Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra

Reviewed by Mister Critic

Who hasn’t dreamed of being the last of their kind? Just me? Okay, fine. I guess I’m the weirdo.

Alas, poor Yorick Brown (the guy was named by his dad who was a Shakespeare professor). Yorick finds himself one of the last men on earth just as he proposing to his girlfriend, who is studying abroad in Australia. Talk about an akward phone call, right? Out of the blue, the entire population of the world carrying a Y chromosome drops dead at the same time. Everyone except for Yorick and his pet monkey, Ampersand. But Y? I mean, why? Was it a virus, or was it sign from God. It is believed the answer lies in Yorick’s genes, so he is sent out by the new female president of the USA (who only moments ago was the Secretary of the Agriculture). His journey spans the globe, as he travels with several female companions to discover the answer to why he is the chosen one, as well as to find out if his girlfriend is still alive. Along the way though, he has to stay hidden and remain watchful because there are some who have plans of their own for the last man on Earth, and some of those women don’t take kindly to menfolk.

Besides the fact I love apocalypse survival stories, I also really enjoyed how this graphic novel explored many different topics making an awesome book club discussion. It is an interesting look at sex, gender, power and love. And what I found most intriguing was seeing what a post-male society would look like. Would it be the utopia that some claim, less violent, more in touch with emotions and better communication. Or would it really look that much different from the world we know? Does the world really need the male species to survive? A question becoming more real everyday as cloning evolves into science fact rather than science fiction.

The characters were complex and the author did a great job developing their very different backgrounds. I don’t want to tell you much because I would hate to spoil all then surprises that await you. The artwork was excellent and the story is a very fun ride.  I loved the references to Shakespeare scattered throughout. In fact, there was even a side story with a play within the play.

My only disappointment was that it had to end, but I enjoyed the journey all the way to the conclusion. I would love to see a follow up on some of the time periods that were skipped over.  I have heard that the graphic novel will be adapted into a movie and I am hopeful, yet skeptical, that it will be just as good. If you loved Watchmen, you should check out Y: The Last Man.

The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

Reviewed by Mister Critic

Is love a finite commodity?

This was a question raised in Brady Udall’s latest book, The Lonely Polygamist. The question struck me as I was reading the novel, and I wrote it down to discuss it here. Then my wife found the note, and I think I freaked her out. See, honey? It really is for my blog.

Anyway, the question reminded me of one of the more interesting classes I took in law school, The History of Law and Sexuality. In that class, I remember the professor drawing a parallel between the marriage and business law. Traditional marriage is akin to a partnership, the joining of two individuals committed to working toward a common goal. All gains and losses are 50/50, with equal liability and equal reward. If a partnership goes south, it will dissolve, and assets obtained during the partnership are divided amongst the partners. And so on.

The professor went on to extend the business law/marriage analogy to the corporation model, or in other words, polygamy. In business, the corporation is touted as an important entity used to rake in the dough, which is the ultimate goal of capitalism. Depending on what we as a society deem is the ultimate goal of a marriage, whether it is having lots of kids or financial stability or both, wouldn’t the application of the corporation concept to marriage be the most effective at achieving those goals? Haven’t we all wished we had more help around the house or more disposable income? No problem, just incorporate! Imagine standing around the boardroom, watching the major merger of two powerful family corporations. Sniff. I always cry at weddings.

Anyway, the idea of love as a commodity seemed to fit pretty well into the business/marriage model discussed above. Is it possible to expend enough love to make a plural marriage work? Marriage runs on love, but is love finite? Can the love well go dry? We love all of our children equally, right? At least that’s what we tell them. No matter how many we have. We love our relatives no matter how extended the family gets.  Is it possible that a person could love more than one spouse at a time? Are we capable of handling such a complex emotions? Maybe, although I’ve seen guys who aren’t capable of loving even one spouse, let alone multiple ones.

We have seen that in the real world polygamy has not worked.  We see neglected children, the subjugation of women, and greedy, lecherous, old men. So is it possible to have a plural marriage among consenting, loving adults, without bad things happening?  I was interested to see what Mr. Udall had to add to the discussion with his new book.

The main character, Golden Richards, has four wives, three houses, 28 children and one dog, and is unhappy.  As his household descends into chaos and his business fails, Golden pursues yet another relationship, an affair.  As my seven year old sums it up, it is about a guy that has too many “womans.” The author, who himself grew up in a Mormon family, takes us inside the wild ride that is the modern American Polygamist family.

I thought the book was very well written and I would recommend it as an interesting read. I have seen this author compared to John Irving and although the story telling was good, I would not say it was like Irving, an author I have put in my top tier of great writers. I have also heard this book being compared to Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, and I would say that is a fair comparison. If you enjoyed Franzen’s examination of the modern American family, then I would say you will enjoy Udall’s take. In fact, given the number of families, you’ll like it four times as much, right?

I liked that Mr. Udall did not just write about polygamy, but instead touched on issues found in every family. The main character could be any family man. He is a man that just so happens to have a lot of family. My favorite storyline involved Rusty, the 11 year old, outcast of the family. His wild imagination and attention-seeking hyjinks always kept the story interesting. The author did a great job of getting into the mind of a young boy, and his story felt very real.

Ultimately, with regards to the examination of polygamy, I was disappointed that Mr. Udall didn’t take the discussion in a new direction. The author shows us that polygamy can result in too many people missing out on the attention and love that is needed in a relationship. People feel lonely, excluded and unloved. It appeared to me that the answer to his question presented above is that love is finite, and polygamy is not the best form of marriage. I felt that take tread on familiar ground covered in the HBO series Big Love, another story about a modern polygamist family. Obviously the book goes much deeper than the television show, as books tend to do, and as I mentioned touches on some different themes. So I enjoyed it more than Big Love, but I was hoping for a new perspective and in that sense it did not deliver .  Overall, though, the book was an enjoyable read and rates a 4 out of 5.

Baghead (2008)

Reviewed by Mister Critic

I really did not know what to expect with this movie. So I went in not expecting too much, and I was pleasantly surprised.

Baghead is an independent film of the comedy/horror genre, and I would say it leans more to the comedy side than horror.  I found out after watching the movie, that the directors of this movie, Jay and Mark Duplass, made quite a stir at film festivals a few years back with The Puffy Chair, and that movie has since been added to my must see list.  The basic premise of Baghead is four friends, two guys and two girls, head up to a cabin for a weekend to write a script for a movie that they hope will jump start their careers. There is a lot of drinking and messing around that ensues, but finally they are inspired to write a horror movie based on one of the girl’s drunken dreams, where she sees a man with a bag on his head in the woods outside their cabin…or was it really a dream?

For awhile now, I have wanted to have a get together like this with a bunch of friends to write a script. So that part of the movie really grabbed my attention.  I figure that gathering would be about as productive as it was in this movie, but it would be a lot of fun. There are some very funny moments throughout the movie, and I was impressed at how much heart the film had. Most interestingly, I thought they were able to hit the nail square on the head regarding the awkwardness of relationships, both romantic and friendships, and what that feeling of being a third wheel.

The film plays off the new genre of horror films that have been popular lately by using the handy cam style and actors who feel like “real people” doing “real stuff.” I thought that worked very well, and I liked most of the film.  There was just one scene that felt out of place and did not work for me.  I don’t want to give away the scene (let just say there is some fear and self-loving), but I felt the intended joke fell flat because it left me thinking it was out of character and unnecessary. It didn’t destroy the film for me, but I expect a joke to at least fit with the characters or the plot. I would still recommend the movie. My advice: don’t go in expecting too much and you won’t be let down.

Papa Di Vino’s Wine Shop, Wining in Salem OR

Reviewed by Mister Hand

We’ve all heard people complain about how lame Salem can be. “There aren’t any good restaurants, bars, or quirky hang out spots.” But those are the people who aren’t looking very hard. Worry not, help is here for the lost to navigate their way to at least one of the hidden gems of the good ole “Cherry City.”

It’s not new, but most folks have probably missed or overlooked a great Salem destination – Papa Di Vino’s Wine Shop.

Located in what looks like a weird strip mall, next to a bar with smoked out windows and a coffee stand island in the middle of the parking lot, sits a quaint little store front with curtains across the windows and candles flickering inside. Once you step inside the shop however, your opinion will most undoubtedly change.

You’ll likely be greeted by the pleasant smile of Tim Wallace, tunes that are of the mix you’d find on KINK (modern and classic blended but always easy on the ears), and a perfect selection of local and international wines that wouldn’t overwhelm the most novice of wine connoisseurs. The decor is simple in design, but very effective in creating a comfortable atmosphere unexpected for its location. There a a few tables with chairs, some benches near the front, and even a couple lounger seats that create a fireplace cozy setting perfect for a date.

Tim only sells wine he himself will drink. Many are from local vineyards, while some are from around the globe, all of which Tim is more than happy to share a taste (I highly recommend trying the Chocovine) The real appeal of this shop is how friendly and welcoming Tim and his fellow “winers” are. They will answer any questions you might have for selecting the right wine in language even us less educated wine-lovers can understand. Most of their wines are less than $20, because they realize, in this economy, people aren’t looking to blow $50+ on wine.

My favorite night to go is Thursdays. Papa Di Vino’s has a special on Thursdays – $5 for 5 wine tastes. On Fridays and Saturdays the shop plays host to either a local vintner or live band, or if you’re lucky… both. As for food, there are some great appetizers for $5-8, but if you’re really hungry, I’d recommend eating ahead of time or hitting this place up on your way to dinner.

Check it out! I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

*1130 Royvonne Ave. SE #104 Salem, Oregon 97302*

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

Excerpt from “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll

When I was in about fifth or sixth grade, my teacher sent us home with the instruction to memorize a poem and the next day we were to each recite said poem to the class. For reasons unknown to me now, I picked the Jabberwocky from the book Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. My guess is I chose it because the story of Alice and her journeys through Wonderland fascinated me as a kid. I find myself drawn to things that seem to have more than meets the eye (who just heard the theme to the Transformers as they read that? Nerd), and I like to figure out the hidden meaning of things so I can be in on the secret. The Jabberwocky poem seemed like one of those secrets when I first read it. It just had to be. Look at those words, “mome raths” and “borogroves.” What the hell are those? As hard as it is to believe, kids, Dad didn’t have the Internet or Wikipedia back then, so he was on his own to figure out the mystery of the Jabberwocky.

So I struggled all night and into the next morning. I distinctly remember, standing waiting for the bus in the morning with a crinkled paper in my hands, reciting all seven stanzas. By the time I arrived at school, I more or less (more less than more) had the poem committed to short term memory, but we had to do this thing right now people! We’re burning daylight. Unfortunately, the teacher waited until the end of the day to get to the homework assignment, which meant by the time it got to me, class was over. I had driven myself as mad as a hatter for nothing, which seemed fitting for the subject matter.

Although the words have faded now from my memory, the image of the Jabberwocky still remains, and I was excited to see that he would make an appearance in the new movie Alice in Wonderland (2010).

This movie is not the story you may have known as a kid, rather it is a story inspired by Lewis Carroll’s original works. Some of the characters will seem familiar, but now thanks to the latest craze to retell every story ever told all over again in high tech glory, things are different. What does that mean? Well for starters, Alice has grown up. She is now nineteen, facing adult choices, like being forced to wear fancy clothes she does not like and being forced to marry someone she does not like. So she escapes from reality by chasing a rabbit down a hole which leads her to the dream-like world of Underland (ya that’s right, not Wonderland. According to this movie, Alice misheard it as Wonderland the first time she visited this place. But why did this movie have to change the name? It felt like there was some kind of copyright dispute mid-movie. You know what? I refuse to accept that change. It is Wonderland. Always has been, always will be. You might as well change Alice’s name too while you are at it. Shame on whoever tried to change that.)

Waiting in Wonderland are several local citizens, like Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum, the white rabbit, and the hookah smoking caterpillar, and they are looking for “the Alice” who is prophesied to slay the Jabberwocky, which restores the White Queen to her rightful place as the head of Wonderland. The evil Red Queen, a combination of the Queen of Hearts (you know, off with her head and all that jazz) and the Red Queen from Through the Looking Glass, played by Helena Bonham Carter, has overthrown her sister and has brought misery to Wonderland. Now, an uprising is being organized, led by the Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp. Alice must find the Vorpal Sword and slay the Jabberwocky. But there are doubts that she is the right “Alice” for the job.

As with his past movies, I really enjoyed Tim Burton’s visual choices in his interpretation of characters and setting. And I am sure the 3-D stuff would have been a perfect compliment to those visuals.  I appreciated that the movie takes some time at the beginning to develop Alice’s character rather than jumping right into the visual clusterfun that is awaiting us in Wonderland. However, that development of plot went of the tracks once we got to Wonderland.

Let me start by saying that I am not completely against reboots or reinterpretations. They can inspire a whole new generation to fall in love a literary character or story. And sometimes the movies of old just didn’t have the capability to fully explore all of the fine details in a certain piece of fiction.  And I’m sure everyone has their own interpretation of what Alice in Wonderland is really about. I was always told Lewis Carroll was a druggie and the book was one big drug reference. Then I read this article about how Mr. Carroll was a mathematician, and many of the characters are poking fun at the new math of the time called Algebra. What I love most is that no matter what, there is a deeper, hidden undercurrent of meaning beyond the literal story of girl going down the rabbit hole.

In an interview, Burton said he felt that original was just about a girl wondering from one character to the next and he didn’t feel connected to that emotionally, so he felt there needed to be more of a story as opposed to a series of events.  But I think that misses what is great about the way Carroll presented Wonderland.  It is about a series of random encounters. Just like in dreams, we jump from one strange thing to the next. No rhyme. No reason.  Wonderland, just like our dreams, is not rational.

So to create a rational, literal story, with no mysterious subtext, is not what Alice in Wonderland is about. Especially, when the plot is basically a rehashing of the idea that “the Chosen One will save us” as seen in the Matrix or Lord of the Rings. And worse than that, someone felt the need to turn Alice and friends into Braveheart for good measure. See, the climax is reached when the White Queen’s side meets the Red Queen’s side on the battlefield, where Alice is to fight the Jabberwocky. It is deeply disturbing seeing characters I loved from my childhood wielding swords acting like they are trained warriors. He’s a hatter not a freaking ninja. That is not what these stories are about. I mean, I don’t pretend to know exactly what Mr. Carroll was writing about or what the deeper meaning was, but I don’t think it was intended to be a Thunder Dome, Battle Royal: “two queens enter, one queen leaves.”

And when Alice is battling the demons of oncoming adulthood, we see her literally battling a demon, or a Jabberwocky in this case.  Visually, the Jabberwocky was cool, but I was hoping for more substance than it being just a dragon that needed a smack down. I appreciate this interpretation of what the Jabberwocky represents, although I don’t think the audience needs to be slapped across face with the subtext  to get the point across. To add insult to the injury inflicted by the change in the story, (spoiler alert) once said demon is defeated and Alice returns home, the story wraps up at a comical pace. The idea that our all her problems could evaporate  so quickly is more wondrous than Wonderland.

But I think the best way to illustrate the distaste I have for the changes made to the characters in this movie is with this clip from the movie. Thanks to the magic of CGI and I would guess marketing focus groups also played a crucial role, we are treated to/tortured with (depending on your perspective) the Mad Hatter’s performance of a dance called the Futterwacken.  Futter-whatten? Yes, that is right. Futterwacken. Don’t remember that from the original story? Because it wasn’t there. At least I don’t remember it. It is just one of the most wondrous changes made to make a more emotional connection for Mr. Burton (I’m being sarcastic if you can’t tell).  Do not watch this clip if you have a weak stomach, are pregnant, or will become pregnant. Tell your doctor if sudden side effects occur. And don’t Futterwacken in public, you’ll go blind.

I know the movie is rated PG so perhaps the focus was more towards children, and thus I should try to be more lenient in my criticism. However, I don’t think a movie for children has to treat us like we’re stupid, like we can’t get any deeper meaning, nor does it have to include all things the lowest common denominator in a focus group loves: violence, pretty colors, dancing and more violence. You can say I am a purist, and I just don’t like change, but I there are lot of interpretations of Wonderland I love that aren’t exactly like the original, like Tom Petty’s music video for Don’t Come Around Here No More. That scene with the cake makes me all mimsy in my borogroves.

The worst sin of all is committed if these changes ruin the story of old for those who have not read the original. My hope is that some will be inspired to seek out the novels after the movie, or memorize the Jabberwocky poem, but I will be very upset if I hear there are those who don’t like the books because there’s no battle scene or Futterwacken. It already upset me that my daughter had to ask me whether she should call it Wonderland or Underland? There should be no doubt! That is my big complaint with these reboots. Reignite the love for the material, but don’t ruin what was already a good thing.


Reviewed by Mister Hand

Weezer is back!
After 16 years of music, an album for nearly every basic color, and more songs about not getting the girl, Weezer has released yet another CD – Raditude. I was hesitant to listen to it let alone buy it since I’ve been somewhat disappointed with their barrage of albums starting with the Green Album in 2000. The review is coming I promise, but first some background for context.
I discovered Weezer in high school and fell in love with their Blue Album. Their catchy lyrics, edgy guitar, and unpolished sound, so true to most of the music I liked from the early 90’s, grabbed me from the start with “My Name is Jonas” and never let me down throughout the CD. My favorite song to date is “Undone – The Sweater Song,” and who can forget the “Buddy Holly” video? That was also when MTV showed music videos and this was and is one of my favorite and most memorable music videos. They followed up pretty well with Pinkerton (gotta love “El Scorcho”), but then disappeared on an apparent hiatus.

After more than 3 years of silence, Weezer returned with the Green Album, which I felt was a formulaic approach to creating an album of radio friendly-pop songs. It was more of a mathematical “this plus this equals a radio hit!” I’m not saying I don’t like “Island in the Sun” or “Hash Pipe,” but it didn’t seem as deep or Weezerish for me. They followed the Green Album up with what seemed like a new CD every week (3 albums) but thats probably because it was as though the flood gates had reopened and I wasn’t used to new Weezer music so frequently. One highlight to note because credit should be given where it is due, is the use of the Muppets in a music video for “Keep Fishin” off the Maladroit Album.

This all brings me to the point of the review – Raditude. At long last I feel Weezer has created an album that blends their newer radio sound with the rawness of thefir roots. I heard the first single “(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” just a few weeks ago (even though it hit the radio in August, 2009) and didn’t know what I was listening to but knew I needed to buy it. It wasn’t until that night that I found out it was my long lost friend Weezer. It still has that Weezer sound, but I’d grown accustomed to their more pop feel than the raw stuff I missed from 1993. This is not to say it is a replica of the Blue Album, but rather an musical evolution, bringing the old and the new together in a way that only Weezer could do (yes it came with blue kool-aid that brainwashed me). One song that especially caught my ear was the “Can’t Stop Partying,” which features Lil Wayne of all people.

I’d go into all the songs and why I love them, but people just need to check it out for themselves and rediscover the Raditude that is Weezer.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Reviewed by Little Man Critic (Age 4)

What happened in the movie? They fighted, and Alice killed the dragon’s head off.

What did you think about the movie? It was good

Why was it good? Because I like fighting. The heart man that has an eye thing on and horse he can ride on.

What did you not like? The rabbit. He was going into the tree.

Would tell your friends to watch it? No because it is too scary for them and there is a lot of noise and it hurts my ears.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

By Little Miss Critic (Age 7)

What is the movie about? It is about Alice trying to kill this dragon thing and if she does she will save Wonderland.

What did you think about it? It was good, but I didn’t like the fighting

What did you like? I liked the caterpillar because I am raising caterpillars.

What did you not like? I didn’t like the killing.

Would you tell your friends to watch it? Maybe not because if you have little ones they might be scared.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

You say you wanna revolution? Well the Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, is trying to give you one.

Mr. Oliver has taken the work he started in the UK and brought it to the USA. He starts his “Food Revolution” in Huntington, West Virginia, which, according to the stats, was one of the most unhealty cities in America. From that location, he attempts to bring healthy meals back into the schools, get teens excited about learning to cook, and educate the public about the crap they are eating.

There are some very moving moments on the show like the young girl whose doctor told her that her liver was failing because of her diet and she would die young if she continued down that path.  And there are moments of shock, like when a first grade class could not name one single vegetable but could identify a French Fry in seconds. There are a few moments that feel forced or set up in the name of television drama, like the rivalry created between the local DJ and Mr. Oliver. But do not let that distract you from the overall message of the show because it is very important.

The most interesting part of the show for me was seeing Mr. Oliver battle the schools.  Since my daughter has started going to public school fulltime, my wife and I have become very aware of the decline in the nutrition in our child’s meals.  Remember the days that meals were cooked right on site?  Not any more. Now it is processed food, made at a central location and shipped out to the schools. I don’t mean to sound like the guy who walked uphill both ways, but the hot lunch meals I remember from my youth were real meals. Now it is a slice of pizza and some corn for a “balanced” lunch. And the kids toss the corn in the garbage. Chocolate milk was a rare treat back then, and now it is available everyday. According to the show, that flavored milk has more sugar than pop.

So my wife has become involved in helping bring about change in our school. There is now a “farm to table” committe working to integrate locally grown, organic food into school meals, and the school is planning a community garden. The revolution has begun! But just as in the show, there are guidlines to follow, and red tape to cut, and minds resistant to change. Hopefully, this show will seep into our culture and become part of the norm. Hopefully our leaders will hear this outcry and support these changes or start to make the changes on their own.

The problem is trying to get people to change is hard. As we see on the show, Mr. Oliver tries to demonstrate to a bunch of kids what goes into the chicken nuggets they love so much, which apparently is anything and everything. I mean it…all parts of the chicken are blended together, even the bones, cartilage, insides…everything. He fries up the blended chicken goop and compares it to a nice free range, organic chicken breast. He asks the kids if they still wanted to eat the chicken nugget and every single one said, “YES!” Not the answer he expected, but that is the sad reality in America right now. Hell, I’m an adult, I’ve seen the clip, I know the facts, and I would still eat a tasty nugget if you gave it to me right now.

Deep down inside most of us, we know this stuff is bad. We shouldn’t be eating it. We need to exercise more. The weight is not good for us. But the question is, how do we turn it around? How does it become habit to munch on veggies rather than chips? How do we rewire our brains to want water rather than pop. When to do we put down the nuggets?

Jamie Oliver is doing a great job of sounding the alarm, but will we listen? I hope so. Personally, I haven’t changed yet, but I want to. There still is hope and there is still time to join the revolution.

If you missed last season, you can still see episodes on-line at ABC.com.

Avatar (2009)

Social pressure has made me ashamed to admit this, but for a long time, I was a Na’virgin. Yes, it is true. I was one of the last people in the known universe who had not yet seen that Avatar movie that is talked about so much on the Internets.

If thirty years ago, you had told me that in the not-so-distant future there was going to be this movie that breaks box office records, people love it so much they get depressed when they have to leave the theater, they call it the newStar Wars, and it is about a village of blue people, my first response would have been, “Cool, I love the Smurfs,” because at that time I would have been a little kid. But then when you told me, “No, no, it is not about the Smurfs, but about this group of big, blue people and they have this ponytail that connects into animals, and…” I would have laughed at you before you could finish the rest of that sentence.

And thirty years later, here I am, trying to keep an open mind . . . for the sake of science.

For the handful of you who have not yet seen Avatar, or like my wife, will never see this movie, I’ll give you a little background so we can all be on the same page as I do this review.  So it’s the future and humans have found this new planet called Pandora. I like to think they named it after the website. Apparently, the human race has messed up Earth. They never show us what happened, but I figure it was a Wall-E style trashing, so the humans have moved onto destroying a new world.  Pandora has an Earth-like feel, except it is low on atmosphere, the people are blue and the landscape sometimes glows like a midnight bowling alley.  The humans have set up a mining operation on the planet because they are looking for this new resource discovered only on Pandora, which has been creatively named “unobtainium.” Perhaps the name “howaboutwebemorefreakingobvious-ium” was taken. Anyway, all we know is this rock goes for a grip-load of money back home on Earth, and the humans, led by Giovanni Ribisi, want it.

In the mining camp, there is also a group of scientists trying to study the indigenous people, the Na’vi (the really big, really blue people who run around the forest, use bows and arrows, ride horse-like creatures, and are really in touch with nature. Other than the blue part, does all this sound vaguely familiar? It should.) And turns out, of course, this new resource just so happens to be right under the Na’vi, under the great big tree they live in, also very creatively called “home tree.”

The movie plays out like I’m watching someone play a great big video game with awesome graphics. We are brought up to speed mostly by the main character’s internal monologue, and then by the clunky dialogue delivered by cliché characters. The main villain is the embodiment of how cliché this movie was with regards to its characters. He is the head of security at the human’s base, an ex-marine, and of course every time we see him, he is doing something we’ve seen in every military movie ever made. I was waiting for him to say how much he loves the smell of roasted blue people in the morning.  He is introduced to us as he is giving a drill sergeant-esque speech explaining the dangers of Pandora, which if you are too lazy to listen to, is visualized for us through the scars he has received on his face from something dangerous on Pandora. He had no character development, no arc, only one purpose…to be a grade A, evil douche bag.

On the flip side of that coin is our good guy, an ex-marine, who has been paralyzed from the waist down and has been allowed to take part in the avatar program. See the humans are so advanced that they have figured out a way to clone the aliens with a mix of DNA from a human so that once these cloned creatures are full grown, the person who donated the DNA can use some sort of virtual reality machine to enter into the mind of the clone to control it. It is about the only original concept in the movie, but is never really explored or explained. How does it work? Why did they decide to use this program and not just talk with Na’vi face to face?  What are the ethical implications of the avatar program? I mean, come on, you are breeding living beings to be puppets, to dance at a whim. Don’t those creatures have rights? A soul?  Where is the public outcry? The media? PETA? Or what about when the Na’vi find out about it, why weren’t they a little more disturbed over these experiments. I thought it would have made for an interesting angle to at least explore.

Anyway, the main character controls his very own avatar and he can walk again. Long story short, he ends up being allowed to hang with the Na’vi, learning their ways, winning their trust, falling in love with a girl Na’vi and all the while is supposed to be trying to get them to move out of home tree so the humans can get at that sweet, sweet, unobtainium.

The plot is essentially a re-tread of Pocahontas, less singing, more violence. On the one hand I wouldn’t be that bothered by that since I do think that history repeats itself, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that if we do find life on other planets that will we crush it to take their resources. In fact, I would expect if that life form found us first and wanted our resources, they would do that to us. On the other hand, if you are going to retell a story, bring something new to the table. And mainly, something that is believable. I know you want ‘splosions and stuff, but I just didn’t buy that the native Na’vi, running with bows and arrows and flying creatures, could go head-to-head with tanks, helicopters, missiles, etc.. The humans have enough firepower to wipe the planet clean. In the real history version, the conflict was interesting because each side had strengths and weaknesses, not one side with sticks and the other with automatic weapons, napalm, gas or whatever.

When I first saw the trailer, for some reason I thought all of the humans were going to be in avatars because maybe there was no atmosphere or they needed to be just like the aliens in order actually be able to harm them in a fight or something. Something like that would make the fighting more interesting at least. Or maybe the aliens would have acid for blood and jump out of people’s chests. No, that would never work. Well, (spoiler alert) whatever you chose to do, filmmakers, don’t make it so the planet’s spirit/goddess has to help out the Na’vi people during the fight by sending in other animals to get the job done because the natives can’t do it themselves. This is the very definition, almost literally, of a deus ex machina (God in the machine), and in my opinion, a cop out and bad story telling.

So had JCameron focused more on the character development and less on having cool, 3-D action, Avatar would have received higher marks from me. And I know it is possible. A great example how good the rest of the movie could have been was when the female lead Na’vi character learns of the male lead’s betrayal, she has a wonderful emotional reaction scene. It has an impact because just with the little development of the relationship between the characters we saw, we care about them. Imagine what it would be like with more. I believe it is one of the first times I have actually seen a decent emotional scene come from a generated character, and it is because of a combination of the new technology, combined with great voice acting, with a dash of character development.

Did I love the visuals? Absolutely. And for that alone, because I am nerd, that is where the high marks for this movie come from. But don’t just visually take us somewhere we haven’t been. How about writing a story that explores a subject in a light we haven’t seen? Otherwise we could have just watched IMAX presents: Pandora.

Will you have fun? If you can shut off your mind and just go with it, of course you can have fun. Of course, that’s true for just about anything you do in life, and perhaps happens more often than it should. I think we can, and should, ask more from our movies because otherwise we get a bunch of neat special effects and 3-D images galore, but we lose the great art of story telling in the process.