Monday, December 21, 2009

A good and true Tip
for our sci-fi junkies.

MTV, uh huh. Also, he's from southern New Jersey.

A NEW FONT OF INFO. There is actually an InstaPunk-certified movie reviewer. Since we don't always see movies the moment they come out, where are you supposed to turn? Well, Kurt Loder would be the guy.

Not that we always agree. He liked Watchmen, for example, which we didn't, not at all and by a whole lot. BUT. Here's what you get with Loder. He knows his movies, the whole history and all the references and antecedents. His reviews are literate but column length. He takes movies on their own terms, which is to say that he doesn't expect a Pixar movie to be an Ingemar Bergmann film, even though he knows Bergmann inside out. Nor can you wow him with sheer money, celebrity, or hype (He worked for MTV, don't forget.) He's also a good enough writer and reporter that he tells you why he liked, or didn't, a movie, in ways specific enough for you to decide whether his opinion is relevant to you or not.

Finally, I have found him to be the best of all reviewers at confirming my own viewing of a movie I've actually seen. He sees what's good about it, what's bad about it, and he almost never spoils it with his review.

Imagine my surprise to discover that he grew up less than fifty miles from me, is a libertarian, and employs his experience with saltwater as a source of philosophical wisdom:

I grew up on the Jersey Shore, on a little barrier island. The Atlantic Ocean was on one side, the bay was on the other. Everyone there hunted and fished and clammed and got crabs out of the bay. And one day my brother told me someone had come down from the Bureau of Petty Harassment or something and they measured the temperature of the water and had decided it was a little too warm and a certain type of bacteria might incubate in it and there was a chance that might harm the clams. And so, from now on, no one was supposed to take clams out of the bay anymore. Which everyone ignored. And no one died. That was before the government got tenacious about this stuff. So I thought that was pretty stupid right there

I know exactly what he's talking about. But I didn't know it when I discovered his reviews. I thought he was the pseudo-intellectual of MTV. I was wrong. Fortunately, I found I was wrong by reading his writing, not his biography. Now I am happy to report I've located his review page on the Internet, thanks to Big Hollywood. I commend you to do the same. Here's a sample of his review of Avatar:

There's a lot to look at here: the luminescent glow of the jungle in which the Na'vi live, the ancient Tree of Souls with which they commune, a spectacular range of mountains hanging high in the sky up above Pandora — and there's a lot going on. The director and his battalion of digital technicians have cooked up a fantastical bestiary of Pandoran creatures — futuristic hammerhead rhinos; dogfighting battle dragons; and, in one virtuoso sequence, a vicious six-legged thingy that chases Jake through the jungle and off the edge of a cliff (see trailer). The meticulous detail in which these creatures have been rendered, and the complexity with which they're arrayed in the film's exotic environments, are undeniable marvels of moviemaking art.

Unfortunately, whenever the action lets up and we're returned to the piddling story, the picture slumps like a failed soufflé. It's also heavily laced with political instruction of a most familiar sort. Cameron, who's now 55, is a self-acknowledged aging hippie, and his boomer worldview is strictly by-the-numbers. Quaritch and Selfridge are evil Americans despoiling the Na'vi's idyllic planet in exactly the same way that the humans have (we're told) trashed their own native orb. The invaders are armed with deplorable corporate technology (an odd animosity in a major-studio movie that reportedly cost more than $300 million to make), and they speak the familiar — and here rather anachronistic — language of contemporary American warmongering. ("We will fight terror with terror!" "It's some kind of shock-and-awe campaign!")

The Na'vi, on the other hand, with their bows and arrows and long braided hair, are stand-ins for every spiritually astute and ecologically conscientious indigenous population ever ground down under the heel of rampaging Western imperialism. They appear to have no warlike impulses themselves, and they live in complete harmony with their environment. (They even talk to trees.) Why, the movie asks, as if the question were new, can't we be more like them?

You see? He's not as political as I am. He doesn't get as pissed about ideology as I do. But he still knows that a superficial crap script is bad moviemaking.

I know more than that. But in the interim, Kurt Loder will do. And when he likes a movie you probably wouldn't, he gives you enough information about his own viewpoint and arguments to let you decide for yourself. What more could you ask than that?

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