Wednesday, December 23, 2009


I know exactly the last time I went to the movies besides last Saturday. It was on the 5th of July, my late friend Jose Montoya's 42nd birthday. Now Jose was a Jehovah Witness, or trying to be, and apparently they don't celebrate most holidays, including their own birthdays, but by an amazing coincidence that was the one day that we happened to go to the one movie that we ever went to.
We went to breakfast first at a little Mexican restaurant that I frequent right near the corner of Fifth and Broadway in downtown, Los Angeles. I think we both had huevos rancheros, light on the salsa for Jose, as that substance bothered his ponderous stomach.
It has taken me a while to remember what picture we saw that day, and now that I have remembered I know why, "Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen." Here is one of the more kind reviews supplied by the lovely Tricia Olszewski, of the Washington City Paper, "Will insult your intelligence, hurt your eyes, and offend your sense of decency until you worry that your skull might explode while your brain trickles right out of your ears." Oh my!
Jose had already seen the film but didn't mind seeing it again. The only reason I agreed to see it was because we would have had to wait an hour or more to see any other decent film. However, I'm glad we went and I was able to share that experience with him.
I received 25 Fandango Bucks as a birthday present last October from a case manager who will remain nameless due to the fact that she might get into trouble if her employers ever found out that she did that. And as an interesting aside, when I presented this same case manager with some DVDs for a Christmas present last Thursday, she said this to me: "Oh Rick, you can't do that! You're not allowed." When I reminded her that I do lots of things I'm not supposed to, she greedily opened up the package and went through what I had given her, and I got a nice hug for my efforts.
I'm a hug monster. I got a Christmas hug from my esteemed yoga teacher, Beth, yesterday. Don't tell her husband, Seth!
Anyway, I finally decided to use some of my Fandango bucks to go to the movies once again to see the new CGI epic by James Cameron, Avatar (by the way future gift card givers, I wouldn't recommend giving away cards, or certificates like these, although I appreciate my present very, very much. You see, the problem is this, movie tickets these days are around $10 apiece. $12 for IMAX theaters. Fandango also will charge $1 to $2 respectively as a "Convenience Charge." Convenience Charge? CONVENIENCE CHARGE?! Might as well call it "Blatant Rip Off Charge." Okay, so Fandango reaps $1 to $2 right off the top. Lets say you buy 2 tickets for $11 apiece, which leaves $3 on the certificate. How do you recoup, or utilize those $3? The answer is you can't. So Fandango gets back a cool $5, plus whatever it cost to buy the certificate to begin with. What a racket! A Visa Gift Card solves these kinds of problems, and there is no freaking "Convenience Charge" associated with them).
Now the term Avatar originated within the Hindu religion and refers to a deliberate descent of a deity from heaven to earth, and is mostly translated into English as "incarnation," and is mostly used to refer to the God Vishnu. To us in the west the term most often is used as a computing reference as a graphical representation of a user, or player. I believe James Cameron can make a good case for claiming that the title of his film can incorporate both references.
I choose a noon screening at the CityWalk AMC theater at Universal Studios in North Hollywood, as it is easy for me to get to utilizing the Metro Red Line from downtown. And I know the area well, my father having owned a small liquor store just down the street on Lankershim Blvd, and we lived in a two bedroom apartment nearby which no longer exists, where he sadly passed away when I was eleven years old.
I secured my ticket, was directed to theater #1, and took a central seat, ready to be amazed.
But first I had to sit through a long, and in my opinion, insulting recruiting commercial for the National Guard. These people are shameless, making it look like if you're a young person who doesn't sign your life over to them you're automatically some kind of traitorous bastard. The screen fills with images of stoic, seemingly proud young men and women, stern in face, who would rather be doing nothing else than running around sparce desert landscapes and shooting at the enemies of our nation, or those in support of those running around sparce desert landscapes and shooting at the enemies of our nation. They are promised educational benefits, experiences that they will receive that they'll not find anywhere else (that's for sure), and the pride associated by serving one's country. They forget to mention the very real possibility that you can get killed relatively easily by serving in a time of war, that we shouldn't be at war or occupying these countries to begin with, that the current economic situation within the United States is a big factor involved with the successful recruitment of young men and women from medium to low income families, that our daughters face a significant chance of being raped or sexually abused by their fellow troops (ABC News reported that there are about 60,000 female military personnel who have been sexually abused while serving for the United States military. Also please investigate the tragic case of Pfc. LeVena Johnson: These ads don't mention these inconvenient truths, and they are an affront to anyone with half a brain.
If the military needs more troops so badly, as seems to be the case considering all of this advertising, and the nefarious tactics used currently by recruiters to make their quotas, I suggest we begin the draft, and bring this debate out into the open where it belongs. If I had a son or daughter who was seriously contemplating joining the service at this time, for these unnecessary conflicts, I'd rather chain them up in the basement rather than they take the chance to lose their lives for nothing. As I say to myself every time I see the ad that claims, "You make them strong, we'll make them army strong," "You make them strong, we'll make them army dead."
Please excuse my rant.
Okay, the film Avatar is a technological masterpiece simply put. Cameron held off making the movie for many years (it's been 12 years since Titanic was released) stating that he needed the technology to catch up with his vision, and it appears the wait was worth it.
The plot, a lot of people believe, and I agree, is almost exactly the same as that of "Dances with Wolves" (a man from one culture becomes indoctrinated into that of another, foreign or alien culture, and soon learns that cultures virtues, and begins to prefer them rather than his own, is woven into the alien society, abandoning his own to the point that he defends his new heritage violently against his former colleagues), with a bit of "Pocahontas," "At Play in the Fields of the Lord," and "The Emerald Forest," thrown in for good measure. The main plot point, why humans are on this planet which orbits Alpha Centauri A, our closest stellar neighbor, just 4.37 light years from Earth, is mostly ridiculous. 200 years from now they are there to mine a substance called, appropriately enough, "unobtainium," worth "20 million a kilo." Accordingly some evil corporation ships a bunch of mercenaries and miners to said planet over interstellar distances to secure this substance against the wishes, or welfare of the indigenous, sapient population. Well interstellar travel will be extremely expensive at anytime in the future, many more times expensive than what could be expected to be returned by mining some exotic substance that could be much more economically obtained by nuclear transmutation processes right here on Earth.
Be that as it may, the film is breathtaking. The producers estimate that 60% of the movie is completely digital, and 40% live action. The thing is that 60% digital doesn't look digital. It looks like a real, new, phantasmagorical world, with strikingly strange and unusual plants and creatures to explore. It's so real that when there are scenes where the camera appears to edge over a high precipice, or when the characters are flying about, my vertigo kicked in and I felt a twidge queasy. And the technology is getting so good that the facial characteristics of the alien, Na'vi, look exceptionally real and genuine. Pretty soon they'll be able to do the same with human characters and the Screen Actors Guild will have a hell of a fight on it's hands.
Of course it being a James Cameron film it's action packed, revolves around a wonderful and engaging love story, with a villain worthy of the fate he finally receives.
Yes I recommend this movie. Now all I have to figure out is where to use my remaining Fandango bucks.

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