romance

Your Friday Fix 02/26/10: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu

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Your Friday Fix 02/26/10: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu

Genres: Comedy, Romance, Science Fiction (slightly)

Ratings Ratings
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Fumizuki Academy, like most good schools within comedic anime, has some quirky policies. The first is their grading and sorting system. Each year, students are put through a comprehensive examination to determine their rank for the school year. Class A students spend the year learning in a palatial hall with top of the line computers, books and snack service. Class F students have worn out tables, under-stuffed bean bags and ratty floor mats to keep them company. The rest of the classes fall in between at various levels of splendor to squalor. Our story follows a second year student named Akihisa Yoshii, Class F.

Akihisa is joined in Class F by one of the smartest girls in the school, Mizuki Himeji. Mizuki fainted from fever during the placements test and was disqualified with a zero grade; leaving the class during the test meant failure. She has a crush on Akihisa because he was kind to her. Minami Shimada is the only other girl in Class F and hides her feeling for Akihisa behind random brute violence toward him; they are childhood friends. Yuuji Sakamoto is the representative of Class F and is friendly with Akihisa; he treats him as a side-kick at times. Yuuji is rather smart but is unmotivated by grades, so he failed his way into Class F. Kouta Tsuchiya is the resident pervert of the class and excels in health education related subjects, partly due to his perverted study of the female form. Hideyoshi Kinoshita rounds out the main group of Class F students and is extremely feminine in appearance. He hates the fact that he is frequently mistaken for a female. Hideyoshi’s twin sister is in Class A.

The various classes are allowed to challenge one another to an Examination Summons Battle (ESB) where the students test scores power a summoned being (shoukanjuu) to fight for them. If a classes’ representative is beaten, or other set terms met, the match is over. Winners can take the losers rooms, items and/or pride as a prize. Class F starts the year off right by challenging Class E to an ESB on the first day of class. Due to Yuuji’s strategy, the balance of Class F hold off Class E until Mizuki could complete a makeup test, there-by powering up her shoukanjuu to Class A level. Yuuji decides that Class F will not take Class E’s room because as long as they have nothing to lose, they will be fearless. Class F is then challenged by Class A (to put them in their place), so Yuuji plots to take Class A’s room but this ends in a miserable defeat due to his overestimating his own abilities in Japanese history. Class A’s representative, Shouko Kirishima, makes Yuuji go on a date with her as her prize.

This series is pretty fun to watch and while stocked with some nearly “template” character types, keeps some degree of interest in them. So far the series is a bit perverse without being overtly crude (except for that Kouta guy, always trying to peep).

Overall Hook Rating: B

Side note… I’ve been at this for over a year already? Wow, Anime Ima turned 1 and I missed its birthday -_-

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Your Friday Fix 01/22/10: Sora No Otoshimono

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Genres: Comedy, Ecchi, Fantasy, Romance

Ratings Ratings
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Tomoki Sakurai’s morning start off much the same as any young male in a generally ecchi series. His family is away on a trip and his equivalent-age female neighbor, Sohara Mitsuki, lets herself into his house to wake him up in the mornings. Life is good… and above all, predictable. This is what Tomoki desires in his life, but change is on a collision course!

Tomoki has been having a recurring dream of an angel asking for his help ever since he was young. He wake with tears in his eyes, which concerns Sohara to the point of her asking him to see professional help. Tomoki, however, write this off as nothing. Her second plan is to drag Tomoki to meet Eishirou Sugata, the president of The New World club. Eishirou understands completely about this phenomena, so he claims, and shows the two a mysterious floating black hole over earth that is supposedly linked to the dreams.

Tomoki, Sohara and Eishirou agree to meet under an giant, ancient cherry tree to watch as the spot moves over their town. First Sohara cancels on Tomoki, soon followed by Eishirou. As Tomoki wonders why he even bothered to come he gets a panicked call from Eishirou telling him to run; the spot has apparently become unstable. Before he can take action on those words, Tomoki sees what appears to be an angel crash to earth. His conscious won’t let him leave her on the ground as hundreds of falling pillars begin to decimate the countryside.

Just as one is about to crush them both, the “angel” wakes and flies them to safety. This creature introduces herself as Ikaros, a Pet-Class Angeloid – Type Alpha, and promptly bonds to Tomoki as her new master. She informs Tomoki that she exists to carry out his every wish. This is where the story ends up following the perverted Tomoki on his exploits for one and a half episodes of my two-episode review process. I would have rated this series higher except for the latter two-thirds of the second episode consisting entirely of Tomoki making all the girls panties fly off. This barely makes its rating, and will fail utterly if it doesn’t get to the over-story ASAP.

Overall Hook Rating: C

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Check out episode one after the break…
Read On

Youth In Revolt

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I actually kind of blame this movie for crumbling my will to review movies for a record-breaking dry spell. When I saw Youth in Revolt, I was unaware of its original source material; it seems that C.D. Payne’s novel is actually much more adventurous and deviant than just a sweet boy acting like a sociopathic jerk to make a girl like him. I’m glad I was ignorant, actually, so I could enjoy the twin pleasures of Michael Cera as his trademark unrequited shyboy Nick Twisp and Michael Cera as disco-clad lothario Francois Dillinger. Every time his hilariously over-the-top alter ego is on screen, the movie comes alive. The little things he does to prove to us that he’s a bastard are smaller and therefore funnier and a little more unexpected than something say, James Spader might have done during his douchey 1980’s period. If Sweet Cera and Wicked Cera are sharing the screen, Youth in Revolt flirts with brilliance. I do have a predilection for novel ways of sharing someone’s inner monologue, and we never quite know which body is actually the body in use.

The rest of the time, Revolt presents us with that post-Napoleon Dynamite sort of plodding study of eccentricity and wackiness for wackiness’ sake, poky and mildly random and totally detached. I wonder how many 19 year old hipsters are frantically combing the thrift stores for white pants and loafers. Here and there, filmmaker and TV veteran Miguel Arteta drops in some cute and varied animated bits, reminding us maybe too much of Paper Hearts (also featuring Cera) and not enough of something relevant to the story arc Cera’s real character is meant to be traveling. Watching a sweet lad wreck his life in pursuit of an unappreciative girl is nearly as off-putting (when he’s not Duckie) as watching him succeed in this way. The escalations of Francois Dillinger server only to try and shock and then succeed in chasing the audience away, even if this one girl is worth it.

I am not one who complains of Michael Cera fatigue, but I would have preferred him to be in an all-Francois-Dillinger role rather than continue to go to the milquetoast mine so resolutely. If they really follow through on this Arrested Development movie, what made George Michael so winning is going to be something we all have seen too much of, which does a disservice to Cera’s real depth of skill and talent.

From what I read about the source novel, it sounded brutal and horrible. The 14 year-old reviewers on Amazon.com insist it nails the persona. Be that as it may, as a lady who could be the mother of these kids, I don’t disapprove, I guess I am just not all that interested. Youth in Revolt does have a fabulous soundtrack, so I can recommend that pretty highly.

MPAA Rating R-sexual content, language, drug use

Release date 1/8/10

Time in minutes 130

Director Miguel Arteta

Studio Weinstein Company

Leap Year

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Let’s face it. When the poster of a the movie gives away the ending, you know that romantic comedies have utterly given up even pretending that there is any suspense as to whether our heroes will find love together. Most aficionados of the genre of course could care less, since it’s the journey that makes the pleasure, rather than the destination. (Cut to 50% divorce rate, ’nuff said.) Anyway, when the journey involves Amy Adams, I am much more willing to ignore the more-preposterous-than-normal plot of Leap Year. I might even see Transformers 4 if she were in it — even without having seen # 2 or # 3 – though I would never think of her the same way again.

Here’s the premise: Fetching Relatable Heroine (Adams) has been with her Transparently Douchey Boyfriend (Adam Scott) long enough that the lack of a proposal means she’s going to take advantage of an Irish tradition wherein the woman can propose to the man every February 29. I describe her character as relatable only because Adams could make Elizabeth Bathory relatable. Her character is actually someone who would be better played by someone who can go from ice queen to soulful person like Emily Blunt or Gabrielle Union, rather than someone whose radiant face exudes kindness and earthy generosity. I no more believe that she puts on Manolo Blahniks than I believe she kills baby seals on bar bets.

Anyway, bedecked in expensive duds, Adams tries to do her thing, meets Irascible Foreign Charmer Declan (Matthew Goode, as hetero as I have ever seen him) and sparks fly, obstacles amuse, chemistry sizzles, “dammit, man, give her a real kiss!” etc. Cut to the Big Choice and the Resulting Capitulation and you’re done. Set it all in the chilly gorgeousness of Ireland, accidentally reveal your teensy budget by limiting everyone’s wardrobe and recycling set dressing on two continents — yet despite it all, you leave the theatre smiling. That would be because of Adams and Goode, of course. You’re just smiling — most of the humor is chuckle-worthy and a good deal of the developments are more than unlikely: Why would a man who lost his woman to his best friend be a party to stealing the four-year girlfriend of a stranger? (Well, he doesn’t. But you can tell he wants to.)

Adams and Goode have good comic timing, terrific enemy chemistry and very good “uh oh I kind of dig you” chemistry. As required by the Romance Formula Gods, Adams and Scott have next to no chemistry. Poor Adam Scott. I’m sure he must be a lovely person in real life, but there’s something about the set of his face that just screams “Buy a time share from me while I sext your girlfriend!”

Writers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont have produced some middling work in the past (most lividly Made of Honor), but it may be the gentle hand of director Anand Tucker (Shopgirl) that kept his misogyny and old-fashioned notions of legitimacy in couplehood down to merely irksome. What we look for in these stories with inevitable ends are the whooping highs and lows of the journey. Adams and Goode and Tucker give it their all, but while Leap Year never quite gets to one of those Magic Moments, it is a pleasant diversion nonetheless.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 1/8/10

Time in minutes

Director Anand Tucker

Studio Universal Pictures

The Young Victoria

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Many films and novels have examined the political maelstrom and religious upheaval that attended the life of Queen Elizabeth I, but Queen Victoria is not as well-known, it seems. As a female ascendant to the throne, naturally Victoria is surrounded by men eager to manage her and further themselves with her power. Like Elizabeth, our heroine manages just fine, thank you, and reminds us what a powerhouse her total reign was. Hers is both an interesting historical origins tale and a rather breathtaking romance between herself and the man we know as Prince Albert.

Emily Blunt plays Victoria with barely suppressed yet still-regal wildness — her stultifying childhood was priming her to be a tool for a man and nought else but the result was fierce independent rebellion when her time came. Every chaperoned trip up the staircase lights a fire behind Blunt’s eyes until the day comes that she is suddenly sovereign of England. She is a plain sort of beautiful — straightforward, graceful, and intent, rather than fluffy or glamorous. Whether in her chemise or her coronation robes, Blunt exudes a vitality that will not be suppressed. She is wonderful as Victoria and alone reason enough to see the film.

Rupert Friend plays Albert with a delicate German accent, not daring to seem eager or overstep his bounds or believe his good fortune in finding a fellow spirit inn the small and constricted world of royal matchmaking. Her stubborn independence and his gentle kindness draw them together even as the wonderful cast of the film tries to pull her into various snares. Fans of British films will find many familiar faces here — Jim Broadbent, Miranda Richardson, Harriet Walter, Paul Bettany — swooping around Victoria like moths to a flame. I wish we could have had more scenes with Broadbent — his King William is a treasure.

Director Jean-Marc Vallee does not come with the built-in reverence an English or American director might have for the most influential British sovereign since Queen Elizabeth; instead, he brings the feel of the microscope under which royals squirm, the tickle of eyes from every corner of the room and every station of society, the absurdities of court and traditions for the sake of their own existence. Victoria’s story is so interesting and the other actors so familiar that I forgot to be a dispassionate observer most of the time. The complex political machinations are clearly presented and the feel of the time are painted for us with care, from the class divisions to the burgeoning Industrial Age. To see Victoria as she was beginning, chafing from her muzzle and yearning to do real good in her country is fascinating — to see her find her beloved partner Albert in a society set up so even a wealthy gentleman’s daughter has difficulties marrying for love is entrancing. Do see it.

MPAA Rating PG

Release date 3/6/09

Time in minutes 100

Director Jean-Marc Vallee

Studio Apparition

Nine

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I didn’t really know what to expect, walking into Nine. Well, I kind of knew what to expect from director Rob Marshall (Chicago), and I knew Nine was sexy and kind of based on someone’s mental state, so I probably expected a little Chicago magic again. For those confused by my review of 9, here I am speaking of the live-action musical and not the animated post-apocalyptic thing. Maybe the lead character’s state of mind is a little post-apolcalyptic, but I digress. Nine is set in Italy in 1965, that groovy frontier between girl group femininity and crazed hippie abandon.

Daniel Day-Lewis plays Guido Contini, a famous film director and walking id. Day-Lewis plays Guido with a cultured Italian accent, a good singing voice, and plenty of angst. He has made himself quite a career playing tortured men, and his customary level of actorly dedication therefore requires him to pretty much have a full-on nervous breakdown on screen. While this is not often the stuff of musical comedy, Nine isn’t either. Guido is difficult to like, which seems more like a failing of the original musical than of this production of it. Nine is not as good a show as Chicago and the filmgoing experience reflects it, but it definitely wrings all the best out of it that it can — and in gorgeous coastal Italy smothered in beautiful women.

Guido’s muses alternatively fuel him, torment him, love him, inspire him, arouse him, and nurture him, and in his mind, all exist only as fully as their usefulness to him extends. The women who surround Day-Lewis all turn in great performances, with some that took me by surprise. Who thought Kate Hudson could rock her Laugh-In genes on the only original song of the film? She doesn’t dance much (neither does anyone except Fergie) but she sells it. Marion Cotillard we already know can act and sing and she’s breathtaking here. Penelope Cruz, whom I usually really dislike, was awesome — though I hope her father never sees this film. Gentlemen, wear loose pants. Nicole Kidman doesn’t surprise us with what she does so much as remind us that she can still play a sexpot screen siren at 42 like nobody’s business. Fergie/Stacy Ferguson gets the big jaw-dropper number as far as I am concerned and tears up the screen even with a zillion backup girls in a long-ago but salient part of Guido’s psyche. Hers is the song you will be humming as you leave the theatre. And of course Judi Dench. As always, Dame Judi takes a little screen time and runs with it — her number is wonderful.

Marshall has always been marvelous at painting with bodies and light, and this film benefits from that touch immensely because of the abstraction of most of the songs. He uses static lighting like a stage production and as a result gets tons of gorgeous depth on screen. I would like to see this film in full Avatar 3-D to float in the spaces of light and dark and layers of people Marshall builds. Costumer Atwood proves she’s a force to be reckoned with but even her mastery cannot give Nicole Kidman boobs. Nine is about religion and morality and love and intimacy and inspiration and objectification and intimacy and superficiality and it’s a solidly-made film. It may not make you a fan of the show, but it should make you a fan of Rob Marshall.

MPAA Rating PG-13

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes 118

Director Rob Marshall

Studio Weinstein Company

Your Friday Fix 12/25/09: Seitokai no Ichizon

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Genres: Comedy, Romance, Harem

Ratings Ratings
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With a self debasing swath of humor, the student council of Hekiyou Gakuen kicks off its fully tongue-in-cheek animated parody of…. itself? Well, it also takes shots at Dragonball Evolution, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, H-games and harem series in general. Their school’s method of electing the student council members is by popularity, so naturally some stereotypical female roles spring up in the 4 core members. the fifth member, known as the blue-chip seat, is filled by the highest scoring student academically.

Kurimu Sakurano is the runt of the group, but also holds the position of president of the student council. By her side is Minatsu Shiina, the council’s vice-president and sister to Mafuyu Shiina, the treasurer. The fourth female member is Chizuru Akaba, the secretary. Ken Sugisaki, the only male in the group, fills the blue-chip seat. Fortunately for him, and most unfortunately for the group, he is a massive h-game fanatic and sees the council as his harem. In fact, nearly the entire first episode revolves around his images of the group as his harem.

Into the second episode, Kurimu is dealing with the fact that her grades are the lowest of all the members of the student council. She spends most of the study time they arranged snacking, pleading and whining about her difficulties. When the results come in, no one is surprised to see she performed horribly. One by one they take turns bashing her for wasting their time and efforts. Its only afterward when she asks Ken for help after a meeting that she shows his serious and caring side.

In the last few seconds we see a blond girl plotting outside the student council room. Perfect timing for a hook, and it seems to have done the trick. It’s a good time to pick up a new comedy as my recent viewing has been far too serious for the holidays. Have a good holiday people!

Overall Hook Rating: B

Watch the beginning of episode 1 after the break…

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Read On

It's Complicated

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How lovely to see a romance and flirtation and obstacles in a comedy based on history and life connections rather than lumbar tattoos and skateboarding talent. Even lovelier is getting to see the funny and playful Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin emobdy a divorced couple circling each other, drawn by the heady scent of unfinished business. What an extra treat to see Steve Martin (in Serious Actor mode, mostly) orbiting their complex dance and do what he does so well: be charming and sincere.

After 10 years of being divorced, Streep is still awkward about Baldwin’s young, hot wife Lake Bell, but Meryl and Alec still have a wonderful comfort to them when Bell is not around. Streep is luminous and gorgeous, even more so than when she was in Mamma Mia — she’s a stronger romantic comedy contender than I have seen all year (sorry Sandy!). Baldwin is all gruff confidence and unaware selfishess, wheedling his wants out of his ex without a care in the world. Watching them together, you root for them, even knowing why they divorced. Watching Streep groove on her own empty nest self-actualization, you root for Martin to win her heart. Truth is, no one is probably good enough for this awesome woman, except her amazing house and her fantastic little clutch of friends (Rita Wilson, Mary Kay Place, and Alexandra Wentworth). Maybe.

Fun romantic comedy standard hijinks ensue, with some great extra funny supplied by John Krasinski, iChat, and a little mary jane. Characters are perpetually doing the math on the last time we… remember back in… they’ve been apart for… it started about X years ago… which keeps our historical perspective primed while we watch first-date-worthy giddiness muddle the heads of our leads. We get a strong sense of their history, one we become fond of without ever having experienced, and yet we also love Streep being finally happy for herself. Everyone is so freaking charismatic you almost forget to appreciate the great, adult story. It’s not an old person’s movie but it is an extremely enjoyable one that should be watched by second-bloom folks of all ages.

The kids of the divorce are a little fragile and flatly portrayed, as if the screenwriter/director Nancy Meyers can only imagine what it would be like to be a child of a divorced couple. How the tables have turned, youth culture! Now you’re the boring ones. For all the complicatedness of the emotions Streep and Baldwin navigate, it’s still a smooth ride to huge grins and hearty guffaws, with excellent performances.

MPAA R- some drug content and sexuality

Release date 12/25/09

Time in minutes

Director Nancy Meyers

Studio Universal Pictures

Bright Star

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I am loath to confess this, but I really did not like this movie. On the one hand, the time seemed to fly by in that I was waiting for the actual story to begin and then what? 40 minutes already? On the other hand, I found everything so melodramatic and capricious that I couldn’t follow anyone’s emotional arc without being derailed constantly. And then it hit me: this is basically a Regency version of Twilight. Spoiler alert! Not unlike how Eragon is basically Star Wars, Bright Star structurally and thematically is freaking Twilight. He’s even pale and wan and she is superficial and sarcastic. I really didn’t want to do this, but I must.

Mum: Here we are in our new house in a small village.

Savage Friend: Leave us be. Oh, this is Keats.

Her: I like you and will pretend I am something I am not to get you to notice me.

Him: You should probably go away from me.

Her: Oh god I love you.

Him: OK, I love you but this can never be.

Her: Oh no! Woe is me!

Him: Do you still love me?

Her: I do I do!

Him: Ok then I love you back.

Her: Let’s kiss.

Him: Only kiss.

Her: Yes, of course.

Him: Just a reminder, this can never be.

Her: Mm-hm, certainly.

[Idyllic scenes of nature and longing looks and chaste finger touching]

Someone: You can’t be with him, he is a penniless poet(read:vampire) and will ruin your life.

Him: I feel ill. Here are some mixed messages for you.

Her: Your skin is like ice. I will follow you anywhere.

Someone else: Honestly, you can never be together.

Her: But he makes me feel afire.

Savage Friend: Oh, he’s gone now.

Her: Woe is me!

Now, the story is a sad one. I wanted to be sad, I wanted to be moved by Keats’ poetry and swept away by their love. I wanted them to be successful and get what they want. I admired Abbie Cornish’s acting and the strange get-ups her character Fanny would sew for herself. The gorgeous vocal music by Mark Bradshaw actually overshadowed the poetry being read beneath it — I wanted to twine myself in the notes as Keats’ immortal verse murmured around me. Keep your eyes peeled for Liam Neeson’s son from Love Actually and Hugh Grant’s sister from Notting Hill.

Paul Schneider transforms into Keats’ Scottish boor of a partner, Charles Brown, with unexplained hostility and wild possessiveness. We don’t learn much about Keats except for how he spent his time in this one house — his moves and moods are as intransient as the butterflies Fanny breeds in her room. The film appears to be flirting with the idea of superficiality and romance and wit and depth of character but never really explores any tack at length, except the agonies of their love.

Now, as films (and books) of this period go, the characters are actually very physical. None of this super-restrained drawing room nonsense — people dance and laugh and pat hands and hug acquaintances and flop onto furniture and basically act like real people. I enjoyed this, for much as I love this period in literature sometimes it is a little stultifying and it’s impossible to believe that humans could manage to be so completely against their natures for so much of the day.

MPAA PG

Release date 9/18/09

Time in minutes 119

Director Jane Campion

Studio Apparition

Avatar

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James Cameron has always been an innovator. Whether it’s defining the gold standard for a female action lead or designing cameras and processes to make the exact film he is envisioning, Cameron is a technical wizard. Match his attention to detail and his creativity with the peerless effects and design team at Weta, and you make art.

Does the story lives up to its presentation? No, but only because the presentation is exceptional. It’s an age-old fable of invading force, underestimating the natives, and being powerless to destroy them once they know them. Our history is clogged with stories like this. It’s got a love story that grows organically from the story’s plot points rather than being a plot point wedged into something else. I might blaspheme here and suggest that the Titanic love story was much more unlikely. It has hellzapopping effects, and I don’t just mean nice blowy-uppy. I mean it’s a rich, textured, fully-realized world that you want to visit, that you feel like you can visit.

Sure, it’s got a little hitting over the head of the message; no matter how loudly this particular message is repeated over the millennia of human history, it is still not heeded, so one can’t blame Cameron for laying it on a little thick. The best sci-fi is that which uses far away times and places to comment on our won existence, and Avatar definitely qualifies. In a moviegoing universe bereft of original new stories (stuffed with sequels, adaptations, and toy movies) Avatar and District 9 (and Up) stand above just for having the gall to be new. While District 9 has the stronger narrative, Avatar has the more fully realized reality. Avatar’s first appeal is going to be the experience of watching it, so I’ll not tarry further.

I’ve complained more than a few times in reviews about the “uncanny valley” or what I call “creepy valley.” I’m standing before you to declare that Avatar has no uncanny valley. Seriously. Remember your amazement at the water tentacle in the Abyss? Remember the photorealism of the Titanic sinking into the briny deep? Remember how those effects served their story rather than be the point — and how those were both directed by James Cameron? Avatar has surpassed even Lord of The Ring’s Gollum in making performance capture seamless. We are really watching Sam Worthington and Sigourney Weaver and Zoe Saldana and Joel Moore give their full and committed performances in the bodies of the planetary natives, the Na’vi. Every small mouth movement (long the bane of motion capture techs) is — well, it’s real. Pandora, the world we humans are preparing to despoil, is real. Even with extensive understanding of CGI filmmaking in terms of practical objects and virtual spaces, you fully believe that you are immersed in a real place.

Worthington is a perfect balance of hero/soldier and boyish neophyte. Weaver draws on her Dian Fossey history even more than her Ellen Ripley experience. Saldana moves like an arboreal dancer, contrasting the powers of her alien upbringing with Worthington’s shriveled earthbound legs and making Neytiri relatable and strange in every movement — and she helps us recognize the difference between real and avatar Na’vi. These actors are of course perfectly capable of giving these performances in person — but to get across as much as they do while pulled into the semblance of a ten-foot blue cat-monkey-warrior is amazing.

Which brings me to the 3-D. Yes, cough it up for the 3-D. My experience with both formats when watching the movie Up is that Real D (check your local listings) is simply much less effective than Dolby or Disney’s 3D. Perhaps I will get into trouble with some theatre chains, but Real D just can’t handle dynamic movement without blurring, and it lacks the depth that Pandora needs. Pandora is a beautiful place, with logical interrelationships between species — you could probably work out their entire evolutionary scale from the specimens represented. Deeper connections in this alien biosphere are key to the plot and to appreciating the allure of the Na’vi. The grandeur of the landscape is served by the understated-but-still-clearly-James-Horner score.

The production’s approach to Pandora is reverent, which might feel forced to a skeptic. However, it is clear that the deep investment of time and care on this film inspires reverence. It may be the most expensive labor of love ever produced, being 15 years in the making as Cameron waited for the technology to catch up to the story he wanted to tell. The Na’vi consider seeing, in the sense of grok or ken, to be fundamental in tribal life and in navigating Pandora. If you allow yourself to see Avatar as it was meant (instead of bringing in Titanic baggage or waiting for DVD), you will love it as I did. Yes, he did put a stupid song at the beginning of the end credits — he just needed one more box to check on his Oscar bingo card. See it for the visuals, enjoy it for the acting, and appreciate it for its intent. I can’t wait to go there again.

MPAA PG-13

Release date 12/18/09

Time in minutes 160

Director James Cameron

Studio 20th Century Fox