Hottie of the Day: Jessica Burciaga


JESSICA BURCIAGA

For our latest Hottie of the Day we have Mr. Hefner to thank for discovering her and sharing her with the public.

Ms. Jessica Burciaga was Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month for January 2009 and very deserving of the honor. This 26 year-old model is quite the hodgepodge in the racial diversity. Born of a Mexican father and a French-Irish mother, Ms. Burciaga burst into the scene as a model. She started off doing bit parts for tv shows and appearing in music videos. While doing oddjobs here and there to support her way through junior college she landed a photoshoot job for the magazine Stuff. This break in her career soon had her appearing on other magazines such as Maxim, Modified Mag, Latino Future and Open Your Eyes. She was also picked to work at The Palms’ Playboy Club in Las Vegas in 2006. A couple years later she will become an official model of Chynna Dolls Bikinis. Before finally becoming an official Playmate she would appear as a spokesmodel for Miss Copa Swimwear and Hot Import Nights.

Review: Grindhouse (dir. by Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino)


Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have always professed to anyone within hearing distance their extreme and fanboyish love for the grindhouse days of filmmaking. Both directors’ resume of work look like a modern grindhouse films but with better writing, effects and directing. Anyone who grew up watching grindhouse film’s of the 70’s and 80’s can see it’s heavy influence on films such as From Dusk Til Dawn, Desperado, Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill. With 2007’s Grindhouse, both Rodriguez and Tarantino take their fanboy love for all things grindhouse and exploitation to a whole new level with personal take on the cheap John Carpenter-knock offs, zombie gorefests, slasher film and revenge-driven flicks that made being a young kid during the 70’s and 80’s quite enjoyable.

For those who do not know what grindhouse films are they’re the ultra-cheap and, most of the time, very bad, shlocky horror, revenge, softcore porn, badly-dubbed kung fu flicks and a myriad of other B- to Z-grade movies. These movies were shown in dingy, decrepit (usually former burlesque stagehouses) movie houses which showed double to triple-bills of titles for a low, cheap price all day long (where the popcorn and concession snacks were as stale as week-old coffee). These places and their films were book-ended by the cheap drive-in theaters which grew out of the suburban sprawl boom era of the 60’s and 70’s. One could not avoid the fact that the projector equipment were in bad shape and in desperate need of maintenance while the films played out. Then there’s the film reels themselves with their washed out sequences, out of focus scenes, burnt-in spots and missing film reels where the sex scenes would’ve been. This was the grindhouse experience and with the rise of Hollywood as a corporate entity even moreso than it’s been in the past and urban renewal projects by big city leaders, the grindhouse experience has pretty much faded away and kept alive only in the memories of its fans worldwide.

What Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino have cranked out with their three-hour long opus to those grindhouse days has been both a literal and thematic homage to an era long since gone. Grindhouse also has allowed Rodriguez and Tarantino to pull out all the stops in filming their respective halves of the film. Rodriguez went all-out in paying literal homage to the zombie gore-fests of George A. Romero, Lucio Fulci and Umberto Lenzi. Planet Terror plays like a hodgepodge of all the zombie movies from these masters of the walking dead but Rodriguez has the use of digital effects to match the over-the-top feel of the past zombie-fests without making the effects look too cheap.

The story for Planet Terror is quite simple yet full of so many incoherent subplots that trying to keep track with whats going on would just confuse a viewer even more. Rodriguez gets the grindhouse feel with such a ludicrous storyline. Whether it was done on purpose or not, the feeling of confusion in addition to the non-stop zombie action was only compounded even more by the digitally-added film stock scratches, burns to the edges of the reel and when the movie was about to get all hot and sexy, missing reel footage. Anyone who watched movies in grindhouse theaters would recognize the look quite well. Rodriguez goes all out in letting his zombie fanboy out. The violence in Planet Terror begins strong and just gets stronger and even more over-the-top right up to the final frame. Zombie’s getting their heads blown apart is shown in scratchy, loving detail with an impossible amount of blood, bone and brain for people to gawk at. The female characters are hot and sexy. Rose McGowan as Cherry Darling holds Planet Terror together with her spunky go-go dancer dreaming to be a stand-up comedienne turning into Ellen Ripley minus a leg but gaining an M16A3 w/ M203 grenade launcher as a leg prosthetic. Freddy Rodriguez as El Wray, her wayward and mysterious lover, almost seem to be channeling a hilariously bad version of Snake Plissken. These two make for quite the explosive couple as they must try and save their small Texas town from the infected townspeople turned pus-oozing, boil-ridden zombies.

Planet Terror sports a nice collection of current B-list actors like Josh Brolin (making like a Nick Nolte at his growliest) and Marley Shelton as a pair of married doctors with marital problems compounded by the increasing amount of zombies their hospital seem to be bringing in for medical help. There’s also genre veterans Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Tom Savini to give Planet Terror the appropriate grindhouse look and feel to it. Ever the good friend and buddy collaborator, Rodriguez even gives Quentin Tarantino a role in his half of the film. He’s shown in the credits for Planet Terror as The Rapist. If any director seem destined to be one, if their love for movies didn’t steer them on the right path, Tarantino seem to look just like one to be called “Tha Rapist”.

There’s explosion and gore galore in Rodriguez’s ode to the zombie genre. Some who sees it might say there’s too much and they would be right if the title of the whole film wasn’t Grindhouse. I, for one, am glad Rodriguez decided to not hold back with what he threw onto the screen. I’m sure that when the dvd finally comes out and the unedited full version of Planet Terror is shown it’ll even surpass the 85-minute running time in the film. I think I can forgive Rodriguez for his gore excess and at times I actually wished for more, but then that would mean taking even more time before I get to Tarantino’s half of the movie. Planet Terror truly got the look of a grindhouse flick, but it’s Tarantino’s Death Proof half which got the spirit of grindhouse down to near-perfect.

Before Tarantino’s Death Proof half of Grindhouse begins the audience gets treated to a sort of intermission involving three fake trailers for movies which celebrate just how ridiculously fun grindhouse movies really were during the 70’s and 80’s. There’s Rob Zombie’s Werewolf Women of the SS which was this weird mish-mash of the women-in-prison flicks with that of the infamous Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS films that brought about the exploitation in grindhouse. This trailer was great just for the inspired casting of Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu and Sybil Danning as one of the so-called SS women werewolves. There’s also Edgar Wright’s fake trailer for Don’t (director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) which parodies the trailers for all the gothic, European haunted and horror movies where none of the actors in the trailer speak a word to make sure the film doesn’t get labeled as a “foreign film”. But it’s the third trailer in that intermission trio which had everyone in the audience reacting wildly.

Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving is a throwback to the seasonal-themed slasher flicks like Black Christmas but this time turns the yearly, turkey day and Pilgrim celebration into a trailer with some of the most disturbingly inventive scenes for a fake slasher movie. I don’t know what the Pilgrim serial killer was doing with that turkey at the end of the trailer but I’m sure it will have many people talking about it afterwards. It’s this Eli Roth trailer which fully captures the gritty and gratuitious nature of what makes a grindhouse horror movie. It’s also the one fake trailer I hope Roth would re-visit and turn into a full-length movie.

Now, with the trailers out of the way, Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse begins and we’re treated to a different take on the grindhouse experience. Death Proof begins as if it will continue Rodriguez’s literal examination and homage to the grindhouse experience, but after messing with the film’s focus, adding a few film scratches to the celluloid and even adding a missing reel gag, Tarantino suddenly slows all those grindhouse trickeries and actually ends up making a rip-roaring slasher-revenge-carchase flick. Tarantino takes one part slasher movie adds in a heavy dose of his own Reservoir Dogs (the talking between the female characters in Death Proof are as foul-mouthed and trivial as the diner scene in Reservoir Dogs) then mixes in equal amounts of Vanishing Point, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and I Spit On Your Grave. Instead of just mimicking these particular grindhouse classics, Tarantino uses his own flair for extended dialogue to slow down the pace of the film thus lulling the audience for the two pay-offs which happen in the middle and the end of Death Proof. Tarantino’s half of Grindhouse could’ve went nowhere with all its estrogen-laced talkies, but Kurt “I AM SNAKE PLISSKEN” Russell really saves the day once he makes his appearance as the automotive-themed serial killer, Stuntman Mike. Where Jason uses farming and bladed implements as his tool of the serial killing trade, Stuntman Mike uses both a 1971 Chevy Nova SS and a 1970 Dodge Charger R/T 440 as his weapons of choice. Both vehicles have been made death proof for filming violent car stunt sequences, but in order to appreciate it’s unique life-saving properties then one has to sit where Mike sits.

Kurt Russell can now add Stuntman Mike to his classic list of badass roles. Mike would feel quite welcome amongst the like of Snake Plissken, John J. MacReady, and Jack Burton to name a few of Russell’s classic characters. Mike comes across as cooly and slickly dangerous, yet not psychotic. His charm is quite disarming until it turns deadly. He really takes the slasher-character stereotype and turns it on its ear. Death Proof once again shows that when Tarantino gets to work with one of his boyhood idols he really gives them a role that they could sink their teeth into.

Death Proof captures the spirit of what makes a grindhouse exploitation film. Even with the heavy references to Vanishing Point, especially with a white 70’s Dodge Challenger used just like in that movie, Tarantino still injects his own brand of craziness to the whole movie. I know many who have complained that Death Proof was too much talk with only the car chase in the end being the saving grace. I politely disagree and say that it’s that very long periods of dialogue between the women in Death Proof that brings some of the spirit of grindhouse to the story. Many forget or don’t remember that most grindhouse cheapies had so much extraneous dialogue to hide the fact that the budget was low to none when the movies were being made so they had to fill-up the movie’s running time with as much nonsensical dialogue before the big effect shots payoff.

The final chase-scene between the Russell’s Stuntman Mike and the female-trio of Rosario Dawson, Tracie Thoms (channeling Jules from Pulp Fiction) and real-life stuntwoman Zoe Bell (she doubled as Uma Thurman in the more dangerous stunts in Kill Bill) has to go down as one of the craziest, whiteknuckling, barnburning car chase sequences of the modern times. No CGI-effects trickery and fancy MTV-style editing was used. George Miller, John Frankenheimer and Richard Sarafian would be proud of what Tarantino was able to accomplish with Death Proof‘s 20-minute long car chase. By the time Death Proof ends the audience have bee put through the wringer and one was hard-pressed not to cheer and root for Stuntman Mike even though we know we shouldn’t. Death Proof proves that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” or at least a trio of women endangered.

Grindhouse is a film not for everyone. There’s going to be quite a few people who won’t “get” the film homages and references by both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Some would say that the movie was too over-the-top, badly made and just out there, but then they would be missing the point of the whole project altogether. For those who grew up watching these kind of films as kids and teenagers, it’s a belated Valentine’s gift from two fanboy filmmakers who finally were able to do the films they grew up idolizing and enjoying. For the rest who are not as well-versed in the grindhouse cinema, this is a good enough starter before they move on to try the classic ones which are now on video (I would suggest they find a worn-out VHS copy of it instead of the cleaned up DVD version). The film is over three-hours long, but one who goes in really can’t say that they didn’t get their money’s worth when they went in to watch Grindhouse.

Song of the Day: Feeling Good (by Nina Simone)


I just realized that I haven’t picked a song from the jazz corner. I think I have just the song to fix that problem.

Song of the day comes courtesy of the one and only Nina Simone and her jazz cover of the Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse song, “Feeling Good”. This song is just smooth cool from start to finish and why jazz singers will always have a special place in my music collection. Nina Simone croons and sings the devil out of this song. When the song segues smoothly from Simone’s acapella section in the beginning to the smoky and sultry way the horns starts off the song proper one cannot help but nod their head to the beat.

The song is pretty brief, but for a little under 3 minutes one can and will fall in love not just with Nina Simone’s singing but jazz music as well.

Feeling Good

Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Reeds driftin on by you know how I feel

(refrain:)
Its a new dawn
Its a new day
Its a new life
For me
And Im feeling good

Fish in the sea you know how I feel
River running free you know how I feel
Blossom in the tree you know how I feel

(refrain)

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, dont you know
Butterflies all havin fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when day is done
Thats what I mean

And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine you know how I feel
Scent of the pine you know how I feel
Oh freedom is mine
And I know how I feel

Review: Evilspeak (dir. by Eric Weston)


I first came across Evilspeak a few months ago when I was browsing through the selection of used DVDs at the Movie Trading Company in Plano, Texas.  Why did I feel so compelled to buy this movie that I had previously never heard of?  Of course, a lot of it was due to the fact that Evilspeak was a horror movie.  I have to admit that the vagueness of the title intrigued me.  I’ve long been planning on writing the ultimate slasher film and giving it the similarly vague title of Deathurge.  It also helped that the Evilspeak DVD was released by Anchor Bay and that it only cost $1.99.

A few nights ago, I sat down and watched Evilspeak for the first time.    It turned out to be, in many ways, typical of the horror films that were released in the early 80s.  (Evilspeak came out in 1981.)  However, thanks to a strong lead performance from Clint Howard and a few surprisingly dark touches on the part of director Eric Weston, Evilspeak turns out to be an oddly compelling little horror film.

Evilspeak opens with a lengthy prologue in which we see a Satanist named Esteban beheaded, along with several of his followers, by the Spanish Inquisition.  Jump forward several hundred years to a soccer game being played by teams representing two separate military academies.  The players are all typical jocks except for one pudgy, awkward fellow named Stanley Coopersmith (played by a very young Clint Howard).  Coopersmith manages to lose the game for his team.  The team’s angry response establishes that 1) this is not the 1st game that Coopersmith has lost and 2) all of his teammates are apparently psychotic.  His fellow players complain to their coach about Coopersmith’s lack of ability.  The coach replies that school policy requires that Coopersmith be allowed to play but if Coopersmith were to suffer some sort of injury (hint, hint) then they wouldn’t have to worry about school policy.  Seriously, has anything good ever come from soccer?

In many ways, Stanley Coopersmith might seem typical of the horror movie pariahs who always seem to end up asking Satan to kill their peers.  However, there are a few things that set Stanley apart.

First of all, he has one of the best last names in film history.  Coopersmith.  Just say it five times straight and see if it doesn’t get stuck in your head.  I’ve known plenty of Coopers and more than a few Smiths but I’ve never known a Coopersmith.  At first, I thought that maybe Stanley had one of those really cool hyphenated names and I was instantly jealous.  I’ve always wished my mom had done that when she got married so I could introduce myself as “Lisa Marie Marchi-Bowman.”  Of course, it’s probably for the best that she didn’t because if she had, I would have become obsessed with finding a mate with a hyphenated last name of his own just to see how long I could eventually make my last name.  But I digress.  Even though the film clearly establishes that there is not hyphen in Coopersmith, it’s still a great name.  When Stanley’s classmates insist on calling him “Cooperdick,” it just makes them all the more loathsome because not only are the insulting Stanley but they’re failing to recognize the beauty of a good name.

The other thing that sets Stanley apart from other movie outcasts is that he actually looks like an outcast.  He’s not a teen idol wearing a bad wig and prop glasses.  This is largely because Stanley Coopersmith is played by Clint Howard (as opposed to Ron Howard).  Pudgy with visible acne and a somewhat whiny voice, Clint Howard transforms Stanley Coopersmith into every kid that you ever felt sorry for but never dared to befriend.  Watching the movie, you feel sorry for Stanley but you never quite like him.  You’re on his side because every other character in the movie appears to be subhuman.

The film follows Stanley as he is continually attacked and humiliated by basically everyone else in the entire movie.  Now, as someone who did time at more than one Catholic school, I have personally experienced the fact that private schools really are a world of their own.  That said, however, Evilspeak’s military academy appears to be less a school and more some sort of elaborate and sadistic sociological experiment.  Seriously, is there anyone at this school who isn’t obsessed with tormenting Stanley?  (Actually, Stanley does have one friend but he’s kinda useless.)

Of course, one of the school’s problems might be that it has apparently been built on land that was once owned by — you guessed it — Esteban!  As the film opens, Coopersmith has found himself assigned to clean up the school’s chapel as part of a “punishment detail.”  While doing this, Coopersmith happens to stumble upon Esteban’s tomb and, in that tomb, he finds a lot of candles, what appears to be a fetus in a jar, and a black book that happens to have a Satanic symbol on the cover.  Intrigued, Coopersmith steals the book despite the fact that it’s written in Latin.

Luckily, this school has a computer!  Admittedly, Evilspeak came out four years before I was born so perhaps I’m not capable of understanding what the world was like in the early 80s.  Still, I’m always amazed to see the awe that computers were apparently regarded with back then.  Apparently, at the time, a personal computer was the ultimate elite status symbol.  All one needed to rule the world apparently was one bulky computer.  Fortunately, Coopersmith doesn’t want to rule the world.  He just wants to read his book.  He does this by typing the latin phrases into the computer and magically getting an English translation in response.  Thanks to his magic computer, Coopersmith discovers that the book was written by Esteban and  that Esteban worshipped Satan.

Coopersmith, of course, is amazed to discover this but we, the viewers are not.  After all, we’ve already sat through the entire prologue.  Unfortunately, it takes Coopersmith almost the entire movie to catch up to where we are from the beginning.  Fortunately, Clint Howard gives a good enough performance to keep the movie vaguely interesting even when it starts to drag.

Fortunately, after Coopersmith gets his translation, the action starts to pick up a bit.  For one thing, the book is stolen by the headmaster’s secretary (who, in an amusingly odd moment, smiles to herself as she listens to the headmaster paddling Coopersmith in his office).  For another thing, Coopersmith decides to get back at his enemies by conducting a black mass.  He does this by turning on his computer (which has now somehow been moved down to the tomb) and asking what he needs for a black mass.  Naturally enough, the computer tells him because it’s a computer and it knows everything.

But before Coopersmith can perform his black mass, he still has to be humiliated a few hundred more times by his classmates.  He also has to deal with a drunk janitor (played by R.G. Armstrong).  On top of that, he adopts a puppy.  Unfortunately, since Coopersmith is the school outcast, that also means that the puppy is fair game too.  After one night of heavy drinking, Coopersmith’s classmates (led by a kid named Bubba, so you know he’s evil) find his hideaway in the tomb and, for reasons that don’t quite make sense, they sacrifice his puppy.

(At this point, I was wondering if maybe it would turn out that the military academy was actually an insane asylum.  I mean, seriously —  on which level of Hell is this place located?)

Meanwhile, you remember that sadistic secretary that stole Coopersmith’s book?  Well, for whatever reason, she is obsessed with trying to pry that Satanic symbol off the cover.  Unfortunately, since she’s the only prominent female in an early 80s horror movie, this can only mean that she’s destined to meet a bloody end while taking a shower.  Which, in this movie’s best known scene, is exactly what happens.  However, she doesn’t meet her end at the hands of a knife-wielding psycho.  Instead, she’s attacked and ripped to pieces by a bunch of rampaging pigs.  And yes, the whole thing is faintly ludicrous and yes, the low-budget gore effects are undeniably crude, but it’s still an undeniably effective sequence.  Perhaps its due to the fact that pigs, in general, are filthy.  Don’t even get me started on pigs.  However, it must also be admitted that, though his direction is often time uninspired, Eric Weston shows an undeniable talent for capturing chaos.  I am not ashamed to admit that I had pig-related nightmares after seeing this movie.

Following the death of the secretary, the book mysteriously reappears in Esteban’s tomb.  Coopersmith finds it the next morning along with the corpse of his puppy.  Obviously, this is all it takes for Coopersmith (with the help of his computer) to carry out his black mass and to finally take his revenge.

Of course, the whole point of a Nerd-With-Powers movie is the finale where that nerd takes vengeance on his tormentors.  If this scene is pulled off with even the slightest amount of panache, it can make up for almost everything that’s come before it.  The prom inferno from Carrie pretty much set the standard by which all others are judged.  Personally, it’s hard for me to think of any movie that could improve on the final house party massacre in The Rage: Carrie 2.  After all, how can you top a blinded Rachel Blanchard accidentally shooting the oldest Home Improvement kid in the balls with a spear gun?

Evilspeak doesn’t quite reach those heights in its finale but it’s still pretty effective.  If nothing else, the sight of Clint Howard wielding a sword while flying above his tormentors is a lot more effective than you might think.  Over the next few minutes, spikes are drilled into foreheads, heads are chopped off, hearts are ripped out of chests, and those pigs show up again.  The gore effects here are undeniably crude but oddly effective.  This sequence (along with the previous pig shower attack) actually inspired a few nightmares the night after I saw Evilspeak.

In the end, Evilspeak is an odd little movie.  While the plot should be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a horror film, there’s a real nastiness at the core of Evilspeak that distinguishes it from other genre offerings that came out during the same period.  At times, Evilspeak almost feels like an Italian film which is probably why I found it to be so oddly compelling.

The Evilspeak DVD features a commentary track featuring both Clint Howard and the film’s director.  I always feel some trepidation before listening to a commentary track.  Too often, the track turns out to just be some jerk explaining how he financed the film for two hours while commenting not at all on the action on-screen.  (For the most part, if a commentary track features any anecdote that begins with, “We had the same lawyer…” you know you’re in trouble.)  However, the Evilspeak track is surprisingly enjoyable.  Clint Howard comes across as a surprisingly likable, levelheaded guy and its interesting to contrast his odd wholesomeness with the action onscreen.

In the end, Evilspeak may be a piece of junk but it’s an enjoyable piece of junk.

Halo Reach: Live-Action Trailer “Birth of a Spartan”


Gamers of the past 5 years pretty much have seen gaming publishers go all-out to advertise their AAA titles to the public whether one was a gamer or not. The first to do so was Microsoft and Bungie Studios to help market the third game in their very popular and blockbuster-selling first-person shooter franchise, Halo. It was in marketing Halo 3 where we see live-action short films that helps build the hype and buzz for the game. Halo 3 was going to sell millions whether these short films turned commercials were made or not, but the fact that they were and the gaming community love them shows that the gaming industry was starting to think of itself as akin to the film industry. These were literally live-action trailers for games.

Three of the Halo 3 live-action trailers were directed by a young South African bloke who calls himself Neill Blomkamp. Halo 3: ODST came out with a couple of live-action trailers with one lasting a whopping 2.5 minutes long. This particular trailer had a Saving Private Ryan vibe to it and was actually critically-acclaimed in the advertising and marketing industry. Now, we have the final Halo title from Bungie Studios and the first live-action trailer has popped up. This is not even the trailer for the full-game out later this fall, but a trailer for the multiplayer beta which will begin in May 2010. This live-action trailer is titled “Birth of a Spartan” and shows a glimpse at how the Spartans (super-soldiers in the Halo universe are created).

The trailer looks great. It has a very futuristic clean look to it and even brings to mind military sci-fi influences. With the game still months from seeing it’s initial release I hope they continue to make these live-action trailers. These really are some of the best game trailers out there. Below are some of the previous live-action trailers that had been made for the other titles in the franchise.

A Second Review of The Losers (dir. by Sylvain White)


Usually, I’m not a big fan of action movies.  If you see me in the audience of an action movie, it means that I’m either 1) on a date with a guy who really doesn’t care if I’m bored out of my skull, 2) the movie is actually a film with action as opposed to an action film, or 3) there’s absolutely nothing else playing.  It was because of that third reason that yesterday afternoon, I could be found at the Regal Keystone, watching The Losers.

Surprisingly enough, however, I ended up enjoying The Losers.

Why?

Six words: Idris Elba, Jason Patric, and teddy bear.

Idris Elba.  Oh God, where to start?  I think Idris Elba may be one of the best actors working today.  If you’ve seen him in The Wire then you’ve seen him as an intimidator.  (And, admit it, The Wire was never as good after Stringer Bell got killed.)  If you’ve seen him on The Office than you know that Elba can also be unexpectedly funny.  In the Losers, Elba gets to be both scary and funny at the same time.  (And incredibly sexy though I doubt that’s going to be a big selling point for this film’s target audience.)  Idris Elba manages to look convincing while both blowing things up and, during one of the film’s many postmodern moments, commenting, “Wow, this is sleazy.”

Elba plays Rocque, the second-in-command of a paramilitary group known as the Losers.  Much like the A-Team and the Expendables (both of which will be coming along later this year), the Losers are betrayed by their government and wrong declared dead.  They — a glowering Elba included — find themselves stranded in Bolivia where they pass the time working in a doll factory, betting on cockfights, and plotting vengeance against Max.

Who is Max?  This question is at the center of The Losers and it’s never really answered (perhaps it will be in the sequel).  It’s insinuated throughout the film that he’s involved with the CIA, that he’s a terrorist, or that he’s just a patriotic businessman.  Of course, the answer is that Max is actually Jason Patric (a.k.a. the son of Father Damien Karras). 

I have to admit that, in  the past, Patric has never really impressed me much as an actor.  In the past, he’s always seemed a bit stiff and humorless.  Patric plays Max as a man who is not only a comic book villain but who is totally aware of it as well.  You can tell that Max is having a lot of fun being evil and that Patric is having fun playing evil.  Patric’s over-the-top but compelling villainy let’s the audience know that this movie has no pretensions beyond entertainment.  It makes both Patric and the film enjoyable to watch.

And this leads us to the teddy bear.

At the start of the movie, the Losers are rescuing a bunch of children who are being held hostage by some random bad guy in Bolivia.  As they load the thankful children into a waiting helicopter, an angelic little boy attempts to hand over his teddy bear as a thank you gift.

“No,” Col. Clay (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) replies, “you keep it.  It will bring you luck.”

The angelic child smiles and clutching his teddy bear, he goes into the helicopter.  The helicopter then lifts up into the air and promptly explodes.  As the Losers stare at the burning wreckage, the camera zooms in on the only thing that apparently wasn’t incinerated in the explosion. 

Yes, it’s the teddy bear.

And as soon as I saw that, I knew that the Losers was going to work.  I soon as I saw that teddy bear, I knew that this was a film that felt no shame at being a work of pure pulp fiction.  In this age when every studio film is trying to feel independent and when most filmmakers would be too self-consciously hip to actually do something as shameless as show that little bear among the wreckage, the Losers went for it.  The Losers said, “We don’t care if it’s an obvious move and thoroughly illogical for a teddy bear to survive — with just a few burns — an explosion that so totally incinerated 25 people that not a single body part is seen among the wreckage.  We’re showing the damn bear!”

That’s when the Losers won me over.

A few more random thoughts on The Losers:

1) As Arleigh pointed out in his review, one of the film’s biggest strengths is the chemistry of the Losers themselves.  As opposed to most ensemble action films, all of the Losers are given clearly definable personalities, all of them are given something important to do, and most importantly, you believe that these guys would actually choose to hang out together.  When one of the Losers is eventually revealed to be a traitor, you feel the entire group’s shock and pain.  This adds an extra layer to the film that, for whatever reason, I suspect we won’t be seeing with The A-Team.

2) The Losers is yet another film that demonstrates the importance of not only walking in slow motion but having something to throw to the side while doing so.  It just looks incredibly cool on-screen though people tend to get annoyed when you attempt to do the same thing in real life.

3) Throughout the movie, we are continually told that The Losers are waging war on the CIA and the American establishment in general.  The audience I was with loved this.  Once again, this validates my theory that the best reflection of the times can usually be found in contemporary pulp.

4) Zoe Saldana is in this film too as a mysterious woman who helps the Losers track down Max.  In the style of Carrie-Ann Moss and the Girl with the dragon tattoo, she gets a chance to kick a lot of ass and I have to admit that I found this so inspiring that, once I got home, I stripped down to my undies, stood in front of my bedroom mirror, and attempted to execute a few flying kicks of my own.  The lesson I learned from this is that I’m not Zoe Saldana.  That and, regardless of how soft the carpet is, it still hurts when you end up falling flat on your ass.

In the end, The Loser is the perfect definition of stupid fun.  I’ll take stupidly fun over funny stupidity any day.

Hottie of the Day: Zuleyka Silver


ZULEYKA SILVER

Our newest Hottie of the Day is the delectable Ms. Zuleyka Silver.

A Puerto Rican/Brazilian teen beauty who is quickly becoming more noticed by the general public at large. She has done mostly modeling work for fashion shows. Fashion shows in Los Angeles and Miami being two of most common destinations for these fashion show gigs. Ms. Silver has also done modeling work for store print ads for such companies as Verizon Wireless, Talbots and Wal-Mart. Her tv and film work has mostly been on cable shows on MTV such as Dogg After Dark. She has also done work on an NBC pilot titled The Strip.

While she hasn’t done much major work in her young career as a model her popularity still continues to rise as she makes her way into music videos. Until she finally breaks out those who have been fans of her from the beginning should feel privileged to bear such a badge of honor.

Review: The Losers (dir. by Sylvain White)


There’s something to be said about DC’s attempt to try and take some of the thunder away from Marvel as the two battle it out over the hearts and wallets of the film-going public. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight DC’s properties has lagged behind that of Marvel when it comes to being adapted to the big-screen. Some would say that this is a good thing in that DC hasn’t flooded the market with too many comic book titles adapted to film. Marvel’s track record has been very good but they’ve also had some very awful comic book-to-film titles which at times almost derails this Golden Age of comic book films. But even with the misses Marvel has released they’ve done a good job of keeping their name brand in the film public’s eye.  DC hasn’t been very good at this but this may be changing soon.

While not part of the DC Universe proper the Vertigo line of titles do belong under the DC umbrella. Vertigo has always been the more mature-oriented publishing arm of DC with well-known and critically-acclaimed writers such as Grant Morrison, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis and Alan Moore being the top names releasing titles under that aegis. There’s already been several films based-off of the Vertigo line with Constantine and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen being two. Two examples which haven’t gone over well with comic book fans and film-goers. We now have another title from DC/Vertigo which hopes to break that cycle of mediocrity. The Losers (written by Andy Diggle) as directed by Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard) is a funny and exciting action-comedy which definitely had a chance to be one of the great comic book films if it actually had a coherent storyline.

The Losers is pretty much the name of the special-ops covert team the audience gets to know from start to finish. The basic premise to this film is actually straight out of late 80’s and early 90’s action films. A team of badass operatives gets betrayed during a covert mission by unknown parties who may or may not be working for the very organization the team has worked loyally for. For this particular reiteration of that action flick staple the team literally calls themselves the Losers and their betrayal occurs while in a secret mission inside Bolivia to take out a narco-terrorist. While their mission to take out this bad man does happen it does so with some new wrinkles such as first saving 25 innocent Bolivian children before the airstrike called in by them happens within 8 minutes. This eventual betrayal now forces the Losers’ commander, a military colonel called Clay (played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), to take his 5-man team deep under while convincing their CIA masters that they died during the operation.

The rest of the film revolves around the Losers being discovered by a third-party as still being alive and given a choice. The choice being to remain under the Agency’s radar, stay dead and in Bolivia or take on this third-party’s mission to take out the very man who betrayed them, get back their good name and return to their families or, for some, their old lives. Heading up this mysterious benefactor is the one and lovely Zoe Saldana (fresh-off a little flick called Avatar). She’s pretty much the only female of note in the whole film. One would think she’s the token female, but she’s more than capable of holding her own in a testosterone-fueled action-comedy.

What would an action-comedy about betrayed badass special-ops guys (and gal) without a bad guy to match. In The Losers we get the betrayer of the team in Max (played with an almost James Bond villainish flair by Jason Patric). He’s the one who gave them the team their last official mission in Bolivia and the same one to frame them for the a heinous crime they didn’t commit. To say that Max is over-the-top in terms of on-screen villainy would be an understatement. While the character doesn’t prance or growls his way through the film he does have a certain je ne sais quois about him that doesn’t pigeonhole him as your typical uber-bad guy.

One would think that with such a simple enough revenge and wronged team-on-a-mission set-up it would be quite an easy story to create and film around. I would have to say that the screenplay adapting the first two volumes of the original source material had left much to be desired. While it wasn’t a total waste there wasn’t enough of a story beyond creating set-pieces for the characters to either shoot at and blow stuff and people up, Max to show the audience how evil he really is, or show Saldana’s and Morgan’s character together either fighting or getting it on. The whole script used almost seemed like it was culled from a much bigger one.

What we do see on the screen was exciting and funny enough that it helps cover up enough of that major flaw of a non-existent story. In fact, I would say that the film behaved almost like an extended, well-shot and well-casted pilot for a new tv action series. It’s almost what I would expect USA Network’s excellent spy-comedy Burn Notice to look like if shot on 35mm, given a multi-million dollar budget and shot on exotic locations. The film definitely would’ve benefited from an additional 20-30 more minutes to help add muscle to the story. The fact of the matter is that the story actually was able to flesh out the main characters enough that they were all quite distinct in personalities without ever becoming cardboard copy caricatures.

It’s the chemistry between the ensemble cast which shines in The Losers. While Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen), Zoe Saldana and Jason Patric were the three main leads (with each of them pushing their own agenda over the other two) the rest of the players were very good in their roles. Idris Elba (The Wire) as Clay’s second-in-command Roque does a very good job of balancing out the cool-headed team leader. his name may not be spelled like it but he definitely was the rogue factor in the whole film. While the team itself wasn’t an amoral team of killers and expert covert ops operators it was the character Roque who came closest and Elba played him with enough menace that one might’ve wondered why he was actually still with the team instead of going off on his own. Columbus Short as driver extraordinaire and Óscar Jaenada as Cougar (got a hilarious reaction from Saldana’s character upon hearing of the name) the expert marksman who never seems to miss are good in their roles as well, but the one who stole every scene he was in was Chris Evans as Jensen who filled the role of team tech and communications expert.

Chris Evans is definitely not a novice when it comes to being part of a comic book film. He’s already done two portraying the wise-ass brother in the Fantastic Four franchise and already tapped to play one of Marvel Comics’ most iconic characters in Captain America. His character portrayal of the Losers’ Jensen is more akin to his work as Johnny Storm in the FF franchise. He was the funniest thing and most lively character in The Losers. He pretty much got the best dialogue and his comedic timing was on point. He definitely kept the film from leaning towards the too-serious side of the equation. His singing of Journey’s classic motivational song, “Don’t Stop Believing”, was one of the funniest moments in the film and the song itself ended up being the closing credits musical choices which I thought was quite appropriate.

Sylvain White’s work in this film I would say would constitute as being good and, at times, bordering on being very good. There were a few stylistic choices by White which elevated the action sequences into comic book territory such as sudden pauses in the action to capture a good kill or scene like one would see in a panel of a comic book page. Even some of the camera angles mimicked those angles used by comic book artists to create a more dynamic and stylized point of view of the scene. I thought his use of the slo-mo shots of the team walking towards the screen was done overmuch. It was good to show the team together for the first time with something exploding in the background, but just once would’ve been enough. His background as a music video director showed too much in The Losers that at times it became too distracting. Fortunately, it didn’t detract from the fun everyone seemed to be having on-screen. There’s talent in White as a filmmaker if he would just trust in his growing sense as a feature filmmaker and not fall back on his music video directing days. I did like the choice of using the original comic book art to highlight the starting and ending credits of the film. Artist Jock’s artwork was great to see on the screen.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with The Losers. I enjoyed the film despite a glaring flaw in the story (which was really nowhere to be seen). The film took the comic book film staple of “origin story” a bit too far and made the whole production look like a glorified and high-budgeted tv pilot for an action series. In fact, if DC and Warner Brothers wanted to make a series out of The Losers they already have said pilot in the can and just continue things from there. What really saves this film from becoming a huge disappointment was the cast and how much fun they had on-screen. The action scenes were not great but they had life in them and when propped up by some of the comedic stylings of one Chris Evans made the sequences enjoyable. While The Losers will not be anything to scare Marvel Studio into cranking out something similar it does help bring attention to some of the more non-superhero properties DC has in its Vertigo line. The film definitely has more excitement in it despite its major flaw than either Constantine and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I do hope it does well enough that a sequel gets greenlit and helps build more of a story in the follow-up now that introducing the characters and the world are now out of the way.

10 Films I Must See Before I Die


I love movies.  I love watching movies, reading about movies, and talking about movies.  Perhaps most of all, I love the hunt.  I love discovering movies or finding movies that had previously, for me, only existed in reviews or as a collection of screen captures.  To me, there is no greater experience the watching a movie for the first time.  (Even if, as often happens, that first time turns out to be the only time.)  Listed below are ten movies that I have yet to see but desperately hope to at some point in my life. 

1)  Giallo a Venzia (1979) — This is supposedly one of the most graphically depraved Italian horror films ever made.  If that’s not a recommendation, I don’t know what is.  Actually, I haven’t heard a single good thing about this movie but it has still become something of a Holy Grail in my quest to see as much Italian horror as possible.  This is largely because the movie is nearly impossible to find.  When it was first released, it was banned in the UK as part of the so-called “video nasties” scare.  (Trust the English to not only ban a movie but to come up with an annoying name for doing so in the process.)   This led to it never really getting much of a release in the English-speaking world and, now years later, it’s only available on bootleg DVDs.  As such, I imagine that if I ever do see it, it’ll be because I made a deal in a back alley with some bald guy who speaks with a Russian accent.  Much as with drug prohibition, the fact that its “forbidden” has made this movie rather attractive.

The few people who have seen this always mention that towards the end of the movie, Mariangela Giordano’s legs are graphically sawed off.  This makes sense as Giordano was always meeting grotesque ends in Italian horror movies.  In Patrick Lives Again, she is impaled (through her vagina no less) by a fireplace poker while in Burial Ground, she makes the mistake of breast feeding her zombie son.  In many ways, Giordano was like a female Giovanni Lombardo Radice.  However, its odd to consider that while the sight of Giordano’s legs getting sawed off was enough to get the film banned, the sight of poker being graphically driven into her crotch was apparently totally acceptable.  Censorship is a strange thing, no?

One last reason I want to see this movie — its filmed in Venice.  When I was in Italy, I fell in love with Venice.  (I also fell in love with a tour guide named Luigi but that’s another story.)

2) An uncut version of Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (1981) — This is another banned Italian movie.  When Nightmares was originally released, Tom Savini was credited as being behind the special effects.  Savini, however, has long claimed to have had little to nothing to do with the movie.  As Savini, to his credit, has never been embarrassed to claim ownership for his effects (regardless of the movie they appear in), I’m inclined to believe him.

In many ways, Nightmares reminds me of a film that Savini actually did work on, Maniac.  Not so much as far as the plot is concerned but just in the same bleak worldview and almost palpable sleaze that seems to ooze from every scene.  The version that is most widely available on DVD (and the one that I own) appears to be the cut version that was eventually okayed for release in the UK and even cut, this is a film that remains oddly compelling in just how much its willing to immerse itself in sleaze.  The uncut version remains elusive but someday, I will find it.

3) The Day The Clown Cried (1972) — You knew this one was coming, didn’t you?  I think everyone wants to see Jerry Lewis’s never released Holocaust comedy.  Supposedly, Lewis keeps the movie in a locked vault which I just find to be oddly hilarious.  My hope is that, if nothing else, some enterprising filmmaker will make a movie about a crack team of thieves who break into Jerry Lewis’s estate just to steal the only copy of The Day The Clown Cried and sell it to the people at Anchor Bay.  Jerry could play himself.  I also think this film will see the light of day sooner or later.  At some point, either Jerry Lewis or his estate is going to need the money.

4) The Other Side of the Wind — Orson Welles apparently spent the last few decades of his life making this movie.  At the time of his death, the movie was reportedly 95% film but only 40% edited.  Apparently, because of a whole lot of complicated legal things, the movie has spent the last 30 years under lock and key in Iran.  Even if somebody could rescue it, the remaining footage still needs a strong hand to put it together.  While I’m sure that many directors would be happy to volunteer to provide that hand, the two names most frequently mentioned — Peter Bogdonavich and Henry Jaglom — do not fill me with confidence.  I’d rather see the final film put together by Jess Franco, who was assistant director on Chimes at Midnight.

5) The Fantastic Four (1994) — This is not the dull movie that came out in 2005.  This apparently an even duller version of the same film that was made 11 years earlier for legal reasons.  Apparently, Roger Corman would have lost the movie rights to the comic book if he didn’t start production on a film by a certain date.  So, this film was made on the cheap and then promptly shelved.  My main desire to see it comes from the same morbid desire that makes me look at crime scene photos.  How bad can it be?

6) Le Cinque Giornate (1973) — This Italian film is apparently many things.  It’s a comedy.  It’s a historical epic.  It’s a satire of then contemporary Italian politics.  And most of all, it’s also apparently the only non-horror film directed by Dario Argento.  This was Argento’s fourth  film, coming after his celebrated animal trilogy and it was apparently an attempt, on Argento’s part, to break away from the giallo genre that he has since come to symbolize.  Though the film apparently did well enough in Italy, it failed to establish Argento as a director of comedy and that’s probably for the best as Argento’s fifth film would be the classic Deep Red.  Still, it’s hard not to play the “What If?” game, especially when it involves an iconic a figure as Dario Argento.  It’s also interesting to compare Argento’s attempts to go from horror to comedy with the career of Lucio Fulci, who went from comedy to horror.

7) Cocksucker Blues (1972) — Robert Frank’s documentary of the Rolling Stone touring America was officially unreleased because of its title.  While that title certainly played a role, it also appears that the film was unreleased because of just how much hedonism Frank managed to capture backstage.  The Stones apparently went to the court to block the film’s release.  Somehow, this resulted in a ruling that the movie can only be shown if Robert Frank is physically present.  Mr. Frank, if you’re alive and reading this, you have an open invitation to come down to Texas and stay with me anytime you want.  Seriously.

8 ) The Profit (2001) — The Profit is a satiric film about a cult.  The film’s cult is known as The Church of Scientific Spiritualism and is led by a recluse named L. Conrad Powers.  Sound familiar?  The film’s release was (and continues to be) prevented by a lawsuit brought by the Church of Scientology.  Say what you will about the Vatican, at least you can attack them in a movie without having to worry about getting sued or blown up.

9) Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1987) — Probably one of the most famous film that most of us will never see, Superstar tells the story of Karen Carpenter through the use of Barbie dolls.  Director Todd Haynes supposedly failed to get the rights to the music he used in the film and, obviously enough, nobody in the Carpenter camp was all the eager to give him permission. 

9) Can Hieronymous Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe And Find True Happiness (1969) — God, don’t you hate that title?  And, honestly, are you surprised that a film with that title is apparently history’s 1st X-rated musical?  Anyway, this is a movie I’ve come across in various film reference books where it’s either described as a masterpiece or (more often) one of the worst movies ever made.  Myself, I love musicals and if the musical numbers are mixed in with explicit sex — well, why not?  But that title — that title just gives me a bad feeling.  Another thing that gives me a bad feeling is that the movie was apparently the brainchild of Anthony Newley.  I don’t know much about Mr. Newley but what I do know seems to indicate that he personified everything that most people hate about musicals.  The film is apparently autobiographical and its about a really talented composer who treats the women in his life terribly but has a lot of reasons (or excuses) that we learn about in elaborate flashbacks and — wait, I’ve seen this movie.  Oh wait, that was Nine.  Anyway, Merkin was a huge flop and it has never been released on any type of video format.  Yet, it has not been forgotten which can only mean that it must have really traumatized the critics who saw it.  In other words, this is another one of my “how-bad-can-it-be” crime scene movies.

10) The uncut, original, 9-hour version of Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed (1924) — A girl can dream, can’t she?

10 Reasons Why I Hated Avatar


(The opinions in this review are mine and mine alone.  They reflect the feelings of Lisa Marie Bowman and not the feelings of any other editor on this site.  To prove that the opinions below are solely mine, check out this very positive review of Avatar that was posted on this very site last December.)

In case you didn’t already know this from my previous reviews, I’m going to confess something here.  I hated Avatar.  It was probably my least favorite film of 2009.  How much did I hate Avatar?  Well, I didn’t care much for The Hurt Locker either but I still cheered when it won best picture because it meant that Avatar didn’t. 

Most of my friends and family loved Avatar and, I’m proud to say, that none of them have allowed our difference of opinion to effect our relationship.  Indeed, most Avatar fans have been very tolerant of my dissenting views.  However, there’s always an exception.  From the 1st time I ever openly admitted to disliking Avatar, I have had to deal with a small but vocal group of people who not only disagree but apparently feel that I’ve committed a crime against humanity.  So, why bring it up now?  Because on Thursday, Avatar is going to be released on DVD and Blu-ray.  In honor of that event, here are 10 reason why I personally hated Avatar

1) Ironically enough, most people who love Avatar will probably agree with the majority of my criticisms.  They’ll argue that yes, the story is predictable and yes, James Cameron is heavy-handed as both a writer and a director but none of that matters because of all the brilliant visual effects.  They’ll argue that Cameron made a whole different world, Pandora, come to life.  To a certain extent, they’re right.  Cameron does manage to make Pandora believable and wow, Pandora certainly turns out to be a boring planet.  Seriously, does that jungle cover the entire freaking planet?  However, regardless of my personal feelings about Pandora, James Cameron is hardly the 1st director to make an alien world believable.  Peter Jackson did it with his Lord of the Rings trilogy and the same can, arguably, be said of the Narnia films.  Even earlier, Mario Bava did it with Planet of the Vampires and he did it with a lot less money.  Of course, none of these films were in 3-D but so what?  Just because the mundane appears to be inches in front of your nose doesn’t make it any less mundane.

2) Speaking of mundane, wouldn’t you be let down if, when you first met the members of a totally alien race, they all turned out to be a bunch of movie stereotypes?  The Na’vi appear to have developed their entire culture as the result of a steady diet of Hollywood westerns, New Age self-help books, and some 16 year-old’s half-assed understanding of what it means to be a Pagan.  I remember when I first saw Avatar, it was impossible for me not to compare it unfavorably with District 9, a film that addressed many of the same themes and issues as Avatar but did it with a much lower budget and a much more intelligent script.  This was especially evident when one compares Avatar’s Na’vi with District 9’s prawns.  While the prawns were believable as both individual characters and as representatives of a totally alien race, the Na’vi are essentially the reflections of James Cameron’s sophomoric noble savage fantasies.

3) District 9 wasn’t the only great science fiction film to come out in 2009.  There was also Moon, which featured a great performance by Sam Rockwell and excellent direction from Duncan Jones.  When /Film asked Jones for his opinion of Avatar, Jones replied, “…at which point in the film did you have any doubt what was going to happen next?”  It’s a good question. 

In all honesty, I’m a horror girl.  I haven’t seen much science fiction and therefore, I’m not as well acquainted with the genre’s clichés as I am with horror.  However, I can still say that, at no point, did anything that happened in Avatar take me by surprise.

Of course, some of my favorite movies were (and are) very predictable.  Georges Polti argued that there were really only 36 basic plots available to use in fiction so its understandable that you’re going to come across the same one used several times.  However, a predictable plot can be forgiven if maybe that plot features at least a few interesting characters or maybe an occasional unexpected line of dialogue.  Avatar, however, can’t even manage this.  Our hero is an impulsive man of action.  The villains are all evil because … well, they just are.  In the manner of most oppressed races in American film, the Na’vi are noble savages who require a white guy to come save them.  The only lines of dialogue that I remember are the ones that made me roll my eyes.  I’m talking about stuff like a bunch of 22nd century marines being greeted with “You’re not in Kansas anymore.”  Well, that and “I see you,” which was apparently included in the script so that it could serve as the title of a syrupy theme song.

4) Strangely enough, even though the movie took absolutely no narrative risks, it was still full of plot holes and things that just didn’t make much sense. 

For instance, why does Quaritich promise to give Jake back his legs (“your real ones”)?  I mean, does Quaritich have them sitting in a freezer somewhere? 

As part of his deal with Quaritich, Jake agrees to make videos about the Na’vi.  Oddly enough, it appears that he’s still making the videos even after he turns against Quaritich and you have to wonder exactly why.  Also, Jake records many of these videos in an isolated, apparently one-room outpost occupied by him and two other scientists yet the scientists are later shocked and outraged when told that Jake was making the videos.  Okay, what did they think he was doing all that time?  Were they just not listening to what he was saying? 

What exactly was the backstory of Sigourney Weaver’s character and when exactly did she join Sully in the Na’vi camp?   And why were the Na’vi willing to let her into their tribe when they would only grudgingly accepted Sully even after the Goddess selected him?  I mean, if Weaver already had such a great relationship with the Na’vi, it seems like she could have saved a lot of time by just taking Sully straight to them.  (Editor’s Note: According to the comments below, this issue actually was addressed in the film. — LMB)

Sully, after the final battle, decides to stay on Pandora and he might as well since the Tree of Souls (good God!) transferred his soul into his Na’vi body.  But what’s in it for Max and Norm?  We seem them at the end (though really, Norm should be dead) standing there pointing guns at all the humans that are leaving.  Norm, at least, could still probably hang out in his avatar but what about Max?  Why is Max, who has had nothing to do with Na’vi, so quick to join the revolution?

I’m sure a lot of this is because scenes were edited out and I know that Cameron has a reputation for reinserting those scenes once his movies come out on DVD and blu-ray.  Well, more power to him.

5) The film suffers from a really bad case of the white man’s burden disease.  This is another one of those films where a caucasian character befriends an oppressed minority and, with remarkably little dissent, manages to appoint himself as the leader of that minority.  It’s a fantasy, one in which members of the bourgeoisie (like James Cameron) can live out their childhood fantasies of being outlaws without having to worry about  (unlike actual “outlaws,”) being punished for taking their stand.

Once again, it’s hard not to compare Avatar with District 9.  Both of them feature lead characters who are transformed into aliens.  The difference is that, with the exception of one brief scene, Jake Sully accomplishes the transformation rather easily and quickly becomes the best Na’vi there is while in District 9, poor Sharlto Copley is terrified by the process and, even though it does lead to him understanding the prawns (and ironically, learning how to show a little humanity), the movie never pretends that Copley isn’t losing his own individuality in the process of transforming.

6) The lead character is named Jake Sully.  Did James Cameron get frustrated and just use a Random Generic Movie Hero Name Generator to come up with that?  I wonder if Nick Sully was Cameron’s 2nd choice.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with either name.  It’s just that it feels so generic.  Of course, the leader character is going to be named Jake and, of course, he’s not going to be an intellectual and, of course, Sigourney Weaver’s going to spend the whole movie making sarcastic comments about how stupid he is.  Speaking of which…

7) Sigourney plays Dr. Grace Augustine.  Her character and her performance are typical of a rather annoying Hollywood tradition, that of portraying any “strong” female as a total and complete bitch.  If you want the audience to know they’re supposed to take a woman seriously, have that woman spend the entire movie pissed off about something, as if the only way a woman can be strong is by sacrificing anything that might make her unique.  Now, there’s a lot I could say about why, from a cultural perspective, American movies often seem to be so conflicted about how to portray any woman who is neither an Eve nor a Lillith.  But in the case of Avatar, its hard not to feel that it comes down to screenwriter Cameron’s inability to make any of his characters interesting unless something nearby is exploding.

8 ) And while we’re on the subject of misunderstood women…okay, let’s say you discover a planet and this planet is a lush, beautiful paradise.  Why the Hell would you then call it Pandora?  Yes, I understand that newly discovered planets are usually named after mythological figures.  But there’s still usually some sort of vague logic behind the names.  For instance, Mars was named after the God of War because of its red hue.  Venus was often considered to be the most beautiful star in the sky.  Mercury has the fastest orbit.  Jupiter’s the biggest planet.  Pluto (before it got downgraded) was considered the darkest and coldest of the planets.  Pandora, however, was the woman who opened up the jar that released everything terrible, evil, and destructive into the world.  Why would anyone name a planet after her?  It’s possible, of course, that all the good names were taken.  Of course, it’s also possible that this is just another example of how thuddingly obvious Avatar is in its symbolism and subtext.

9) Speaking of obvious, what about the villain played by Stephen Lang?  More specifically, what about that accent?  It’s true that Cameron doesn’t exactly encourage his villains to be subtle.  Just check out Billy Zane in Titanic.  Zane, however, at least appeared to be having a little fun at his director’s expense.  He, alone among the cast, seemed to realize that Titanic was a silly melodrama and so he gave something of a silly performance.  It’s no great secret that it’s often more important to have a good villain than to have a good hero.  A good villain usually has some sort of motivation beyond just being the villain.  This is something that Cameron has never seemed to be able to grasp.  Whenever I see a military figure show up in a James Cameron movie, I get the same feeling that I get whenever a preacher shows up in a Stephen King novel.  Automatically I know that they’re going to turn out to be evil and I find myself dreading having to even waste the time with the “shocking” discovery of that evil. 

10) Perhaps most importantly, this is a movie that wants to preach peace but celebrate war.  Avatar contains all the trendy environmental messages that you’d expect from a Hollywood film but — even though director Cameron seems to be in a state of denial about it — the film’s heart is with its villanous soldiers.  Much as how Titanic, for all the rhetoric about the passengers in third class, was really only interested in portraying the lives (and deaths) of those in first class, Avatar spends a lot of time talking about trees but is much more interested in blowing them up with the destruction of the Home Tree serving as the money shot.

To be honest, I don’t mind a little hypocrisy when it comes to movies.  Most exploitation films celebrate hypocrisy.  The filmmakers knew it and, for the most part, the audiences knew it.  The fact that a movie like Child Bride could be advertised as “an important movie every parent must see!” became something of a shared joke between the filmmaker and his audience.  Rather than being hypocritical, the exploitation filmmaker is simply inviting his audience to join in a conspiracy against the forces of dullness.

Unfortunately, Avatar is not an exploitation film.  If Avatar was simply a B-movie, none of the my previous complaints would matter.  They would add to the film’s rogue charm.  Avatar, however, is too expensive to be considered an exploitation film.  And James Cameron, as he proved when he went ballistic over Kenneth Turan’s negative review of Titanic and as he has continued to prove with his recent comments regarding global warming, does not have the sensibility of a B-movie maker.  Arguably, he once did.  This is a man who, after all, did the special effects for Galaxy of Terror and made his directorial debut with Piranha IIThe Terminator was a great B-movie, right down to the accusations of plagiarism from Harlan Ellison.  However, as he’s become the most financially succesful director in history, Cameron has lost that B-movie sensibility. 

In other words, James Cameron takes himself seriously now and that, ultimately, is the main reason I hated Avatar.  It just takes itself too damn seriously.

Yes, I’ve read quite a few favorable reviews that have argued that Avatar‘s sole purpose is to entertain and that people like me who occasionally expect unique characters and an interesting story should just lie back and enjoy it.  I’ve seen the term “popcorn epic” used in quite a few reviews. 

I’m sorry but I’m not buying it.  If Avatar was truly setting out to be a “popcorn epic,” than I’d be a lot more willing to cut it some slack.  However, when the script contains lines about how on Earth, humans have “destroyed all the green,” and when the villains are accused of launching a “shock and awe” campaign, it’s ludicrous to then argue that Avatar isn’t setting itself up to be judged by a higher standard. 

It becomes hard to escape the fact that Cameron, regardless of how well he handles the special effects, has essentially made a stupid movie about deep issues.

As I said before, the majority of the people I know love Avatar.  I don’t hold it against them or think any less of them because, ultimately, movies are a subjective experience.  Whether or not a movie is good has less to do with the actual movie and more to do with the person watching it.

It would be nice to have the same courtesy extended to me .  Since I first revealed my opinion of Avatar on a non-Avatar related message board, I have found myself frequently attacked by little fanboys who apparently cannot handle the fact that one human being didn’t enjoy Avatar.  I’ve been told that, as a female, I can’t be expected to understand Avatar.  I’ve been accused of being “unimaginative,” “a snob,” “a bitch,” and my personal favorite “the type of cunt who cried at the end of the Blind Side.” 

I realize the risk I’m taking by openly admitting my dislike of Avatar but then again, movies are supposed to inspire conversation and not just pavlovian agreement.  So, in conclusion, I’ll just admit that yes, I am female and yes, I did cry at the end of The Blind Side, and yes, I hated Avatar.