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Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Something Borrowed, Something Blue (photo)

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src=””>I can imagine Robert Zemeckis — whose botched motion-capture animated features “The Polar Express” and “A Christmas Carol” were full of rubbery, dead-eyed, freakish-looking human constructs — watching James Cameron’s “Avatar” with an expression on his face not unlike F. Murray Abraham’s Salieri listening to his first Mozart composition in “Amadeus.”

From a technical standpoint, “Avatar” is a game-changer, a paradigm shift, the greatest thing since sliced “2001.” In the same way that “The Matrix” and its technological advances reverberated over the ensuing decade, so will “Avatar” act as a bellwether for the next wave of effects-heavy genre films.

I just wish it were a better movie. For all of Cameron’s soaring accomplishments in creating realistic motion-capture characters and his deft handling of the new era of 3D, “Avatar” feels both familiar and overlong. You’ve traveled this road before, even if now you’re doing it in a blinged-out luxury vehicle with personal seat-warmers and a dozen cupholders.

12162009_Avatar2.jpgSam Worthington (“Terminator Salvation”) stars as Jake Sully, a paraplegic Marine who gets recruited by a corporation to take over a job for his recently deceased twin brother. The gig involves sleeping through a five-year space voyage and arriving at Pandora, a moon chock-full of a valuable element called Unobtainium; the Na’vi, the local race, haven’t meshed well with the humans, so the corporation has created beings out of human and Na’vi DNA.

These beings are controlled by human operators and act as, ta-dah, avatars. Jake, naturally, is thrilled to be back in a body that can stand and walk, even if it’s via mental remote control. The avatar work is a scientific expedition run by Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver), who’s not thrilled about having Jake around since he doesn’t have the training (or Na’vi language skills) of his late brother. But security chief Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) — the claw marks on his skull indicate no love lost between himself and the indigenous population — wants Jake to spy for him and find out what the Na’vi will barter for; failing that, the colonel wants intel on how best to wipe out the tall, blue local creatures.

Jake’s background as a warrior and not a scientist comes in handy when he meets Neytiri (Zoe Saldana, “Star Trek”), who becomes his trainer in the Na’vi ways. She shows him how to communicate with the local flora and fauna, to fall from great heights and land gently with the help of the leafy plants in the rainforest and to bond with and control the local flying creatures.

You can guess what happens next: love story, invasion of the white man, trail of tears, revenge of the underdog. Cameron’s screenplay, for all its vivid characterizations and rich depiction of an alien race, has no shame about set-ups along the lines of “Only two of our greatest warriors have ever captured the golden French fry,” followed by, inevitably, “Gasp! He has captured the golden French fry!”

12162009_avatar19.jpgStill, “Avatar” demands to be seen on the big screen. The interaction of human and animated characters reaches a new level of seamlessness, and the avatars for Jake and Grace retain elements of Worthington’s and Weaver’s faces while still looking believably alien. (Cameron claims he could do human motion-captures that are as realistic as his blue creatures, but until he really does it, his boast seems far-fetched.) It’s almost impossible to tell where the real people and objects on his set end and the fakery begins, and that’s the ultimate goal for effects work, right?

Visually, the movie veers back and forth between eye-popping visual poetry and shots that wouldn’t look out of place on the cover of a pulpy ’70s sci-fi paperback. Cameron’s script seems similarly trapped between the sublime and the ridiculous.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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