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July 13, 2010

The Last Airbender: Book 1 Water

CoverM. Night Shamyalan’s latest outing in the film world abandons his penchant for twist endings and disturbing forays into the paranormal. Instead he tries his hand at a well established franchise with mixed, and mostly bad, results. The Last Airbender follows Aang, a young monk with the ability to control the air, as he avoids the fire nation and learns how to bend or control the other three elements and become the Avatar, the one person capable of reuniting and balancing the worlds. He is accompanied by two villagers of the Water tribe, Katara and Sokka, who discover Aang trapped within ice.

So let’s start with what is good about this movie: the visuals and choreography. The Last Airbender’s strongest point is its cinematic qualities. It truly captures the scope of a vast world, and manages to provide each area it visits with a unique flavor. The colors are strong and vibrant, leaving viewers slack-jawed. I have heard from some viewers that the colors and visuals are muted and washed out in the 3D version, however, the "traditional viewing" version does not suffer from these issues. 

When it comes to the fight scenes in The Last Airbender, all I can say is that they are beautifully done but lacking impact. The use and acknowledgment of Tai Chi for what it is, a combat martial art, was appreciated, but the contact of fist to flesh or armor felt hollow and lifeless. It was clear that the participants were holding back. I felt this lack of energy especially true when it came to the benders. It seemed as if the regular soldiers decided just to sit back and wait to be knocked over like bowling pins rather than try to fight, leading the fight scenes to seem more like dance sequences, very pretty and well done, but ultimately pointless in this kind of movie. 

The plot for this movie is the standard reluctant hero story archetype, with a somewhat unique twist in that the protagonist has been hiding from his role as hero for one hundred years. However, once he is discovered, he quickly, almost eagerly, accepts his role in the events to come. This quick reversal is unsettling and almost negates the sympathy that the story archetype is supposed to create between the hero and the audience. 

Where this film fails most distinctly is in the acting. With very few exceptions, every line uttered almost caused me physical pain. The dialogue was stale, trite, and painfully obvious leaving no room for emotion or intrigue from vocal inflection. Perhaps this writing style contributed to the monotone evident in the acting of every character. Whatever the case, listening to nails on a chalkboard would have been a more pleasing experience than listening to the dialogue in this film.

In summary, The Last Airbender is gorgeous to watch from the amazing visuals to well-performed dance, I mean, fight scenes. Sadly though, this film cannot overcome its horrendous acting and stale plotline. I would only recommend watching if there is nothing left to see at the theatre, and if the theatre has a five dollar special.

July 09, 2010

Joss Lynes

Joss Lynes is budding videogame artist in Pittsburgh, PA. He was first introduced to science fiction and fantasy at the age of six through the movies Star Wars and Jurassic Park, and started writing short stories and poetry in his high school creative writing class. He is currently studying at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and preparing to launch his own website.

July 07, 2010

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

CoverI'm always excited to get a new Sookie Stackhouse book on audio. In my opinion, there is no better way to experience these books. Johanna Parker is such an engaging audio actress that she brings Sookie and the other characters to life in such an engaging and entertaining way that my own brain simply can't compare when I'm reading print. In fact, I've been working on reading the print version of one of the earlier Sookie books (because my library doesn't have it on audio), and I try to imagine Parker reading it as I do. It's just not the same.

As far as books in general go, anything Sookie Stackhouse beats out most any other commercial fiction. The only book I can think of that I'd read ahead of Sookie, if given the choice, is probably George R.R. Martin's latest, but that's only because it's been so many ga-zillion years wait for Dance With Dragons. Otherwise, Sookie always jumps to the top of my reading list when it's available. Charlaine Harris never disappoints with a new Sookie installment and every Sookie book is better than the majority of books in its genre.

That said, the inevitable path of the reviewer charged with the task of reviewing one of her favorites is to compare the book to others in its company, in this case, to others in its series. As Sookie Stackhouse books go, this one was slow moving in the beginning. Don't get me wrong, I could listen to Sookie eating breakfast if Johanna Parker were reading her internal thought monologue, but I found myself wondering where the book was going for much of the first half. Sookie books often have somewhat meandering plot lines, but even with that expectation, this book took some time to form into a distinctive plot. Looking back, there were events important to the resolution of the plot that happened early on, but without a distinctive "inciting incident" near the beginning of the book, it left the story directionless for a time.

Once again, this book is a great read and a must for Sookie fans. Don't expect the best of the series, but do expect reliable entertainment.

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