Thursday, July 15, 2010

Playing Catch Up! The Last Air Bender

In a world where certain people are gifted with the ability to control single elements- one boy may have the power to control them all and so end a war.

Growing up my family had a dog named Lisa. As a puppy, Lisa was fascinated with the stove. Being a dog she didn't really register it the way we do- as a source of heat with which to do many things. She saw- or rather smelled- it as a source of fantastic treats that she never seemed to get. No matter how much we shooed and scolded and attempted to get her to understand how dangerous the stove and the oven within it were, we couldn't change her mind. So when she got old enough, big enough, and bold enough- it was really only a matter of time until something had to give.

One Sunday morning my mom was busy preparing breakfast as she often did on weekends. Lisa, as always, was watching from the doorway (we'd eventually banned her from the kitchen altogether). As she'd done countless times before my mother, at the behest of a dinging timer, pulled a pan of freshly baked bacon from the oven and set it on the stove. Now, this next part nobody saw but we can assume it happened something like this: My mother turned her back to get done a plate to serve the bacon out of the pantry, and Lisa saw her chance. She bolted in, and attempted lick up a burning hot piece of bacon from the hot metal pan and the superheated grease it was covered in.

To this day my family calls it "The Yelp Heard 'Round the World." My brother and I came racing from opposite ends of the house to find my mother stroking the Lisa's back while she steadily drained her water dish. Once we saw that she was fine, worry soon gave way to laughter. As horrible as it may sound, the episode became just one of many fond memories we all share of that pup. Within a few minutes Lisa was back to normal, but throughout the rest of her long happy life, she never so much as glanced at the stove again.

The moral of this story is a simple one: It only took once for my dog to realize something she should never do again. How many times do the movie studios have to be burned before they stop letting M. Night Shyamalan write, produce, and direct his own movies?

The Last Air Bender is a perfect example of what happens when great ideas end up in the wholly wrong hands. From the zombie-esque performances of the three leads, to the downright terrible writing ("We'll show them that we believe in our beliefs just as much as they believe in theirs.") to the fact that water doesn't seem to soak nor fire burn, Shyamalan has now proven that he can not only poorly execute his own ideas, but he can poorly execute other people's as well. When the costumes in your big budget summer blockbuster elicit memories of SciFi Channel originals- you know something is wrong.

When they announced a live action adaptation of the beloved cartoon, I remembered thinking to myself that it would be the easiest gig in the world to take on. The cartoon had such a loyal, diverse, and devoted following- not to mention smart construction built atop a foundation of truly awesome ideas. 'You'd have to work pretty damn hard to screw this one up.' I thought to myself. Apparently Shyamalan put in the hours. If this movie were a meal, I'd spit it out. If it were a phone call, I'd hang up. I would rather re-watch The Happening then sit through another viewing of this monument to ineptitude. Somewhere there's a movie studio steadily draining it's water dish.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Playing Catch Up! Twilight Saga: Eclipse

As tensions grow between the Cullens and the Werewolf pack, an unknown mastermind plots for all out war against both.

"...A huge step up from god awful- which is exactly what the first movie was. I will say this: if the third movie improves on the second as much as the second improved on the first, then I might actually find myself looking forward to the fourth." This was how I ended my review New Moon, the second (and previous) installment in the Twilight Saga. I had walked out of the theater impressed at such an about-face in the space of one episode. I don't care how much you may hate Twilight's approximation of Nosferatu- that's an impressive feat.

Unfortunately, Eclipse ensures that there will be no streak. It's no better than New Moon. It's no worse than New Moon. To be honest, I'm not sure it wasn't New Moon. Eclipse is the cinematic equivalent of left-over night. Despite the flash and exposition, I could not be fooled out of seeing that the movie had been running at 60 mph hour, but the overall story had only moved inches. Every major arc returns exactly where it left off and proceeds to take all the steps we saw it walk in the first two movies again.

Jacob continues to pine after Bella giving speech after speech about how he'll change her mind. Bella continues to lead him on through a series of overt actions given perfunctory explanation in hopes of keeping the audience from realizing how contrived they all are. The Cullen's chase Victoria through the woods, and we are reminded that the Volturi are bad. And of course, Bella continues to follow her man's will, defying Edward only when it comes to seeking Jacob. At one point the two of them have a conversation in which they all but decide Bella's life (and death) for her. That she's sleeping in this scene is fitting, as they talk about her as though she's not even in the room.

Director David Slade's dark accolades don't do much to save the day here. In the end, this is still a majorly bloodless vampire movie. Open discussion of the fact that the Cullen's actually do hunt (wildlife) is the closest we come to any real horror. The battle scenes are all kept chaste by the fact that the vampire's all seem to be made of solid pewter. Even the most "gruesome" "deaths" are completely bloodless.

Following the lead of Harry Potter, the Twilight movies have split their last installment, making five movies out of four books. It seems to me that they could have saved themselves the extension by combining this newest episode and the last, since the former is more a less a repeat of the latter. I say, as a fan of neither franchise, that what Twilight could really learn from Harry Potter is to attempt to craft better films- even at the cost of the higher ticket sales awarded when your willing to crank out mediocre movies while your audience is still craving more teen-titillation. It seems that Twilight is happy to thrive in the box office and languish everywhere else.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A slightly delayed review of Cyrus

"It's an endless parade of horny house wives begging for your man meat."

So let's get this out of the way right now: Marissa Tomei is beautiful. I might even venture breath taking. I have no idea why she doesn't age, but as soon as she shows up on screen I find that I don;t really care. Now that we have that out of the way- on with the review.

It would seem that Cyrus, not unlike the recently reviewed Splice, is a movie of two faces: the movie they pitch in the trailer, and the movie you see in the theater. The trailer would have you believe that this a comedy of Rushmore-esque styling, where an older and younger man compete for the affection of a woman with utterly hilarious results. The actual film is something much more emotional and touching. I say this in spite of the movies opening- which not only didn't fit the themes and style of the rest of the movie, but seems almost like it was purposefully tacked on to justify the lies the trailers were telling. Luckily it pulls up quickly. And from there pleasantly surprised over and over again.

Brothers as writing and directing teams is definitely a hit or miss dynamic. With the Duplass borthers (Jay and Mark) it's a hit. The script portrays more or less genuine characters- only pushing on the outskirts to get you to see what they are trying to say. As for the headline relationship the two use brilliant editing choices and oddly intoxicating pseudo-voice overs to massage the audience into complete and total belief of the romance unfolding on screen. Within minutes I was more enthralled with this simple couple than a hundred glittery vampire love stories. Get them invested in the relationship so they are, by extension, invested in what happens to it; sounds so simple, but it is so rarely accomplished- especially this well.

The previously swooned over Tomei turns in yet another performance full of emotion and vulnerability. Where a lesser actress would play stupid she plays cozened; where a lesser actress would play weepy she plays sullen. Her performance goes hand in hand with that of John "The C. stands for cosmopolitan" Reilly. Say what you want about the man, but he rarely plays the same character twice, and even when the movie is lack luster he gives off a an air of full devotion. Only occasionally does he resort to the abrasiveness that he's come to be known for and even then it fits.

the true stand out here is Jonah Hill, who seems to be out to show the world he is more than a jester. First he gave us a truly enjoyable performance as the straight man in Get Him to the Greek, and with Cyrus he delves into a more emotional place. What he delivers is a well done but in the end timid performance. He shows that he could indeed deliver on an emotionally charged role, but I use the word "could" because he's not given much of a chance to really engage. I saw enough to know I'm curious for more though, and that has to count for something.

Walking out of the theater I over heard a couple complaining that the movie wasn't nearly as funny as Step-brothers. I felt a little pity for them, seeing as they'd obviously missed the point. They were right, however, Cyrus is is not a comedy. It is funny in the way that life can be funny- but is more interested in being heartfelt and genuine. In this it is a complete success. Fans of Talladega Nights will surely be disappointed, but there's a an incredibly enjoyable movie waiting for anyone willing to ignore the trailers.

Reel Deal Recommends:
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead: Tomei and an all-star cast.
Boogie Knights: Reilly in a much better movie than it gets credit for.
Superbad: Jonah Hill's break out role.