AVATAR (A-3, PG-13): Director/writer James Cameron (Titanic)
pulls out all the stops for
this nearly three-hour 3D film feast.
At a cost of about $350 million, Avatar is the most expensive film ever made.
The year is 2154. Jake (Sam Worthington, Terminator Salvation) is a former
soldier who is now paralyzed.
When the government refuses to give
him the treatment needed to restore
his ability to walk, he volunteers for a
high-paying experiment on the habitable
moon Pandora. There, Jake
takes the place of his deceased
twin in an experiment carried out
by a corporation that seeks to
exploit the natural resources of
The reason why Jake can take
his brother's place is because they
share the same DNA. In his avatar
body, Jake's new legs work and
he has a new lease on life.
By becoming one with the people,
he and Dr. Grace Augustine
(Sigourney Weaver, Prayers for
Bobby) want to convince the Na'vi
to let the corporation have access to the
element "unobtainium" found under
their sacred tree and thus avoid genocide
if they resist. Jake, Grace and several
other characters take the side of the
Na'vi in the inevitable conflict that follows.
Avatar is an extremely beautiful film
filled with elements of myth, references
to the Bible and creation accounts from
world cultures, and so much more. The
material is almost overwhelming. The
film uses current earthly issues to drive
the action, such as the destruction of
natural resources and homelands for
profit by an occupying corporation.
It is also a love story between Jake
and a beautiful Na'vi princess, Neytiri
(Zoe Saldana, Star Trek). Avatar is hardly
a subtle film—its political, economic
and environmental messages are there
for all to see. Yet theology is evident as
well. St. Augustine's idea that we can
find God through beauty, truth and
goodness is suggested by the Dr. Grace
Augustine character. The strength of
divine grace is present when people
lay down their lives for others.
There is one moment in the film
when Neytiri tells Jake that the "sky
people," the humans who occupy Pandora,
do not know how to see, or
choose not to see, the reality around
them. Later, after much has happened,
Jake, in his transformed avatar self, tells
Neytiri, "I see you." It is a moment of
true communication, understanding
In many ways the film reminded me
of a science fiction retelling of Dances
With Wolves (1990) and The Mission (1986). If for no other reason, Avatar deserves to be seen for its artistic and
technological contributions to cinematic
art and its cultural contribution
to the ongoing conversation about our
responsibilities as human beings and
citizens. Battle violence, sensuality, problem
The Lovely Bones
THE LOVELY BONES (A-3, PG-13): When
I read Alice Sebold's 2002 best-selling
novel a few years ago, I felt sad yet
somehow hopeful. This is not what
happened to me when I watched Peter
Jackson's (The Lord of the Rings trilogy)
interpretation for the screen.
At the age of 14, Susie Salmon
(Saoirse Ronan, Atonement) tells us
that she had been raped and murdered
by a neighbor, George Harvey
(Stanley Tucci, Julie & Julia).
The police never find her body.
Her family is devastated. Her
father, Jack (Mark Wahlberg, The
Departed), has pieces of the puzzle,
and her sister, Lindsey (Rose
McIver), comes close to figuring
it out, but they have no evidence.
Susie's mother, Abigail (Rachel
Weisz, The Constant Gardener),
cannot handle Susie's death and leaves
Meanwhile, Susie watches over her
family and the murderer from a beautiful,
in-between world where she meets
other victims of Harvey. Susie continually
tries to process the meaning of her
death from some place beyond.
I thought The Lovely Bones was a kind
of creepy, cotton-candy blend of murder
and mystery. As I walked out of the
theater, I chatted with a couple of ladies
who expressed the same frustration.
Though there is a sense of world-spirit
justice in the story, it was weird and
The one positive element in this
unsavory visual confection was Susan
Sarandon as the quirky grandmother
who moves in to take Abigail's place.
There are themes of life, death, the
hereafter, sin and innocence in the film, but the filmmaker fails to tie
them together as well as the book does.
Though Susie and George Harvey's
other victims form a kind of celestial
sisterhood, Susie does not seem to
find closure, which I believe was
supposed to be the point of the story.
Criminal violence, peril, some problem
TOOTH FAIRY (A-2, PG): Derek Thompson
(Dwayne Johnson, Race to Witch Mountain)
is known as the "Tooth Fairy"
because of his rough reputation for
knocking out the teeth of opposing
team members when he was a pro
hockey player. After an injury, he is
relegated to a minor team. The crowd
loves him, though his game is not what
it used to be.
After he discourages the dreams of
a young boy, he goes to his girlfriend
Carly's (Ashley Judd, De-Lovely) house
to baby-sit her children. Young Tess
(Destiny Whitlock) has just lost a tooth
and Derek steals her tooth money for
gambling. Then, when he's caught, he
denies the existence of tooth fairies.
He suddenly appears in a pink tutu,
sprouts wings and receives a summons
to appear before Lily, a kind of
queen of tooth fairies. There, an almost
seven-foot-tall tooth-fairy bureaucrat,
Tracy (Stephen Merchant, BBC's The
Office), explains how things are. Lily
sentences Derek to a week of tooth-fairy
service and orders a wardrobe
change to blue.
Tooth Fairy is supposed to be about
following your dreams, exploring the
wonders of the imagination and, above
all, not giving up. For some kids the
film may work; for the adults who experience
disappointment in life, the film
has an encouraging message as well.
But with six writers contributing to the
script, the narrative is filled with some
hits and several misses. Billy Crystal, in
an uncredited role as a teacher of fairies,
is very funny, and Julie Andrews as Lily
is always elegant.
An aspect of the film that made me
uncomfortable is the way it deals with
gender, making sure the stereotypical
and arbitrary cultural categories of pink
for girls and blue for boys are reinforced—and that real men use hockey
warrior gear. Puns can be funny for
kids but double entendres aimed at the
older audience fall flat.
For example, Derek almost calls Tracy
a "fairy," slang for a male homosexual.
Although Derek seems to grow in
respect for both children and tooth
fairies, and the film is entertaining
enough, I was somewhat disappointed.
Walden Media (and Twentieth Century
Fox), known for its outstanding reputation
for reimagining the literature of
children and adolescents for film and
linking literacy and entertainment, has
released a movie that is perhaps commercial
but of less quality than we have
come to expect. Subtle innuendos.
LIFE UNEXPECTED (The CW,
Mondays, 9 p.m.): Lux (Brittany
Robertson) is an orphan
in Portland, Oregon, who is tired of
endless foster homes and decides to
file for emancipation on her 16th birthday.
She finds her birthfather, a bar
owner, and then her mother, a radio
talk show host, and learns they were in
high school when she was born.
Lux's emancipation request is denied.
The judge gives custody to the parents
and all their lives are changed. I am
not sure where the story is going, but
it is warm and interesting with excellent
writing that touches teen and family
issues. For mature teens.