My review of Avatar

I give Avatar 3 out of 5 stars. The visual effects are impressive, but the story is only adequate. If you haven't seen it yet, buy a ticket and you'll enjoy this movie (especially in 3D IMAX). But it's not one you'll be talking about years from now. Read on for more details (no major spoilers)…

Other than a brief opening sequence, all the movie takes place on the alien world Pandora. Pandora's blue humanoid aliens are the Na'vi. Despite its Earth-like appearance, humans require breathing masks to operate outside the main base, run by a nameless corporation. The corporation's scientific division has created Na'vi bodies which can be controlled by humans. When linked into these bodies, the human drivers experience the world as Na'vi, and can walk around outside the base without the need for breathing masks. The main character, Sully, is a paraplegic ex-marine who unexpectedly gets a chance to run one of the avatars. All previous avatar operators are scientists with years of training, so there is initial animosity between Sully and the scientists on the base. Sully eventually gets caught between the nameless corporation who runs the base to mine a very rare & expensive mineral, and the Na'vi who have a deep spiritual connection to their world. The nameless corporation has tried to entice them with new technology, but the Na'vi are happy with their natural lifestyle. The company has well-equipped security division comprised mostly of ex-military, led by a trigger-happy Colonel. It doesn't take long for lop-sided confrontations between the security division and the Na'vi. Further complicating things is a romance that develops between Sully and a Na'vi woman.

This noble-savages vs evil-corporation plot is just barely adequate. About half-way through the movie, you will probably be able to predict the overall plot for the remainder of the movie. Cameron does have a few sci-fi twists on how the Na'vi are linked to their environment, but nothing that exceptional.

The visuals, on the other hand, are spectacular. It's hard to believe that the vast majority of Pandora's lush scenery and alien creatures are computer generated. In the last few years Cameron has been doing documentary films, and the first half of the film feels like a nicely done nature documentary. The Na'vi are equally impressive on-screen. Cameron filmed actors playing Na'vi roles, then used motion captured from these performances to animate the computer-generated Na'vi you see on screen. Previous to the Na'vi, the best computer generated character was Gollum from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. The Na'vi are definitely a notch above Gollum. I've seen some reviewers who say that Cameron has finally conquered the uncanny valley with the Na'vi, but that may be a bit too generous. Although humanoid, the Na'vi are still not human, so it's hard to know if Cameron could really have pulled off an entirely believable computer generated human. Regardless, the Na'vi as humanoid aliens are totally believable and never strike a false note.

Comparing Avatar with Cameron's other movies, it feels like a cross between his sci-fi adventure The Abyss, and his romantic drama Titanic.  The battles in the last 30 minutes of Avatar are excellent, but The Abyss was a white-knuckle ride virtually the entire movie.  On a pure romantic drama basis, Avatar is not as good as Titanic which didn't have any sci-fi or adventure distractions.

Despite my complaints about the plot, the visuals make up for what the plot is lacking. If you haven't seen Avatar yet, go buy a ticket this weekend. You won't regret it.

"In the Shadow of the Moon"

Just watched a fantastic documentary In the Shadow of the Moon from 2006. It's a 1 hr 40 min documentary interview with ten of the Apollo astronauts. There's no narrator, just the astronauts and historical footage. The focus is their view of the overall experience, not so much the details. (watch the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon for lots of the details)

Be sure to watch through the closing credits, where the astronauts give their views on the persistent hoax theories that we did not land actually land on the Moon. I liked Charlie Duke's comment, "We've been to the Moon nine times. I mean, why did we fake it nine times if we faked it?"

All these men were interesting, but the real treat was Michael Collins' comments. He was the astronaut who stayed in orbit around the Moon while Neil and Buzz became the first men to walk on the Moon. Collins was simply spoken, animated, and funny in an understated way. Below are of some of the things Collins said in the movie:

On the day of the launch, as they got out of the van at the pad to walk to the elevator:

When you get out to the base of this gigantic gantry, it's … it's empty, there's nobody there, it's deserted. And you're accustomed to scores of workers, swarming like ants all up and down and around it, and you're in a crowd of people. And then suddenly, there's nobody there and you think, "God, you know, maybe they know something I don't know!"

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Mr. Cranky movie reviews has never reviewed a movie he likes. His rating scale from best to worst is

1 bomb = Almost tolerable

2 bombs = Consistently annoying

3 bombs = Will require therapy after viewing

4 bombs = As good as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick

Ka-BOOM! = So godawful that it ruptured the very fabric of space and time with the sheer overpowering force of its mediocrity.

Nuke = Proof that Jesus died in vain.

Here's some choice bits from his review of the lastest Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith (he gave it 3 bombs):

Ultimately, Anakin chooses the dark side because it has a better health care plan.

If George Lucas has a filmmaking philosophy, it goes something like this: drama + special effects = more drama. By this point in the series, however, audiences have pretty much seen it all, and the only way Lucas could get anyone's attention would be to crash the nitroglycerine planet directly into the enriched uranium planet.

To say that "Revenge of the Sith" is disappointing, given that some of us have invested almost 30 years of our lives in this franchise, is like saying that Catholics were a little sad when the Pope died.

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle

I watched a funny movie last night, Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle. It's about one night in the life of two twenty-somethings who get a craving for White Castle hamburgers after smoking some weed. It's kind of a combination of a Wayne's World movie, a Cheech & Chong movie, and a Bill & Ted movie. But unlike these movies, the main characters, Harold & Kumar, are very intelligent (Harold works at an investment bank, and Kumar is applying for med school).

Combine two movie poster into one has competitions for the best fake images for a particular category. This category was: Mate-a-movie. Combine two or more movies into one.

The movie posters are fantastic. They are for movies like:

Dirty Harry Potter
Hulk Fiction
Finding Neo (starring Keaneu Reeves)
Gandhi in 60 Seconds

The page takes a long time to load cause of all the images. But it's worth it!

(Im)morality of the Star Wars universe

Most of the characters in the Star Wars universe talk about democracy and freedom, but what about their actions?

Jonathan V. Last wrote an editorial piece, The Case for the Empire, after watching Ep2: Attack of the Clones.

David Brin wrote two pieces for Salon, "Star Wars" despots vs. "Star Trek" populists and What's wrong (and right) with "The Phantom Menace". After these articles were published, he received a lot of "feedback" from Star Wars fans, so he wrote a response on his own website.