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Friday, April 30, 2010

Today In The Checkout Line ...

I did it ... I swore I wouldn't but I did it anyway ... I bought "Avatar." Well, I didn't actually buy the movie ... I bought a box of Milk Duds which made me think of going to the cinema which caused me to stop at my friend Mike's house and borrow his Avatar DVD. And I watched it.

In a word ... AMAZING. In another word ... SPECTACULAR!!

I like all types of movie ... drama, action, comedy, fantasy, etc. ... so the fact that I loved this film isn't a big surprise. What is shocking is that I wasn't burned by another over-hyped epic.
Like just about everyone on planet Earth not living in a cave, I was bombarded with pieces and parts of the Avatar press machine long before the film's December 2009 release. I knew that the movie had been in some form of development since 1994 ... kids are learning that fact in nursery schools now. I was told repeatedly that Avatar was going to show movie-goers breakthrough motion-capture animation technologies that would set new standards. Info-tainment publications and television shows flooded the newsstands and airwaves with details about Avatar's $237 million budget and the rumored $280 million to $310 million actual price tag for the project. Complete strangers stopped me in the street to ask if I was aware that Avatar was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including "Best Picture" and "Best Director." And if I was exposed to one more James Cameron "exclusive" interview I was going to go old-school postal on somebody or something ... no court in the land would convict me!

To be honest, I actively tried not to see the film and had decided that, if I ever did, I'd hate it. But the story of a mid-22nd century paraplegic marine working with scientists to inhabit artificial bodies and use them to sway the alien population of a distant moon into allowing a mining colony to both aid a resource-depleted Earth and turn a tidy profit (that's a mouthful) was like a siren song. The main human character's hardships and his struggle with doing what's right or obeying his military masters was enthralling. The spiritual Na'vi people were equally captivating, with their brutal-yet-dignified lifestyle. And the prehistoric, often-physics-defying landscapes of Pandora as it orbited a gas giant in the neighboring Alpha Centauri star system were breathtaking. I even overlooked some of the obvious plot points and the textbook gonna-be-a-sequel ending because it was so damn entertaining. I really liked it!

Upon reflection, I can see that my planned film embargo stems from the deep-seeded anger from dozens of movies that promised me everything and delivered very little. In 1997, James Cameron released another little film called "Titanic," promising the most heart-gripping love story ever told between characters "Jack" and "Rose." The world was abuzz with "Titanic Fever" and the film set all kinds of box office records, grossing more than $2 billion internationally. For me it was a big slow boat filled with a big slow story line. I want my three hours back, James Cameron.

In 2001, friends asked me to attend the movies for a little flick called "Pearl Harbor." We had big-name box office draws and noisy battle scenes, all interwoven with a steamy love triangle and enough historical references to make any social studies buff more than happy. I fell asleep ... an event only happening once before when I was forced to watch "On Golden Pond" on DVD. Michael Bay directed Pearl Harbor and he was only forgiven by me after the first "Transformers" movie debuted. Maybe if the planes and aircraft carriers of 1942 had changed into Decepticons and Autobots, I might have stayed awake. And the cast owes me a ticket refund for poor, poor performances ... that's $2.25 from Ben Affleck, $2.25 from Josh Hartnett, and $2.25 from Kate Beckinsale. And I don't care if one of them kicks it in or they all go together, but a box of wasted Skittles is also part of that redemption deal!
And 1994 called to remind me that that nightmare called "Pulp Fiction" ... which I saw at a discount theatre ... still pisses me off. That stupid dance and the getting-stranger-by-the-minute progression of plot and characters. John Travolta is a yawn, Uma Thurman can't act, and I never know if Samuel L. Jackson IS Samuel L. Jackson or if he's Lawrence Fishburne or Morgan Freeman. A buck's a buck, Quentin Tarantino ... cough it up!

Even comedies ... my true love ... have failed me. In 2008, "Baby Mama" was released, starring the campy, nutty duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as a busy executive (Fey) who waited to have children but now finds she needs the help of a surrogate (Poehler) to make her dreams of motherhood come true. Has anyone you know ever watched a preview or commercial for an upcoming movie and commented, "I think we just saw all the best parts in the trailer." They were talking about Baby Mama. The trailer was more meaningful and much less annoying. It was like slow sketch comedy ... I was listening for the "rim shot" to move us into each new scene. And predictable ... not what I expected from the quirky Poehler (thank God she found her home in "Parks and Recreation"). And Tina Fey was just bad, not surprising from the most over-hyped celebrity in show business. She doesn't even return Oprah's calls in a timely manner!

It hasn't always been the big screen that's disappointed me. Friends and family have tempted me to sit in front of the small screen and "be amazed" by their favorite movie. The amazement seldom occurs. Two "death sentence" movies would be "Officer and a Gentleman" (1982) and "Wall Street" (1987). The first is always mentioned as a story of "timeless romance." All I saw was Louis Gossett, Jr., yelling at Richard Gere, and what he should have been shouting was, "hey, how did we get roped into this piece of crap?" And Wall Street's "Gordon Gekko" ... I've heard that character quoted at meetings and slurred in barroom conversationscountless times. His one line, "Greed is good," is well remembered. Well, remember this ... "the movie was bad!"

POINT OF RANT: In a world where people earn college degrees from their home office and doctors use imaging devices the size of an Ipod, why is entertainment still such a risk?

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