Over the Christmas holidays I spent two days watching two new movies in theaters: Avatar – oh, I’m sorry, James Cameron’s Avatar – and Sherlock Holmes. Both movies have their pluses and minuses, and I have no qualms about giving my completely unbiased review.

First things first, let’s talk about Avatar. Avatar tells the story of Jake Sully who joined a project to assimilate the native Na’vi people who live on a planet with rich resources…or something like that. Truth be told, the story wasn’t important. The selling point was the effects; the special effects were outstanding, and they really pop out in 3D…literally. There are scenes of stuff flying that really stand out. Also, you can tell which performer voiced which Na’vi is which, because they look just like their counterparts. For example, Zöe Saldaña’s character looks just like her.

The next best thing in the movie is the score. Frequent Cameron collaborator James Horner is at his best again, creating a lush score that really brings the scenery to life. The music goes from strong choral chants to lush orchestrated themes. There’s no doubt in my mind that Horner is one of the best in the business, and he puts his foot in this one.

The cinematography was brilliant, the acting was pretty good, but the primary flaw in the movie is the actual story. There’s nothing memorable about the story, because it appears that it was put together with silly putty and toothpicks. James Cameron has a lot of strengths, but the story wasn’t one of ’em. Hopefully, he’ll have someone else to write the inevitable sequel, because my three year old nephew could do a better job.

Now, let’s move on to Sherlock Holmes, shall we?

When most people think of Sherlock Holmes, they probably think of the old Brit with the deerstalker cap who walks around saying “Elementary, my dear Watson” all the time. If that’s the case, then you can forget about that in this one. This movie is totally different than anyone would expect.

The movie is about Holmes and his partner John Watson and their attempts to stop a maniacal master of the “dark arts” from initiating a calamity that would mean certain doom for England and the rest of the world. Along the way, we’re introduced to Watson’s bride-to-be, Holmes’ love-hate relationship with the one who got away, and inklings of the future with Professor Moriarty.

If Avatar was cutting edge cinema, then Sherlock Holmes was straight out of the late 80s. That being said, that was fine with me, because the effects weren’t really supposed to be glamorous…although there were some great set pieces in the movie.

The score was done by the incomparable Hans Zimmer, but it was different than anything he’s done before, and that was probably by design. The movie deserved something besides the usual bombastic Zimmer score, and he delivered in spades. The music seemed cockney and lithe, and it fit the scenes tremendously.

The acting was well done, with my only complaint being that there were times when I couldn’t understand what Holmes was saying due to Robert Downey, Jr.’s British accent. The directing was spot-on, and I was thrilled with the pacing. Plus, my wife liked it, which helped.

I saw a few trailers that were pretty solid and the ones that stuck in my mind were Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and Knight and Day, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz. Those will probably be must watches, although I’m on the fence about Knight and Day; I’ve made it no secret that I don’t like Tom Cruise, but the movie looks like it might be funny. We’ll see.

On Christmas night, I watched District 9, and that was the most uncomfortable movie I’ve ever seen. I wrote this earlier, and it still holds merit today; bear in mind the language is a bit coarse, so if profanity insults you, then skip three paragraphs ahead:

“Have you ever experienced something that made you go, “Holy shit…what the-” and just left you speechless? Not the good speechless, mind you; the awkward speechless you get after you hit on a girl that’s 1,000,000,000,000 times out of your league and she says you’re a great friend? That’s how District 9 made me feel.

It was like looking at us treat someone who we consider “beneath us” in such a negative light, then wondering if it’s okay to cheer for them when they pull through. Then – THEN! – the ending was bittersweet, and (IMO) almost sad. I was thinking to myself, “I went through all that for THIS?” That was an emotional transference I could have done without.

It reminded me about how uncomfortable “War of the Worlds” made me. That movie made me squirm in my seat several times, and it got so bad that I actually left the theater for a few minutes. Yeah, that may make me pussified to some, but I really don’t give a shit. To this day, I have never seen “War of the Worlds” again, and I will never watch “District 9″ again.”

So, there you have it. Questions? Comments? Gripes? Comment away.

Mr. Joseph’s Movie Extravaganza

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