Avatar: The Way of Water

Genre: Sci-Fi, Action

Director: James Cameron

Screenplay: James Cameron & Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver

Cast: Sam Worthington, Jack Champion, Trinity Jo-Li Bliss, Britain Dalton, Jamie Flatters, Brendan Cowell, Edie Falco, CCH Pounder, Joel David Moore, Cliff Curtis, Kate Winslet, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Bailey Bass

Running Length:  192 minutes

Synopsis: Set more than a decade after the events of the first film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” begins to tell the story of the Sully family (Jake, Neytiri, and their kids), the trouble that follows them, the lengths they go to keep each other safe, the battles they fight to stay alive, and the tragedies they endure.

Review: After a very long gestation period beset by multiple production delays (and of course the pandemic), the first sequel to 2009’s Avatar – still the top grossing film of all time – has finally arrived. This is James Cameron’s labour of love and return to the big screen since, well, the first Avatar. As the first of four planned sequels, does Avatar: The Way of Water live up to expectations and sets you up wanting more? The answer is, surprisingly, probably dependent on what format you’re watching the film in.

Make no mistake, while Avatar: The Way of Water is a perfectly serviceable sci-fi/action blockbuster in 2D, it really doesn’t shine as it should in any non-3D format. This is because James Cameron had clearly intended for the film to be an immersive experience, much like the first Avatar, and if you take away the immersion, then what’s left is no different from many of the big-budget films that have come and gone in recent years. (In fact, there seem to be echoes of almost all of James Cameron’s past movies, with scenes that feel like references to Titanic, Aliens, The Abyss and Terminator 2.) That’s not to say there aren’t any redeeming dramatic qualities in Avatar: The Way of Water, just that plot and characterization isn’t the main driver behind what makes the film a true Cinematic Experience. Anyone watching the film in 2D is unlikely to “get the hype”, even if it still serves its purpose of providing an entertaining diversion.

However, once you make the decision to watch the film like James Cameron intended – in 3D, on the largest, brightest screen you have access to – the movie is a glorious celebration of cinema, and it’s almost impossible to describe how far ahead of the technical curve Avatar: The Way of Water is compared to basically every movie that came before it. The world of Pandora is so intricately fleshed out, and so realistically created, that it frequently beggars belief. It is truly easy to lose yourself in the world of Pandora, and only the most jaded cinemagoer would be unmoved by the experience. While the first Avatar introduced most of the world to 3D cinema (and unfortunately a slew of poorly converted 3D films thereafter, essentially killing off much of the demand for 3D), The Way of Water breaks even more ground with its use of 3D, and makes a very compelling case for its return.

And where the first Avatar focused on the Pandoran forest and its flora and fauna, in The Way of Water, the truly jaw dropping stuff comes when the camera first plunges into the waters of Pandora. It is undoubtedly mesmerizing and the level of detail alone is reason enough for repeat viewings, but because James Cameron really does invest a significant portion of the film’s epic 192-minute running time in showcasing the new world of Pandora, especially in the second act, there will be audiences who will feel their patience being tested midway through.  

Apart from the superlative technical achievements, let’s not forget that James Cameron is also one of the best directors of our time, especially when it comes to going big. Avatar: The Way of Water is no different from his previous works.  It’s truly a pleasure to see a master of his craft, for example, helm action sequences with an unhurried, steady hand while constantly ratcheting up the tension, without having to resort to jerkycam and quick cuts like so many contemporary films. It’s truly the best of both worlds – an old-school storyteller doing so with bleeding edge technology. Is The Way of Water a perfect movie? Probably not by most counts, but as a film that could set the tone for the future of cinema, it is pretty much as good as it can possibly get.

Rating: * * * * (out of four stars) – if you’re watching it in 3D as Jim intended / * * * (out of four stars) – if you’re watching it in 2D


Thor: Love and Thunder

Genre: Action, Comedy

Director: Taika Waititi

Screenplay: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Christian Bale, Tessa Thompson, Chris Pratt, Taika Waititi, Russell Crowe

Running Length:  119 minutes

Synopsis: Thor: Love and Thunder finds Thor (Chris Hemsworth) on a journey unlike anything he’s ever faced – a quest for inner peace. But his retirement is interrupted by a galactic killer known as Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who seeks the extinction of the gods. To combat the threat, Thor enlists the help of King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), Korg (Taika Waititi) and ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), who – to Thor’s surprise – inexplicably wields his magical hammer, Mjolnir, as the Mighty Thor. Together, they embark upon a harrowing cosmic adventure to uncover the mystery of the God Butcher’s vengeance and stop him before it’s too late.

Review: The adage of “you can’t please them all” is a very apt one to use for Thor: Love and Thunder. While Thor: Ragnarok well and truly rebooted Thor as a character in the MCU and introduced elements of comedy into Marvel’s film canon like never before (excepting Deadpool, which is really in a subset of its own), Love and Thunder veers a little too far into oddball Taika Waititi territory and comes off as a little more forced than what Ragnarok had offered up.

This may please fans of the director and those looking for something that differs from the (superhero/MCU) norm, but Love and Thunder also feels a little too low-stakes for a superhero movie, and the comedic elements sometimes works against the more dramatic sequences in the film, lessening their impact. The film ends up feeling a little like a Jack-of-all-trades but master of none, with the humor a little less universally funny than it should be, a little less stirring emotionally than it aims to be, and the romance being a little less convincing than it needs to be. However, the film does have enough heart and verve – love and thunder, if you will – to remain a Summer crowd-pleaser and given its moderate running time (an economical 119 minutes), does not outlive its welcome.

While the visuals are somewhat uneven, there are some standout sequences including an excellent desaturated battle between Thor’s group and Gorr the God Butcher, as well as some opulent set design and art direction when the crew visits Zeus (a rather out-of-leftfield comedic turn from Russell Crowe, to mixed results) and other gods in Omnipotent City. The film also boasts an excellent soundtrack, peppered with various 80s rock anthems which are used to great effect, and reinforced by Michael Giacchino’s fun, rock-infused musical score.

Chris Hemsworth has shown that he’s an actor with great comedic timing, and it’s once again on display here in Love and Thunder. Whether you appreciate what Taika has done with Thor’s characterization over these two Thor films or not, there’s no denying that Hemsworth manages to land most of it and is willing to go to great lengths to do so (including literally going butt naked for a scene). He also enjoys great chemistry with returning Marvel alum Natalie Portman, who sheds part of her “serious scientist” persona from Thor: The Dark World and takes up the mantle of The Mighty Thor, wielding Thor’s original hammer Mjolnir.

New-to-MCU Christian Bale is as expected a standout Marvel villain, with one of the more complex character motivations we’ve seen in a (long) while. Bale has been a consistently good/great actor and here he manages to convey both menace and despair convincingly despite appearing in a limited number of scenes. However, in the grander scheme of the MCU, Gorr does come across as being a more minor villain than some of the foes Thor (moreso the Avengers) has faced up against. This has been emblematic of the Phase 4 MCU theatrical titles so far, which while being more experimental than before, all feel more self-contained and doesn’t seem to have shed much light on what “big bad” the MCU is building toward next, post-Thanos. Given the next few theatrical titles would be revisiting key MCU characters, hopefully the answer will come sooner than later.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)


Top Gun: Maverick

Genre: Action

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Screenplay: Ehren Kruger, Eric Warren Singer, Christopher McQuarrie

Cast: Tom Cruise, Jean Louisa Kelly, Glen Powell, Danny Ramirez, Jay Ellis, Lewis Pullman, Monica Barbaro, Charles Parnell, Jon Hamm, Bashir Salahuddin, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, Val Kilmer, Ed Harris

Running Length:  131 minutes

Synopsis: Facing an uncertain future and confronting the ghosts of his past, Maverick is drawn into a confrontation with his own deepest fears. Culminating in a mission that demands the ultimate sacrifice from those who will be chosen to fly it.

Review: Top Gun: Maverick belongs to a rare breed of movies – the ones where the sequel is better than the original. While we can look back at the original Top Gun fondly through the rosy lens of nostalgia, it isn’t that great of a movie in all honesty. Tom Cruise was at the cusp of superstardom at the time, and the film banked very much on his charisma and good looks to carry the movie. The film had very little going for it apart from Tom and the very authentic aerial action sequences, and anyone who had rewatched the film in preparation for Top Gun: Maverick might be surprised to (re)discover how banal the first film was. That said, the film remains a pivotal one for my childhood, having seen it many times on terrestrial TV as reruns, and boasting a soundtrack with songs that have truly withstood the test of time.

Flash forward some 36 years later, and after several delays due to the pandemic, we finally get to see Top Gun: Maverick on the big screen. First things first – this is a movie that needs to be experienced on the big screen, and viewing it anywhere else (for the first time at least) is doing yourself a disservice. Secondly, while anyone who’s watched the first Top Gun (and remember it) will certainly get more out of the movie, with its numerous callbacks and “easter eggs”, it is certainly not a prerequisite. Top Gun: Maverick successfully strikes a balance between selling nostalgia and attempting to appeal to younger audiences who may not even be born when the original film was released.

Top Gun: Maverick is about as classic an action blockbuster as you can get, and there are absolutely no surprises to be had in how the plot unfolds. This is not a bad thing, since a classic blockbuster done well is still a great cinematic experience, and this is definitely the case for Top Gun: Maverick. The aerial dogfights are still grounded in practical effects, and the action sequences in the film are breathtaking and realistic in a way that is very rare in current-day cinema, where CGI reigns supreme. The entire third act of the film is edge-of-your-seat thrilling, and even though it does almost go off the rails Fast & Furious style near the end, it’s still immensely satisfying as a cinematic experience.

With Tom Cruise putting in a much more nuanced and well-rounded performance than in the previous film and still looking fantastic for his age, he is an easy protagonist to root for, and this is easily his best work in years, if not decades (I think it would take a lot for Mission: Impossible to trump what has been achieved here). However, the same dimensionality can’t really be said of anyone else in the cast, since they exist only as plot devices (yes, even Miles Teller’s Rooster and Jennifer Connelly as Penny, the token love interest). There is a great, tender sequence between Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise that is very well-handled, and it’s also refreshing to see that the film’s sole sex scene (if you can even call it that) is one that is grounded in reality and not excessively romanticized like most films do.

While the span of time that has passed between the two Top Gun films will certainly not be in the franchise’s favour, anyone willing to give this film a chance will likely find themselves entirely enjoying the viewing experience. The film has an unfortunately short runway before other summer blockbusters will take over the cineplexes, but this is genuinely one of the best non-superhero blockbusters that have been released in recent years.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)


Oscars Predictions 2022

Following the ratings freefall last year (in what was a spectacular flameout of an awards show), 2022’s Oscars feels like the watershed year – the one that truly decides the future of the Academy Awards and the Oscarcast. Unfortunately, this year’s Academy Awards have not been smooth sailing, and right up to the telecast tomorrow, is still seeing controversies play out, the most prominent of which is the odd decision to pre-tape the awarding of 8 “craft” awards and to edit them into the live Oscarcast. We’ll see – given how bad the ratings were last year, one can optimistically hope that the only way is up.

Now, on to the predictions:

Best Motion Picture of the Year

Should win: The Power of the Dog

Prediction: CODA

It almost seemed like The Power of the Dog had this in the bag, but the little movie from Apple TV+ has seen a very tremendous last minute surge in support, and with CODA bagging SAG, PGA and WGA awards, the odds are now suddenly in its favour. I feel there are far better films deserving of the award in this category, but it probably is wrong to bet against CODA at this point.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

Should win: Will Smith, King Richard

Prediction: Will Smith, King Richard

One of the strongest-contended categories of the night, but Will Smith is much loved in the industry and has basically won every award so far leading up to the Oscars. It’s hard to see him losing out in the final leg.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

Should win: Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

Prediction: Penelope Cruz, Parallel Mothers

All signs point to Jessica Chastain being the favourite to win, but Cruz’s performance in Parallel Mothers is a superlative one and one of the best I have seen in a long while. Though Cruz has not seen much award action, I am hoping she will be the dark horse here and clinch a deserving win over Chastain.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

Should win: Troy Kotsur, CODA

Prediction: Troy Kotsur, CODA

It again seemed like Kodi Smit-McPhee’s nuanced performance in The Power of the Dog was a clear winner, until suddenly he wasn’t, and Troy Kotsur seemed to have supplanted his place in all the awards shows post Golden Globes. A strange turn of tides to be sure, but Troy winning here checks off a lot of boxes.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

Should win: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

Prediction: Ariana DeBose, West Side Story

There are a few unexpected nominations in this category, and coupled with DeBose’s suite of wins this awards season, her winning the Oscar as well feels like a shoo-in.

Best Achievement in Directing

Should win: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Prediction: Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog

Probably the most locked category of the night, and with CODA not even being nominated here, it would be truly surprising if Campion isn’t the winner here. Spielberg has a very small chance of pulling off an upset, but this is pretty much a done deal.

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen

Should win: Licorice Pizza

Prediction: Belfast

A very hard category to predict – given Belfast is unlikely to win major awards despite the number of nominations it garnered, this is likely to be Kenneth Branagh’s consolation prize. Licorice Pizza is one of my favourite movies of the year, however, and it would be a pleasant surprise if it could win here.

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published

Should win: Drive My Car

Prediction: CODA

I would love for Drive My Car to score a win here, but the likely “consolation” prize for that film would be Best International Feature, to be honest. CODA’s last minute surge included the screenplay category (it won the BAFTA as well as the WGA) and it will also be the first female winner in a long while, plus Sian Heder didn’t even get a nomination in the Best Director category, so this is yet another win that checks off a lot of boxes.

Best Achievement in Cinematography

Should Win: Dune

Prediction: Dune

Dune is definitely one of the most technically well-made movies of the year, and should win a slew of awards in the technical categories. Greg Frasier’s cinematography is excellent and given Denis Villeneueve’s similar penchant for in-camera effects (akin to Christopher Nolan), makes the achievement even more impressive. Every nominated DP this year deserves to win though, to be very honest.

Best Achievement in Editing

Should Win: King Richard

Prediction: Dune

King Richard’s editing work is more subtle but as important as Dune’s, though I am still favoring Dune in the technical awards. This is one of the categories that I feel quite unsure of, but perhaps the Academy voters would feel the same as me and go for the “big” movie instead.

Best Achievement in Production Design

Prediction: Dune

The Academy voters are either going to favor the production design that went into crafting Dune’s massive worlds and environments, or Nightmare Alley’s much more intimate film noir elements. I am again favoring Dune’s largesse to outclass Nightmare Alley and the other contenders here.

Best Achievement in Costume Design

Prediction: Cruella

One of the highest points in Cruella are the fantastic costume designs by Jenny Beavan (it is a movie revolving around fashion, after all), and given it has already won at the Costume Designers Guild Awards, seems likely to repeat the feat here.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling

Prediction: The Eyes of Tammy Faye

It’s the typical “transformed star” story for The Eyes of Tammy Faye, and given Chastain is already a best actress nominee, gives the film a good head start in the awards race here.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score

Prediction: Dune

It’s hard to believe despite Hans Zimmer being behind so many memorable scores, that he has only won the Oscar once. I believe Zimmer’s excellent score for Dune would help deliver him his second Oscar.

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song

Prediction: No Time to Die

If “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” was the nominated song from Encanto, this category would be the firmest lock of the night. That’s not the case, however, which means there’s a good chance it will go to Billie Eilish and bro’s “No Time to Die”, though we should never underestimate Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose win here will make him an EGOT alumni.

Best Achievement in Sound

Prediction: Dune

Dune’s sound design and sound editing were both top notch and really helped in creating an immersive world for the massive film. West Side Story similarly boasts great work in both aspects, but I am still leaning towards Dune in the technical categories.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects

Prediction: Dune

Unless the Academy wants to give a populist award to the box office behemoth that was Spider-Man: No Way Home, this award is really Dune’s to lose.

Best Animated Feature Film

Prediction: Encanto

While I am also a huge fan of The Mitchells vs the Machines, it’s hard to bet against both Disney AND Lin-Manuel Miranda, especially given the social resonance Encanto has enjoyed since its release (no, no, no).

Best International Feature Film

Prediction: Drive My Car (Japan)

Given its nominations outside of Best International Feature Film, it does seem most likely for Drive My Car to earn the nod here. I don’t foresee it being able to pull off a massive coup like Parasite to take most of its other nominations, however.

Best Documentary Feature

Prediction: Summer of Soul

Best Documentary Short Subject

Prediction: The Queen of Basketball

Best Animated Short Film

Prediction: Robin, Robin

Best Live Action Short Film

Prediction: The Long Goodbye


The Batman

Genre: Action, Adventure

Director: Matt Reeves

Screenplay: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell

Running Length:  176 minutes

Synopsis: Batman ventures into Gotham City’s underworld when a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.

Review: It almost feels like a misnomer to call The Batman, the umpteenth reboot for the caped crusader, a superhero movie. Much as it does feature Batman and other characters from the DC universe, it really would be more accurate to call The Batman a serial killer/detective procedural movie that features a superhero (which we can call Detective Dark Knight). Whatever sub-genre you may want to file The Batman under, one thing is for sure – it is one of the best comic book movies ever made, in that it feels like you’re literally watching a comic book unfold on the big screen. It also happens to be a really good Batman movie, coming close to the heights reached by The Dark Knight.

Ben Affleck exiting the production of The Batman as both director and actor meant that this new Batman film, like Joker, ends up in its own Batman universe, instead of being connected to the broader DC Extended Universe. Unfettered by the need to stick to the DCEU canon, Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig managed to craft an excellent film that truly delves into the detective aspect of Batman as a character (he was birthed in the pages of Detective Comics after all), something that has never really been done to this extent before despite the multitudes of Batman films made over the years. Anyone that has been hankering for a movie in the vein of David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac would find that itch satisfyingly scratched in The Batman.

Robert Pattinson has had to carry around the weight of the Twilight franchise for much of his career, and despite proving time and again that he’s a much better thespian than the Twilight films would suggest, he’s forever swimming against the current to demonstrate how he’s not just a sparkly brooding vampire. He once again makes this point known in The Batman, and really shines (ahem) in the titular role – given even fewer speaking lines than Christian Bale, Pattinson makes excellent use of non-verbal acting to flesh out his versions of Batman and Bruce Wayne, from the gait he employs while in the suit, to communicating nuanced emotions with his eyes alone. It is a very strong performance and stands toe to toe with Christian Bale’s iconic turns as the Batman.

The rest of the cast are equally strong, with Zoe Kravitz doing an excellent job as Catwoman (possibly my favourite onscreen portrayal of Catwoman thus far) and sharing great onscreen chemistry with Pattinson, and Paul Dano’s Riddler being another highlight, whose performance is genuinely creepy and yet grounded in reality that one can totally imagine a version of his Riddler existing in real life. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin but does more than just be a vessel for make-up and costuming, and Jeffrey Wright is completely on point in his portrayal of Jim Gordon. However, the most memorable supporting character of all has to be Gotham City itself – while we have always seen the city in various aspects, this is the first film where it really feels like an actual living, breathing city, albeit one that is wracked with the disease of crime and decay. I can’t wait to see more of Reeves’ Gotham feature in upcoming projects.

On the technical side of things, The Batman is near flawless. The cinematography by Greig Fraser is stunning, on par with the amazing work he did on Dune last year – the brilliant use of colour, lighting and shadows makes this an incredibly handsome film to watch on the big screen. Michael Giacchino’s massive, percussion-heavy score really adds power to the film especially in pivotal scenes, and this is indeed one of the best Batman scores, very high praise given the illustrious alumni that have worked on prior Batman films that includes Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer. The action choreography is also excellent, and while there are just a handful of action sequences, they are all well-executed, including a nighttime car chase sequence involving a very organic Batmobile that is sheer exhilaration to watch unfold on both a visceral and technical level.

Although The Batman is ostensibly a reboot of the franchise, the film skips over the origin story of Batman and places us in the second year of his crime-fighting career, and it can almost be said that the film is more of a coming-of-age story than an origin story, where Batman attempts to figure out his true purpose in Gotham City. It’s an ambitious attempt, and while it is arguably a little too long and could have done with some more judicious editing, Reeves pretty much nails the landing. I went into the film being rather skeptical about how anyone could still bring something new to the table for Batman, but Reeves has proven me wrong. The film’s success is very much dependent on what audiences are expecting to take away from the viewing experience, but it would be difficult to imagine anyone coming out of the theatres being disappointed by what they’ve just watched, even if they went in expecting a more traditional superhero movie.

Rating: * * * ½ (out of four stars)