Monday, June 16, 2008
After the underappreciated and misunderstood Lady in the Water, writer and director M. Night Shyamalan attempts to return to the simple intensity of his successful Signs, but fails to include any of the elements that lead to said success.
In The Happening, something in the air is causing masses of seemingly normal people to commit suicide. Though the film is full of disturbing imagery that certainly would appeal to the fans of horror movies, it lacks too many other qualities of a good scary movie.
Primarily, no reason is given for us to care about the stars. In fact, exactly the opposite. Our lead characters, if anything, are annoying. Mark Wahlberg plays a high school science teacher who you want to believe early on will figure all this out and solve the problem, but that is not the case. Our hero leads his wife (a horribly miscast Zooey Deschanel) his best friend and fellow teacher (John Leguizamo), and the friends’ daughter (The under-utilized Ashlyn Sanchez) out of the city, cuz that is what you do in all of these movies, except Signs. Hello? M. Night? Signs was good, The Happening isn’t. Let’s learn from this.
The problem is that there is absolutely no character development in this film, and subsequently no attachment to the characters by the audience. Instead, a problem in the marriage of Wahlberg and Deschanel is contrived in an amazingly ridiculous fashion, which doesn’t matter because no one in the audience would ever believe the two of them to be married anyway. In the case of Leguizamo and his daughter; the wife and mother, whom we never meet, is unable to make the same train out of the city, and the uncertainty of her survival is somehow supposed to endear the characters to us.
At only eighty-nine minutes, a substantial amount of time dedicated to properly developing the characters could easily have been added to this film. What was the rush M. Night? Remember in Signs when you invested much of the runtime to introducing us to the family? Did you just feel that you gave us too much story in Lady in the Water, so you thought that you would go the other way in The Happening? Wrong turn.
Also lacking are the subtle “whistling past the graveyard” comedic elements so prevalent in Shyamalan's previous endeavors. The comedy in The Happening, like so many other aspects of this film, simply feels forced. The actors are not able to pull off the scenes involving the subtle comedy due to what appears to be a combination of a poor script and lack of skill.
The one shining star in this dull (M.) Night is Betty Buckley. She gives a nice albeit brief performance as the owner of the country house that serves as refuge for some of the survivors, and she is actually one of the scariest parts of the film. Why? Cuz we learn more about her and her motivation in the brief time she is on camera than all the other characters combined!
Recommendation: As this film bears some similarities to Signs, both versions of War of the Worlds (1953 and 2005), and the recent awful television production of The Andromeda Strain, you would be much better off spending your time and money on Signs, and the 1953 version of War of the Worlds. Note and appreciate the character development in both.
I was two months late catching Cloverfield in the theater. In Michigan, it had already ended its run, but thanks to a trip to Chicago, I was able to catch it in its last week there at a busy downtown Cinema. There were probably nine people total in our particular theater, and as the film unspooled, I wondered how many would be left by the end, as I’d heard of so many people walking out due to the hand-held camera technique (known now as The Blair Witch Effect).
About 20 minutes in, after the first moments of suspense started to build, my mates and I noticed a couple a few rows ahead get up. Thinking they were leaving due to the shaky-cam effect, we were surprised to see they were just moving down a few rows to the non-stadium seating below. I didn’t pay much attention to them until my friend pointed out that the woman had moved onto her boyfriend’s lap, her feet on the seat ahead of her. Awesome! It was the sign of a great, scary film - so I thought.
Little did I know this couple would embark on some of the most hardcore sex one could ever witness in public (without paying). Because the action onscreen had me in such a state of suspense, dread, and terror, I missed all of it. I didn’t even notice them. We are talking multiple positions, legs in the air, heads-a-bobbin, the whole 69 yards. I know this because one of my friend’s did the opposite and missed all of Cloverfield. I can’t help but talk about this whenever I bring up this film. On the one hand, because it’s probably my only chance of witnessing a crazy-ass spectacle like that, but on a more important note, because it was truly a testament to how effective that film was for me.
For those who don’t already know the plot of the film (and I strongly urge you to stop reading after this paragraph as there be mucho spoilers ahead), a bunch of 20-somethings in NYC throw a going away party for their bud the eve before his departing for Japan. It is this same night that a giant monster rises out of the harbor to wreak havoc on the city and it’s inhabitants.
Since one of the attendees has decided to document the party with their camcorder, we are there to experience the first sign of the monster’s presence, that being a massive rumbling sound. Of course everyone fears that it is another terrorist attack. As they all rush to the balcony to see what’s going on, they witness multiple explosions resulting in buildings crashing down exactly like 9/11.
It isn’t until the Statue of Liberty’s gigantic head comes hurling through the air and crashing down the street that people start to realize that this could be something far worse than a terrorist attack. We soon realize it is worse, and as the rest of panic-stricken Manhattan tries to evacuate the island, five of our heroes attempt to rescue a friend that is trapped in the heart of the action, all the while documenting it with that camera. For the entire film, we see the action unfold as it happens, via this lone camcorder.I’m well aware that this film has its detractors, but I seriously wonder if they even got it. I don’t think they let themselves experience it as intended by the filmmakers. Almost everyone, while describing the theory of using the first-person method, states, “It’s so you feel like you are there”. Though that it is a result of the process, I don’t think it’s the filmmaker’s intention. If that were indeed the desired affect, then why would the filmmakers even acknowledge the character shooting it? That is to say, why not film the entire thing as if the camera were your eyes?
Instead, like The Blair Witch, the first words on the screen tell us that we are watching discovered footage of something horrible, ‘discovered’ being the key word, because it indicates that it was found by itself, without ownership. How else could it get from these kids to the government unless they handed it over to them, resulting in changing the term from ‘discovered’ to ‘donated’ or ‘with permission from’? No, this much overlooked introduction indicates “these guys are dead now.” It is this sense of dread from the very beginning that we should be feeling, knowing that we are about to actually see how they died as it happened.
I think this misconception is also what causes people to suffer from motion sickness. Since they believe it’s being shot this way so that we feel like we are there, then they are going to process it accordingly, and wish their “eyes” would go where they want (though I’m pretty sure if you were being attacked by Cloverfield, you would not be standing still either).
When you watch somebody’s home movies, would you do the same thing? Would you assume that the amateur filming it was making an attempt to have you feel like you are him? Hell, no. He is documenting. Otherwise we’d be busting out dolly tracks to smooth out that walk over to the new car you’re showing off. Trust me, if all of a sudden, in the middle of this home movie where you were showing off your new car, a big fucking monster popped out, you would not be calm about it. This is exactly what Cloverfield is, though: a home movie where all of a sudden, out of nowhere, a gigantic creature comes charging into the scenery.
For the easily nauseated, quit watching the film like it’s one of those IMAX A Flight Over the Swiss Alps where you look straight ahead and feel like you are actually flying over those damn Swiss Alps. This is a movie, and people who don’t care about anything happening on the screen unless it’s in the center (full-screen idiots, I’m looking in your direction), are going to make the mistake, and start getting sick.
Does this film translate to Blu-ray? Yes and No. Yes, in the sense that it looks even better than standard DVD (and it sure as hell does) and probably even better than in the theater. You can see the creature more clearly and the destruction of the city looks even more realistic, which is quite the feat considering most Blu-ray expose CGI for what it is: fake.
As for sound, it’s the same double-edge sword. Whereas we’ve already accepted the fact going into the film, that there is no way that this tiny amateur camcorder can record sound like this, it’s not such an obstacle to get over. After watching the standard DVD and thinking that the monster’s attacks weren’t nearly loud enough (certainly not as loud as it was in the theater), Blu-ray has corrected that with its TRU HD sound system. This is definitely one to pop in to demonstrate the sound that only Blu-ray is capable of. Shit will fall off the walls if you turn it up loud enough and Grandpa Simpson may even pipe in with a “Turn…it…down!” It’s that powerful. It should be since the loudness of sound plays a huge part in unsettling you (much like that of the aliens in the recent War of the Worlds).
As for extras, it’s unfortunately the same as the standard DVD release, though there is one feature exclusive to Blu-Ray that some will find either cool or stupid. I found it to pretty damn cool. Though this still includes an ample amount of supplements, I say “unfortunate” because you just know that this film is going to get re-released with even more supplements in the future (which appears to be standard procedure).
This practice is justified with standard DVD when a single disc becomes a double disc because of the amount of information that will fit on a standard disc. With Blu-ray, though, we all know that you can fit up to six times the amount of information of a single standard DVD, so why not give it all to us now - especially considering the price difference between the two formats. On the plus side, all of the features were originally filmed in HD, so here we have them in perfect clarity and in a film that relies heavily on digital imagery. This is a major improvement.
Document 01.18.08: The Making of Cloverfield and Cloverfield Visual Effects are two of the longer supplements on the disc, running approximately 30 minutes each. While Document includes interviews with JJ Abrams, the cast, and the director, Visual Effects focuses more on the technical aspects of the film. Both are above average features as they give a lot of information that viewers can benefit from.
The alternate endings and deleted scenes, per usual, are justified as being omitted, though I do recommend viewing the alternate endings with the commentary as it explains what little was changed. There are also some bloopers on hand with Cloverfun. Add to this an informative commentary by its creator, JJ Abrams, and you have a decent amount of supplements that should satisfy most customers.
As for the exclusive feature titled Special Investigation Mode, you get the option of viewing the film along with a government affiliated GPS tracking device on the side of the screen, informing you of where the creature is, the heroes are, and the location of the incoming military. You also get little blurbs of ‘live’ information (as opposed to film trivia) from the government, including character statistics and analysis of the events unfolding. It’s a lot like watching a DVD with pop-up trivia, only here the information (which is ultimately fictional) is played out as real. It’s supplements like this that justify the extra price of Blu-ray as it’s something that couldn’t have fit on any standard DVD single disc release.
It’s pretty much a no-brainer for this release whether you’re a fan of the film or just a fan of the format. The suspension of disbelief needed was already established in both its theatrical and standard DVD release. With Blu-ray, you may have to keep reminding yourself a little more often, “It’s only a home movie…It’s only a home movie…It’s only a home movie.”
This Hulk is credible at best.
Perhaps better than previous theatrical efforts, this new Hulk is still lacking in many areas.
In the opening credits we are filled in on the events that lead Dr. Bruce Banner to be hiding in Brazil exploring techniques to control his temper. For those familiar with the story, this is an adequate way to provide the information, but those new to the Hulk may be left confused before the film ever gets started. From there director Louis Leterrier delivers 112 minutes of loud action that will go well with a bucket of popcorn and the summer movie season.
That may be enough for some, but those looking for more will be disappointed. The talented cast of Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner, Liv Tyler as love interest Betty Ross, William Hurt as General Ross, father of Betty, and military force behind the original project that resulted in Banner’s Hulk, and Tim Roth as the new military weapon, all give amazingly one-dimensional performances that result in the audience longing for The Hulk to appear. The story too is somewhat one-dimensional, though wel-paced, there is not a lot that is new here.
The special effects that produce the Hulk are for the most part believable though there are scenes where are anti-hero does look a bit cartoonish. The climactic battle scene between our two gamma-induced creatures is fun for a while, but like this film, never really goes anywhere, and leaves the audience scratching their heads as to how the Hulk manages to subdue his opponent long enough for an unexplained transition to occur in the film. Yes, it is obviously left open for a sequel, but that’s no reason not to provide a conclusion to this scene.
There is a musical homage to the classic television series, as well as a nod to Bill Bixby, and the cameo by Lou Ferrigno is sure to put a smile on the face of any true Hulk Fan. On the other hand; the cameo by Robert Downey Jr. lacks the fun that should have been generated by the introduction of the Avenger Initiative and Nick Fury in Iron Man. The required appearance of Stan Lee simply served as a wasted opportunity for what should have been a fun scene and special effects opportunity had the writers bothered to explore the concept rather than just tell us that his character had been exposed to Gamma poisoning.
Recommendation: A fun summer movie for the kids, but simply too one-dimensional and too many missed opportunities for adults. Catch Iron Man instead.