Hi! It’s 23rd December, somehow – it feels like as you get older, the more the holidays seem to creep up on you out of nowhere. I actually managed to be pretty organized this year, getting gifts sorted ahead of time.
In the midst of all that, some big films have been coming out – none bigger than Avatar: The Way of Water, James Cameron’s long-awaited follow-up to mega-hit Avatar (2009). I’ve also seen White Noise, which will also get a streaming release on Netflix soon, and I’ve finally watched The Miseducation of Cameron Post. These aren’t the only films I’ve seen recently (you can see my Letterboxd page for more), but they’re ones I have some particular thoughts on. which I’ve put below. Enjoy!
In all seriousness, watching James Cameron’s Avatar sequel in IMAX 3D on opening day, in a full screening and with a friend who likes the franchise, was such an incredible experience. The visual effects here are sublime and push the boundaries in so many ways, whether it be mixing humans into the virtual space, the added detail of the Na’vi themselves, or how so much of this film is set in water, which is notoriously tough to sell to an audience. I like Aquaman a lot, but there’s an unreal sheen to that movie that I think The Way of Water avoids.
Of course, you can have all the shiny effects you like, but you need characters and story to make us care. The original film built a fascinating world, but had an admittedly unoriginal story structure. The Way of Water has a solid three-act structure too, but there’s a lot more nuance within it in terms of how events play out, and a lot of that is because of the family aspect. The final act is particularly unpredictable and also freshens the visual palette up in a welcome way.
The central couple Neytiri and Jake have the added responsibility that comes with children, and I find it much easier to get invested in their conflicts because of these more selfless motivations. The children themselves have distinct personalities (even if I found it hard to recall their names during the film), and I did care about them. They’re also set up in intriguing ways by the end of the film in terms of the three more Avatar sequels we’re probably getting!
Arguably, the biggest success of this film is how it develops the lore of Pandora and sets up the main characters in such a way that I’m excited for the next film. Where are we gonna go? Fire Na’vi? Air Na’vi? Mr. Cameron, I’m on board to find out.
Directed by Noah Baumbach? Starring Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig? A slightly sci-fi satire on interpersonal relationships and 1980s America? These are all great signs for a film.
And yet… White Noise never quite becomes the film I hoped for. The threat of a toxic cloud forces the main family unit to leave their idyllic 1980s life, but it’s never so pressing as to be properly exciting; the main action scenes are in the aftermath, where people are tripping over each other to escape. In a way that’s the point of the satire, but the film sacrifices some urgency to do this.
However, the main family members have engrossing dynamics between them, and the fast-paced dialogue between them is handled really well. One particular highlight is a more serious talk between the married couple Babette (Gerwig) and Jack (Driver) late in the film that feels distinctly modern in how it is written, despite the 1980s setting. Perhaps this is the issue – White Noise never fully commits to being a full-blown satire or a serious family drama, and doesn’t reach the full potential of either as a result. There isn’t the balance that, say, Frances Ha struck (another Baumbach film starring Gerwig and Driver).
Yet, whilst this might not be quite up there with other Baumbach films, it is still ferociously watchable, and I can imagine it’ll excel on streaming in a similar to way to Don’t Look Up last year. The vivid 1980s visuals, witty back-and-forths, and fabulous performances keep the film moving at an entertaining clip.
Oh, and STAY FOR THE CREDITS. Seriously. They’re audio-visual joy.
After reading the brilliant The Miseducation of Cameron Post years ago, I’ve finally gotten around to watching the film adaptation. Something that immediately stands out is the bold structure the film goes for – we essentially pick up halfway through the book, as Cameron is forced to attend the gay conversion therapy centre God’s Promise in 1993.
In terms of adapting this section of the book, the film is delicate and emotionally resonant, showing the fake kindness of this facility and the people within it. The anchor of it all is the best performance I’ve seen yet from Chloë Grace Moretz, who authentically portrays both the youthful stubbornness of Cameron but also the horror of being trapped in effectively a prison of false ideals. The film doesn’t oversell the main plot developments it covers, and resists exaggerating any into a grandiose climax – and it all hits harder as a result.
I imagine it’s a very different experience watching this without knowing the book, as a lot is left out here. As aforementioned, the first act prior to Cameron arriving at God’s Promise is almost entirely absent – which is risky, as that means losing a big section where we get to know Cameron.
We see a few moments through flashbacks, but these are mainly restricted to how her lesbian relationship is discovered. A lot of her likes and dislikes (such as how much she enjoys watching VHS movies), and her complex relationship with her deceased parents are only quickly touched upon in the film, and I found this disappointing. They’re presented as details of her life instead of key parts of her character, which isn’t how I understood them to be.
The film works in terms of making a focused film about the section of the book at God’s Promise, but there’s also a lot of powerful elements revolving around Cameron and her family that I was looking forward to seeing adapted on screen. I especially pictured the final scenes of the book as being incredibly cinematic, so I was surprised and a little disappointed that they just don’t even appear here.
Of course, it’s important to focus on that we get, not that we imagine. In that sense, this film does effectively get across the message of individuality, being yourself, and accepting all parts of yourself. At a brisk 90-ish minutes, though, I was ready for more from an adaptation point of view.
Have an amazing day!