Friday, 26 November 2010
Howl is a howl, of laughter or pain take your pick. Poetry made accessible to the masses is a nice idea (for more and frankly more interesting see: www.motionpoems.com) but the literalization of Ginsberg's poetry through less-than-inspiring animation by Eric Drooker was just too much for me. The film is a primer on how to take a great work of literature and banalize it beyond recognition. James Franco's performance was exceptional and he'll probably win an Academy Award or something for it but to me it felt like a lot of strutting and fretting for his 90 minutes upon the stage, full of sound and fury but, contrary to Ginsberg's poem, trying to Signify Something. (In the new year I will go see Derek Jacoby play King Lear at the Donmar and with any luck--and so far all signs positive--his performance of "howl, howl, howl" will redeem all.) The obscenity trial was a pretty flat courtroom dramitization. And even though the cameos were fantastic--Mary Louise Parker and Alessandro Nivola in particular--they could do just so much. My present infatuation (I have a feeling I'm not alone), Jon Hamm, sadly couldn't muster any kind of enthusiasm for his role. I thought perhaps the casting was wrong and that Hamm should have played the prosecution lawyer (David Straithairn did the best he possibly could) instead of the defense lawyer but I doubt that would have helped. The film will undoubtedly increase sales of Ginsberg's "Howl" so I suppose, then, "Howl: The Film" won't have been a total loss.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
I laughed, I cried (not really), I was thoroughly entertained. This is a solid comedy and about lesbians no less! Wow, did I ever think I'd see the day when a film about lesbians would make it into the (albeit arthouse) mainstream? I am a fan of Lisa Cholodenko's other films High Art and Laurel Canyon. But whereas Cholodenko's other movies are interested in the relationship between the surface of things and the twilight zone below, this movie stays rigorously above the water line. Don't get me wrong, I like the film in a superior made-for-tv-movie kind of way but wish I had seen it on an airplane instead of at the London Film Festival. Whenever I bring my objections to the film up among friends and acquaintances (of the left-leaning kind, the right-leaning kind having not even consciously registered the existence of the movie), I am almost immediately asked if I have any gay friends. So let me just state once and for all Filmfatale's Gay Credentials: Some of my best friends are gay! So here is my greatest objection to the movie: THE SEX. Though there are many sex scenes, some rather hot, there is not one viable sex scene between the two lesbians. The couple--excellently played by straight women extraordinaires Annette Bening and Julianne Moore--like to launch their foreplay with gay male porn, a hilarious scene, full of oily male torsos, but then Annette and Julianne disappear under the blankets and that's it! Mark Ruffalo (also excellent, as are the kids) has great, steamy, and graphic sex with his hot African-American goddess of an employee and then with adorable-femme Julianne Moore fulfilling two standard white male fantasies. But what about the lesbian audiences or the straight women even??? We're probably 99% of the audience! But when did that ever matter. Once again our gaze is irrelevant, especially if the movie wants to make it into the big leagues. Aargh. Other objections: It's totally unrealistic that the family had no lesbian friends. They seem to live in complete isolation from the gay community, and so very fearful (though humorously so) that their son might be gay. The only friends we do see are a very heterosexual couple. Which brings me to my next niggle. Did Annette and Julianne's relationship have to be such a straightforward copy of the typical upper-middle-class heterosexual couple? Couldn't the writers/director have given us just a bit more complexity? Yes, of course, we all strive towards normalizing ourselves to middle class values, even lesbians, but it's never as easy or as plain as all that. Lisa Cholodenko's fine comedy opted for mainstreaming over plumbing the depths.
Monday, 1 November 2010
Kazuo Ishiguru is one of my favorite living authors but I will not here compare book to movie because, well, though it sits on my shelf I haven't read the book, but I also admire how Ishiguru himself said that once he signed over the film rights, as far as he was concerned whatever was created was something he could lay no claim to, he was simply eager to see what would happen.
The film describes a world, very near to our own (end-of-the-20th-century Britian), in which clones are created as living organ farms in order to increase the life-span of non-clones (presumably for those who can afford such a thing as there seem to be far fewer clones than non-clones and the clones are very well taken care of). The film had the potential to be great. The script was solid enough, though lacked a layer or two of finesse, the production gorgeous, if a little too gorgeous in that Merchant & Ivory way, which might have added something wonderfully creepy but the cinematography and production design seemed more intent on looking good than on providing contrast to the content. My biggest objection, however, was the casting. The three stars--Keira Knightly, Carey Mulligan, and Andrew Garfield--were excellent but the trio (and Keira Knightly most glaringly) had too much of the Movie Star aura about them to let this film deepen and mull as it needed to. Three unknown actors would have made a huge difference in allowing the material to truly disturb. Instead the audience is constantly distracted from the claustrophobic and horrific sadness of the story by the cult of the glam personality. (Same goes for Charlotte Rampling.) The result, I fear, is that most people will come away from this very prescient, not-so-science-fictional tale with the idea that it is a metaphor for and musing on our own mortality, when it could have been a very subtle and sophisticated damnation of our capitalist society and the rigid class system that prevails despite all attempts (albeit feeble) to do away with it under some guise of social justice. Of course, the film's greatest strength is also it's greatest flaw. It works hard to convey the idea that in this world cloning for organs seems so utterly reasonable that no one, neither the clones themselves nor the society at large, seriously objects to the practice. It's just accepted as another of life's necessary evils. We're all going to die some day anyway, the organ-donating clones just somewhat before their time and after two or three gruesome operations. This speaks to so much of what occurs every day in our here and now--organ farming actually does happen, but also horrific pracitices such as clitoridectomy or slavery or gross disparity of wealth, one country has an obesity problem while another starves. We all, more or less, accept these things, relying on the truism that this is just how it is, there's really not much we can do about it. It's a utilitarian world, after all. But the film never really leads us here. With all its high production qualities and fancy cast, implausibility reigns and the audience is sure cloning for organ farming could never, ever, happen, especially in England, or America, where there is a strong tradition of humanism and individualism and especially of fighting the enemy without (while entirely ignoring the enemy within). I was not unhappy I saw this film but it was most certainly was a missed opportunity.
Saturday, 9 October 2010
As I sat through Ben Affleck's ridiculously puerile, utterly derivative The Town, I marvelled at how kind reviewers can be. What I soaked up from pretty much all and sundry was that this film was a fine entertainment, with a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Implausible from the getgo, Ben Affleck managed to make bank robbery boring. As the four heisters geared up for yet another job, all I could think was oh no not again (though the series of masks worn by the theives was the best thing about the film, referencing the long thespian tradition and allowing for some true spectacle to occur.) The film begins by making much of the fact that this was going to be a portrait (yet another) of a particularly sorry Irish neighborhood in Boston (the helicopter shots of the city were appealing but had no real purpose other than announcing the film had a budget big enough to include them). But despite the evident strain to do so, "Charlestown" never becomes a character in the film in any way.
The script was beyond bad with so many laughably unbelievable lines that I felt embarrassed for the actors--well, mostly for Rebecca Hall whose part as a toney bank manager who falls in love with her abducter (Ben Affleck) was plain preposterous. I guess she did the best she could with the role but it was not a showcase for her talents by any means. Ben Affleck is nice to look at and the camera likes him but his acting has a tendency to be very flat and though he comes frustratingly close, he can't quite project *Movie Star,* placing him in the Keanu Reeves category.
I was thrilled when Don Draper (the wonderfully named Jon Hamm) appeared on screen, and I spent most of the film studying his performance since I love him so much on Mad Men. Again, like Rebecca Hall, he did what he could with the material but that wasn't much. I have high hopes for him but so far he isn't pulling a George Clooney and making the transition from tv to film with ease and aplomb. Making it as a movie star surely rests in part on being able to recognize a dud script, or at least having people who can do that for you.
Two actors who did manage to acquit themselves impressively were Jeremy Renner and Blake Lively. Renner (The Hurt Locker) played supreme badass (typecast in the making?) adoptive brother to Affleck and gave the film any life it had. Though Lively's part was so cliched as lowlife whorish girlfriend I felt nauseated for her, she succeeded in dominating the screen whenever, albeit briefly, she was on it. Cameos by old-timers Chris Cooper and Peter Posthelwaite were welcome, lending a sense of irony to otherwise excruciating dullness, but what were they doing in this movie? All this to confirm: never believe anything you read.
Sunday, 12 September 2010
A friend of mine (@gsuh) familiar with Hong Sangsoo's work, told me that I had probably chosen to see his "slowest and least enjoyable" film as my first and so far only introduction to this much-lauded Korean filmmaker. But it was the only one playing at the BFI (British Film Institute), where they are having a festival of his films this month, on a night I happened to be free, so I jumped at the chance. At last year's London Film Festival, I had been awed by a film called "Mother" by another Korean filmmaker, Bong Joon-Ho, and was hoping to experience something similar. Plotwise, "Virgin Stripped Bare..." is a Korean arthouse version of "Sliding Doors" in which we are given first the male perspective on how Sujeong (played by the stunning Lee Eunju) comes to lose her virginity to Jaehoon, the wealthy owner of Growrich Art Gallery, and then Sujeong's own perspective on the matter. (The BFI program calls the film "a cubist romcom inspired by Marcel Duchamp"--a claim this film certainly doesn't live up to but also a claim I can't imagine any film wanting to live up to.) The film is beautifully shot in black and white and this is its saving grace, but, alas, the exquisite visuals didn't provide quite enough redemption for this viewer. By the time the second version of the story rolled around, I was so bored I didn't care to learn about the nuances of Sujeong's perspective--which in any case didn't seem to me to be very nuanced. Hong Sangsoo is known for his "wry and witty unravellings of tangled sexual relationships" but in this film the "wry and witty" were sadly absent and we were left with just an endless unravelling. My friend Grace says that her Korean national women friends all adore Sangsoo because he gets the female perspective so spot on. It may be a cultural thing but I didn't get that at all. I felt the film made fun of men and condescended to women and avoided any "truth" about the sexes by sticking to cliched vignettes of their predictably unpredictable interactions. (My friend Grace doesn't get Hong Sangsoo either but more graciously says, "I guess the whole relationship between the sexes in Korea is way more complicated than I can understand.")
Nevertheless, Lee Eunju is amazing to watch, her acting subtle and powerful. And though I have yet to understand all the hype about Hong Sangsoo and his apparantly fresh, funny, and surprising depiction of the male/female conundrum, there were enough inklings here of an alternative vision to make me want to do my best to see more of his films before the festival is over.
Thursday, 5 August 2010
It may be because I saw this in New York City, where I almost always feel on some level ecstatic, but Toy Story 3 was for me nothing short of a revelation. I had heard from all and sundry that the film was exceptional. I had read how it had hoards of grown men leaving cinemas in floods of tears. I hadn't seen a film in a movie theater in three months. I was full of anticipation. But I could never have predicted what I was in for. On a superficial level, the film did everything right. It looked fabulous: the 3D was fun and elegant, never annoying or flashy. The plot twists were many and always surprising. Every character was so well drawn as to be uniquely him or herself, including the overtroped Barbie and Ken. As my six-year-old nephew summed it up: "That was funny, smart, and sad." But here's the thing: as I sat watching I couldn't help but think that this film was a very literal enactment of film theorist Laura Mulvey's famous-among-film-geeks phrase "the male gaze." Bear with me. The male gaze is for me as important an idea as Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, or Freud's Oedipus Complex (ok, I'm exaggerating, but just a little). In a nutshell, the "gaze" is a Lacanian term for a person's projection of identity onto exterior objects; the "Male Gaze" is Mulvey's idea that Lacan's statement "woman is a symptom of man" is reproduced in the cinema where the viewer is assumed to be male, femininity a male social construct, the female his object of desire, and therefore she constitutes his chronic sense of deprivation ("the male lack"), and simultaneously becomes the location of his positive identity.
Toy Story 3 is a primer for the "male gaze." The narrative presents that extraordinary engagement a boy has with his toys and how those toys all become aspects of himself. Superhero, cowboy, potato head, teddy bear, but also, and this is where the film becomes brave and brilliant, Mrs. Potato Head, the cowgirl, Barbie. The male gaze also projects its identity onto female objects, absorbing the feminine back into himself. The same goes for Ken: the quasi gay, metrosexual doll with a fashion fetish. The sequence in which Ken tries on all his different outfits for Barbie must be one of the funniest in film history. But the subtext is that all men have a part of themselves that wants to dress up and parade around. Toy Story 3 embraces all these "other" selves-a crazed baby doll, an embittered teddy bear, the cowgirl, Barbie, Ken, Mrs. Potato Head--and incorportates them into the uberself Andy. And each of the feminine representations here are in no way static symbols but rich in character. Why grown men are crying, in my view, is because they are mourning for all those lost selves that, as they grow up, become too taboo to include consciously as part of the self. His gaze is reduced to projecting only the "acceptable" male selves, and to projection onto only the limited female symbols of sex object or untouchable icon. I'd be crying too.
But I wasn't crying and neither was my neice. The screenwriters tried hard at the end to include us in the gaze by having Andy--on his way to college where his definition of self will no doubt become radically restricted--pass on his toys to a little girl. But no one was fooled. In fact, another nephew said that for him, this was the saddest part of the film: the toys would now be played with by a girl who wouldn't "do it right." I understood him completely. The female gaze, whatever that may be, will be very different from the male. To assume equality is a mistake and Andy's toys will know it.
Instead, it was entirely refreshing to me to see the male psyche portrayed on screen in such a varied and undefended manner. All of the toys, as projections of the male self, revealed aspects of masculinity that I reveled in. Despite theories that have emerged, since Lacan and Mulvey, arguing for the existence of a female gaze or a "Matrixial Gaze," it is my belief that we still have no concept of what the "female gaze" might look like. There are many women filmmakers, writers, artists, but the implied audience remains male--even if more women go to the movies, read books etc. Toy Story 3 takes a very big step towards owning and exploring the male gaze and all that signifies for both sexes, most intriguingly the sense of inclusion of female parts in the male self. It makes me think that the expression of the female gaze--the female projection of her identity onto exterior objects, including her construction of the male and masculinity--is perhaps not so far off and will be a further revelation to us all.
Monday, 12 April 2010
I really wanted to love this film. I bought tickets to the preview at the NFT with a discussion afterwards with Tilda Swinton and the director Luca Guadagnino. From what I had read, and from the film stills, it had all the promise of a Visconti epic coupled with the more Protestant sensibility of a Douglas Sirk melodrama. Precisely my fantasy of the perfect film (add Bunuel to this formula and you've got Almodovar?). The first half hour of the movie keeps the promise--all the exquisite details of the daily life of a wealthy Milanese industrialist's lavish lifestyle (Tilda Swinton plays his Russian wife) are lushly recreated. Apparently members of the Visconti family helped the set designers get everything just right and taught the actors which fork to hold and to ladle away--a certain Russian soup having a starring role in the film. But when for no discernible reason, Tilda falls for her son's friend, a budding chef, the film soon dissolves into an unappetizing gastro-drama, and the messy storytelling that follows is unconscionable. Non-enlightenment from post-film Q&A: Why is the wife Russian? In the original script, she was an American from the South but that presented too many logistical problems. What do all the flashbacks to her past add up to? Why do we never see any spark between her character and her young lover? Why does her daughter suddenly become a lesbian, cut off her hair, and move to London? Swinton explained that the choice to make the daughter gay was random, the hair-cutting a symbol of freedom--Tilda's lover will cut off her hair as foreplay--and only meant to show love's possibilities. All of these myriad script problems are set against a "throbbing"--Stephen Holden's term and he loved the film--musical score by John Adams, and framed within some fancy Hitchcockian camera angles, but the problems abide. The rest of the film was some kind of tasteless short-order job continuously using as ingredients pinches from the great classic Italian film directors: Visconti, Antonioni, Rossellini, Pasolini. And then came the most hilarious/excruciating sex scene in which a very graphic intermingling of bodies in several different sex acts is filmed in tandem with close ups of mating insects. This goes on for an inordinate amount of time just in case we don't immediately get the metaphor. But most nauseating of all is the banal moral message of the film: Carnal Sin, especially on the part of a woman, will inevitably lead to Punishment and Tragedy. Now, according to what was said in the conversation after the film, Tilda and Luca saw theirs as a film depicting the liberation of an oppressed housewife rather than a Catholic Church-inspired morality tale locating the source of all evil once again in female sexuality, but I'm afraid given the absurd event at the end of the film, there is really no other way to spin it. The daughter has become a lesbian, the mother has had extramarital sex, the family must suffer armageddon. I don't know why exactly but I expected way more of Tilda Swinton as a filmmaker. This project was almost ten years in the making suggesting an admirable perserverance. I'm not sure how it went so wrong, and from the reviews I am one of the few for whom it did so there's that. And I wonder at Swinton's urge to pull a Meryl Streep and learn Italian and Russian for the film. Therein, perhaps, lies the trouble. In the film, and in the discussion afterwards, the director and the producer/leading actor were inexplicably earnest, any underlying threads of irony, humor, playfulness strangely absent as they were from the film--something even the German Sirk knew how to make ample use of.
Monday, 29 March 2010
Clint Eastwood knows how to make a solid film and this one is solid and inspiring and was thoroughly enjoyed by my rugby-playing family as well as my non-rugby playing self. I have always believed in sport as metaphor, and if not always a unifier or entirely beneficial to one's mental and physical health, often so. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 which effectively required equal funding for girls and boys sports in schools is probably the single piece of legislation since the 19th Amendment in 1920 to significantly change the lives of girls and women in the United States. All this to say that the premise of Invictus--Nelson Mandela as new President of South Africa does all he can to make sure the Springboks beat New Zealand's All Blacks in the 1995 World Cup in order to bring about something of a truce between South Africa's apartheid-riddled white and black citizens--is really great, and gave me a reason to mention Title IX, something I love to do any chance I get, and especially since women in this film are not exactly irrelevant but negligible. Was this a great film? No, but watchable and worthy. And by comparison it made District 9, also set in Johannesburg, look like a work of sheer genius (totally different genre but I have never been shy of criss-crossing genres--I don't even believe in genres actually). I now need to mention the excellent book this movie is based on: John Carlin's "Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game that Changed a Nation." Full disclosure: the author is represented by my neighbor and soulmate Anne Edelstein. (You get old enough and everything is connected.) So Clint pulled another decent enough effort out of his infinite bag of tricks (he makes Tim Geitner look positively lazy) and gives good message to boot. While watching the movie I, of course, barely focused on the rugby matches--which my boys tell me, and which I could never have told you since I don't even go to watch their matches, were well staged, but obviously staged. And I also couldn't tell you if Matt Damon's accent was any good, but it sounded good to me and he was all around convincing as a white South African professional rugby player--as was Morgan Freeman as Mandela. Instead, I focused on the film's title which is the title of a poem we learn Mandela recited to himself during his many years in prison in order to keep himself alive and which he then writes down for Matt Damon, the Springboks team captain, for inspiration before the fateful match. But I kept wanting to know who wrote the poem. Was it Stevenson, Tennyson, Browning? I never found out during the film since his name is never mentioned because he was no one famous. In fact, he was a Victorian poet called William Ernest Henley who went to his grave, like so many, believing he had failed in his artistic efforts. I assume the story of Mandela and the poem is true, but even if it isn't, I salute William Henley.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley
Saturday, 13 March 2010
I really wish I had seen this on a plane. And not simply for the obvious thematic reasons. I am so much more forgiving of movies I see while on a plane. I'm so much more forgiving of everything--myself, my family, the food--while I'm on a plane. I think I might have even liked Juno and Thank You For Smoking a little better if I'd seen them on a plane. I was, in fact, avoiding seeing Up in the Air until I was on a plane, but then it was a Friday night and the kids were watching tv and the movie was playing as part of a Clooney double-feature with Good Night, and Good Luck (had already seen that one and loved it, and love George--he's my idea of a movie star, a combo of Clark Gable and Cary Grant, something his aunt Rosemary no doubt taught him) at our local independent cultural center which I like to support and, well, off I went. The film did begin magnificently. The opening credits were fantastic. The initial patter between George and Vera (a revelation!) was (almost) worthy of any '40s fast-talking-dame romcom. Anna Kendrick as the eager, fresh-faced professional without a clue, so spot on. This film was 100% perfectly cast and a perfect example of how casting is of dire importance. Without this very particular cast, the film should have gone straight to video. (Full disclosure: the fact that I have been to Sicily and shoe shopping with Mindy Marin, the casting director, has nothing to do with this opinion.) And then pretty soon it all began to head down hill, the amusing details of airmile aspirations and trenchant soliloquies by the laid-off keeping things aloft, but the impending nosedive was palpable. By the sister's wedding, the tour around the high school, the cold-feet pep talk, the plane, the movie, had crashed. (On second thought, maybe it's better I didn't see this on a plane.) The script was smouldering in Hallmark schlock, the edgy social commentary had morphed into a propaganda tool for the status quo, blandly repeating the Walmart-coated sentiments of love and commitment and pursuing your dreams--while the Corporatation makes off with the suckers', ahem, employees, hard earned loot. It made me want to puke. Why is it that someone as obviously talented as Jason Reitman cynically decides to make a career out of choosing charged "social issues"--smoking, teen pregnancy, unemployment--and pretends to have something to say about them but really is just using them to sell his films? For me, it's like throwing a kid with a terminal illness into a film simply in order to make your audience cry. Devoid of integrity, or worse. For the record, the book was better than the movie, and I spotted the author Walter Kirn, another acquaintance (such friends in high places!), in two scenes--looking a little bemused by the whole thing.
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
I wasn't going to see this film. The trailer looked terrible, I hated Titanic, I was disgusted by the disgusting amount of money that was proudly being swirled about its creation and promotion. I was told again and again by friends and reviewers: "terrible story but the special effects are great!" and, finally, my best film buddy said convincingly, "we're not going for the content, we're going for the form." So, okay, I didn't entirely hate it while I was watching it. I kept thinking as the glowing jelly-fish things floated across the screen: What if Cameron had the genius of Victor Fleming and had given us the technologically innovative film masterpiece for our times? A short-lived fantasy. Almost any film by Hayao Miyazaki, and certainly Princess Mononoke, to which this film is clearly indebted, is far superior to this piece of, well yes, trash. I won't go much into the 3D thing because it makes me sick (I suffer from every form of vertigo known to humankind and then some), but somehow even with the glasses over my own graduated-lenses (I'm nearly blind), the effect was for the most part pleasantly surprising, more like snorkeling than freefalling. The script was indeed terrible and there was not one good performance--though it was interesting to watch Giovanni Ribisi and Sigourney Weaver giving self-consciously B-performances in an effort to salvage the idiocy of their task. Actually, the film itself, which I saw now over a week ago, I have mostly forgotten--and probably was in the process of mostly forgetting while watching. As is my wont, I paid special attention to the female gestalt and Cameron aquits himself better on that front than a lot of contemporary directors, but ultimately only insofar as it serves his PC agenda i.e. PC sells because it actually promotes the opposite of its MESSAGE (more on this anon). On the other hand, Hurt Locker, made by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, (a far better film but will lose all the awards to Cameron, a fact that is explained by the MESSAGE of Avatar--but more anon) chooses to leave women out of her film, a viable response by the director to the perceived role of women in our society. I'm kind of on the fence about art as corrective. I think finally it's better for women that Kathryn Bigelow is making a film at all than that James Cameron is making a film that has an apparantly kick-ass female protagonist--who in any case is, let's face it, second fiddle to the male lead (can't remember either the character or the actor's name) who saves the day. So here's what I mean by PC sells and how Cameron has exploited the concept: the profound problem with films like this one which is ostensibly about good vs. evil, where the "good" values of respect for nature and your fellow creature are threatened and then restored, where the "victims" triumph (and here I'm paraphrasing my hero Muriel Spark), is that what this kind of "art" offers is the worst, most pernicious kind of surrogate absolution. We rise from our viewing chastened, but all the more determined ourselves to be an oppressor rather than a victim. Films like these actively encourage "the cult of the victim" which then necessitates an obliging cult of twenty equivalent victimizers. Avatar, then, is in some ways a criminal act, a criminally bad script that ultimately promotes criminal behavior in the guise of empathy for the downtrodden. It's today's equivalent to the very popular medieval church practice of selling indulgences to forgive our sins and encouraging us to go out and sin again. Exquisite hypocrisy that ensures Cameron and the like will fry in the sixth ditch of the eighth circle of Dante's hell--the only one, by the way, that I believe in. In the end, my film buddy, who in general is far more forgiving a critic than I, found the film even more insufferable than I did, and my two boys who were initially indifferent to seeing the film, felt soundly entertained, but remained indifferent. So much for form without content.
For a far better, far more comprehensive, informed, and entertaining review of Avatar check out Steven Santos' review: http://thefinecut.blogspot.com/2010/01/i-dont-see-you-james-camerons-avatar.html