Nw Releases for the Week of January 11, 2019


THE UPSIDE

(STX) Kevin Hart, Bryan Cranston, Nicole Kidman, Julianna Margulies, Aja Naomi King, Tate Donovan. Directed by Neil Burger

An ex-con newly released from prison and fighting to get custody of his son back answers an ad for employment. He doesn’t expect to get hired, only to get proof that he applied. However, he ends up getting hired to be the attendant for a quadriplegic billionaire. The two men will find that the other is indispensable for finding each of their way back into the light. Based on a true story, this was first filmed as one of the all-time French box office hits Les Intouchables.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Life Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for suggestive content and drug use)

A Dog’s Way Home

(Columbia) Ashley Judd, Bryce Dallas Howard (voice), Edward James Olmos, Wes Studi. A young man’s beloved dog gets lost and must make a 400 mile journey to get back home.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Family
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for thematic elements, some peril and language)

Replicas

(Entertainment Studios) Keanu Reeves, Alice Eve, Thomas Middleditch, John Ortiz. After a brilliant scientist loses his entire family in a car crash, he is determined to find a way to bring them back. Even if he can surmount the laws of nature, he’ll have to contend with a government-controlled lab and a police task force if he is to get his family back again.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, disturbing images, some nudity and sexual references)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Against the Clock
Being Rose
F2: Fun and Frustration
Jack ‘Em, Popoy
Madeline’s Madeline
Modest Heroes
NTR – Kathanayakudu
Petta
Rust Creek
Sgt. Will Gardner
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama
Viswasam

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Anthem of a Teenage Prophet
F2: Fun and Frustration
The Incredible Story of the Giant Pear
Life and Nothing More…
Modest Heroes
NTR – Kathanayakudu
Perfectos Desconocidos
Petta
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama
Viswasam

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

The Accident-Prone Minister
Ashes in the Snow
F2: Fun and Frustration
Modest Heroes
Norm of the North: Keys to the Kingdom
NTR – Kathanayakudu
Petta
Sgt. Will Gardner
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama
Viswasam

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

The Accidental Prime Minister
F2: Fun and Frustration
Modest Heroes
Petta
Uri
Vinaya Vidheya Rama

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

A Dog’s Way Home
Anthem of a Teenage Prophet
Replicas
Rust Creek
The Upside

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New Releases for the Week of January 26, 2018


MAZE RUNNER: THE DEATH CURE

(20th Century Fox) Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie Sangster, Will Poulter, Jacob Lofland, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper. Directed by Wes Ball

The final chapter in the Maze Runner trilogy sees the young hero Thomas desperately searching the post-apocalyptic Earth for the cure to the deadly plague known as The Flare. The project was delayed after star Dylan O’Brien was injured during filming.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby Atmos, IMAX, RPX, XD
Genre: Science Fiction
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and some thematic elements)

Hostiles

(Entertainment Studios) Christian Bale, Wes Studi, Rosamund Pike, Timothée Chalamet. A legendary army officer is tasked at the close of the 19th century to escort a dying Cheyenne war chief from a New Mexico fort where he had been incarcerated to the grasslands of Montana where his tribe has been sent. It’s a perilous journey and the captain is none to pleased about having to make it but during the trip circumstances will force him to work with his mortal enemy in order to survive.

See the trailer and interviews here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Western
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence, and language)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

49 Pulses
Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes
Bhaagamathie
In the Fade
Padmaavat

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Bhaagamathie
Humor Me
Kickboxer: Retaliation
The Neighbor
Padmaavat

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Aadu 2
Bhaagamathie
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
The Competition
The Neighbor
Padmaavat

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes
The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Bhaagamathie
The Divine Order
Padmaavat

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Ballad of Lefty Brown
Hostiles
In the Fade
Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Being Flynn


Note to self: no more unfunny comedies!

Note to self: no more unfunny comedies!

(2012) Dramedy (Focus) Robert De Niro, Paul Dano, Julianne Moore, Olivia Thirlby, Wes Studi, Lili Taylor, Eddie Rouse, Victor Rasuk, Liam Broggy, Chris Chalk, Thomas Middleditch, Sarah Quinn, Benjamin Foronda, Dale Dickey, Joshua Alscher, Dawn McGee, Billy Wirth, Michael Gibson, Kelly J. McCreary, Deidra O’Connell, Michael Genadry, Katherine Waterston. Directed by Paul Weitz

The relationship between father and son can be tricky. Not everyone who fathers a son can be a father. Often, whether or not we choose to accept it or even acknowledge it, the sins of the father are inherited by the son.

You wouldn’t think there was much of a chance of that in the case of Nick Flynn (Dano). He hasn’t even seen his dear old dad Jonathan (De Niro) in 18 years and has demons of his own to deal with. His mother (Moore) has recently committed suicide and he has continued to sink into a well of addiction, infidelity (his girlfriend has kicked him to the curb for both of these reasons if one wasn’t enough) and depression. He gets work at a homeless shelter, doing the kind of work that most people would shy away from – delousing new residents, bathing them, that sort of thing. Nick is a writer who has lost his muse; this could be a gold mine for him if he chooses to view it that way.

Unfortunately, Nick is too self-involved in a downward spiral of booze and guilt to see the opportunity and that spiral only gains speed when he finds his father taking a bed at the shelter. Jonathan, who is happy to tell you that he is the great American writer you’ve never heard of, has lost his only steady employment as a taxi driver and has been kicked out of his apartment for starting fistfights, is almost certainly suffering from some sort of dementia, growing more aggressive and misanthropic by the day until his antics get him ejected from the home, further straining the bonds between the two men. Both are if not at bottom pretty damn close; can they get past their demons and reclaim their relationship and use it to help each other rise above or are they destined for the same shabby fate?

De Niro has been in the pantheon of America’s greatest actors for decades although as of late he hasn’t had a truly memorable performance, sticking to mainstream comedies, mob roles that are a shadow of his triumphs with Martin Scorsese, and a few maudlin dramas here and there. This is a reminder of why he is De Niro, perhaps his most scintillating role since Casino which coincidentally was the last film he made to date for Scorsese. Jonathan is larger than life, an Irish bard with the edginess of a Holden Caulfield and the cynicism of a film critic. De Niro inhabits the role, giving us a man whose actions are unpredictable and mainly self-aggrandizing but there still remains somewhere buried deep among the bravado and the BS a decent human being.

Dano who has in the last few years begun to emerge as a pretty decent actor after years of playing the same sorts of roles has the thankless job of playing with De Niro but actually manages to hold his own. Nick refuses to acknowledge his own issues and like many addicts doesn’t see the dangerous reefs he is steering directly towards. There are times that his character is heart-rending but others when you just want to give him a good smack across the chops.

Also worthy of note is Moore in a brief but memorable turn as Nick’s mom and Jonathan’s ex. Even in the face of two really excellent performances she manages to stand out in her limited screen time. If I haven’t said it before, Julianne Moore is one of the best actresses in the world today and she deserves more discussion when it comes to that.

Where the production suffers is that Weitz (in all likelihood pressured by the studio) has made a kind of schizophrenic movie and I’m not even talking about the dual narration (we get the POVs of both Jonathan and Nick). What I mean to say is that there are times when the movie is edgy and gritty, but then others when it sinks into cliche. I get that this is based on a true story – yes, there really is a Nick Flynn and he really did run into his dad at a homeless shelter that he worked at – but there are some moments that really don’t ring true here.

This is one of those movies that came and went quickly with little fanfare or attention which is kind of a shame because De Niro’s performance alone is worth checking out. While the movie itself is flawed, there are some pretty good moments in the movie that you might want to give your attention to. If you haven’t already seen it, this is one of those movies worth watching when you’re looking for something different to watch.

WHY RENT THIS: De Niro is in top form here which is all you should really need.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Sometimes goes cliche instead of edgy.

FAMILY VALUES: Lots of foul language, some sexual situations, some drug usage and alcohol abuse as well as some nudity.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally titled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City which is the same title that the memoir that it is based upon is titled but studio brass balked, feeling that it would alienate its potential audience before they even walked in the door.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $540,152 on an unknown production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Asylum

A Million Ways to Die in the West


Only Charlize Theron knows what to do with the hordes of film critics who have turned their venom loose on this movie.

Only Charlize Theron knows what to do with the hordes of film critics who have turned their venom loose on this movie.

(2014) Western Comedy (Universal) Seth MacFarlane, Charlize Theron, Giovanni Ribisi, Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman, Liam Neeson, Christopher Hagen, Wes Studi, Matt Clark, Evan Jones, Aaron McPherson, Rex Linn, Brett Rickaby, Alex Borstein, Ralph Garman, John Aylward, Gilbert Gottfried, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Lloyd, Ryan Reynolds. Directed by Seth MacFarlane

During the 1950s, Americans tended to idealize the Old West. Rugged cowboys rode the range, rescued pretty school marms from bandits and varmints, and generally saved the day with an “aw, shucks” modesty. Cowboys were real men, Indians were the enemy and things were pretty simple. Of course, it wasn’t really like that.

The Old West was in reality a brutal place where arguments were solved with guns, violence was rampant, sanitation was next to impossible and the only thing worse than contracting a disease was going to the doctor to get it cured. Albert (MacFarlane), a sheep farmer in hole-in-the-wall Old Stump, Arizona, knows it better than most. He is the sort of guy who would rather negotiate than fight, which makes him yellow in the Old West. That’s fine and dandy with Albert. He’d much rather be a live coward than a dead hero.

His girlfriend Louise (Seyfried) doesn’t necessarily agree with that philosophy. After a humiliation after being challenged to a gunfight, Louise decides she’s had enough and dumps Albert in favor of Foy (Harris), a successful shop owner who caters to moustache owners. Albert is devastated. Louise was one of the only things worth staying in the West for. San Francisco would be a much better place for him, much to the disdain of his father (Hagen). His close friends Edward (Ribisi) and Ruth (Silverman) commiserate but they have problems of their own. For one, they’ve been together and they want to have sex, but also want to wait until they get married and keep their purity. Until then, Ruth will continue working as a prostitute to help save up enough to get married. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

Into his life waltzes Anna (Theron), a gorgeous blonde who is new in town. She also happens to be a crack shot and when Albert loses his temper and challenges Foy to a gunfight, she offers to help Albert work on his marksmanship. Of course, they soon develop into something more than friends even though Albert still wants to win Louise back. However, Anna might have forgot to mention that she’s married – to Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson), one of the most vicious and deadliest gunfighters in the West.

The title is apt. MacFarlane’s character constantly grouses throughout about how dangerous it is out in the West and throughout the film people get killed by wild animals, shot by ornery bandits, crushed by blocks of ice and in a memorable sequence, fart themselves to death.

Fans of MacFarlane’s TV show Family Guy will no doubt feel right at home here. However, it should be said that the humor is pushes the envelope HARD and there are some things that you’re going to find offensive, like the shooting gallery gag that also serves as the fodder for an after-the-credits scene with a surprise cameo appearance. In fact, there are a ton of cameos to keep an eye out for.

Otherwise, this is one of those movies that throws as many jokes as it can into the mix and sees which ones you find funny and which ones you don’t. When the comedy works here, it’s sidesplitting. When it doesn’t, it’s groan-inducing. Fortunately, it works more than not.

MacFarlane is an appealing lead, although his character is a kind of neurotic nebbish, sort of like Woody Allen in chaps. MacFarlane, who co-wrote as well as directed and starred in this, has the characters act in fairly modern idioms, which allows 2014 audiences to relate better to the action in some ways while others might find this anachronistic and off-putting. It is part of the humor to hear someone from 1882 say “Oh, snap!” although again, there was some sniffing from critical quarters.

The supporting cast isn’t a bunch of straight men (and women) to MacFarlane as a lot of modern comedies tend to do; they all have their funny moments which you would want from a cast of talented actors like this. Only Neeson seems to be playing it straight, although he does give Clinch an outrageous Lucky Charms Irish accent which apparently he insisted upon before taking the part. I don’t know if a gunslinger with an Irish brogue rates laughs but okay.

MacFarlane references other Western comedies, notably Blazing Saddles and Django Unchained (which isn’t, strictly speaking, pure comedy) directly and otherwise. He makes use of Utah’s Monument Valley (subbing for Arizona) with some nifty cinematography, graphics and score right out of a 1950s epic screen Western. Visually speaking, he’s got the Western part down. However, the story doesn’t really support the length of the film and I got a little bit fidgety there towards the end.

This hasn’t been getting good reviews and I’ve also read some comments from non-reviewers that expressed how offended they were at this movie. There are those who tolerate offensive humor more than others and if you’re one of the others it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to check this out. I don’t think this is as good as MacFarlane’s previous movie Ted but that movie had its share of squirm-inducing moments. Use that as your guide as to whether you should see it or not. This isn’t for everybody, but the people that it is are going to love it.

REASONS TO GO: When it’s funny, it’s hysterical. Fun concept.

REASONS TO STAY: Overkill. Runs about 20 minutes too long. Those who don’t tolerate profanity and sex very well should stay the fuck away.

FAMILY VALUES: A cornucopia of profanity and sexual innuendo, some violence and drug use.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Theron wore a wig throughout the shooting because she had shaved her head for the filming of Mad Max: Fury Road.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/3/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 33% positive reviews. Metacritic: 44/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Blazing Saddles

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Maleficent

Mystery Men


Skull bowling has never really taken off as a recreational sport.

Skull bowling has never really taken off as a recreational sport.

(1999) Superhero (Universal) Ben Stiller, William H. Macy, Geoffrey Rush, Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Paul Reubens, Kel Mitchell, Greg Kinnear, Wes Studi, Lena Olin, Eddie Izzard, Artie Lange, Prakazrel Michel, Claire Forlani, Tom Waits, Emmy Laybourne . Directed by Kinka Usher

If you have had enough of brooding Dark Knights, angsty-but-noble Spider-Men or of Too-Good-To-Be-True Men of Steel, here are the other guys, the kinds of heroes that would probably show up to save OUR day.

Mr. Furious (Stiller), known for his legendary rages, leads a trio of what local cops contemptuously call wannabes, rounded out by the Shoveller (Macy), the straight man who says modestly “we just fight crime…call it what you will” and the obtuse Blue Raja (Azaria), who speaks in a phony British accent and has not a speck of the color blue in his costume. He throws silverware with uncanny accuracy, although he has trouble flinging knives which is one the things that makes Mr. Furious so hopped-up mad.

When this trio of do-gooders attempt to save an old-folks home from robbery, they wind up having the crap kicked out of them only to be rescued by Captain Amazing (Kinnear), Champion City’s legitimate superhero. It seems Amazing has done his work too well, and there are no real battles left for him to fight. So when his arch-nemesis Casanova Frankenstein (Rush) is released from the asylum, Amazing hopes for the kind of apocalyptic battle that will bring the Captain’s sinking stock back to the fore. So when Amazing is captured by his mortal enemy, there’s nobody left to save the day except…you guessed it.

Realizing they are woefully overmatched, they try to recruit some additional firepower (which leads to the Superhero Audition, one of the best scenes in the movie). They wind up with the Spleen (Reubens), whose incapacitating gasses are best left undescribed, the Invisible Kid (Kel Mitchell) who can only turn invisible when nobody’s watching, the Sphinx (Studi) who utters semi-mystical phrases of meaningless babble (sample; “If you do not master your rage, your rage will master you”) and the Bowler (Garofalo), who keeps her father’s skull in her bowling ball and carries on conversations with her departed dad that blur the line between neurotic and psychotic but settle into a kind of Jewish angst.

The odds are against them as they find themselves some weapons (which mainly don’t work) and get themselves some snazzy new costumes which do. However, with their backs to the wall they still refuse to walk away, knowing that this fight could very well be their last.

Usher tries way too hard to turn this into a roller coaster ride of comedy and action, winding up with something that tain’t one thing nor t’other. There are car chases and fight scenes, but mostly played with a wink. The set design is memorable, sort of a cross between Gotham City and the overlooked sci-fi flick Dark City. There are a lot of terrific running jokes; only Mr. Furious seems to notice the remarkable resemblance between Captain Amazing and his alter ego, for example. Note the corporate sponsorships on the uniform of Captain Amazing, for another – sort of like a European soccer uniform or a NASCAR suit.

This is definite eye candy, highly entertaining eye candy at that. The action sequences aren’t half bad although they are played with a definite wink.  The cast is formidable, with some of the most underrated talents in Hollywood. Superhero parodies have not traditionally sold well in the comic book store, and this one certain didn’t bust down the box office bank. Still, if you want to get away from the usual suspects of Marvel and DC superheroes, here is the kind of movie that will keep the parents entertained without having their kids squirming in their seats.

WHY RENT THIS: Magnificent eye candy. An alternative from the usual superhero fare. Some fine performances, particularly from Macy, Stiller, Kinnear, Studi and Garofalo.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Comedy and action sequences sometimes clash. A little neurotic in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: Some rather crude jokes and a bit of comic book violence.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: The comic book from which this originated was began as a spin-off from the Flaming Carrot comic books but only Mr. Furious, the Spleen and the Shoveller made it from the book to the film (the Bowler, Invisible Kid and Blue Raja are all new characters developed for the film). The Sphynx is a Golden Age character in the public domain and Captain Amazing is a substitute for the Flaming Carrot whom producers thought was too bizarre a character for a mainstream Hollywood film.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the origin of the comic book series and a couple of music videos.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $33.5M on a $68M production budget; the movie was an unqualified flop.

STATION WAGON LOVERS: The Shoveller’s car is an early AMC Rebel.

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: This is 40

Seraphim Falls


Seraphim Falls

Pierce Brosnan discovers you need a lake in order to go ice fishing.

(2006) Western (Goldwyn) Pierce Brosnan, Liam Neeson, Michael Wincott, Anjelica Huston, Xander Berkeley, Ed Lauter, Tom Noonan, Kevin J. O’Connor, John Robinson, Angie Harmon, Wes Studi. Directed by David von Ancken

There are things that can’t be left alone, cheeks that cannot be turned. There are crimes so heinous that they cannot stand and if we can’t get justice in the conventional way, we must find a way of seeking it ourselves.

Gideon (Brosnan) is a trapper in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada roasting his dinner over the fire when a shot rings out. Gideon is shot in the shoulder. Not knowing where his assailants are, he tumbles down the mountain, taking as many of his things as he can. He flees to a secluded spot and builds a fire, digging out the bullet from his shoulder with a hunting knife and then heating up the blade to cauterize the wound.

We find out that the pursuer is Carver (Neeson), who has with him a posse of four grim men. While some of his company thinks Gideon is dead, Carver knows he isn’t. They spread out to try and find him – which turns out to be a mistake as Gideon jumps one of the posse and kills him.

Gideon escapes from the mountains and attempts to steal a horse from a homesteader. He is discovered but his wound prompts the family to give him shelter. Realizing that the posse is on its way, Gideon steals a horse anyway. He makes it to a railroad camp where the foreman, recognizing the horse, detains him. He manages to get away and steal another horse and rides into the desert. There he will have his final reckoning with his pursuers. Who will emerge alive?

Westerns are not the most popular of genres these days and quite frankly, the problem with them has been that a lot of the stories are somewhat derivative. This one smells a lot like The Outlaw Josie Wales in construction, and that bothered me a bit. As the film progresses, we get to see why Carver is chasing Gideon (and to be fair, the reason is pretty compelling) and your sympathies begin to shift from Gideon to Carver – but this film is much less successful at making the vengeance seeker seem sympathetic as we were for Josie Wales.

But you can’t really complain all that much when you have an Oscar-winning cinematographer like John Toll at your disposal and he doesn’t disappoint, giving us vistas of snowy mountains, dusty railroad camps and dry, barren deserts. It is as beautiful-looking a film as you’re likely to see.

There are also some close-ups of hideous wounds that will turn the stomach of the squeamish, so be warned about that. However, even the squeamish will enjoy the acting performances here. Brosnan is guttural in his speech resembling Clint Eastwood crossed with Brando in a way, his face careworn and grizzled. The deeds of his past are apparent in his eyes. Brosnan has always had the reputation of being more of a pretty face than a good actor, but since leaving his former job as Bond he has become a pretty decent actor.

Neeson, on the other hand, has always had a good reputation since day one; only lately has he become an action hero. He broods with the best of them and as a wronged man there are few better at inspiring sympathy, although strangely enough he is so brutal early on it is hard to get behind him when the reason for his pursuit is revealed.

The two are supported by a surprisingly solid group of character actors, including Lauter and Wincott as members of Carver’s posse, Studi as a fast-talking Indian trader, Huston as a snake-oil saleswoman and Harmon in a brief appearance as a loyal wife. Von Ancken, who has extensive television experience in his background, does a decent job with the movie but at the end of the day, doesn’t really add anything to a story that’s already been done before.

Part of the problem with filming westerns is that there are fewer and fewer locations to shoot them in. That is sad in a big way – westerns have a lot to offer and it’s a pity that more of them aren’t made. While the movie is set shortly after the Civil War (which figures heavily into the plot), this is definitely a movie about the West and not the war, although the director has stated that this is an anti-war film with parallels in our current Iraqi conflict.

In all honesty, I couldn’t see those parallels except in a very broad, very general sense. I tended to prefer the first half of the movie which was action-packed and featured Gideon getting out of one situation after another, over the second part where there was more of a 70s acid western feel to the film. If either of those scenarios suit you, by all means rent away. If not, keep on riding cowboy.

WHY RENT THIS: Awesome cinematography and nice performances from Brosnan and Neeson, as well as the fine character actors in the supporting cast.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Odd near-hallucinatory sequences near the end of the movie detract from it.

FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence and some brief language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first Western for both Brosnan and Neeson who in separate interviews said they really loved shooting this film because of their mutual love for the genre as kids.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $1.2M on an unreported production budget; I’m betting this probably lost money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: Bad Teacher

Avatar


Avatar

A gunship moves through one of the majestic landscapes of Pandora.

(20th Century Fox) Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez, Giovanni Ribisi, Joel David Moore, CCH Pounder, Wes Studi, Laz Alonso, Peter Mensah, Matt Gerald. Directed by James Cameron

A race with superior technology has a responsibility to protect those races that are less advanced than they. However, the history of humankind has shown that to rarely be the case in those sorts of situations.

In the year 2154, Marine Jake Sully (Worthington) was a grunt whose spine was injured during a campaign in Venezuela, leaving him confined to a wheelchair. His identical twin brother was a scientist who had been leaving for the wondrous world of Pandora, an Earth-sized moon orbiting a gas giant in a distant solar system, as part of the avatar program. The journey was supposed to take five years of cryo-sleep just to arrive but it would never happen; Jake’s brother was killed during a mugging.

Pandora’s atmosphere is toxic to humans. The planet is full of flora and fauna, much of which is aggressive and lethal. There is an indigenous race of humanoids called the Na’Vi, a race of 10-12 foot tall tailed bipeds that have a great deal in common with Native Americans. Even their language sounds similar.

Humans communicate with the Na’Vi through avatars, genetically engineered creatures utilizing human and Na’Vi DNA that humans link through a machine that transfers the human’s mind into the avatar allowing the human to experience what the avatar sees, tastes and touches. The Na’Vi call the avatars “dreamwalkers” because when the humans return to their own bodies, the avatars lose consciousness and appear to sleep.

Because avatars are so hideously expensive, it is determined that Jake will take his brother’s place on Pandora despite the fact that he has had no training in an avatar and is abysmally ignorant of Pandora and its dangers. When Jake arrives on Na’Vi he finds a bit of a power struggle going on in the human fortress-encampment between the scientists, led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), a cantankerous botanist, and Col. Miles Quaritch (Lang), a gung-ho ex-Marine employed as a mercenary by the RDA Corporation and its smarmy representative Parker Selfridge (Ribisi) – notice the similarity to the word “selfish” here – who are after a rare mineral called, somewhat irreverently, unobtanium. One particular Na’Vi settlement sits on a particularly rich deposit of the stuff.

The Na’Vi don’t trust the humans and with good reason. The humans look around Pandora and see a dangerous world whose resources exist for their exploitation for corporate gain. The Na’Vi sees a living world that is beautiful and inter-connected.

Jake goes on his first mission into the forest accompanied by fellow rookie Norm Spellman (Moore) and Dr. Augustine and immediately gets himself into trouble, winding up being chased by a rhino-like creature (with the head of a hammerhead shark) into a chasm where he is separated from his fellow avatars. Day turns into night and the forest becomes even more dangerous as a pack of black canine-like creatures attacks Jake. He is saved by one of the Na’Vi, the beautiful Neytiri (Saldana) who has nothing but contempt for the avatars,who as she puts it walk through the forest like ignorant children and “see nothing.” However, when a jellyfish-like lifeform becomes curious about Jake, Neytiri interprets this as a sign and takes Jake to their village.

There her father Eytukan (Studi), the clan chief and her mother Moat (Pounder), the shaman of the clan, make the determination that Jake should be trained as a hunter for the clan. Tsu-tey (Alonso), the clan’s best hunter who is also heir to the position of chief and as thus betrothed to Neytiri, is skeptical that this can be done.

My son characterized the plot as “Dances With Aliens” and he has a point. There are many similarities between the plots of Avatar and Dances With Wolves but this definitely has its own take on it. The conflict between the needs of the corporation and the world of the Na’Vi eventually come to a head. There are some intense battle sequences but in all honesty, these are not why you come to see this movie.

Never before in motion picture history has so complete an alien environment ever been created. The look of Pandora is astonishing and realistic. It is certainly alien with some familiar elements; lush vegetation, grasses and trees and many unusual flora and fauna. There is literally no way to take it all in with a single viewing which is what the filmmakers intended undoubtedly.

Some movies become event movies simply on the basis of hype and a precious few because they are game changers. Star Wars was one of the latter and so is Avatar. This is a movie that many will see simply because everyone will be talking about it and they want to get in on the conversation. Director Cameron has once again proven himself one of the most visionary directors of his generation. While some think of him as the director of Titanic, the biggest-grossing movie of all time, his legacy may rest with Avatar. This will literally change how movies get made.

The acting is surprisingly good. Weaver has made a career of delivering strong, capable performances and her Grace Augustine may rank with Ripley as the character most associated with her in the future. Worthington delivers a star-making performance that has already landed him the lead in high-profile movies and undoubtedly will continue to do so. He has all the qualities to be a big star and while his performance in Terminator Salvation hints at it, he delivers big time here. Michelle Rodriguez, an actress I’ve never really connected with before, is superb as a sympathetic pilot.

The movie runs two hours and forty minutes which is a bit long; the 3D glasses are bulky and uncomfortable and I wound up with a sore nose where the glasses rested. I have to admit that Cameron’s strong point is not dialogue and some of the characters utter lines that made me groan out loud. His points on corporate greed and its role in wiping out the ecology of our own world, the treatment of aboriginal races and the general irresponsibility of humankind are well-taken but at times he uses a 2×4 to whack us over the head with it when an ostrich feather would have done the trick.

Reviews for this movie are almost superfluous other than to pile on superlatives for a movie that richly deserves them. Avatar may be the closest thing to a visit to an alien world that most of us will get to experience in our lifetimes, but I’m sure most people have either already seen it or were planning to see it anyway without my endorsement. Still, count me in among the endorsers of this film; widely-hyped, intensely scrutinized and greatly anticipated, it delivers as one of the year’s very best.

REASONS TO GO: The visuals, the visuals, the visuals. This is a detailed, realistic world that has an internal logic. Even the elements of the fantastic make sense.

REASONS TO STAY: The movie is probably about 20-30 minutes too long and can cause a bit of sensory overload at times. Some of the film’s points get hammered in a bit too strongly.

FAMILY VALUES: A fair bit of violence and some language, but pretty much okay for most audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The avatars have five fingers and toes while the Na’Vi have four.

HOME OR THEATER: This absolutely must be experienced on the big screen, preferably in 3D and in the IMAX format if you have a theater equipped for it nearby.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: World Trade Center