From the Editor

Movie Review Archive

Thank you for checking out my movie review archive. I'm in the process of transitioning to something else, so I will no longer post new reviews to this blog. In the meantime, I will keep these reviews archived; these are from the fall of 2008 to April 2011. Please watch this blog for more info and keep in touch (you can still find me on Facebook and Twitter). Here's to more great movies!

Wes Singleton

North Texas Film Critics Association

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Avatar - A-

Rated PG-13 for intense epic battle sequences and warfare, sensuality, language and some smoking, 162 minutes

Cameron's "Avatar" nothing short of spectacular

I don't give an "A" to many films because I feel it has to earn it. The phenomenal new epic James Cameron film "Avatar" earns that and more. Sure, it's too long and some may not enjoy some of the tree-hugging atmosphere of it, but "Avatar" is a 2-hour and 40 minute fantastical journey to another place, and what a visually stunning experience it is. It's a labor of love that you'll see and feel in every minute of the spectacle, but you'll enjoy this ride immensely.

When his identical twin brother is killed in battle, paraplegic Marine Jake Sully ("Terminator: Salvation's" Sam Worthington) decides to take his place in a mission on the distant world of Pandora. There he learns of greedy corporate figurehead Parker Selfridge's (Giovanni Ribisi) intentions of driving off the native humanoid people called Na'vi in order to mine for the precious material scattered throughout their rich woodland and seemingly using a group of scientists led by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who utilize "avatar" technology i.e. alien bodies, to mingle with the Na'vi and gather some important information.

In exchange for the spinal surgery that will fix his legs, Jake gathers intel for the cooperating military unit spearheaded by gung-ho Colonel Quaritch (Stephen Lang, perfectly cast), while simultaneously attempting to infiltrate the Na'vi people with his avatar identity. While Jake begins to bond with the native tribe and quickly falls in love with the beautiful alien Neytiri (voiced by Zoe Saldana), the restless Colonel moves forward with his ruthless extermination tactics, forcing the soldier to take a stand - and fight back in an epic battle for the fate of Pandora.

"Avatar" is one of the year's best and most thoroughly enjoyable films, an astonishing visual feast full of life and imagination, with first-rate action and visuals that will keep you interested from beginning to end. A new version and combination of live-action and photo-capture CGI, it's a breathless experience and one that is best experienced in IMAX 3-D, if at all possible.

Cameron has spent the time, effort and loads of money (with a production budget of about $250 million, excluding marketing costs for the film) and it's evident in every shot. There's not a dull moment in "Avatar," even when it's story veers off into saving the planet/tree-huggers unite type of territory. Among the wonderful creatures: a pteranodon-like mountain banshee with adept flying skills that come in handy in during the climax, not to mention the colorful blue feline-like alien creatures that are at the core of the film.

But most of all, "Avatar" is terrific entertainment, and he keeps the action pumping, particularly in its heart-racing final act. It helps that he has a great cast too, with Australian actor Worthington, who already headlined one action-adventure, ironically "Terminator: Salvation," which Cameron himself has roots in with the first of those two films. But it is "Avatar" that he'll be best remembered for, and he grounds the film well, providing both the narration and the true heart of the film. Weaver, who'll always be Ripley in my book, is back as the strong female center for the film, while character actor Lang (seen recently in "The Men Who Stare At Goats") makes for a strong, genuinely fun bad guy.

While the breathless special effects are the real star of "Avatar" (and expect Cameron and his technical team to take home Oscars for the the film), the energetic, popping musical score is provided by Cameron stalwart James Horner, who won awards for Cameron's "Titanic" and should do the same here. First-rate editing and beautiful cinematography only serve to enhance "Avatar's" visuals.

The story lacks a powerful focus and central emotional core and loses a little steam late in the film, but a genuinely rousing climax and fight at the end reels you back into "Avatar" in no time. At 162 minutes, it's too long, but unlike "Titanic," you won't feel it, with enough action and visuals to keep you engaged throughout. It's also a little intense and overlong for the young ones too, though they'll get a kick out of some of the action scenes (however, those canine creatures are a tad scary).

James Cameron has done it again. Add the astonishing, captivating "Avatar" to his impressive resume that already includes "Titanic," the first two "Terminator" films and "Aliens," the best of that series of films. "Avatar" earns its stripes as one of 2009's best films and comes highly recommended.