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Rating History

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Avatar (2009)
6 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

James Cameron's Avatar is, like many modern science-fiction films, so obsessed with the world it creates that it forgets it needs to put interesting characters in that world, and give them an interesting plot to follow.

If you remove the gorgeous CGI and the computer animation and the special effects and the amazing lightshow and vibrant colors from the film, you really don't have much left. The plot is a combination of Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and Lucas's Star Wars Episode Six. Big bad guys with advanced technology piss off forest, forest retaliates, and to the surprise of no one, forest eventually wins. Avatar tries to do a little more with this story than films in the past by adding a twist of Pocohontas, but it's not enough.

The characters are all stereotypes. Not archetypes, stereotypes. There's your do-whatever-it-takes-ruthless businessman who doesn't give a gosh darn about anything but money, your MISTER SCIENTIST, your hard-boiled-hard-talking-hard-fighting general guy, etc. I could go on with each and every character in the movie.

The script is not terribly well-written, and you'll hear the characters say some pretty odd things sometimes. Also, the pacing of the movie feels very inconsistent. Sometimes the movie covers the plot at breakneck speed, other times I would have checked my watch if I had one on.

If you don't mind watching a movie you're sure you've watched before but with a different setting, and one of the biggest deus ex machinas ever, you'll enjoy the movie. I did. It's a beautiful movie and it's very fun to watch, but I'm almost certain I will forget about it entirely in a week or so.

Oh yeah, and forest sex. Forest sex is hot. Maybe I'll remember that.

9
9 (2009)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes
½

9 gets seven points for its visuals, and zero points for everything else.

I do not regret buying the ticket. It is well worth eight dollars simply to look at how beautiful the art is. Even though I've seen the whole "post-apocalyptic" environment before, 9's world has its own personality and uniqueness that fits perfectly with the characters and music. Watching the tiny, carefully-crafted characters move around in what's left of the dead world never gets dull.

Unfortunately, every other part of the movie does. I hate to say it, but the plot and stereotypical characters drag the film along through the dirt rather than elevate it. The plot is worthy only of a straight-to-tv Disney movie. Honestly, stop me if you've heard this one before: older, authority-type figure sets strict rules for his family/colony/whatever for "the good of the ___" or "to keep us safe." Teenage youth says rules are unfair, disobeys them, and through a few twists and turns, the older obvious metaphor for conservatism learns the error of his ways and everyone is happy. Seriously. The plot is that predictable and tired, which is very odd considering the visuals are anything but. It's just really odd to have such a dull story in such an interesting world.

Thematically, the plot is just as upbeat, which again, is strange because it doesn't seem to fit the landscape at all. The blind pursuit of technology will destroy us all. Yes, thank you, Mr. Director, I've known that since 1968's 2001: A Space Odyssey. And those Terminator movies. And the Matrix. And come to think of it, just about every movie involving a computer or machines...weird. Anyway, you see, after our technology inevitably turns against us (WE SHOULD HAVE LISTENED!!), we can only hope to survive if we all cooperate, throw away dogma and conservatism, and give chicks weapons. A fine idea, but it's not very interesting to watch on screen.

The characters do occasionally say interesting things, and the plot isn't always yawn-inducing, but set against the world around it, it seems a lot worse than it is.

But go see it. It's an intertaining movie, and it's worth watching just so you can imagine what will come next in the world of animation.

District 9
District 9 (2009)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

The documentary-blended-with-action style roller coaster ride of District 9 is well-made and entertaining, but loose ends and plot holes prevent the movie from being truly stunning.

I must say, when I first saw the trailer for this movie, I was not very excited. It looked like yet another "this-is-why-you-should-hate-humanity" liberal propoganda machine. I mean come on, the aliens just want to go home, right? And we're probably keeping them prisoner until they give us all of their military secrets and perform science experiments on them so we can advance our own civilization at the cost of theirs. And we'll do everything violently, right, because that's how everyone on Earth thinks and acts: with a gun in hand. So I watched the movie, and most of my assumptions were correct, but...in a good way.

What I mean is, I accurately predicted most of the backstory of District 9, but the plot itself was original and unexpected. The way in which the characters were portrayed elevates the movie beyond what I had expected. The expressions and speech of the main characters created a fantastic moral dilemma: Wickus, the lead male, is by no means a bad guy, and you find yourself rooting for him the whole movie even as he participates in the suffering of the alien species. The "lead" alien, by hardly saying anything at all, shows you life on the other side of the District 9 fence, and you find yourself rooting for him also. So who should win? The rest of the movie answers the question, but leaves other questions wide open for debate, or simple confusion.

Yes, sadly, there are plenty of plot holes in District 9, but they aren't blatant enough to be distracting. The action and intrigue kept me entertained, not questioning. A lot of the backstory needed further explanation, but the camera convinced me to just go with it rather than stop right there and raise an eyebrow. However, at the end of the movie, I reviewed the timeline in my head and found that I wished more questions had been answered. Especially because the film was mock-documentary style.

But with a strong moral stance and that gentle tap on the shoulder reminding us of our own humanity, along with a simply thrilling and entertaining story to tell, District 9 delivers a great movie.

Ponyo
Ponyo (2009)
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Ponyo, though far from Miyazaki's best work, is still a fantastic piece of art from a director who understands how to use animation and film itself to captivate and amaze.

The plot of Ponyo is something like The Little Mermaid with a Japanese/Miyazaki twist, which is unfortunately the biggest flaw of the movie. The plot seemed unnecessarily complicated at times, too simple at others, but all the while being a little too similar to the old Disney classic. There's nothing wrong with a re-telling of an old fairy tale, but surprisingly, Miyazaki failed to do anything remarkably new with it. The changes that were made were welcome, but were sometimes convoluted, making me unsure about what Miyazaki was attempting to accomplish.

However, the overall theme of the work is impossible to miss, yet satisfyingly subtle. It avoids all of the usual pitfalls of the traditional movie-for-kids-but-with-a-message-for-adults genre. Miyazake creates a true wonderland, and with care and rarely-off precision, tells a beautiful love story that's simple enough for kids to enjoy yet deep enough to keep adults interested and ultimately, motivated to think, the aim of all art.

The characters are a fairly interesting bunch, but towards the climax of the movie, loose ends became tied up a bit quickly for my tastes. Besides Ponyo, Sosuke, and his mother, the characters seemed almost inconsequential. However, Ponyo and Sosuke are so fascinating on-screen together and alone that I could easily watch two more hours of their childish antics. They share true believability as children and as pieces of an elaborate puzzle in Miyazaki's world.

The film itself is quite beautiful. In true Studio Ghibli style, every frame of the movie is a piece of art in itself, and the visuals never once fail to amaze. And you'll never be able to get the theme song out of your head. Ever. And that's a good thing, because it's awesome.

Watching Ponyo was definitely a treat for me, and if you don't focus too hard on the shortcomings, you'll be spirited away.

See what I did there?

The Hurt Locker
7 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

For a movie about the army equivalent of a bomb squad, there are surprisingly few explosions. And that slow, tense, second-by-second drama is what makes this picture great above all its other positives.

I applaud The Hurt Locker's director for recognizing that great war movies aren't really about the wars. This movie was refreshingly non-biased, and very few scenes carry any political message. Instead, the movie focuses on the strange little world that war itself creates, and lets the well-acted and well-shaped characters explore the dimensions of brotherhood, comradery, and of course life and death.

There are few flaws in this movie. Some scenes don't end as predicted, and sometimes the characters behave in unexpected ways without any real motivation to, but these mistakes are easily forgiveable and are off-screen quickly.

I rather liked the soundtrack as well. Nothing like heavy metal to get the blood pumping. One of the more interesting aspects of this movie has to do with the blaring, chaotic music: it's the main character's favorite. In total silence he quickly and skillfully manipulates pieces of wire and metal to disarm explosives that would shatter his bones and burst his organs. Then he comes back to base, cranks hardcore metal, and quietly focuses. As a character living constantly on the edge, the movie always finds ways to both entertain you with his behavior and show you a little piece of his life. Very well done.

As each of the three main characters is carried through the journey of war, the audience is strapped to their backs, right behind them. As the characters and plot mature, so do we all, in a sense. Like most of the film, dichotemy is key: we learn about lonliness and togetherness, calm and fury, the neverending, and the over-too-soon.