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Reviews for December 18th, 2009


Directed by James Cameron.

In the year 2154, Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), an ex-marine, goes on a special mission for the U.S. military to travel to explore the Na’vi, an alien species who live on a distant moon, Pandora. Dr.Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), a scientist, has helped to develop a technology that allows for humans to be transported into the body of a Na’vi replica, also known as an “avatar,” while asleep. Jake gets the chance to walk again as a 10-foot tall Na’vi avatar on Pandora. Colonel Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang) wants him to infiltrate the Na’vi in order to gather information about them for an aggressive military strategy that involves mining their precious forests for a mineral, Unobtainium, whether they choose to evacuate or not. Meanwhile, Jake gradually falls in love with a female Na’vi warrior, Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), who initially treats him with hostility, but eventually becomes his guide as he learns about the way of life for the Na’vi on Pandora. He also discovers their profound connection to nature, which the U.S. military is in the process of destroying. Giovanni Ribisi nails his role as insensitive, greedy commander Parker Selfridge, who refuses to grasp the concept that Pandora’s trees represent more than just trees for the Na’vis. Michelle Rodriguez plays the role of Trudy Chacon, a helicopter pilot, with panache in her brief scenes. Writer/director James Cameron deftly combines action, drama and romance with environmental and political messages that are quite provocative. He wisely doesn’t open the film with a lengthy battle sequence nor does he spend too much time with standard exposition that you’d find in the first act. A famous director once stated that the basic elements that turn a sci-fi action thriller into a classic are the story and the characters; the special effects will be worthless after ten years. Avatar happens to have memorable characters and a compelling story. Once Jake becomes the avatar, you’ll find yourself transported into an amazing world filled with vivid colors and an alien species that not may not look like they’re human, but, as it turns out, have much more in common with humans than expected. There’s much more to them, especially to Neytiri, than meets the eye. Sure, the plot seems deceptively simple and sound reminiscent of Dances with Wolves and Pocahontas, but its derivative quality doesn’t take away from its entertainment value. You’ll often find yourself exhilarated, thrilled and immersed by the captivating story. The relationship between Jake and Neytiri may not be particularly organic and well-devoloped, but at least they both have a modicum of romantic chemistry that won’t make you roll your eyes. Moreover, Cameron includes easy-to-follow action sequences that don’t become nauseating along with dazzling visual effects which provide for plenty of eye candy, especially in glorious IMAX 3D. At a running time of 2 hours and 42 minutes, Avatar never overstays its welcome and manages to be a brilliant, visual extravaganza that’s simultaneously thrilling, provocative and surprisingly moving. It’s destined to become a sci-fi classic.
Number of times I checked my watch: 0
Released by Twentieth Century Fox.
Opens nationwide.


Directed by Rob Marshall.

Based on the Broadway musical. Inspired by Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. In 1965, Guido Contini (Daniel-Day Lewis), an aging film director, suffers from a midlife crisis as he’s about to turn 40. He and his film crew gather at Cinecittà Film Studios in Rome to begin production on his ninth film, but his last two films were flops and he currently has writer’s block, so he hasn’t even written the screenplay yet. During a press conference where he announces his next film, he recalls the encounters he had with seven women who played an important role in his life. He desperately hopes that he’ll find inspiration through those recollections. Those women include Luisa (Marion Cotillard), his wife, Carla (Penelope Cruz), his mistress, Stephanie (Kate Hudson), an American fashion reporter for Vogue, Saraghina (Fergie), a prostitute, Claudia (Nicole Kidman), the star of his film, Lilli (Judi Dench), his costume designer and good friend, and, finally, his beloved mother (Sophia Loren). Unfortunately, the screenplay, co-written by Michael Tolkin and Anthony Minghella, awkwardly jumps back and forth between the lively musical numbers and lackluster dramatic scenes. Although director Rob Marshall includes song and dance numbers that are well-choreographed and stylishly shot, they’re often too distracting and lack fluidity with the preceding and following scenes. Guido lacks chemistry with each of the women except with Lilli and Luisa, but, concurrently, his relationships with them are rather ephemeral onscreen as well as dull. The screenplay doesn’t really capture his thoughts and feelings organically and thoroughly enough, so he always remains at an emotional distance from the audience and ends up a forgettable character that never comes to life. On a positive note, Marion Cotillard gives a radiant, heartfelt performance and Penelope Cruz sizzles just as expected. At a running time of 1 hour and 58 minutes, Nine boasts an all-star ensemble cast, lively musical numbers, but it suffers from style over substance with an uneven balance of drama and romance that leaves you unmoved and underwhelmed.
Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by The Weinstein Company.
Opens at the Ziegfeld Theater. Opens nationwide on December 25th.

The Other Side of Paradise

Directed by Justin D. Hilliard.

Rose Hewitt (Arianne Martin) picks up her friend, Alex Doran (John Elliott), from the airport in Dallas to go on a road trip all the way to Austin for the opening of her very first photo gallery. Along the way there, they stop a prison to by to pick up Jamie (Frank Mosley), Rose’s paroled younger brother, and from there to the town of Paradise where Rose’s father, James (Jodie Moore) resides. Courtney (Susana Gibb), James’ new wife who’s quite peppy, dim-witted and only slightly older than Rose, awkwardly greets them in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Other detours include a swimming pool that happens to belong to a bigoted redneck, a hotel where Jamie must pretend to be blind and use Rose’s little dog as a seeing-eye dog. Just by the way that Rose and Alex look and talk to each other throughout the road trip, it’s clear that they want to be more than just friends with one another. The sensitive screenplay by Justine D. Hilliard, Arianne Martin and Ryan Hartsell balances the drama with just the right amount of humor. For every comedic moment, there’s a dramatic one that adds some poignancy and gravitas, such as when it comes to Rose and Alex’s gradually blossoming romance, how Alex responds to Rose getting raped by a bartender, and Rose’s attempt to meet her biological mother, Lola (Sandra Looney). Director Justin D. Hilliard includes a lively soundtrack and an appropriate leisurely pace allowing you to get to immerse yourself in each scene. It’s also worth mentioning Arianne Martin’s charming, radiant performance as the very appealing and sexy Rose. Her very first scene in the film is both honest and revealing. The more you observe her, Alex and Jamie together on the road, the more you’re interested in learning more about them. They’re each true-to-life and complex characters and there’s more to them than meets the eye. Beneath Rose’s upbeat personality and smile, lurks some sadness and pain that she ends up coming to terms with. In many ways, the journey that she goes through is also a spiritual one during which she essentially discovers herself by facing her deep-rooted issues while Alex helps her through those emotional hurdles. At a running time of just under 2 hours, The Other Side of Paradise manages to be funny, wise, tender and well-nuanced while boasting a radiant, genuinely charming performance by Arianne Martin.
Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Striped Socket Productions.
Opens at the Quad Cinema.

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