"With Avatar James Cameron has turned one man's dream of the movies into a trippy joy ride about the end of life - our moviegoing life included - as we know it," declares Manohla Dargis in the New York Times. "Several decades in the dreaming and four years in the actual making, the movie is a song to the natural world that was largely produced with software, an Emersonian exploration of the invisible world of the spirit filled with Cameronian rock 'em, sock 'em pulpy action. Created to conquer hearts, minds, history books and box-office records, the movie - one of the most expensive in history, the jungle drums thump - is glorious and goofy and blissfully deranged."
"I can imagine Robert Zemeckis - whose botched motion-capture animated features The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol were full of rubbery, dead-eyed, freakish-looking human constructs - watching James Cameron's Avatar with an expression on his face not unlike F Murray Abraham's Salieri listening to his first Mozart composition in Amadeus." Alonso Duralde for IFC: "From a technical standpoint, Avatar is a game-changer, a paradigm shift, the greatest thing since sliced 2001.... I just wish it were a better movie."
It's "inarguably the greatest 3-D cavalry western ever made," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "Too bad that western is Dances With Wolves."
And so it goes in many of the reviews linked to below, but hold on, argues Slate's Dana Stevens: "Is The Matrix a great movie? Is The Terminator? Is RoboCop? All of these seemed like popcorn releases, crowd-pleasing high-tech spectacles that looked cool as hell and were just smart enough to spark dorm-room philosophical speculation. But with 10 or 20 years of distance, they look smarter.... The Matrix, from 1999, came closest to diagnosing the present. It's an Internet-age movie, but it only has dialup access. Avatar could be thought of as the first mega-blockbuster that's fully broadband.... The movie is too long, the score by James Horner is hopelessly bombastic, and the battle royale of the third act relies too heavily on 'into the valley of death rode the six hundred' cliché. But if you believe special-effects blockbusters have the right to exist at all, if you respect the genre that brought us Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark and yes, Titanic, then Avatar is something that needs to be seen. Lord knows it's something to see."
More from Simon Abrams and Ali Arikan (House Next Door), Chris Barsanti (PopMatters), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Richard Brody (New Yorker), Ty Burr (Boston Globe), Richard Corliss (Time), David Denby (New Yorker), David Edelstein (New York), Scott Foundas (LA Weekly), Cynthia Fuchs (PopMatters), Ryan Gilbey (New Statesman), Peter Hall (Cinematical), Ann Hornaday (Washington Post), Tom Huddleston (Time Out London), Ben Kenigsberg (Time Out Chicago), Peter Keough (Boston Phoenix), Jonathan Kiefer (Faster Times), Shawn Levy (Oregonian), Kevin Maher (London Times), Paul Matwychuk, James Rocchi (MSN Movies), Sukhdev Sandhu (Telegraph), Nick Schager (Slant), Duncan Shepherd (San Diego Reader), Benjamin Strong (L), Scott Tobias (AV Club), Jim Tudor (Twitch), Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times), Keith Uhlich (Time Out New York), Lindy West (Stranger), Armond White (New York Press) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Earlier: Glenn Kenny and the first round of reviews from last week.
"Cameron has given women more power, authority, and strength than any other mainstream director has been able to get away with," argues Rebecca Keegan, author of The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron, at Vanity Fair. Salon's Andrew O'Hehir talks with producer Jon Landau "about making the impossible possible." At Slate, Eric Hynes presents a slide show that "aims to be representative of what caused some of the world's most celebrated filmmakers to have yawning gaps on their résumés. Often the story of what happened in between films is grander, and far stranger, than what eventually got made." More browsing. "Jet-Setting with the Cast," a photo gallery from Life. Viewing. For MSN Movies, James Rocchi talks with Cameron, Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver. David Poland gets a full-hour with Cameron.
Update, 12/19: "To my eyes (and ears), Avatar is the first Cameron feature that's a near-total failure," writes Jim Emerson.
Update, 12/20: Martin Anderson: "How to avoid getting a 3D headache while watching Avatar."
Updates, 12/21: "Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message," argues Ross Douthat in the NYT. "[P]antheism has been Hollywood's religion of choice for a generation now. It's the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It's the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like The Lion King and Pocahontas. And it's the dogma of George Lucas's Jedi, whose mystical Force 'surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.' Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them."
"When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?" asks Annalee Newitz at io9.
Update, 12/22: Listening. The Film Talk, with special guests Glenn Kenny and Armond White.
Reverse Shot's Michael Koresky: "Where Rob Marshall's movie debut, Chicago, betrayed his cinematic inexperience and his camp-classic follow-up Memoirs of a Geisha laid bare the idiocy beneath the incompetence, Nine, effort number three, adapted from the 1982 musical that was in turn based on Fellini's 1963 masterpiece 8½, synthesizes all of his worst tendencies into something roiling, monotonous, and ghastly impersonal."
The NYT's AO Scott: "Nine dresses up its coarseness in bogus prestige, which both kills the fun and exposes an emptiness at the project's heart - a fatal lack of inspiration."
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian), Andrew Chan (L), Alonso Duralde (IFC), David Edelstein (New York), Scott Foundas (Voice), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Nathaniel R, Betsy Sharkey (LAT), Ryan Stewart (Slant), Keith Uhlich (TONY), Armond White (NYP) and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Earlier: Glenn Kenny and reviews from London.
Dave Calhoun talks with Daniel Day-Lewis for Time Out London. For the NYT, Rachel Donadio files a set report from Rome. Time Out New York suggests: "Nine bizarre musicals you should see instead of Nine."
"With impressive stitch-work as far as the eye can see and more than a few object-based leisure-time interludes (an early yo-yo prototype appears at court), The Young Victoria holds a minor miniature-rooms interest," writes Benjamin Mercer in the L Magazine. "[T]he drama, a prestige-picturization of the 'Early reign' section of Queen Victoria's Wikipedia page, is not so compelling. The palace intrigue occasions a great deal of shouting and across-the-boudoir finger-pointing, and young lovers Victoria (Emily Blunt) and Albert (Rupert Friend) go through ecstatic moments in their courtship, but there is nothing rousing about this film. The Young Victoria, written by Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y.), merely induces a kind of luxury stupor."
"Man, British heritage cinema can be dull when assembly-lined for the export market," sighs Ella Taylor in the Voice.
More from Matt Connolly (Reverse Shot), Manohla Dargis (NYT), Roger Ebert (Chicago Sun-Times), Molly Eichel (Philadelphia City Paper), David Fear (TONY), JR Jones (Chicago Reader), Anthony Lane (New Yorker), Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle), Joseph Jon Lanthier (Slant), Keith Phipps (AV Club), Matt Prigge (Philadelphia Weekly), James van Maanen and Stephanie Zacharek (Salon). Interviews with Blunt: Durga Chew-Bose (Interview) and Louis Peitzman (San Francisco Bay Guardian).
For the NYT, Frank Bruni talks with co-producer Sarah Ferguson, who tells him she relates to Prince Albert: "'He was German, a scientist, frowned upon, an intruder,' she said, then mentions depictions of him in the movie that speak to her. 'Remember that bit where he says, "Thank you for reminding me I'm a guest in my own house?" That bit in particular. You are always a guest.'" Jodie Burke talks with Ferguson, too, for the LAT.
"In Justin D Hilliard's wry, microbudgeted road movie, The Other Side of Paradise, two longtime friends navigate an awkward plunge into sexual intimacy while driving across Texas with a just-released ex-con brother in tow," writes Ronnie Scheib in Variety. "Chronicling the couple's one-on-one relationship issues and roadway encounters of the eccentric and downright traumatic kind, the pic shifts tonal gears with ease, its trio of lead thesps registering realistically if not always engagingly." At the Quad Cinema in New York.
"Defensible anger becomes indefensible incoherence in Under the Eightball, a heartfelt documentary that twists an emotional journey into an anti-establishment tirade," writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the NYT. FX Feeney, writing in the Voice, is more impressed: "The anger and rage that ignite it stem from the puzzling illness that overtakes Lori Hall-Steele, sister of Timothy Grey, who co-directed the film with Breanne Russell.... The heartbreak that informs the universal reach of Under the Eightball is uniquely personal." At New York's IFC Center.
"A somewhat amusing yet trite example of the modern-day screwball comedy, Marc Lawrence's Did You Hear About the Morgans? first begins with a now-separated Manhattan couple - the bigwig, sort-of-famous realtor Meryl Morgan (Sarah Jessica Parker) and corporate lawyer Paul Morgan (Hugh Grant) - witnessing the brutal killing of one of Meryl's clients." Adam Keleman in Slant: "As well-worn farce, Morgans is pretty much The Proposal with a dash of Witness." More from Richard Corliss (Time), Stephen Holden (NYT), Kathleen Murphy (MSN Movies), Michael O'Sullivan (Washington Post), Eric D Snider (Cinematical), Scott Tobias (AV Club) and Mary Elizabeth Williams (Salon).
"Robert Bresson's directorial career was one of perpetual distillation, obsessively spent pursuing a strict economy of means, austerity of expression, and purity of form," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine, "and at the height of his powers Joan of Arc offered a perfect historical figure through which the French perfectionist could plumb the iconoclastic asceticism not only of the 15th Century teenage soldier, but of his own uncompromising style - only Jesus Christ himself could have provided a better subject."
"Tony Pipolo, author of Robert Bresson: A Passion for Film, whose publication serves as the occasion for Anthology's two-day revival, reopens the trial of The Trial of Joan of Arc," writes Melissa Anderson in the Voice. "Bresson's 1962 film - the most underrated of the director's 13 features (and, at 65 minutes, his shortest) - Pipolo points out, 'launched a decade devoted to female protagonists' (and the careers of Anne Wiazemsky and Dominique Sanda). By looking anew at The Trial of Joan of Arc, made in between the works widely considered Bresson's supreme masterpieces (1959's Pickpocket and 1966's Au Hasard Balthazar), [Florence] Delay, a 20-year-old university student at the time, emerges as one of the most perfect of the director's 'models': a steadfast teenage saint whose stoic countenance is punctured once, at the film's beginning, by a burst of tears."
Paul Brunick interviews Pipolo for BOMB. Tonight's the last night, I'm afraid, for The Trial of Joan of Arc.
Once again, Melissa Anderson, this time at Artforum on His Girl Friday: "BAM's timely revival of Howard Hawks's great 1940 screwball comedy showcases two once-thriving, now nearly extinct traditions: print journalism and meaty roles for women in funny films. In one of cinema's most felicitous gender reassignments, Hawks's movie, written by Charles Lederer, transforms the two male leads of its source material - Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur's 1928 hit play The Front Page - into ex-spouses Hildy Johnson (Rosalind Russell) and Walter Burns (Cary Grant).... A paragon of what Stanley Cavell has called the 'comedy of remarriage,' His Girl Friday, with its rapid-fire banter, is a battle between equals, the defining dynamic between men and women in comedies of the 1930s and early 40s." More from Nick Pinkerton (Voice) and Joshua Rothkopf (TONY). Unfortunately, BAM's page for the film seems to be empty at the moment; hope that doesn't mean the week-long run has been cancelled.
"Harry Lime's (Orson Welles) striking first appearance in The Third Man only occurs in the last third of the movie," writes Durga Chew-Bose for Interview. "And yet, the mythic villain of Carol Reed's 1949 classic is one of film's greatest characters. Welles, who regarded the potency of anticipation, once said, 'Nobody talks about anything else for ten reels... What matters in that kind of role is not how many lines you have, but how few.'" At New York's Film Forum through December 29.
IN OTHER NEWS
"Dan O'Bannon, one of the scriptwriters behind such seminal SF flicks as Alien and Total Recall, has passed away in Los Angeles following a bout of ill-health, at the age of 63," reports Gavin Stuart at geeks.co.uk. "O'Bannon was a lifelong SF enthusiast, and got his first experience of filmmaking when he worked as writer, editor and special effects producer on John Carpenter's brilliant, cynical debut Dark Star." Owen Williams for Empire: "While authorship of Alien as we know it today is down to a number of people, there's no question that O'Bannon's Star Beast screenplay set the ball rolling, and he brought many of his colleagues from Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted Dune to the project. The rest is movie history.... And he directed twice, fronting the fondly-remembered George Romero knock-off/parody Return of the Living Dead in 1985, and The Resurrected in 1992: an adaptation of HP Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward."
"O'Bannon was part of the fabric of genre films, a fixture," writes Phelim O'Neill in the Guardian. "Though his star never rose above a certain elevation, in his own unassuming fashion he was a game-changer in more ways than Avatar will ever manage."
Updates, 12/19: "Lest we forget, it was O'Bannon that insisted Ridley Scott look at [HR] Giger's work during the production of the film after artist Ron Cobb failed to produce a sufficiently nightmarish creature," writes Alien fan John Coulthart. "O'Bannon's script was mauled by Walter Hill who removed sub-plots, and further scenes were trimmed to speed the pace, but Alien's unique atmosphere remains as potent today as it was in 1979."
Glenn Kenny: "One of my personal O'Bannon faves is 1981's underappreciated Dead and Buried, directed by Gary Sherman, replete with great scares, vicious mayhem, nifty grindhouse/exploitation elements, but all with an old-school classic horror spine."
For the Los Angeles Times, Dennis McLellan talks with John Carpenter: "I think Dan had more talent than he was allowed to show in the movie business. He was multitalented: a production designer, editor, director, writer. One of the things that endeared him to me was his rebellion against all authority, including myself, the studios, anybody who was above him. He said he kicks up, not down."
Update, 12/21: "Like many makers of fantasy films, he saw himself as a perpetual outsider," writes Jason Zinoman for Vanity Fair. "His parents didn't understand him. His peers at art and film school didn't either. And those in Hollywood never appreciated his gifts, which was certainly true. He said that no one, apart from his loving wife, Diane, ever saw him for who he was. The real world for him could be tedious, petty, and unfair. But when he engaged with the limits of his imagination, he found a kind of awe and magic that brought him back to certain pleasures of his childhood, the kind that never leave you. Asked what was the greatest disappointment of his career, O'Bannon flashed a melancholy smile and said, 'I never became Superman.'"