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


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.


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.

Apologies to Songco