Category Archives: the happening

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.

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.