Screen grab from James Cameron's extraordinary "Avatar"
by Sam Juliano
A raging snowstorm blanketed the NY metropolitan area, dropping over a foot in the city, northern New Jersey and on Long Island, leaving behind a white landscape that will reportedly insure a white Christmas, but preliminary findings indicate more may be coming around the 25th. While the holiday spirit and shopping has cramped the schedules of movie goers and music lovers, it has surely fueled the end of the year excitement that always makes this time the most special of the year.
At Wonders in the Dark, the 90’s poll results were announced in a lively post, where Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas was named top film in a close race with Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, and the “silent” poll, (which is actually films released before 1930) commenced with Allan’s extended Top 100 countdown. Discussion has been typically most impressive. A series of posts from Joel Bocko on contemporary films, which were first posted at the Boston Examiner have been appearing and several, like Grizzly Man, and Kings and Queen have attracted film lovers in the comment sections. Bocko’s reviews will be ongoing.
Lucille and I had a busy week, first attending an off-off-Broadway play at a small theatre in a housing complex on 26th Street titled In Fields Where They Lay. this two act play was rather torturous to sit through even if the central idea, the real-life Christmas truce between the French and German soldiers during Christmas of 1914 is a potentially potent one (the film Noel from a few years ago dealt with it far more successfully) but the staging was static, the dialogue muffled, and the lighting ineffective. Too bad, as small productions by unknown but dedicated artists are what we normally need more of.
On Friday night, we saw a one-man show with famed filmmaker and comedian John Waters at the Landmark State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey, but I’m sorry to say that the one-hour presentation of peppered one-liners was stale, redundant and only sporadically amusing. But the audience questions afterward were far more interesting. At $47 a ticket, I think we got taken to the cleaners, even if I am a lifelong fan of the director and think Female Trouble and Desparate Living minor masterpieces of raunchy comedy. Even the “turkey burger” I had at Fuddrucker’s afterwards was a losing proposition.
But then after the beginnings of the two-day blizzrd things really hit their stride starting with a Saturday afternoon HD multicast of Jacques Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann aired from the Metropolitan Opera House at nationwide theatres at 1:00 P.M. The staging, brand new at the Met, was directed by Barlett Sher, who also helmed the musical show South Pacific, which is running across the courtyard at Lincoln Center. The result was spectacular, and the singing, set design and costumes of this lyrical masterpiece were visionary. Again the question of whether HD broadcasts are actually a better experiences than attending the opera is a valid one. In fact my most updated views will be expressed in a review that will appear at WitD on Thursday.
Then came the two recent films I saw in theatres:
Nine (Marshall) *** 1/2 Saturday night (Ziegfeld Theatre, Manhattan)
Avatar (Cameron) ***** Sunday afternoon (Edgewater Multiplex)
Rob Marshall’s NINE is nowhere near as bad as some critics claim, but it has some obvious narrative issies, and not all the songs in this average score are remotely memorable. Still, with magic moments like “Italia” and Judy Dench’s solo number, as well as that terrific beginning, there’s at least a trace of Fellini in the air and the chain smoking Daniel Day-Lewis, Nicole Kidman, marion Cotillard, Ms. Dench and Sophia Loren are all up to the task. Marshall’s fluid editing, the strength of his past work, manages to conceal the slightness of the material. It’s fun though, and that’s a good part of why we go to the movies.
Then came one of those sublime, enrapturing experiences that we get only once or twice a year, and when it happens it restores your faith in contemporary cinema. The fact that the man who created the film is none other than that infamous “King of the World” James Cameron makes this a highly unlikely development. But there you have it. AVATAR is a masterpiece – an often operatic, lyrical and sweeping spectacle that stirs and moves on a level rarely aspired to, much less achieved. To look for flaws (every film ever made has flaws) or to attempt to downplay the film’s transporting quality and its transcendence it to willfully deny one of the greatest cinematic experiences of recent year’s and for me a film that seriously challenges Jane Campion’s Bright Star as film of the year. There are some set pieces in the film’s middle are so visually stunning and ravishing, that you are left mouth open, chilled down your spine, and tears running down your cheeks. The whole affair makes you happy to be have been still alive to witness such greatness. Nah, I don’t wanna talk about suggested flaws. Who really cares? Pedestrian dialogue isn’t the point, when that is not the focus of this extended and immersive “tone poem.” It’s a ruminative ride that won’t ever be forgotten, and it’s clear Cameron was influenced here by Malick and Jackson’s The Return of the King and Darren Aronofsky’s metaphysical slant in The Fountain.
Around the blogosphere, many of our favorite writers have their pre-Christmas posts and reviews up:
At Living in Cinema Craig Kennedy has quite a lively discussion going under his “Shelter From the Avatar Storm” post:
Over at Satyamshot, Kaleem Hasan is also talking Avatar with his fantastic essay:
One of the internet’s most festive souls, fecund writer Extraordinaire John Greco is keeping this diverse at “Twenty Four Frames” where his most recent post is on the film Christmas Holiday:
Troy Olson’s torrid pace continues with excellent extended capsule reviews of The Baader-Meinhoff Complex, Zombieland and House of the Devil at his place:
At “GoodFellas” Dave Hicks is nearing the launch of his much-anticipated Top 100 Noir Countdown, which he talks about here:
The “Christmas Spirit” is soaring at Dee Dee’s Darkness Into Light, and she has a full program, most recently featuring Alexander Coleman’s outstanding review of Christmas in Connecticut:
Our dear friend Judy at Movie Classics is really honing in on the silent poll in a big way and her latest piece is on a vintage 1927 silent:
Samuel Wilson has gone into silent mode, posting what is truly an extraordinary essay on the 1924 Fairbanks The Thief of Baghdad. This is one of the week’s best reviews by any writer, plain and simple folks!:
In the past month Dan Getahun’s place has become real hot, and his comment sections are among the best out there. After reading Dan’s thoughful essay on the film, check out the lively comment section:
Jason Bellamy has a nifty poster display that takes in some of the best films of 2009 at The Cooler:
No doubt Mr. Versatility himself, author David Schleicher of The Schleicher Spin, will have a report on some weekend filmgoing ready to post soon, he’s still headlining with his marvelous travelogue piece “Carolina on My Mind”:
R.D. Finch at “The Movie Projector” has a marvelous post up on “Lucy’s Characters”:
One of net’s most delightful bloggers is the effervescent “Coffee Messiah” and he always brings an interesting perspective to things with topics that appeal to just about everyone, as is the case with his latest post here:
Dorothy Porker has again been busy at Inside the Gold and here’s her latest awards announcement:
The always fecund and observant “Just Another Film Buff” is no fan of Avatar. Check out his superbly-written piece:
At “Aspiring Sellout” Jon Lanthier has a sleigh pictured with some music to hear:
The gifted Kevin J. Olson is back, and his latest review is on Michael Mann’s The Insider, which has also generated some great discussion at his place:
Missouri’s best film critic, Andrew Wyatt, is back with an excellent capsule of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog, which I will surely visit tomorrow:
Film Dr. has his popular and creative “Notable Links in Film and Media” post up:
In the absense of a conventional ten-best list Ed Howard speaks of the greatest experiences of year he’s had at Only The Cinema:
Marilyn Ferdinand has let her exceptional partner Roderick Heath take center stage this week, and Heath has penned an excellent review of Bright Star as well as his Top 25 of the decade roundup at “Ferdy on Films:” It’s definitely a must visit:
Ari of “The Aspect Ratio” which is also the home of our close friend Bob Clark ha shis Top 25 of the decade up now, and I’ll be there tomorrow, that’s for sure!:
Always cognizant of world cinema, Rick Olson has what appears to be an essential read at his place up now on Wim Wenders and Akira Kurosawa:
Tony Dayoub has been very busy at “Cinema Viewfinder” and his latest post talks about the Best Films of the “00s”:
At “Radiator Heaven” J.D. has a terrific post up on his favorite acting performances of the past decade:
One of WitD’s most prolific and revered commenters is Anu, and he has quite an excellent piece up on the Japanese acting legend, Tatsuya Nakadei
Thesis-writing T.S. of Screen Savour is on a holding pattern, but he’s still commited to finishing his Keaton series and continue with silent cinema. He has an awards post up at his place presently:
Qalandar’s latest post at his place is titled “Legal Trouble:”
Drew at The Blue Vial is still headling a superlative review on a Louis Malle film:
Our excellent friend Ric Burke at Films For the Soul may be using the holidays as a resting period for a new beginning for the Zeroes Project in January:
and then of course there’s Tony. Tony has just returned from an enjoyable trip north from Down Under: