Friday, January 29, 2010

Angry, Angry, AVATAR!

I hardly have anything to add to the MASSIVE amount of stuff out there about AVATAR (dir. James Cameron, US, 2009, 165 mins.), except to just get stuff off of my chest and out of my head before launching into the antithesis of what Cameron does, with "coverage" of the SF IndieFest, of which I have started the screener ritual.

First of all, under Mr. Cameron's insistence and the unavoidable attraction, I had to see it in IMAX-3D. This does involve a surcharge, the total ticket being $18 a piece through Fandango. (I used my Annual Fandango Bucks from my sister!) I would like to express my disappointment that it is NOT in full IMAX aspect ratio of 4:3, but in 70MM blow up to 1.87:1. For me, the magic of IMAX is filling that top and bottom for the feeling of weightlessness within the frame, which I thought, since we're going to "see mountains that float", this would be perfect! However, in 1.87:1, it is letterboxed, not unlike a television. Harumph. Fine. It is still a big, wide screen and the sound is typically awesome.

Now, going into the film itself, it carries Cameron's typical anger that runs through his oeuvre (i.e. "You're terminated, fucker!"; "Get away from her, you *bitch!*; "You're the one livin' in a fuckin' dream, Silberman! 'Cause I know when it happens! It happens!"; "There *is* no us, you psychopathic bitch!"; and of course the unspoken anger of god in destroying the Titanic for a couple of hours). In AVATAR, everyone is so PISSED OFF about destroying trees and ignoring the spiritual oneness of nature, that our heroes decide they must kill or be killed. Of course, our villains are completely without any redeeming qualities whatsoever, which in some way, dramatically justifies the ever growing anger that the film reaches by its climax.

Perhaps Cameron's universal view of the cycle of life is so inherently violent that it drives the film. However, his plotting belies the spiritual aspects that he gives his aborigines. In other words, if the trees are all part of an enormous, planetary neurological and metaphysical system, in which the energy of the the dead live on, why do we need an army of arrows, guns and bombs to defeat the invaders? Not to mention, that I got tired of listening to everybody yell at each other. Though the animals do eventually join the revolt, there is so much detail and involvement of the surrounding vegetation, I was waiting for an "attack of the Ents" moment. Ah well.

Visually, it has some gorgeous moments. Perhaps not as groundbreakingly original as Cameron is insisting, i.e. Magritte's "Castle in the Pyrenees",
or a great deal of art from the Myst gaming series, particularly "Riven";

as well as the often referenced FERNGULLY.

Of course, there are dozens of examples of the screenplay plagiarizing everything from FERNGULLY to DANCES WITH WOLVES to Poul Anderson's "Call Me Joe" as well as news about a Russian novel from the 1960's. However, science fiction/fantasy can be exceptionally derivative, as Joseph Campbell's work, THE POWER OF MYTH, thoroughly explores. Anyway...

I guess the best that could be said, is that Cameron has used a great deal of existing influences, fed them into some supercomputers, to create them out of microchips, as opposed to pen, ink, wood and plaster. Ah well...

I feel better now.

Maxxxxx says
re AVATAR: "Sweet, sweet eye juice."

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

NINE (the movie of the musical of the movie)

Repost/reprint courtesy Atlanta Free Press.

NINE (dir. Rob Marshall, US, 2009, 110 mins.) may not win the Weinstein Company any more Oscar statues, but with who they've loaded in the film, nobody really needs another one for their crowded mantels. The film has been debated, reviewed, deconstructed, etc. by the major critics and a plethora of musical theatre fan sites. The overall "judgment" is that NINE is an OK film. It would probably have gained larger audiences, had the openings not been filled with the Fellini-and-Broadway Faithful. In full disclosure, I am one of those: a Fellini Freak, who also had the privilege of seeing the first Broadway staging (25 years ago?!) and the first London staging.

By forging their beliefs that the audience will only accept a song-and-dance when it is OBVIOUSLY staged in the character's imagination, Rob Marshall's NINE, whether by his own choosing or the Weinsteins, reshaped all the available source material to appear as a sequel to CHICAGO. The source material of CHICAGO was a string of vaudeville acts as commentary. The reason Guido Contini (Daniel Day Lewis) is in pain is that he no longer has an 'imaginary theatre' for an escape. The source material for NINE is a mental breakdown in which Guido loses a working distinction between life, work and imagination, and this challenge is left completely unaddressed in the visual and scripted structure. The audience is left with watching Guido have a headache and we cut to his 'imaginary theatre' for a song about why. The Weinsteins can bring together brilliant minds and has challenged audiences in the past, so the anticipation of redefining one of the cinema's great films and the cult-like following of the stage piece was met with a "Cliff's Notes On Guido Contini".

My first warning sign was that the running time is UNDER two hours, meaning a solid hour of source material had been cut or severely adapted. Maury Yeston's original score, as shaped around Arthur Kopit's original stage script, comes avalanching out by the entrance of the women ("Overture Delle Donne", which opens the film in an abbreviated version), and explodes in "The Grand Canal" (which substituted the infamous whipping of the brothel in 8 1/2, and is completely eliminated and replaced here with a screen test.) Rob Marshall seems to be floating along on his Oscar for CHICAGO. His previous production of ANNIE for ABC-TV and his following work (MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, NINE and what can we expect from PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN (IV)?) leads me to believe that he just doesn't have a grasp of the how far an audience will go. His work screams to be liked. Comparing his structure to the other most prominent musical-fantasy director working right now, namely Julie Taymor (ACROSS THE UNIVERSE), and you may understand why there is such a critical backlash at a better than OK film.

The cast is nothing but incredible! Penelope Cruz would turn me straight! Her many years of Almodovar work just BURSTS out all over the screen! She is HOT! Fergie's turn as "Saraghina", one of Fellini’s iconic figures for a prostitute, ably marches the overwhelming power that women hold on Guido. Dame Judi Dench gives us a glimpse of what her "Sally Bowles" may have been like when she originated CABARET on the West End. Marion Cottilard gives a great performance as Guido's wife, Luisa! However, Marshall's replacing the climatic trio for Guido's women ("Simple/Claudia's Monologue/Be On Your Own”) with a strip number for Luisa, was emotionally unfortunate and thematically wrong! Guido is the ultimate example of a man with "Madonna/Whore Complex" and he would never imagine Luisa doing a striptease! Daniel Day Lewis manages what he is given in his typical, FULLY committed way. He does take the opportunity for one of his trademark screaming moments that I have come to dread. As gifted as the man is, he always manages to cross a line in hyperbolic performance. He's the Rod Steiger of our time, and I'm sort of gleefully awaiting his MOMMIE DEAREST or FRIDAY 13th, Part XX moment! Kate Hudson's character was created for the film for "educational" reasons, according to one Rob Marshall interview. It was felt that a younger actress should perform a new song, "Cinema Italiano", to give younger audiences an understanding about how important Italian Style was "back then". (The song is also the obvious attempt for a Best Song Nomination.) The scene does not fit and is so obviously squeezed in, it's condescending.

The cinematography is a whirlwind of light and shadow, adapting well with exteriors and the interior stage set. The production and costume designs are all superior. The sound design can seem a bit oversampled in a couple of the songs, but not noticeably over amp'ed up. The editing is not quite as chaotic as CHICAGO ("Are you sure that is Richard Gere dancing?"), though "Cinema Italiano" particularly, gets a music video edit.

NINE is a case of the whole being LESSER than the sum of its parts. The curious and uninitiated will probably like it a lot! (Penelope Cruz's performance alone is a HOT date movie in itself!) But just don't go into it with a greater imagination than Rob Marshall's or screenwriters', Michael Tolkin (whose THE PLAYER is more true to the heart of 8 1/2 than NINE) and (the late) Anthony Minghella.

With all that said, what are its Oscar chances? Never underestimate the Weinsteins! I'm predicting a bucket of nominations: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress (possibly Cotillard, depending on how they campaign her), Best Supporting Actress, aka Mo'niques statuette for PRECIOUS, (Cruz, possibly Cotillard, Dench or even Fergie, depending on how they campaign here), Art Design, Costume Design, Cinematography, and of course, at least one Best Song, possibly two. Wins? That depends on how the Academy receives the visual juggernauts of AVATAR and
THE YOUNG VICTORIA. I'm thinking they will have to be happy with a Best Song, "Cinema Italiano".

Maxxxxx says
re NINE: "Dooby dooby Doobooo!"

You can contact Maxxxxx or myself here: JayCBird@AOL.COM

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