By Lynn Venhaus

Looks 10, story 3. Regardless of its visual splendor from state-of-the-art effects, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is a bloated, confusing mess of a story.

Cinematographer extraordinaire Russell Christopher, who did “Titanic” and “Ant-Man,” and a team of hundreds of animators. motion-capture artists and graphics wizards make this sci-fi world fantastical, but a pedestrian plot can’t muster enough excitement to sit through 192 minutes of a curiously uninvolving scenario.

In a fierce battle to protect their home, the Na’vi must face a familiar threat on the extrasolar moon Pandora. Big bad military = evil territorial bullies, noble blue people = at one with nature.

With some nods to his previous mega-hits “Titanic,” “Aliens” and “The Terminator” franchise, director James Cameron has built a stunning panorama of flora, fauna, and water, lots of water. He’s also showing off in 3D and high-definition rate.

For all his excess, the man knows how to corral a team to create magic. However, his self-indulgences hamper smooth sailing in storytelling. He could have trimmed the film by half, and it would be far more engrossing with less repetition. (Four editors!).

A tribal plot involving family and loss offers nothing new – and five people came up with this unremarkable story that seems to have recycled some familiar “Lion King” beats (Come on! “Circle of Life”? Really?).

The monotonous video-game like screenplay, by Cameron and the husband-and-wife team of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, whose work includes “Jurassic World” and the “Planet of the Apes” reboots, has this smug self-important air, and lacks even a smidgeon of wit.

Even superhero movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe have some chuckles, and I’ve seen cartoons that are far more entertaining. Why so serious?

While we weren’t exactly waiting for a sequel to the highest grossing film of all time, it’s been a long time in coming – 11 years. Since 2009, technology has created even more worlds of wonder, and real-world problems of climate change and political colonialism have been added for relevance.

“King of the World” Cameron has planned three more sequels, with principal photography already completed for “Avatar 3,” which may happen in 2024, and others expected in 2026 and 2028. Whether it will be a global phenomenon like the first remains to be seen, but if they are as insipid and interminable as this one, don’t bother.

With the wow factor, this sequel seems headed to only earn Academy Awards nominations in the technical fields. The original won Oscars for art direction, cinematography, and visual effects out of nine nominations. The intricate makeup and hair work is also award worthy.

If you can’t remember much of the first one, here’s the condensed version: It’s the 22nd century and humans are colonizing Pandora, a moon in the Alpha Centauri star system, because they want to mine unobtanium, a valuable mineral. That threatens a local tribe’s existence – the Na’vi is a humanoid species.

Here, an avatar is a genetically engineered Na’vi body operated from a human brain in a remote location, which interacts with the natives.  

Is this making your head hurt? Second one recaps how protagonist Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) fell in love with a Na’vi woman Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), and converted to that culture. They went on to live a blissful sparkly life and have four children – two boys and two girls.

Because he crossed the line, from being one of the military ‘sky people’ to a sympathetic outsider, his former Marine commander, Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), seeks revenge, but the motivation is murky. With a target on his back, Sully has endangered the Na’vi, and the Metkayina clan leader, Tonowari (Cliff Curtis), is not too happy about this turn of events. And neither is his snarling pregnant wife, Ronal (Kate Winslet). (Before you think, Kate Winslet is in this? It’s merely a voice-over).

Yet, an army of mighty warriors are ready to double-down, riding on some primordial-looking sea creatures. Only Quaritch has brought a force that look like the Na’vi. Good luck figuring out who are the good and bad guys, for it’s not always clear.

Clan leader Tonowari

The kids get in all sorts of scrapes, but telling them apart is tough, too, especially the two sons—Neteyam (Jamie Flatters) and Lo’ak (Britain Dalton). Kiri is the offspring of Sigourney Weaver, and they are her guardian. The youngest daughter named Tuk is designed to be the cute little charmer (Trinity Jo-Li Bliss). And then there is Miles, aka Spider (Jack Champion), a human who was left behind, and is like an adopted son.

Lots o’ macho posturing, women fretting, outsiders vs. natural-born, and kids being scolded for putting themselves in harm’s way. For three hours and 12 minutes, no intermission.

It is only epic is scope, not in any captivating way, for the imagination seems to have stopped at the art direction. Pretty pictures of ethereal thingamajigs floating in the water, and creatures plugging into energy sources that light them up for some reason are dazzling, so are the skies full of stars, and wavy tendrils that wrap themselves around various shapes, with different results.

Things blow up in spectacular fashion and gigantic whale-shark-looking hybrids, feared for their viciousness and sheer magnitude, wreak major havoc. The battle scenes, with Down Under-accented enemies, are well-executed – wait, did I just see New Zealand comic treasure Jemaine Clement?

With the avatars and Na’vi appearing so similar in looks and expressions, performances fail to register. The characters are one-note without much depth. Outstanding actress Edie Falco is wasted as a general and I’m not sure who ace character actress CCH Pounder plays.

New age-y dialogue is cringe-worthy, sounds like something from blacklight posters in the ‘70s. “The way of water connects all things. Before your birth, and after your death,” one son says. Whatever that means.

For all its posturing as an event film, “Avatar: The Way of Water” is unnecessary. It’s a gussied-up mash-up of ahead-of-his-time genius Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth.” And I would like four hours of my life back.

Kiri, under water

“Avatar: The Way of Water” is a 2022 action fantasy film directed by James Cameron and starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Stephen Lang, Sigourney Weaver, Cliff Curtis, Kate Winslet, CCH Pounder, Jack Champion, Britain Dalton, and Jamie Flatters. It is rated PG-13 for sequences of strong violence and intense action, partial nudity and some strong language and runtime is 192 minutes. It opens in theaters Dec. 16. Lynn’s Grade: C-.

By Lynn Venhaus

Local Spotlight: Ian Coulter-Buford, formerly of Belleville, Ill., and now on the national tour of “Hadestown” currently at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis through Oct. 23, is the dance captain, understudy for Hermes and a swing in the show.

Here’s a Fabulous Fox video in which he shares a few moves from the Tony-winning Best Musical.

For more information on Ian, who has an MFA in theatre from Illinois Wesleyan University, visit his website:

Announcements: Matinee Added!

Stray Dog Theatre has added a Saturday matinee for its last week of its critically acclaimed “A Little Night Music.”

Four other performances remain of the Sondheim classic, Oct. 19-22, 8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at the Tower Grove Abbey.

For tickets or more information, visit:

Phil Rosenthal

TV: Somebody Feed Phil

Host Phil Rosenthal opens the sixth season of the Emmy-nominated food/travel series “Somebody Feed Phil” on Netflix. The new episodes take Phil to Philadelphia, Nashville and Austin in the U.S., and Croatia and Santiago across the universe.

A special tribute to his late parents, Helen and Max, is featured as well. The pair inspired their fair share of “Everybody Loves Raymond” moments, which Rosenthal created and was the executive producer from 1996 to 2005 (he also wrote 23 episodes).

Book: Phil Again

“Somebody Feel Phil: The Book” is available in bookstores and online today. It includes recipes, production photos and stories from the first four season.

Rosenthal will be at the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5 with a presentation called – Somebody Feed Phil the Book: Untold Stories, Behind-the-Scenes Photos and Favorite Recipes: A Cookbook

The ultimate collection of must-have recipes, stories, and behind-the-scenes photos from the beloved Netflix show Somebody Feed Phil.

“Wherever I travel, be it a different state, country, or continent, I always call Phil when I need to know where and what to eat. He’s the food guru of the world.” —Ray Romano

From the JBF: Phil Rosenthal, host of the beloved Netflix series Somebody Feed Phil, really loves food and learning about global cultures, and he makes sure to bring that passion to every episode of the show. Whether he’s traveling stateside to foodie-favorite cities such as San Francisco or New Orleans or around the world to locations like Ho Chi Minh City, Tel Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, or Marrakesh, Rosenthal includes a healthy dose of humor to every episode—and now to this book.”

For tickets or more information and the complete schedule, visit:

Trailer: “Creed III” Released Today!

Follow-up to “Creed” in 2015 and “Creed II” in 2018, star and director Michael B. Jordan introduced the trailer to the third installment yesterday to critics (more on that later), and it came out today.

It will be released in theaters and IMAX on March 3, 2023.

Synopsis: After dominating the boxing world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) has been thriving in both his career and family life. When a childhood friend and former boxing prodigy, Damian (Jonathan Majors), resurfaces after serving a long sentence in prison, he is eager to prove that he deserves his shot in the ring. The face-off between former friends is more than just a fight. To settle the score, Adonis must put his future on the line to battle Damian – a fighter who has nothing to lose.

The screenplay is by Keenan Coogler and Zach Baylin, with story by them and originator Ryan Coogler.

Besides Jordan and Majors, cast includes Tessa Thompson, Wood Harris, Florian Munteanu, Mila Davis-Kent, and Phylicia Rashad.

Premium Video on Demand: “The Good House”

Sigourney Weaver and Kevin Kline reunite for the third time in this adult romantic drama, based on the novel by Ann Leary. Weaver is Hildy Good, a realtor in a small New England town, and she rekindles a romance with Frank Getchell (Kline), But she needs to take care of a buried past, for her drinking is getting out of control again. It’s a portrait of a proud woman who wouldn’t think of asking for help, but whose life won’t change until she does.

Premium Video on Demand is $19.99.

On Nov. 22, the movie will be available video on demand for $5.99, and rental as DVD. It’s available for purchase as a Blu-ray + Digital combo or DVD.

Notes: The pair were in “Dave” (1993) and “The Ice Storm” (1997). Kline, 74, from St. Louis, has won an Oscar for “A Fish Called Wanda” in 1989. For his work on Broadway, he has won three Tony Awards — for two musicals, “The Pirates of Penzance” in 1981 and “On the Twentieth Century” in 1978, and the comedy “Present Laughter” in 2017.

Blackberry Telecaster

Drink: Purple Power

It’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Fountain on Locust is hoping to see St. Louis turn purple in support!

Order the Blackberry Telecaster or Le Fleur at the Fountain from today through Sunday, Oct. 18 – 23, and half the profits will go to help local St. Louis non-profit ALIVE provide shelter, healing and hope to domestic violence survivors in need.

For more info, visit

Word: The origin of the cocktail

On this day in 1776:  In a bar decorated with bird tail in Elmsford, New York, a customer requests a glassful of “those cock tails” from bartender Betsy Flanagan.

Playlist: Chuck Berry

It’s Chuck Berry’s birthday – he was born Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis and died on March 18, 2017.

As part of his 60th birthday celebration, parts of the film, “Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll” was recorded at the Fox Theatre on Oct. 16, 1986.

For a look back at that experience, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has an article today:

Here’s Keith Richards joining Berry for “Nadine”:

On this President’s Day, let’s look back at the films centered around an American President, and what actors were best at portraying the Commander-in-Chief – be it fact or fiction. Here are some of my favorite dramas, comedies and even romances that included the most powerful leader of the free world. We are only listing theatrical films and the HBO film adaptation of “All the Way.”

If we included television, we’d have a wider pool, and that’s for another list. What are your favorites that spotlight our U.S. leader?

1. Lincoln (2012) — Daniel Day-Lewis not only delivers the best presidential portrayal ever on screen, but also one of the best male performances of all-time. Day-Lewis won his third Oscar, and it was never in doubt. Just a remarkable portrayal of Abe as a man struggling to hold the country together and lead them to higher ground. Director Steven Spielberg brought a humanity to the story rarely seen in historical portraits.

Kevin Kline in “Dave”

2. Dave (1993) — Kevin Kline is Dave Kovic, who is hired to impersonate the commander-in-chief when President Bill Mitchell suffers a stroke during an illicit affair.

A comedic take on an everyman winning over government wonks with his common sense, solidly directed by Ivan Reitman. Sigourney Weaver is a formidable First Lady.

Bruce Greenwood as “Thirteen Days”

3. Thirteen Days (2000) – President John F. Kennedy saved the day when we were on the brink of nuclear war with Russia, known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. This is a historical look back at this tense political time in 1962, through the perspective of White House assistant Kenneth P. O’Donnell (Kevin Costner), with Bruce Greenwood strong as JFK.

Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd in “The American President”

4. The American President (1995) – This is Aaron Sorkin’s idealism front and center before “The West Wing.”

Michael Douglas shines as a widowed president running for re-election who starts a romance with an environmental lobbyist played by Annette Bening, but the political fallout affects their relationship.

Savvy script, smart casting (especially Martin Sheen and Michael J. Fox as chief of staff and press secretary) make this Rob Reiner-helmed comedy-drama a memorable one.

Harrison Ford in “Air Force One”

5. Air Force One (1997) – Harrison Ford as kick-butt President James Marshall. Love it! The fit commander-in-chief is a Vietnam vet in this political action-thriller directed by Wolfgang Petersen. A group of terrorists hijack the president’s plane and threaten the U.S. but our hero won’t let that happen on his watch. Glenn Close is the vice president and Gary Oldman the Russian bad guy, but it is Ford, in all his star power, as the take-charge head of state that made this movie one of the most successful of the ‘90s.

Anthony Hopkins as “Nixon”

6. Nixon (1995) – Anthony Hopkins embodied the beleaguered president during his tumultuous White House years, with Joan Allen riveting as his long-suffering wife Pat. Oliver Stone directed, so the agenda is clear.

Michael Sheen as David Frost and Frank Langella as Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon”

7. Frost/Nixon (2008) – Frank Langella was Oscar-nominated as the disgraced Nixon seeking redemption in his four-part interviews with Britain’s David Frost in 1977. Ron Howard sharply directed the adaptation of Peter Morgan’s 2006 play, with whip-smart movie script by the playwright.

8. Young Mr. Lincoln (1939) – Director John Ford teamed up with actor Henry Fonda for this look at honest Abe during his early years. Fonda embodies the heroic ideals of the lawyer and statesman who would become the 16th president of the United States.

Brian Cranston as LBJ

9. All the Way (2016) — Bryan Cranston won a well-deserved Tony Award for his masterful portrayal of Lyndon Baines Johnson during the early days of the Civil Rights movement in the 2014 play by Robert Schenkkan.

This is the Emmy-nominated HBO adaptation, written by the playwright and directed by Jay Roach. Cranston is again uncanny as political animal LBJ, and the all-star cast includes Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr., Stephen Root as J. Edgar Hoover, Bradley Whitford as Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Melissa Leo as Lady Bird Johnson.

Jeff Bridges as the President and Christian Slater as a reporter in “The Contender”

10. The Contender (2000) — The wonderful Jeff Bridges is a likeable two-term Democratic President, Jackson Evans, who decides to break the glass ceiling and appoint a woman Vice-President after the current one dies.

However, his nominee, Ohio Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) gets entangled in vicious hearings with a bullseye on her back. This political thriller is written and directed by Rod Lurie, a former newspaper guy. Both Bridges and Allen were nominated for Oscars.

Emma Thompson and John Travolta as thinly veiled Hillary and Bill Clinton in “Primary Colors”

11. Primary Colors (1998) – John Travolta was at the top of his game portraying Jack Stanton, a charismatic Southern governor running for president. Recognize anyone? Based on the 1996  “Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics” by Newsweek’s Joe Klein, this fictionalized account of Clinton’s 1992 campaign had a crackerjack supporting cast (Emma Thompson, Billy Bob Thornton, Oscar nominee Kathy Bates), sharply directed by Mike Nichols and written by his former comedy partner Elaine May.

Tiki Sumpter and Parker Sawyer in “Southside with You”

12. Southside with You (2016) – A ‘what if’ movie that works, quirks and all, with its imagining of what Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama’s first date was like back when they were lawyers in Chicago. Written and directed by Richard Tanner, this little charmer comes alive when the nervous future two-term president shows off his oratory skills at a community meeting. Parker Sawyer is a genuinely believable Obama but Tika Sumpter really shines as the life force who would become First Lady Michelle Obama.

Michael Shannon as Elvis and Kevin Spacey as Nixon in “Elvis and Nixon”

14. Elvis and Nixon (2016) – You may think this is preposterous, but this really did happen. And it’s one goofy movie. On Dec. 21, 1970, rock ‘n’ roll icon Elvis Presley went to the White House for a meeting with President Richard Nixon – and that historical photograph is the most requested one at the National Archives. Talk about offbeat casting — Michael Shannon is a different kind of Elvis while Kevin Spacey impersonates Nixon.

16. Independence Day (1996) – Bill Pullman is memorable President Thomas J. Whitmore facing an alien invasion, and his rallyng-all-Americans speech is one of the best-known in films.
Here is the transcript of that great speech:

President Whitmore:
Good morning. Good morning. In less than an hour aircrafts from here will join others from around the world and you will be launching the largest aerial battle in the history of mankind.
Mankind, that word should have new meaning for all of us today. We can’t be consumed by our petty differences anymore. We will be united in our common interests. Perhaps it’s fate that today is the 4th of July and you will once again be fighting for our freedom not from tyranny, oppression, or persecution but from annihilation.

We’re fighting for our right to live, to exist, and should we win today the 4th of July will no longer be known as an American President holiday but is the day when the world declared in one voice,

“We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today we celebrate our Independence Day!”

This epic sci-fi disaster film made $817.4 million and won the Oscar for Best VIsual Effects.

17. Lee Daniels’ “The Butler” (2013) and 18. “White House Down” (2013) These aren’t films of particularly lasting impact but the casting of the presidents is genius.

In “The Butler,” Forest Whitaker plays a White House employee who serves multiple presidents  – and this casting is certainly eyebrow-raising:

Robin Williams as Dwight D. Eisenhower, James Marsden as JFK, Liev Shreiber as LBJ, John Cusack as Nixon, and the most brilliant turn by Alan Rickman as Ronald Reagan (with Jane Fonda as Nancy!).

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx is the kick-ass president in the action thriller “White House Down,” which came out at the same time as the inferior “Olympus Has Fallen,” all about a terrorist group creating chaos at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s terrific and a good match-up with Channing Tatum as a heroic Secret Serviceman.

Honorable Mentions: Oscar nominee Sam Rockwell is pitch-perfect as George W. Bush in “Vice” (2018), but he’s barely a supporting character. In Natalie Portman’s tour de force “Jackie,” Caspar Phillipson and John Carroll Lynch are effective portraying John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson.