Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Spielberg/Shyamalan smack-down!

Hey, I thought it would be fun to compare paralell scenes from two of last year's popcorn films as a way of contrasting the directorial styles of their creators. Sounds like a hoot, right?
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Our hero is seeking refuge from evil commies, and in the most unlikely of places, he stumbles across a perfectly inviting suburban house. Upon entering the domicile he finds that there's something eerily off-putting about that perfection. In fact, upon closer inspection he notices that everything about this blissful abode is synthetic, right down to the grins on the mannequins that inhabit the place. But what... exactly, does this mean...? Suddenly sirens blare and the significance dawns on our hero. He has but seconds to react, and with only his cunning and lightening-quick reflexes, and only by the skin of his teeth, is he able to evade AN ATOMIC EXPLOSION OF EPIC PROPORTIONS!!!

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Our heroes are seeking refuge from tree-gas, and in the most unlikely of places, they stumble across a perfectly inviting suburban house. Upon entering the domicile thy find that there's something eerily off-putting about that perfection. In fact, upon closer inspection they notice that everything about this blissful abode is synthetic, right down to the hollow television set and plasticized glasses of orange juice. But what... exactly, does this mean...? Only then does it occur to them that what they're standing in is actually a model home, the kind developers use to sell real estate, and all of this... apparently, doesn't really mean much to them. And so, after a few seconds of aimlessly informing us about Australian bacteria, they feel content that they've frittered away a satisfactory amount of screen-time without really advancing the drama or plot, and decide to mosey on out.
Okay, now let's try to distinguish the nuances of these cinematic approches. It seems to me that many of director Steven Spielberg's film-making choices are in the service of cheap thrills like suspense, action, character development, and storytelling, whereas M Night Shyamalan's decisions are here motivated by wanting to get his actors out from under the hot sun for a couple hours. Someone that thoughtful and courteous will always be a superior director in my book!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

OH MY GOD IT'S HAPPENING IN PARIS!

Martians! Attacking right here in the United States using their death saucers, wreaking havoc with their heat lasers, creating mass panic in the streets! How far will their insidious plan go?
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OH MY GOD IT'S HAPPENING IN PARIS!

A giant asteroid! Hurtling through space, knocking meteors from its path and sending them smashing through major New York skyscrapers in an orgy of fiery destruction. What will be the extent of the damage caused by this most unthinkable natural disaster?

OH MY GOD IT'S HAPPENING IN PARIS!

Zombies! Consumed by a virus of pure rage, rampaging London, murdering indiscriminately, infecting all who survive. Maybe there's a way of keeping it all under control.

OH MY GOD IT'S HAPPENING IN PARIS!

Not Paris! Beautiful Paris! The city of Lights, home to art, culture and mimes, OH GOD NO, WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE PARIS? Can you believe Paris? With its easily identifiable landmarks and citizens of the same easily relatable generally caucasian make-up as us in the States and yet who speak in an obviously foreign language so as to remind you how far spread is the umbrella of catastrophe, that Paris? It could have been Kyoto, or Hamburg, or New Delhi, or Khartoum, or Melbourne, or Reykjavik, but no, IT HAPPENED IN PARIS!

I was considering revealing the end to "M Night Shyamalan's the Happening", but I think I'll keep his secret safe for now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

When Plants Attack!


In M. Night Shyalaman's "The Happening", Plants finally get even with us veggie-neglecting humans by releasing a pine-fresh neuro-toxin into the air. When this goes down, here's what you should look for.

1. First you say something terribly banal TWICE. This is the "bore spore" kicking in, and it is quite effective.
2. Then YOU FREEZE IN PLACE!- unless, of course, you don't.
3. Then you SUDDENLY KILL YOURSELF! And by suddenly I mean that you patiently and politely wait your turn to kill yourself, 'cause if everyone just started killing themselves all at once it would just be ridiculous, wouldn't it.
Also you when the appropriate moment finally gets around to you, you'll probably want to consider committing suicide in a way that is specific/ironic to your chosen profession. This is to say, if you are a cop you'll shoot yourself with your city-issued handgun, if you are a gardener you'll hang yourself with a length of garden-hose, and if you are a "morning Zoo- Crew" D.J., you'll impale yourself on a slide-whistle.
4. Remember, you don't have to freeze or kill yourself if: you are the friend of someone freezing/killing themselves, you are the employer of someone freezing/killing themselves, or if you are videotaping someone freezing/killing themselves.
5. Also, we know for a fact that the plants only unleash their evil on those in large groups, so if you're alone you're basically safe. Well except for that one girl in her room who was on the phone with her mom, and also that old lady at the end, but I think that was because the plant gas had gotten super strong... which, um, doesn't explain why it didn't affect- Y'know, just ignore the group rule, it never made much sense anyway.
6. The only thing that will allow you to survive a plant attack is love, TRUE LOVE- or at least strong feelings of affection. Or possibly just a sense of companionship and/or routine. I think. Actually, the two leads seemed like they'd be much better off without eachother. But their love stopped it. Right? Maybe the plants felt sorry for them, or maybe they were just punishing the rest of us by keeping those two alive, I dunno, I was a little sketchy on this point also.
7. So... ah, in conclusion- huh, where was I?...
NEVER FEED THEM AFTER MIDNIGHT!
Beware and take care!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Kiddie Flick?


I have a theory regarding suspense thriller films. It states that the level of their quality is directly proportional to how easily the exact same film could not have been conceived, staged, and executed by nine-year-olds with a borrowed camcorder. "North by Northwest" for instance, features adult themes of lust and paranoia, an artful chase scene involving an airplane, and a finale precariously staged on Mt. Rushmore. I can think of only a few third-graders capable of pulling that off. Lets see how "M Night Shaymalan's the Happening" stacks up based on these standards: the film is set against the dramatic backdrop of... a grassy field in Nowhere, Pennsylvania, its action consists nearly entirely of... characters desperately trying to evade the wind, and it builds tension throughout with many, many ominous shots of... trees gently swaying in the breeze. Result: NOT SO GOOD. It's actually not too much of a stretch to imagine the film, stripped of its musical score and classy filmstock, as being concocted by a group of precocious tikes, budding auteurs inspired by a recent earth-day class to create a grand youtube opus. Even the film's most R-rated scene, involving some rube in a lion cage, could have been just as easily enacted with a lethargic great dane and a little ketchup. Shaymalan's defense of "Lady in the Water" was that it was based on a bedtime story he told his children ("C'mon, I was really tired that night!"), Is it possible he went one step further with "happening" and actually stole one his kids' movie ideas? If so, even they can never be forgiven.

Friday, July 18, 2008

How bad is the acting in M Night Shaymalan's the Happening?

The acting is so bad, that the least irritating, most dignified performance in whole film is given by John Leguizamo. Yes, this John Leguizamo:

Saturday, July 12, 2008

McBluffin


In screenwriting, the term "MacGuffin" is used to describe a particularly ingenious plot device, developed in part by Alfred Hitchcock. It refers to an item of great significance to a story. It moves the plot and motivates all of its characters, but what exactly the item is, is so inconsequential that it need not even be revealed. Like the unseen, glowing contents of that briefcase in Pulp Fiction, the mystery is far more interesting than any tedious explanation ever could be.
In "M Night Shaymalan's the Happening", director M Night Shaymalan, the modern day Hitchcock, has created a new device that is essentially the opposite of a MacGuffin. We'll call it the "McMuffin". The McMuffin is an Item, here a moodring, that is described, explained, and discussed many, many times throughout the film, tantalizing the audience's curiosity as to how it will figure into the storyline and why so much screentime is being devoted to it.

Can the moodring somehow be used to detect the "emotional aura "of the disgruntled plants surrounding our heroes? Will the nature of its chemical reactions inspire a way to stop the poison tree gas from being released in the first place? Will its color betray that a character has been stricken emotionless by the airborne toxin and is seconds away from going all suicidey? The twist (Shaymalan's speciality) is: that it has nothing to do with the plot whatsoever, nor does it offer any symbolic insight of any kind. It existed only for the characters in the film to make small talk about, and also to generally waste our time. The director knew that audiences are generally distracted by shiny objects, and that they might not spend those scenes fixated on the awkward dialogue or improbable events. Well played Shyamlan. McMuffin!

What would the strangest teacher in the world say?


What would the strangest teacher in the world say? I don't have to wonder, because I've seen "M Night Shaymalan's the Happening". The teacher would ask a student a question about bees that has no answer, then comment on how attractive the (male) student is, then tell said student that he should consider studying more, because then he (the student) would learn that he (the student) will most likely someday be ugly.
Why would a teacher do this? Because:
a) he is high on mushrooms
b) he is teaching a class about how act like a person raised by elves or possibly robots and is therfore unfamiliar with human ways.
c) he is foreshadowing the reason why the film he is in will not have an ending.

Correct answer: C

Lessons from zombies

While the premise (or perhaps the brief sentence used to pitch the film) of "M Night Shaymalan's The Happening" sounds intriguing, dare-I-say even chilling, the director (M Night Shaymalan) finds few ways of wringing any drama from it past the 25 minute mark. Although, in his defense, the genre of "greenhouse horror" is a young one, whose formulas is not yet well-established. Still, he could have done well by examining a more well-tread model for inspiration. I submit: the zombie epidemic.
Fleeing the slow shuffling undead (and even the occasional super-charged "running" zombie) gets boring to watch pretty quick. So, every zombie film I have ever seen contains a plot device in which one of the central good-guy type characters at some point receives a messy chomp to the arm, then a few scenes later they have dark grease-paint under their eyes and glycerin sweat on their forehead, and someone says (ludicrously) "Hey, are you sure you're feeling alright?" It presents an interesting dilemma: Can this person be saved? Is it worth the trouble? What should be used to decapitate them and how soon can you do it?
The predicament doesn't perfectly translate to (M Night) Shaymalan's film, but it does hold a certain amount of potential. What if someone in your group got a whiff of that tree gas? Could you stop them if they were truly hell-bent on offing themselves (albeit in a trance-like state)? What would you do? Scour the area for potentially dangerous objects ("Oh my god, Billie's beating himself with a whiffle ball!)? Mummify the afflicted with bubble wrap? Just how long before the lemming-minded just started gnawing lead paint off the side of the house? Sounds like a great second act to me. Normally I would instruct a director to steer away from hoary cliches, but man, anything would have improved this turd.

Browbeaten


Although the lion's share of blame for M Night Shayamalan's "The Happening" rests with -M Night Shaymalan, there are other guilty parties. The whole experience wouldn't have been quite the same, for instance, without one Mark Wahlberg. I will resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon here with a "bunch" of "good vibration" jokes, the crimes he committed in the name of funkiness and designer underwear he will pay for for the rest of his life. As well he should. My beef is that I have difficulty with the idea of him as an action star, and there are two reasons why I can never accept him as such.
1) His voice
Mark Wahlberg speaks in a sort of wavering falsetto whine that is perhaps better described by the word "whimper". Instead of delivering dialogue with the tight-lipped urgency required by a lines like "WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!", every line is instead spoken roughly the same way someone might say "Hey, how did this mustard get on my shirt?"
2) His eyebrows
Traditional action stars have low set brows, which press sternly downward where they meet in the center. This expression says: "I'm in control and determined to succeed!"

Mark Wahlberg's brows cast up towards the center of his forehead, and it is there that much furrowing takes place, rendering an expression that is not unlike that which is found on a basset hound.
This has the effect of conveying a person who is overwhelmed with cowardly panic, in so far over their head and so deeply, painfully aware of their own personal shortcomings that they might just give in and start blubbering at any moment, giving away how pathetically ineffective they really are. See below.

Why I am breaking up with you, M. Night Shyamalan



Dear Nightie,
I'll admit it, I really thought I was in love way back when I first got to know you. How vividly I remember that first time- together in a darkened theater, how you totally took me off guard, you made me question all I thought I knew. I saw the world turned upside-down, I saw everything in a new light, I saw... dead people. But it was never really the same after that was it? Oh sure, you tried to keep things interesting, but I couldn't help the feeling that you were losing respect for me, and that your attempts to surprise me were becoming increasingly more pathetic. Remember that day in The Village? Yeah, I only pretended to be surprised, figured everything out in the trailer, really. But everything was so pretty that I forgave you. I should have paid more attention to the Signs- because when you do that thing really doesn't make a lot of sense. And to think that I spent years defending you to my friends, even when you'd make those inappropriate cameos, show up out of nowhere spouting cockamamie explanations. I even kept your secrets- like the fact that you wrote the Stuart Little screenplay. Just when I thought I might give up on you for good, you announced that you had changed. "Family friendly" you said. But while you promised me a modern day fairy tale, all I remember is crying in the shower. And the word "narf". And then there's this. What happened that most unlucky Friday in June. At first I was just disappointed, then bored, but now I'm angry- and it's been an entire month since it Happeninged. For that you can never be forgiven, never be given another chance, never be given 10 more of my dollars. I'm sorry Manoj, but that's just the way I feel about it, and I will not change my mind. Well, I guess we'll see how I feel when Avatar comes out.
sincerely,
alex

Apologies to Songco