Last Airbender, The

People often compare terrible experiences to root canals, saying they’d favor time in the dentist’s chair over one thing or another.  I found it fortuitous, then, that I actually had a root canal scheduled the same day that friends and I intended to see The Last Airbender.  Having heard how terrible the film was supposed to be, I had to find out for myself if there was any truth to the saying.

The film, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan, is based off of the hit Nickelodeon animated series, Avatar: The Last Airbender.  The show was a brilliant mix of playfulness and serious drama.  It was too much to hope that Shyalaman had actually understood what made the show great in the first place, because it really felt like dentistry gone awry.

The movie begins with the first of far too many voice overs by Katara (Nicola Peltz), who explains that everything was peaceful and awesome back in the day (of course).  In this world there are people, called benders, who can control an element (Fire, Water, Air, or Earth) using Tai Chi and special effects.  Katara herself is a novice Waterbender. Only one could control all four and thus keep the world balanced: the Avatar.  One day, the Avatar disappeared and everything went to Hell in a hand basket.  Now, the world is being slowly taken over by the brutal fire nation and their infernal machines. This opening narration is akin to the dentist sitting you down in the chair and explaining what’s going to happen while the anxiety of impending discomfort sets in.

Katara and her hapless brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), discover and free Aang (Noah Ringer), the titular hero, and his flying bison from an iceberg-an act that pushes the ramshackle plot into motion.  I’m not going to go into too much detail about the plot here.  It still hurts my brain trying to figure it out.  It involves a troubled father/son relationship for Prince Zuko (Dev Patel) and Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis ). Meanwhile, Zuko’s uncle, General Iroh (Shaun Toub), is trying to give lessons in tactical spiritualism while Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi) is being awesomely obnoxious. This of course, is the part of the visit where the dentist tries to distract you from the fact that you are actually paying him to inflict pain.

I have a sneaking suspicion that there was supposed to be more plot in the movie.  At least Katara’s never-ending narration told us so.  (Remember kids, the key to making a story not suck is to show, don’t tell.)  There was a wee bit of a romance between Sokka and the white-haired Princess Yue (Seychelle Gabrielle) of the Northern Water Tribe. There was even a large, climactic battle with a lot of Tai Chi and special effects. The battle and the romance, like the rest of the movie and its attempts at preaching about responsibility and spiritualism, were lost to terrible dialogue, awful editing, horrible acting, and even worse attempts at storytelling.  It was like hiring Steve Martin to do your dental work, Shyalaman liked watching us suffer.

On the plus side, where everything else failed in the movie, the music by composer James Newton Howard, was fantastic and the special effects weren’t half-bad. Though to be honest, it’s not like great music is going to really distract you the fact that there’s a dude drilling into your skull.  It’ll make it more pleasant, but the whole thing still sucks.

So, was seeing The Last Airbender better than getting a root canal? Just barely.  It only won because I snuck in a vodka flask (my attempt at Novocain), there was no drilling involved (just spiky hats for getting through some ice...don’t ask), and I liked the music better than the Muzak in my dentist’s office.

Push

It would seriously be cool to move shit with your mind. Think about it: Football Sunday, game's in full-gear, but your beer is all the way on the other end of the coffee table, requiring you to shift your butt from that perfect spot on the couch that you just spent the last 30 minutes getting just right. According to the world history of Push, this age-old conundrum can be solved by simple genetic mutation. Solution? Telekinesis, baby!

At the heart of this story is Nick Grant,  a rather crappy telekinetic played by the charmingly never-serious Chris Evans, whose father was murdered by Agent Carver (portrayed with arrogant menace by Djimon Hounsou), and has been on the run ever since.

When we catch up with the perfectly stubble-faced Calvin Klein model protagonist, he's attempting to win money by manipulating dice games, fails and gets punched in the head. Enter 13-year-old Cassie (Fanning), who is the definition of precocious. A hard drinker with knobby knees and huge boots, she tells Grant they can get six million dollars, but then the future changes. Constantly. First, they're going to die. Then everyone's going to die, and then everyone and their mother is going to die.

No, seriously.

Unless they can enlist the aid of a motley crew of ex-pat psychic-powered people against the sinister Division, a government organization that nabs psychics and uses them for Nefarious OperationsTM is...going to grab them and use them for Nefarious OperationsTM.

Then-DOOM is certain.

A bunch spiffy psychic action sequences happen, followed by some advancement of a silly plot that's actually reasonably well acted and not boring, then some more action, and a few neat twists which I'm just not going to give away here.

The special effects are smoothly worked into the set pieces and the cinematography takes everything it knows from all kinds of eastern cinema.The plot of movie is actually less convoluted than you'd expect from a movie with people who can alter memories and see the future to be, and it actually leads into to some nice twists, but this is an action movie, not Dark City-do not expect depth of story. (For the record: if you haven't seen Dark City, shame on you)

Years ago, action movies were more provincial: there was the Hong-Kong flick, the French actioner, and the American blockbuster. But as time has gone on, movies- especially action movies-have been become more and more diverse in their stories and casts. Push is probably the most diverse of these movies to date, with no less than six countries represented by its performers.

Push is very unique film. It's a stupid-yet-fun action movie, with elements of a heist picture mixed with a video game, and is setup to be the first film in a trilogy that will never be made. The best angle to take for a Cavalcade is to go international action, with Time and Tide to follow this one.