Monday Morning Critic – 6.28.2010 – Lady Gaga, Avatar: The Last Airbender and M. Night Shyamalan, District 13: Ultimatum

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar, and noted Francophile, Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One of the people in the news as of late has been the closest thing to an Avant-garde musician that has hit the mainstream in some time: Lady Gaga. From being thrown out of the Yankee locker room, allegedly, and not being thrown out of the Yankee locker room, again allegedly, she has also caused a bit of a storm because of her newest video featuring Nazis, nuns and other sorts of shenanigans. Plus America’s friend Jerry Seinfeld thinks she’s a bit of a d-bag. You really have to be a miscreant to tick Seinfeld off; Kramer seems like he’d be pretty easy, but its Jerry for the love of Pete.

It’s a bit of a welcome respite from the usual sorts of dumb stuff that musicians end up getting themselves into; there’s only so many times when you can hear people who didn’t graduate from high school discuss geopolitical situations as if they’re experts with PhD’s and actual experience in these situations; I wish they’d shut up and sing but that’s jst me. But this is America, after all, and even if you’re two IQ points from being legally retarded like singer/songwriter Pink you still have the right to hold whatever opinion you want. God Bless America, man.

Which makes Gaga that much more interesting, I think, because instead of using this newfound fame to speak out on any number of controversial things she’s basically been just a bit of an oddball. The most she’s ever courted is being a proud friend of the homosexual community and you’d have to have a bit of the ‘tard in you to be offended by that. It is 2010, after all, and if you still hate anyone just for the sole reason that they have different tastes in sexual pleasure then I think it ought to be legal to classify someone like that as functionally retarded.

But for someone who’s supposed to be pushing the envelope with her creativity, and her catchy tunes, her latest video kind of disappointed me. See below for “Alejandro,” and watch it. Then listen to me now and believe me later.

What bugs me is that for a musician who’s pushed the limits with her videos, she’s going to stock Halloween costumes for this one: Nun and Nazi. Really, who hasn’t seen a sexy Nun or a scary Nazi in a music video? Nobody, that’s who, and I bet even the Amish are sick of ‘em in music videos. So, in the spirit of the cheeky shenanigans I’m known for in this column, I’ve decided to come up a Top 10 of my own:

The Top Ten Sexy Costumes Lady Gaga Should Appear In For Her Next Video

1. Abe Lincoln

He’s on Mt. Rushmore and the penny. So why not give him a bit of sex appeal?

2. Turtle

Not Turtle from Entourage, obviously, but an actual turtle. And if it’s good enough to kill Goombas in every Super Mario game, it’s good enough for me.

3. Archer

There’s something about a woman with an olde English longbow that just stirs the loins to the point where they’d be frothy.

4. Call Center Representative

If anyone can add some sex appeal into listening to people whine all day about useless crap it’d be Lady Gaga.

5. Rodeo Clown

You know what I think of when you put Lady Gaga in ridiculous clothes and lots of makeup, plus a dangerous animal that could potentially kill them? I think that’d be hot.

6. Janitor

Give her a mop, a bucket and a dirty floor and I smell stripper!

7. Lobster

If you can make a lobster hot, you can do anything.

8. Gizz-Mopper

Randal’s inquisitive mind about the pay scale of the guy who cleans up the nudie booths after a guy finishes watching their wares. So why not Lady Gaga cleaning them up?

9. Wal-Mart Greeter

I’d totally go there if they had greeters like her and not creepy old guys.

10. Oscar the Grouch

If Lady Gaga made a garbage can sexy, it’d be awesome.

These are merely suggestions, of course, and I do have a weird sense of what could be sexy. It’s probably the reason why I didn’t get into the good colleges.

Random Thoughts of the Week

I actually started writing about The Last Airbender in my “Upcoming films” section and wrote enough to the point where it was way too big for just that section. And since the other option was to bust back into my Wit and Wisdom Draft, which would’ve been Jeremy Piven (10th pick of the third round by the Pittsburgh Bathroom Stall Rapists), I find it more interesting to see just how much The Last Airbender means for M. Night Shymalan. And it really does because the man needs a massive hit right about now.

I’ve never been a fan of Shyamalan or his films, I have to state, but the one thing the guy has always done well is make his films seem like an event. Only a handful of directors really have that “big time” feel whenever his name is under the “directed” by tab in the same way only a handful of actors have that same sort of status. James Cameron is about the only other director who has it that isn’t Spielberg, Scorsese or … well … that’s really it. Shymalan is the newcomer to the group, coming into the scene with The Sixth Sense and having a run of four films that averaged $150 million domestically.

And then he had two films that weren’t really failures but managed to take away the shine off of him. Lady in the Water made $72 million overall on a $70 million budget, which after you factor in the roughly 45% cut theatres get and you have a money loser. It also got savaged critically, too, which is a lose-lose situation if you’ve lost money. The Happening, his follow up about how plants were making people kill themselves and had Mark Wahlberg completely ruin the post Departed buzz he had. The Happening made $64 million domestically against a $48 million budget, but nearly $100 million internationally made it a commercial success. But it got some of the worst reviews of the year, too. Which leads to a grander point: a good film that doesn’t make money isn’t the worst thing in the world, but one that’s bad that also loses money is significantly worse.

You can justify a film that doesn’t make a ton of money like The Hurt Locker because it’s a great film that just couldn’t find an audience. The audience couldn’t accept it for whatever reason and that happens; you can make a great film but sometimes it just doesn’t connect. Good reviews are a nice buffer for a flop because you can spin it. It’s not the product that was bad, it was something else. There’s less blame to go around for the people in the room who made the product, it’s those around it who were supposed to pay for it. If a film is bad, and loses money, however, then people start to point the fingers at the cast and the director. And one maxim in corporate America also tends to be a maxim in Hollywood: You’re only as good as your last film.

At this point M. Night has two stinkers on his resume after a number of commercially and critically successful movies. That’s not a good sign for a big time director like Shyamalan, who has lost a lot of luster from what he used to be. Before Lady in the Water flopped he was right on the threshold of being a guy with that sort of “something big is going to happen” aura. He’s still a director with a name big enough that “M. Night Shyamalan’s [x]” still is a bit intriguing as a cinema fan. You get his name on it and people will still pay attention, just not as often as they used to.

The other thing I find interesting about this is that even a massive hit is needed just to cover costs. Paramount has also put $280 million ($150 million on the budget and $130 in advertising/public relations) into the film, allegedly, and while that’s normal for a film with this sort of summer blockbuster pedigree it’s bigger than any budget he’s ever had before. His first five films cost under that amount combined so this has a lot riding on it.

A good thing, though, is that this isn’t an ordinary blockbuster. Avatar: The Last Airbender, which the film was based on, is going to make a ton of cash on toys and merchandise. On that alone my guess is that it’ll make a large amount of its budget back before needing theatrical receipts. It won’t be a Star Wars prequel in that regard, however. While George Lucas can finance ways to give his fan base the middle finger with just the merchandise alone, Paramount will make a sizeable but not game-breaking amount based on the toys. So the film becomes that more important for them, too.

If this flops hard the mystique that Shyamalan is a big time director is almost gone for maybe the most polarizing auteur of our time. Paramount will still make a profit on the franchise when all is said and done but this is a fairly safe franchise in the sense that there’s a big enough fan base to buy all the ancillaries that’ll balance the books. But if the film gets crapped on like his prior two efforts, and the film has similar box office receipts, then he falls back into the pack.

The amusing about of all of this is that a film with a similar audience, the new Twilight film, also opens this week. It’s hard for two films to open up with $70-100. You can count on Eclipse to hit somewhere near the $140 million New Moon hit, probably $120 million, so unless this turns into one of the biggest weekends ever The Last Airbender looks kind of screwed at this point. Even $50-60 million, which would be an amazing number to hit on an opening weekend opposite one of the year’s highest grossing films, seems really tough. Recent history doesn’t give us any tips, either.

When Avatar cleared $137 million, the Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel came in at under $27 million. But the latter was a kiddie flick and the former wasn’t. The Blind Side hit $60 million opposite New Moon, but that was also going for a totally different audience as well. Mamma Mia! had just under $45 million opposite The Dark Knight but that was also a different audience. Eclipse dips into the same talent pool and there isn’t room for two big, monster openings.

This weekend will be interesting to say the least.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – District 13: Ultimatum

Mike Noyes reviewed this earlier and I was able to finagle this from him for a copy of Revolutionary Road. I think I came out ahead on the deal.

I was one of the few that actually saw the first film in this seeming franchise, District 13, in movie theatres. And I’m one of the few who saw both films in the theatre, properly, but then again I saw Idiocracy twice the same way before everyone else claimed to as well, in the same manner that everyone claimed to see Office Space in theatres. There’s something about small, foreign action flicks at the art house that makes it worth checking out because there’s something about the atmosphere that lends itself to it.

Five years after the events of District 13, we find Leito (David Belle) and Damian (Cyril Raffaelli) back up to their usual crazy shenanigans. The walls separating the District from the rest of the general population are still there, despite the promises at the end of the first film, and Leito is non-plussed about it. He’s been blowing holes in the hole, literally, to try and bring it down. But this time, he’s not the one in need of assistance in a dirty, dirty situation. It’s his good friend, Damian.

Damian has been set up as a dirty, drug using cop and sent to prison, needing the one man he can trust to get him out. On top of this they have to foil a plot to blow up the district and let an evil, evil corporation make billions rebuilding it. With the gangs of D13 starting a little war of their own in retaliation, it’s a treasure trove of action and violence from the French.

Yeah, the same country that sells a case of surrender flags with every case of rifles you buy made two great action films in the same franchise in recent times. I’m as shocked as you are, honestly, but this is the same country that gave us Melville and the New Wave of crime films so there is quite a lot of awesome in that country to be found if you search for it in French culture. Granted I do live in the country that took the croissant and made it into the croissanwich, to quote Denis Leary (who probably ripped it off from Bill Hicks), but that’s just semantics. Much like the film’s story, or lack thereof for the most part.

All of this whole “plot” crap, however, is superfluous to the non-stop action and pulsating techno beat as the two combine parkour, a French sport about running away in the fastest and most breath-taking manner, some primo ass-kicking abilities and good old fashioned detective skills as they exist only in the movies to get to the bottom of the case. They have to save the day, like all good action films, and it heads in a similar direction as its predecessor as it gets a little bit into French political themes about liberty, equality and fraternity at the end.

It’s a heckuva joy ride, I’ll tell you that much, as D13:U is from the Luc Besson brain trust (he wrote and produced the film) and it is so stylish, and has enough great action sequences, that the film’s plot and character development get thrown to the wayside and never come back into the picture. Mainly the plot points are there to give us things to catch our breath with while they develop the next full out action sequence.

A bit more than a mild recommendation.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

The Last Airbender – M. Night Shyamalan adapts a cartoon to live action. And apparently brought an awful lot of honkies to the equation, too, as he kind of cast a lot of white people in roles that weren’t animated as … well … white.

See It – Racial shenanigans aside, Shyamalan has crafted the best trailer of any of the summer blockbusters. When adults who have never heard of the cartoon, and know that it’s for the kids, are saying “I want to see this” you know it’s got a huge chance at being good.

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse – More vampires, more werewolves, more melodrama and bad acting. Yay.

Skip It – Drop your self-estimated IQ by at least 20 points if you’re excited to see this film. Or have read the books. Or can identify any of the characters besides Kristen Stewart, the skinny twerp or the guy who’s obviously on steroids.

Do you have questions about movies, life, love, or Branigan’s Law? Shoot me an e-mail at and you could be featured in the next “Monday Morning Critic.” Include your name and hometown to improve your odds.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

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