AI: No accounting for taste…

Last night, I braved the nerdy throngs to see Avatar at the Imax theater.  It really was spectacular.  The 3D rendering drew me in like nothing before, making a riveting epic from what might have been a flat and cliched story in another format.  If I was the type of person who enjoyed movies primarily as a means of escapism, I might have said it was the best movie I’d ever seen.  But that’s not the type of movie watcher I am.  People approach the moviegoing experience in different ways, according to their own tastes and experiences. I tend to enjoy films that uncover layers of meaning in my life and make me think about myself and my life in new ways.  Some people prefer movies that present an idealized version of reality. Some like to have the shit scared out of them. I’ve never understood horror movies, except the kind that I can laugh at.

What kind of movies do you enjoy most?  Are you an escapist, an introspectionist, an idealist*, or something else entirely?  Did Avatar live up to your expectations?

* I’ve just pulled these terms out of my ass, so feel free to dispute them or create your own.

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. I’m seeing Avatar on Monday, it’s the mature fanboy’s opening weekend.

    I don’t have a type of movie I live, I’m pretty open to everything. The only exceptions I can think of are torture porn and what that crap the Wayans brothers think is an homage to Team ZAZ (the creators of Airplane! and Top Secret).

    Wings of Desire to the Adventures of Hudson Hawk and almost everything in between is fine by me.

  2. Movies with lots of action, stupendous visual effects, and a pulse-quickening musical score (as I presume Avatar is) just give me a headache. I prefer quiet movies that make me laugh or think or both. I also prefer movies without much violence or very depressing story lines. I get enough of this stuff in the news.

    I love everything that David Mamet has done. (Some of his older stuff is just coming out on DVD like Oleana and Homicide. Yay!)

    Ditto Tom Tykwer. (If you haven’t seen _The Princess and the Warrior_ you really should. Unless you haven’t seen _Run, Lola, Run_ in which case you should see that first.)

    I also like Hal Hartley quite a bit, but his work is uneven.

    The best movie ever made in any genre is _The Princess Bride_ and I’ll thrash the blackguard that says it ain’t so.

  3. I just need areolae and plenty of ’em. I need at least 37 areolae for a movie to be worth my time.

    Failing that, I need either a good story or quality comedy. Special effects are nice but insufficient.

    Haven’t seen Avatar yet. But soon…

  4. I’ve just looked at what I’ve rated highest on netflix and it appears to be a jumbled mix of scifi and romantic comedy. What they seem to have in common, though, are acting and writing. Visual effects are great and it’s fun to see an epic on the big screen but if it can’t play as well on a 15″ LCD as it does in the theater, I probably won’t like it. All the special effects and explosions in the world won’t make a bad movie any better for me.

    Currently watching “Love, Actually” for the umpteenth time. If I could just get Richard Curtis to write and direct a scifi romantic comedy…

  5. I am an escapist. I don’t need deep meaning or layers. But I prefer it to create a world that might be strange or unknown but doesn’t make my brain ache with stupid.

    That said the thing I want most when I go to the theater that I almost never get is the thing you only get when the whole crowd is really into it. Everyone gasping and laughing and being moved together, this can turn any movie great. Mostly this doesn’t happen with movies and only rarely with live theater. There was a particular midnight showing of Princess Bride with a packed house where everyone knew the lines that stands out.

  6. I look for the art in movies. I greatly appreciate the colors, the lighting, the themes, the script, the motions, everything – but that said, I’m not too terrible of a movie snob. As long as the movie has some feature that is beautiful, it is enjoyable. Both Transformers had fairly atrocious scripts, but the animations were spectacular. The Dark Knight had great action and a good premise, but plot holes and distracting scenery (coming from a part-time Chicagoan; I saw too much Chicago and not enough Gotham).

    I will watch anything (my top two favorites are probably Jet Li’s Hero and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), except for 20-something angst movies – they are just too silly to even enjoy. I enjoy thinking through a movie, empathizing with the characters, getting caught up in the rush of excitement, or just watching how light and lines interact with each other on the screen. However, I could never be an escapist (as much as I wish I could be) because I tend to analyze a movie too much. As much as I try to tell myself that a movie is an artist’s interpretation of life like any other medium, I still find myself scrutinizing the given facts.

  7. Is this where I write a spirited defense of horror movies? One thing that bugs me is that when I tell people I’m a horror fan, they assume I mean slasher movies. Slasher movies are really not typical of horror movies, and you find few people in horror fandom who will defend them, except for a segment of fandom for whom slashers have sentimental and nostalgic appeal. Also, I don’t find horror movies particularly scary (or only rarely so), and most folks in fandom find jump scares (“the spring-loaded cat”) to be a cheat. So what do I mean by “horror film,” and what’s the appeal?

    – They are often visually stunning. From FW Murnau to Val Lewton to Mario Bava to early Sam Raimi to Takeshi Miike, the best horror films use visual storytelling and arresting images like no other genre. There’s a reason it’s called “moving pictures.”

    – Horror movies are (usually unintentionally) the most honest kind of movies out there. If you want to know what makes a society really tick, if you want to understand the zeitgeist of Weimar Germany or Cold War America or post-recession Japan, horror movies reflect the preoccupations and anxieties of a time and place like no other genre.

    – Horror movies are cheap to make and can always find a distributor. That makes them a great laboratory for aspiring filmmakers. Horror fans knew all about Sam Raimi (Evil Dead I and II) and Peter Jackson (Bad Taste, Dead/Alive) decades before Spiderman and Lord of the Rings made them household names.

    – Horror films are morally transgressive. The confront unexamined assumptions about right and wrong, about “who’s the real monster,”as the cliche goes. (Hint: It’s us.) As a humanist, I think this is vital to leading a self-examined life. (NB: The exception being the facile morality of slasher films, which is why I say they don’t count as horror.)

    – Horror movies are international. It’s the one popular genre that isn’t dominated by Hollywood. Some of the best horror films I’ve ever seen were made in places like Brazil or Thailand or Spain. Some of the worst, most pointlessly stupid horror movies I’ve seen were made in Hollywood. I’d wager that the average horror fan has seen more foreign-language films than the average film studies professor. You can’t be parochial about horror films.

  8. The only movies that I’ll actually go to a theater for are action films. With those the bigger screen really does increase the enjoyment. With other types of movies i’ll wait and rent them.

    I guess I only really care about action movies and comedies. The only movie I own that doesn’t fit in to one of those categories is Secretary. I own that one because it’s sexy and a lot of girls i know get turned on by it.

    Movies are another area where what a lot of people think is important is confusing to me. I’ve read some people talk about Avatar and say “that action was good, but there wasn’t much of a plot” or something like that. I don’t see why that should matter. I never go to a comedy and leave saying “there were a lot of funny parts, but there wasn’t much drama”.

  9. I too was puzzled by horror movies (and disaster movies, and apocalyptic fantasies, religious or otherwise). After thinking about the subject for a while, I drifted towards the following speculation. Our enjoyment of horror movies and similar things may be an evolutionary artifact. It may be that our nervous systems have evolved to trigger corrective signals if we become habitually unafraid for extended periods, as perhaps a backup mechanism for our main amygdalic fear machinery. If the latter isn’t producing any signals, clearly it must be broken since in the wild, life is nasty, brutish and short. So the secondary, higher-brain mechanism kicks in, helping us figure out alternative ways to be afraid, feel safe and satisfied. We no longer live in the wild, it’s been a while since we saw a tiger lurking around the next bush, so we find ourselves meta-afraid, with this nagging little feeling that “this is too good to be true, something has got to be wrong.” Which may be that nameless fear and dread that appears in discourse and literature all over the place. To which some of us respond by hallucinating demons (and ultimately rituals and religions), while others just enjoy tiny little doses of synthetic fear in the form of horror movies.

  10. My tastes change to accommodate the movies, to a certain extent. For example, when I was in film school, I went to see Jurassic Park. Loved the everloving crap out of it. Then I had a fellow student start blathering on to me (not wrongly) about the 2-D characters and the plot holes.

    Dude. T-REX CHASING A JEEP. You’ve been in film school too long if you can’t just enjoy that.

    That said, I can’t entirely turn off my brain for really egregious crap. But I can’t classify myself as to what kind of moviegoer I am, especially since it changes depending on how many times I’ve seen a movie. My #1 favorite of all time is The Godfather; my 2nd is Raiders of the Lost Ark.

  11. @Neg: I look for the art in movies. I greatly appreciate the colors, the lighting, the themes, the script, the motions, everything…

    Have you seen _The Pillow Book_? This one gave me vivid dreams for a week. It’s like stepping into someone’s painting.

  12. Just as I like a lot of different kind of music, there are different sort of movies I like (why doesn’t Opera’s UK English spelling control accept movies?).

    Action movies for when I’m bored and don’t want to think.

    Surreal movies for when I’m bored and rested well and I do want to think.

    Romantic comedies for, ehm, hold on, actually, not ever.

    That said, give me a 50’s musical any day.

    Horror movies, only the classics, recently they’ve been just yucky. I want mine to be fun and over the top, not just gross.

    Porn, mostly BDSM, though the occasional…. hmm, this isn’t that kinda blog, is it?

    As a movie watcher, you’re supposed to suspend disbelief, and just enjoy it. Don’t analyze things. Use for that after the fact to see why you did or didn’t enjoy it.

  13. @davew No, but I will write that down for later reference. My Hollywood Video is slightly lacking, but I was really excited to see they had Run, Lola, Run (as you mentioned earlier) in stock.

    Anyone else rather frustrated by rental movie selections? I stopped using Netflicks because they simply didn’t have what I wanted, and Blockbluster/Hollywood Video need an exchange system. I wish I had lived in Hyde Park, Chicago longer to enjoy the Hollywood Video there – they had the largest movie library in the Midwest. I suppose it’s only a matter of time before every single movie ever made will be available through download queues like Amazon and Netflicks, but I want that now, dammit!

  14. Growing up we couldn’t afford to go to the movies, so the only ones I watched were old films from the 30’s and 40’s shown on TV on Saturday afternoons. That pretty much influenced my taste and I’m drawn to those that remind me of those old films. The original Star Wars is a good example of that.

    I love British films: Love Actually, Saving Grace, Calendar Girls, Bend It Like Beckham, The Full Monty, etc. There are some French films I’ve enjoyed and really want to see Coco Before Coco.

    I have enjoyed a few blockbusters but really don’t go out of my way to watch those. I’m not into horror films as much as in my younger days.

    My movie collection is sparse and I don’t watch much on the net. I’d probably watch more if there was a better selection for streaming.

  15. I look for cohesive plots, and appropriately mature characters. I loathe one liners, especially in action movies. I also love appropriately fleshed-out worlds to play with in my head.

    Catharsis is always nice as well.

  16. I totally lack the willing suspension of disbelief. Thus, while the hero and heroine are swooping off into the moors, I’m trying to figure out just how they were able to get that 360 degree sweeping shot without including the helicopter’s shadow.

    For this reason, I love good comedy. I want the director, actors and writer to smirk out of the screen and say, “This is a pile of crap! Let’s all laugh together over it.”

  17. Types of movies depend on my mood. Right now I’ve been getting into the old horror movies, most recently I’ve been going through the Legacy Collections for Dracula, Frankenstein, Mummy, Wolf Man, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

  18. for me it comes down to story and cinematography. the special effects can be practical and/or nonexistent, but i have a deep love for directors who have a real eye for getting unique camera angles or a interesting-colour palette (luc besson being my fave, along w/ anthony minghella, francis coppola, and abyss/aliens era james cameron). on a side-note, i (in my humble opinion) believe that the abyss and aliens are the two most perfectly paced action/sci-fi movies ever.

    but for me to truly be sucked in, the story has to be interesting. and on that front, i actually thought avatar exceeded my high expectations. as i already knew the sights and action sequences of avatar would be pretty much having visual sex with my eyes for two-and-a-half hours, but the story was deep and epic as well.

  19. My favorite movies simply pull me into that world, with those characters, caring about their fates, no matter the genre, no matter how silly, no matter how profound. Animal House, Star Wars, Casablanca, LA Confidential, Inglorious Basterds, Psycho, Schindler’s List, Diner, Night of the Living Dead etc etc etc – LOVED THEM.

    I wasn’t really looking foward to Avatar. I expected a mediocre story with great special effects. I saw it in 3D , IMAX tonight.

    Was the acting great? Nope. Complex, magnificent plot? Nope. But the last time I felt like this after leaving a movie was in 1977, after seeing a little film called Star Wars. An amazing, visceral film

  20. I enjoy a good scifi movie like Avatar on occasion, but I really enjoy movies that make me laugh continuously. I don’t go for any of the tear-jerking drama or the horror flicks – I want to pay my money to have an enjoyable time.

  21. As with most of my enjoyment of things, I try to experience movies for what they are. It would be great if they would make “perfect” movies – excellent script, excellent production, brilliant acting, thoughtful, introspective, realistic (within context of plot), etc. etc. etc. – that could also have great action and visuals, but it seems that compromises need to be made. So, most movies are genre limited.

    Everyone’s entitled to their tastes and no one’s cornered the market on what’s good and bad. Not everything needs to be high art, sometimes it’s just for fun.

  22. I try to experience movies for what they are too, but what they are is usually one and a half to two hours of eye candy and dialog that’s full of overdone cliche’s (aren’t all cliche’s overdone? I mean… that’s what makes them cliche’s)

    Possibly Avatar is above the bar, but with the bar set so low, that’s not hard to do. If the movie would be a “flat and cliched story in another format” guess what that makes it? a flat and cliched story.

    I’m sorry. Maybe I’ve getting curmudgeony(sp? :) ) in my old age, but I don’t see the originality in movies, and I don’t see the originality in Avatar. Evil establishment persecuting the humble natives until they’ve had enough. They’ll probably throw a couple of twists in for good measure, but that sounds like a hundred other stories I’ve heard of, read, or watched. So they’re doing it differently with beyond-state-of-the-art cgi and cool effects. That doesn’t make it a good movie. That just makes it technically cool. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s all it is.

    Movies, especially lately seem to be redone books, remakes of movies and templated “originals”. They’ve been that way more or less for as long as I can remember. I really prefer the remakes. At least redone books and remade movies don’t pretend to be original works.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to see Avatar. It’s been on my netflix list since I was able to put it on my list. As for what I’m expecting: a standard story (actually below average) with cool effects and a lot of action, just like any Hollywood blockbuster these days.

    2012 is also on my netflix list. Of course it’s stupid non-science with a story that’s more overdone than Avatar, but the lure of watching the world get destroyed through groundbreaking cgi is just too much for me to ignore.

    Honestly, I expect Avatar to be a pretty cool movie….. just not because of the story.

  23. I don’t buy the originality argument. Stories have been pretty much the same for thousands of years. The key is how the template is utilized. Memorable characters, style choices, editing, emotional arcs, whatever. Avatar did so many things right that an uber complex story wasn’t necessary.

  24. @swordsbane: When was the last “original” thing you saw/read/heard? Cause nothing has been “original” for well a long damn time. People fall in love, bad things happen. People fight. One man rises above it all. Blahblahblah. If you want original invent a time machine and go back to when people started telling stories around campfires.

  25. Okay… to actually… -ahem- answer the question now:

    I really really really REALLY like movies that surprise me. It happens so rarely. Of course it has to surprise me in a good way. I don’t want to leave the theater and say “Wow.. I didn’t expect it to be THAT bad.”

    I like all kinds of movies, but I know I have rather high standards. I want a murder mystery where I am given all the information I need to figure out who did it, but I can’t until the end of the movie. I like science fiction movies that make me think the creators actually knew some science (or at least watched Mythbusters). I like comedies that require a little brain work to actually get some of the jokes.


    I don’t know what kind of label would fit that, but I don’t concern myself with labels. I guess an escapist fits best. I want a movie that makes me believe. If I’m slapped in the face with something I know is impossible, then the movie better have a very good reason and not just “Our technical consultants missed that one.” Otherwise it ruins the movie for me. That doesn’t mean I don’t like movies with magic in them, but stop diving through windows without getting a scratch, dropping five stories without breaking something (or at least take the time to mention that you should be dead), realize that bullets are actually faster than people and please.. everyone who does the effects for aircraft in flight… PLEASE learn some aerodynamics… seriously.

    And try to stay away from contrived stories that make no sense if you apply simple logic to them. I can’t watch a movie, even if most of it is tolerable, when the entire reason for the story wouldn’t exist if someone in the first ten minutes had half a brain…. unless the movie acknowledges that this person doesn’t have half a brain. If the whole point is that it is wildly improbable, then I can get into that, but don’t insult my intelligence to try to get me there.

    You can insult my intelligence in other ways. For instance, I know cars don’t blow up at the drop of a hat. Most of the time it doesn’t get in the way of my enjoyment. Just don’t rub my face in it (flipping a car when it rams another, for instance) and we can still be friends.

    I am partial to science fiction, fantasy and anything with gadgets in it. I do understand the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I just wish wish that movie producers did.

  26. @Howard: @njmalhq:
    i actually do *get* horror movies, for the most part. i just don’t particularly like them. i can appreciate what a horror filmmaker is doing, and certainly see the art of horror. i don’t enjoy watching them because i hate feeling scared and anxious.

    post apocalyptic fantasy, on the other hand, i absolutely love. i don’t really know why. maybe the idea of people in bleak situations where they have to survive without modern comforts appeals to me in some basic way.

  27. @swordsbane:

    Possibly Avatar is above the bar, but with the bar set so low, that’s not hard to do. If the movie would be a “flat and cliched story in another format” guess what that makes it? a flat and cliched story.

    well, avatar has sort of created its own new category, so there really is no bar for it. the story is certainly not high art. but despite that fact, and because of the crazy awesome technology, my suspension of disbelief/heckling bar was lowered considerably. at the beginning, i had a few “this is so cliched” thoughts, but i found myself immersed in spite of myself. the 3D rendering made me care about a story i otherwise wouldn’t have had much patience for.
    and that’s why it was good: it made me care.
    i would say this, though. don’t bother with netflix, unless you have a stupendous home theater with a giant screen. it won’t hold up. if you intend to see it at all, see it in the theater.

  28. loudlyquiet: When was the last “original” thing you saw/read/heard? Cause nothing has been “original” for well a long damn time. People fall in love, bad things happen. People fight. One man rises above it all. Blahblahblah. If you want original invent a time machine and go back to when people started telling stories around campfires.”

    It doesn’t have to be COMPLETELY original. Just stop using templates to create movies. Think up a story and tell it. Some of it is going to be familiar. You can’t get away from that. The same things keep happening over and over again. Acknowledge that and incorporate that into the movie instead of treating the audience like this is the first time they’re going to see something.

    Don’t be dishonest about the story. If originality was easy, we would all be movie producers. I understand it’s rare, but I don’t like being told something has an original story when the only difference is the setting. I like remakes. I enjoy seeing a new way that someone has found to tell an old story. I actually didn’t like the remake of Psycho BECAUSE it was too faithful to the original. It was almost a copy. By the same token I don’t hold that against the producers, because it’s a remake. You’re SUPPOSED to get deja vu.

    By the same token I hate it when a “true story” is made into a movie and it bears little resemblance to the actual true story. Most of the time, it’s not because the producers didn’t know the real story. They just thought it would be better if it was different, and most of the time, the changes they make are bad. This boggles my mind. Here they have a story that is pre-packaged. We already KNOW people like the story. It’s a guaranteed money maker. All they have to do is reproduce the story. They don’t have to think. They just have to copy. However, for some unexplained reason, that’s not enough. So they change it, making a good story into a mediocre one and at the same time giving people the wrong idea of how the real story went. I don’t get it. They say truth is stranger than fiction, but not very many people act like that’s true. Well… not many producers anyway.

    On the third hand, making a book into a movie can’t be done by remaining faithful to the letter. Books and movies are entirely different mediums. A book that was ‘copied’ to a movie format would suck, and if that’s what I wanted, then I’d just go read the book again. I’m looking for something different. If I finish a movie and have the same feeling I had after reading the book, then I feel I just wasted two hours (or whatever).

    And to answer your question: Primer

  29. carr2d2:well, avatar has sort of created its own new category, so there really is no bar for it. the story is certainly not high art. but despite that fact, and because of the crazy awesome technology, my suspension of disbelief/heckling bar was lowered considerably. at the beginning, i had a few “this is so cliched” thoughts, but i found myself immersed in spite of myself. the 3D rendering made me care about a story i otherwise wouldn’t have had much patience for.
    and that’s why it was good: it made me care.
    i would say this, though. don’t bother with netflix, unless you have a stupendous home theater with a giant screen. it won’t hold up. if you intend to see it at all, see it in the theater.

    I hope you’re right. If you are, then Avatar isn’t just a good movie, but a great movie and not because of the cool effects.

    and yes.. I have a pretty cool home theater. The huge screen isn’t a theater canvas, but it’s more than a fair trade… giving up the lines, the high prices and the misbehaving theater denizens. I always get the best seat in the house and I can pause for bathroom breaks. Anyway, a good movie should be seen with friends…. and ONLY friends :)

  30. It’s not a secret that I hated Avatar with every bone I have. I found it childish, boring and predictable. It was pretty, but so is Paris Hilton. The plot was ridiculous (deus ex machina has no business in a 2009 movie), the script was embarrassing (“I’ll see to it you get your legs back, son. Your REAL legs!”) and the acting wooden. The casting was acceptable except for Sigourney “she’s real!” Weaver who was fine as herself but looked ridiculous as her Avatar. The pace was a little slow in places, but the action was nice, particularly towards the end. Not enough to stop me being bored though. Oh, and how come everyone decried Jar Jar Binks for being a racial stereotype and not the Avatar blue dudes?

    It was an exercise in technology. Fine, but I’d rather have a story slightly more sophisticated than Fern Gully 3D and an ending not entirely set up for the sequels (which are on their way). I’d also rather not have a script which seemed to have been written by James Cameron’s 14-year0 old nephew because he wanted to have a go at it.

    Bleh. Hated.

    But PARTICULARLY with movies, which are a visual and emotional medium, opinions mean nothing at all, and evaluation is incredibly subjective. If you enjoyed it (particularly if you enjoyed it a lot) then I am really pleased – a positive experience is far more valuable than a negative one. If someone makes a movie that brings joy to millions then it’s a good movie, if not by my standards of dialogue or narrative, then by my standards of cultural value.

    The perfect movie, for me, is something like Fight Club. I can’t fault one second of it. But lots of people hate it for lots of good reasons. I guess that just means there’s no such thing as the perfect movie.

  31. I saw Avatar yesterday. I feel bad for referring to it as GRAPHIC FELINE SEX to the chagrin of friends that wanted to see it up until now.

    It really was a good movie. The plot was predictable (it was basically Dances with Wolves using aliens), but it did it well.

    The other thing that struck me was that somewhere decades ago, James Cameron watched Star Wars, saw the Empire fight the Ewoks on Endor’s moon and said, “This is retarded. I could do better than this.” So after all these years he made Avatar, and it was infinitely better.

    One of the things that did entirely surprise me in the movie was how the world worked. I was expecting a bunch of tree hugging hippie crap to power the movie (since the Na’vi were Native American expys, obviously), but instead they built the world as a living bioelectric computer and gave an actual reasonably sci-fi explanation for why everything is connected and the world is living.

    Gaia Hypothesis supporters take note: Avatar’s Pandora is what you’re trying to claim Earth is. Earth is not a living bioelectric computer, so personifying it as a single entity is fanciful at best.

    Oh, and pointless Science Nerd gripe; Dr. Augustine doesn’t know how to use an autopipetter (she was turning it to the side and upside down with a sample in it; if you do that, the sample will flow back from the disposable tip into the mechanism and contaminate/screw it up).

  32. I think I’ll have to agree with Tracy King here. I’m not hearing a lot of good things about the movie. Even the people who like it are saying things like “Well, it made up for the lack of….” Anytime someone has to say that, they screwed up on the movie somewhere.

    As I said. It might be the best movie of the year… it might be the best movie of the decade (century?). That really isn’t saying much.

    The only time I watch a movie for one or two things is when I see a good action movie. They do one thing, and they do it very well, and I know that going into it. For everything else, I want a good movie. The whole package. It doesn’t matter how good the visual effects are or how this is the first time they used this or that technique if the story and/or the acting is crap. I’ll watch the “making of” shows and go “oh” and “ah” right along with everyone else. However, if I’m watching a movie, I want a good movie, not a movie with good (insert your favorite part here).

    I’ll reserve final judgment until I see it, if only so that I have some reference when someone else wants to talk to me about it, but from what I’ve heard so far, it’s little more than eye candy…. really cool eye candy, but nothing much else.

    But then… as I said. My standards are high. I know that.

  33. addendum: Ironically, I’ll probably enjoy it more now than if I went into it thinking “This is going to be a great movie”

    It all balances out. These days I don’t even care if people give away the ending. It’s too easy to tell how a movie is going to end after watching less than half of it. I don’t watch a movie to see how it ends anyway. I watch a movie to see how they get there.

  34. Yeah, I can’t give a good assessment of Avatar. Like I said, I was calling it “GRAPHIC FELINE SEX”, so that’s what I went into it expecting. I was pleasantly surprised, and it did have a few nuances I would call good if you pitted them against any other movie, but I can see why a lot of people think it’s mediocre overall for its story.

  35. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind! No question. I like movies that are a mash up of art, escapism and romance. Anything that involves Charlie Kaufman and/or Michel Gondry ends up making me a very happy girl.

  36. I didn’t even think the 3D was all that impressive. On a purely technical level, it works. But it’s been working ever since the invention of RealD. The implementation here wasn’t any more immersive to me than it was in Beowulf or Bolt or A Christmas Carol. The glasses also necessarily dim the image, which Cameron offset by overlighting the movie. But whenever I lifted my glasses for a moment or two, I kept thinking I’d rather be watching this in 2D. The lighting, though a little overdone, actually made the already beautiful color palette pop. If the rest of the movie was any good, I’d go see it again on a regular screen. Coraline is still the only 3D movie I’ve seen where the dimensionality added to the subtext of the story instead of being simply spectacle.

    There’s nothing wrong with a movie taking an archetypal story and simply telling it well. The problem with Avatar is in the particular archetypal story it chooses to tell. The “white man rescuing the noble savages” trope just isn’t relevant anymore. Not only is it condescending and racist, but it’s also tired. Think about the fact that Jake Sully wins the natives’ hearts back by taming their most feared predator. All he did was attack the thing from above. Did the Na’vi never think to do this? Are they really that stupid? In a long line of misguided “going native” stories, Avatar is more Last Samurai than Dances with Wolves.

    Look at how Cameron handles theme here, and it just gets worse. He shows us how in tune the Na’vi are with their planet and surroundings not through lyrical beauty and subtext but by having them literally plug their hair into the ground. This isn’t just heavy handed; it’s boneheaded. As is the entire third act of the movie, in which Cameron drives home the folly of war and aggression by giving us an eye-numbing montage of explosions and killing. For such a humorless film, it doesn’t seem to take its ideas seriously at all.

    These are the fundamental problems with the story, but there’s plenty more to pick apart here. Why do the space helicopters have bulletproof canopies in one scene and then have arrows shot through them in the next? Why is this movie built around an actor with no charisma or a firm grasp on an American accent? How many cliches can you fit in a single film? (“We’re not in Kansas anymore!” “Come to papa!” “Let me try out this putter!” “Zoom in and enhance!”) Why did Jake destroy the cameras on the bulldozer? The thing kept moving, and all it did was give the bad guys a picture of him! If all of Earth is in the throes of a depression, who are these developers going to sell their unobtainium to? Also, unobtainium? I can’t decide if that name or the “animals become our friends” climax is the silliest thing about this movie. (By the way, I realize “unobtainium” is a real-life term. But it’s a term used in engineering to refer to hypothetical materials necessary for designs. In Avatar, it’s a known, real substance. So Cameron’s not even using the term correctly. He’s simply left with a plot that revolves around a pun.) Star Trek’s script was riddled with plot and logic holes as well, but I enjoyed that movie because it made up for its shortcomings with wit, verve, personality, and a rollicking pace; none of which Avatar has in any way.

    All of that said, I did think the facial animations on the Na’vi were a huge leap ahead of any CG character work done so far. I also really liked the color palette of Pandora, though the creature designs were ultimately fussy and ridiculous. And Zoe Saldana gave a great performance despite everything else.

  37. I truly enjoy movies that have you sitting for a great deal of time, and rather suddenly and unexpectedly culminate into a furious movement and a great splash! For example “The Game.”

    In short, I like my movies to be constipated.

  38. @carr2d2:
    post apocalyptic fantasy, on the other hand, i absolutely love. i don’t really know why. maybe the idea of people in bleak situations where they have to survive without modern comforts appeals to me in some basic way.

    At least I’m not the only one who thought “Waterworld” and the like was good.
    I like sci-fi. Pretty much any sci-fi. So my standards can be pretty low as soon as a movie has spaceships, giant robots or not (yet) existing future-tech gadgets in it.

    Also, I probably wouldn’t spot bad acting until it was attrocious acting, so that would probably slip past me as well when immersed in the movie.

    Thirdly, I like eye candy. Both of the visual effects / action sequence department and those of the female persuasion. So either (both is even better) can make up for an otherwise bad film as far as my movie enjoyment goes.

    I would possibly even enjoy Twilight / New Moon if it weren’t for the daft teengirl angst OMG hot boys!!1 *faint* splashed all over.
    Actually, I’d probably enjoy laughing at the teen girls who actually personify that …

    Still, a story has to flow. Back in the 50’s, they took about 5 minutes to explain how the plot moved from point A to point B, where sometimes nowadays it’s assumed you have half a century of movie background knowledge, so they don’t have to repeat those plot devices and can just skip from one scene to the next with a simple cut and perhaps an explanatory line.

    I prefer to have the movie SHOW me what happens rather than having some character tell me. Like the A-team or McGuyver BUILD something from assorted random junk, they don’t just walk into a shed then come back out with their scrap-iron contraption.

    Yet at the same time, they show you 42 different shots of the goddamn item that’s going to be used to save life, the universe and everything, just so, you know, there’s this item around which is obviously going to be used in some meaningful way later on. In case you’d forgotten about it, or looked away, because it’s only been 10 seconds since you last saw it.

    So in short, I’m too easy. Even though some movies still manage to irk me despite that.

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