REVIEW: The Last Airbender

Film: The Last Airbender
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Writer: M. Night Shyamalan
Year: 2010

When I first heard about a live-action film version of one of my favorite television series (and yes, it’s animated) Avatar: The Last Airbender, I got chills that were, ahem, multiplying. As much as I am always initially skeptic about film versions of a television franchise because of exploitation, I was intrigued by the story challenge of fitting an entire twenty episode season (book) into a single film and especially the concept of a live-action flying Appa. I mean, if Peter Jackson can compress The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings into a single film, The Last Airbender director M. Night Shyamalan can definitely cram 600 minutes of glorious storytelling into a film slot.

After viewing the first teaser trailer in 2009 and finding out that the two Avatar creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko were involved, I was sold. Luckily, in my eyes, Shyamalan still had that last “free pass card” to prove me wrong that his lucky streak was definitely down the craphole. A few months ago, when casting was finalized, the “race-bending” controversy erupted when the film’s creators casted an entirely non-Asian cast (the Avatar television series’ backdrop is of Asian influenced environments and populated by Asian descendants, unique in American television). However, counteracting the controversy, a recast was announced making Prince Zuko along with many Fire Nation citizens (the bad guys) of Indian descent. Of course, this developed a new flame of controversy, proving that no one ever wins when casting in Hollywood.

Aside from the entire controversy behind the casting and the latest addition of 3D (post production 3D conversion is a no-no, via Clash of the Titans and Burton’s Alice in Wonderland), I was still intrigued and still excited to view the film. I trust the creative heads behind Airbender to entertain me for a good two hours.

Now the review. I leave the theatre two hours later with deep remorse and great disappointment. One minute into the film, I smiled because Shyamalan re-created the martial arts sequence based on the introduction of the series version. Then the slug lines appeared with Kitara’s voiceover, and when she mispronounced the word “Avatar” not once, but twice, I cringed, but as always with this film, I forgave it. And as the film progresses, I slowly but surely lost my patience until a point when I actually wanted to walk out and leave. It’s easy to blame Shyamalan for his mistake in highlighting the wrong entities and story lines based off the series, and so I blame him. I guess cramming 20 episodes into a feature film is impossible to create, but it seems as if Shyamalan did not even try. Many important characters were minimally mentioned or were not present in Airbender at all (like the Kyoshi warriors and Jet). Many vital story plots were thrown off the story table (like the Sozin’s comet prophecy and Aang’s sensitivity during the Avatar state). The main players were not even fully fleshed out as their television counterparts (Prince Zuko did not seem as viciously torn, Uncle Hiro did not have enough screen time to display his wisdom and love for tea, and Aang was plainly not Aang).

It is obvious to say that the film was rushed and too many creative forces (or not enough) dealt with this production. Airbender lacks the quirkiness and likability of characters and the epic features of the series. So what did fill in the two hours of Airbender – mispronunciations of everyone’s names, a unnecessary and short montage of Aang and Co. saving villages, Kitara’s voiceovers illustrating what could have been shown in film, excessive emphasis on the secret library and the spirit world. The reason why I loved the animated series is for it’s lovable three dimensional characters and arcs and for the epic story about adventure and saving the world. The reason I dislike the film is because contained nothing of what I liked about the series.

Concerning the actors, it wasn’t the color of their skin that I disapproved of, it was the entire casts lack of acting ability (except for Dev Patel’s spot on performance as Prince Zuko). Aside from Dev, the actors bluntly annoyed me because of their dry performance. Even the one-liner actors didn’t give their top notch performance. It is as if the entire cast and crew simply gave up during production, and what viewers are seeing in theatres today is a result of laziness and yes, exploitation. What could have been a wonderful film turned out to be the market-fueled film that made me skeptic about franchise movies to begin with.

I am definitely going to try my best to forget about this failure of a film and stick with my beloved animated series. I suggest you all do the same. And for the record, Shyamalan lost his last “free pass card” this week.

Adieu for now cool cats.

Sonny gives this film “1 Aang’s Airscooter” out of “5 Aang’s Airscooters”, a “D+”.

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Shadowplay

The Hurt Locker (Oscar Review)

Wow. In a bad way. I understand that The Hurt Locker snagged/stole the Best Picture Academy Award for 2009, but I refuse to accept it. Here are my reasons.

Don’t get me wrong, the film was definitely not the worst movie in 2009 – try watching Labor Pains with both eyes open – but it did not deserve all of the hype or awards. Let’s start with the story. The film centers around three soldiers during wartime in Iraq. These fellows search for active mines and deactivate them whilst trying to not get killed. The in-betweener scenes are filled with pretentious display of machismo, dry conversations, explorations of Iraqi ruins, and an ample amount of expository. In an nutshell sense, the film is a mockumentary of the Iraqi “war”. The American already knows what’s going on in Iraq (thanks to the news), yet the production team of The Hurt Locker felt like it was time for some more exploitation.

The film glorifies itself to be a cinematic breakthrough of capturing true human emotions in a deathtrap environment. I say, bullshit. The story barely cuts deeper than being a “war” movie. Of course the Americans have to be the good guys and of course they save the day. And not to bash the American soldiers across the seas, in a cinematic viewpoint, aren’t the greater stories told when both sides of the line are presented equally and letting the audience decide which one is the good side. Which brings me to propaganda.

The Academy and Hollywood in general has been a huge disappointment within the past few years – award/recognition wise. Although within these past few years, the revolution of award giving has been conveyed through much deserving awardees like Halle Berry and Jennifer Hudson, there still remains the most obvious non-deserving awardees who’s only reason for getting the award and recognition lies on the Academy’s wrongful yet intentional decisions.

Shakespeare In Love wins over Saving Private Ryan, Crash wins over Brokeback Mountain, and now The Hurt Locker wins over Avatar. My only conclusion for the mis-awarding of the Best Picture Category is conflict. The Academy loves the conflict and drama it creates and forcefully ripples down great filmmakers/film lovers spines. The Oscars is like that one girl/guy in high school who dresses differently compared to the rest of the campus, but in their mind, they are “cool”. Definitely the Academy Awards is a hit or miss show, but lately, as far as Best Picture, it’s an obvious red-flag miss. Shame on you. Shame on The Hurt Locker being proud of being “The Best Picture” (or whatever that is nowadays).

The Hangover

Film: The Hangover
Director: Todd Phillips
Year: 2009

Take 2000’s oddball movie Dude, Where’s My Car and add comedy into the mix. Damn skippy, the “what happened last night” genre finally got it right with this one. The Hangover was a consistently hilarious film all throughout (and that’s typically hard to do). One factor I enjoyed about the movie are the characters and their relationships with each other – all interesting and the cameos weren’t that bad either.

Sonny gives this unexpected comedy surpreso a “B+”.

Julie and Julia

Film: Julie and Julia
Director: Nora Ephron
Year: 2009

Butter. I love butter.

Julia Child and Julie Powell love butter. And I love their movie. I viewed Julie and Julia with no expectations other than how exciting it was to see Meryl Streep and Amy Adams reunited in another film together (they partnered in Doubt). And that goes for the reunion of Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci from The Devil Wears Prada. For all of you “6 Degrees to Meryl Streep” players – you’re welcome.

One minute into the Julie and Julia, I already knew I was going to be blown away. Just hearing Julia Child’s voice possessing the vocal cords of Streep put a confident smile on my face and lifted me off my seat into a world of cooking and hope. Act one was so lively and whimsical and never took itself too seriously because after all, it’s a film about cooking (and when was the last time you saw a movie about cooking that made you sad?). Julie and Julia is constructed with intertwining stories between acclaimed cook Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and writer Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams). The story follows their lives from being regular everyday people to their success as American icons.

The film proceeds to a journey of ups and downs with Act two and ends with the grand tie in with Act three; uplifting and making the audience yearning for more.

It’s funny how a movie about blogging can inspire you to blog again yourself. That’s why I’m restarting this site and breathing new life into it. I’ve neglected writing film reviews for many months now and it’s time to get back on it. A fair warning that I may sound rusty at first, but give me some time and you’ll learn to love me (at least my writing).

Julie Powell’s blog site: http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/

Adieu for now cool cats.

Sonny gives this movie a delicious “A”.

random observation



I was watching Vanilla Sky last night and realized that the premise is very similar to one of my favorite films in the entire universe Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Both films revolve around a protagonist who is emotionally disturbed by a recent event involving heartbreak. The protagonist finds no other solution other than either erasing their ex-lover from their memory or freezing themself and reliving a fantasy world that expels only desire. See the similarity?! Okay, this may be a far stretch, but the bridge is actually short – at least in my book.

Sidenote: Vanilla Sky is based off a 1997 Spanish film called Abre Los Ojos, also starring Penelope Cruz.

Trailers:


update with new moving pictures

It’s been a long and weird week. And now that it’s closing, I’m going to leave this work week with a clip from one of my most favorite movies. Many know this film as controversial, eye-opening, and religious-picketing glory, but I call it just plain silver screen gold cinema! The film is “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” and this is their dance:

sidenote – check out the new videos I posted under the “moving pictures” page; I’m going to add more sporadically throughout the weekend.

Have a tremendously great Friday!

over and oot,
Sonny