like people love to hate her, which I never understood. She's always been OK with me and her character was kinda cool too.

I didn't have to see James Horner's name on the credits to know he composed the music, I just had to listen for that fuckin' Wrath of Khan horn he loves using in every fucking movie he's ever worked on to know it. I guess it's appropriate that for such an environmentally-themed movie, Cameron would pick someone notorious for recycling.

For the midnight show, I watched the 2D version. After, I got home at about 3:30, went to bed until 7:00, cleaned up, got coffee at the 7-11, made it to the IMAX at 8:00, and waited in line (it got pretty packed for a morning show). They eventually let us in and the show started at 9:00 A.M. Fuckin' A, baby -- time to catch Avatar not only in the intended format, but blown up to IMAX proportions. And here is where I give what might be the minority opinion (given by a minority): I preferred the 2D version. I know Cameron shot the fuckin' thing in 3D and it's supposed to be watched in 3D and the 2D print is more of a compromise because while he might be King of the World, he isn't King of the fuckin' Movie Theaters. Yet, I enjoyed Avatar more when it was presented flat in 2.35 scope. See, I figured the first viewing was to get into the story and the second viewing would be just to kick back and enjoy the three-dimensional visuals, but I ended up being distracted by them. Maybe I was never the biggest 3D fan; I don't have anything against it, and Captain EO still remains one of my all-time favorite childhood memories, but I didn't feel like I had missed on much when comparing both versions. The flat version looked and felt more like a James Cameron movie, while the 3D version simply didn't. That's how I felt, anyway.

Also, I don't know if this happened at other IMAX joints (and I'm talking about the real IMAX joints), but the way they presented the 1.78 version was a little odd. Now when a movie isn't shot in IMAX but blown up for IMAX presentation, there are black bars on top and bottom of the screen. For Avatar, there were not only black bars on the top, but on the left and right sides of the screen as well, leaving the bottom of the frame filled with movie. Compared with the 2D version, we were definitely getting more image, and I have no problem with the bars on the side, but having the movie off-center took a bit to get used to. This is a case where watching it in fake IMAX might be the better way to go, since I suspect that while fake IMAX isn't as big, they probably don't have the black bar shit going on and it takes up the entire frame. Shit, you might as well just see it in the biggest Digital 3D screen you can find and save yourself the extra bucks.

It was interesting to note how the two different audiences reacted to things. Both the midnight and morning crowd applauded at the end, which I don't get. Who are you applauding, the projectionist? I understand if someone involved with the movie is in attendance, otherwise, I don't know. I'm just being a wet blanket. There is a little bit of prelude to Na'vi ugly-bumping, which brought quite a bit of titters and chatter in the midnight crowd, but not the morning bunch. There's a touching bit near the end where the size difference between Na'vi and humans is made noticeable and that had the 12 A.M.'ers busting up like they were at Def Comedy Jam, even though I don't think that was the emotion Cameron had in mind.

I wanted to see a cool, fun, kick-ass James Cameron movie, and I wasn't disappointed. There are some awesome visuals throughout, always something to grab your attention (my favorite would be the incandescent neon glow the entire jungle would have at night, like some underwater algae shit) and the action is top-notch Cameron. Visually, it's fascinating and story/character-wise it's a little derrrrr, but I don't care, I felt I got my money's worth both times. Honestly, I wouldn't feel bad about missing out on the 3D version, and unlike The Polar Express, if I watch it flat on DVD/Blu-ray I won't feel like I'm only seeing half the movie and getting only half the experience. But that's just me, I also prefer the mono versions of The Beatles box set.

As I left the IMAX showing, a guy who looked a little slow came up to me. He was wearing black socks with white sneakers and was wearing a bus pass around his neck. He took a sip from his large soda and asked me if I thought there would be a sequel. After I answered him, THEN he asked me if I liked it. I told him yes. He told me he was going to catch the next showing. Because I have the habit of telling people more than they care to know, I started telling him about the midnight showing I had gone to a few hours earlier, and how that one was in 2D. I then told him about the different aspect ratios. As I went on and on, I could see it in his face that not only was I boring him, but that a line had been crossed. The paradigm had shifted. Now I was the fuckin' retard. He began to shuffle uncomfortably and told me he had to go. Then he walked away in his black socks and white sneaker ensemble.