Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just saw two great movies over the weekend--that's always nice. The first was Avatar, which I saw at my local IMAX theater, so the 3-D was about as good as it gets. Even though I had heard some negative things, I still had high hopes for this movie, simply because it's James Cameron and because from the early previews it looked to me like the kind of movie I've been wanting to see since I used to read Heavy Metal magazine in the '80s: a Frazetta painting brought to life. And it is totally that. Not a whole lot more, but absolutely the apotheosis of Heavy Metal-style sci-fi/fantasy mythmaking. The whole planet looks like a Yes album cover. So while it didn't exceed my expectations, it definitely met them. Folks are saying this is Dances With Wolves in space, and I would add Pocahontas and FernGully, but just because a movie wears its influences on its sleeve doesn't mean it's bad. Like the recent 3-D remake of A Christmas Carol, the point of this movie is not originality of story, but originality of experience--it's a full immersion into worlds we've only seen in our imaginations.

The other great movie was Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Wonderful, insane cop film that's loosely based on an earlier film starring Harvey Keitel. I love anything Herzog does, but this movie is strange even for him, and it's a fantastic showcase for Nicolas Cage to get into his weirdest (and best) performance since Vampire's Kiss. There was one particular moment in this movie when I entered cinematic nirvana: Nicolas Cage is at the scene of a deadly car accident, in which a car has hit an alligator and flipped over. The alligator is still twitching, and the folks in the car are presumably dead. There's a confrontation between corrupt homicide detective Cage and one of the state troopers--fairly standard cop-movie stuff. But then Herzog cuts away to the edge of the swamp, where a second gator is watching the twitching body of what must be its dying mate, and you suddenly have a realization of this whole other dimension to the tragedy. It's hilarious, sad, and brilliant.


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