7.30.2010

DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS.

OK, so I wasn't really excited for this movie whatsoever. The trailer was relatively unfunny, and as trailers for comedies tend to use all the best jokes in them, that didn't fare very well. But then I get a text from a friend asking if I wanted to go see this movie. Sure, why not? I've got nothing better to do. And I have to say, this was one bizarre promotional stunt. Not only did they fill the trailer with most of the least funny jokes (which are actually funnier in context), but they didn't really portray the plot very well. Sure, the dinner is involved, but that's the climax of the movie. The rest of the film has very little to do with the dinner at all.

The movie introduces us to Tim (Paul Rudd), a businessman trying to get a promotion. When opportunity strikes, his boss (Bruce Greenwood) and a couple higher-ups (Ron Livingston and Larry Wilmore) invite him to a special secret dinner. Everybody is to invite a guest, and the guest has to be quite an idiot, usually with a bizarre skill. Enter Barry (Steve Carell), a very dim man with a penchant for the taxidermy of mice. After Tim nearly runs Barry over and then realizes his talents, Tim invites Barry to the dinner. This happens against the will of Tim's girlfriend, Julie (Stephanie Szostak), who walks out mad at him. And things don't get any better when Barry shows up thinking the dinner was that night, not the following, and exacerbates things. Long story short, Tim and Barry spend most of the next 24 hours trying to fix Tim's relationship, but Barry continually makes things worse--such as involving Darla (Lucy Punch), a long-time stalker of Tim's; Therman (Zach Galifianakis), Barry's boss who thinks he can read and control minds; and Kieran (Jamaine Clement), a self-absorbed artist that works with Julie.

This movie is down-right hilarious. I laughed even when other people didn't, mostly because the jokes are a mile a minute and I don't think the audience had time to process them all. The trailer really does show the lesser of the jokes, but most of them are actually funnier within the context of the film. The highlight of the film is not, surprisingly, Zach Galifianakis who--based on the trailer--I thought would steal the show. In fact, the best parts were a mix of Steve Carell and Jamaine Clement. Whenever Jamaine was on screen, he totally owned it. It was very reminiscent of Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, except an artist instead of a rock star. Steve Carell didn't impress me in the trailer, but there is so much the trailer doesn't show. And you might be laughing at him, but you also feel bad for him for some personal issues that he's gone through.

This is where the film has heart. Yes, believe it or not, a movie about making fun of stupid people has heart. You sympathize with these characters and you root for them to actually win while cringing at everything they destroy around them. At times, it reminded me of Dumb and Dumber, which is pretty clear considering you're dealing with a very dim character who just doesn't "get it."

I'm going to keep this one short. If the trailers turned you off from this movie, just go check it out anyway. I went in with pretty low expectations and came out having really enjoyed it. The only negative I really have is the beginning, maybe the first 15 or so minutes. There are some chuckles here and there, but it doesn't start getting good until Steve Carell is introduced. It just takes a while to pick up steam. But I don't laugh that hard very often, and sometimes you wonder if it's the audience laughing that helps spark it. But I can assure you that I was usually one of the first to start laughing. So there you go.

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A Keanu 'Whoa'

(P.S. And that's a pretty strong 'Whoa'.)

7.28.2010

THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE.

Going into this movie, I pretty much knew what I was going to expect: magic, decent special effects, Jay Baruchel bumbling around, Nic Cage hamming it up, and me leaving entertained. Well, one of those things didn't happen. Inspired by the Fantasia segment by the same name (and yes, the segment is partially included), The Sorcerer's Apprentice begins by telling us about how Merlin had 3 apprentices: Balthazar (Nicolas Cage), Horvath (Alfred Molina), and Veronica (Monica Bellucci). Horvath ends up turning on the others and joining up with evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige) to bring back evil sorcerers from the dead and destroy the world. But when Veronica merges herself with Morgana, Balthazar is forced to trap her in a Grimhold--a Russian doll-within-a-doll-type object. Over the years, he also traps other descendants/apprentices of Morgana in the Grimhold over the centuries, and eventually also Horvath. Balthazar is given the task of looking throughout the centuries for Merlin's successor, the Prime Merlinian, and finds him in Dave (Jay Baruchel). Dave is supposed to have the ability to defeat Morgana once and for all, but he'll have to stop the newly released Horvath and his newest apprentice, famous magician Drake Stone (Toby Kebbell), before it necessarily gets that far. And all the while, he tries to woo a childhood crush, Becky (Teresa Palmer).

There's really not a whole lot to say about the movie that you couldn't probably suspect on your own. One thing that surprised me, however, was how they mixed magic and science. I'm not exactly sure why they did this, except maybe to have religious zealots either love or hate them even more (depending, I suppose). It looked cool, though. Some of the special effects could have been better (any of the 'statues-come-to-life' bits in particular). But they weren't too bad.

I mentioned earlier that only one of my expectations wasn't completely met. That expectation was, actually, Nic Cage hamming it up. Oh, he has his moments ("I CAN READ MINDS!" being a personal favorite), but I expected it to be more consistent. Who doesn't love a batty Nic Cage? But the majority of the time, he's just your average "mentor" character. Jay Baruchel is one of those actors you probably really like or mostly tolerate, mostly due to his voice. Personally, I really like the guy--and considering How To Train Your Dragon is one of my favorite movies of this year so far, I can honestly say his voice isn't that bothersome to me. And I really enjoyed him in this. Oh, and Alfred Molina as the villain is, well... Alfred Molina as a villain. You've seen it before.

The movie was, of course, predictable, but I didn't expect anything different. I didn't go into this movie looking for another Inception. However, there were quite a few things that were too similar to other things. For instance, they--for whatever reason--seemed to mix the original "Sorcerer's Apprentice" song from Fantasia with the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, and it was pretty distracting. I half expected Jack Sparrow to walk on screen. Then near the end, there are these black tubes of smoke blasting from the sky, and I almost screamed out "DEATH EATERS!" Finally, I just sat there at the climax of the movie waiting (and honestly hoping) for Jay Baruchel to go "KAME... HAME... HA!" That actually might have knocked my rating for this movie up another notch, really. Though we did get a kind of "Final Flash" in there (if you know anything I'm saying right now, high five). I'm pretty sure there was one other thing I noticed in there somewhere, but I can't recall it at the moment.

Anyway, this movie was pretty good entertainment. It was predictable summer fun. There really wasn't all that much I disliked about it. Though there is one scene that has horrible ADR. Baruchel is talking to another character in a car, and the shot is over his shoulder. You can see his mouth moving, and it's nothing remotely close to what he's saying. And this happens twice. But it's mostly a pretty harmless flick. It's not great by any means, but it strove for entertaining and that's what it got.

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I Am McLovin!

7.27.2010

TV Review: The Guild - The First Three Seasons.

Technically, this isn't really a TV Review, per se, because it isn't for a TV show. It's for a web-series. I just recently got into this show. I'd heard of it before, mostly due to the commentary tracks on the Dr. Horrible DVD where they mention it (as Felicia Day stars in both). But I'd never gotten around to watching episodes. That is, until I saw them available through Instant Streaming. I watched the first season, thought it was alright--not what I was expecting, but fun. Then I watched the second season and was hooked. I went straight into the third and loved it. Let me explain briefly, though, how I went through these so quickly: each season is very short. The first season is only 40-something minutes; the second is a little over an hour; the third season is a bit longer than the second. So, essentially, watching a season is nothing more than watching a mini-movie.

So now I'm going to discuss the first three seasons in a bit of detail. But first, let me explain who everybody is and what the main point of the show is. The main character of the show is Cyd Sherman, also known as Codex (Felicia Day). She's obsessed with a World of Warcraft-type computer game (based on Felicia Day's actual past obsession with WoW) and plays a Cleric. She has an group of online friends that play together in a "guild," where they meet up at certain times of the day and quest together in game. Her guild-mates are the other main characters of the show.

First we have Sujan AKA Zaboo (Sandeep Parikh), a hyperactive, super-creepy stalker with an obsession with Codex. He plays a Warlock in game. Then there's Herman AKA Vork (Jeff Lewis), the Guild Leader, who is a middle-aged, balding man who believes in structure and rules. He plays a Fighter. Next in line is Simon AKA Bladezz (Vincent Caso), the only teenager in the group, and he often says perverted and/or rude things. He plays a Rogue. Then there's Clara... real name Clara (Robin Thorsen). She's a housewife with three kids, and she's horribly neglectful of them for the sake of the game. She plays a Mage. And, finally, there's Tinkerballa AKA Tink (Amy Okuda)... her real name is never stated. She's very distant and cold and often bitchy. She plays a Ranger.

Now that that is out of the way, let's get into each season.

Season One

Every episode opens with Codex talking to her webcam, usually talking about something that just happened (in the previous episode) and leading into the current one. She knows she has problems, but she can't get over them to the point where even her psychiatrist wants nothing else to do with her. The story kicks off when the guild realizes that Zaboo hasn't been online for about a day and a half--and then he shows up at Codex's front door. Having confused their online chats as flirting, Zaboo enters stalker mode and becomes obsessive with her, but Codex is too timid to kick him out or do much else about it.

Meanwhile, in their game, Bladezz gets himself banned for cussing. Codex, realizing that this is a great excuse to get everybody together face-to-face, schedules a real-life meeting with her guild (as they've never met outside the game). Of course, she has ulterior motives: first, she really wants to have her guild help her figure out how to get Zaboo out of her house; second, she wants to please her psychiatrist, who figures she should socialize outside of the internet.

Unfortunately, Vork announces that he had transferred all the guild funds to Bladezz's account, and they can't kick him out without losing everything they have. Bladezz, upset once he finds out about the attempted coup, begins to slander all of them. And things are only made worse when Zaboo's crazy mother shows up.

The interesting thing about the show is that every character is flawed--and I mean flawed. These aren't people (except maybe Cyd/Codex) that you'd be friends with on normal circumstances. Codex doesn't really have social skills (and I probably connected with her character the most because of this). Zaboo is a total creepo. Vork is overbearing, anti-social, and lives in a shed. Bladezz is just your typical a-hole teenager. Tink is bitchy for almost no reason (though she has some "good" moments). And, probably worst of the lot, is Clara--incredibly negligent of her young children, and in normal cases would probably be stripped of her family. However, despite these characters having these serious flaws, they're hilarious. The flaws are essentially the forefront of the show, as these characters have to learn how to start living life and being more sociable... and, of course, dealing with each other.

This is very obviously a first season. It's lower budget, and it takes a while to get the feel of the show (for both you and them). But the overall story is a good way to get to know the characters. And, by the end, pretty much all the stories are tied up. It's a decent season, but out of the first three seasons, it's definitely the weakest.


Season Two

Picking up not too long after the first season, Codex is now in a new apartment, as Zaboo's mother's antics caused her to lose her house. Zaboo, of course, follows her to her new place. But now he has some competition in the form of a good looking, martial-artist, stunt double named Wade (Fernando Chien). Codex, finally getting fed up with Zaboo, tricks him into leaving by saying he needs to "level up" before they can be at the same place be together.

So during this time, Vork volunteers to house Zaboo... of course, being bribed by in-game gold. And while he's gone, Codex can start trying to get Wade to take interest, but eventually finds out he has a "stupid hot tall girl" for a roommate, and while they aren't dating, they are friends with benefits.

In-game, the guild finds a special orb and Vork puts it up for bid. Clara and Tink fight for it, but when Clara's kids ambush her and distract her, Tink wins it. Vork refuses to re-auction it, and Clara vows revenge on Vork by bringing in a second character he doesn't know about and continually killing his character.

During this, Bladezz shows his interest in Tink, and Tink--despite being disgusted by Bladezz--decides to flirt back. She has him buy a ton of stuff for her, inevitably having him max out his mother's credit cards... and then gives him nothing in return.

Everything culminates when their server declares that it's going down for 4 hours due to maintenance, and the girls decide to have a party where truth comes out and revenge is both sweet and devastating.

This season was very good. Pretty much everybody has a side-story going on, and they all come together very nicely at the party at the end. It's actually kind of funny that the orb that Clara and Tink fought over has to do with side quests, and, really, this season is just a mix of "side quests." There really isn't one primary story, yet they're all equally important. And unlike the first season, this one doesn't have a happy ending. You might think Clara gets away unhurt in all of it, but her regrets come full-force in season 3... same with Zaboo, technically.

This season also had a more obvious bigger budget. On the cast commentary, they declare they went into HD, so that's one thing. They also gain an animated intro and theme. But you can also tell just from the locations. You get to see Vork's entire house, for instance. Oh, and the stuff between Vork and Zaboo is downright hilarious.


Season 3

This season picks up a couple days after the last one, as everybody is waiting in line for the release of the new expansion for their game. Vork has been camping out in front of the store for days (despite not needing to). Unfortunately, another guild--the Axis of Anarchy--cuts in front of them and starts trouble. The Axis of Anarchy includes the leader, Fawkes (Wil Wheaton), who often quotes philosophers, authors, etc.; Venom (Teal Sherer), the only girl in the group, who happens to be in a wheelchair and uses it to their advantage; Bruiser (J. Teddy Garces), a police officer who is the most visibly ferocious of the bunch; Kwan (Alexander Yi), a Korean man who has a woman named Nik with him to translate; and Valkyrie (Mike Rose), a wannabe jokester and closet homosexual.

The tension between the two guilds builds throughout the season as the Axis of Anarchy begins to take their trouble-making outside the game and targets Bladezz, getting him into some serious trouble. And on top of Bladezz getting tortured by the Axis, he's constantly annoyed by his younger sister.

Meanwhile, Vork decides to step down as Guild Leader due to Clara's antics in the previous season, making him go on a journey of self-discovery. When the guild chooses Codex to become their new leader, Tink gets upset and decides to quit and join the Axis of Anarchy instead. Zaboo has also become preoccupied as he attempts to balance gaming with his incredibly domineering new girlfriend, Riley (the stupid tall hot girl, played by Michele Boyd).

On top of all this, Clara's husband finds a picture of her making out with Wade at the party. He almost leaves her, but she begs him not to (mostly so there can be somebody to take care of the kids while she plays the game). He stays, but only under the promise that they do more things together. Inevitably, Clara talks him into starting to play the game and eventually the guild, though he's terrible at it.

Everything continues to get worse, and the guild continues to fall apart. Codex struggles to find a way to keep the guild together, bring Vork back as the leader, break up Riley and Zaboo, get Tink to come back, and stop the Axis from destroying Bladezz's life.

This is definitely the best season. It has a solid story and some really good character development. Clara actually shows that her family is at least somewhat important to her (kinda), and Brett Sheridan, who plays her husband, is funny. Codex shows that there might be some kind of feelings for Zaboo after all (or at the very least, he's growing on her and she cares for his well-being). Zaboo begins to understand that he has to think about himself sometimes and look after his own well-being... not to mention there are some people that are crazier than he is. Tink and Bladezz both see that sometimes you can go too far (building on their actions from the previous season). And Vork realizes that, while everybody might dislike him, that's what makes him a strong leader (it makes sense in the show).

There's also some good suspense in this season. You feel really bad for Bladezz and hope he gets through things alright. And then the finale is great with a big battle royale between the two guilds. This season also really amped up the language. There is a large amount of cussing this season, which took a while to get used to, but it isn't really all that distracting.

Overall, this is an excellent season, and it made me really excited for the fourth season.


Conclusion

I watched the first three seasons through Instant Streaming, but I immediately went out and bought the first two seasons on DVD (they do sell them separately, but they also came out with a release that has them together). The only reason I haven't bought season three is because it's not available in any nearby stores right now, and I'll have to order it online. There are some excellent extra features on the DVDs. There are tons of bloopers, a table reading, audition footage, multiple commentaries, and much more (even some hidden things).

I suggest checking out the show free either online (YouTube or their website) or via Instant Streaming. If you enjoy it, definitely buy the DVDs, as there are some good special features. I'd say it'd be your kind of show if you like gaming or Felicia Day, but the former isn't really a necessity (I mean, if you hate Felicia Day--though I can't see how--you probably aren't bouncing in anticipation for this show). The show is more about the character interactions than the actual gaming (you never even actually see game footage or anything). I mean, it'll probably be funnier if you're a gamer, but I can see people enjoying this show and not being one. So yeah, check it out. And finally... this picture... mostly because Tink looks hot in it (though, unfortunately, you never really see anything like this within the show):

(P.S. Season 4 is currently being released online on a, I believe, weekly basis.)

7.24.2010

2 In 1: A Very Potter Musical And A Very Potter Sequel.

A little over a year ago, a college-based production company called Team Starkid produced what is now a well-known stage play called A Very Potter Musical, a musical production of Harry Potter. It was performed in front of a live audience and recorded and put online. And it became an instant hit. Now, as of yesterday, there is another. Team Starkid has produced, recorded, and placed online A Very Potter Sequel, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Now that I've just finished watching this sequel (though it's actually more like a prequel), I've decided to comment on both.


A Very Potter Musical.

The story takes elements from Sorcerer's Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Goblet of Fire, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows and mixes them together in extreme comedic fashion. The basic story is that it's Harry's second year at Hogwarts, and Professor Quirrel, sharing a body with Voldemort, has plans on using Harry to come back to power using the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry tries to win over Cho Chang (who herself is with Cedric Diggory) while completely ignoring Ginny, who obviously has a crush on him. Meanwhile, Ron starts realizing his feelings for Hermione, but he's not alone. No... Draco Malfoy also realizes his affections for the frumpy Hermione.

There's a whole lot more to it, of course. The whole show is about three and a half hours long, and it incorporates pretty much 5 of the 7 books (with its own mix, obviously). Its biggest focus is on Sorcerer's Stone (with Quirrelmort) and Goblet of Fire. Though in the latter half of the play, it does switch gears to the last couple books (but not so much Deathly Hallows, from what I can remember... it's been a while). These guys were quite ingenious in how they were able to get all the stories mixed down into one show.

They also found the right tone. There's no way a Harry Potter Musical could take itself seriously. So, knowing this, Team Starkid totally made it a self-conscious comedy. The comedy is basically total irony. It takes everything the audience would expect (either due to knowing the books/stories/characters or how the scene has set itself up) and turning it on its head. It takes expectations and uses them to a great advantage. And then, of course, a slew of running jokes (usually involving Draco). They also have fun with the actors. For instance, Draco is played by a female (to great effect).

Now, you can't discuss a musical without getting into the music. There's a good side and a bad side to this. The good is that the music for this is excellent. Like any musical, there are the fun, catchy tunes. But there are also the more dramatic, heart-felt ones. And the fun ones truly are hilarious. Not all of them are favorites, granted. But that's how it goes with any musical. You usually won't like every song. Hell, I don't like every single song in Little Shop of Horrors (which, for my astute readers will know, is pretty much my favorite). But almost everybody has a great voice. The best voices go to Harry and Ginny (Ginny probably has the best voice of the lot). And despite Cedric only having one line to sing at the beginning, he has a great one, too. There are a couple rough notes here and there, though. The toughest to listen to are Voldemort's, but that's mostly because the actor has to keep a raspy voice while singing.

Unfortunately, the biggest downfall to this production is its audio, which is a shame. Because it was performed live for an audience and was recorded during such, oftentimes the audience's laughter is louder than those on stage. And sometimes the music is louder than the singers, as well. So there are a lot of times, whether the characters are speaking or singing, you have no idea what they're saying (or have to listen very closely in order to hear it). However, the soundtrack is available to download for free, so you can get the songs that way with no laughter or music louder than the singing.

Overall, if you're a fan of Harry Potter, this is a 3.5 hour of hilarity. If you have the time and have not seen it, I strongly recommend it. You can find it on YouTube.

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A Keanu 'Whoa'




A Very Potter Sequel.

The sequel sees the return of all the cast members (and maybe one or two new ones). The story mixes elements from Sorcerer's Stone, Prisoner of Azkaban, and Order of the Phoenix. It picks up right after the first story ends. Despite there being apparently nowhere to go story-wise from there, Lucius Malfoy has a plan. He figures that if he can kill Potter before his second year, everything will be better. So with the help of Death Eater Yaxley, Lucius gets his hands on a Time Turner and goes back in time to Harry's first year to try and destroy him. In Harry's first year, he makes friends with Ron and, eventually, Hermione. However, Sirius Black has escaped from Azkaban and is apparently after Harry. Because of this, Hogwarts must set up extra security, so the Ministry sends them Delores Umbridge to be Head of Security. Unfortunately, she's one evil lady, so Harry turns to the help of the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Remus Lupin, who is being adamantly pursued by Snape, still holding a grudge against him from long ago. This also introduces other characters, such as Arthur Weasley, Dean Thomas, Seamus Finnegan, Hedwig, and Firenze (as well as very brief appearances by Luna Lovegood and the other Weasley siblings).

Again, there is a lot more going on than just that, as this is also about 3 and a half hours long. But unlike the previous play, this sequel/prequel (depending on how you look at it) is more linear, I suppose. Because it only incorporates elements from 3 books (and really not all that much from Sorcerer's Stone except for it being Harry's first year, as well as the Mirror of Erised and the origin of the invisibility cloak), it seems more contained. The first one, while great and hilarious, had a ton of stuff going on in trying to incorporate stuff from nearly the entire series. This one is pretty much what would happen if you dropped Umbridge into the Prisoner of Azkaban storyline and set it in Harry's first year without Quirrel.

My biggest complaint from the first one was the fact that you couldn't understand half of what was going on. Thankfully, that's no the case this time. There are a couple times near the end where the music is louder than the singing. But for the most part, they seemed to learn from the first time. So that was excellent.

The humor this time is also a lot different than the first time around (though there is some of the same here and there). This one is a little more adult, which is funny considering the characters are supposed to be a year younger. There's a lot of cussing and even some sex jokes. It isn't crude, though, or over-the-top. Some of the jokes deal with giving an origin to some things from the first play (Ron's headband, a couple lines, etc.). The best parts, however, have to be Lucius, Lupin, Umbridge, and Goyle/Firenze. Taking a note from the actress playing Draco, the actor who plays Lucius is insanely over-the-top ridiculous in his movements. Lupin is the source of most of the cussing, and despite his humor being pretty much the same types of jokes over and over, it never gets old. And then there's Umbridge... played by the guy (yes, guy) who portrayed Voldemort in the first play. And he's one muscular guy... and he plays her like a bi-polar sadist with some childhood abuse issues and even some slight retardation. What's great about Umbridge is that right when a scene seems to be getting to the point where you think it's dragging on a bit much, Umbridge does something new and hilarious. Now, the guy who played Goyle in the first one is back, and he's given even more to do this time around. He plays Goyle to hilarity, but he truly shines when he portrays the Centaur Firenze, which--outside of Lupin's scenes--are probably the funniest parts of the entire play. This play also has Rita Skeeter (played by the girl who played Ginny in the first one), but she's not in it all that much, and none of her scenes are particularly memorable.

Now, the music is also different than the first time around. The music from the first play was heavier on the catchier tunes. This one is heavier on the ballads. I think while the songs in the first play are much funnier, I liked more of the songs in this one, which is intriguing to me (as I'm usually more of a fan of the catchy tunes). I'm anxiously awaiting the release of the soundtrack so I can get to know the songs better and tell for sure.

Overall, while I adore the first one, I think this sequel is even better. Though I said the songs in the first one are generally funnier, the whole of the sequel is funnier than the first. Most of the time, I couldn't stop laughing... and if it wasn't 3.5 hours long (and it didn't take me on-and-off all day to watch the whole thing, as I had to mix it in with getting some other things done), I would turn right back around and watch it again right now. However, I would strongly suggest watching the original first if you haven't (and shame on you if you haven't), as there are quite a few references to it in this one (more jokes will make sense, in other words). So yeah... what are you waiting for? Get to watching! Like the other, you can catch it on YouTube.

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Royale With Cheese

(P.S. There is a great moment of improv where something goes wrong, and the guy playing Ron comes up with a great line to get around it.)

7.23.2010

LKMYNTS: Spiral.

For this Little Known Movies You Need To See, I give you Spiral. It's (semi-)directed by the same guy who made Hatchet, and it stars the same guy from that, as well (actually, I think this one is moreso directed by said actor as his debut, with help from the previous director). And it's nothing like Hatchet. This movie is about Mason (Joel Moore), a extremely introverted painter with an anxiety disorder who works for an auto insurance telemarketing company. All he eats is peanut butter, apples, and milk. All he paints is women in apparently the same poses. He only has one friend in the world, who also happens to be his boss, Berkeley (Zachary Levi). After a devastating event where it seems Mason might have killed someone, he becomes plagued by nightmares and hallucinations of a waitress that tend to send him into panic attacks, forcing him to grab his inhaler. But then he meets Amber (Amber Tamblyn), a friendly new employee with an interest in getting to know Mason better. Slowly, they become closer and Mason even opens up a bit more... but Amber doesn't realize how extreme Mason's psychological problems are.

The best thing about this movie is how it keeps you guessing. You might think you've got it figured out, but it will still throw you for a loop. In fact, the ending totally makes the movie. And even after you learn the supposed truth, it's still ambiguous enough for you to look at clues throughout the rest of the movie that could negate even that. It's a total mind-freak. It's a very well-written movie.

And on top of the writing, the acting is superb. Between this, Hatchet, and Avatar (he was the jealous scientist friend), I'm going to really be keeping an eye on Joel Moore (he was also in Dodgeball, but, well, yeah). He's very disturbing in this movie, and you never know how he's going to react to something. I also hardly recognized Zachary Levi. I've only seen one episode of Chuck, but he looks completely different, and his character is totally different. Especially in the latter half of this movie (and the ending), Levi is great. And then you have Amber Tamblyn, who portrays pretty much the perfect girl. She's goofy, quirky, fun, pretty, and incredibly patient. She's almost too patient, actually. I actually wondered at a couple points why she was even bothering with Mason, who at first doesn't even seem to want to give her the light of day and is incredibly socially awkward. Anyway, what I find funny is how this movie is populated primarily with TV actors (there's even an appearance by Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica), yet the acting is (sometimes infinitely) better than most Hollywood movies out there.

If there's anything negative about the movie, it's its slowness. The beginning is incredibly slow and slightly repetitive. It takes a while for you to get into the movie or care about what's going on. But once Mason starts to open up to Amber, it gets better. It just takes a while to get there, like I said. But totally stick with it--it's worth it.

One last thing I want to bring up is the poster. I noticed this while looking through movies to watch. There are at least 2 other movie posters that look exactly like this one. Well, technically, this movie's poster looks like the others, as the other movies came out first. Still, get some originality here. Check out the one up above for this movie, then check these out:
















Anyway, definitely check this movie out. You can find it on Netflix Instant Streaming. There is great acting, great writing, and a mind-bender ending. Just stick with it if you think it's starting off slowly, though. Oh, and I didn't even mention the soundtrack. There is a ton of jazz music throughout the movie as Mason is a huge jazz fanatic. He's always listening to jazz records, so you hear it that way, but you'll also hear it as part of the actual soundtrack as well. Even if you don't particularly like jazz, you'll learn to like it within the movie.

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A Keanu 'Whoa'

7.21.2010

Podcast: The Demented Encyclopedia #16 - Awesome Equals Christopher Nolan In This One.

I know I've already put one thing up today (check out the season 3 review of Avatar: The Last Airbender, if you would!). But I finally got done editing this awesome edition of The Demented Encyclopedia (took a little longer than usual...). So I figured I should put this up, as well.

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For the second week in a row, Travis was unable to join us. Instead, Rachel has returned for another episode in his stead. This week, we discuss the career of one Christopher Nolan due to the recent release of Inception. If you notice something out of place on this episode, it's not your computer... We started the show with a brief plug before moving in to Nolan's body of work in chronological order. After a brief D-Bag, we went into Film vs. Film, or in this case, Scene vs. Scene. And finally, we wrapped it all up with our Mono-Dialogues of the Week. Now, that's how we recorded it... that's not to say that's how it ended up...









Thanks goes out to Kevin MacLeod's Imcompetech Website for the music. As always, you can use the player above to listen to the podcast, or you can search iTunes, where we are also available for download. The earlier episodes are being removed from the player for space, but you can still always download them on iTunes. Also, please become a Fan on Facebook... then you can give us your input for the podcast and will probably end up on the show during the D-Bag segment, as well as vote for which film in Film vs. Film won for the week. But as for now... enjoy!

TV Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book Three: Fire.

This was probably my fastest watch yet. I recently finished re-watching the third and final season/book of Avatar: The Last Airbender (click here for my thoughts on Book 1 and Book 2). I mentioned in my Book 2 review how Book 2 would be both easier and harder to make into a movie. Well, Book 3 would just be nearly impossible. There's hardly a completely unnecessary episode, and the series finale alone is an hour and a half... and it still didn't have time to wrap everything up.

So getting to it, this will be the same as the others. I'll give a summary, give my thoughts, and discuss if it should be used for the movie version. Again, I'll probably reference the first movie (despite its terribleness) because, unless there's a total Retcon of the movie (a la The Incredible Hulk), we'd have to go by what it set up. So here we go...


Book Three: Fire (Season 3)

Episode 1: The Awakening
Synopsis: Aang wakes up from his coma on a Fire Nation ship. It turns out his friends (and more) stole the ship and have made their way back into the Fire Nation. But he's upset because the world thinks he's dead, and he feels he's let them down. He goes out on his own to try to reclaim his honor, but ends up caught in a storm. After persuading, his friends talk him into keeping the secret that he's still alive, and he ends up burning his glider. Meanwhile, Zuko and Azula are welcomed back home as heroes, with the Fire Lord congratulating Zuko on his success. However, he also learns Azula lied and gave credit of Aang's death to him... just in case he's really alive, which Azula suspects he might be.

Thoughts: A good opening to the season. It's an incredibly dark episode, which sets up the tone of the rest of the season perfectly. Aang doesn't show his comedic side in this episode. Katara is upset with her father. Aang burns his glider to continue the secret of him being dead. Azula plots against her brother, giving him glory on the thought that the Avatar might not be dead... it's all serious stuff. I also said at the last episode of the second season about Aang and Zuko switching roles. It's even more obvious in this episode (to the point where Aang talks about regaining his honor).

The Movie: Like every other opener of the previous seasons, this would would have to be in the movie.

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Episode 2: The Headband
Synopsis: The gang steal Fire Nation clothes to disguise themselves, and Aang accidentally winds up in a school. There, he teaches the other students to loosen up a bit and live. Meanwhile, Zuko--who believes Aang is alive--hires a three-eyed assassin to find and kill the Avatar.

Thoughts: A fun episode, bringing back the fun side of Aang that the season opener was missing. And it also introduces a fun villain--Sparky Sparky Boom Man (or Combustion Man).

The Movie: Aang's half of this episode would be cut, but Combustion Man would have to be introduced.

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Episode 3: The Painted Lady
Synopsis: The gang find themselves at a fishing village on the water, but the water has been polluted by a nearby factory that is pouring sludge into it. Katara takes up the guise of a village myth hero, The Painted Lady, and helps the sick and needy villagers. She also, eventually, takes on the factory workers to help clean up the water.

Thoughts: It's good for building Katara's character, but otherwise unnecessary. There's some fun comedy with one of the villagers who appears to be crazy, as well.

The Movie: This would almost definitely be cut.

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Episode 4: Sokka's Master
Synopsis: Sokka, being the only person in the group who can't do any kind of bending, feels useless. So he goes out to train under a master swordsman, Piandao, and eventually creates a black sword out of a meteorite. Meanwhile, we start seeing Iroh--who has been imprisoned--start figuring out a plan to escape.

Thoughts: A really good episode that focuses on Sokka and his importance. There are some good scenes with the others waiting around, bored, without Sokka, and they learn how important he really is to them. And then, of course, Sokka learning swordsmanship. I also really like the side bits with Iroh that cover the next few episodes, showing how much of a genius the man really is.

The Movie: This would have to be incredibly shortened, as there is a lot of other stuff to get to. They don't necessarily need Sokka's sword or any of that. The sword doesn't exactly do anything major later on in the season. It's just character-building for Sokka. However, the Iroh stuff needs to be in there.

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Episode 5: The Beach
Synopsis: Almost completely focusing on Azula, Zuko, Mai, and Ty Lee, this episode shows them on vacation at Ember Island. The island apparently has the magical ability to show people who they truly are inside. While there, they try to act like normal teenagers at the beach and at a party. Meanwhile, Aang and the others are attacked by Combustion Man for the first time.

Thoughts: This is a really fun episode, mostly to see Azula try to act normal and fail epically at it. Overall, this episode is to help develop the more troubled characters of the show, but is completely unnecessary plot-wise. Well, except for the Combustion Man stuff.

The Movie: Like I said, this is almost unnecessary except for the Combustion Man stuff. Normally I'm all up for having solid character development in movies, but there's way too much plot to cover for side trips like this.

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Episode 6: The Avatar and the Firelord
Synopsis: While Aang discovers the history of Avatar Roku, Zuko follows the story of his great grandfather, Fire Lord Sozin, the man responsible for starting the war. He also turns out to have been Avatar Roku's best friend, and Roku turns out to be Zuko's great grandfather on his mother's side, giving more reason for Zuko's internal conflict.

Thoughts: This episode is very similar in style to "The Storm" from the first season. In other words, it's very good and gives a lot of interesting back story. We get to know about how and why the war started. And it's not just pure back story, as each story had purpose--they were given to help develop the characters of Aang and Zuko further, helping them to understand themselves and their destinies.

The Movie: I'm sure the background information would be given somehow, but I doubt they'd take 20 minutes to do it like this episode does. It would probably be given in a brief comment or story, taking no more than a few minutes.

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Episode 7: The Runaway
Synopsis: Toph begins to run con jobs in a small town, and Katara strongly disapproves, causing a rift between them. They learn a lot about themselves in the process, but end up caught by Combustion Man. He uses them as bait to catch Aang, but Katara ends up saving the day and they escape.

Thoughts: This episode is mostly to develop Katara yet again. She's accused of being too motherly and strict, while Toph is accused of not following enough rules. Toph does receive some development in this episode, but not as much as Katara. The bit with Combustion Man is good, too, showing Katara's quick thinking in using her own sweat to do some Waterbending.

The Movie: I think this would be a fun episode to see on screen if there would be time. I think, if I were writing the script, I'd put this episode in the first draft but might cut it in subsequent drafts after I realized how long the movie was going to be with it in there.

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Episode 8: The Puppetmaster
Synopsis: The gang stumbles across another small village that is plagued by a creature on the full moon. Every full moon, villagers go missing, never to be seen again. They shack up at an inn with a sweet old lady named Hama that actually used to be from Katara and Sokka's water tribe. Feeling a connection with Katara, Hama takes Katara out during the full moon to show her a powerful Waterbending ability. As it turns out, Hama was kidnapped from their tribe when she was younger and was held prisoner in a Fire Nation prison. She then taught herself to take and control water from everything around her, realizing that there is water in every living thing. So she teaches herself Bloodbending, which allows her to completely control another person like a puppet, but it can only be done at the full moon when the Waterbender is at his/her most powerful... and really can only be done by a master (such as Katara). Hama is revealed to be the one kidnapping the villagers, as she's getting her twisted revenge for what the Fire Nation did to her. Katara, who doesn't want to do Bloodbending and thinks it's wrong and sadistic, is forced to use it against Hama when she nearly has Aang and Sokka kill each other.

Thoughts: This is one of the darkest and scariest episodes in the entire show. There's another that's up there with it, and it's also in this season, but this one is by far the creepiest. The way Bloodbending is portrayed, from the animation to the sound effects to go with it (not to mention just the music playing over the scenes) makes you squirm. It's not like a fluidly moving marionette. No, it's like something out of Silent Hill--sharp movements, crackling bones, twisting limbs where limbs shouldn't be able to twist. You're completely with Katara on how wrong and sadistic it is. This is one heck of an episode.

The Movie: Oh, this should definitely be in the movie. If any of the side-stop villages are visited in the film, this should be one of them. It would be a very dark movie overall, and this would fit in with the tone perfectly. Not to mention if handled right, the Bloodbending would look so creepy.

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Episode 9: Nightmares and Daydreams
Synopsis: With the planned invasion just days away, Aang gets anxiety nightmares. He tries to stay awake after a while, but that just causes him to hallucinate. Though the gang finally gets Aang to rest after 3 days.

Thoughts: This is one of the strangest and funniest episodes of the whole series. And what more would you expect from anxiety dreams and hallucinations? At one point, Appa and Momo start talking to him before arguing with each other, which turns into an over-the-top samurai battle between the two creatures. It's totally bizarre, but hilarious.

The Movie: This should be cut. There's no way it would fit with the dark tone of the movie, and it's way too cartoonish for a live-action movie.

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Episode 10: The Day of Black Sun, Part 1: The Invasion
Synopsis: It's the day of the eclipse, and many characters from past episodes return to help in the invasion. Of course, they successfully penetrate the Fire Nation forces and get into the capital city. But once within the palace, Aang realizes nobody's home.

Thoughts: It's really cool to see a bunch of past bit characters return (mostly from season 1, but there are others). And you're cheering along with them as they successfully defeat the Fire Nation army and break in to the palace. And then your heart just sinks when you realize nobody is there.

The Movie: This would probably be at the mid-point of the movie, which makes sense considering it's mid-way through the season. But it would definitely have to be there, specifically for what happens next.

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Episode 11: The Day of Black Sun, Part 2: The Eclipse
Synopsis: Sokka and Toph help Aang go below the palace and find the Fire Lord before the eclipse has passed and it's too late. However, they run into Azula, who stalls them until the eclipse is over. Meanwhile, Zuko takes advantage of the eclipse to confront his father about all his evil ways and how he (Zuko) is going to free Iroh from prison and go join the Avatar to help him (I know I haven't included Zuko bits in the last few synopses, but there have been some brief Zuko moments where he really challenges who he is and the choices he's made). The eclipse ends, and the Fire Lord attacks his son. Zuko, however, redirects the lightning attack as Iroh taught him and escapes. When he goes to free Iroh, he realizes that Iroh has already escaped. Back with Aang and the others, they realize the day was a bust. The Fire Nation has raised their War Balloons and sinks their submarines, their only way of escape. So the gang (and a couple other of the younger characters) is forced to leave on Appa, while the rest of the troops are to stay and be arrested. At the end, we see Zuko following Appa in an air balloon.

Thoughts: A very good, though sad, episode. Azula shows her devilish nature in keeping them preoccupied long enough for the eclipse to end (though she does announce that they have captured Suki). Zuko shows his next leap of character development in facing and denouncing his father, showing his love for his uncle, and declaring his fate as helping the Avatar. And then, of course, the gang has to flee to fight another day while the rest of the invasion force is captured.

The Movie: Like I said for the last episode, this definitely has to be in the movie for multiple reasons.

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Episode 12: The Western Air Temple
Synopsis: The gang travels to the Western Air Temple (the only air temple they had yet to visit in the show) to stay low and figure out what to do next. Sokka declares that the new plan is the old plan, where Aang masters all 4 elements and that he now needs to find a Firebending master. Zuko desperately tries to prove that he's changed to the gang, but it's only after he helps defeat Combustion Man that they decide to trust him and bring him on to teach Aang Firebending. Though Katara, still hurt after Zuko's betrayal at the end of the previous season, doesn't trust him and threatens him that if he does anything that even remotely seems bad, it'll be the last thing he ever does.

Thoughts: This is pretty much the episode most people waited for--where Zuko joins the gang and becomes one of the good guys finally. It's like when Buffy fans waited for everyone to accept Spike into the party. It's just good stuff. And you're rooting for Zuko the entire episode, despite him continually screwing things up.

The Movie: Yeah... this has to be there.

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Episode 13: The Firebending Masters
Synopsis: Zuko tries to start teaching Aang Firebending, but realizes he can't for some reason. He realizes he had been using his anger and hatred to Firebend, but now that he doesn't have those things anymore, he has nothing to draw from. So Zuko takes Aang to the temple of the supposedly extinct Sun Warriors, those who learned to Firebend from the dragons. Of course, they learn the Sun Warriors still exist, and they send Zuko and Aang to meet with the Firebending Masters, who turn out to be the final two existing dragons. By the end of the episode, Zuko regains his ability to Firebend, and Aang loses his fear of it (after having burned Katara in the first season).

Thoughts: A good episode overall. It's fun to explore the source of Zuko's Firebending ability and how it stemmed from his anger. Also, there's some beautiful animation with the dragons sequence near the end.

The Movie: Like I've said before, I might put this in the initial script but cut it later. In fact, I might go so far as to film this sequence but probably end up cutting it from the final film. It'd be good for an extended version. It has everything visually appealing for a live-action movie, but overall isn't completely necessary. They could easily have Zuko still know how to Firebend and not have to do any of this.

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Episode 14: The Boiling Rock (Part 1)
Synopsis: Sokka takes his turn to go off on a mission with Zuko alone. Zuko tells him that war prisoners would probably be taken to The Boiling Rock, an almost inescapable prison. Sokka wants to go and free his father, though isn't completely sure that he'll be there. Unfortunately, after they get there and their method of escape is destroyed, they realize that Sokka's father is, indeed, not there. However, Suki is, and Sokka decides to try and help break her out instead. Another prisoner gets word of the escape plan and demands to join in. But when the time comes to escape, Sokka hears of a new shipment of prisoners that could include his father. So he, Zuko, and Suki stay behind while the other prisoner and his companions try to escape... and inevitably fail. And fortunately, it was for the better, as Sokka's father was with the new group of prisoners.

Thoughts: Of the "Zuko Field Trip" episodes, this is the only two-parter, which is a bit strange. Sure, it's focusing on rescuing Hakoda and Suki, but my biggest issue with this season is just that. It seems every time they rescue or find either of those two characters, they're forced to leave them again immediately after. So it feels as if all the rescue or meet-up episodes are pointless or redundant. However, it's still a good, fun episode, and the teamwork between Sokka and Zuko is a pleasure to watch, as their chemistry is really funny.

The Movie: With Suki cut from the first movie and possibly not introduced in the second, this two-parter would become a lot shorter. It would also become slightly unnecessary. I would definitely cut all the side stuff with the other prisoner. Actually, I'd probably cut this whole sequence to begin with. It's good development for both Sokka and Zuko, but it's just taking time away from other important things.

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Episode 15: The Boiling Rock (Part 2)
Synopsis: They come up with another escape plan, this time involving the hostage-taking of the warden. But their plans become a bit screwy when Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee show up. Of course, they still end up escaping, but only because Mai decides to help Zuko instead of fear Azula. Azula goes to attack Mai, but Ty Lee sticks with Mai and attacks Azula first, taking away her bending abilities momentarily.

Thoughts: Really, the only important part of this episode is Mai and Ty Lee turning on Azula, which is the first major thing to cause her to eventually snap and lose it. The new escape plan is fun, and the fight scene between everybody on the gondola is a lot of fun, too.

The Movie: Like I said, the only important thing is the Mai/Ty Lee thing. But I could put that in another scenario just as easily, maybe even closer to the climax.

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Episode 16: The Southern Raiders
Synopsis: Katara decides to take her little field trip with Zuko now, as Zuko knows who was responsible for killing her mother all those years ago. He takes her to the Southern Raiders' ship, where Katara goes on a rampage. But she discovers the captain isn't the right man. Zuko and Katara hunt him down, finding that he's mostly a pathetic old man living with his mother. She takes pity on him and doesn't kill him, learning that vengeance wouldn't have solved it. However, she also takes a lesson from the trip and decides to forgive Zuko, fully accepting him as a part of the team.

Thoughts: Of all the "Zuko Field Trip" episodes, this is probably my favorite. Remember earlier how I was saying there was one other really dark episode in this season? This is it. Katara is almost Azula-level crazy in this episode. She's not one to be reckoned with. Really, Katara is frightening in this episode, doing some Bloodbending, as well as some amazing Waterbending that we haven't seen before... though probably because it's fueled by pure rage. This is a really good episode.

The Movie: I would definitely include this in the movie. There is a lot of Katara stuff in this season, but of the character development necessary for her, I'd probably say this one and The Puppetmaster would be the best ones to include. It shows a darker side of her character, but also her moral side to contrast with. It's also good for her development in her relationship with Zuko, finally forgiving him and accepting him.

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Episode 17: The Ember Island Players
Synopsis: The gang, now staying at Zuko's family home on Ember Island, decides to check out a play based on their adventures. But what they discover is how distorted and wrong the show gets it, yet also how right, emphasizing their flaws and how everybody else perceives them. This forces the gang to evaluate themselves and their relationships with each other.

Thoughts: Quite nearly a filler episode through and through, this is pretty much just a creative way for the show to do a "montage/recap" episode to catch everybody up before the series finale. But this even proves how great this show is, by taking something as overdone as a montage/recap episode and making it humorous and purposeful, using it for one last stretch of character development before the finale. The ending is also perfect when you think about it in context with the recent movie adaptation. It's like M. Night Shyamalan only watched this episode before making the movie. In fact, somebody else thought this, as well (click here to see what I mean). There's also a funny line during the play that portrays when Jet is fatally wounded at Ba Sing Se. Zuko asks "Did Jet... die?" Sokka replies something along the lines of "You know, they left it really ambiguous." It was just one of the many fan-based self-referential jokes in this episode.

The Movie: No way. The only part of this that might be incorporated is Aang questioning Katara about the status of their relationship due to them having kissed at the Invasion and not having brought it up since.

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Episode 18: Sozin's Comet, Part 1: The Phoenix King
Synopsis: When Aang reveals he was planning on waiting until after the comet to take on the Fire Lord, Zuko reveals that his father is planning on using the comet to destroy the Earth Kingdom much like Sozin destroyed the Air Nomads the last time the comet came around. Aang becomes conflicted in how to defeat the Fire Lord. Everything he's been taught and everything he stands for involves not taking his life. In the middle of the night, he sleepwalks into the ocean and, along with Momo, ends up on another island that disappears. All the others wake up the next morning and begin searching for him. They put Zuko in charge since he was the master at tracking Aang in the past, and Zuko takes them to June, the tracker/assassin from the first season. Meanwhile, Fire Lord Ozai decides to turn over his title to Azula, as he's planning on becoming the Phoenix King, ruler of the world, after he destroys the Earth Kingdom.

Thoughts: Basically just an introduction to the finale. This 4-part finale is shown as an hour-and-a-half movie (without commercials), so this is really only the first 20 or so minutes. There's really nothing all that exciting, as most of it is setup for later.

The Movie: This would definitely be there. I'd like to say they could cut the "missing island" stuff, but they can't, as that's pretty vital to Aang's revelation. Though they might be able to cut down on the searching bit a little, I suppose.

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Episode 19: Sozin's Comet, Part 2: The Old Masters
Synopsis: Still on the island, Aang summons the last 4 Avatars from the spirit realm and asks each of them for advice on how to defeat the Fire Lord. They all basically have the same reaction--that Aang needs to suck it up and kill him for the good of the world. Meanwhile, when June is unable to find Aang, Zuko uses her to find Iroh instead. In the process, they find themselves with the Order of the White Lotus, which includes King Bumi, water master Pakku, fire master Jeong Jeong, and Sokka's sword master Piandao. They are led by, of course, Iroh. Zuko has his heartfelt reunion with Iroh, and everybody decides to split up to do different things for this final battle. At the end, Sozin's Comet finally arrives, and Aang discovers his island is really a giant Lion Turtle, who gives him advice on what to do.

Thoughts: This is where it starts its segue from setup to main story. There's still some setup here, of course, for the final battle. But the big part of this episode is Zuko and Iroh's reunion, which is great. There's a bunch of hugging and crying and apologizing, etc. It's really emotional. And you also get a fun, though brief, recap of how Bumi retook Omashu from the Fire Nation. The strangest part is the Lion Turtle, mostly due to the animation. The animation feels very different than usual (in fact, there are a few things in these final episodes that are different than usual).

The Movie: This one is tough. Bumi was cut from the first movie, and he could easily be cut from the second. Pakku wasn't in the first, either, nor was Jeong Jeong. And Piandao could easily be cut from this movie. That pretty much negates the entire Order of the White Lotus. It would cut some time, but not a whole lot.

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Episode 20: Sozin's Comet, Part 3: Into the Inferno
Synopsis: Azula finally begins to snap the closer she gets to becoming Fire Lord. Zuko and Katara arrive to defeat her, but she challenges Zuko to an Agni Kai. He knows she's purposefully trying to split them up (as an Agni Kai is one-on-one), but he does it anyway. The fight goes on for a while before she attempts to kill Katara with a lightning blast. Zuko jumps in the way and saves her. Meanwhile, Sokka, Toph, and Suki try to stop the fleet of War Balloons that are going to help destroy the Earth Kingdom, and all almost die in the process. Finally, Aang faces Ozai and fails to defeat him, as he refuses to kill the man. Oh, and the Order of the White Lotus infiltrates Ba Sing Se and fights to reclaim it for the Earth Kingdom, as well.

Thoughts: There is a lot going on in this episode, and it's almost pure action. The fight between Azula and Zuko is amazing, mostly due to the mix between the visuals and the sound. The music and sound effects are really muted, making the fight seem that much more epic. The bits with Sokka, Suki, and Toph are probably the most suspenseful and emotional. When Sokka and Toph get separated from Suki, and then Sokka loses both his boomerang and his sword, and then when it seems both Sokk and Toph are about to die... it's all pretty hardcore. The rough part is when tears actually start welling up in Toph's eyes when she thinks she's about to fall to her death. The Ba Sing Se stuff isn't all that focused on. It's interesting, but not that major. But the fight between Aang and Ozai is where it's at. Aang attempts to use all the elements against him, and Ozai just keeps up his hardcore pace against him. Both prove to be totally badass. And by the end of the episode, it seems Aang is trapped and in trouble.

The Movie: Of course. Again, they might cut down on the Ba Sing Se stuff due to no real Order of the White Lotus (unless they have Iroh take the town back single-handedly, which I suppose would be pretty cool). Otherwise, all of this needs to be in there.

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Episode 21: Sozin's Comet, Part 4: Avatar Aang
Synopsis: Ozai accidentally triggers the Avatar State in Aang, and Aang goes badass, summing all 4 elements at once to surround him like an atom. Then Ozai goes on the run, unable to even harm Aang or hide from him. In the end, Aang takes Ozai's Firebending powers away from him, a technique he learned from the Lion Turtle right before the battle. Meanwhile, Katara takes Zuko's spot and continues the assault on Azula. In the end, Katara gets her chained up and unable to get free. She heals Zuko. Sokka, Suki, and Toph finish off the War Balloons. Zuko is crowned the new Fire Lord and declares the war officially over. Zuko then goes to his father, now in prison, and demands from him the location of his mother. The gang (including Zuko and Iroh) hang out together, and everything ends as Aang and Katara kiss.

Thoughts: First, it's a bit bumming that Azula isn't killed. Sure, Katara takes her down in a pretty interesting way, but after what we saw in the "Southern Raiders" episode, this was weak in comparison to what we know she can do. Though I suppose it would also counteract the lesson she learned in that episode had she killed Azula, so... yeah. I think part of it has to do with the fact that Ozai isn't killed either. I think that one bugs me a little more... not for the fact that he's not killed, but for the way Aang takes him down. It almost felt like a deus ex machina. You don't even know that the Lion Turtle taught him that move until right when he does it to the Fire Lord. I think if it would have been set up better, it might have worked better. But as it stands, it's just kind of awkward. Everything else about the fight, though, is amazing on every level. The Zuko as new Fire Lord thing reminded me a lot of a kind of Return of the King-type story. Now, the one bit of information fans (myself included) are a bit upset with that is never resolved is Zuko's mother. The whole thing is played up quite a bit over the second and third seasons, but you never find out. I guess you can assume she's alive, maybe. But it would have been nice to have some sort of confirmation. So yeah, anyway, Mai is back and Ty Lee has joined the Kyoshi Warriors. And the ending was good, as it ended on the kiss between Aang and Katara, cementing their relationship for good.

The Movie: Yes, again, it would have to be in the movie. It's the ending. Not sure how they'd handle the "remove Firebending" trick, though. And I'd hope maybe to get some kind of answer to Zuko's mother. Otherwise, it could stay pretty faithful. If they had to cut down on anything, I'd say cut a bit from Sokka, Toph, and Suki's segment. The War Balloons thing got slightly repetitive after a while. Otherwise, good stuff.


Conclusion

One thing I didn't mention at all in this season's summary was the relationship between Zuko and Mai. It's built up in this season that the two of them are a couple. However, I've never really liked them as a couple. They're just kind of... boring. Of course, it's all important for when Mai decides to help Zuko instead of Azula. But as Mai is such a dull character (purposefully, at that), I never cared for their relationship. Much like everybody else, I actually liked the prospect of Zuko and Katara, which is hinted at as somewhat of a possibility. This begins even at the end of last season when they're trapped in the cave together before Azula shows up. And I know it had to be Katara and Aang at the end, but... it's kinda like... you know somewhere deep down that Buffy and Angel should end up together, but you'd rather root for Buffy and Spike, because it's just that much more entertaining (yeah, I had to go to another show to make my relationship connections). There's even a few jokes on this in the "play" episode before the finale.

I think that's about it, though. This is a great, dark season and an overall great way to end the series. I might have handled a couple things differently, but that's just me. I think this season found a good tone. When it was funny, it was really funny. When it was disturbing, it was really disturbing. The action was amazing... I'll just stop there, as you'll know I'll just gush over it all.

As for a movie version, including all episode stuff that's pretty important (not including those ones I'd say "I might include but cut later"), my version of this movie is at a guesstimate of 3 hours and 15 minutes if kept very similar to the show. I'm sure if you tried really hard, it could be cut down to 2 and a half hours, but it couldn't be any less than that. There's just no way.

Anyway, it's definitely a great season and a great end to a great show. Have I mentioned the word "great" enough? So yeah, go check this show out if you haven't already. These reviews were based on my second viewing, and they were still as good as the first time through (if not even better).

7.16.2010

INCEPTION.

Going in, I knew the movie was about dreams, but that was about it. I tried to keep away from learning too much about the movie. So now that I've finally seen it... holy crap. Let's see if I can explain it well enough. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) are partners who have the technology to enter people's dreams and gather important information that would be otherwise impossible to get. Cobb, unable to return to the United States to be with his children, makes a deal with Saito (Ken Watanabe), a Japanese businessman. Saito asks Cobb to perform an inception, the nearly impossible task of planting an idea within somebody's subconscious, on a business rival, Fischer (Cillian Murphy). So Cobb and Arthur must put together a new team to pull off the job. Cobb goes to his father, Miles (Michael Caine), to find an architect--somebody to build the dreamworld they go into. He gives them his best student, Ariadne (Ellen Page). They also bring in two other men, Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao). But what they don't expect are the additional complications the mission brings, including Cobb's wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard).

Yeah, despite that lengthy explanation, I still think I failed at giving you a basic look into this movie. I suppose that's the outline shell of the plot, but there's so much more to it than that. Cobb has secrets that play out throughout the film. They aren't all completely difficult to figure out, though, but it still keeps you guessing.

In fact, that's one thing (of the many things) the movie does very well. For a good chunk of the film, you can never be sure if you're in a dream or not. You start getting about as paranoid as the characters, wondering if you're in a dream or back in reality... and then you start questioning which one truly is reality--the dream or... you get the picture. To take something from a fellow blogger, I'd say that to call this movie complex is an understatement.

And then you get the dreams themselves. The visuals are stunning, but it's how they're used that make them magnificent. Watching a city collapse in on itself, the creation a bridge by a mirror's reflection, the characters fight on ceilings and walls and float down hallways, and so much more... What makes these sequences even better is that even though they're dreams, they're happening with purpose. People don't just decide to start floating down hallways--no, they're floating down a hallway because another form of their body is free-falling. I'm sure that didn't make any sense, but it will when you see the film.

There's almost no reason to discuss the acting. It was all superb. I particularly liked Ellen Page (and there's a funny moment between her and Joseph Gordon-Levitt late in the film that's not worth spoilering, but I can't say I blame him). Though I think it's funny that both Cillian Murphy and his movie-father, Pete Postlethwaite, played Americans when one is Irish and can do a British accent and the other is British and can do an Irish accent. I know why they were American (it is part of the plot, after all). Just a random bit of coincidence--a note-worthy observation.

There's really not anything negative I can think of for this movie. It kept me on the edge of my seat. It kept me guessing. It was full of great action and awesome visuals (awesome in the classic sense of the word, at that). The acting was really good. The ideas were incredibly original and executed very well. And the ending was absolutely perfect. There are a couple irks that I don't want to bring up here due to potential spoilers, but they really aren't anything that knock the movie down at all. This is a damn near masterpiece, and I strongly recommend it.

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Royale With Cheese

7.14.2010

Short Review: Pin.

Premise: (straight from imdb): A doctor has a lifelike, anatomically-correct medical dummy, with muscles and organs visible through its clear skin, named Pin (after Pinocchio). Via ventriloquism, Pin explains bodily functions in a way kids can relate to. When the over-strict doctor and his wife are killed in a car crash, his son (Leon) transfers his alter-ego into Pin, whom he always believed was alive. He starts using Pin as an excuse to over-protect his sister (Ursula) from admirers and deflect unwanted intrusions, even to the extent of committing murder.

Starring: David Hewlett, Terry O'Quinn, and Cynthia Preston.

My Reaction: I couldn't even figure out a way to give the premise... this movie was crazy. This movie is so bizarre and wrong on so many levels... from the father's need to use Pin as a means to explain the birds and the bees to the father almost forcing his son to watch his daughter's abortion to Leon's basically incest-based obsession with his sister. And there's more... so much more. This is one messed up family and one very strange movie. David Hewlett, who I love from pretty much any of his collaborations with Vincenzo Natali, does well here selling his insanity. And it was strange in-and-of-itself to see Terry O'Quinn (from LOST) with hair. I really can't even begin to get into reviewing this movie. So I'll just leave it at this: If you're into bizarre psychological thrillers, check out Pin. I assure you that you haven't seen anything like it before.

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WTF

7.12.2010

TV Review: Avatar: The Last Airbender - Book Two: Earth.

So a while back, I reviewed Book 1: Water (Season One) of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now I'm back for the second season. Any self-respecting Avatar fan would agree that season two is where the show really starts to get excellent. Why? Because this is the season that introduces Toph.

Like before, I summarized the episode, gave my thoughts, and then discussed if I thought this episode would be in the movie version. Now, despite the epic fail that was the first movie, I'm still holding out that the next one will be made (though hopefully in a much better fashion than the first). So I'm going to continue with that "in the movie" trend.

Now, the second season is a bit different from the first. It's slightly darker, but it's also more straightforward. There aren't the strange semi-filler episodes (or at least not as many). This season is a straight-shot with very few detours. In other words, it could both be easier and harder to make this season into a movie: it's easier to keep a focus, but harder in figuring out what to cut. All that being said, let's get into this detailed analysis.


Book Two: Earth (Season 2)

Episode 1: The Avatar State
Synopsis: Leaving the Northern Water Tribe, the gang decides to go to Omashu to find King Bumi and have him teach Aang to Earthbend. In order to get to Omashu, they stop at a military outpost to get an escort. But while there, the general decides to forgo all their plans by attempting to force Aang into the dangerous Avatar State, even if it's at the cost of Katara and Sokka. Meanwhile, Zuko's deranged sister Azula has been sent by their father to arrest Zuko and Iroh, ending in quite an extreme family fight. And when Zuko and Iroh escape, they're forced to go into hiding as refugees within the Earth Kingdom.

Thoughts: This is a great way to start the season. It reintroduces us to the uncontrollable nature of the Avatar State, which comes back into the plot later in the season. But my favorite part of this episode has to be the Zuko/Iroh/Azula stuff. One thing this season does is begin to introduce the fact that there's an evolution to bending. For instance, Firebenders have the ability, after extensive training, to use create and/or control lightning. Azula uses this almost exclusively, which makes her incredibly formidable and powerful. The fight between Zuko and Azula is a great one, too; one of my favorites. Then Zuko and Iroh cut their hair and go into hiding, which begins their side story. What I love about this season is that Zuko begins to grow even more as a character. No longer is he just a semi-villain focused on capturing the Avatar. Instead, he's forced to figure out who he truly is on the inside. His journey is treated with equal importance to Aang's, despite being on separate paths now.

The Movie: Of course, this episode would have to be in a movie version. Like I said, they'd have to reintroduce the Avatar State, as well as introduce us to our new main villain (Azula) and the new journey of Zuko and Iroh.

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Episode 2: The Cave of Two Lovers
Synopsis: Now traveling to Omashu sans escorts, the gang stumbles upon some traveling hippies who let them in on a secret tunnel that will take them right to Omashu. The cave was a secret meeting place for two star-crossed lovers many years ago. But once within the cave, the gang gets separated. Aang and Katara are on their own, while Sokka is stuck with the hippies. Meanwhile, Zuko and Iroh are brought in by an Earth Kingdom family and shown kindness, as well as how much the war has devastated everyone.

Thoughts: A memorable episode. This episode really brings the budding relationship between Aang and Katara to the forefront. There is also some great comedy with Sokka and his interactions with the hippies. Zuko and Iroh's portion isn't their most interesting, but it helps Zuko understand the actions of his father a little more.

The Movie: This could be cut. They could show the necessary aspects of this episode (Aang/Katara's relationship and Zuko/Iroh getting a bird-creature to travel on) in other, quicker ways.

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Episode 3: Return to Omashu
Synopsis: The gang discovers that Omashu has been taken over by the Fire Nation, and King Bumi has been taken prisoner. They end up getting the people of Omashu out of the city, but accidentally take the Fire Nation Governor's baby son with them, and they believe he's been kidnapped. The gang use this to their advantage and try to trade the baby for Bumi, but Bumi ends up telling Aang he was captured on purpose and to let him stay that way. Meanwhile, Azula goes to find her old "friends," the monotone and emo Mai, as well as the cute and flexible Ty Lee.

Thoughts: There's a lot of fun action in this episode, and Bumi is always fun to see. And then, of course, Mai and Ty Lee are important to the rest of the show. I've always been more partial to Ty Lee than Mai (who is just kind of boring, but I think that's intentional). But in the overall scheme of things, this isn't a highly important episode. Aang learns that he needs to find an Earthbending master that listens well (or something along those lines), which is important. But that's about it. And, of course, it removes Bumi from the equation of teaching Aang Earthbending (which would have been a plot hole if not addressed).

The Movie: If this was a sequel to the movie that just came out, this might not be used at all. Bumi wasn't introduced in the first movie, but I suppose Aang could just say "I had a friend who lived in Omashu 100 years ago." But I think it would be easier to just leave Bumi out of it. However, it should still keep in Mai and Ty Lee.

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Episode 4: The Swamp
Synopsis: The gang gets separated by a tornado after flying over a swamp. While in the swamp, they all see things that aren't really there (Sokka sees Yue; Katara sees her mother; Aang sees a girl he's never met). Appa and Momo are captured by backwoods Waterbenders. Near the end, Zuko regains his Blue Spirit guise to steal food and money from people.

Thoughts: While there is fun action at times, the only important aspects of this episode are Aang having a vision of the girl and Zuko continuing his Blue Spirit guise. Overall the episode is rather campy, thanks to the hillbilly Waterbenders.

The Movie: I don't think this one would translate well to screen. The first movie definitely needed the comedy from the show, but this might take it too far into the realm of camp. Aang can have his vision elsewhere. Though it should keep the Zuko/Blue Spirit thing, as that comes back later in the season to importance.

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Episode 5: Avatar Day
Synopsis: The gang shows up at a village that has an annual anti-Avatar day. They blame the Avatar Kyoshi from a couple cycles back for murdering their most respected warrior. Sokka spends most of the episode playing detective, and we're reintroduced to Kyoshi Island from the first season. We also learn that Suki and the other Kyoshi Warriors left the island to do their own part in the war. Meanwhile, Iroh discovers what Zuko's been doing as the Blue Spirit. After an argument, Zuko decides to go separate ways and leave his uncle behind.

Thoughts: This episode is the closest this season gets to filler (besides an episode a little later). Besides some good comedy from Sokka, Aang's half of the story is nearly pointless. Zuko and Iroh's half, on the other half, is pretty important. It shows Zuko continuing to struggle with his new situation, having to stay in hiding. A decent episode, but not the best.

The Movie: Almost assuredly they would cut the "Avatar Day" part of this episode, but they should definitely keep in the bit with Zuko and Iroh.

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Episode 6: The Blind Bandit
Synopsis: The gang stumbles upon an Earthbending tournament. Aang realizes he might find an Earthbending Master here, so they decide to check it out. Aang finds the recent champion, a young blind girl known as the Blind Bandit, to meet his requirements--she waits and listens. She also happens to be the girl from his vision. Unfortunately, she turns him down. They figure out where she lives, and it turns out she's part of a very high class wealthy family who thinks she's weak due to her blindness. They also don't know of her amazing Earthbending abilities, having easily mastered the art by listening to vibrations in the ground with her feet. The man who runs the tournament, Xin Fu, captures Aang and the girl thinking they worked together to cheat and win extra money. Of course they escape, but her parents confine her even tighter to the house. She eventually decides to sneak out and leave with the gang to teach Aang Earthbending. But when her parents find out, they hire Xin Fu and an Earthbending instructor, Master Yu, to capture her at any cost. Oh, and this powerful blind girl? Her name is Toph. And she's awesome.

Thoughts: This episode has some amazing action and is a great introduction to Toph. She's such an ingenious character, having her be blind and have to listen and feel with her feet in order to fight. Toph is only 12, I believe, but she's a tough little cookie with a strong personality (in more ways than one). And her little nicknames and quips to the rest of the gang are funny.

The Movie: Of course this will have to be in the movie. There's no way it wouldn't be.

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Episode 7: Zuko Alone
Synopsis: Zuko, now alone, wanders into an old west-style town where a gang of Earthbender soldiers have taken over like a band of thugs. He joins a young boy and his family, growing close to the family. The majority of the episode shows flashbacks of a young Zuko and Azula and how their father rose to power and became Fire Lord. It also shows how close Zuko was to his mother and how she disappeared the same day his father became Fire Lord. At the end, Zuko stands up to the gang of Earthbender soldiers, but in the process shows himself as Fire Nation and is shunned by the family that had taken him in, due to their eldest son having recently been fatally wounded by Fire Nation soldiers. During all of this, the gang (primarily Katara) struggles with the new dynamic of Toph. Toph, fed up with Katara, decides it was a bad idea to join them and leaves. She stumbles upon a lone, wandering old man who declares he's looking for his nephew who has lost his own way. They have a nice talk and they share tea. Of course, the old man is Iroh.

Thoughts: Focusing almost entirely on Zuko, this episode is one of a kind. This is a very dark episode, which is fitting due to its focus. The flashbacks are particularly menacing, showing how evil Azula really is as she relishes in the death of her cousin's (Uncle Iroh's son) death which lead to her father becoming Fire Lord. She also shows zero compassion for the "disappearance" of her mother, who sacrifices herself to save Zuko. The episode doesn't even have a happy ending, with this once welcoming family shunning Zuko even after he helps save them and their town from the soldiers. The Toph portion of the episode is good because it shows the group having to get used to the new dynamic. What usually happens in these cases is that everybody gets along so perfectly and melds well. Not in this case. And then, of course, Toph gaining a bit of a friendship with Iroh (not realizing who he is). Overall, this is an amazing episode.

The Movie: I could see this going either way, but I certainly hope this would be in the movie. Assuming Zuko is shown going off on his own, this would almost definitely have to be shown. It's great characterization for both Zuko and Azula. It also brings in the idea of Zuko losing his mother to the Fire Nation, which is something that comes back later (though, unfortunately, was one of those things the series didn't tie up nicely by the series finale. But perhaps the movies could do a better job).

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Episode 8: The Chase
Synopsis: The gang is chased by a machine, and no matter how fast or far they go, the machine is able to find them. They get zero sleep, which is especially bad for Appa, who eventually loses the strength to keep flying them forward. Everybody getting on each other's last nerves from lack of sleep, the gang realizes the reason they've been able to follow them is Appa shedding and leaving a hair trail as they fly. Aang decides to create a separate path to a deserted town and waits for the followers (who happen to be Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee) to show up. Eventually, everybody shows up (including Zuko and Iroh) and fight against Azula. Azula eventually pretends to back down, only to severely injure Iroh and escape.

Thoughts: An average episode that turns stunning in its climax. This episode has one of the greatest fight sequences of the show. At first we only have Aang versus Azula. Then Zuko shows up and there's a 3-way fight with Zuko and Azula fighting each other as well as Aang in order to capture him. And then Katara, Sokka, and Toph show up and add to the fight, making it even cooler. And it's not over yet... as Iroh shows up. Of course, she does a bitch move and nearly kills Iroh while their guard is down. So yeah, the majority of the episode is alright, but the big fight scene is epic.

The Movie: I'm sure you saw this coming, but while I might not include the whole "chase" bit, I'd definitely include the fight.

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Episode 9: Bitter Work
Synopsis: Aang finally attempts to learn Earthbending from Toph. But as it's the opposite of Airbending, Aang finds it nearly impossible. And Toph doesn't make the situation any better by constantly yelling at Aang and degrading him when he fails. Aang loses heart and thinks he'll never learn to Earthbend. During this, Sokka goes hunting but gets stuck in a crevice and befriends a cute little animal that he had just attempted to kill beforehand. Meanwhile, Iroh teaches Zuko how to re-direct lightning so he might stand a better chance against Azula.

Thoughts: Overall a good episode, and a necessary one. Toph proves that her tough love approach is just as good as Katara's kinder one (as Katara has become Aang's Waterbending Master). The Sokka moments are funny, and the Zuko parts are good, as well. Iroh even has a funny line (I believe it's in this episode) where he declares Azula as being crazy and needing to be stopped. Though it does end on a bit of a dark note as Zuko shouts at a storm to strike him with lightning, impatient and wanting to attempt his new abilities as Iroh refused to go that far.

The Movie: Again, this would be a necessary episode, though possibly part of a montage. However, I'm sure the Sokka stuff would be cut out (or at least modified), as it was a bit too cartoonish to fit in a live-action movie.

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Episode 10: The Library
Synopsis: The gang comes across a professor who is searching for a fabled library (the very library that Zhao mentions offhandedly in the first season--and quite a few times directly in the movie version). This library is essentially like a more mystical version of the library of Alexandria, where it's infinitely expansive and includes every bit of written knowledge imaginable. Once they find the library, which happens to be under a desert, they try to trick an owl spirit into letting them look around. While there, they discover a solar eclipse that will occur and remove the ability to Firebend. This eclipse will happen days before Sozin's Comet and will be the perfect time for Aang to strike against the Fire Lord. But once Sokka proclaims they need to get to Ba Sing Se and tell the Earth King to use this information for the war, the owl spirit is angered that his library is only used for violence against humanity and begins to sink the library. Toph, who decided to stay outside with Appa, tries her best to keep the library above ground using her Earthbending while the others can get out. Unfortunately, this is when some Sandbenders (a variation of Earthbenders) decide to show up and kidnap Appa to sell on the black market. Toph, forced to use all of her focus and energy on keeping the library above ground, is powerless to stop them from taking Appa.

Thoughts: A very important episode. They discover about the eclipse and decide to begin their journey toward the capital city of Ba Sing Se. This also begins a major subplot of trying to find Appa and get him back, which lasts basically the rest of the season. Overall it's a good episode, and the owl spirit is pretty creepy.

The Movie: This would have to be in the movie. They have to find out about the eclipse, and Appa's kidnapping is a huge part of the rest of the season.

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Episode 11: The Desert
Synopsis: Aang, competely distraught at Appa's kidnapping, searches the desert for his friend while everybody else attempts to find a way so they can get to Ba Sing Se. Eventually they catch up to the men who stole Appa, and Aang nearly kills them in his rage. Instead, they find out they sold him to some merchants who were probably going to take him to Ba Sing Se, now having even more of a reason to go there.

Thoughts: There's really not that much to this episode... at all. I mean, it's important and all in giving an extra reason to get to Ba Sing Se, but that's about it. Not all that thrilling outside of Aang going totally ape-shit on the Sandbenders.

The Movie: Yeah, it would probably be in the movie, but it would probably be made much shorter. There would be no real reason to use the entire episode.

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Episode 12: The Serpent's Pass
Synopsis: The gang stumble upon Suki and the other Kyoshi Warriors, much to Sokka's liking. They're helping refugees get across to Ba Sing Se. Unfortunately, they are unable to use the boats to get across to the city, so they must venture across the much more dangerous route called the Serpent's Pass. Suki joins them, as well, to make sure they get across safely. Meanwhile, Zuko and Iroh get on a ferry to the city, but they come across Jet, the freedom fighter from season 1. Eventually, both groups make it across, both finding interesting obstacles to pass.

Thoughts: It was fun to see Suki again, especially without makeup. And it was a good way to continue building on the relationship that she and Sokka began in season 1. I also liked that they kept in his feelings for Yue, not just forgetting her completely. Like I said in my season 1 review, Jet would be returning with a much bigger purpose. This episode is the one that reintroduces him. He's slightly more tolerable in season 2, but I still don't care for him.

The Movie: I'm not sure if this would be in the movie or not, honestly. Again, if going from the first movie, it would be strange to introduce Jet now (especially when he'd have to interact with the gang later). They could certainly do it, but it wouldn't be the same as in the show. I think if they were to cut down on time, the whole Jet subplot of the season would be a good thing to cut (and there is quite a bit of it). It would also be strange to introduce Suki now, considering she was cut from the final version of the film. So the whole episode would be difficult. Not to mention trying to CGi the giant sea monster sequence would probably turn out bad.

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Episode 13: The Drill
Synopsis: Technically a 2-parter (lumped together with the following episode), this one show the gang trying to stop a giant drill from breaking through the famous walls of Ba Sing Se, the same walls that Iroh couldn't penetrate many years ago when he lost his son. So Aang and the rest of them try to destroy the giant drill and stop Azula et al. from getting through. Meanwhile, Jet wants to recruit Zuko and Iroh into his freedom fighters, but realizes they're Fire Nation when he sees Iroh heat his tea with his breath (which is also kind of foreshadowing to something at the end of the season).

Thoughts: At first it might seem like filler, as there really is no major purpose to the whole event at the end of the day. But the drill itself (or at least the evidence of the attack) does come back into play later on. It's an interesting episode, and there's yet another good fight sequence involving Aang versus Azula.

The Movie: If done right, this could be used around the mid-point of the movie as a good action sequence. It wouldn't have to last very long. In fact, if you cut out the Zuko/Iroh/Jet stuff, and then get to the point of the drill stuff, you could easily knock it down to about 10-15 minutes.

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Episode 14: City of Walls and Secrets
Synopsis: Again, technically part 2 to "The Drill," the gang has officially arrived within Ba Sing Se, and Aang is itching to hunt for Appa. However, they're hindered at every turn by their royal guide, Ju Dee, who acts very strangely. During their time and tour, they are told how the city has been told that the war has been kept secret from it citizens, despite the rise of refugees its been getting. We are also introduced to Long Feng, the head of the Dai Li (basically the special forces of the city's cops who work directly under the Earth King... supposedly). But Ju Dee says they cannot get an audience with the king, despite being the Avatar and having urgent news. In fact, she says the best she can do is one month from then. Meanwhile, Jet continues trying to show Zuko and Iroh as Fire Nation, but it just brings attention to the Dai Li that Jet is speaking of the war. So the Dai Li detain Jet. By the end, another woman (also acting strange) appears before the gang proclaiming to be Ju Dee, though she is clearly a different woman.

Thoughts: This episode sets up the strangeness and conspiracy within Ba Sing Se. However, this episode is just that: a setup episode. Nothing is really all that memorable about it, except for maybe Jet attacking Zuko and getting arrested himself.

The Movie: If there's anything I don't care for in season 2, it's the whole Ba Sing Se conspiracy subplot. However, it is a major part of the second half of the season, so you have to include it. That being said, most of this episode would probably be included, though the Jet stuff would be cut. They can easily do with Ju Dee what they do with Jet and get the point across.

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Episode 15: The Tales of Ba Sing Se
Synopsis: I'm going to quote Wikipedia for this, as it pretty much says it the best way possible. This episode contains a collection of six "mini-episodes": Katara and Toph have a girls' day out; Iroh helps people in town before celebrating the birthday of his dead son; Aang helps a zookeeper build a new zoo; Sokka accidentally ends up in a poetry club; Zuko goes out on a date; and Momo looks through Ba Sing Se for Appa. Iroh's mini-episode was dedicated to his voice actor Mako, who had just died.

Thoughts: It's a fun episode, but it's mostly filler. Katara and Toph's mini-sode is OK, as is Aang's. Sokka's is pretty funny. The best ones, however, are Iroh, Zuko, and Momo. Iroh's is very emotional. He spends the entire day planning for something special, and you're never sure what. He helps people out throughout the day, as well. And then at the end, you realize he's celebrating his dead son's birthday. He sings to him and starts crying, and then the scene freezes and "In Honor of Mako" appears. It's very touching. Zuko's mini-sode is, of course, great, because Zuko's actually going out on a date. It's a very cute scene. However, if any of these were necessary to the plot, it would be Momo's. Filled with no real dialogue, the mini-sode follows Momo as he flies through the city looking for Appa. He's chased by some cat-creatures, and they all end up getting caught by the equivalent to the Pound. Momo escapes and frees the cat-creatures, who then take Momo to a spot in the middle of the road. The scene pans out, and you can see Momo is sitting in Appa's footprint.

The Movie: I doubt it would be handled the same. It would probably be a montage of events to get through the month of waiting. But overall it would take up too much time of the movie.

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Episode 16: Appa's Lost Days
Synopsis: Beginning with a flashback to "The Library" episode, this one begins when Appa is getting kidnapped by the Sandbenders. We then follow Appa's journey. All sorts of bad things happen to him, such as being forced to work for a Firebending circus and fighting wild animals. Becoming almost wild and distrusting, Appa is found by Suki and the other Kyoshi Warriors. However, Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee show up to fight them and Appa flees. He ends up at the Eastern Air Temple where he finds an old man, Guru Pathik, who gains Appa's trust and ties a note to his horn for Aang. He sends him to Ba Sing Se, where Appa is almost immediately captured by Long Feng and the Dai Li (right after leaving the footprint we saw with Momo in the previous episode).

Thoughts: It's a great episode, and we find out all the struggles Appa had to go through. You can really feel his fear and pain, even without him being able to talk. Of course, the best moments are with Suki and then with Guru Pathik, both of which are also the most important moments of the episode.

The Movie: At the very least, we would see the Suki and Guru Pathik stuff. But if this were used, it would be interspersed throughout the rest of the movie, not shown as a flashback. However, due to the lack of Suki's introduction in the first movie (again, assuming we'd be going off that), it would be interesting to see how this panned out, because the fight between the Kyoshi Warriors and Azula et al. is pretty important for something that happens soon.

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Episode 17: Lake Laogai
Synopsis: The gang continues looking for Appa, which causes disruption within the city that the Dai Li do not appreciate. So Long Feng sends a brainwashed Jet after them to try and get them to leave the city. But it doesn't take long to figure out what's happened to Jet. They figure out where the brainwashing happens, a place called Lake Laogai, and go there hoping to find Appa (since it's a secret Dai Li headquarters). Meanwhile, Zuko sneaks into Lake Laogai himself, disguised as the Blue Spirit. Iroh yells at his nephew and gives him a choice. Zuko chooses to free Appa. Long Feng then uses Jet to attack Aang, and Jet gets fatally wounded by the end of the fight. The fight is taken outside, and Appa arrives just in time to do his own damage to Long Feng. And finally, the gang is reunited with Appa. Then Zuko rids himself of the Blue Spirit persona.

Thoughts: Again, the brainwashing stuff isn't my favorite thing about this season, but it's necessary, I suppose. The fight with Jet is cool, and you actually do feel bad for him by the end of the episode. However, that's another unanswered question from the show. Does Jet live or not? There's heavy allusions that Jet dies, just as there are heavy allusions that Zuko's mother was murdered, but neither question is outright answered. Anyway, there is a great character moment here for Zuko, and the scene where Iroh yells at him in excellent. You can tell the man has finally gotten fed up with his nephew and sees better in him than the path he keeps choosing to follow. And in the end, Zuko chooses to do something good. I also love the moment where Long Feng tries to attack Appa. Appa just bites down on his foot and throws him into the lake. It's very gratifying.

The Movie: If we're going with the lack of Jet thing, this episode would be pretty impossible to do in this same fashion. Like I said before, they could easily find their way to Lake Laogai through Ju Dee (in fact, they even hear of the place for the first time from Ju Dee, not Jet). Though we can still have Zuko's (first) redemption scene, and the gang can just fight the Dai Li instead of Jet.

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Episode 18: The Earth King
Synopsis: Fed up with waiting, and now with proof that the Dai Li are conspiring against the king, the gang forces their way into the Earth King's palace. The king is revealed to be a young man, naive to the world having never been outside the palace. In fact, as far as he knows, there is no war with the Fire Nation and never has been. After repeatedly failing to prove the war or the Dai Li conspiracy to the king, they get an idea for definitive proof. They take him to the outer wall to see the drill (told you it'd come back!). The king has Long Feng arrested. Meanwhile, Zuko falls dangerously ill after returning from Lake Laogai. Iroh declares that Zuko performed an act that was so against his nature that his body is fighting with itself, changing. Back with the gang, they receive all sorts of letters that the Dai Li had been holding out. Sokka and Katara get a letter and directions to their father's base camp; Toph gets a letter from her mother saying that she's in town and wants to see her; and Aang gets the letter from Guru Pathik. Katara lets Sokka go to their father and decides to stay behind and work with the military to come up with a strategy for the Day of Black Sun (the eclipse). At the end of the episode, they hear that the Kyoshi Warriors have arrived. But unbeknownst to the gang (and knownst to us), the Kyoshi Warriors are really Azula, Mai, and Ty Lee, having defeated Suki and the other warriors and taken their guise.

Thoughts: A good episode where things finally start looking up. The Dai Li is under control now that Long Feng has been arrested, and they receive wonderful letters. And then it all comes crashing down when you realize Azula has defeated the Kyoshi Warriors and is now secretly invading the capital city. A lot happens in this episode, but it never feels cluttered.

The Movie: This is where things get tricky. Of course most of this episode would be in the movie, and it could be vastly shortened to maybe just 10 minutes at most. I'm not sure how well Zuko's part of this would translate to a wide audience, so that would probably be trimmed down considerably. But the tricky part is Azula et al. If we are never introduced to Suki and the Kyoshi Warriors, how is Azula going to get into Ba Sing Se, much less the palace and eventually gain control of the Dai Li like they do? It'll be tough. However, the storming of the palace would look amazing if done right.

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Episode 19: The Guru
Synopsis: This is part 1 of the season finale. Aang has gone to visit Guru Pathik to learn how to open his Chakras and gain control over the normally uncontrollable Avatar State (again, I told you this would come back!). He has an easy time with it up until he has to open his final Chakra, which would force him to let go of those he loves, primarily Katara. During this, Toph goes to meet her mother, but it was actually a trap set by Xin Fu and Master Yu to bring her back home. Despite being put in a metal box, Toph proves once again how awesome she is by learning to Metalbend. Elsewhere, Zuko is now better and has clearly become "good." He's warm and loving of his uncle and openly decides to work with him at his brand new tea shop. Katara stumbles upon the tea shop and sees Zuko and Iroh and goes to report them. But she ends up captured by Azula et al. (who also ends up capturing Zuko and Iroh). Aang sees this in a vision and stops his training to go save Katara, against the warnings of Guru Pathik that he might not even be able to even enter the Avatar State if he stops now. Along the way, Aang picks up Sokka, who had been bonding with his father and their forces.

Thoughts: To me, this episode is hit and miss. I love the idea of the Chakras and having to struggle within yourself to open them. However, besides the final one, Aang goes through them like they're nothing. There's almost no real challenge, and that disappointed me. I know it's just a 20+ minute episode and they didn't have the time to really focus on it, but I would have liked to see more struggle to open the Chakras. Everything else was pretty good, especially Toph learning to Metalbend, which is awesome. Though Zuko's sudden bizarro transformation is a bit strange. I know there's some kind of spiritual thing that goes along with it, but it just feels too sudden, almost like a cop-out to get Zuko "perfectly good" quickly.

The Movie: I'm actually not sure how the Guru Pathik stuff would be handled in the movie. Similar to the show, there wouldn't be a whole lot of time they could spend with the Chakras--maybe even less time than on the show. And I'm not sure how many people would buy Zuko's sudden amazing transformation. Though it is a good ending to the Xin Fu/Master Yu subplot.

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Episode 20: The Crossroads of Destiny
Synopsis: Part 2 of the season finale, this is definitely where the action's at. Azula is purposefully captured by the Dai Li and taken to Long Feng, where she makes him think he's in control. They make a deal that he will get control over the Dai Li if he will turn over the Avatar to her. However, eventually, Azula double crosses him and takes control of the Dai Li herself. Now even more powerful, she performs a coup on the top five generals. Katara and Zuko are imprisoned together, and it takes a while for Katara to warm up to him. But they eventually start getting closer, and Katara believes he's almost on their side. Meanwhile, Iroh shows up to Aang, Toph, and Sokka, asking for their help. They end up liberating Katara and Zuko, but then Azula shows up. She offers Zuko his honor back with full reconciliation from home, and Zuko becomes conflicted. However, he ends up backstabbing his uncle and taking Azula's deal and fights at her side against Aang. Aang attempts the Avatar State, but Azula gets in deadly shot, killing Aang (you read that right). The gang escapes with Aang's body, and Katara uses a special water from the Northern Water Tribe (which she gets in the first episode of this season) on Aang's wound, which brings him back to life--though in a coma. With the Avatar in a coma, Ba Sing Se under Fire Nation control, Iroh arrested, and Zuko standing at Azula's side to return home with his honor, the season ends.

Thoughts: This is quite a season finale... a very dark one, at that. It never goes where you expect. With Zuko having turned good, you never see him choosing Azula coming. With Aang going into the Avatar State--his nearly unbeatable form--you never stop to think that with one shot, Azula can take him down. There is a lot of action in this episode, and all of it is great. And it has such a downer ending to top it all off. The best part is that Aang and Zuko have completely changed roles now (though that becomes more obvious in the first episode of season 3). Aang has become the scarred outcast who needs to regain his honor, and Zuko has returned to the world as a long-lost "hero."

The Movie: Of course this would be in the movie. The hardest part would be Azula gaining control of the Dai Li assuming the Suki/Kyoshi Warriors thing was cut (seeing they were never properly introduced in the first season). I'm also unsure if they would end the movie on such a downer. It would be marketed as a kids movie, after all. And this day and age, if a kids movie ends on such a low note, it probably wouldn't be received very well by the masses. Then again, it might just be more cause for people to see the third one. After all, Empire Strikes Back ends on a downer, and it's considered the best of the bunch. So who knows?


Conclusion

Overall, this is a great season. It has a couple issues here and there, but for the most part it's pretty solid. Not to mention it introduces Toph, who is one of the most badass characters on the show. It's a darker season than the first, and it ends on a downer, but it's also the second of three acts, so isn't it supposed to?

Besides Toph, the best parts of this season deal with Zuko and his slow but steady character growth. There are a lot of great moments with him, despite being bothered by the complete personality change near the end (though it's quickly remedied after he chooses Azula).

As for a movie, if it were ever to be made, it would be difficult to pull off... mostly because of Suki and Jet's exclusion from the first movie. However, Jet's exclusion is much easier to handle, unlike Suki's. In fact, Jet's exclusion helps a little bit in figuring out what to cut. There are a lot of "partials" this season, mostly because there really aren't that many purely filler episodes.

Anyway, this was a great season that introduces us to more character depth and an even nastier villain in Azula. There's amazing action sequences--some of the best of the entire series. There's some good comedy, as well. And, of course, a lot of heart--particularly in dealing with Appa. Who didn't feel a rush of happiness when Appa bursts onto the screen to save Aang in the Lake Laogai episode? It's just amazing what this show has done. So if you watched season 1 and weren't hooked (how is that possible?), keep watching with season 2. It just keeps getting better and better.