The Last Airbender

July 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Noah Ringer, Jackson Rathbone, Nicola Peltz
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan (“The Happening”)
Just when you thought director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “The Village”) couldn’t get any more incoherent than he did with his last three films, he veers from his usual twisty cinematic offerings and lands somewhere below rock bottom with “The Last Airbender.”

What makes things even worse for the one-hit-wonder is that his new film carries with it a $150-million price tag that could end up professionally crushing the director if Paramount Pictures doesn’t at least break even by the end of the summer. With what “Airbender” delivers, it’s almost inevitable that it won’t.

“The Last Airbender,” which is adapted from the popular Nickelodeon anime cartoon “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” could have been exactly what Shyamalan needed to pull himself out of the rut he has been in for the last six years. Instead, the filmmaker who scored two Oscar nominations in 1999 for directing and writing “The Sixth Sense,” comes out of this latest fantasy project more lost than ever.

In “Airbender,” actors Jackson Rathbone (“The Twilight Saga”) and Nicola Peltz (“Deck the Halls”) stars as Sokka and Katara, sibling warriors of the Southern Water Tribe who unearth the legendary Avatar, the only person who can control all four elements – Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire.

In this case it’s 12-year-old Aang (Noah Ringer) who is called upon to bring peace to the world. Missing for over a century, Aang rises from his frozen state in an iceberg and is given the responsibility of uniting the Four Nations before Prince Zuko (Dev Patel in his first film since “Slumdog Millionaire”) and his uncle Iroh (Shaun Toub) of the Fire Nation wage war against their elemental enemies.

While there is enough mythology to create some interesting storylines here, Shyamalan somehow takes a promising narrative and drains it of all its enjoyment by tacking on longwinded narration and uninspired dialogue to a majority of the scenes. The disastrous screenplay is marred by everything from its sluggish pacing to its uninteresting romance.

Moreover, it’s shocking to see that 11 years after Shyamalan directed an extremely memorable Oscar-nominated performance by then-child actor Haley Joel Osment he has absolutely no insight into what young actors can offer anymore. Even worse than Mark Wahlberg’s laughable performance in “The Happening,” first-time actor Ringer (who voiced the character in the animated series) delivered his lines with such stiffness you’ll wonder why no one on the set stood up and pointed out the obvious lack of acting talent.

Besides the inexpressive performances across the board (with the exception of Toub), “Airbender” is a halfhearted and terribly dull adventure and the most disappointing movie of the year thus far. Shyamalan should probably take a step back from making feature films, reevaluate his place in the industry, and see where he should go from here. At this point, it might not even be his choice anymore.

Shaun Toub – The Kite Runner

June 6, 2008 by  
Filed under Interviews

As an actor for the last 20 years, Shaun Toub has recently seen his stock rise in the film industry. From his powerful role in the 2004 Academy Award-winning film “Crash” to 2006’s “The Nativity Story,” Toub is making a name for himself with each role he earns.

Currently, he stars in “The Kite Runner” directed by Marc Forster (“Monster’s Ball”), and has a small role in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts.

Via phone from San Diego, Toub talked to me about “The Kite Runner” and its timely release and some of the controversy surrounding the film.

It must be very busy for you with “The Kite Runner” and “Charlie Wilson’s War” opening this month.

Yeah, I feel blessed. You feel pretty luck when projects like this come your way. “The Kite Runner” is amazing. I also have “Iron Man” coming out in May as well.

When were you first introduced to the novel “The Kite Runner?”

A couple of years ago I was told that there was this book that they might make into a film. So, I got the book and I zoomed through it. I thought it was amazing.

What about the story resonated with you?

I think for me it’s truly a human story. It takes place in Afghanistan but at the end of the day the story is a universal story. It’s a story of family, friendship, love, betrayal and redemption. The reason that people from different walks of life and different cultures are responding so strongly to “The Kite Runner” is because it’s life – all it’s beauty and ugliness.

With everything that is going on in the Middle East right now, do you think the timeliness of the film is going to be a positive for it?

Yeah, the timing definitely couldn’t hurt, especially for the Afghan people. These people have been through so much. The Afghanistan of 30 years ago doesn’t even exist anymore. I hope the film sheds some light on Afghanistan. I hope it helps people understand what’s going on in the world and that we need to be involved.

Now, I know the film’s release was pushed back because of safety concerns for the two child actors. Since you worked so closely with the kids, what is your take on the situation?

The kids were wonderful. I wanted to adopt them. To the studio’s credit, they are really taking all the precautions that they can. They are being very careful and doing everything in their power to make sure the kids are fine. When we started filming “The Kite Runner” Afghanistan was a different place, a lot safer. Unfortunately, things have taken a bad turn. The studio was concerned about it. At the end of the day, I think the kids are going to look at this and feel blessed that they were a part of this journey.

Were you at all disappointed that the parents of one of the kids wanted one of the most important albeit disturbing scenes removed from the film?

I understand the culture. I take everything with a grain of salt. I understand that life is difficult in Afghanistan. Was I disappointed? I can’t put blame on anyone. I don’t know what their motivation is. Naturally, this was always part of the story. Everybody was aware of the scene. To [director] Marc Forster’s credit, he did it very tastefully. He was really aware of the kids and didn’t want to make it too graphic. In the book, it is much more graphic than the film. It just sends a message and the audience understands that it’s happened without showing anything.

You’ve done some TV work and are now recently getting more film roles. Over the last few years, what kind of growth have you seen from yourself as an actor?

Well, that’s interesting. I really haven’t thought about that. I think it just feels like a natural progression. I’ve gone back and fourth in television and film and because of the blessings of “Crash” have had the opportunity to work on better projects. I have been [an actor] for 20 years and what I see in myself is that I now realize that I need more [from a project]. I realize that I am a lot pickier with what I do. It takes a lot more to excite me. I also realized that I truly love what I do. That’s why am so passionate about it. I want to do everything in my power to do the best I can do.

You have a Persian background. Do you feel like people in the Persian community are looking up to you since there are not many Hollywood actors with your ethnicity?

I would be lying to you if I said that they don’t.  I can tell by the reaction of people at different events. I think they look at me and see the possibilities. Arts have been taboo in my culture. It’s a culture where doctors, engineers and attorneys are acceptable professions. But things are changing.