Avatar: The Way of Water

Posted on December 14, 2022 at 5:46 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended, intense, sometimes graphic peril and violence, characters injured, sad death of a family member
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: December 16, 2022
Date Released to DVD: June 19, 2023

Copyright 2022 20th Century
Although writer/director James Cameron has made some of the most innovative and financially successful movies of all time, including “Terminator,” “Titanic,” and the original “Avatar,” he has said that his real passion is oceans and joked that his movie career is to fund his explorations of the world under water. He brought those two passions together with his “Deepsea Challenge 3D” documentary about his expedition to the deepest part of the ocean. And in “Avatar: The Way of Water,” this sequel to 2009’s box-office champion “Avatar,” he brings them together again, with much of the story taking place under the clear, sparkling water of Pandora.

Time has passed since the end of the first film. Onetime human soldier Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is living blissfully with Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), among the “forest people,” in an Edenic environment of gentle peace with their community and with the land. They have four children, two older boys, a little girl, and an adopted daughter, Kiri, daughter of Dr. Grace Augustine. voiced by Sigourney Weaver, who played Dr. Grace Augustine in the first film. Kiri is the late Dr. Augustine’s daughter. No one knows who her father was. A human boy nicknamed Spider (Jack Champion) is almost another family member, though he must wear a mask on Pandora in order to breathe. Spider’s father was Miles Quaritch, the first film’s human villain, played by Stephen Lang.

Miles is back, now as an avatar, too. The human “sky people” are no longer seeking just Pandora’s precious ore. They now represent the most popular category of movie bad guy in 2022: colonists. He is charged by his commanding officer (Edie Falco) to conquer the natives, and he vows to kill his former fellow soldier, Jake Sully.

As with the first film, the Pandora natives are portrayed as idyllic indigenous people and the humans, with the exception of the kindly lab staff, are mostly brutish and greedy. Their invaders have machine guns and explosives and no compunctions about using children as bait. The Pandorans have spears and arrows. And pure hearts. Cameron is not known for subtlety or depth of character. There’s a reason his most famous character is a cyborg whose breakthrough film had him utter just 17 lines of dialogue. This movie would have been better with less talking, too.

But Cameron is known for spectacular visuals, and “Avatar: The Way of Water” delivers that and then some. When the Sullys leave their home with the forest people and seek asylum with the teal-skinned water people (reminiscent of the recent “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”), much of the story moves on and in the ocean and Cameron’s endless love for that environment is evident in every breathtakingly gorgeous detail, thrillingly immersive in IMAX 3D with Dolby sound. The undersea creatures are spectacularly beautiful and the underwater movements are graceful and balletic or intensely suspenseful as the story demands. Kiri, who loves her family but has always felt something of an outsider, finds her home in the water so believably we begin to feel that way, too. The building blocks of the storyline may be very basic, but the environments where they take place are glorious.

By the end of the movie, the Pandorans no longer seem like giant super-models, with their elongated, slender bodies. They seem like the normal ones and the humans seem tiny and awkward.

The story is just a scaffolding for the world-building. That may make it more of an experience than a movie, but the experience is a fun place to visit.

Parents should know that this film has extended and intense peril and violence. A young character is killed. There are graphic images including a severed arm, dead bodies, and impaled combatants. Characters use some strong language and the costumes are skimpy. There are mild sexual references including questions of paternity.

Family discussion: What circumstances today present the same issues that the Sullys and the water-based Metkayina clan have to consider — protecting their group or caring for those in need, wanting to be peaceful when faced with violence? Does your family have a motto? How are the two Sully brothers different and why?

If you like this, try: “Avatar,” and get ready for three more sequels!

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The Shack

Posted on March 2, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for thematic material including some violence
Profanity: Mild language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcoholic parent
Violence/ Scariness: Tragic murder of a child, domestic and child abuse, gun, possible attempted suicide
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: March 3, 2017
Copyright Summit 2017
Copyright Summit 2017

“The Shack,” based on the best-seller by William P.Young seeks to provide comfort and healing for those struggling with a terrible loss and with something even worse — the fear that tragedy has no purpose and the doubt that pain engenders about whether life makes sense. Can there be meaning in a world of senseless tragedy, where the innocent suffer? The book‘s subtitle is Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity, and it is somewhere between a parable, a fantasy, and a story about a man devastated by grief who spends a week in a shack in the woods, talking to God.

While some people, including some Christians, will find the theology of this story questionable, it presents an accessible and comforting notion of God’s love and the healing power of forgiveness.

Sam Worthington plays Mackenzie, a loving husband and father of three children who still struggles with his memories of his abusive father, a man of “calloused hand, rigid rules” and alcoholism. “Pain has a way of twisting us up inside and making us do the unthinkable,” and “the secrets we keep have a way of clawing themselves up to the surface.” (It is not clear exactly what the most painful secrets are but it seems possible he murdered his abusive dad?)

Mack takes his children on a camping trip, where his youngest daughter Missy is kidnapped and brutally murdered while he is rescuing his son, trapped under an overturned canoe. Mac, who had always been surprised and touched by Missy’s simple faith in a God she felt close enough to that she referred to Him as Papa, is shattered by guilt and grief. Even though he sees the pressure it puts on his family, he cannot break out of his isolation.

When his family is away, Mack finds a note in his mailbox, though there are no footprints in the snow. The note is signed “Papa” and it invites him to come to the woods, to the very shack where Missy’s bloody dress was found.  Although he dreads returning to the place of his crushing pain, he goes, and it is there he meets the Trinity. God, known as Elousia, I Am, or Papa, is in the form of an African-American woman who was a kind neighbor in his childhood and who wears Ma Griffe, the perfume he mother loved (Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer). She says he will be most open to her in the form of a mother, and apparently one who loves Neil Young.

God’s Son is in the form of a young carpenter who can walk on water and run on it, too (Avraham Aviv Alush), and the Spirit is known as Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara).  

They live in a Kinkade-like Eden, filled with warmth, light, nature, good food, and laughter.  Very gently, they guide him to an understanding that God’s love does not mean freedom from pain, but a sharing of that pain that can help him forgive and help make his spirit whole.

Some believers will dismiss this as “comfort food Christianity.” The Son actually says that religion is too much work. “I don’t want slaves; I want friends,” and he himself is “not exactly a Christian.” Papa tells him, “I can work incredible goodness out of unspeakable tragedy, but that does not mean I orchestrate the tragedies.”

But its idea that God loves us enough to reach out to every one of us in our the way we are best able to understand is genuinely touching. The insights Sam reaches about forgiveness and healing could be arrived at via psychotherapy or a number of other ways, but for this man — and this audience, the message is meaningful and touching, and a good reminder that patience and forgiveness are always worth making time for, and that every act of kindness changes the universe.

Parents should know that this movie concerns the brutal kidnapping and murder of a child, with images of her bloodied dress and dead body, a gun and possible attempted suicide, as well as depictions of wife and child abuse and alcoholism.

Family discussion: Why is it important to learn to forgive, even when the transgression is evil?  How did each member of the Trinity teach Mack a different lesson?

If you like this, try: “What Dreams May Come” and “Henry Poole is Here”

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Based on a book Drama Movies -- format Spiritual films

Wrath of the Titans

Posted on March 29, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of fantasy violence and action
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Constant peril and violence with some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: A strength of the movie is the portrayal of a courageous female warrior
Date Released to Theaters: March 30, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B005LAIH54

What I love best about classically trained British actors is that they are game for anything.  Whether it is a commercial for cough drops or a silly comedy they always bring their A-game.  Their timing and diction are impeccable and they are masters of tone.  To use a favorite actor term, they commit.  But when they commit to material so far beneath them the contrast is so great that they just make the failings of the production harder to overlook.  Flawless line deliveries only go so far when the dialogue is more suitable for the declamatory stentorian tones of a Saturday morning cartoon version of “The Expendables” than voices more accustomed to iambic pentameter.

The original 1981 “Clash of the Titans” (featuring the most-acclaimed actor of his generation, Sir Laurence Olivier along with “L.A. Law” star Harry Hamlin along with Bond Girl Ursula Andress and the zenith of Ray Harryhausen’s analog special effects) and the 2010 remake with Oscar-winners Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes along with “Avatar’s” Sam Worthington and a lot of CGI have been succeeded by “Wrath of the Titans,” another uneasy mash-up of a sprinkle of distinguished actors, lots of beefcake, mythical monsters, and dialogue so ear-crashingly awful it is a step down from scripted awards-show presenter banter.  “Go to hell!” says one character.  “That’s exactly where I’m going,” says Perseus (Worthington).  He’s on his way to Hades, get it?  Since the majority of the box office for the first film was from outside the US, we can guess that perhaps the dubbed script is better.

Having released the Kracken and saved the day in the first episode, Perseus, the half human son of Zeus, is hoping for a quiet life as a fisherman with his young son.  When Zeus (Neeson) comes to ask for his help, Perseus declines.  But trouble comes his way as the era of the gods is ending, and Zeus is weakened so that his long-dormant father Cronus is poised to re-emerge and bring oblivion to all of humanity.  Perseus will have to save the day again, and that means finding (and rescuing) his half-god cousin Agenor (Toby Kebbell channelling Russell Brand, and not in a good way), visiting Hepaestus (much-needed breath of fresh air Bill Nighy), the Olympian version of Q, to pick up some weapons, and facing some Hellenic monsters, including a giant cyclops, a minotaur, and some beast-ish creatures.  There’s a lot of sound and fury and 3D spears pointing out from the screen but the storyline is muddled, with no consistency from moment to moment in character or even the basic properties of the Olympian world.  The script is downright painful, with bromantic trash talk that would be more appropriate at a 2012 mall than a Bronze Age battlefield.   “Shouldn’t you be posing for a statue or something?” “Bring me my lucky cape!” By the time Zeus and Hades (Fiennes) go into battle saying, “Let’s have some fun!” all we can think of is, “As if.”


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