Archive for Sam Worthington

AVATAR :: SCI-FI :: 033

Posted in Action, Fantasy, Sci-Fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 01/12/2010 by joycereview

Alien worlds fascinates me.  They always have.  Pandora is the closest we’ve been able to get to that world cinematically.  Jim Cameron’s vision delighted me on all levels and was perhaps, the most fun that I’ve had in the theaters wearing dorky 3d glasses.

It’s obvious through his films that the mind of Cameron is a colossal wonderland, full of floating islands, 6-legged horses, brightly-colored pterodactyls, and the blue-skinned, golden-eyed Na’vi.  At least this was the latest of Cameron’s dreams to be shared with us…  a dream tucked away for more than a decade.  In 2005, he revisited the script and agreed that it was time.  What emerged? You’ll have to see it to believe it!

THE BEAR BONES

Following the death of his twin brother, a paraplegic marine named Jake Sully (Sam Worthington; Terminator Salvation), steps into a unique position to continue his brother’s project and travel to the amazing world of Pandora.  The mission is for Scully to inhabit a lab-grown-replica body (known as an “Avatar”) of both his twin and of the Pandorian race known as the Na’vi and to infiltrate the tribe and negotiate an exodus, away from an area rich in an Earth-rescuing mineral known as “unobtanium.”  Trigger-happy Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang) strikes a deal with Sully to gather intel on the Na’vi in return for post-mission spinal surgery.  Cheif Administrator Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi) wants diplomacy (only because it looks better), and scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver, Aliens) wants to truly understand the biology and hidden mysteries of Pandora.  As the Avatar, Jake Sully forms a bond with the Na’vi and must make his choice;  stand with his new family, or help the human race blunder Pandoria’s most precious resource.

As a movie-loving public, we’ve seen literally hundreds of movies.  In my case, (and as so many others film-nuts) we’ve seen thousands.  Themes and scenes, especially the good ones, always stand out.  It was apparent to in this film that connections can be made with the following: Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, The Last Samurai, and even Braveheart.  The world of Pandora was a cross between the amazon rainforest and a coral reef.  The Na’vi were a cross between native american indians (I don’t mean to lump you all together) and african tribes.  The “horses” a cross between a seahorse, and a regular horse – add a pair of legs.  The flying creatures of Pandora were pterodactyls with the head of a savannah monitor.  But the question we must ask ourselves is “does our knowledge of these traits/similarities take away from the film?”  The answer is “no friggin’ way.”

It was explained to me a long time ago, that there is very little in the world that we would fail to assign complete uniqueness to.  To this theory, I agree.  Many years ago, when phones were the size of a Tom Clancy hardback we watched in awe as Kirk and Spock had what looked to be my first Motorola flip-top cellphone.  That debuted in 1966!  From then on we become desensitized to technology and even of artistic creations (to some point).  Had Cameron and his visual artists created creatures, machines and contraptions without a likeness to images of our time, our minds would be quite likely to reject it.  For Avatar, a thin line had to be threaded in order to lock our collective minds into a state of belief and wonderment.  Cameron performed like a surgical Annie Oakley due to his experience, years in film and the fact that his body is made of 60%water and 40% of awesome!

Do you want to know why there are no more Jim Cameron’s in the world?  I’ll tell you why!  Answer:  Because he’s a nerdy woman in the body of a good-looking man.  He’s a tree-hugging, technology-embracing, liberal – not just for alien rights but for universal equality.  It’s a widely-known fact that most powerful men place other powerful men as heroic characters in their stories.  Cameron simply changes the gender and leaves the balls.  Sigourney became the first of Hollywood’s top heroines by way of her role in Alien, and as if she were acquiring more balls along the way, Aliens (the sequel).  Aliens even had Jenette Goldstein playing the toughest female marine in cinema history as Lt. Vasquez.  (Note the enormous similarity of Goldstein to Avatar’s Michelle Rodriquez)  … Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor in both Terminator 1 & 2.  (She was so bad-ass in T2, that Jim married her!) Even Kate Winslet’s role in Titanic can be seen as unsteriotypically masculine… just in the bold, strong, take charge way… not in the “I bust a cap in alien asses”-type way (obviously!).  Now… we have Zoe Saldana (Star Trek), playing Neytiri, the warrior princess of the Omaticaya Clan.  Blue, fierce and dead sexy!  I remember as a kid I had a crush on Betty Rubble of the Flintstones (yes, the cartoon version), but if the 10 year old in me where to react hormonally (after seeing Neytiri) he’d run out into the woods, risking an arrow of neurotoxic death.

Before viewing Avatar, I had (and still have) some reservations on the use of CGI.  Call me old-school (again), but motion capturing, CGI and the lot can never truly portray what an actor or actress can do.  Recreation is not creation.  CGI gives control and is cost effective but can only be a reflection and a refraction of what a performer creates.  E.T. was more-or-less a sock puppet, but was as real to me today as it was when I was a kid.  The creations of Avatar will always stay with me.  Not just because Earth is “played out” and I want to move to Pandora, but because the CGI realism of Avatar finally hit the mark of believability.  What is key is that we put this technology in the hands of skilled samurai (i.e. James Cameron, Peter Jackson) and not in baby, knife-wielding hacks (i.e. Michael Bay).

I agree 95.8% with my fellow critic, Colin (read his Avatar review at: Cineaste John) when he says,

“I felt like I was on the same emotional journey as Jake Sully.  I felt for the Na’vi.  I felt for Hometree and the Omaticaya.  I felt that the true struggle for Jake Sully, a born-and-bread Marine, suddenly feeling like everything he once knew and was trained to be was savage and inhumane.  Avatar was everything I’d hoped it to be and more.”

It wasn’t a far leap for me (being skinny, tall and good-looking in blue)… but Avatar will always be a film that I feel connected to – for its messages of environmental responsibility, diplomacy, and the fact that it’s far less cool to be human.  At least we can dream.  For the less and unimaginative folk, Cameron holds us up to the viewfinder… and what an awe-inspiring view it is.

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TERMINATOR SALVATION :: ACTION :: 030

Posted in Action, Sci-Fi, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on 12/26/2009 by joycereview

James Cameron has my complete sympathies.  It must feel like the lose of a beloved family pet… or maybe it’s like a divorce (he’s had four of them) to have his creation ransacked like this.  At least in a divorce he knows his matrimonial future is bright (come on, he’s James Cameron).  But putting the film in the hands of (let me just quote Bale’s inspiring words to his director of photography) “f#@%^*$ amateurs” was a move that even I wouldn’t have predicted.

The crux of Terminator Salvation is set in the year 2018.  John Connor, the leader of the human resistance against Skynet and the machines known as Terminators.  Connor’s world is rattled when he comes face-to-face with Marcus Wright, a stranger whose existence questions all he was lead to believe.

Terminator Salvation, although much grittier and explosive in Hollywood terms, lacks heart… just one of the elements this film was trying to bring back to the Terminator franchise.  Story, character, mood and atmosphere are sacrificed for the sake of pace and action.  Here are a couple of the rules when making a Terminator sequel:

RULE #1: Don’t hire a man named McG.  Besides his name be pretentious and lacking of any vowels, his claim to fame was Sugar Ray’s “Fly” music video.  Then he ruined a guilty pleasure of mine when he directed Charlie’s Angels 2.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll understand why.

RULE #2: Hire actors based on professional ability, and almost as importantly… plausibility. There’s no way that squeaky teen John Connor would grow up to sound like a cross between Rambo and Batman.  Oh wait… it’s just Christian Bale doing the only “intimidating” voice he can do.

(recently added) RULE #3:  Re-watch the previous Terminator movies beforehand.  When Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) asks Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) what it’s like in the future… his reply is “We stay down by day…”.  So why was so much of T4 shot in daylight? A movie such as this lives and dies based on its story.  Why is it when we ask bacon and eggs, McG hands us a cold waffle?

Young John Connor was played by the puberty-ridden Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 and every fan has a memory of him as he squeals, “Dyson! Miles Dyson! She’s gonna blow him away!”  I’ve heard that war can change a man, but a transformation from the only John Connor we (fans) have been able to accept to the one that Christian Bales tries to pull off is ludicrous and wrong.  I would have suggested he lean towards his work as Patrick Bateman in American Psycho; someone complex and explosive rather than drab and angry.

Despite the numerous connections to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, nostalgia could not become Terminator Salvation‘s “salvation.”  The Guns N’ Roses song, “You Could Be Mine,” John resorting to his ATM-hacking skills, and a much anticipated cameo by the T-101 (Ah-nuld!) are but three examples of where this movie succeeds.  In this respect, the movie re-connects with true-blooded fans… but the rest plays out like your typical video game.

Terminator Salvation was the first of the four Terminator films to be given a rating of PG-13.  Obviously this was to increase the viewing demographic.  But we realists know that any post-apocalyptic future, without a doubt, would be darker, and much more savage (see Mad Max, The Roadwarrior).  When will we stop sacrificing creativity and vision for a box office draw?  And an equally justifiable question, “Why would you re-hire writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris, writers of the epic failure Terminator 3: Rise of The Machine? The absurdity of this baffles the mind.  But then again, George W. Bush can get re-elected, and the “Flock of Seagulls” hairstyle can come back in fashion (see, Twilight).

Terminator Salvation, as much a let-down as it was, did have some positive aspects.  Both actors Anton Yelchin (Kyle Reese) and Sam Worthington (Marcus Wright) did a fine job and as any action fan would be, I am always eager to see Michael Ironside (Scanners, Total Recall) in what is always an intensely fearsome performance.

The biggest plus, and the reason why the movie received 5 claws and not 4 is due to the thrill that comes with good special effects.  Whether we think another director could have filled Cameron’s shoes better or not, McG does provide some amazing visuals.  Yes, I’m giving this over-hyped “phenom” a cookie in this respect… deal with it!  Heck, on a second viewing, I might call him the “cookie monster”… but undeniably the fault is not with the direction but with the writing.  This story (or lack of story) only leaves me believing that the human resistance is futile, and the humans should go underground and party like it’s 1999.

But perhaps we should keep our chins up?  James Cameron’s success with Avatar brings him back to a major, dollar-earning standings and is slated to have a hand in Terminator 5 (2011).  As Wes Craven did with his beloved Nightmare on Elm Street series, let’s hope Cameron can bring the Terminator fans what they are hoping for, a film of “true metal.”

* * *

*Just a note:  I know I can’t be the first person to point this out – but John Connor, the “savior” or the world has the same initials as both Jesus Christ and writer (of Terminator 1 &2) James Cameron.  Interesting, eh?

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