Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sherlock Holmes and the Na'vi go to a party

Great weekend in movies. Lem and I saw Sherlock Holmes on Friday, and followed it up with Avatar on Saturday.


When one hears that Robert Downey Jr is playing Sherlock Holmes, you don't ask questions. As soon as it's showing, drop what you're doing and go see it. Downey has the charm and humor to bring this brilliant eccentric to life. When the movie opens, Holmes is being chased down the dark streets of London. Backed into a corner, he calculates the series of blows necessary to incapacitate his pursuer. Later, he is in a boxing ring and his adversary spits on the back of his head. Again, his mind estimates the required combination to win. These computations take only a moment. On both occasions, the enemy hits the floor, shattered bones and all. Holmes has already determined the damage sustained by his opponent's body...and pride. Ass-kicking has become an intellectual exercise.

At first, Jude Law as Dr. John Watson seemed like a far stretch. But it worked. The chemistry between the two old friends was endearing. (Watch: Holmes and Watson sitting side by side on a rickety bed, post-explosion, and trying very hard not to hug.) Kelly Reilly's turn as Mary Morstan, Watson's fiancé, was a pleasant surprise. She barely got any face time in the stories, so it was great to see her portrayed as a strong woman, unimpressed by Holmes's guile. Rachel McAdams is wonderful as the criminally sexy (ha-ha) Irene Adler.

The plot itself lacked cleverness, failing to evoke the why-didn't-I think-of-that knock on the forehead. On the other hand, Holmes's appraisal of people did demonstrate those brilliant deductive skills. The film was obviously a prelude to a greater story, one where we will eventually encounter the arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty. We will wait for that one with bated breath. The game is afoot.


Lem and I finally saw Avatar. We caught the late afternoon show, a schedule apparently favored by the general public. Lem sipped sullenly from a vanilla frostee, glaring at the long queue in front of him. Despite all those people, we managed to get good seats. Wearing over-sized 3D glasses, we braced ourselves for a movie that has been hyped to the high heavens. For once, the hype did not exaggerate.

The story is set in 2154, a time when humans have plundered so much of the earth that no green remains. Having completely exhausted the natural resources on their own planet, the humans launch an off-world mining project on the moon Pandora. RDA, the corporation responsible for operations, treads carefully because Pandora is inhabited by sentient humanoid beings called the Na'vi. Jake Sully, played by Sam Worthington, is a young marine who joins the company's Avatar division. Human researchers neurally link to genetically-engineered Na'vi bodies to gather information about the world and its people. Their ulterior task is to forge diplomatic relations with the indigenous community. The group is led by a no-shit, ball-breaking scientist Grace Augustine (portrayed to a T by the great Sigourney Weaver). She often clashes with corporate head slug Parker Selfridge whose depravity was crafted so perfectly by Giovanni Ribisi.

The plot is, by no means, anything new. In fact, it is a story not unusual in the Philippines. Indigenous peoples displaced by outsiders exploiting their land for commercial gain? Sound vaguely familiar? Ma, who knows a little something about natural resource management, remarked about the movie's parallels with ancestral land issues in the Cordillera. (She saw the movie in the Netherlands, and had to manage with Dutch subtitles for the Na'vi translations.) Avatar may have fallen into step with previous movies of the same theme, but it is a theme that hits close to home. A lack of empathy can be deadly.

In a very Tolkien-esque move, James Cameron creates a strange, untamed world where its inhabitants can literally commune with Nature. The plants glow in the dark and the animals are fierce and lethal. (Lem has declared that we must procure him a Banshee.) Cameron was thorough. The Na'vi, an entirely imagined race, have their own language and culture. They are a people who have preserved an intense connection with their environment, a quality steadily disappearing among human beings.

In one pivotal scene, the music turns ominous and Lem comments, "This is where the Titanic sinks." It's true: Cameron is dangerously becoming formulaic, and therefore predictable. But he makes up for it with stunning visuals and heavy action sequences. Images overwhelm the senses. With revolutionary film-making technology burning at his fingertips, Cameron meant to ASTONISH. He certainly did.

In a nutshell: Avatar was fucken awesome.

1 seen below:

homer said...

hindi pala ko nakapag-comment dito. hehe. hindi ko pa napapanood ang Avatar pero gusto ko tlga. sana balang araw...

tapos, ito hindo konektado sa post mo, may anghel na nagsabi sakin na sana'y makasali ka sa =)

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