retsuko: lady rainicorn and princess bubblegum from the pilot episode of Adventure Time (PB + Rainicorn)
This pair of episodes was uneven. The first episode has some really great writing and some nice touches in both the character development and plot departments. But the second episode is the most obvious allegory this side of a Highlights political cartoon, and the Prime Directive ruins everything, so...

Anyway, without any further ado, The Arsenal of Freedom )

Unfortunately, the writing isn't so good in Symbiosis. )

Signs it's THE FUTURE: METERS, people. The metric system has won out! Also, thrilling space combat! And maybe we've conquered drug addiction...? Sort of?

Signs it's NOT THE FUTURE: Rich people are still douchebags to the poors. :(

Most random thing from my notes: UGH SO MUCH ALLEGORY DAMMIT PICARD ~~~~
retsuko: (Time Lady)
Because we were feeling masochistically curious, Yebisu and I watched the live-action "Avatar: The Last Airbender" the other night.

... yeah.

It was pretty much as bad as I'd heard. I mean, there were good parts and a few beautiful images (Aang bending the huge wave to stop the Fire Nation ships was, in fact, just gorgeous; there were some excellent martial arts stunts), but for the most part, the whole thing fell down in the first 10 minutes and didn't find any momentum to pick itself back up again. It was a movie about spirituality that was almost entirely devoid of any soul. And that's a real shame, because the source material (as I've blogged about before) is bursting with soul, wit, and excitement, none of it forced or railroaded into the story. Late in the plot of the TV show, there's an episode where the characters are able to sneak into a play about themselves and their exploits and are appalled at the liberties taken with their personalities and the narrative as a whole. I felt like I was in that episode, watching a pale reflection of their story and just waiting for the characters to start complaining about their portrayals. (Katara: Am I really that annoyingly earnest? Sokka: I'm not really that flat and dumb, right? Right?! Aang: I didn't just announce that I was going to meditate for four days and then start doing it, did I? 'Cause that's just plain stupid.)

The sad thing is that in the right hands, A:tLA could make for an excellent movie or mini-series. There's drama aplenty, a grandiose epic of nations at war, and some truly compelling characters. The trick, I think, lies with selecting the right amount of story and letting it unfold in its own time. The eastern religions that make up the core of this story's meaning sound contrived when they're rushed, as they did in Shyamalan's film. Likewise, character development, something that made the animated show truly interesting, is largely absent from this movie, or it's presented by ham-handed dialogue. (The worst line award goes to poor Princess Yue, "We have to show them that we believe in our beliefs as much as they believe in theirs.") Practically every action in the movie felt like a plot contrivance at best, and a joke at worst.

So, how to do this right? Much has been written about the casting choices for this film, and I don't think I have much to add on this subject. The right actors for these parts would certainly have helped, along with a better script that didn't try to tell the entire first half of the story in under two hours. Letting this story breathe, and giving some of the humor a chance to shine through would help as well. After all, this is supposedly a movie for children; there's no need to make every moment a serious one, especially when the themes you're dealing with are so serious. Aang's character development is interesting because we see him grow up over time--when Katara and Sokka meet him, he's just a kid who ran away from responsibility. The shift in his beliefs from child to adult makes for a wonderful coming of age story, and makes his heroism all the more poignant. I'd prefer to see that, rather than be told it. Likewise, Zuko's choices over the course of the narrative are dramatic and difficult. Dressing up as the Blue Spirit, for example, is a gutsy move, and his motives for doing it weren't even touched on in the movie, just hinted at. This should have been a major plot point, but instead, it just felt like a convenient plot device for rescuing Aang from the fire nation. (And, can I just say, Fire Nation soldiers: when you've finally captured the Avatar, who can airbend, putting him in a room full of candles is pretty, but REALLY STUPID. Do you want to set your fortress on fire? Really?) If I'd been writing this script, I'd have started with finding Aang in the ice, but only moved the story as far as the Kyoshi warriors, hinting at sequels and setting the stage for the larger conflict in a later movie. You can have plenty of Zuko and Zhao acting as standard villains, but lay the groundwork for Zuko's eventual conversion. Plus, lots of character development time for everyone involved. This could have been a huge franchise for Nickelodeon films and Paramount. Adaptations are tricky, it's true, but it's a shame that this one was so awful when the source material is so good.
retsuko: (required vamp reading)
In Movies:

Let Me In: I had a long argument with myself about whether I should see this or not. The original is so good that it really doesn't need remaking, I thought, unless you're making it for the lazy masses who don't want to read subtitles. But then a line in a review caught my attention: "If a story is good enough to be told once, isn't it good enough to be told again?" I mulled this over, gently sent my snobbery off an errand and then snuck out of the house while it was gone so as to see the movie. And the pay-off was 99% of what I hoped: "Let Me In" is a solid film that doesn't copy the original, exactly, but keeps almost everything that made the original so good, atmospheric, and masterful. What it adds is mostly fairly good: the New Mexico locale and the 1983 setting work well (I thought there was no other place that would embody the desolate solitude of the Swedish original; turns out I was wrong), the 80s soundtrack is well-integrated and at times endearing and funny. Perhaps the best addition is a prop, the exact nature of which I don't want to give away, but hints more at the backstory of two of the characters in a wonderfully succinct and touching manner. What the American version does add that works somewhat less well is more gore. This vampire girl is truly a monster, and she moves like one when she feeds, attacking her victims in a decisively animalistic way; on the other hand, the CGI never feels forced or overdone (scrambling up trees and buildings, she slips and struggles, not graceful but entirely predatory). But the acting jobs from everyone involved are amazing and easily make up for the violence and gore factor. The only way that this film falls short is the lack of subtlety in its message: that the bullies who threaten our hero are more monsters than any supernatural force. (Hearing Owen scream from pain and fear as he was tormented was far worse than avoiding seeing the really gory moments.) But the both versions end on a pitch-perfect note, and both deal with the horrors of everyday life contrasted with the greater struggle of good and evil, and the consequences of evil on the human soul. The remake is well worth your time, especially if you like your horror relatively slow and tension-filled, and filled with characters who are achingly, truly human.

And, Signs revisited: And speaking of contrasting everyday life with horror, [ profile] yebisu9 and I re-watched this last night. I had a wonderful time remembering seeing it in theaters with [ profile] karabean and [ profile] dunkelza and then regretting seeing it as I listened to the trees swaying Right Outside My Bedroom Window as I was trying to go to sleep. I know that the general consensus about this film isn't good; people seem to find the story contrived and the scares pointless. But I'm going to commit sci fi blasphemy and argue that this is a damned good movie, and that the only reason it may fail as science fiction is because it really isn't science fiction: it's a dramatic character study that just so happens to have science fiction elements. And even though some of the scares are contrived, there is nothing quite like the grainy video footage about 2/3 of the way through, of the creature invading the children's birthday party. That you cannot see its face makes it even worse: the unnamed, unidentifiable horror, contrasted with the mundane party hats that the kids are wearing is a hundred times worse than seeing this thing right out in the open. And it's no surprise that the thing won't show its true face; the central conflict of the story (Graham's struggle to regain his religious faith and the cause that led to this crisis in the first place) isn't revealed, either, until almost the very end of the story, when the dramatic tension has reached a boiling point for everyone involved. The aliens aren't so much aliens as they are personifications of demons that Graham's internalized since the death of his wife and their threat against our heroes is only as real as his faith, which slowly but surely comes back, healed and renewed. What a satisfying story! So glad I watched it again. (And glad that there aren't too many trees that sway menacingly outside our apartment.)

On TV:

Undercovers: I really, really want to like this show, but there's just something missing that makes it, sadly, not possible for me to do so. It feels a little too much like a poorly run Spycraft RPG, with the requisite plot twists and turns as told by a 17-year-old game master whose view of the CIA is limited to what he's seen in James Bond movies and on late-night TV shows like that one with Pamela Anderson as a bodyguard. I was actually pretty excited to see it, because, hey, a show with two leading characters who aren't white (*gasp*! On a major US network?!), with sexy costume changes and exotic locales? I should be so there! And yet... after two episodes, I am left a profound sense of "meh". It doesn't especially help that other than our heroes (who are likable enough but oddly flat), there aren't any characters who I really like or identify with. I also find especially annoying the convention of "if you have one spy skill, you have them all!". For example, in the most recent episode, Tish Jones Samantha shows off her skills in "sexpionage" (*snerk*), interrogation, surveillance, and bomb defusing. Call me crazy, but I was under the general impression that just because you can do one of these well doesn't mean you're automatically great at the others, especially the bomb defusing part. I know this is meant as a fast-paced comedy show and that I am probably taking it far too seriously, but it rankles of lazy writing, and of 17-year-old game mastering skills. I would like to see something written for those of us with at least 25-year-old game mastering inclinations.

Also, on TV, House's 2-episode score card so far:
Adorable Children in Peril: 1
Writers Breaking Episode Formula: 0.5

More formula-breaking and fewer adorable children in peril, please!

May 2016

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