Monday, July 5, 2010

Huh, what?: The Last Airbender

It's rare when a film comes along and reminds just how bad it can get. Usually, even some of the worst movies have something you could gleam from them, even if it's a Mystery Science Theater 3000-induced chuckle. Ed Wood's films were cheap, starred non-actors and had stupid plots, but they at least they followed one or two proper film making rules, and I thought Glen or Glenda was genuinely thought provoking.

But The Last Airbender? Jesus fucking Christ. There is not a single thing right about this film. It seems to break even the most basic, most essential storytelling rules, and just out-right refuses to be engaging. I don't know who is the most to blame for this. Director M. Night Shyamalan, even at his worst, can still engage his audience. Is this bland cracker of a film the fault of the studio, the producer?

I expect we'll learn a lot of telling behind-the-scenes stories about this film. The way it's poorly put together, with bad narration filling in for actually having to show us anything, and I'd like to assume that M. Night originally turned in a two-and-a-half hour cut that the studio forced him to trim it down to a hundred minutes. But even if that's the case, I don't think any amount of additional scenes could fix this film's fundamental problems.

There's no humor. The action is slow and boring. 90% of the characters are completely irrelevant to the plot. The acting is wooden. There's no sense of scope. The film world lacks detail. The CGI creatures are pointless and unimaginative. And from what I hear, the film is a pretty big disgrace to the animated television show from Nickelodeon. I haven't seen more then an episode, but if this film has done one thing, it's compel me to check the series out.

I strive for more eloquent prose in my reviews, but for The Last Airbender, I got nothing. So, as simply as I can say it, don't see this movie. It is a bad movie.

Giving into Boundaries: Toy Story 3

I decided to create this film blog, one of thousands, in part to have an official home of my thoughts of cinema. I've writing two articles for The House Next Door for the two time they opened up for reader submissions, and with each one, I really had no information to give for the "about the author" blurb. I wish I did, but besides a brief stint as a writer for a MST3K-knockoff group, I'm not exactly dressed to impress. So let's build to that, shall we?

My first article for THND concerned the nature of Pixar films with the idea of predetermined boundaries. Lines in the sand that can be crossed, but the Pixar filmography seems to be unsure if one should cross them or not. On one hand, there's no reason rats can't become great cooks, robots can't grow beyond their programming, and ants can't take care of themselves. On the other hand, superheroes are born and not made, old men should stay at home and remember the good ol' days, and toys should be nothing but toys, even if they are capable of being more.

Toy Story 3 is far more playful with the ideas presented in the first two Toy Story movies, perhaps in part because Pixar's head honcho John Lasseter, the director of the first two films, stepped down for Lee Unkrich, a longtime Pixar editor and co-director.

In the first film, spaceman action figure Buzz Lightyear had to come with grips with not actually being a Space Ranger, but more so come to grips with being submissive instead of proactive, despite there being no perceived penalty towards moving in the presence of a human (I imagine all the toys in the world suddenly revealing they are living creatures might cause world-wide panic, but there's no problem with scaring a Sid every know and again).

Likewise, in the second film, cowboy doll Woody had to come to terms with what he perceived as his own mortality, that someday his owner Andy would not want to play with him anymore. When presented with the option of being more-or-less immortalized in a Japanese museum or returning to Andy and facing his fate, Woody opts out for what the unwritten laws of toydom tell him to do.

The rules of the Toy Story universe seem pretty damn religious when you break them down. These rules are written by some higher, unseen being, and while you may not be immediately punished by breaking them, you'll be sorry you did when the end comes. And the end finally comes in Toy Story 3, when our little Christians/toys must finally face Judgment Day. Andy is going to college, and the fate of the toys remain unclear. Do they end of in the attic and hope Andy passes them down to his children years later on (purgatory)? Do they get thrown out (hell)? Does Andy take them as keepsakes to college, postponing the inevitable (I don't know, life support)?

Through a series of miscommunication, the toys end up at what first appears to be a toy's heaven: Sunnyside Daycare, where there are always children who want to play with you. However, under it's sunshine-and-gumdrops exterior is a controlling, corrupt system, led by the teddy bear Lotso.

Lotso's story is really the core of the film. We learn in flashback that Lotso was originally lost by his owner during a visit to the park, and after making a difficult journey back to his owner's home, discovered that was replaced with another Lotso-brand teddy bear. Resentful, Lotso took control of the Sunnyside Daycare as kind of a twisted revenge. Instead of owners replacing toys, toys replaced owners, as kids continuously rotated in and out.

If we continue the religious motif, then Lotso's story seems to parallel to that of Satan. Satan, the highest of all angels and the "brightest in the sky," refused to bow to God and tried reinvent the system. Lotso, the leader of the Sunnyside Daycare toys and originally seen as one of the nicest toys we've ever encountered in the series, sought to make the owners serve him instead of him serve the owners.

Eventually, both Satan and Lotso are cast out of paradise into a realm of fire. Hell for Satan. A junkyard for Lotso. Lotso drags the main characters down with them, and the toys face an end of intense burning and torture. However, all but Lotso are saved, this fate is not meant for them. (Incidentally, if they make a Toy Story 4, I'd like to see Lotso rise as the ruler of discarded toys in the junkyard to continue the Paradise Lost narrative)

In the end, it is neither heaven, hell or purgatory for our heroes, but instead a kind of reincarnation, as they find themselves in the hands of a new owner. Their reward for giving into the boundaries and just submitting to their fate.