Friday, January 22, 2010

"Survivor" and "The Amazing Race" premieres

The next editions of my two favorite reality shows (sorry American Idol) have been announced by CBS. Survivor's 20th season (they do two a year) starts on Thursday, Feb. 11, and is another "all-star" edition with "heroes" and "villains" from the show's first 19 seasons (including the cunning but ultimately-shafted Russell from last season). To take a peek at the entire cast, click here.

As for The Amazing Race, it comes back on Feb. 14 (Happy Valentine's Day!) and includes a wide variety of teams, as usual (click here). This remains one of my all-time favorite shows, but I can't for the life of me understand why CBS still hasn't chosen to film it in glorious HD (which reinvigorated my interest in Survivor).

It would be a dream to be on the The Amazing Race, so if any of my legion of fans has any connections, I'd be willing to give you a shout out here on my enormously popular blog...

Friday, January 15, 2010

"Avatar" review

Wendy and I snuck away the other day for a late afternoon 3D viewing of Avatar. I know most of you have already seen it and formed your own opinions, so my thoughts here won't necessarily be fresh or unique, but then neither was the movie itself, so I'm in good company.

Don't get me wrong: James Cameron has done a very, very good job of creating a visually convincing world for his epic. If I had to guess, I'd say that 90% of this movie is computer generated (including more than half of the characters), and yet you seldom think to yourself that you are watching an "animated" movie. Initially I resisted the movie because I just didn't think I could identify with lanky weird blue people with tails (or "cat people" as my friend Dan calls them). And I still feel like their characters are relatively underdeveloped, but then so are the human characters. But as for whether or not you believe in the world of Pandora and the tactile existence of the Na'vi peoples, Cameron scores big time.

My biggest problem is with the story itself, which we've seen told a dozen times before. The story takes very few unexpected turns, which is disappointing for a movie that takes so many technological leaps forward. Some have compared it to Dances with Wolves, which is a very accurate comparison. I also found similarities with The Last Samurai, and to a smaller extent, The Lion King and Cameron's own Aliens and Titanic. (My friend John shared with me a funny story from the Huffington Post that humorously compares Avatar to Disney's Pocahontas.)

Some people (especially conservatives) have complained of the "overtly political" message. I thought about that while I was watching the movie, and can't say that I necessarily agree with that criticism. Yes, there is a natural-resource hungry, very militant group that becomes the antagonist in the film. Some have assumed that Cameron was making a not-so-veiled dig at the United States' invasion of Iraq. But my question is this: why would that offend conservatives? If we really believed that the U.S. had invaded Iraq simply to capitalize on its oil supplies and displace the locals, we'd be offended too. But we don't believe that, right? We believe that there is a higher, more noble purpose for our presence there (national security, liberation of an oppressed people, etc.). So either we're offended because we have a guilty conscience, or we should just let it slide because clearly there are no similarities between our military ideologies and those of the movie's villains. I choose the latter.

As for environmentalism, yes, the film regularly praises the reverence and almost-psychic connection that the Na'vi people have with their version of Mother Earth. But again, I don't see the harm here. I know very few people (if any) who truly hate the environment and go out of their way to uselessly contribute to the destruction of our planet. I think that when given a reasonable chance, most normal people will recycle, use energy-efficient bulbs, and plant a tree. And I think that most people locally would pop a proverbial gasket (as the Na'vi people do) if a violent foreign entity arrived and tried to bulldoze, say, Mt. Timpanogos. So again, I don't think a message of respect for the environment is really such a bad thing, is it?

In any case, even people who haven't been able to forgive the movie's message or recycled plot have admitted that it is a visual treat. The scale and spectacle of Avatar is seldom rivaled on film; it's big, lush escapism that is the main reason we go to the movies anyway. So turn off your brain, lower your defenses, and enjoy movie-making at its loudest and splashiest. Judging by the way the movie has been received by worldwide audiences (fast approaching Titanic's record worldwide grosses), you're in good company if you do.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A few "Indy 5" thoughts from Harrison Ford

I'm an unabashed Indiana Jones fan, as you know. I won't apologize for it. But it's with a bit of embarrassment that it has taken a tiny little bit of news about a yet-to-be-announced Indiana Jones sequel to pull me out of my blog-hibernation. After all, there has been big movie news as of late, including updates on Pirates, Star Trek and Spider-man sequels, plus my thoughts on recent movies such as Invictus (very good), The Princess and the Frog (Lily loved it) and Sherlock Holmes (a lot of fun). So while I won't apologize for my love of all things Indiana Jones, I do apologize that I've been such a sorry blogger in the recent weeks. (Side note: Is it just me, or are blogs going the way of the dinosaur?)

With that caveat, here is a very brief interview with Harrison Ford about the latest Indy 5 rumors. You may complain that the last Indy film was sub-par, but it still put a smile on my face more than 95% of the other movies I saw that year. So bring it on, Misters Lucas, Spielberg, and Ford.