December 30, 2009

Avatar: The Last 3D Mindbender

**Warning. This movie contains a lot of CGI. Pregnant women and people who are sensitive to CGI should not take this movie. Consult a doctor if CGI is right for you.**

Let's talk about colonialism, kiddies.

For the last half a millennia or so, Europeans have been going to other parts of the world, establishing bases, running up flags, and generally kicking ass, taking names, and giving out the occasional blanket covered in small pox. Imagine Christopher Columbus in wrap-around shades with an Uzi in one hand and the Spanish flag in the other discovering the new world so he can BRING THE GODDAMN HURT, and then you've got a pretty good idea of how it went down. If you've ever actually been to England, you'll understand, too, because the place is a boring shithole.

However, eventually people got tired of listening to the 17th century equivalent of "America, Fuck Yeah!" on repeat and watching an unstoppable army of white guys named John O'Sullivan shoot down indigenous people like it was garbage day, so they came up with the concept of the noble savage.

In short, the "Noble Savage" is a romantic way to dress up racism-- In this version of racism, instead of the natives being inferior to civilization, the "savages" have a closer connection to nature due to their primitive, unencumbered-by-civilization state. However, in order to survive the destructive presence of the all-powerful white man, they need to be led into enlightenment by a white man. In noble savage stories, a white man is always the one who saves the day for those poor, salt-of-the-earth virtuous natives.

And that's where I come back to James Cameron's epic Avatar, because it is chock-full of this same racist, hacked-together "noble savage" bullshit I'm tired of being force-fed. I went into this movie expecting to have my intelligence and morals insulted like being ball-gagged and forced to watch The Glenn Beck Snow without commercial interruptions, but then something so rage-inducingly frustrating happened that I can't even put words to the sheer mangled hatred that boiled through my veins.

The movie was actually pretty good.

Does a white guy working for an EVIL CORPORATION(tm) join a tribe of native oversized smurfs, become their leader, and save the day due to his uniquely racial tenacity and ability to think outside the box? Yes. Should that be fundamentally belittling to the plight of native peoples around the globe? Yes. Is the film equally insulting to human civilization, even going so far as to trivialize the sum of human creative, social, and technological achievement as "light beer and blue jeans?" Yes. Is is awesome?

Sadly, yes.

James Cameron's Avatar is good. The CGI is so photorealistic that every single frame of this movie could make an amazing desktop background. The flora, fauna, and native civilization are imaginatively put-together. The character development is thin enough that one doesn't get the sense that this is nothing more than a pompous version of Fern Gully, but thick enough that when the final battle sequence starts TWO AND A HALF HOURS INTO THE MOVIE you almost don't feel like you've lost two hours of your life. The movie is in every way worth your ten bucks.

But beware, all you who might fall prey to the movie's romantic view of nature and criminalizing view of society. Life among those blue-skinned natives isn't so great. Yeah, the Na'vi might be able to fly around on pterodactyls powered only by their minds and have face paint that is metal as fuck, but they don't have any of the benefits of a real human civilization. You may think this a eurocentric point of view, and you're damn right: I'll take having a written language and the scientific method over faith healing and flying pterodactyls any day.

And so, I'll leave you with the greatest example of colonialism I can muster:



And PS: Hardcore movie nerds may have caught the name of this film's macguffin, the little rock that the humans want to mine on Pandora. The element is called "Unobtainium," which happens to be the same name as the plottainium element from the 2005 bomber The Core.

December 25, 2009

It's Elementary, My Dear Whats-his-face

**Wikipedia Warning: This article is about the detective, Sherlock Holmes. For other uses of "brilliant cokehead" see Robert Downey Jr.**

What comes to mind when I bring up the name of the world famous detective, Sherlock Holmes? Are you the type of person who immediately thinks of the dashing ratiocinator with his pipe and hat, sitting in the back of his room at 221b Baker Street, snorting a line of Colombia Gold like he's Little Wayne on a drug bust and then thoroughly explaining why it's all the butler's fault, or, perhaps, are you the kind of person whose mind immediately flashes to a white Dalmatian wearing a plaid hat and a cape?

If you fall in the latter category, you might be the target audience for Guy Richie's surprising new film revolving around that same titular character. By this, of course, I mean that ever lovable dog, Sherlock Holmes. The only difference between the Wishbone version and this $200 million dollar version is that that except for the dog we get Robert Downey Jr, and except for made-for-PBS kid-friendliness we get Guy Richie's fast-talking, guns-blaring speed material so heavily steeped in contagious style that one might serve it with crumpets and Tarantino.

And a side of raw cocaine, but that's another story.

Don't get me wrong, Sherlock Holmes (2009) isn't bad by any stretch. It promises modern action and delivers. Holmes blares across the screen, karate-chopping and judo-punching his way through hordes of mustashio'd henchmen like some sort of Bruce Willis character who rounds out his beatings with a "Jolly ho, good chap!" and a dramatic correction of his hat. Yes, there are some things to gripe about, like the the villain who is so sinister he looks like a British version of Andy Garcia and acts like Xanatos from the Gargoyles animated television show, but he's scary enough and smart enough to give Holmes a good run for his money, and the dialogue, if you're quick enough to follow it all, makes the whole film worth watching.



But there's something just a little too predictable here. The film forsakes the narrative structure of the source material, and instead picks up the structure of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Just like Indy, Holmes is a period adventurer whose intellect is only matched by his physical prowess. Just like Indy, Holmes matches each impossible intuitive leap with similar physical leaps across London. Finally, Just like Indy, director Guy Richie shows off his prowess just a little too much: he shows us each scene with the wool over our eyes and then relishes jumping back in time to show us exactly how it all really went down through the eyes of Sherlock Holmes, just like Troy Duffy would do if he were, you know, talented.

And that brings me to London. The film does a great job using CGI to recreate the look of 19th century London, but one gets a sense of anacronism in the task. Did you know, for example, that 19th century London was actually designed to look like the rooftop scene in Mary Poppins? The whole city looks like it fell out of an old lady's handbag and then got ran over by a car filled with coke, and I mean the kind made of charcoal, not the kind made out of Robert Downey Jr.

There are hints at the sinister Professor Moriarty, but these hints are actually more distracting than anything else. Is there anything worse than a movie that knows it's going to get a sequel or two? Yes. It's a movie that relies on it's sequel, like this one. If Sherlock Holmes made any more room for it's own follow-ups, it would be just a gaping, two-hour trailer for Sherlock Holmes 2: The Hound of the Baskervilles. Am I looking forward to the sequel? Yes. Does this movie merit one? No.

And with that, I'll leave you with the best Sherlock Holmes movie I've ever seen: