I was testing a piece of home theater equipment for my job last night, and wanted to see how it performed with quick-cut action sequences with a lot of special effects. So I browsed the TV listings and soon found James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which I decided would be ideal for my purposes.
I had not seen “Avatar” since it was in theaters. Although I remembered liking the movie (with reservations), I have always flipped past it on cable because I’ve never had the slightest desire to re-watch it, and I’m someone who re-watches almost everything I like. So I settled in to watch it (and to check this piece of gear for compression issues and general HD performance), and in the first 15 minutes, I groaned out loud at least five times. I’m convinced that King of the World James Cameron wrote a first draft, used the first thought, line, or idea that came into his head at every turn, and never did a rewrite. It was so painful that I abbreviated my gear test, went back to the TV listings, and watched the delightful “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” instead.
Maybe you remember “Avatar” fondly, as I did before this exercise. Its Rotten Tomatoes scores are still ridiculously high, so clearly everyone liked this movie. Allow me, if you will, to burst that bubble, as I watch it all the way through and pick it apart!
Remember this Julia Roberts? Yeah, me neither
It seems that we, America, have elected a new Sweetheart to rule over us from our movie screens, in the person of Anne Hathaway, who recently signed a contract agreeing to appear in every movie made between now and 2024. It seems as good a time as any to reflect on the reign of the outgoing America’s Sweetheart: Julia Roberts.
Hollywood bloggers started eulogizing Ms. Roberts’ tenure as Most Bankable Actress when Larry Crowne both tanked at the box office and got indifferent reviews from the critics. Those eulogies were a bit late, if you ask me; I’d argue that her appeal has been steadily slipping for at least 10 years, probably longer. Moreover, I think she could have had a much better (if not necessarily bigger) career.
Despite having managed her public image extraordinarily well, keeping herself out of the tabloids (at least since her initial flurry of broken engagements with costars in the early ’90s) and generally understanding how to play the role of Movie Star as well as anyone ever has, she seems to fundamentally misunderstand what kind of Movie Star we elected her to be, and that disconnect has been eroding her appeal almost since she hit the public eye.
I really liked Bill Simmons’ contribution to Grantland’s “YouTube Hall of Fame” blog this week: a live MTV performance by George Michael (backed by a very able Gospel-busk octet) of his best song, 1990’s “Freedom ’90.” The performance was great, the live arrangement re-emphasizing the strength of the song itself, whose more familiar studio version is, let’s face it, a little C + C Music Factory. Simmons was spot on as usual, but I was surprised to see no reference at all to the video for “Freedom ’90,” which is the entire reason I remember it as George Michael’s best song.
That I would even admit to having an opinion on what George Michael’s best song might be feels a little embarrassing to the 17-year-old in me that, at the time of this song’s release, was listening primarily to Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, The Replacements, Fugazi, and Jane’s Addiction. I was a self-identified rock kid, and George Michael, who first came to my attention with Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” video when I was in the 5th grade, was the farthest thing from “rock” that I could think of, and therefore of zero interest.
But the “Freedom ’90” video was so ingeniously conceived and perfectly executed that it made an indifferent-to-hostile audience (me) take notice. I sat up in my chair and I paid attention to a George Michael video. How did George do it?
A couple of weeks ago my wife Jennifer and I took our four-year-old son Henry to see the new version of “Winnie The Pooh.” Although we were primarily motivated by a desire for air conditioning, it turned out to be by far the most enjoyable experience we’ve had with the boy at the theater because “Winnie The Pooh” turned out to be part of what seems to be an endangered species: a kids’ movie that’s actually appropriate for kids.
Kids’ movies are probably the surest bet in Hollywood, and are always at the top of the box-office charts, because there is usually only one of them in theaters at a time, so parents looking to take their children for a special day out only have one choice. In light of that, it’s a little strange how poorly the people who make these movies and the people who present them (the theater owners) seem to understand their audience.
Plenty of leg room on the playa
The international community of freaks, dropouts, artists, and sundry appreciators of the bizarre and unconventional known as “Burners” — attendees of the annual Burning Man Arts Festival, which takes place the week before Labor Day — are up in arms this week thanks to a predicament that, unlike 110-degree days, 30-degree nights, dehydration, dust storms, 60-mph winds, torrential downpour, food shortage, and severe serotonin deficiency, is one they have never faced before: The event has sold out for the first time, leaving thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of people who had fully planned on attending but had not yet purchased tickets out in the cold.
Given that this event is held on a massive expanse of perfectly flat land — the Black Rock desert, a dried-out lake bed in Northern Nevada, to be precise — space is not a problem. The event has been growing exponentially every year since it began in 1986, and last year it topped 50,000 attendees, but Black Rock City has never come anywhere near overflowing the space it’s allotted every year by the Nevada Bureau of Land Management (BLM). But the BLM has imposed restrictions on Burning Man’s population growth on a year-by-year basis, and the festival is not legally allowed to sell more than 50,000 tickets, or its permit will not be granted next year.