Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000 Review

November 30, 2013
Abandon all hope.

Abandon all hope.

A six-foot-tall rodent mascot for a pizza chain known more for its arcade games than its food participates in an intergalactic race on a faraway planet for a chance to win $50,000 so an apple-cheeked, little boy whom he just met can replace a broken tractor.  That string of language vomit is the I-swear-I’m-not-making-this-up plot to the proof of God’s inexistence some people might dare to call a “movie,” Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000.  Based on how ridiculous the synopsis is, you might have some preconceived notions as to what type of film this is — I certainly did.  Let me dispel some of those ideas right now by saying that 1) it’s a live-action film, not a cartoon and 2) it’s a musical.

Let’s get this review over with, shall we?

The movie opens with Mr. Cheese and his three other anthropomorphic animal friends (who will be mentioned by name in this review when/if necessary) entering a pizza parlor run by an Italian stereotype named Pasqually.  I’m sorry, but I have to digress….

Watching the film, you’ll notice two very distracting elements in the first scene that will be present through the entire movie.  First of all, Charles Cheese and company, despite talking incessantly, barely move their mouths and yet blink constantly, as if the head piece operators confused the mouth and eye controls.  These are some of the worst animatronic heads I’ve seen since The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, another awful film you probably never knew existed until now.

And trust me, you were better off never knowing.

And trust me, you were better off never knowing.

Second, Pasqually wears a distractingly fake wig, a cartoonishly-large false mustache and even fake eyebrows.  The entire time I wondered why the filmmakers would make that decision.  Is that the best they could do?  If so, why couldn’t they just find an actor who looked kind of like that character instead of making an actor wear all those applications?  Why is his entire head covered in really bad fake hair, even the eyebrows?  Was he a cancer patient?  I don’t ask to be mean — it’s just so distracting that I kept wondering about it the entire time I watched the film and couldn’t get over it.

Anyway, back to the “story”….

Pasqually asks Chuck E. if he has any money, to which he and his friends say they only have a few bucks between them… and I don’t know why they entered a pizzeria without enough money to buy a pizza large enough to feed four people.  C. E. Cheese asks Pasqually why he needs money, and we are then introduced to Charlie Rockit, a horrible child actor who needs $50,000 to replace his aunt and uncle’s farming tractor.  Cheese and friends ask how they can come up with $50,000 since, apparently, Charlie’s aunt and uncle’s problem is now everybody’s because [insert motivation].  Pasqually says, “Imma glad’a you asked,” and then turns on the television, which just happens to be showing a news broadcast about the Galaxy 5000, an interplanetary race held on the distant planet of Orion… all of which are normal things to occur in this film’s universe, I guess, as no one questions why any of this nonsense is happening.

Given how long it would take for the footage to travel through space, wouldn't the race be over by the time Earth even -- no, you know what?  Screw it.  Forget I said anything.

Given how long it would take for the broadcast footage to travel through space, wouldn’t the race be over by the time Earth even — no, you know what? Screw it. Forget I said anything.

Pasqually tells Chuck E. that the grand prize for winning the race is 30,000 Keelars, which is — and I quote — “about fifty-two thousand U.S. dollars.”  I guess having the conversion rate between an alien monetary unit and United States dollars equaling the exact amount of money that Charlie’s family needs is unrealistic.  If there’s one thing that a children’s film about talking anthropomorphic animals racing in flying alien spacecraft on a distant planet needs it’s verisimilitude.

Speaking of not understanding the concept of suspension of disbelief, the next scene is this film’s first music number.  Chuck E. leaps from his table and starts singing a song about “the scent of adventure” or some such piffle (my mind blanks out during films when people start singing).  The best part of this scene is that as Chuck E. walks to the center of the restaurant to dance and sing, we clearly see the actors striking the set to give him room.  I am not kidding.  This film already asks the audience to accept giant talking animals, intergalactic racing, and characters singing and dancing choreographed numbers out of the blue in public as commonplace, yet using clever editing for the sake of plot convenience must be too much to buy into.  I honestly can’t imagine anyone watching this movie and questioning the film’s continuity of furniture placement when the six-foot-tall mouse starts singing.

Strike that — I honestly can’t imagine anyone watching this movie, period.

If you're filming a music number in a pizza joint, the most important question you should ask is "Who gives a shit about making sense?"

If you’re filming a music number in a pizza joint, the most important question you should ask is “Who gives a shit about making sense?”

After the song wraps up, the characters appear in a large laboratory-type room of some sort.  Honestly, I don’t know — they’re just there without explanation or even a proper scene transition.  On the floor of the room is a giant Trivial Pursuit game piece that Pasqually calls the Awesome Adventure Machine.  Apparently, if you stand on the machine and flip the switch, it will teleport you to adventure; in this case, the Galaxy 5000 race.  Why they didn’t abandon all pretense and call the machine the Plot Device, I’ll never know, but I’m all for whatever avoids wasting time with outer space travel and makes this movie end sooner.

When the crew arrives on planet Orion, a third distracting element rears its disfigured head: the “special””effects”, and there are not enough quotes in all of existence to properly surround both of those words.  The rest of the film takes place on an alien planet, so every shot from here on out is live actors standing in front of a blue screen with a digital environment created around them.  If you’re thinking of something like Sin City, don’t.  This is an independently-made, low-budget film from 1999, so its computer rendering is severely lacking.  For example, this is a shot of our “heroes” arriving on planet Orion:

Movie "magic."

Movie “magic.”

If you ever watched the mid-’90s television show ReBoot or played a Playstation 1 game, you have a general idea of how this entire film looks, except it’s way worse because it was made years after either of those examples, so by all means it should look better.  It also incorporates actual people amongst the bad CGI making it look even more fake, which doesn’t seem possible.  If I were generous, I would describe the film as looking dated, but that insults time itself.

Upon arrival on the planet, we are properly introduced to the villains, the X-Pilots — Peter and Ivan.  Did you ever see the Saturday Night Live sketch of Pumping Up With Hans and Franz?  Well, Peter and Ivan are exact imitations of those two characters, who themselves were imitations of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I can’t wrap my head around that right now.  Just know that they’re two dumb bohunks who can’t stop flexing and talking about how strong they are.

"We're here to RIP--" *clap* "--YOU OFF!"

“We’re here to RIP–“

The X-Pilots are being interviewed by the press about their most recent speed record at the previous Galaxy 5000 and the muscle-heads beat up a reporter for asking a question about allegations that they cheat.  Peter and Ivan then see Chuck E. and begin hitting on Helen Henny, the human-sized talking chicken that’s a part of Chuck E.’s crew.  I would comment on how disturbing it is that two human males are flirting with an anthropomorphic hen, but I am literally only 12 minutes into this film and my brain is imploding, so I should just get through this as fast as possible.

The X-Pilots leave and we’re introduced to Flapjack, a mechanic who’s a friend of Pasqually’s and who’ll be fronting the vehicle that Chuck E. will race with.  If you guessed that he’d sound like an old-timey prospector, then congratulations — you are just as creatively bankrupt as the makers of this movie.

Next up in the failure parade is Astrid, a race groupie.  No, seriously.   She’s just some woman who wants to hook up with a “real racer” and has eyes for Chuckie because beastiality is perfectly acceptable subject matter for a children’s movie.

"Is it true that mice have taste receptors in their testicles?" *giggle*

“Is it true that mice have taste receptors in their testicles?” *giggle*

Astrid’s flirtations with Chuck E. causes Helen to storm off in a jealous rage.  In the next scene, Helen sings about how she wishes Chuck E. liked her or something (my brain thing again).

The next day is the qualifying race, and Helen is nowhere to be seen.  Chuck E. gets nervous about her disappearance, but he does well during the race without her, up until the final stretch.  In the second half of the race, the X-Pilots, realizing that they’re losing, kick it into Vega 2 (which is their version of warp speed or something) and activate “Zoom Gas.”  Their cockpit fills with smoke and they begin giggling like they were on nitrous oxide.  They blow right by Chuck E., who then decides to go to Vega 2 as well, only to lose control of his ship, crash against a canyon wall, and have his near-totaled ship barely cross the finish line in last place.  Things are looking pretty bleak for that kid who needs the prize money for a new… um, rec center — wait, why is this all happening again?

After the qualifier is over, Chuck E.’s crew is looking pretty bummed, except for Helen, who is now arm-in-arm with the laughing X-Pilots.  She comes over and teases Chuck E. by saying this race separated the men from the mice, which made me laugh because it is either a better burn than I was expecting from this movie or I am becoming stupider just by watching it.  I’m willing to accept both options as possible.

At least someone's enjoying this movie.

At least someone’s enjoying this movie.

Then Jasper, Chuck E.’s dog friend, has a country music number and the less said about that the better.

Helen follows the X-Pilots to their hideout where we’re introduced to Dr. Zoom — creator of Zoom Gas and sponsor of the X-Pilots — played by a David Carradine look-alike.  Dr. Zoom tells — er, I’m sorry, I mean he sings to Helen that Zoom Gas is an inhalant drug that causes time to slow down for the user; the side effect being that it rots your brain.

That sounds oddly familiar.

That sounds oddly familiar.

When the X-Pilots inhale Zoom Gas, time slows down to the point that they can drive at Vega 2 speeds without losing control, and Dr. Zoom specifically hired those two morons to drive his vehicle because they didn’t have any brains to lose (which I am envious of because I can feel this movie constricting my brain to the size of a peach pit).  Also, Zoom Gas is made of chicken extract, and they lured Helen to their hideout so they could lock her up and make her into more gas.

So just to reiterate, the villains are taking performance enhancing drugs to win races and are planning on making more drugs by killing and juicing a sentient being.  Moving along….

Chuck E., despondent at his failure during the qualifier, goes for a solo practice flight that night, only to crash his car into a hermit’s cave.  Harry the Hermit is played by the same actor who was Pasqually — he’s even wearing the same fake mustache, eyebrows and an equally fake wig as Pasqually’s.  None of this is explained, not that I would expect it to, nor is it revealed at the end the the hermit really is Pasqually in disguise.  They just couldn’t hire anyone else to play the part, I guess.  I’m belaboring this point because this actor sucks.  Every sentence of his dialog is spoken in a different accent.  I can’t tell if this character is supposed to be Scottish, German, Irish or what.  Then again, maybe the auditory receptors in my brain are finally giving out.

There’s only twenty minutes left of the film.  I can do this.

So after Harry the Hermit sings a song about believing in oneself and Chuck E. has a training montage, it’s the morning of the big race. Astrid, Charlie, Jasper and Munch (who is such a non-entity in the film that I haven’t mentioned him until now) are sitting around wondering where Chuck E. is.  Astrid then says that she came to the Galaxy 5000 to be with a real racer, at which point the X-Pilots show up and convince her to come with them.  She leaves the table of losers and the X-Pilots deliver the two best lines of the whole movie:

"Sorry about your little mousey friend. We liked having him around." "Yeah, we liked stealing his girlfriends and beating him at races."

“Sorry about your little mousey friend. We liked having him around.”
“Yeah, we liked stealing his girlfriends and beating him at races.”

As fun as it is to be a cynical jerk, I have to give the movie some credit in one regard: Helen Henny, who at this point in the film is kept under lock and key at Dr. Zoom’s place, frees herself.  There isn’t a scene of one of the male characters coming to rescue her as she proclaims, “My hero!”  She escapes by herself using her own ingenuity and without any help.

Helen plucks one of her feathers and uses it to pick the lock of her cage.  She then frees the other chickens that Dr. Zoom has imprisoned, escapes from his lab, runs to the race track and tells the other characters that she suspected the X-Pilots were cheaters, so she pretended to like them to learn more about how they cheated and then expose their plan.  She then notifies the authorities about Dr. Zoom and the X-Pilots using Zoom Gas and the villains are taken into custody.

Seriously, Helen is the true hero of the movie.  She’s like Lara Croft, Velma Dinkley and a chicken all rolled into one, except less sexy than any of those things individually or combined.

"You go, grrl! You don't need no man!" *snap, snap*

You go, grrl! You don’t need no man! *snap, snap*

Oh, and Chuck E. shows up at the race just in time and wins because of course he does.

The final scene of the film is a big song and dance number (natch) where all the characters celebrate the fact that Chuck E. won the race, completely oblivious to the fact that they have no way of getting back to their home planet and are stranded on the other side of the galaxy.

"We're going to die alone on an alien world! Yipee!"

“We’re going to die alone on an alien world! Yipee!”

Look, I know you might look down on me for picking an “easy” target, but entertainment geared towards children doesn’t have to suck.  Children are young and impressionable, so it’s important to expose them to quality films, not bottom-of-the-barrel dreck.  Excusing a bad movie because it’s “for kids” is unacceptable.  Children know better — I guarantee you that 8-year-old me knew the difference between a good film and a bad one — and children deserve better.

This film was made as a cash grab, riding on the coattails of another film made at the same time that had an intergalactic race as a central plot conceit.  They didn’t have to make such a stupid movie.  This film is so bad it killed brain cells.  I feel like I’m a different, worse-off person for having watched it.

This movie must’ve been dusted with “Zoom Gas” as I can no longerrr skskjba sadf lib 8gfwli 023ljbsj jjjjjj

Watch Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000 if you want to induce a stroke.


FUN FACT: Virtually every single person involved with this garbage has only this movie as their sole film credit, except for the woman who played Astrid.  Lydia Mackay went on to have an extremely successful career as a voice over artist for anime films and television programs, and continues to work to this day.


The Avengers (2012) Review

May 3, 2012

Wait, what the shit?

There. That’s better.

I’ve read from others who have criticized the last few Marvel films for simply being advertisements for The Avengers, which, quite frankly, is a point that’s hard to argue against. The previous movies have been feature-length bits of exposition whose purpose is to get the plot set-up and character development out of the way so that they can focus on their true goal: a super-hero mash-up. Marvel always wanted to make an Avengers movie and we all wanted to see one, but they can’t just jump into it — we know that. So we’ve been patiently watching their “commercials” and waiting for the day when the “real film” comes along. So now that it’s here, is The Avengers worth the 4 years of set-up?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: very much so.

Before I fully get into this review, I should explain my mindset going into The Avengers. I’ve enjoyed all of the Marvel films leading up to this one (in order: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America), but then again, I like comics. Sure, they change the mythology for the films and my inner-nerd will get mad from time to time at what they’ve done, but it’s difficult to fault Marvel with the niche that they carved for themselves. Structure problems aside, the films are entertaining summer blockbusters. They don’t challenge you, but they don’t mean to. They’re competently-made, fun movies filled with action and humor — a formula that Iron Man and its filmmakers started and the other Marvel films continued. Honestly, I’ll take Marvel’s “passably competent” films over what is considered a “blockbuster” nowadays.


So that brings us to The Avengers. Without visiting Spoiler Town (population: SECRET), the plot revolves around the Tesseract (the Cosmic Cube to us comic book nerds), the blue, glowing power cube from Captain America. Loki, the Asgardian villain from Thor, comes to Earth in search of the cosmic relic for a nefarious purpose. After an altercation between Loki and Nick Fury (head of the secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D.), the one-eyed spy turns to super-powered heroes to help him stop the “god of mischief” from potentially destroying the world. Hijinks and [redacted for spoilers] ensue.

To carry the mantle for this film, they got Joss Whedon, who knows his way around comic lore and ensemble pieces. I wouldn’t consider myself a Joss Whedon fan (I’ve only watched a couple episodes of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and haven’t followed him much in recent years), but I’m sold with how he handled this film. All of the characters stay true to what has been established in previous films and they all have equal time to do their thing. Everyone is given a dramatic moment where they interact with another member of the team and they all shine through with comic interludes and witty dialog. (Believe it or not, the Hulk has one of the funniest moments of the film. No, seriously.) It’s almost insane how well the characters are handled. Those five previous Marvel films are so well represented and expanded that The Avengers truly does feel like it is simultaneously a sequel to five separate films, which I would’ve thought to be impossible.

While the run time is extremely long, it’s paced well enough that you don’t really feel it, even if your ass does. Then again, a two-and-a-half hour running time is to be expected with modern “blockbusters.”


Overall, the film is a helluva lot of fun. My only complaint would be more for the people who are going into this without any prior knowledge of the previous film canon. I’m speaking on their behalf even though I’m not one who can relate, but I would imagine it would be hard to keep track of everything without grounding first. But for anyone who has seen the five previous Marvel films mentioned earlier, this is required viewing — no ifs, ands or buts. It’s not even a question. Go watch it. For comic book fans, there might be a few nerd-rage inducing moments with how it runs fast and loose with the lore, but there’s enough awesome fan-service that you’ll find it hard to complain. For anyone who just wants to see a fun-filled action film with more funny moments than you’d expect from these types of films, again, just go watch it. Honestly, this film and those like it are the reason why we even have a term “summer blockbuster.”

Just be sure to stay through the credits… ALL the way through the credits.

Every time I think about the Hulk in this movie, I smile ear to ear.

Things I Think Too Much About: The Best (Fake) School

January 9, 2012

One of my friends posed this hypothetical question:

Which would you choose:
a. Go to Hogarts?
b. Join Starfleet Academy?
c. Train to be a Jedi?

An interesting question, and one nerdy enough to set off the pleasure center in my brain. Let’s over-analyze our options, starting with the most popular pick amongst my friends; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Everyone seems to think of Hogwarts as quaint and enchanting — you know, British. Everything around you is magic, you attend classes in a castle, and everyday you learn something whimsical that you wouldn’t learn at any other school. Also, Alan Rickman’s there, which is pretty awesome in and of itself. But let’s just take off our Awesome Glasses for a moment and think about how it would really be to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"I was hoping for Hans Gruber for homeroom, but had to settle for Wicket the Ewok."

First off, and this must be said, Hogwart’s is probably the scariest and most dangerous school ever imagined. Yes, I know Voldemort was behind several of the shenanigans that put many lives in danger, but he’s not responsible for all of the school’s troubles. From the foundation on up, Hogwarts is a horribly-run place that, if it were any other school, would have been shut down years ago.

To use an example from Chamber of Secrets, the school’s staff was well aware that Hogwarts was built on top of a lair that houses a deadly beast, but they chalk it up to being a myth since no one has actually seen it. Then several students were magically paralyzed by a creature that was obviously on the loose on school grounds, and threats from the perpetrator were scrawled on the walls in blood directly mentioning the lair in question. Do they shut down Hogwarts pending a formal investigation and seek the immediate capture/eradication of whatever monster was responsible? Nope. In fact, they let one of their students handle the situation, and then refrain from taking any disciplinary action against him for risking his own life in doing so.

Then there’s the incident from Prisoner from Azkaban, where a convicted murderer escapes from prison and the school’s staff knows that he’s heading for Hogwarts. In order to capture him, the Ministry of Magic sends Dementors — soul-sucking vaporous creatures — that outright attack one of the school’s students. Again, does the school shut down considering all that is going on? No.

And then there's the Triwizard Tournament, which is all sorts of wrong.

Speaking of the school’s staff, it should be mentioned that there’s obviously no background checks for the instructors. In a reality where werewolves are real, would you even consider hiring a professor named Remus Lupin? Hogwart’s did, and — surprise, surprise — it turned out he was a werewolf and nearly murdered several students. Was he fired? Of course not. He left of his own volition and no inquiry or punishment against him was made.

There was also Gilderoy Lockhart, a Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor who lied about all of his qualifications, erased people’s memories and put the well-being of several students in jeopardy on multiple occasions. And let’s not forget Professor Quirrell, who had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head.

"Hey, don't get mad. How were we supposed to know he had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head? For crying out loud, he wore a turban all the time!"

It’s pretty telling that one of the most qualified and competent professors at Hogwarts murdered its Headmaster.

All that aside, casting spells and making potions is pretty sweet. However, students go into Hogwarts with a 4th grade education and after ten years, they leave… with a 4th grade education, except they now have the abilities to make deadly potions and travel through time. There’s no Reading Comprehension, Grammar or Arithmetic — hell, not even Art — taught at Hogwarts. Think about it: A bunch of teenagers with the literacy and intelligence of 10-year-olds are sent out into the world casting Magic Missiles and concocting the most potent date rape drugs known to humankind. What a bright future to look forward to.

Even if you’re cool with all of this because you’re thinking about how awesome casting magic would be, put yourselves in the parents’ shoes — honestly, would you want your kid to attend Hogwarts? How many altercations with corrupt/incompetent school officials and near deaths would it take before you say to yourself, “You know, this school is kind of shitty”?

Answer: Quite a few.

All right, so Hogwarts might not be for everyone… or anyone. But what about Jedi training, the second most popular choice amongst my friends? What possible negatives could there be to being a Jedi?

If you enjoy romantic relationships and the perks that come with them (i.e., sex), I don’t think you’d want to be a Jedi. You’re forced into the life of a celibate space monk, trained from infancy to resist temptations (i.e., fun) and to live a life of duty and honor. Noble, sure, but once you’ve completed training, your job is to serve the Jedi Council, who in turn serves the Galactic Senate. As Mace Windu put it, you’re a “keeper of the peace.” Your most common duties are to have diplomatic talks with unruly aliens as a liaison to the Galactic Senate and to be a personal bodyguard for Senators, and they won’t all look like Natalie Portman, either. (Even if they did, it would still suck — remember, a Jedi’s life is free of romance of any kind. You can’t even think about sex.) Given the Law of Large Numbers, you’d probably end up the bodyguard for some 4-foot tall space cockroach, or worse, Jar Jar Binks.

"I swear, Jar Jar, if I hadn't promised the Jedi Council that I wouldn't kill you, I'd kill you."

But hey, having a lightsaber, telekinesis and mind control is awesome, right? It would be, but you’ve been conditioned to not find it fun, and the second you start having fun, it means that you’re probably a Sith. Better start preparing yourself now so that you can fight one of your Jedi friends to the death some day.

Look at Luke Skywalker. In A New Hope, he was an impetuous, light-hearted teenager who handled the lightsaber like it was an awesome toy, but by Return of the Jedi, he was stoic, reserved and almost a completely different person. He changed after training for only a short time; imagine being trained for your whole life, from pre-school on.

In the end, being a Jedi is diminished by what it means to actually be a Jedi. We imagine having Jedi powers without doing all that boring meditation and rigorous conditioning, but you can’t reach the end without the means. Once you’ve gone through Jedi training, you’ve repressed all your emotions and are no longer you. You are an automaton serving the Galactic Senate, and is that what you want for your life? Can you give up all that you have and are for the sake of some mind powers and a lightsaber?

"Sex is overrated." - Luke Skywalker

The last and least picked school is Starfleet Academy. I can see why this option might seem “boring,” but there’s some advantages to going to Star Trek’s prestigious military academy over the other choices.

Given how I talked about the dangers of Hogwarts (yet failed to address the issue with Jedi training), I’m sure some of you are thinking about how deadly being on the Enterprise would be. First of all, not all people who graduate Starfleet Academy end up on the Enterprise. There are safer alternatives out there, if one was so inclined to pursue them. Second, crew members that were not on the bridge were rarely put in danger and it was even more rare for anyone to be killed — that includes the infamous “red shirts”, who were most likely just enlisted petty officers who never graduated Starfleet anyway. The academy itself has an infinitesimal mortality rate, so mentioning death and danger is a moot point for Starfleet Academy attendees.

Now that that’s out of the way, I must point out that Starfleet Academy is the most school-like of the optional schools, but is that so bad? While you may not care about all of the subjects that you’ll be taught (much like all schools), it’s guaranteed to be full of some of the best teachers on the planet, if not galaxy. Even the worst class would probably be better than what you’re used to. Hell, just look at any time they feature Starfleet in any of the Star Trek series. It’s located in a futuristic San Francisco with amazing weather and scenery and it’s always full of smiling, uniform-wearing young cadets. Starfleet looks less a school and more like some sort of pleasure resort or fun-loving cult.

Not pictured: Xenu

That said, Starfleet’s still a military academy, which might be a turn off, and that’s understandable. The idea of going to a military academy isn’t inviting to me either, but then again, attending West Point won’t allow you to interact with alien life on starships, space stations and research colonies. Context is key. Starfleet gives you excellent prospects by the time you graduate, which is more than you can say for Hogwarts or Jedi training.

“Ooo, Starfleet is all boring and doesn’t kill its students. La-dee-da and whoopty whistle,” you say, like a condescending jerk. “You can move stuff with your mind following the Jedi Order and you can cast magic at Hogwarts, so either one is obviously more awesome than Starfleet.”

Well, you can do anything in the Star Trek universe. How? One word: holodecks. In holodecks (or the much more available holosuites), you can do whatever you want in a computer-controlled, consequence-free environment. Punch dragons, have sex with your favorite celebrity, use your boss’ face as a toilet — holosuites/decks are the ultimate in wish fulfillment. Why would you settle for anything less?

"Luke Skywalker's an idiot." - Quark

My fictional school of choice: Starfleet Academy

Xanadu Review

July 19, 2010

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan inspired both Citizen Kane and this. Just think about that for a moment.

In 1980, three musicals were released within a three month period that were so bad, they inspired John J. B. Wilson to create The Golden Raspberry Awards to “honor” horrible films. As you can rightly assume, all three movies were critically reviled and did terribly at the box office. They have since reached a somewhat cult status, as many good bad movies do… if that makes any sense. But are these actually decent films that have become cult musicals because they were underappreciated in their time, or are they just campy garbage that people “enjoy” ironically? In this three-part review, I will watch all three of these infamous musicals and give my opinion on each one because what is the internet for if not to boast about your opinion to the entire world?

Let’s get this out of the way first: Musical films are hard to pull off successfully. Having a character break from the narrative to sing about their thoughts instead of, oh, I don’t know, talking about them in a realistic manner, completely dispels whatever suspension of disbelief there was. In a theater production, the music numbers can work in one’s favor because, given the limited amount of sets and the fact that the actors are right there, in your face, live, it’s easier to buy into, contextually speaking. Most of the universe building is done in the audience’s mind, so a theater goer is usually more forgiving of what constitutes as a “fourth wall” anyway. Since there is less space and budget to work with, as long as there’s catchy music done well and some good choreography that really takes advantage of the stage’s limitations (or goes beyond them), a theater audience will be delighted.

How else can you explain how this damn thing ran for so long?

In a film, it’s a bit harder for the average audience member to see someone, for seemingly no reason and without warning, break from the plot to sing a song and dance around. There’s already a distance between the audience and the actors since the audience is merely watching a projection instead of live performers. Because of that, the fourth wall is more clearly established, making it even more jarring to have the characters break through it by doing a dance number. After that, we no longer see the actors as characters living an unfolding drama, but entertainers singing for our amusement. When people go to a movie, they want to see a good narrative, believable acting, excellent direction, relatable characters, drama and emotion. A musical film has to work that much harder to have the audience believe in the spectacle because the singing has to seem completely natural to the universe that’s established while exceeding beyond what could be done in a play.

Making the film a comedy usually helps.

That said, Xanadu does itself no favors by being a movie instead of a stage production. Its plot is bat-shit insane, but it’s filmed in the most uninspiring way imaginable. Most of the music numbers are shot with minimal coverage — single shots at flat angles with takes that go on forever. It’s an extremely bland and unexciting film. For example, check out this “music number”:

Xanadu – “Suddenly” scene

Perhaps if I was watching the actors sing this live on a stage, along with all of the effects, I’d be a tad more forgiving of this scene. But as is, it’s long, boring and serves no purpose within the film…. It’s padding, basically. Most musicals typically have simple plots that you could describe in a single sentence, and Xanadu is no exception. (In their defense, musicals pretty much need uncomplicated narratives in order to fit in music numbers and still be within a decent running time.) However, there’s no excuse for when the songs are completely pointless and extraneous — the music can, and should, be necessary for the experience. The last thing you want is to have your audience checking their watches when the lead character starts singing.

"No one told me this musical would have so much singing in it! All right, that does it! I'm leaving!"

Since I brought it up, I guess I might as well talk about the plot. I just stated that it can be summed up in one sentence (and that it’s bat-shit insane), so here goes: A struggling painter is visited by an honest-to-god, daughter-of-Zeus muse in order to be inspired to create a rollerdisco, but the two find themselves falling in love, which complicates her mission since she’ll eventually have to leave him and return to Mount Helicon. No, seriously — that’s the plot. You don’t really find out that she’s a muse until the third act, so, spoiler alert, I guess. But then again, the film is 30-years-old (and terrible), so it’s not like you haven’t had time to watch it (assuming that you’d even want to, which you don’t).

I’ve said several times now that the film is terrible, but haven’t really gone into detail. Well, that’s because it’s just overall bad in every conceivable way that a musical can be. The acting sucks, the directing is lazy and uninspired, the plot is beyond stupid, the dialogue is pure exposition, and worst of all, the music isn’t even really that good. The soundtrack may have had a couple hits back in the day, but Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra phoned it in for this one.

The whole film smacks of boredom and incompetence… except for Gene Kelly. Even though he was past the point of retirement when the movie was made, he was hoofing it like a pro. Throughout Xanadu, I got the vibe that he was genuinely having a fun time, even though he was totally debasing himself by even appearing in it.

Gene Kelly: 68 and still makin' panties drop.

Seeing it now, it’s pretty weird to watch Xanadu. The movie serves as both a time capsule of kitschy, campy nostalgia and as a once-harbinger of death for many elements of American pop culture: disco, roller rinks, Gene Kelly, and Olivia Newton-John’s career as a bankable actress. Despite all the things that died around — and due to — Xanadu’s premiere, it’s even weirder to see the successes that came from it. The film spawned an extremely well-reviewed and profitable Broadway adaptation; Joel Silver, a first-time producer for Xanadu, later financed The Matrix films and many other box office hits; and Robert Greenwald, the director, went on to make popular left-wing propaganda documentaries about how FOX News and Walmart suck.

That's odd. I don't see "From the director of Xanadu," anywhere on the cover.

While Xanadu was a compost heap that eventually grew a flower (of debatable merit), the same can’t be said for the other two films in this soon-to-be pseudo-trilogy. Stay tuned for the next musical review, as I examine a film that has one of the most ironic titles ever.

Xanadu? More like Xanadon’t.

Alice in Wonderland (2010) Review

March 26, 2010

Get used to this face, folks, 'cause you're gonna see it a lot.

There are few books that have been adapted to visual mediums as much as Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There), and it stands to reason, too. With their evocative use of nonsense verse, fantastic imagery and whimsical characters, the Alice stories feel like they were written to be brought to life. Not only that, but the scenarios presented have a satirical sensibility that’s ingeniously made palatable for children. Depending on the adapter, one could use the Alice stories to subversively present a critique on any idea to children and adult alike — from organized religion to the judicial system to mathematical theories. It’s a thinking person’s satire dressed up as a merry children’s bedtime story and vice versa. Complex and interesting, visual and cerebral, the stories embody imagination itself.

But screw that noise! Read the cliff notes, adapt the books into another effects-driven, generic fantasy action film and make some fucking BANK!

Every time someone reads that last sentence, Jerry Bruckheimer gets a huge erection.

Admittedly, Tim Burton’s recent take on Carroll’s works starts with promise. The movie opens with young Alice waking from a nightmare about Wonderland and her father consoles her back to sleep. Flash forward several years: Alice is now a 19-year-old, her father has passed away and she can’t help but dream of a less stifling life. She and her mother attend a social gathering where Alice discovers that it is intended to be her engagement party as she is proposed to by a stuck-up, pompous git whom she is arranged to marry. Given that this is mid-to-late nineteenth century England, she has little say in the matter. With all of the party goers standing around waiting for her to say “yes,” Alice spots a curiously familiar white rabbit in a jacket, flees from the party to chase him and finds herself falling down the rabbit hole once again.

It’s at this point that the film’s quality goes down with her.

It's both an act break and a metaphor. Curiouser and curiouser.

As a fair warning to you, I’m about to get into some serious, major spoilers here. However, it ultimately doesn’t matter because when you get down to it, you’ve already seen this film many, many times before and already know how it goes.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a true word-for-word retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and anyone who has seen some of Tim Burton’s other book-to-film adaptations can attest to that. Everyone has seen interpretations of Alice in Wonderland and the last thing we need is another retread. Besides, this can’t possibly be the same story since it clearly establishes itself as a pseudo-sequel (to an already existing sequel) that follows an older Alice who is returning to Wonderland… or at least it would be, if the filmmakers didn’t decide to change the name of the damn place. Yes, it’s no longer called Wonderland — it’s Underland. According to Absalom, the Blue Caterpillar, she apparently misheard the name when she was little.

Personally, I prefer The Venture Bros.' version of Underland.

Oh, but the “Underland” renaming is just one example of the many unnecessary changes made to the established backstory that, in my opinion, ultimately hurt the movie overall. Keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with putting a twist on an old story. The fairy tale of Cinderella that we all know and love has tons of variants and is quite different than its original incarnation. After all, the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — witty and clever as it is — is a pretty unstructured narrative without much conflict, so I could see how one might have to change some things to make it an engaging film for modern audiences. Also, aging Alice to early adulthood is a welcome idea that’s rife with possibilities in how one could interpret the story (see the analysis of themes in the film Labyrinth for possibilities). But some of the changes to Alice make you wonder what the filmmakers were thinking.

"So, like, let's give the Mad Hatter a disappearing/reappearing Scottish accent and make him look like a clown with orange hair."

Anyway, back to the story. It turns out that the White Rabbit intentionally lured Alice down the rabbit hole because — according to an all-knowing scroll called the Oraculum — it has been prophesied that on Frabjous Day, Alice would come and save Underland (*grinds teeth*) from the rule of the tyrannical Red Queen by slaying the Jabberwocky. As the rabbit explains the situation to Alice, they are attacked by the Bandersnatch and separated. Alice then stumbles around Underland (…ugh) without guidance and runs into only the most famous of the characters from the books while trying to find the vorpal sword (the only thing that will kill the Jabberwocky) and avoiding detection from the Knave of Hearts, the Red Queen’s personal assassin.

If this synopsis sounds like it’s a dragon-slaying, Lancelot-styled fantasy also-ran with the Wonderland characters and setting being merely window dressing to the proceedings, then you’re ahead of the game.

While one can appreciate a more story-driven reinvention of the source material, several characters have to do an about-face just so the plot can make sense. Not only that, but anyone who is familiar with the books and other adaptations might be disappointed to see what many of these beloved figures have become in this film. Granted, this is supposed to be a dark reinvention of Alice and I understand that, but seeing the Dormouse as a needle-brandishing, bloodlust-filled crusader who literally gouges out creatures’ eyes instead of the sleepy loser who was picked on by a foppish version of the Marx brothers can be disheartening to fans of the stories.

"Let's slip you out of these wet clothes and into a dry mar-tea-ni!"

The “kill the big, bad monster” plot and brooding visuals clash unsuccessfully with the cartoonishly dry, British whimsy that many of the movie’s characters try to pull off (“try” being the key word). This PG-rated film wants to be both family friendly and dark and scary, but like a jack of all trades, it succeeds at neither and just comes across as off-putting. For example, The Mad Tea Party — where the March Hare, Mad Hatter and Dormouse sit around singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat” — is sandwiched between scenes of the Bandersnatch getting its eye ripped out by the Dormouse (busy little bastard, ain’t he?) and Alice having to cross a moat by using severed heads as stepping stones. It’s like the ’80s all over again.

"Nice fuckin' rating system!" *honk, honk*

Not only are the characters and atmosphere at odds with what we’ve come to know, but the film’s message doesn’t make any sense. At one point in the film, Alice decides to go to the Red Queen’s castle because she wants to rescue the Mad Hatter from imprisonment. Bayard, a talking bloodhound, tells Alice that she can’t do that because the prophecy says that she needs to go to the White Queen’s palace instead. Alice then tells him that she doesn’t care about some prophecy and that she makes her own path. She then goes into the Red Queen’s castle and yadda, yadda, yadda. At that moment, I thought that perhaps this film was going to throw us a curveball: Will Alice buck convention and find a peaceful, non-violent resolution by “making her own path?”

Nope. She accepts her destiny (literally becoming a knight in shining armor) and fights the damn Jabberwocky — exactly as the Oraculum said. So much for making her own path.

And there's the Mad Hatter in the back with a claymore and a kilt. So is this Wonderland, Underland or Scotland?

After Alice has her adventure in (W)Underland, she comes back to the engagement party and blows off her arranged suitor. She then proceeds to tell off everyone else at the party who tried to put her down, effectively taking charge and making her own path.
So… what is this movie trying to say? Should we accept the responsibility that fate has in store for us or are we masters of our own destiny? Which is it, movie? It can’t be both.

Despite all that I have said so far, there were a few things that I enjoyed about the film. Some of the special effects are really good and convincing, and many of the CGI characters are well-acted animated and vocal performances. Anne Hathway was, by far, my favorite live-action actor in the movie. She plays the White Queen as a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration of a Disney Princess, constantly keeping her arms daintily aloft at hip height and floating in and out of frame. It’s hard to describe, but she’s basically a parody of Disney’s Snow White and it’s pretty funny.

"Ms. Hathaway, if you're reading this, we would like to thank you for making this film bearable." -signed, me and my girlfriend

There’s been much ado about Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen performance — either you love it or hate it. I found it grating at times and an impersonation of Blackadder‘s Queenie the rest of the time. (Was Miranda Richardson too busy or something?) Mia Wasikowska makes a really bland Alice, only displaying emotion to show that she is either bored or annoyed — the rest of the time she looks like she’s moments away from falling asleep. Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter as a D.I.D. sufferer who has random, manic anger fits and… it’s pretty cringe-worthy. If you can tolerate seeing him slip in and out of having a Scottish brogue, I guarantee that you won’t survive seeing him do his “flutterwacken.”

When the movie was over, I could only say to myself, “Why?” Why make the March Hare the White Queen’s cook when the books already had a cook they could have used? Why was the Mad Hatter given Scottish traits but then did an anachronistic (and embarrassing) break dance at the end of the movie instead of doing a Scottish highland fling? Why did they make the Dormouse a nigh-murderous sociopath? Why did Alice have to say that shitty, awful line as she killed the Jabberwocky? Why was this movie made?

If anything, they should have just gotten the license to American McGee’s Alice and made that instead. It’s basically the same plot, except more thought out, mature and it doesn’t entirely crap on the characterizations. What a missed opportunity.

The Room Review

February 18, 2010

Oh, hi movie poster!

I watch a lot of crappy films — it’s a hobby of mine. I always have an ear open listening for buzz on the worst films ever made. I figure that if I watch a lot of awful films and can determine why they’re bad, I could not only appreciate good films even more, but learn from the mistakes of others while writing my own unfinished manuscripts. (Writing unfinished works is also another hobby of mine.)

Through my hobby, I rarely come across a bad film that genuinely fits the mold of “so bad it’s good.” Most truly bad movies are extremely boring or so incompetently made that it’s hard to watch without daydreaming of doing something else or just shutting it off outright. However, once in awhile you find a bad film that requires no additional commentary to be hilarious or revelatory. The film’s plot has enough going on to keep your interest and the earnest ineptitude of every frame makes you want to see how the horrible train wreck ends (usually in a massive explosion with lots of screaming), making it both heinous and gripping. Rarely does one see a terrible movie that is so bad that they actually want to suggest it to friends. Those films are true gems worthy of praise.

The Room is such a film.

Oh, hi cast!

The Room has an extremely basic plot that gets needlessly complicated (more on that later). The film’s story follows our protagonist Johnny (played by The Room‘s writer/director/producer Tommy Wiseau) as he goes about his days, being a good guy and a loving fiancé to Lisa (Juliette Danielle). Unbeknownst to Gary Stu — er, I mean, Johnny — Lisa is a cold-hearted succubus who cheated on him with his lantern-jawed, Kenny Loggins look-alike best friend, Mark (Greg Sestero). Lisa ultimately decides to have the best of both worlds by keeping her stable, “successful banker” boyfriend Johnny, but having a wild, passionate sex life by continuing to sport fuck his best friend behind his back. To keep this charade going, she lies upon lies and drags this whole thing out as long as she can. Shenanigans ensue.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this review, I would like to say that if one were to make a movie that depended on a no-nonsense femme fatale to carry it, the filmmaker should at the very least try to cast a woman who aesthetically fills that role. Some time-tested attributes may include (but are not limited to) sharply arching eyebrows, a curvaceous figure, having an air of confidence and being extremely beautiful. Now I’m not going to say that the woman who plays Lisa is unattractive — beauty is subjective, after all — but if she’s going to pass as a conspiratorial, evil temptress with sex and murder on the brain, she shouldn’t look like the office secretary who keeps refusing to go to her coworkers’ after-work parties because she has to get home early to take care of her cats, Mittens and Tum-Tum.

Oh, hi evil lady!

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the main reasons for The Room‘s spectacularly awesome failure as a film.

The Room adds depth and weight (i.e., convolution and filler material) to the general plot by sprinkling many mini-plots throughout the narrative that turn out to be complete cul-de-sacs. For example, at one point in the film, the college-aged neighbor and friend to everyone, Denny (Philip Haldiman), is revealed to be — bum, bum, BUMMM! — into drugs! After a few minutes of tearful hugs and talks, the plot thread is set up and resolved (I guess?) within about ten minutes of total screen time without ever making an impact on the main story.

Perhaps The Room‘s best instance of the go-nowhere side stories is the infamous breast cancer line. Yes, I said “line.” The plot of Lisa’s mother being diagnosed with breast cancer is introduced with a single line of dialogue without another mention of it for the entire film.

Since it didn’t contribute to the main narrative, provide character depth or even have a resolution, why was this even brought up? Perhaps Mr. Wiseau was going for verisimilitude…? I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine. But while these plethora of subplots would ruin a good film, they keep a bad film interesting. Honestly, the hardest part in watching a bad film is preventing boredom from setting in, and The Room succeeds in holding your attention. (Bad filmmakers, take note!)

Now while any bad film can be convoluted and messy with plot holes galore, The Room is truly special because of the acting. Across the board, everyone gives a performance that could best be described as “distant,” with every line uttered so monotone that you’d swear that they’re trying to form their words on the spot by reading alphabet refrigerator magnets. Due to the inexperienced actors being unable to emote properly for the “dramatic” scenes, most of the film feels like you’re watching aliens trying to put on a teleplay based on observed human behavior. If stiff acting is usually referred to as wooden, then this is concrete. But nothing compares to the main man himself, Mr. Tommy Wiseau.

Oh, hi auteur!

The unique qualities that Mr. Wiseau brings to the table is his indiscernible European accent and his sleepy performance. His voice could be described as the result of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Isabella Rossellini having a baby on quaaludes. His accent is so oddly absurd and his mannerisms so aloof that you’ll find yourself uncontrollably imitating/laughing at him during the film and well after it’s over. He generally coasts through The Room with a sedated performance and thousand yard stare, but then he’ll seemingly randomly interrupt himself when he remembers that he’s supposed to be angry for a scene, so he increases his volume and pumps his arms petulantly. Mr. Wiseau finally answers the question, “What happens when a laid back European filled with indifference is forced to express emotions that require over-the-top, American soap opera-styled hammy acting?” Hilariously, the answer is this:

If I had to single only one thing out of The Room, I would say the best parts of the film are the sex scenes, but not for the reasons that you may think. I don’t enjoy them for their titillation or passion, but for their complete lack of titillation and passion. Every sexual encounter between the characters is like watching a college student’s rejected demo reel for applying to be the director of a basement-budget, soft-core skin flick that you’d find on Cinemax’s After Dark. The fact that Wiseau fails at even aspiring for the lowly goal of making a Zalman King-produced sex scene rip-off is hilarious and sad in ways I never knew existed. (In the pantheon of off-putting cinematic sex, Johnny and Lisa’s non-penetrative porking is somewhere above Bloodrayne‘s overly gratuitous, out-of-nowhere fuckfest, but below Monica Bellucci’s 15 minute rape scene in Irréversible.) The funniest sex-related moment in The Room comes after the most cringe-worthy display of foreplay ever committed to film, where Johnny awkwardly dry humps what would be Lisa’s navel, which makes one wonder if he even knows how men are anatomically different from women. Then again, Johnny’s lack of knowledge about female physiology would give motivation for Lisa to cheat on him with his best friend, so… maybe it’s character development,… I guess?

I’ve gone on long enough talking about this film, but I could actually keep going. This film’s likability is so far above what most consider a “so bad, it’s good” film, that it’s hard not to recommend it. Thank God the fine fellows over at Rifftrax released a rifftrack for the film, and I’m pleased to say that it’s one of the funniest ones they’ve made, making this film even better/worse. Honestly, for connoisseurs of bad films, The Room is required viewing… and should be taught in film schools.

If you love bad films, you owe it to yourself to watch The Room — it’ll change your life.
Not knowing what you’re getting into: 1/10
Knowing what you’re getting into: 9/10

P.S. Oh, hi Rifftrax sample! (Contains spoilers)

Avatar Review

January 19, 2010

'Avatar' is a film unlike anything ever seen before.... Sort of.

Over the past few days, a bunch of my friends asked me what I thought of the new movie Avatar. Given that my stance has been contrary to what most people have said about it, I have found myself explaining my opinions over and over again. To finally purge myself of all my feelings and educate others about an unheard opinion, I finally decided to write this review (yes, this one that you are reading right now). This review is not an outlet for me to be smug or controversial, but ultimately to educate. I’m aware that I am of a vast minority — extremely vast, almost infinitesimal — and it is for that reason that I am writing this review.

Hello, my name is Boone… and I didn’t like the movie Avatar.

Now before you pick up your pitchforks and torches and chase me into a rickety windmill, give me a chance to explain myself. Perhaps in doing so, you will walk away a richer, more enlightened person for listening to a contrary position. Or perhaps you’ll be even angrier at me, cementing your opinion that I am a royal doucheface. Either way, this will be quite an adventure!

To get in your good graces, I’ll start by saying the things that I enjoyed about the film. Avatar, from a technical standpoint, is fantastic. The special effects, editing and sound design are solid, and the final action setpiece is frenetic and well-done….

And thus concludes the positive portion of this review.

The visuals for 'Avatar' are a delight -- creative and wholly original.

One of the biggest problems that I have with Avatar is that it’s been done before. Not only that, but it’s been done better many times before. You’ve probably already heard/read about how the film borrows plot points wholesale from other films, and everyone knows that when it comes to storytelling, it’s not what you tell, but how you tell it. However, Avatar does absolutely nothing revolutionary other than ramp up the special effects to 11. That’s it. If you aren’t wowed by visual splendor alone, then you can’t help but leave the theater wanting.

To make my point more clearly, let’s look at the film from a point of view that in no way focuses on the special effects. Imagine the film is a made-for-TV movie on the SyFy channel, where bringing attention to its special effects will end in tears. (“The filmmakers are doing the best they can! Leave ’em alone!”) Better yet, simply imagine that the film wasn’t made by James Cameron, it didn’t have a budget of $300 million, it didn’t have 15 years worth of preparation to make and that it certainly was not the result of the two largest and most adept visual effects houses on the planet (WETA and ILM) working together. It’s simply a movie with a story to tell.

'Avatar' tells the tale of a wounded, journal-writing soldier who goes to a remote outpost and ingratiates himself with the "primitive" indigenious people.

First, Avatar uses the same stark, condescending liberal guilt message that so many other movies have used before. Yes, we get it: Corporations and the military industrial complex are bad and people who love nature are good. Not only were those ideas played out years ago, but Avatar presents them with the subtlety of an exploding dumptruck filled with howler monkeys, all without nuance to the characters or their motivations. There are the evil people and the good people and they are presented in black and white with no shades of grey.

Let’s say, off the top of my head, the movie-going public was told that “unobtanium” — the precious mystery ore that brought the humans’ mining corporations and military to the alien planet of Pandora in the first place — could cure cancer, AIDS and all other Earthly diseases. It would’ve perhaps made the audience question the necessity of suffering and sacrifice and given an iota of complexity to the characters’ actions. Whose needs are more important: An entire planet of dying humans or a couple hundred aliens who are unwilling to move from their sacred patch of land? How can diplomacy be reached with an alien tribe who have nothing to gain by leaving and can’t understand the consequences in their refusal? You know, ideas that give both sides of a story and provoke thought.

But nope, we don’t get that. Instead, we get a clichéd, careless corporate CEO putting golf balls in his office and military brass sipping coffee as they all watch an entire race unnecessarily get wiped out by fire bombing and deforestation. You know, SUBTLETY!

James Cameron's 'Avatar' should be commended for mixing a heartfelt, pro-environment message with an original, fantasy setting that is easy for people to digest.

That brings me to another thing: the clichés. Most of the characters are one-dimensional archetypes at their best and shop-worn stock characters at their worst. A lot of the time, however, they can’t help being stereotypes given that they have lines like, “You’re not in Kansas anymore,” a line so clichéd that you’ll spit out cobwebs if you say it out loud. But that’s not the only example — not by a long shot. The filmmaker, in his infinite wisdom, settled on naming the MacGuffin in the film “unobtanium,” a name that sci-fi nerds, engineers and cinephiles literally laugh at while jokingly naming stupid mystical metals in theoretical thought experiments. Cameron could’ve taken 10 minutes out of his day to think of any other name so that we could take his not-even-thinly-veiled analogy on The War on Terror seriously. How about cantfindium? Or lostite? Or behindthatbushium?

I guess now is as good of a time as any to mention why I didn’t like the fact that James Cameron decided to use Avatar as a mouth piece for his thoughts on The War on Terror. And in case the analogy wasn’t obvious to the audience, Cameron again decided to kick subtlety in the face and had the marine colonel mention making a “preemptive strike” on the aliens and that they will “fight terror with terror,” which might have made sense had the nature-loving, life-respecting Na’vi forced suicide bombers to rush into military encampments at some point in the movie. Honestly, what sort of “terror” were the aliens responsible for? How can that reference make any sense at all in the context of this movie? This having an Iraqi/oil subtext feels tacked on and out of place, especially considering that it comes at the end of the movie. I was content to accept Avatar simply as a metaphor for the Colonial expansion on the Native Americans, but hey, why stop at just one obvious, clichéd, out-of-date analogy, right?

This all goes back to what I’ve said before that the whole movie has no voice of its own. It takes well-known, over-used ideas and throws in some special effects razzle dazzle so that you forget that you’ve already seen this film many, many times before.

'Avatar' is refreshing by being a family-friendly, interplanetary, 3D sci-fi film that denounces the industrial military complex and its encroachment on.... You get the picture.

The plot is derivative and unoriginal, the dialog is hokey as all hell and plotting is far from revolutionary. (“Gee, there’s the skull of that winged creature that has only been tamed 5 times in the history of the Na’vi. I wonder if that’ll come into play at some point in the movie.”) Some of the actors give competent performances in the film, but most of them are either wooden and bored or over-the-top scenery chewers. Although, to be fair, picking on a sci-fi film for having wooden or hammy acting is like picking on a SyFy original movie for its special effects. (“I said to leave ’em alone, jerk!”)

Cameron had $300 million dollars and 15+ years of development and this is the final result? The whole thing just feels like wasted potential…. Well, I guess misguided potential might be more accurate.

Look, if you enjoyed the movie for its spectacle and special effects, then more power to you. Go nuts and buy it ten times over when it comes out on DVD. All I ask is that you allow those of us that weren’t impressed to have our opinions and not bash us for them. We may be a minority now, but think about this: When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace first came out, it was overwhelmingly enjoyed by both critic and fan alike, and the people who disliked it were in the minority…. Now look at it.

I haven’t seen better special effects,
but I’ve definitely seen better movies.

P.S. As a professional graphic designer, I take personal umbrage with the fact that they wrote the subtitles in Papyrus font. That shit’s fucking clownshoes.