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Shyamalan’s Latest Twist Strangles “The Last Airbender”

Shyamalan’s Latest Twist Strangles “The Last Airbender”  (photo)

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M. Night Shyamalan’s new film “The Last Airbender” arrives in theaters groaning under the weight of several potentially handicapping burdens. First and foremost, the first season of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (shorn to avoid confusion with James Cameron’s otherwise unrelated film), the 2005 Nickelodeon animated series upon which the live action film is based, is simply terrific.

Smart, tough, compassionate, dynamic, visionary, and funny, the show ranks among those precious and few surprise TV discoveries like HBO’s “Sopranos” and SyFy Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica” reboot that can reaffirm your faith in mainstream genre storytelling.

DiMartino and Konietzko devised a mythical small-screen world in which four human kingdoms — named after the elements Water, Air, Earth and Fire — have been put out of balance by the warring ways of the Fire Nation. A hundred years of Fire Nation strife has marginalized the Water Tribes into two camps, one at either pole, all but exterminated the Air Nomads, and forced the Earth Kingdom into slavery.

Members of each race have the ability to manipulate or “bend” the elements their nations are named for, and scrolls, omens and legends foretell of the return of a benevolent, all-powerful mystic “Avatar,” who can bend each substance with equal skill and unite the four nations in peaceful co-existence.

06302010_LastAirbender2.jpgThe key figures in this exotic but well-organized and well-rendered story canvas include a young waterbender named Katara (Nicola Peltz in the film), her brother Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), and Aang (Noah Ringer) the reluctant boy-who-would-be-messiah.

As the story begins, Aang arrives a hundred years late for his date with destiny when he is broken out of an iceberg prison by Katara and Sokka. Both season one of the series and Shyamalan’s feature-length reduction bring the trio into conflict with the Fire Nation’s ruthless leader Fire Lord Ozai (Cliff Curtis), his estranged son Prince Zuko (“Slumdog Millionaire’s” Dev Patel) Zuko’s benevolent and grief-stricken Uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub), the ambitious Commander Zhao (Aasif Mandvi from “The Daily Show”) and a deep bench of allies, turncoats and the spiritually and corporally repressed.

Entertainment as habit-forming as the TV “Airbender” (a bona fide marketing phenomenon with both children and adult fans) is a tough act to follow, let alone repurpose. Nothing short of a miracle would be required to successfully transform 480 minutes of hang time with the gracefully evolving characters, cleverly parsed out rules of the imaginary world they inhabit and scrupulously maintained mosaic of dramatic stakes into under two hours of equally coherent and engaging.

06302010_LastAirbender3.jpgThen there’s the 3D. Though shot with conventional 2D camera technology, “The Last Airbender” received a post-production 3D conversion to cash in on its current popularity. While Shyamalan’s film can be seen with or without glasses, it was screened for critics in 3D, and the smudgy, dark characteristics of an after-market retrofit added precious little to the experience of the film itself.

However, 3D’s selective focus and loss of brightness are the least of “The Last Airbender’s” many shortcomings. The two fatal casualties of Shyamalan’s distillation of the series’ 20-minute servings of fizzy, exuberant pop-mythology are the humor and clarity that helped make the show go down so sweetly. Instead of the engaging sibling wisecrack exchanges between Katara and Sokka, we get ceaselessly clunky oaths and somber exposition recaps.

Though they’re portrayed by flesh and blood actors (and saddled with additional physical gravity courtesy of 3D), Katara and Sokka have lost much of their depth and nuance in translation, like the rest of the characters in the feature-length outing. This extends to Aang, whose ingratiating man-child nervous energy in the first season of the show has been replaced with a kind of action movie furrowed-brow paralysis and a performance by Ringer that offers the same scowl for every dramatic occasion.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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