Reel Critics: 'Airbender' capable sci-fi example

Director M. Night Shyamalan hit a Hollywood homerun with his highly acclaimed first film "The Sixth Sense." He's been trying to reproduce that success ever since. With "The Last Airbender" he takes a shot at making a mainstream summer blockbuster. Hi-tech special effects and a young super hero anchor the story for the target audience.

The mystical plot divides the human race into four tribes. Each has mastery of one of the elements of nature: earth, water, fire and air. The leaders of each tribe have the power to command or "bend" their element. But the masters of fire became warmongers who killed off the air tribe and now dominate the others.

Noah Ringer is outstanding as the young boy who survives the slaughter to become the Last Airbender. Only he can save mankind by mastering the other elements and turning them against the Fire Tribe. Intense battle scenes and hair-raising escapes follow the hero as he seeks his destiny.

The story is based on an animated TV series with a built-in fan base. But even if you never saw the show, the movie works as competent example of this sci-fi action genre.

JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.

Go indie for long weekend

Declaring my independence from mainstream movies, I checked out some indies instead:

"Love Ranch" — Loosely based on actual events, Helen Mirren and Joe Pesci play owners of Nevada's first legalized brothel. Pesci is a seedier clone of his role in "Goodfellas" (and wearing the same rug). Mirren, always interesting, is a no-nonsense madam and reluctant manager of a scruffy Argentinian prizefighter (Sergio Peris-Mencheta). Sex in the workplace has never been so dull.

"Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" — Rivers shows us the real face behind all that plastic surgery in this fascinating glimpse of a year in her life. Looking back on a 40-plus-year career, we come to remember how groundbreaking, and hilarious, Rivers' comedy was (and still is). At times poignant, always searingly honest, one can't help but admire this woman's tireless work ethic and instincts for survival.

"The Killer Inside Me" — Casey Affleck plays Lou, a small town Texas sheriff, a "boy scout with a badge" and sadistic tendencies in a '50s-era story best described as "sleaze noir." He professes love for and betrays both a pretty prostitute (Jessica Alba) and his sweetheart (Kate Hudson) in a brutally twisted plot that literally implodes upon itself. We never fully understand the reasons for Lou's behavior, and what is worse — we don't care.

SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a financial services company.

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