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Topics/Questions/Exercises Of The Week—11 December 2009

What A Drag It Is To See You: You know, you hang around this industry long enough, and the eternal return thing starts seeming even worse than eternal. It's not so much the hatefulness that drives the players that's tedious; it's more the unimaginative rote form the hate takes, even as its adopted by a new generation with more technical smarts and such. The parlor game of the moment that's unrelated to awards prognistication is the fault-finding with James Cameron's Avatar. Since the first teaser trailer appeared, a kind of "Ohmigod this is gonna SUCK" meme has pretty much held the film blogosphere and its subset the Twittering Classes by the throat. And every week, no, every couple of days, you could pretty much hear it exclaim "Hey! Wait! I've got a new complaint." Among the latest ones was a bitch that one of the alien characters on one of the posters looked too much like Michael Jackson. No. Seriously.

And as of this writing (8 a.m. Eastern time, Friday December 11). the first American reviews are beginning to trickle in and are largely allowing that, despite the fact that it's emotionally and intellectually pitched at adolescents (which one has to admit is not the worst strategy by which to concoct a CGI-driven 3-D science-fiction fantasy adventure) it is overall a rather "amazing" cinematic spectacle. All over but the minting of money.

Veteran film journo types saw the same thing, only writ slightly differently, when Cameron had his travails with Titanic. His hubris would sink him, pardon the phrase, pronounced many who had gone down Mexico way to witness the action at the tank where the filmmaker was recreating the yachting disaster. I remember the snickering of more than a few Big Media mandarins at an early screening, and a couple of them pronouncing to each other, in ostentatiously loud voices so everyone could hear, that not only was the film objectively bad, but that there was no way the public was gonna fall for it, and the picture wasn't gonna make a dime. (It may surprise you to learn that both these guys retain their Big Media jobs to this day.) And of course nowadays the internet allows pretty much anyone his or her own ostentatiously loud voice.

You'd think that the fact that Cameron managed to pull a billion-dollar rabbit out of a hat might give people pause, but just the opposite. The Twittering Classes in particular, younger observers, by and large, seem to really look forward to being responsible for the takedown Cameron didn't get for Titanic. They're like those kids who were too young to go to Woodstock and then swore they never gave a shit about that stupid hippie music anyway and then put safety pins through their cheeks.

My objection to it all is, as I said above, that it's just all too predictable. Can I propose a more imaginative model/mode? Not at the moment. I nonetheless have tried to lead by example, something I rarely if ever do; this post is the very first thing I've ever written concerning Avatar. My second will be my review, later today. See? Wasn't that easy?

It's all summed up, rather more good-naturedly than is necessarily deserved, by a commenter at Hollywood Elsewhere:

"Wait a minute --

Isn't Cameron out of touch? Doesn't he write the worst dialogue? Isn't there too much CGI? Didn't they spend too much money on it? Isn't it just a ripoff of Delgo? Aren't the Na'vi totally lame? Isn't the tracking underwhelming one week out?

Can't... resolve... disconnect... between Internet complaining... and your... positive review!

Thanks for the review, Wells. Glad to hear you liked it so much. Now maybe people will finally shut up about it, see the movie and THEN have something worthwhile to say!"

From your lips to God's ears. Or: fat frickin' chance.

Armond White-ism Of The Week: Speaking of predictable, A.W. didn't much like Clint Eastwood's Invictus. Gee. What's truly interesting about his review is that he actually seems to hate Nelson Mandela more than he hates Eastwood or Invictus star Morgan Freeman. This is an eccentric stance even by White's standards: "Invictus practices a cynical romanticism in director Clint Eastwood’s deification of Mandela.  You have to look at it as an Obama allegory—the almost comic proposition of a black man elected president in a racist, white-minority country. Otherwise, its story of Mandela becoming South Africa’s president—presumably for the primary purpose of encouraging the country’s Springbok rugby team to win the World Cup—seems a lunatic combination of the messianic and the idiotic. Eastwood prevents Freeman from doing an in-depth characterization, it’s all surface: Mandela’s tall, slightly stooped stance and measured speech....Remember how the real Mandela’s appearance at the end of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X dead-assed the already overlong movie with incomprehensible speechifying?"

Harumph. Looks like Nelson won't be getting invited to a New York Film Critics' Circle awards bash any time soon.

Also: anyone want to give a stab at completing the headline for White's review? It stands as "The Distance Between Narcissism." Period. Which makes no sense. Literally. So. The distance between narcissism and...what? The nearest available freelance copy editor? A brain synapse misfiring? Suggestions in comments, please.

“The Distance Between Narcissism and Hipsterism Is Pretty Much Nonexistent, Methinks.”
Apropos of nothing, have you noticed you’re tied for 17th in IndieWires Best Supporting Performance ’09 race? Above the heavy-hitting likes of Alan Arkin, Stanley Tucci, Alfred Molina, Robert Duvall, and – gawsp! – the queen herzelf, Helen Mirren? You owe yourself a steak dinner, friend!
“The Distance Between Armond White’s Ears.”
“The Distance Between Narcissism and Anything Else Can’t Be Definitively Stated If You Put Any Stock In Quantum Mechanics, Which Is Almost Exclusively The Prism Through Which I Form Thoughts and Sentences These Days.”
question retracted for dumbness
Personally, I’m on the record as saying the movie is going to make $600 million at least worldwide, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s going to be any GOOD. Really, that’s what bugs me, the fact that this movie feels so…generic. I miss the James Cameron who wrote tight scripts. What happened to that Cameron?

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