Category Archives: m. night shyamalan

The Last Airbender

The Last Airbender ~ Long before a friend turned me on to the beautifully animated TV series, I saw large chunks of this movie while on a cruise. You know how television on a cruise ship is like half a dozen movies on a continuous loop? This was one of them. I was unimpressed.

At the time, I had no foreknowledge of “Avatar” or bending or any of the mythology involved. I was bored by many undialogued scenes, cool special effects but without substance, and what seemed like a lot of spiritual mumbo jumbo and clever subtext that I just didn’t understand. Pretentious was the word I was looking for. And I was bored by it. If memory serves, I actually found Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time more interesting.

Of course the other factor at work here is M. Night Shyamalan. I love M. Night. I even have loved M. Night after it was uncool to love, or even like, him any more. When the critics turned on him and left to drown in low box office and derivative stories I loved the guy. I even dug Lady in the Water, but even I was let down by The Happening. And though he only directed, produced, and wrote the screenplay for this one, I was hopeful this would not continue the critic’s curse. It sure didn’t seem like it from what I saw however.

In the pre-“Legend of Korra” excitement, and having also watched a dozen or so episodes of the original series too, I decided to give the feature film another shot. The first thing that struck me about The Last Airbender is the somberness of it, the almost lack of humor. That said, it is respectful of the source material, but almost too much so. It’s like M. Night wants so badly to give it a serious treatment, he forgets it’s a story about kids, he forgets to have fun. This is just not about childlike wonderment, it’s about being a kid too, despite the world it takes place in.

The Last Airbender also has something in common with many of the films made from Stephen King books. If you have read the books, you already know what the characters are thinking and feeling so you dismiss any absence of same on the screen. This also works with this movie, having seen the source material. This is why it felt so empty the first time I saw it, but on more recent viewing, I understood it.

The two hour movie is essentially shorthand, or Cliff’s Notes if you will, of the fifty plus episodes of the animated series, or the first third of them at least. M. Night strives to keep a lot of it in, even when it has lost its context. It’s a lot of tell over show, and any writer will explain its the other way around. Much is lost by M. Night being meticulous. Without knowing ahead of time what is what, the film becomes a convoluted mess.

Despite all that, the second time around I enjoyed the film quite a bit. There are some wonderful visuals, some that I wouldn’t have thought this director capable of, but again, it’s not the animated series, but it tries in its own way. And in that way, The Last Airbender is a great companion piece to “Avatar,” just not alone.

Chronicle

Chronicle ~ The famous tagline of the Amazing Spider-Man legend is “With great power comes great responsibility”, and that’s really what this ‘found footage’ scifi horror adventure flick is about. Or maybe that’s what the tagline for Chronicle should be, because as we see as the movie proceeds, we need to add a word to the saying – “With great power should come great responsibility.”

In the film, Michael B. Jordan (“Friday Night Lights”) the popular guy, Alex Russell the regular guy, and Dane DeHaan (“In Treatment”) the picked-on misfit nerd with family troubles all get super powers, specifically telekinesis. This commonality bonds them to each other in an unorthodox friendship. Much like M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, the best part here is the boys learning to use their powers. One particularly wonderful scene shows them learning to fly. It’s breathtaking. If “Smallville” had done it this well, it would still be on the air, and if The Man of Steel (telling the origin again) does it like this, it will be a hit. Worthwhile just for these scenes.

Things break down of course each one subjected to their own inner struggles. Guess which one becomes the villain, kinda telegraphed, but still well done. The ending battle is pretty cool as far as special effects go, but the found footage format makes it difficult to follow. As much as I usually dislike that kind of flick, the end is the only place it doesn’t work. This was much better than I thought it would be. Recommended for the genre crowd.

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Don’t forget, The Virtual Book Tour for THE HUNGRY HEART STORIES by Fran Metzman is featured today at Becca Butcher’s blog with an interview with the author.

The tour continues tomorrow on my good friend Robin Renee’s blog. Don’t miss it! For a full list of Blog Tour stops, go here.

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Quickies 12-7-2010

Secretariat ~ Although falling into the same vein as Apollo 13, Miracle and the granddaddy of all the yes-you-idiot-this-really-happened flicks, Titanic, this was still an excellent and uplifting film. And unlike those others I mentioned, when I saw Secretariat, there was no one insanely younger than me worried about the outcome of the movie in the seats around me. Secretariat was the first Kentucky Derby winner I was aware of as a kid, and it was interesting to see the whole backstory as presented here. Terrific flick, great cast, highly recommended, and Diane Lane better get an Oscar nod for this.

Suck ~ This is a surprising black comedy horror musical about a rock band of mostly vampires trying to make it. Lots of great tunage, in-jokes and wonderful cameos from Alice Cooper, Iggy Pop, Alex Lifeson, Dave Foley, Henry Rollins, Malcolm McDowell, and someone probably only I remember, Carole Pope of Rough Trade. Great fun, recommended.

The Runaways ~ Dakota Fanning plays lead singer Cherie Currie in this bio-pic of the 1970s teen hard rock female sensations the Runaways, based on Cherie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway. Kristen Stewart of the Twilight movies plays against type as Joan Jett, and Michael Shannon, one of the best new actors of recent years is the sadistic record producer Kim Fowley. Look quick or you’ll miss Tatum O’Neal as Cherie’s mom. Great soundtrack, bittersweet ending and great time capsule.

The Last Airbender ~ I love M. Night. Um, I used to love M. Night. Let’s face it, I held out longer for this dude than anyone else I know who loves and watches and writes and even just talks about movies. All the other rats have fled the sinking ship. I can still on occasion be caught defending The Village, swing away and yes, even the ‘narf.’ I saw promise, potential and genius. I just watched The Last Airbender. Wow. I seriously hope there is still a life raft willing to let me climb aboard.

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The Book of Eli

The Book of Eli ~ Every once in a while, actor Denzel Washington takes a side trip into science fiction or the paranormal and we get a terrific high quality genre film. The Book of Eli is one of them. This dark post-apocalyptic flick is filmed in sepia tones close to motion capture, adding an edge to every scene no matter what is going on in it. I think this technique was a good choice by the Hughes brothers, very stylistic.

The film opens with Denzel, as Eli, killing and eating a cat. While eating the cat, he offers some to a rat. There you go, the tone is set and the character defined. On the other hand, where’s PETA when you need them? Seriously I always like show over tell. Eli is real and alive in our minds after that moment.

Eli holds a book from ‘before’ that can change humanity, hopefully for the better. That book is, and spoilers, folks, The Bible. And those are only sarcastic spoilers as its identity, while not mentioned ’til halfway through the movie, is pretty obvious. If you can’t figure it out in the first ten minutes you’re not paying attention even though the flick makes it seem like brain surgery. Anyway, many blame The Bible for whatever happened to mankind while others see the book as a path to power.

Gary Oldman plays one of those men who seeks to take over using the words from the book and regularly sends his henchmen across the wasteland that was America to find books, specifically The Bible. And most books are gone, as they were all burned along with The Bible because that caused all this mess. Yeah, this is like the negative aftermath of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” but it works.

Oldman is always amazing and always surprising, a joy to watch no matter what the role. Ray Stevenson of HBO’s “Rome” is his lead henchman and Mila Kunis plays the damsel in distress. Along with Denzel, all impress.

The Book of Eli is simple but powerful. Props to the Hughes brothers. And watch out for the very M. Night twist of an ending. Highly recommended.

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No Ordinary Family

This show has the unhealthy feel of a network executive deciding that ABC needs a family-style superhero series that would feed off the “Heroes” audience who were feeling betrayed by the powers that be who ruined “Heroes.” The feeling continues when it seems like they grabbed Marc Guggenheim off “Eli Stone” because someone mentioned he used to write comic books. And it doesn’t get any better when they cast veteran superhero actor Michael Chiklis in the lead, and gets even worse when he gets almost the same powers, if not the look of The Thing, his role in the Fantastic Four films.

All that said, “No Ordinary Family” is a likable, family friendly and genre friendly show. My problem with it is much the same problem I have with M. Night’s Unbreakable (a flick I love, I might add), it’s all origin and training, no superhero stuff. I want a superhero show, not a learner with training wheels, I want the hero, the guy (or gal) who can, I want to strong chin, starry eyes to root for against the bad guys. It’s what the genre is, or should be, about.

Speaking of bad guys, the villains of this piece, are one of the elements that does keep me coming back. I hate to bring it back to the failure of “Heroes,” but the bad guys being more charismatic than the good guys is not a good thing. Let’s hope “No Ordinary Family” can shake out of training phase and not submit to the “Heroes” curse.

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Predators

Wow. We should’ve seen Inception.

Boys night out, and the decision was made to see a flick that we couldn’t go see with our significant others. Something those of us who are married know, and those of you who are not yet will find out, is that after the rings are on, you can only go to movies that you both agree on – or, in other words, movies she wants to see.

This might sound sexist, and it might sound harsh, but let me tell you, after tonight, sometimes the woman is always right. Her decision not to see Predators was dead on. I should let The Bride review the movies from now on…

The choice was this, Inception or M. Night’s Last Airbender. I pushed for Predators because it was produced by Robert Rodriguez and I liked what I had heard about it. Apparently I had heard wrong. My two buds unanimously decided that I don’t get to pick movies any more after the flick ended.

What bugs me is this could have been good, Rodriguez produced after all. I guess it just goes to show you that even a good premise, some cool special effects and an excellent cinematic mind producing still can’t put it all together. All the twists of the plot are predictable from the start, the acting is bare at most, the gore and violence is gratuitous, and worst of all – it doesn’t even have an ending. It’s like they just said, cut it here, it doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t.

And how the heck can you have night on a planet where the sun doesn’t move? Next time, if there is a next time, and I get to choose – it’s Inception. And it better be good.

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Quarantine

Quarantine ~ This is the 2008 American remake of [REC] that I reviewed a few months back. It begins relatively the same as the original and stars Jennifer Carpenter, better known as Dexter’s little sister. Most notable is how young, spunky and much more likable she is in this role as a reality TV reporter spending the night on call with firefighters.

The story is the same and even the sets look the same. And it’s ‘super-rabies’ instead of zombies, but hey, an undead rose by any other name, ya know? Also the idea of it being filmed as it happens is lessened by a more subtle technique. That’s good, giving this a more film-like quality rather than the distracting handy-cam method. It’s still there, just less so.

The real saving grace of this version is that Carpenter is sympathetic to the viewer, while in the original, there was a point where I wanted the zombies to hurry up and kill Manuela Velasco already. I think writer/director brothers Drew and John Erick Dowdle made all the right decisions for this remake. Keep an eye out for their M. Night produced Devil come 2011. Quarantine is worth a look, especially if you’ve seen [REC].

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Halloween Quickies


Premonition ~ When I heard the plot to this one, I thought that surely Sandra Bollock must have lost her mind – another freaky anti-logical time travel story? With the bad headache of The Lake House fresh in my mind I tentatively watched this one, and was pleasantly surprised. While traveling backwards and forwards in time, a young housewife and mother attempts to right her life which has become a tragedy. This is a smart thriller and worth seeing.

Mystery of the Wax Museum ~ Fay Wray is just a delight as fast-talking spunky reporter Charlotte Duncan in this two-strip Technicolor horror classic from 1933. Lots of fun and spookier than any of its rip-offs and remakes. This is the real deal.

Angel Heart ~ This flick made quite a bit of press when it came out because of the nude scenes featuring Lisa Bonet, at the time a co-star of the top ten “The Cosby Show.” If memory serves, it lost her the gig. Beyond that, we have Mickey Rourke, back when he could act and wasn’t quite so sleazy – pre-Barfly in other words, along with a phoned-in performance from Robert DeNiro in a film written and directed by Alan Parker. The trick to enjoying this movie is to not pay too much attention. If you do pay attention, it becomes predictable and very transparent, and it’s a long way to the end. Worth seeing once, but that’s about it.

The Happening ~ I’m a huge M. Night Shyamalan fan, but this 2008 film is nothing but a disappointment. I still think he’s one of the best writer/directors working in the business, just he maybe got lazy or perhaps was knocked in the head or something. The Happening, while showing off M. Night’s direction and cinematic skills, is nothing but a derivative rip-off/homage of Hitchcock’s The Birds only with plants enraged at man rather than our feather friends. The similarities are shockingly unoriginal and I have to admit I’ve lost more than a bit of respect for M. Night. He’s better than this, or at least I thought he was.

Near Dark ~ A very young Adrian Pasdar, Nathan Petrelli from “Heroes,” is the naïve lead in this 1987 vampire flick written and directed by Kathryn Bigelow – the woman behind Blue Steel, a film solidly in my bottom ten. Near Dark must have been quite innovative when it came out, but now it feels dated, and yes, a bit cliché.