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Summer Film Challenge Report #20: Pontypool

Rating: 6/10
Date: 14 January 2012

Finally we have arrived at the last summer film challenge report: Pontypool. What do I have to say about this movie? Well, it was well made, had an interesting concept, and presented some interesting ideas. The main problem: it didn’t make any sense.
For those of you who don’t know, this is a Canadian zombie movie about an infection that’s spread through the spoken word. From what I understood, there were certain words in the English language that were infected which if people said it and understood it, they would become infected. In other words, they would become zombies. Very noisy zombies, but zombies nonetheless. Basically, once they were infected, they would then repeat every noise that they heard. I think this was because they were trying to find another word that wasn’t infected? I don’t know.
Now let me just say upfront that I don’t mind it when movies expect me to believe something incredibly plausible. However, there are only two ways to portray the concept that end up working for me. The first is to chalk it up to magic or the supernatural. That can sometimes be a cop out, but if it’s done well, it works. The second is to explain the concept scientifically. 99% of the time the science wouldn’t really work, but again if it’s done well and can make me believe it, it generally works. This movie did neither. I will give it credit for trying since I imagine that trying to make a disease spread by language sound plausible is incredibly difficult. But no matter how hard they tried to make me believe it, I couldn’t buy it. I still can’t decide if they explained too much or explained too little, although I have a feeling it fell into an uneasy middle.
Let’s have a look at the “science” of this virus, according to the film. The film says that the “understanding” of certain words spreads the virus. First of all, sound is simply vibrations travelling through the air. That implies that the infection is airborne. But if that’s the case, the infection should be spread through breathing it in since it’s apparently an airborne virus. Now, one could make the argument that this airborne virus can only enter the body through the vibrations that sounds make, but that doesn’t make any sense since that would imply that any sound could spread the virus, not just the English language. Secondly, the movie says that people contract the virus and become infected by understanding a specific word. But it isn’t one word that infects everybody. It’s a different word for each different person. This implies that the virus is not airborne at all, but rather internal. If it’s a specific word for each different person, the virus is not in the language, but in the brain. It would be similar to a trigger word that sets off people who are brainwashed. But again, that suggests that the virus is not in the language, it’s in people’s brains and is only triggered by the word, not caused by it since the virus is already in the brain. But if the virus is already in the brain, how did it get there in the first place? Was everybody conditioned at some point to suddenly turn into zombies when they “understand” a specific word? Who would do that, how would they do that and why? It doesn’t add up. There’s some other stuff about how they need to avoid terms of endearment and phrases that conflict for some reason, but I’m not going to go into that. It’s never explained and makes about as much sense as the rest of the movie.
I have a feeling that the main purpose of the movie was to make a point about freedom of speech or the government suppressing the voice of the people or something like that. If that was the case, that’s probably what they should’ve devoted more focus to, instead of only half-heartedly trying to explain a virus that didn’t make sense in the first place.
I can’t say I completely disliked the movie though. I really liked the first half and really enjoyed watching the characters interact with each other. Cinematically, it was well executed and they did a good job of ramping up the tension. By the time the second half came about though, it stopped working for me. I give them credit for trying to do something new with the zombie genre; it just didn’t work for me.

Summer Film Challenge 2011: Complete.

Christmas Break Retrospective Part 1

Christmas break meant several things for me, and they included having time to rest from a very hectic, stressful semester and finally have time to watch some movies again! I did my best to make up for the fact that I didn’t have much time to watch movies during the semester and now’s the time to make up for the fact that I didn’t write a single review during the semester. These reviews will be formatted so that I’ll review a movie I saw theatrically and a movie I saw on DVD per article. So, here’s part one of the movies I watched over the Christmas break.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Holy crap! This movie KICKED ASS!! I loved this movie! It had everything! It had action, it had humor, it had a great story with characters that you cared about, and incredible visuals on top of that! Brad Bird has officially proved himself as a director of film. Not only can he make great animated movies, he can make great live-action movies as well. As far as I’m concerned, he’s one of the best directors working now and one of my personal favorites. The movie flows together perfectly because all of the elements that I mentioned above all work together to serve the story that the film is telling. Now I’ll admit I’d be lying if I thought that the story was original. Most of the James Bond films have plots that are similar to this one: evil genius tries to start war between U.S. and Russia. A few things set this film apart. First off, it’s HUGE! The scale of the action set pieces and the visuals are so well constructed that it heightens the drama to be big as well. The story is also more often than not told visually rather than verbally. While there is expository dialogue, many times we see a visual action that gives us the clue as to what’s going on. The film doesn’t pander to the audience. It assumes we’re smart enough to figure out ourselves what’s going on. Also contributing to the movie’s success are the characters. They’re just so likeable! While Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is still the principal character of the film, this is very much a team movie. The supporting players of Hunt’s team are just as important as Hunt and are given their own arcs and stories. While they may be simple arcs, it’s enough for us to be invested in them and really care about them. On top of that, they have great chemistry with each other. The human element is what drives the movie and that’s ultimately what makes it work and separates it from other spy action movies.

If this movie has any flaws, I would say it’s the villain. He’s kind of lame and generally not that memorable. He’s just the stock villain that you put in there to get the plot going.
One final note to make is that I saw this movie in IMAX. Bird shot about 30 minutes of the film in the IMAX format. It looks fantastic! There is no other format that immerses you in the movie like IMAX and Bird uses it to great effect in the action scenes. Seriously, if you’re only going to see this movie once, SEE IT IN IMAX!! And make sure it’s real 15 perf 70 mm IMAX and not digital IMAX which utilizes a much smaller screen, still charges you the same amount, and is more rectangular than square. If you want more details read this article:


Big difference between a six-story high screen and… a much shorter than six-story high screen. Basically, if I haven’t convinced you to go see this movie yet, you’re just wrong. Go see it in IMAX. It’s worth the money, and you’ll have a great time.

After missing Thor in the theaters this summer, I finally caught it on DVD. And you know what? I kinda liked it. Sure, it was nothing new. It pretty much followed the standard superhero movie formula, but it executed it really well. I liked the conflict between Thor and Loki and I thought the actors did a good job playing off each other, especially Tom Hiddleston as Loki who does a great job at convincingly playing all the angles. I also really liked how it was a story that takes place on Earth, yet we still get to spend a lot of time on Asgard, which looks phenomenal. The production design done on Asgard and in the Heavenly Realms is great and I’m glad we got to see that, despite the fact that the main story takes place on Earth.

I acknowledge that the movie is flawed. It is nowhere near a perfect movie. There are plot holes and the best action scenes happen in the beginning and the middle while the climax isn’t quite as potent. But, hey, it was still fun as long as you don’t think too hard about it. The acting was good, the action was good, and the story was engaging.

Shaun of the Dead (Revisited) - 10/10
So, it's been a long time since my last review. A really really reeeeeeaaaaaally long time. Like three and a half months. Turns out directing a movie sucks away your life, soul, and free time. I'd also lost interest in writing movie reviews for a bit which did nothing for my motivation. But I decided I might try it again, although I hope to be doing fewer movie reviews, instead focusing on other movie-related writings. I hope to do a top 20 all-time favorites and maybe a best of the year retrospective; we'll see where it goes. Since it's been months since I last saw this movie, this will just be a short-ish sum-up.
So, Shaun of the Dead: ... THIS MOVIE WAS AWESOME!! Okay, I should probably explain first that this wasn't the first time I'd seen it. I first saw it years ago, and while I definitely appreciated it, I didn't know how to react to it. I was expecting something really silly with a lot of broad comedy, and while it definitely had it's share of that, it also had really dark, serious moments as well. This was also before I'd truly encountered the hilarity that is dry British humor. It works perfectly in the film, but throws you off when you're expecting something more mainstream American.
Basically, since I dropped all my expectations for this film, it's brilliant. Not only is the comedy really funny, it's a great zombie movie, as well as a great relationship movie. The characters are not the normal stereotypes, but three-dimensional characters who are well-developed to the point where we actually care whether they die or not. For a zombie movie, and most horror movies in general, that's a huge accomplishment. The story is also great. It's one of the most perfectly structured films I've ever seen, blending together, comedy, drama, and zombie gore into a flowing cohesive whole. Edgar Wright directed this film and he did an incredible job telling the story visually. Some of the funniest gags are visual and Wright has an eye for showing us the story, rather than telling it. The only complaint I had about it, both now and then, is that I wanted much more gushing of the blood and guts. But maybe that would've ruined the relatable realism that the movie had going for it. It's not so much a criticism and more of a nitpick. Otherwise, this movie is a brilliant piece of cinema and must be seen by all!

Summer Film Challenge Report #19: Miracle on 34th Street
Rating: 8/10
Date: 11 September 2011

I know I'm going to get a lot of crap for this, but I have to be honest. I liked this movie, didn't love it. When it started, I was totally into it and it was great. I loved the character of Kris Kringle and was totally drawn in by his character and his effect on others. I loved Natalie Wood's character and thought she did an amazing job as the skeptical daughter. The scenes between her and Kris Kringle were easily some of the best parts of the movie. I also liked the romance between Maureen O'Hara and John Payne. I thought it played out very well and the two of them were very charming together.
There was only one thing I didn't like about this movie: putting Santa Claus on trial. It started out fine. I thought that was a really clever idea. But then the focus shifted from Kris's mission to get Susan and Doris to believe in him to let's prove that Santa is real. I know that Doris and Susan come to believe in him through the trial but it didn't resonate with me because the primary focus was on the outcome of the trial and not the outcome of the characters' arc because of the trial. There were less scenes with Kris, less scenes with Susan, and less scenes with Doris and Gailey. We instead got scenes with the prosecution, the judge, and the post office, none of which featured the characters that I had grown to care about. Also, legally proving that Santa Claus is real replaced the magic of Santa with legalistic realism which I felt didn't quite mesh together well. If they had played the trial for laughs rather than play it straight, I probably would've been more receptive to it. As such, they didn't. I wouldn't say that the movie was ruined because of this direction the story took. It's still a good movie with the trial plot and I would still recommend the movie despite it. It just made the last third of the movie less compelling than the first two thirds were. 
Another possible reason why this movie didn't resonate with me as it does with many others is that I don't have any sense of nostalgia for it. Many people grew up with this movie as a perennial Christmas classic. They watched it with their families on Christmas time, gathered together around the fire drinking hot chocolate. I didn't. At 20, this is the first time I've seen it, I live 400 miles from my family, and it's nowhere near Christmas time. All those factors added together put me at a disadvantage to all those other people who'd been watching it at Christmas since they were kids. I'm sure if I had, I would've loved it. As such, that is not the case. I liked it a lot, and would still recommend it to just about anybody, but it doesn't hold a candle to other Christmas classics like It's a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, or The Grinch. Okay, maybe I'm being a little harsh and it was good enough to hold a candle, but I still prefer those others.

Summer Film Challenge Report #18: Deep Blue Sea
Rating: 6/10
Date: 3 September 2011

Surprisingly, this movie was not terrible. I actually kind of enjoyed it. Would I call it a good movie? Probably not. Would I call it a fun movie to watch on a Saturday night with a bunch of friends? Absolutely.
For the most part, what makes this movie work is that it's not really a shark movie. It plays more like The Poseidon Adventure rather than Jaws. This is good because no shark movie will ever measure up to the quality and awesomeness that is Jaws. Instead, the filmmakers decided to take the "group of people trying to escape a large sinking boat" story template and throw in a twist which has the sharks actively making the ship sink. Yeah, it doesn't sound anywhere near original and the idea of super smart sharks sinking a giant water-bound science facility just to escape to the ocean probably sounds pretty stupid, but the movie still manages to deliver a fun time.
The other thing that saves this movie a bit is its budget. They clearly had more money than they actually needed, so they made things as big and as loud as possible. This worked really well because a lot of the action sequences were very well constructed, very fun to watch, and they looked really good. The helicopter sequence worked because they gave it the money it needed to make it look really good and it turned out to be one of the high points of the movie. Although one thing that clearly did not get included in the budget were the digital effects. I can forgive them that to a certain extent. It was the late '90s so they didn't have the technology that we have today, but the fact that the majority of character deaths are depicted with really terrible CG blood, the impact of their death is greatly lessened. It's not a huge deal. It doesn't seriously detract from any fun to be had.
There's not much more to say about this movie. It has a lot of flaws, but again, it's fun and diverting enough that most of the flaws and stupid plot points and explanations can be ignored so that the viewer can focus on what's really important, primarily people running from genetically altered sharks in a sinking building. It's safe to say that this movie had its priorities straight. As long as you don't question any of the science or reasons for why these people are using genetically-altered sharks to cure alzheimers, you'll enjoy this movie just fine.

Summer Film Challenge Report #17: I Am Legend
Rating: 7/10
Date: 25 August 2011

There are several levels of this movie that really made it work. There are also several levels of this movie that really don't work. The following will be a short dissection of I Am Legend exploring what I thought worked and what I thought didn't.
What worked:
1. Will Smith
Will Smith elevates this movie to the next level through his performance. Robert Neville begins the film as a man who still has hope. Some of the strongest scenes in the film show Neville, completely alone except for his dog, going about his daily life, trying to find normality in a world where normality has ceased to exist. It seems to be all that he can do to keep his sanity and retain any semblance of hope. As the film continues, however, that hope begins to disappear. Smith completely sells both sides of Neville: the side that retains hope and the side that has lost it. The scene in the video store after he has lost his best friend showcases one of Smith's finest moments in his entire career. He carries the movie on is shoulders and he does it spectacularly.
2. The dog
What more do I have to say? The dog is awesome! It's all the more heartbreaking when the inevitable happens. (As soon as I knew there was a dog in the movie, I knew it was a goner. I'm just glad they did it sooner rather than later. I don't know if I'd be able to handle it if I had to experience the dog's death after spending an hour and a half with it, rather than forty-five minutes.)
3. The craftsmanship (cinematography, sound, production design, etc.)
The director, Francis Lawrence, was able to do a great job of bringing the best out of the artists that he had at his disposal. The cinematography and sound are especially able to work well together to create a very foreboding and creepy atmosphere. The suspense is very well-executed, again elevating the film to a higher level.
4. Acts 1 and 2
Generally, the first two acts of this movie are very very good. The above elements blend harmoniously together to create two very compelling first acts. It's very high-quality filmmaking.

What didn't work:
1. Anything that was CGI
The CGI in this movie was some of the worst I've ever seen in a big-budget action film. Okay, not all the CGI was terrible. Only when there were any creatures was the CGI truly god-awful. I was not impressed by the "zombie" creatures. They looked incredibly fake and, frankly, kind of silly. Not really scary at all. And that had to be the worst CG lion I have ever seen. Overall, big disappointment in this department.
2. Act 3
Something felt really off about the final act of the film. I've been having trouble putting my finger on it. I think it stems from a few factors. For one, the film ends with two characters who we only met twenty or thirty minutes ago. The filmmakers do an okay job of developing them to the point where we care about their well-being and want them to survive. However, ending the film with them after only just meeting them was probably not the strongest choice. It was also at this point that the film devolved into a standard action flick. This happens sometimes in movies like this and sometimes it works. I have a feeling though, that the unfrightening zombies might have had something to do with the failure of the final action set-piece. And replacing really good suspense with really bland action always ends up being pretty lame.
To a certain extent, the end feels rushed; mainly because we are introduced to two new characters so late in the game that there isn't time to develop them to the point that we can actually relate to them.

Final sum-up: For the most part, I Am Legend is a solid movie. It has its flaws, but it's also a lot of fun. It ends up balancing out in the end.

Summer Film Challenge Report #16: Donnie Darko
Rating: 10/10
Date: 23 August 2011

(This review will contain massive spoilers. If you haven't seen the film, don't read this review. If you want to know my opinion, I think you should see it and see it soon. It's a great movie. Now stop stalling and go see it.)

You don't expect something so beautiful from a movie named Donnie Darko with a really freaky looking rabbit. However, that's exactly what you get in Donnie Darko. Not only is it a beautiful film, it's also incredibly profound. Under all the style, apocalyptic visions, and time travel, is a very powerful story of self-sacrifice, yet it doesn't let you shrug it off easily. The consequences of Donnie's sacrifice at the end of the film are not all good or happy. In fact, it might be said that the cons outweigh the pros. Not only do his family lose him, but he also never meets Gretchen, and Jim Cunningham's child pornography ring is never discovered. At the same time though, both Gretchen and Frank are spared, and Ms. Pomeroy probably gets to keep her job because the school won't be flooded. The reason that Donnie's death is so powerful is because we've already seen what would happen if he didn't die. It leaves the audience feeling conflicted because we've grown to really like Donnie over the course of the film, but we know what would happen if he survived the accident. It leaves the viewer all the more conflicted and makes the movie all the more powerful. Donnie is privileged to see the outcome of his survival and after he sees what happens and experiences people whom he never would have met, he's able to make the decision to die and prevent unfortunate accidents.
Layered on top of this story of self-sacrifice is a mind-bending sci-fi time travel story about an alternate universe that is soon to come to an end. Being a huge fan of Doctor Who, Back to the Future, and the new Star Trek film, I love time travel stories. I love alternate universes and sci-fi elements of that nature. Donnie Darko has one of the best time travel stories I've ever seen, primarily because the film hardly explains anything about the nature of the time travel. It forces the audience to think about it, and for me, that's half the fun. The movie poses more questions about what actually happened than it explains. There's a lot of stuff about predestination and wormholes and divine intervention, and it's all left very vague about how each aspect affects the story, but that's what makes it all the more fascinating. It's a movie that begs discussion, and I am happy to give it it's due.
To do a quick sum-up, the filmmaking here is of the highest degree. The acting is phenomenal. Jake Gyllenhaal gives one of the best performances of his career, and Jena Malone as Gretchen is equally stunning. What also stands out is the juxtaposition of images that director Richard Kelly puts in the film. There are images of people cheering juxtaposed with a house going up in flames which greatly contributes to the creepy, uneasy feel that pervades most of the film. Then the final scene showing all the characters after they've exited the Tangential Universe has great depth and pathos, as if they know of the sacrifice that was made for their sakes. The quieter scenes are also incredibly effective. Scenes between Donnie and Gretchen, as well as Donnie and Frank, serve to explore the sadness and mystery that pervades the characters.

I don't feel that this review adequately describes my feelings about this movie and my thoughts about it. Just see the frakkin' movie! You may like it, you may hate it, but it is a movie-going experience that you won't get from any other movie. It is a wholly unique film and it deserves to be seen.

Brick - 8/10
This movie is kind of strange, but mostly in a fun way. If you took all the archetypes from a classic hardboiled detective film noir (like The Maltese Falcon or The Big Sleep) and put them into a high school setting, you would get this movie. It's one of those movies where you just have to go where the film takes you, because if you start questioning the credibility or reality of it, you're not going to enjoy the movie. For the most part, the only thing different about the archetypes in this movie is their age. Therefore, you have 17-year old drug kingpins whose entire empire consists of the school, who walk with a cane, dress all in black and wear a cape, you have the assistant vice principal who is pretty much the DA authority figure, and of course you have the loner who has to solve the murder case (although he gets beat up way more than Humphrey Bogart ever did). If you just tell yourself to buy into its reality, you'll find it's a very fun flick. It doesn't always work. Some of the slang and phrases that they use are so film noir cliche translated into high school terms that it's impossible to take them seriously. There were a few times during this movie where I thought that it would've been better if they had played the whole thing tongue-in-cheek, however, as a whole the movie works as it is and was very fun to watch.
I think it's very interesting to look at Brick as an interpretation of the high school experience. Most of our high school experiences, it's probably safe to say, were not as extreme as this movie portrays, but it is true to what we all felt about high school at the time. The movie stays true, not only to the societal norms of high school, but to the emotional norms as well. That's why it works so well. Despite the film noir tropes that fills Brick, it's still relatable and engaging because we all went through some kind of emotional instability or trauma, and high school was often the cause.
One small thing that I appreciated about this film was that the students actually looked age-appropriate. So often in high school movies, it's clear that the characters graduated from high school ten years ago. Here, I believed that these characters could actually be in high school. That was a nice little touch.

Brick is a fun movie, especially for people who are fans of the film noir genre. It's interesting, if a little disorienting at first, to see those archetypes played out in a unique setting. It's not perfect, but it's good fun.

Summer Film Challenge Reports #14 & 15: The Purple Rose of Cairo & Harvey
Summer Film Challenge Report #14
Film: The Purple Rose of Cairo
Rating: 10/10
Date: 18 August 2011

I realize that Woody Allen does not always make good movies. But when he does make a good movie, it's a really good movie. This summer, I've had the pleasure to view two movies in which Allen delves into the fantasy genre, one being this one, The Purple Rose of Cairo, the other being Midnight In Paris. The thing about these two film is that they aren't straight, blatant fantasy movies. The fantasy within is incredibly subtle, because Allen doesn't treat it as a fantasy. He treats it as if it's just a fluke that happens every so often, but it's a fluke that is a wonderous thing. In most "high" fantasy films like Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings, there is always a scene where the characters marvel at what they are seeing. There is nothing so extreme in Purple Rose of Cairo. The fantastical thing happens, in this case a movie character jumping out of the movie into the real world, and the people marvel at it for a minute, but then they just accept it as what's happening and then deal with it in a way that's realistic and true to each character. Cecilia, played by Mia Farrow, runs off on a romantic rendezvous with said movie character, Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels); the actor who played the character (also played by Jeff Daniels) tracks down the character so he can save his career, and the characters remaining in the movie wait for Tom to return because they can't continue with the movie until he comes back. Maybe it's not realistic in the strictest sense of the word, but it's portrayed in a way that feels natural and sensible. 
It's very appropriate (and A COMPLETE COINCIDENCE!!!) that Purple Rose and Harvey are being reviewed at the same time, for they both explore the very fine line between reality and fantasy. In Purple Rose, all the characters face a choice, whether to live in the real world that is hard and cruel, but is ultimately real, or whether to live in a fantasy world that is happy and perfect, but is ultimately fake. In the end, (spoilers) the characters all make their choices; they fall on both sides of the coin, yet they all pay the price. Gil Shepard, the movie star, choose to continue to live in their own fantasy worlds. Gil, a Hollywood actor, is sick of the emptiness of the people he spends his time with in Hollywood and is touched by Cecilia's genuine nature to the point where he wants her to come back with him to Hollywood. However, he ultimately chooses to leave her behind, lured to the fantasy by the (unlikely) possibility that he will become a real movie star. Both Cecilia and Tom choose to return to their respective realities, even though they each have to face the fact that reality is not the easiest thing to accept. They don't end up together and Cecilia's situation has not changed because sometimes that's what happens in reality.
Not only is this a very thoughtful film about the volatile relationship between fantasy and reality, it's also a very charming and funny film that consistently entertains. Like all Woody Allen films, it's very simple filmmaking where the pleasure is not only in the effects or the actors or the scenery, but in the movie as a whole.

Summer Film Challenge Report #15
Film: Harvey
Rating: 10/10
Date: 18 August 2011

On the surface, Harvey is a bit of a farce with a bunch of wacky characters doing wacky things. At its core, Harvey is a character study of Elwood P. Dowd (played by Jimmy Stewart) and his relationship with Harvey, an invisible rabbit that's 6' 3 1/2" inches tall. The best thing about this movie, therefore, is Jimmy Stewart's performance. He doesn't play Dowd as a drunk or as a crazy person. He plays it real. He doesn't sensationalize the character. He treats Dowd with the utmost respect, as if he were a real person. This gives the film as a whole much more credibility since Dowd is so relatable that you feel he's worth listening to.
While Purple Rose took the view that reality was ultimately the best (only) place to end up, Harvey presents the idea that it is the fantasy that is the better place to live in. Harvey is more of a straight fantasy film in the sense that the fantasy is acknowledged to be part of the world that the characters inhabit. In Purple Rose, on the other hand, the fantastic element is consistently acknowledged as being unreal. The majority of characters in Harvey may deny the existence of the fantasy, but it's part of their reality nevertheless. The fantasy in Harvey, I believe, serves to show how the people who are crazy are sometimes the ones who make the most sense. Dowd is crazy by most people's standards. He drinks to much and he talks to an invisible rabbit, but he also strives to put a bright spot in a person's day just by "having a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I'm with." That, in my humble opinion, is probably one of the sanest ways to spend your life.
So don't stall anymore. Go out and see this movie. You'll have a wonderful time.

There you have it. Both films were simple, enjoyable fantasy films the likes of which we don't see that often anymore. It was fun to do this as a double review, though I doubt it will happen very often. But, either way, there it is. Hope you enjoyed them.

Summer Film Challenge Report #13: Avatar - The Last Airbender: Season 3
Rating: 9/10
Date: 15 August 2011

It was during this final season that the creators of this American anime series that the creators said to themselves, "okay, now is the time to get our act together." Despite the fact that the first two seasons were solid overall, there were inherent flaws that prevented the series from being as good as it could've been. Honestly, I can't even remember most of the episodes from Season 1 except for maybe the last four episodes. This season, however, got rid of the narrative blocks present in the previous two season and instead featured episodes that delivered and contributed to an awesome story and some really deep character development. 
A few things that made this season great:
1. A smaller number of filler episodes.
Nearly every season of a series where there are over 20 episodes to a season have filler episodes. They are unavoidable, but they are also not always a bad thing. A filler episode is an episode that doesn't contribute to the over-arching story in a major way. It might provide some minor character development, but it's main purpose is to tell a self-contained mini-story with the characters you already know and love. In "adult" shows that I've seen, filler episodes can be incredibly entertaining. Season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer features a filler episode called "Hush" which is undoubtedly one of the best episodes of the entire series. However, Seasons 1 and 2 of Avatar featured filler episodes that felt very formulaic and cliched. They were episodes that you could find in any average children's cartoon series. Meanwhile, the episodes following the story arc were nearly as good as any well-made adult drama. Season 3 fixed this problem in two ways. First, they decreased the number of filler episodes for this season. Second, the filler episodes that they did have were a lot better. They did have more of a hand in developing the bigger story and that might've had something to do with their success, but I honestly think that they were just better episodes in their own right ("The Puppetmaster," "The Painted Lady," and "Sokka's Master" are notable examples).
2. Zuko.
Zuko is this series' Snape. He is undoubtedly the best character in the entire series and it's absolutely incredible what the writers do with him in this season. You get to the end of Season 2 with his character and you think there's no way they can make his character more interesting or complicated than he is at that moment. Then, they are able to transform him into a good guy and do it in a way that's completely convincing and not forced at all. What's great about this season is that all the characters go through some kind of serious character change, but the most fascinating to watch is Zuko's. It also helps that he's a total BAMF! I could write a dissertation on Zuko's character, but I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to say that Zuko's character arc alone is worth you seeing the show. There are many other reasons to see this show, but that just might be one of the stronger ones.
3. The finale.
The series finale just might be the second-best series finale I've ever seen (the finale to Angel being the first). The final duel between Aang and Fire Lord Ozai was FRAKKING AWESOME!! The fight was so well choreographed and the way it was edited made it incredibly exciting, especially when it was intercut with Sokka, Toph, and Suki TAKING OUT AN ENTIRE FLEET OF FIRE NATION AIRSHIPS BY THEMSELVES!! However, it was clear that their entire budget went to producing those two battle sequences while the other two battle sequences got short-shrifted, one more than the other. The re-taking of Ba Sing Se was pretty much five guys invading a city apparently filled with five Fire Nation tanks. I can't really blame them for that though because the other two sequences were so amazing. The Zuko/Azula fight was very well-produced and very exciting but I had an issue with that fight which I will bring up in a minute.
Finally, everything else that they were getting right in the previous seasons (the mythology and universe that the characters inhabit, villains to a certain extent) they get right just as much in this season. I did have a few issues however, and here they are:
1. The premiere episode.
While it had one of the best finales I'd ever seen, Season 3 also had one of the most disappointing premieres I'd ever seen. My main beef with it is that the characters start arguing with each other about things that could be easily solved if they just listened to each other. Aang decides to completely ignore common sense and go his own way. I understand why he does that and it's been a character trait in him for the majority of the series, but it still annoyed me. Then you have Katara having resentful feelings toward her father about leaving her and her brother alone to go off to war. This conflict comes out of nowhere and was never mentioned in any previous episode. Every time their father is mentioned, Katara brightens up or wishes longingly to be with him again. Suddenly she's mad at him? At first, you think, "Okay, maybe this is something that's going to be explored over the season and it's just come up recently." Nope. It's resolved by the end of the episode and has apparently gone back years even though we've never seen evidence of it. Great.
2. Azula.
In Season 2 and the majority of Season 3, Azula was one of the premier villains of the series. She actually posed a serious threat to our heroes. However, by the time the finale rolls around, she has a complete psychotic breakdown and ceases to be threatening or scary. I realize that she, as a character, is starting to realize how monstrous she actually is and that's affecting her in a very powerful way. But I wish that had made her more scary and threatening instead of paranoid, crazy, and kind of pathetic. It made the final battle with her and Zuko that much less exciting. A very disappointing end to an otherwise memorable character.
3. Romances.
I've just got to accept the fact that the writers aren't very good at writing romance. Like most aspects this season, the romances were a lot better, but they still weren't that compelling or interesting. I thought the two that had the best romantic chemistry were, oddly enough, Zuko and Katara. However, I'm sure that wasn't intentional so I don't really know how to feel about that. I mean, Aang and Katara together poetically make sense but he still looks and acts like a pre-pubescent boy (when he's not saving the world). It felt off.
These issues are very nit-picky issues. Overall, I felt that this season was a fitting end to what turned out to be a most excellent series.
Rating for the entire series: 9/10
I could easily recommend this to anyone who's looking for a very entertaining and exciting series that's very well-written and has a lot of heart. Even if they don't like anime, I would still recommend they try it out. Thank you Tyler for recommending it to me!
Now I can eagerly look forward to the upcoming mini-series spin-off, The Last Airbender: The Legend of Korra! Check out the trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yGnN1DBDxaw