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See: The Last Airbender

2010/07/16 Comments off

M. Night Shyamalan only blesses us with a new film every three years or so, and whenever he does I make the pilgrimage to my local cinema to enjoy his latest offering. I can sincerely say that n is not only my favorite director, but simply the best director of films ever. Thus, I consider it my duty to tell you to rush as fast as possible to go see The Last Airbender. Pure gold.

I am not a fan of the medium of film. For whatever reason, cinema generally not only does nothing for me, but actively bores me. So when a terrible movie comes along – like almost everything by Shyamalan –  I get to feel justified. Shyamalan’s movies are so terrible that they render null and void all previous cinematic accomplishments. My friends and I have a theory that Shyamalan is making progressively worse movies so that his first movie, The Sixth Sense, will look like a masterpiece in comparison.

And with The Last Airbender, he is well along on his way is making that dream come true. The dialogue is terrible, the actors are given almost no opportunity to act, and the story telling is pitiable. The last third of the 1 hour 45 minute long movie is all foreshadowing for the “epic” last ten minutes. Problem is, instead of mounting suspense, the last forty minutes merely repeat the same “clue” over and over again. Even people like myself who have never seen a second of the anime Avatar: The Last Airbender could predict exactly how the film was going to end making most of the film an excruciating ordeal to sit through. The 3D effects were poorly done and didn’t add anything. Enormous 3D ships drove straight toward the audience and didn’t stop until they were conceptually passing through their faces. All the shots were extremely tight, meaning that the screen was filled with extreme close-ups of character’s noses. The “bending”, the magical hoohaa stuff that is what supposed to be cool about the Anime series is taken too literally in the live-action revamp and just ends up looking silly; the battles in the film look more like modern dance battles than sprawling wars. Shyamalan falls into the same trap many directors do when transforming an animated concept into a live-action form: when taken too literally it looks ridiculous. Worst of all, Shyamalan breaks the cardinal rule of visual story telling, opting to tell the viewer what is happening rather than showing us. The Last Airbender is essentially all narration, with the lead female sidekick’s voiceover explaining what sort of cool stuff had happened in the movie we unfortunately didn’t get to see. 

In short, I loved it. 

I‘m not going to go into the whole racial politics side of The Last Airbender (in case you haven’t heard yet, all the Asians from the original series have been replaced with white actors who can kind of pass). Except I would like to point out that in the village of Inuits there just happens to be the world’s whitest women cast as a village elder. Don’t worry though! The bad guys are still dark-skinned – it’s nice to see that Shyamalan is being equally racially offensive to every minority. in case you were wondering, in the original series the heroes from the Inuit tribe actually had darker skin and the villains from the fire Nation were pale skinned… soooo… basically Shyamalan strayed from the original source as often as he could as long as it was offensive. Maybe he isn’t all to blame, there is a chance he didn’t personally select each actor by himself. Oops, I guess that I did go into the whole race thing, my bad. Some random searching online for funny pictures of the cast directed me to http://abagond.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/the-casting-of-the-last-airbender/, so why don’t you click that link to read a more in-depth examination of the casting?

 If I may step onto my personal soap box for just a few words, I would like to point out that The Last Airbender demonstrates exactly why I am against the advent of 3D movies. Aside from the fact that they make the non-3D object blurry and hurt my eyes, 3D movies remind me a bit of product placement. Directors have begun to put things into movies simply in order to have them be in 3D. Rather than augmenting the message of the film, 3D becomes a spectacle. Space documentaries in 3D? Awesome and they have a reason to be that way. The fact 3D looks “cool” doesn’t justify, for me, inserting useless doodads into movies. Maybe that’s why I’m generally anti-movie, because too often the point is to awe us with spectacle rather than speak to something larger than surface appeal. 

Which is part of why I believe every one should go see The Last Airbender. Or any M. Night Shyamalan movie. Movies, particularly hollywood blockbusters, are far too self-congratualatory. It’s almost as bad as the indie-music hipsters scene. M. Night Shyamalan movies are like Brittany Spears songs, they are a humbling reminder of how much we truly suck, which is important for tempering our tendency toward hubris. Just when we start thinking too highly of ourselves (I’m looking at you James Cameron) someone like Shyamalan comes along and earns millions of dollars by producing crap. Essentially, if MacBeth had only watched some Shyamalan films, perhaps things would have ended better for him. So go do yourself a favor and see The Last Airbender and feel terrible about the state of humanity. You’ll thank me between sobs of disgust.

Categories: Film Tags:

See: Exit Through the Gift Shop

2010/05/22 Comments off

I learnt a few things from watching Banksy’s film Exit Through the Gift Shop. The film documents the eccentric Thierry Guetta (AKA Mr. Brainwash) in his rise from vintage clothing store owner to street art videographer to economically successful street artist. Along the way, the audience gets exposed to many street artists and their history, and are offered a rare inside glimpse at the politics of their world. 

Within the first few minutes of the film I learned that I really like street art. I actually wouldn’t mind it if all of Montreal’s metro system was covered in *quality* street art. (DISCLAIMER: this post, like the film, is engaged in the tricky rhetoric of “art” “high aht” and “quality” all of which mean different things to different people). A lot of our alleyways are filled with some really nice stuff actually, and I wouldn’t mind more of it, instead of those graffiti tags that no one can read all over the place. I particularly like the tiny T-Rex wearing gladiator high heels on the Redpath Library. Street art must be contagious, as my companion and I both left the cinema wanting to do nothing else but develop artistic skills so that we could climb up tall buildings and leave our mark.

I also learnt that you can apparently get everything you need for street art at Kinko’s. It seems you can go get  your enormous Andre the Giant faces printed off there no questions asked. And this is a good thing. I think I’d have some major qualms if Kinko’s could arbitrarily decide that your printing needs did not meet the standards of decent society. Still, before seeing Exit I kind of figured there were secret underground places to get street art supplies or something.

Thirdly, I got to see first hand how difficult it is talking about yourself as an artist without sounding like a pompous jerk. Banksy, the sometimes narrator and creator of the film, claims the film is about Thierry, because he’s “more interesting”, but the actual mystique of “legitimate art” is reserved for Banksy. Banksy is the holy grail of street artists that Guetta wants to film, the one who makes real statements, the king of the streets. And in a way, he is: his street art is fantastic, he is politically minded, and is really the most recognized name in street art to date. The problem is, in a movie made by Banksy, it comes across as self-aggrandizing to talk about how marvelous Banksy is. At one point, just before Guetta finally gets to meet with Banksy, the music becomes reminiscent of a choir of angels. I get it, it’s playing off the idea of Banksy as Guetta’s holy grail, but having a beatific soundtrack to your own introduction is a bit… well, high and mighty.

Bansky is a little critical, too, of people who don’t “get” his art. Specifically, one section of the film follows the development of Banksy’s first L.A. exhibition. It features a real elephant in the warehouse space painted with litres and litres of children’s face paint to match the space’s wallpaper. The piece was titled “the Elephant in the Room”, and was supposedly meant to make literal our metaphorical elephants in rooms.  News casters and activists, however, were critical of using a live animal in a not-enormous space and of painting it (I presume children’s face paints are regulated to be non-toxic). Banksy lambasts them for being unable to see past the easy critique and really think about what he meant to say. Well, yes, there is a message behind the piece, but that also doesn’t negate the fact that an elephant was transported in a tiny truck and subjected to presumably hours of people taking pictures of it, shoving video cameras in its face, and — worst of all — talking incessantly about how wonderful art is and how they by extension are good people for seeing it. But at least Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were there, that must have made the elephant happy! 

I left torn, having enjoyed the film but also recognizing it as a character assassination piece. Or, at least, cinematic bullying. Exit does not offer a sympathetic or unbiased portrayal of Guetta; instead he is made out to be a joke, a wannabe, a fraud, and a plaigarist. Exit, at least, never claimed to be a documentary. The film, which begins by making Guetta seem a harmless, quirky Frenchman, depicts him by the end as a pathetic, desperate poseur. The thing is, the film’s argumentation is well made enough that one can hardly help but agree with Banksy that Guetta/Mr. Brainwash really isn’t making art, nor should he be dubbed an “artist” (whatever the heck that means).  Exit shows you the worst things about the man, and then asks you “he’s terrible, isn’t he?”. It’s difficult to argue with that reasoning. My companion argued that you are technically given a choice as to whether Guetta makes legitimate street art (no one holds a gun to your head and makes you agree with them); basically, it is never outrightly stated that Guetta is a fraud, it’s just implied over and over again. To come to any conclusion but Banksy’s means you have to willfully ignore the context and subtext of the entire film.

Personally, I think the film could have taken a more sympathetic approach to its subject without detracting from its central themes or even argument. Guetta, who compulsively videotapes everything he sees for hours on end, clearly has some sort of hoarding complex.  The film hints at this, stating that Guetta’s mother died when he was young and now he tries to capture his life on film so nothing will suddenly disappear on him, but more could have been made of it. Guetta had thousands of hours of footage of street artists at work, and though he was unable to compile them into a coherent documentary, Banksy could have easily created a comprehensive piece about street art instead of undermining one slightly unwell but well-intentioned man.

Exit Through the Gift Shop is definitely worth the time to see it, if you live in one of the select Canadian cities it’s playing in. When viewed with a critical eye, the film offers up a new appreciation of the art we walk past everyday and the hidden politics behind it.

Categories: Film Tags: ,

Read: The Bedwetter

2010/05/15 Comments off

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee

By Sarah Silverman

New York: HarperCollins, 2010.

pp. xv + 240. $28.99

Despite being best known as an edgy and sassy comedienne with a taste for blue language, Sarah Silverman’s autobiography, The Bedwetter, is surprisingly serious and tender. The stereotype of comics having hard lives holds true for Silverman, which quickly becomes evident in the first few chapters of the book. That’s not to say the book isn’t funny. In fact, it is borderline amazing the way Silverman weaves humor and spunk into every memory, no matter how tragic.

Take, for example, the chapter about her relationship with her Nana, entitled “My Nana Was Great But Now is Dead”. She beautifully unravels her Nana’s complicated relationship with a cruel and senile husband without becoming either too romanticizing or trying too hard for pathos. Similarly, she recalls her teenaged years and a struggle against depression, including a shocking period of being prescribed 14 Xanax a day, with the same aplomb. Silverman skillfully navigates the fine line between telling a sad story and digging for sympathy.

Bedwetting, however, is the main trope running through most of the book, both as a source of shame and of strength.  Silverman was a bedwetter well into her teen years, despite the efforts of her parents and the medical establishment.  Being a bedwetter becomes the way through which Silverman comes to define herself, even through the death of a sibling, her parents’ divorce, clinical depression, and aspiring comic. Later, having conquered bedwetting, Silverman cites it as the reason she is able to do standup:

“But maybe my lack of stage fright was the upside of years of nightly bedwetting. Maybe that daily shame had ground away at my psyche, like glaciers against the coastline, so that somewhere in my consciousness , I understood that bombing on stage could never be as humiliating. My early trauma was a gift, it turned out, in a vocation where your best headspace is feeling that you have nothing to lose” (74).

 Thankfully, like with most people, blossoming out of the awkward highschool years was a transformative time for Silverman. She moved to New York City, and pursued comedy stardom. She details her one year stint at Saturday Night Live, her film Jesus is Magic, and the resulting creation of her Comedy Central show The Sarah Silverman Program. She lovingly describes her relationships with co-stars and writing team, blending into the narrative commentary on censorship, racism, and equality. She never becomes too preachy on these subjects, but nor does she shy away from making her political positions known.

Those unfamiliar with Silverman’s stand up routines or her show should be warned: Silverman’s persona deliberately takes on the most ignorant and racist stances possible in a complexly ironic form of social critique. It is easy to fall in to the trap of mistaking the context and subtext of her jokes. Plus, she has a penchant for bawdy humour and relishes fart jokes. Those who do not care about the struggle to get the word labia past Standards and Practices will probably find little to laugh at. Furthermore, Silverman omits practically all mention of her former relationship with Jimmy Kimmel; her fans will be left wanting much more in this regard, as a noticeably large chunk of her life seems to be missing. Of course, Silverman gets to decide how much of herself she reveals to the public, and is perfectly within her rights to stay silent on her very public breakup. That doesn’t mean readers won’t potentially be disappointed.

The Bedwetter will probably take readers by surprise: it is strikingly sincere and insightful, while simultaneously laugh out loud funny. Silverman’s casual style makes for a quick easy read, and though she is not the most articulate author to ever pen a book, her personality and charm shine through.

Categories: Books Tags: , ,

Read: I Drink for a Reason

2010/05/11 Comments off

I Drink for a Reason

by David Cross

New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2009.

pp. xv + 236 $23.99

When I purchased David Cross’ book from my local Chapters/Indigo store, Darlene* commented happily, “Oh! It’s Tobias!” She was referring to Cross’ role on Fox’s critically acclaimed show Arrested Development as the laughably pathetic Dr. Tobias Funke. “I saw an interview with him once. He was really mean actually.” Yes, Cross is a mean guy, as those of us who are familiar with his long-lost HBO show Mr. Show with Bob and David or his standup comedy can attest. He is a scathing critic of politics and popular culture, as well as a staunch atheist. His standup tackles right-wingers and P.C lefties alike.  He is mean and crass, yes; but he is also smart, funny, and usually spot-on.

I Drink for a Reason is essentially a collection of Cross’ short standup bits transcribed into book form.  52 of them, to be precise.  They run the gambit from simple absurdity (“Didja Know?”) to cultural commentary (“A Non-Sponsored Look at Holidays in America”), stopping occasionally to be poignant and sincere (“Breaking Up”).  Each is piece is about 4 pages long, lending itself easily to several short bursts of reading rather than two or three extended sittings.  It’s a more enjoyable book if read in shorter sessions, as Cross’ acerbic wit can become overwhelming if taken in all at once. He’s angry, and rightfully so, but its tonal nuance can get lost through overexposure.   

The book is hilarious though, and fans of Cross’ standup will definitely not be disappointed. While there are traces of Mr. Show throughout the book, in I Drink for a Reason Cross eschews character pieces and opts instead for his own voice. But even readers new to Cross’ style of comedy will appreciate his blend of cultural critique, absurdist humor, and guttermouth. He blends true stories seamlessly with outrageous comedic fantasies; oftentimes it is not entirely clear whether or not Cross is regaling you with a humourous anecdote from his own adventures or if you’re reading complete hogwash.  It’s usually an unknowable combination of both.   

Leave all your P.C notions at the door however; Cross revels in using every racial, religious, and sexual epithet he can. He mocks individuals with religious beliefs, republicans, as well as flower children and hippies. If you’re easily offended read this book with caution: I Drink For a Reason is not for everyone. For example, one chapter entitled “A Short List of Videos with Babies in Them that I Have Not Seen on the Internet but Most Likely Exist and I Would Like to See at Some Point” lists progressively grotesque scenarios involving infants, including “a drunk baby trying to stand up and walk across the room” (170). If you cannot see the humor in that image, perhaps you should skip I Drink for a Reason and instead opt for the far more family friendly Arrested Development.

Although Cross’ book is far from perfect (it tends to lose momentum in the final third), it operates successfully as both comic relief and as an investigation of what’s wrong with our Western culture. There’s even supplementary video clips and sketches available online at www.idrinkforareason.com, which functions as a nice bonus for readers and as a good measurement for potential book buyers. If you can laugh through “Gay Canada Part II” then you should probably buy this book as soon as possible.

*Not Darlene’s real name

Categories: Books, Uncategorized Tags: ,