May 2010

 

Avatar  •  Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road
Crazy Heart  •  Mine

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


Avatar

avatarItís hard to imagine anyone waiting to see James Cameronís sci-fi epic on DVD. No matter how nice your television is, it canít possibly compare to the full 3D theatrical experience, especially on the IMAX screen. Is it even worth watching now?

Sort of. Avatar is visually spectacular in any format, and Cameron is a master at making long movies fly by. Thatís the case even when heís stretching a plot as thin as this one. Itís basically a ďwhite guy goes nativeĒ tale, but instead of a cowboy joining the Indians, we get a futuristic soldier (Sam Worthington) hooking up with the natives of an alien moon being exploited by an Earth-based corporation. He falls in love with a princess (Zoe Saldana) and helps a team of human scientists (led by Sigourney Weaver) save the aliens from The Manís violent greed.

Thereís an environmental message to go along with the anti-imperialist one, and they both have the sophistication of a 10th-grade term paper. Yes, itís bad to destroy nature for monetary gain and murdering anyone who stands in your way. Thereís nothing wrong with pointing this out, as itís so often ignored in the real world, but a little more complexity would be nice. The characters are so cartoonish, they may as well have GOOD and BAD written across their foreheads.

Of course, screenwriting has never been Cameronís strength. He tells vivid, exciting stories, using the best technology he can find (or invent). It would be nice if better dialogue and characterizations came along for the ride, too, but those things donít seem so important when youíre watching giant blue people ride space dragons.

Extras: None. Expect a special edition sometime down the line, which will send thousands of these barebones discs into our nationís landfills. So much for the environment being more important than corporate greed. (PG-13) Rating: 3.5


Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs on the Road

If you grew up in Kansas during the 1980s or Ď90s, chances are you knew that William S. Burroughs, the infamous author of The Naked Lunch, lived in Lawrence. Several of my friends boasted of how they were going to meet the man whose drug-inspired, anti-authoritarian writings required a great deal of effort to soak in.

I never got my chance before he died in 1997 (and I donít think my friends did either), but watching Words of Advice: William S. Burroughs (available at Micromedia.com) gives viewers a chance to see what the writer and multimedia innovator was like in his final years.

It must have been entertaining and occasionally enlightening. The centerpiece of the documentary is a previously unseen 1983 reading he gave in Copenhagen during a tour of Scandinavia . With his flat, nasal voice and sleepy demeanor, Burroughs hardly seems charismatic. Nonetheless, heís a polished performer with an astonishing sense of timing and an acidic humor. The film also includes a fascinating appearance he made on Saturday Night Live.

Hearing talking heads rave about his work gets a little old. His better stuff speaks quite well for itself. Some of his lesser-known novels anticipated the rise of AIDS and other social ills before they entered the public consciousness.

There are dozens of treats for local fans. His longtime companion James Gauerholz leads viewers on a tour of the authorís comfortable but not audacious home. The only sign of some of the dark themes that Burroughs explored is the frightening number of firearms he kept in his place. Even scarier, Burroughs took up driving late in life and unintentionally terrorized the streets of Lawrence. While he had overcome his heroin addiction, the writer still enjoyed booze, tobacco and marijuana up until the end of his life. Perhaps we can all sleep at night, knowing that he gave up driving himself, and the car is still on the front lawn of the house. (N/R) Rating: 4.

Extras: The unedited 1983 reading, some short tribute films, a statement by Columbia University professor Ann Douglas and a collectable booklet.


Crazy Heart

Crazy HeartWhen a veteran actor wins an Oscar after being ignored for years, itís often viewed as a de facto Life Achievement award, rather than a deserved accolade for a particular role. On the surface, this may seem to be the case with Jeff Bridges, who finally picked up a Best Actor statue for his performance in this low-key, low-budget drama. One viewing of Crazy Heart will prove that assumption very, very wrong.

Set in the rundown bars and bowling alleys of the Southwest, writer-director Scott Cooperís ambling story is like a musical version of The Wrestler. Bad Blake (Bridges) is a formerly rising country artist whose alcoholism has left him stumbling on the sidelines while his former protťgť (Colin Farrell) enjoys the life of a Nashville star. When he falls in love with a very patient reporter (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Blake starts to re-evaluate his life despite his extremely self-destructive tendencies.

Heís brilliant, too, which is the only possible explanation for Gyllenhaalís attraction to him. Slurring, vomiting drunks arenít great catches as a rule, but give one a guitar and the ladies flock to him. The seriousness of this relationship never makes sense, but it helps add layers to Badís character, which is the only reason anything in Crazy Heart exists.

Cooper immerses the audience in the seedy honky-tonk world Bad inhabits, and fills the soundtrack with great tunes by T-Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham. Although the supporting characters are just there to prop up Badís story, Bridges is so good ó alternately charming and irritating, admirable and pathetic ó it doesnít matter who else is on the screen.

Extras: Deleted scenes and brief interviews with the actors. (R) Rating: 3.5


Mine

MineYouíd have to have a heart as hard as Iron Manís armor not to be moved by this thoughtful documentary by Geralyn Pezanoski. (Available through FilmMovement.com.) Mine examines a crucial issue that got missed during the wall-to-wall coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005: what happened to all the animals that were left behind when their owners were told to evacuate New Orleans.

Hundreds of thousands of animals died during the aftermath, but dozens of activists converged on the city to save the pets that were stuck in the abandoned buildings. The rescuers actually ended up creating problems because many loving owners had no choice but to leave their dogs or cats behind because the evacuation facilities made no provisions for pets.

For shelters, this led to massive confusion because many had no idea if the animals had good homes or, in far too many cases, had been rescued from people who had abused them.

For the people depicted in the film, most were conscientious owners who lost their homes and possessions in the storm. Their tragedy was compounded because their pets provided emotional support that could have helped them recover from their losses.

Pezanoski avoids voiceover or obvious manipulation when she depicts the struggles between the animalsí original owners and their adoptive families. Both have clear rights to be with their furry loved ones, so the film raises some crucial issues that should be considered in planning for disasters to come.

Nonetheless, itís impossible to keep a dry eye when some of the owners eventually get to bond with their animals again. Keep in mind, this review comes from a meat eater who keeps no pets of his own. Malvin Cavalier, an 87-year-old retiree, is so charming you canít wait for him to be reunited with his beloved Bandit. No wonder this film won the Audience Award at last yearís South by Southwest Film Festival. (N/R). Rating: 4.5

Extras: A coda with a very happy ending and some shorts that explain how to prepare for a disaster like Katrina and about other issues animal lovers should know about. Thereís also a really funny shot film called La vie díun chien, which is a spot-on parody of Chris Markerís La Jetee. Like the original, it consists of almost nothing but a voiceover describing a series of still pictures. Still, I donít think Marker would make a movie about a scientist who can turn himself into a dog. Despite the French setting and the subtitles, the movie was shot here in the USA.


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.