Make it Snappy: A Christmas Sampler

It turns out that "The Young Victoria," subject of last week's preview column -- it opened Christmas Day at Manlius Art Cinema and would still be a perfect reason to make that short, snowy drive east of the city -- is only the tip of the late December movie iceberg. This is a good thing, because overall it's been a scantier film year than 2008. Awards season cranks up as the year winds down, so some of us have been on targeted missions into the multiplexes -- and not for Uncle Joe's Christmas tie. This week we offer something a little different -- not a Top Ten list but a holiday sampler.

First at the box office comes "Avatar" -- in its first ten days it grossed, in the U.S alone, almost half the $430 million spent on its production and marketing -- James Cameron's fable about a crippled U.S. Marine who goes undercover on the planet Pandora, joins with the native Navi people and leads an insurrection to save their sacred lands. Like last year's "WALL-e," "Avatar" has a message, and Cameron has imbued it with additional Native American myth. Sam Worthington stars as Jake Sully, with Zoe Saldana as Neytiri, the Navi woman who takes him in and teaches him her people's ways, and Sigourney Weaver as Dr. Grace Augustine. This is a particularly fitting role for Weaver, who brings inevitable echoes of her own Ellen Ripley from the "Alien" quartet, the second of which Cameron directed in 1986. (Michelle Rodriguez, who plays the helicopter pilot here and whom you may recognize from TV's "Lost," is not the same actress from that film -- who can forget Pvt. Vazquez' "Let's rock and roll"? -- but she looks enough like her to make the casting intentional). "Avatar" is almost three hours long, tight as a drum, visually breath-taking and moving as all get-out. Make sure to see it in 3-D.

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