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Notes from the back row

Avatar is good watching

Like a particularly nasty case of herpes the Holiday season has crept up on us again. People are extra busy this time of year and I'm guessing that's why I didn't receive any movie listings this week and therefore have no idea what is opening at the Village 8 on Friday.

It's a good bet they're bringing in James Cameron's Avatar though, and probably with a late-night Thursday screening as well. Avatar, 12 years in the making (Cameron's last film was Titanic) has been heralded as the next giant leap in digital filmmaking and Cameron's team had to invent live-motion capture technology that allowed them to see how the CGI-heavy film would look as they shot it.

And they shot the crap out of it. By all accounts, watching Avatar in 3D IMAX is truly pant-shitting. Cameron has crafted a world that's equally lush and believable, detailed and sensible, and unlike Transformers and almost every other big budget actioner out these days, Avatar doesn't lose you visually - the viewer can always see and understand what is happening in the action scenes. So while it may not be the second coming, visually this movie is quite an achievement.

Plot-wise, not so much. Avatar relies on the old Pocahontas/Dances With Wolves story of an aggressor falling for the peaceful indigenous maiden and rebelling against his destructive past and people. After using up our own planet humans are stripmining Pandora, a newly discovered planet, searching for some awesome substance called "unobtanium." And if the peaceful tree-hugging alien residents don't want to get out of our way, well too bad for them.

Jake (Sam Worthington from Terminator Salvation) is a parapalegic ex-military guy who ends up on Pandora, gets turned into a giant blue alien and meets local alien/girl Neytiri (Zoe Saldana of Star Trek). Rather than spy and report on the aliens Jake falls in love and organizes a rebellion. Cue the awesome aerial fight scene.

At 164 minutes long, James Cameron manages to hold our attention with the visuals but the dialogue and Native American/hey, let's invade-Iraq-for-oil allegories are pretty heavy-handed. The message is good (don't shit all over peaceful people just because they have something you want) but not subtle, and if you're looking for emotional attachment with anyone in the film, well at least there's Sigourney Weaver.

Avatar, even if you don't see it in ass-kickingly-awesome 3D IMAX, is a good fantasy/sci-fi escape but I had higher hopes, story-wise, from the guy who brought us The Abyss, Terminator 1 and 2, Aliens and Pirahna 2.

Speaking of which, Pirahna 3D is supposed to come out in April 2010. Forget the Olympics, the highlight of the spring is gonna be carnivorous fish leaping out of the screen to chew your face off. How can you go wrong when the film's first character listed on IMDB is Eli Roth as "Wet T-Shirt Contest Emcee?" Plus, it's directed by Alexandre Aja (High Tension). Piranha 3D, start getting stoked.

The big George Clooney film Up in the Air is also out now - something about a guy with almost five million frequent flyer miles suddenly facing a travel budget cut and the pain of losing his mile high romance. Early reports from my people in the city are that it's good (Clooney always delivers) but not as amazing as the hype would let you believe.

Clooney also delivers as the voice of Fantastic Mr Fox, which is still playing at the Village 8 and truly is fantastic. A perfect way to sooth the festering sores and stress of another Holiday flare-up.