October 22, 2016
        Hollywood Contenders: New Oscar Predictions for October                Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, Naomie Harris, Lily Collins get Honors at 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                "Manchester by the Sea" leads the Gotham Award nominations                Tom Ford, Marc Platt and Kenneth Lonergan to be Honored at 20th Annual Hollywood Film Awards                Tom Cruise is in his action hero comfort zone with "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back"                "Moonlight" could be A24's big Oscar horse this year                Ewan McGregor steps behind the camera with "American Pastoral"                Hollywood Contenders: A second crack at Golden Globe predictions for 2016                "The Accountant" seeks to help give Ben Affleck another blockbuster                85 countries will be competing for Best Foreign Language Feature nominations at the Oscars                Tom Hanks to receive Hollywood Actor Award for "Sully" @ Hollywood Film Awards                "Certain Women" showcases Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, and Michelle Williams                Ben Affleck is perhaps Hollywood's biggest and most diverse superstar                "The Birth of a Nation" looks to survive controversy and contend for awards                "The Girl on the Train" hopes to transport Emily Blunt to the Oscar race        

‘Up’ finally airborne while ‘Avatar’ soars

AvatarThose who keep an eye on the annual Oscar race have been hearing about “Up In the Air” since September, when director Jason Reitman flew his comedy-drama to back-to-back film festivals in Telluride and Toronto. Buzz has steadily increased as more people (both inside and out of the industry) managed to screen the gem, an adaptation of a Walter Kirn novel. Finally, Paramount delivers “Air” to arrival gates in every major city so mainstream audiences can get a look at what’s sure to be a Best Picture contender early next year.

Reitman’s timely tale follows Ryan Bingham, a professional corporate downsizer played to perfection by the suave, sophisticated George Clooney. Bingham lives a mobile existence, only feeling truly at home when he’s flying to his next job. The introduction of two women, however, force Bingham to park it on life’s long runway and assess if his life has any meaning.

Clooney keeps Reitman’s film grounded, though he’s assisted by three outstanding female co-stars Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick and Melanie Lynskey as Clooney’s soon-to-be-wed sister. But it’s the film’s commentary on our nation’s current unemployment crisis that makes “Up” extremely relevant, and a film tailored specifically for its time.

Unlike James Cameron’s “Avatar,” which – from a visual standpoint – is light-years ahead of our time. With his first feature-length adventure since “Titanic,” Cameron takes audiences to the mythical planet of Pandora, where a former Marine (Sam Worthington) attempts to infiltrate an alien race but ends up falling for a beautiful native (Zoe Saldana). Cameron’s eye-popping visuals are the story, particularly because the actual narrative is too simple to sustain the 150-minute run time. But “Avatar” does take 3-D technology and IMAX projection to new heights.

Meanwhile, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” drops Hugh Grant’s romantic-comedy career to new lows. The stammering Brit stars alongside Sarah Jessica Parker in a flat fish-out-of-water farce that transports New Yorkers to Wyoming after they witness a murder. Transport yourself to a different theater, one that’s showing a better film.

“Up In the Air” – **** out of 4
“Avatar” – *** out of 4
“Did You Hear About the Morgans?” – *1/2 out of 4

About Sean O'Connell

Sean O'Connell is a nationally recognized film critic. His reviews have been published in print ('The Washington Post,' 'USA Today') and online (AMC FilmCritic.com, MSN's Citysearch) since 1996. He's a weekly contributor to several national radio programs. He is a longstanding member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Southeastern Film Critics View all articles by Sean O'Connell Association (SEFCA).

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One Comment

  • January 2, 2010 | Permalink |

    The Real Value of James Cameron’s “Avatar”

    All the reviews of Avatar I’ve read seem to miss the real value of this visually stunning movie set on the fantastically alive planet of Pandora. While aspects of the plot are predictable, Avatar offers some powerful messages for our time once you scratch beneath the surface.

    For those who are not firmly entrenched in our mainstream culture’s cynicism and denial the movie, Avatar, is a powerful opportunity to sharply see and feel our current situation as a species that has lost its way. As we experience the lives of Pandora’s indigenous people our own predicament comes into contrast. We become visible as a species that has become trapped within its own culture and system of domination and control… cut off from what really enlivens us.

    It is surprising that a movie with some of the messages of Avatar could even come out of the corporate dominated “homeland” that the USA has become. I wonder how many of the people walking out of the cinema really get it… that we, the consumers (no longer citizens) of industrial civilization are on the side of the baddies in this film. Not just occasionally, randomly bad… not just a few bad eggs such as the cold-hearted leader of the mercenaries on Pandora, Colonel Quaritch… but that our whole way of life is portrayed for what it is… inherently, pathologically insane.

    When Quaritch declares “We’ll fight terror with terror.” he is speaking for us. We are the culture which for centuries has crushed all opposition to our vast insatiable resource demands. The Pandora native, Neytiri, speaks of their efforts to enlighten their would-be human “educators” and in one line says it all, “We couldn’t save them from their insanity.”

    That the writer and director, James Cameron, was given the freedom to convey his messages is probably due to his prior huge financial successes with Titanic and Terminator II. And, of course, he still had to include the requisite action and romance components for Avatar to receive the US $400 million in funding he needed.

    In the movie, the planet itself finally strikes back against the humans attempting to destroy nature for their short-sighted short-term gains. Some may disagree, but I see that there is symbolism intended here. Outside the movie, our own planet will also strike back. Perhaps not in as visually dramatic a way as on Pandora but in even more deadly terms over the time frame of the next 100 years according to the science on climate change. (For those still confused by all the hot air on the subject of climate change read the facts in Poles Apart: Beyond the shouting who’s right about climate change?)

    James Cameron is no fool. He could have just made a blockbuster. Instead, he is using one of the few remaining effective means of communicating with the masses in an age of information overload to say “wake up, look at the path we are on and get off it while we still can!” For we are, in fact, facing a perfect storm of six global threats of which climate change is but one.

    But unlike in Avatar, we don’t have another planet to flee back to.

    Mitch Lawrie
    Transition Strategist
    Wise Up To The Great Transition

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