Avatar vs The Rankatron

29 09 2010

Col. Quaritch: You are not in Kansas anymore, you are on Pandora, ladies and gentlemen, respect that fact every second of every day.

If Star Wars met Dune plus Smurfs

To start this off, I want to paraphrase a quote from another movie I reviewed earlier in this Rankatron thing I started called Independence Day…it’s a quote by Lieutenant Commander Data…er I mean Dr. Okun (Brent Spiner): once you get by their technology, they’re really quite fragile…but the problem is getting by the technology.

Sorry, I know that’s not really the quote and out of all the world of Infotron I’m not found the actual quote…and I’m too lazy to fast forward through a movie until I find it.

So Avatar. This again proves the rule that if you’re enjoying it on a 3D IMAX HD sound system theatre with comfy reclining seats and a bucket of popcorn that costs 15 cents to make but you pay $6 to enjoy…you can get caught up in the spectacle. It’s why the Captain EO 3D show at  Disney World didn’t translate well once you got it out of the big white Epcot orb from the future. Avatar doesn’t translate well when it’s moved to a reasonable sized tv, a non-existent sound system, a relatively alright couch and a bowl of popcorn that actually only cost me about 15 cents to make.

Take away the technology and you’re left with a rather frail rendering of Pandora. It’s a story about the battle of old ways of thinking (human technology) and new ways to see the world (the Na’vi spiritual connection). Both are flawed in their respective ways but humans come across in this movie as a rather tired and old race. Kinda like their portrayal as fat blobs in WALL-E (the best animated movie I’ve ever seen):

The theme isn’t original in itself. It’s been done many times before…Ferngully, 12 Monkeys, The Matrix…humans brought this all upon themselves and are too primitive to figure it out. I have a little more faith in humanity than that. The fact that there are movies out there like this where people are thinking about it means that there’s a shift happening. It’s a good thing.

The story is about as unique as any Star Wars movie. It’s an adventure bringing you to worlds and environments that can only be recreated in your imagination, a sound stage or a talented team of CGI Masters. I’m not knocking this. The original Star Wars movie was full of great memorable characters and moments.

Avatar has it’s share like “I see you”, the Tree of Souls, and Jake Sully’s rallying cry for the final battle (Due to copyright infringement…all those scenes have been taken down from online, so feel free to click on the closest approximation of each):

The bright spot of this is Zoe Seldana (as the girl Na’vi, Naytiri). Through her Na’vi computer generated makeup (see how they did it!), she portrays such nuanced emotion and purity that she could convince anyone that her way of life is the true way. Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine allowed her to relive what a slightly older and wisened version of Ripley from Aliens would be like. Sam Worthington did a great job playing our eyes and ears as he (and in turn ‘we’) were introduced to the world of Pandora. Heck, I even enjoyed the performance of Lost’s Ana Lucia.

Maybe I’m trying to convince myself again. The more I let it mull over in my brain the more I like it. Darn you Avatar! Making blue sexy again!

An added bonus is that this movie proves that the Smurfs might actually be pulled off in the theatres…didn’t hear about that one? Here’s a little Smurf action for ya:

(Before you pass judgement, please know that the pics of Hank Azaria as Gargamel are epic!)

I’m getting way off topic.

Avatar still entertains on the small screen but not nearly as much on the silver screen. So if you get a big screen or a 3D screen, the fight scenes made by green screen will make you scream. On a side note, wonder what level of SPF the Na’vi need to wear for sun screen? Huh.

7.9 temptations to use “I’m blue” jokes in this review avoided out of 10

 

Avatar as Braveheart

 





Project 880: Creating Avatar

24 09 2010

Starring in Avatar 2: Mr. Bean on Pandora

In 1994, James Cameron wrote a little script which he planned on releasing the summer of 1999 involving CGI actors playing out some of the main roles. Nothing like “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” or “Space Jam”, this would be closer to what the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park were like but with human traits and emotions. He wanted to do it after he finished another little movie called “Titanic”. So he did some film tests and realized that the technology to produce the film he envisioned hadn’t caught up yet. One of the little known film tests involved a newly discovered Ben Stiller (not really):

This is Avatar.

A movie that captured the imagination of fans around the world usually reserved for Trekkies, Star Warriors (my name), and Lords of the Ringers. Even Conan got into the act:

This is but an inkling of the type of effect this movie had over people…and one more…at the end. (Cliffhanger!)

Avatar Stats:

  • Cost nearly half a billion (yes, billion) dollars to make, and grossed just over $2.7 billion in worldwide revenue.
  • It became the highest grossing movie of all-time ahead of Cameron’s other movie, Titanic.
  • During filming in 2005, Avatar was coded Project 880.
  • Cameron wanted to cast relative unknowns in the lead roles so moviegoers could focus on the story.
  • The Na’vi language has over 1000 words.
  • James Cameron created his own 3D cameras (called “Fusion Camera System”) to make the shots work.
  • The new technology allowed to capture actor’s facial movements and transpose it onto CGI characters.
  • Speilberg called the new technology as “digital makeup” that is over top of the actors as opposed to CGI.
  • Filmed in LA and New Zealand.
  • Roger Ebert reviewed Avatar as “extraodrinary” and that ” [he] feltsort of the same as when I saw Star Wars in 1977.”
  • Nominated for 9 Academy Awards including Best Movie and Best Director (but lost both to then ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow for the excellent Iraq war drama, Hurt Locker).
  • Won Oscars for Cinematography, Art Direction and Visual Effects.
  • Won countless other awards such as Golden Globes for Best Movie -Drama and Best Director.
  • Cameron confirmed that he will be making two sequels starring all of the regular stars but would be “three years away” before Avatar 2 comes out.

When I first watched this flick when it first came out, I ponied up the extra dough for the 3D experience and wasn’t disappointed. I was enthralled by the blue spectacle. Now, I’ll be able to watch it again 3D free and in a basic TV set-up so I’ll be able to figure out once and for all how strong the story is.

Oh yeah, and before I go, here’s the last vid I wanted to show you. I present to you the L.A.R.P.

And check out the movie trailer over at the Ultimate Rankatron (or on the right hand Vodpod thingie).





Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights vs The Rankatron

21 09 2010

Charlie Chaplin is an icon. Arguably the most iconic character in Hollywood history. No matter what part of the world you travel you’ll find a Charlie Chaplin fan. He perfected the loveable tramp role. Chaplin influenced many of celebrities of all genres (like Michael Jackson, Mr. Bean), spawned numerous spoofs and invented routines that are still timeless.

Chaplin was an actor, writer, director and song-smith (writing Petula Clark’s #1 hit “This is my song”) who did it all with City Lights (acted, directed, wrote and scored the music).

City Lights was often regarded as his greatest movie success (though I’d argue that his Hitler impression in The Great Dictator was his best role) and heralded as the last great silent movie before talkies came into existence. It also had the dubious distinction as being the first rom-com (and the best according to AFI) which paved the road for the Jennifer Anistons and the Sandra Bullocks in the world. I’m uncertain if this was a good thing.

From the opening scene, Chaplin’s deliberate timing still produces chuckles. He was a true master of his craft and he was in his prime when this movie was released. I was sceptical and surprised about the usage of kazoo noises for the beginning when people spoke (think of the Charlie Brown adults but done with vuvuzela from this year’s FIFA Cup). Thankfully, this method was gone by the introduction of Chaplin.

City Lights follows two main plots: Chaplin falling for a blind girl who thinks he’s rich, and Chaplin saving a rich man who tried to commit suicide. These two plots intertwine whereby the girl regains her sight due to a miracle 1931 operation leading up to the most heartfelt ending when she finally sees Chaplin for the first time. Their facial reactions in that final scene speak volumes more than all of Carrie/Mr. Big meetings combined. This short 3 minute scene at the end is why this movie is so great.

Up to that point, it is your typical Chaplin fare with pratfalls, silly misunderstandings, funny misdirections and classic routines (City Lights drowning scene).

There are plot holes (like how the rich man somehow manages to leave for Europe from New York at noon one day…then arrive back from Europe the next day to help Chaplin out of a situation) but when the purpose of this movie is to spotlight Chaplin and put him in as many zany situations that can be alloted in a 90 minute movie, this can be forgiven.

City Lights is an average movie and story with some extraordinary emotional acting (really watch the final scene between the two!).

7.4 blind flower girls out of 10

Tramp meets girl. Hilarity ensues.





Chinatown vs The Rankatron

19 09 2010

Jake Gittes: Let me explain something to you, Walsh. This business requires a certain amount of finesse.

 

Jack Nicholson complaining to his plastic surgeon

 

JJ “Jack” Gittes had it right with Chinatown. This movie is all about the finesse. The writing is smart and, at opportune moments, quite amusing in a way only a detective flick can be. That is to say the quips come as one-liners that only make sense in context of the movie and can’t be commented on in the same way as Stephen Wright’s can like “The problem with the gene pool is that there’s no lifeguard” or just watch this hilarious video…then come back. I’ll wait. Promise.

Now after watching that, you should be in a pretty close the right frame of mind for this movie. Like Steven Wright, Chinatown is depressing but pure genius and brimming with unexpected twists. Unlike Steven Wright, it’s not funny.

The movie takes place in 1930’s LA and follows the escapades of the brash and sarcastic Private Investigator JJ Gittes (Jack Nicholson) as he finds answers to a murder of a high-ranking Department of Water official and stumbles upon a conspiracy that’s bigger than he is. I’m not one to spoil a movie even if it is 36 years old. If you want to find the plot, it’s on the Infotron. But to those who want to remain unspoiled, I will say that within the first 25 minutes the movie takes its first unexpected twist that sends it hurtling down a direction that you don’t see coming…and it gets darker and darker until the final credits roll. You come to know about Noah Cross, one of the most detestable villains in movie history. It’s not until the last minutes that you fully understand how evil of a person Noah Cross really is/was…no, that won’t spoil you.

Are there more shocking movies out there today? Absolutely. Are there movies with better twists? Undoubtedly. But for 1974, Chinatown’s darkness would be unlike anything they would’ve seen at the time. It’s a movie plot that would fit right in the last golden era of cinema of the late 90’s. It was a movie ahead of its time.

Those going in expecting Chinatown to play a primary role as I had been thinking will be disappointed. Chinatown serves more as a character development device to establish JJ Gittes history and how he came to be the person he is in the movie. That is to say that Chinatown in the 30’s was so mixed up with rival gangs that the police didn’t know who was on the good side and who wasn’t. Because of this, they stayed out of the mess all together. This is the same as the movie plot. You never know exactly who’s good and who’s bad in the story but JJ Gettes wants to get to the bottom of the mess.

John Huston’s role as Noah Cross (Catholic undertones here? Noah’s Ark, the flood, and his belief he is better than Jesus) should be necessary viewing for any actor wanting to understand what subtle and conniving villainy should look like. And Faye Dunaway (as widower Mrs. Evelyn Mulwray) is complex, strong and fragile all at the same time.

The one fault is the movie lags in parts. Yet, this might be a testament to the shortening attention spans of our generation (and future generations) expecting a shock or surprise at every turn. The surprises do come and are worth the wait. And the scenes with Noah Cross and the ending is worth the slow ride (hit it Foghat!).

Chinatown does deserve to be in the wheelhouse of the great detective movies out there and appropriately placed in the upper pantheon of superb movies.

8 Roman Polanski knife cuts out of 10

 

 

Noah Cross: You see, Mr. Gittes, most people never have to face the fact that at the right time and the right place, they're capable of ANYTHING.

 





The Many Faces of China…town

17 09 2010

Jackie Chan made #1 in 2010 proving he's the Gordon Ramsay of Chinese celebrity.

I’ll start by saying. I know nothing about Chinatown (the movie) going in (check out the preview on the side bar thingie-ma-jig). It’s one of the few on the Ultimate Rankatron list that I’ve never seen…and quite frankly, have never heard of before creating the list. But it appeared on so many others it couldn’t be excluded.

Before hearing about this praised classic sleuth flick, the only movies about Chinatown I can recall is Jackie Chan’s Rush Hour and this little one (possibly the most underrated action movie from the 80s):

Then my knowledge from there devolves down to Spadina Avenue in Toronto, Chinese restaurants and WWE’s Chyna.

So I realized immediately that I’d need to do some more digging to get to up my knowledge like China’s population base. Naturally, I begin my search on the YouTube and Carl Douglas’ Kung Fu Fighting with funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown:

Then there’s the Steve Nash Charity Showdown in Chinatown NYC in 2008, and this video which is beyond description…

After more time than I’d like to admit, I realized I was no closer to understanding the movie Chinatown than I was before. So thanks to some clever Infotron searching, here are the stats of the movie:

  • A film-noir released in 1974
  • Starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston
  • Directed by Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Tess and The Pianist)
  • The movie that made Nicholson a household name and earned him the ability to garner sweet courtside Lakers seats.
  • Nominated for 11 Oscars in 1974 but only won for Best Original Screenplay.
  • Spawned a lukewarm sequel, The Two Jakes, in 1990 which featured Nicholson again as both star and director.
  • Jack Nicholson appears in every single scene of the movie.
  • Roman Polanski has a cameo as a gangster that cuts Nicholson’s character’s nose.
  • The original the musical score had been rejected last minute before the final cut of the movie was due. The studio hired Jerry Goldsmith (LA Confidential, Gremlins, Poltergeist) to rewrite and record Chinatown Theme solos in less than 10 days resulting in an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score.
  • Often hailed by critics as the best script ever written.
  • Other awards: Golden Globe wins for Best Motion Picture (Drama), Best Actor in a Motion Picture (Jack Nicholson), Best Director (Roman Polanski) and Best Screenplay (Robert Towne)
  • #2 on AFI’s Best 10 Mystery Movies (right behind Vertigo).

So I am somewhat excited to see what the brou-ha-ha is all about. Time to take a leisurely ride into Chinatown through the eyes of JJ Gittes.

Light it up.





Citizen Kane vs The Rankatron

16 09 2010

Charles Foster Kane: I don’t think there’s one word that can describe a man’s life.

The world's first recycling drive.

The trouble with history and nostalgia is that memory of something we remember as being so good (or something that someone has told us was good) isn’t really as great when experienced anew. Sometimes you’ll get caught up in the latest fad that seemed cool in the day (acid-washed jeans, MC Hammer, scrunchies) but don’t hold up as well the second time around. Sometimes there’s a fad that turns out to be absolutely timeless (early 90’s grunge). And sometimes…just once in awhile…like a blue moon…something comes along that shocks you to the core and changes you like no fad could.

Why am I starting this way? To make a point, of course.

Citizen Kane falls somewhere between the “absolutely timeless” and “shocks you to the core” categories. Am I agreeing that this movie is the best of all-time like so many lists claim just on nostalgia’s sake…because that’s the consensus? Not precisely.

Citizen Kane (the movie) is as flawed and as enthralling as Citizen Kane (the character).

Take away, for a moment, the whole plot device that Welles has said himself to be “a gimmick”. I’m talking about “Rosebud”. Take away for a moment that this single word was in the movie at all. Or, better yet, that you know EXACTLY what (or who) Rosebud was. The movie still would be great for the journey that it takes you on. What it would’ve lacked was a hook. So enter “Rosebud”.

“Rosebud” supplied one of those surprise endings that doesn’t reveal itself until the final moment. Unlike other surprise endings (like you Keyzer Soze and M. Knight Shyamalan), after the initial WTF ending, the magic surrounding the mystery is over. The hook was the movie. In Citizen Kane, the hook was only there to draw you in.

Citizen Kane at its core is a mystery about a man. A despicable, sad man in his old age. A bright, fun and entertaining man in his youth. Here, I’ll let the song describe him:

A man based, it turns out, not too far off newspaper tycoon William Randolf Hearst. I’d recommend watching the great made-for-tv movie RKO 281 starring Leiv Schreiber (X-Man’s Sabretooth) as Orson Welles (or for a more documentarian view, The Battle Over Citizen Kane). The movie is a broken jigsaw puzzle where those who are trying to learn about Kane discover that he was far more complex than a simple word.

The true strength of this movie is Orson Welles himself.

Consider for a moment that Welles was only 25 at the time he filmed Citizen Kane. Consider that he pulled off a role of a lifetime that stretched a lifetime. Consider that he had full creative control of a movie he helped pen (with Herman J. Mankiewicz) and fully direct. Consider the gall Orson had to stand up to the most powerful newspaper magnate in the world and the person who controlled who saw his movie. Through all the opposition, through the snubs at the 1941 Oscars (see my last blog for details) , Orson made HIS movie. A movie that (to steal a line from an earlier movie I reviewed on this list) “crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.”

Sadly, Orson wouldn’t make another movie that equalled this one but he probably could have given total creative control (which he never got again after the Hearst fiasco). This is our loss.

But is this movie perfect? No. There’s no need to point out some of the flaws (hidden brilliantly by story…but if you look closely during the picnic scene, you can make out some pterodactyls flying around taken from stock footage from 1933’s King Kong). But perfection is a flawed concept in itself as it doesn’t exist (but I’d be welcome if someone can prove me wrong).

Orson Welles lived his life like the brash and enthusiastic young Charles Foster Kane and could be summed up as…well, I’ll let Kane tell it…his voice is sooo awesome! (also contains my favourite quote from the movie at the end of the clip):

9.5 Xanadu statues out of 10





It’s Citizen Kane! It’s Citizen Kane! It’s Citizen Kane!

14 09 2010

The real question: is he wearing pants behind the title?

No matter what movie list you look at all across the interwebs you’ll come to the realization that sitting at the top (or near the top) is Citizen Kane. That 1941 vehicle which launched Orson Welles’ and his Mercury Theatre troupe out of the stage/radio and into the upper echelon of movie making.

This wasn’t the Mercury Theatre’s first brush with stardom. They also produced the legendary radio show “War of the Worlds” which had been so realistic in its day that it fooled people into believing that an actual alien invasion was happening causing people to hide in their basements or even commit suicide out of fear.

Citizen Kane rose the bar of filmmaking, storytelling and acting in its day so high that even 70 years past movies rarely reach that same plateau. Citizen Kane often has been given the moniker of “Best Movie of All-Time” for being so ground breaking and the first of its kind though I’d argue that there have been movies as good since.

Spoofed by many…as with The Simpsons, and Pinky and The Brain:

And influenced by countless more:

Let’s look at the specs for this so-called masterpiece before I delve into it:

  • Loosely based around real-life newspaper tycoon, William Randolf Hearst (who owned the largest collection of newspaper/magazine companies in the world at one point).
  • The movie bombed in the box office when it was originally released. It didn’t find its due until its tv revival in 1956.
  • Listed as #1 on AFI’s 100 Movies…100 Years both on the 1998 and 2007 versions (sorry about the spoiler if no one has watched that show).
  • All the actors in Citizen Kane were Orson’s friends from the Mercury Theatre. Welles had complete control on the production of Citizen Kane to allow to cast a group of unknowns.
  • Welles wanted to make a movie version of Heart of Darkness but the production company, RKO, didn’t like the premise.
  • During production, Citizen Kane was codenamed RKO 281.
  • When William Randolf Hearst heard about Citizen Kane being based on him, he banned all publicity in his massive conglomerate of papers from mentioning RKO or Citizen Kane unless RKO agreed to NEVER release the movie.
  • Hearst threatened a smear campaign to run editorials in all of his papers about RKO hiring immigrants and refugees if they continued to go forward with the movie.
  • MGM offered to reimburse RKO for the cost of making Citizen Kane if they destroyed the prints.
  • A pre-screening with New York corporate heads of studios and lawyers to determine the possible legal implications of the release resulted in about three minutes being cut from the final cut.
  • The movie was released on schedule to the largest promotional campaign in its day. However, in fear of potential repercussions from Hearst, many movie chains refused to show the movie (hence the lost revenue).
  • Citizen Kane was nominated for 9 Oscars in 1941 (Best Picture, Best Director – Orson Welles, Best Actor – Orson Welles, Best Writing, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography, Best Musical Score and Best Sound Recording).
  • Critics expected Citizen Kane to sweep however only ended up with the Best Writing Oscar. It had come to light years later that most of Hollywood was against the movie from ever coming out because of the hornet’s nest it shook up against Hearst. Many voters voted against the movie on that reason alone.
  • “Rosebud”: Orson Welles claimed this addition to the movie was nothing more than “a gimmick, really, a rather tawdry device, a dollar-book Freudian gag.” However, it has since come to light that “Rosebud” was the nickname for one of Heart’s mistresses, Marion Davies.
  • The final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark was influenced by the Rosebud scene from Citizen Kane (warning SPOILERY).

For those of you who haven’t watched the movie and don’t mind being spoiled by the mystery of Kane, allow Lucy from the Charlie Brown comics to sum it up for you. But even if you know the end, the journey is what Citizen Kane is all about.

For those who just want the trailer, check out the Ultimate Rankatron post or click on the left bar over there somewhere for the Vodvid.

Food for thought?