Avatar (2009)

Avatar
Directed and written by James Cameron
(number 145)

I remember when I first saw this movie… there was so much hype around it, so much talk. I managed to avoid spoilers, went to see it at the Reading Courtenay Central 3D cinema and I was blown away by how beautiful it was and how well the 3D is used. I remember being quite disconcerted coming out of it that I could walk on the ground and it didn’t light up in beautiful colours. I also remember a few of the people I saw it with were complaining about headaches and eyestrain. It was a divisive movie, mostly I think of it as Fern Gully in space. The Pocahontas parallels are very clear as well, with the ‘native girl’ showing the ‘white saviour’ what nature is about and how it’s all interconnected, etc.

Unsure why this is so high up on the list… I mean, it is beautiful and groundbreaking in terms of visuals, effects and integration of 3D but there is so much missing in the film. Like… heart. It’s pretending to have heart, but I don’t feel it when I watch it. I see the beauty no problem at all.

One thing that really stood out as something that bugged me on this watch through was that the Na’vi are a patriarchal society. There’s really no supportable reason to have them organised that way. The feminine Na’vi are clearly as strong and vicious as the masculine ones, so you can’t argue like with humans that the men are the better hunters therefore the protectors. (Which isn’t even a particularly true or good reason but still.)

They don’t have a reason to be patriarchal, except for lazy writing so that we as viewers can go ‘oh they’re just like primitive us’ and feel sympathy. Show me a truly alien society, like the ones which morph from mammal-ish to trees in Speaker of the Dead*, or just… have a society where gender isn’t an issue at all, or where there is no gender to the aliens or… just freaking anything aside from another patriarchal society where the man gets to choose the woman once he’s proved himself worthy. (Vomit)

In fact with the importance of the Gaia substitute/ World tree /Earth mother goddess you’d think it’d make logical sense for it to be a matriarchal society.

I find the first half of the movie fine, a bit stupid but watchable, interesting enough. The world building makes engaging watching and getting to know the characters. Once the movie becomes one big war of guns vs alien creatures I find it harder to pay attention or to care particularly. I’m well aware of how little patience I have for action sequences now, and it makes me leery of a lot of the movies still to go on the list…

I’m also getting pretty weary of man- centric movies, where all the characters who matter are men – where the story is about his experiences with the world and women are an afterthought. I think it’s a real flaw with this top 500 list actually, that it’s so heavily weighted towards men’s stories – it’s a predictable flaw, given the magazine I got the list from and let’s face it, movie making in general.

Does it make me love the people? Eh. I guess yeah, I care about the scientists – Grace and Norm, and Trudy’s cool even though I’m generally pretty afraid of Michelle Rodriguez. Sam Worthington does a pretty okay job as Jake, he’s likeable enough… but I get so bugged by the ‘white saviour’ storyline, it’s so been done before and is no longer interesting to me.

Bechdel test: We have Ney’tiri, Grace and the excellent Trudy but they only talk to Jake or to other men, never to each other.

Best line:

Neytiri: Don’t thank. You don’t thank for this! This is sad. Very sad only.
Jake Sully: Okay, okay. I’m sorry. Whatever I did, I’m sorry.
Neytiri: All this is your fault. They did not need to die.
Jake Sully: My fault? They attacked me! How am I the bad guy?
Neytiri: Your fault! Your fault.
Jake Sully: Easy. Easy…
Neytiri: You are like a baby. Making noise, don’t know what to do.

State of Mind: Thank goodness that’s over.

Watched movie count

*Excellent book by Orson Scott Card, sequel to Ender’s Game

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The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator
Directed by James Cameron
Written by Gale Anne Hurd, James Cameron and additional dialogue by William Wisher Jr.
(number 319)

Now, this is one of those movies which I know I must have seen, and I know most of the story from the later movies, but… I don’t know if I’ve ever just sat down and watched it start to finish. This list has been good for getting me to watch that kind of film.

It’s a bit of a pity I watched Robocop before I watched this, because it seems like it owes a lot to this film. I kept watching it and thinking ‘this is like Robocop’ but of course it’s the other way around. I found this a tighter movie all round though. Maybe it’s because the premise is a bit harder, a bit tougher but also because it involves time travel it seems like… easier to buy into. Maybe it’s just that the special effects are better.

I really enjoyed this actually, and I kept on thinking that this is structured exactly like a standard horror film. I found I liked it more once I made that connection, like I knew the expected story beats so I could relax some. It’s a brilliantly realised film, very well written with natural dialogue and I always felt like Sarah’s actions, decisions and reactions made sense.

We did get some laughs out of the incredibly intrusive 80s music and the awesomely on point eighties hair and fashions. Just.. such giant hair.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely it does. I love Sarah most of all, and I did start to feel things for Kyle Reese as well. I was pretty upset when Ginger died and although he was a bit of an asshole, Matt too. I also appreciated the ‘seen it all before’ cop dude as well.

Bechdel test: I believe so. Sarah talks to a woman at her work, although I had to check the cast list to see if that woman was named. She’s possibly Nancy, in which case the film passes very early by having them talk about ice cream and the murders on the news report. It also passes later when Sarah talks to Ginger about where her lizard is and if she’s checked the phone messages, also what should Sarah do when her date stands her up. Nice work Terminator! Having a main woman character certainly helps.

Best line:

Ginger Ventura: That bum. So what if he has a Porsche? He can’t treat you like this. It’s Friday night, for Christ’s sake.
Sarah Connor: [slumping] I’ll live.
Ginger Ventura: I’ll break his kneecaps.

Terminator: I’ll be back

Reese: Come with me if you want to live.

State of Mind: I enjoyed this way more than I expected to. Bring on T2!

Watched movie count

Titanic (1997)

Titanic
Written and directed by James Cameron
(number 343)

I saw Titanic at the movies four times, once with my sister on Valentines Day because neither of us had dates. I remember my dad refusing to go and see it because he knew what happened in the end – the ship went down – but of course the movie is so much more than that. At the time it was cutting edge CGI, an amazing love story featuring everyone’s favourite floppy haired dreamboat Leo and let’s not forget, a massive movie event.

It’s cool to hate Titanic now, but at the time I’m pretty sure everyone had a bit of a love affair with it.

Watching it again I had somehow forgotten the framing device with Bill Paxton investigating the sunken Titanic and finding the charcoal drawing of Rose. It’s quite sweet really but not entirely sure why it’s necessary in an ordinarily long movie… maybe so that Cameron could show off his sea exploration footage or maybe so they can have the old woman voice over. Hard to say.

Kate Winslet is stunning in this movie, the dresses she wears are all stunning and she has all this gorgeous red curly hair and gah. And how awesome is the name Rose Dewitt-Bukater? I adore her. Jack of course is the devil may care lower class kid with a spark. In fact he’s pretty much a manic pixie dream boy when you look at it, her life is improved and her soul is sparked by her relationship with him and comes away with a greater understanding of herself and a greater appreciation of life. Interesting.

Billy Zane is a wonderfully smarmy and horrible in this, a true gentleman of his time who regards his fiance as his property and behaves as a total master of the universe. Then of course he does the worst possible thing which is to take an abandoned child to get onto a lifeboat.

The movie is pretty blatant about the class differences and how silly it is to judge someone because they’re not as rich as you are. It starts with the dinner stuff and escalates through to the lower class not being allowed to the decks where the life boats on and then to the lower class children crying and dying. It’s a harsh hammer of a message.

Does it make me love the people? Absolutely. I love older!Rose straight off, she’s adorable and cheeky and so very sure of herself. Young!Rose is interesting and capable and do you notice that she spends most of the movie making the decisions and saving Jack? It’s pretty great actually.

Kathy Bates plays an amazing Molly Brown, she’s the crass rich woman who says what she’s thinking and it’s awesome. I adore her.

One of the most heartbreaking moments is when a man is saying ‘it’s just goodbye for now, there’ll be another boat for the daddies’ as his children cry on the lifeboat. To me that’s more affecting than Rose and Jack trying to stay together.

Then of course you have the noble deaths, the man who put the boat together (pre-Downton Hugh Bonneville) staying to ensure the clock shows the correct time in the great hall, the Captain going down with the ship, the string quartet who play until they’re swamped. *tears up* what? I’m fine… just fine.

There’s just one thing that legit pisses me off about this film and that’s that Rose is shown to be in possession of some very famous works of art by Picasso, Monet and Degas and they go down with the ship. For a movie which is so careful to be historically accurate in a lot of other ways this seems like a weird inclusion.

Bechdel test: Yes, very early on with Elderly Rose and her granddaughter Lizzy, then again a few more times with Rose and her mother Ruth. Molly Brown speaks to Ruth and Rose as well.

Best line: wooooooooooooooooooooooo hoooooooooooooooo yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa I’m king of the woooooooooooooooooooooooooooorllllllllllllllllllld!!!

Jack: Well, yes, ma’am, I do… I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.

State of Mind: Goodness that was a long movie. I love it though, I had forgotten how much of it I really enjoy. Plus me and Blair both laughed at a number of the jokes, despite having watched it before.

Watched movie count