Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ode to a Clown

I apologize for my AWOL-ness lately, but I took an unintentional and, it turns out, a much-needed hiatus from blogging. Rest assured, people, I'm back now.

What better idea for my first entry in a week and a half than to post the pictures of myself Joker-ized for the midnight screening of The Dark Knight? I got really into it (how often can a lady in civilized society purposely smear lipstick all over her face?), and I was quite pleased with the results, but I admit that I'm a bit shy all of a sudden about sharing them. Considering I haven't posted very many pictures of myself on this blog, I'm a bit embarrassed that the bulk of them now consist of me looking a bit psychotic ("a bit" may be an understatement - you be the judge!). Well, it is what it is, right? I was honoring Heath Ledger, and I'm really proud that I executed it successfully.

"See, I'm not a monster...I'm just ahead of the curve." - The Joker

Thursday, July 17, 2008

And Into That Dark Knight I Go...

"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We're tonight's entertainment!"

This will be my last pre-Dark Knight post. Wow. I never thought this day would come. To all of you seeing it tonight, or whenever, happy viewing! Live it up. There will never be a cinematic event like this ever again.

Not in the spirit just yet? Well, I ask all of you: "Why so serious?"

For the cast and crew, for this undoubtedly amazing film, and especially for Heath Ledger, let's put a smile on that face.

Some last words...

Batman: "Why do you want to kill me?"
The Joker: "I don't want to kill you. What would I do without you?"

And, when words are no longer adequate to describe your state of euphoria and sweetly agonizing anticipation...


Use lots and lots of exclamation points.

As the Joker might say, I love this job.

"And here...we...GO."

Idle Hands Are the Joker's Playground

This is what happens when you're so excited out of your mind about the screening of The Dark Knight in about 8 hours that you're totally non-functional unless it's Batman-related and you literally can't do anything else with your time...

Well, it's what happens to me anyway. Besides, after posting my doctored Facebook graffiti photo, this seemed like a natural progression.

I promise to post my pictures from the screening tonight, with the look all complete and perfected (this was my first try, mind you). Maybe it's not much, but this is my loving homage to Heath Ledger.

Now, I just hope I'm not the ONLY one who looks like this. But if I am, so be it. I'll hold my creepy head high in honor of Heath.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Let's Put a Smile on That Face

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook and its many, many applications...

For those who don't know, that's me. Yes, I painted Joker graffiti on myself. And it makes me smile.

Wicked awesome.

Going Batty

Gone batty is more like it. I'm totally and completely GONE. I can't believe I'm going to see The Dark Knight tomorrow. It's going to be the experience of a lifetime. And finally getting to witness Heath Ledger's Joker, after waiting for so long and mourning his death... Wow. It's surreal. I'm still mourning, and this will rip open the wounds and make them fresh again, of course, but I plan on celebrating him, his life, and his career in the moment tomorrow night. Sure, I'll cry. I might be the only person doing so, or maybe not. I could very well bawl my eyes out. But I promise that the tears will be mainly those of joy and awe at his achievement, with obviously some melancholy and pain thrown into the mix (I'm only human). I'll deal with my sadness at another time; tomorrow, I plan on savoring the film, having a hell of a great time, cherishing Heath Ledger's tour de force performance, and cheering him on...all the while imagining him somewhere, watching and smiling.

In the meantime, check out this amazing compilation of all the TV spots and trailers for The Dark Knight. It's orgasmically good.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hello, WALL-E!

I'm not sure if Pixar is even trying to make films for kids anymore, and I love them for that (as a non-child). They're definitely still advertising for kids, though, because I was totally blindsided by the scope, beauty, and social resonance of WALL-E. The commercials made it seem kind of goofy, like all WALL-E did was run into things in a cute fashion. While he does run into a lot of things, and very cutely at that, the clumsiness is only one facet of WALL-E's personality. Ironically, a robot who communicates mainly with noises is more three-dimensional than most humans in films today. In that same vein, WALL-E is much, much better than most films released today, animated or otherwise. I don't think of WALL-E as an animated film, or a kids' one - I just think of it as a film, a true piece of art. And that's maybe the highest compliment I can give it.

Watching WALL-E, I felt like I was seeing a film for the first time. It's a completely transcendent experience. I've rarely been gripped by such a palpable sense of awe. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Here's the plot: It's 700 years in the future, Earth is a post-apocalyptic wasteland (with visuals worthy of something like Children of Men) unable to sustain life, the complacently clueless surviving humans are living on a huge space liner somewhere in the galaxy, turned into drooling androids by their total dependence on technology, and WALL-E has been left behind on Earth, totally alone. Well, he has a cockroach friend, and we all know the implications of that. There are plenty of Twinkies, too, and as the myth goes...well, we know that what happened to Earth was catastrophic. WALL-E's function is to compact trash and make it into tidy little boxes. Then, he stacks them and creates buildings out of the garbage. He's been there long enough to have his own metropolis. This is all WALL-E knows, what's he been programmed to do. But somewhere during the course of those 700 years, WALL-E developed a personality and a desire to want more from his existence. While compacting, he picks out the items he likes and hordes them, very much like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. "Look at this stuff, isn't it neat?" Sorry, I couldn't help myself.

So, one day WALL-E is dutifully going about his work, which is lorded over by the ghosts of a mega-company called Buy N Large (stores, billboards, talking ads loom over the city), and a spaceship lands, leaving behind a robot. This robot looks fancy (WALL-E is falling apart), exhibits some aggressive tendencies, and is focused on her (yes, her) objective - scanning Earth for vegetation to see if it's okay to repopulate. Her name is EVE, and the survival of mankind hinges on her discoveries. Pretty brilliant, huh?

WALL-E falls instantly in love with EVE, and she kind of likes him, too. Well, it turns out that WALL-E did find a tiny plant, and when he shows it to EVE in his efforts to impress her with his loot, she scans it, gets the green affirmative symbol, puts the precious proof of life inside of her, and locks down. WALL-E is crushed and continues to care for EVE even though she's turned off (literally) and can't respond. It's incredibly romantic. Soon, EVE's ship comes back to reclaim her, and WALL-E, smitten, tags along on the outside of the craft. They then end up at the Axiom, the luxury liner in outer space housing the humans. The rest of the film follows the fate of that one plant, and ultimately the fate of humanity. That's heavy stuff for ANY film, but even more impressive because it's in this one.

I can't imagine how kids have reacted to WALL-E. Even I couldn't wrap my mind around all of the things that the film was saying. I continue to vigorously ponder its messages. I've seen it twice, and I know there's still more untapped brilliance waiting to be found on subsequent viewings. All I can say is that I think they'll appreciate it when they get older; for now, they're just happy with the slapstick and the adorable merchandise (and WALL-E is a total cutie pie). Speaking of the slapstick in the film, it's on par with anything Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, or Harold Lloyd ever did. I've heard that after seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Chaplin bestowed a standing ovation upon it. He would for WALL-E, too, and it would be even longer and more exuberant. WALL-E contains some of the most intricately choreographed and marvelous physical comedy I've ever seen (Pixar also plays around with it quite a bit in the fantastic magic-themed short preceding WALL-E, Presto). The film contains very little dialogue (Jeff Garlin as the ship's captain and Sigourney Weaver as the voice of the ship's computer get the most to say, and do a great job at it - the rest of the communication is in "robot speak", which I'll explain later), but there's always something going on that no doubt had to be elaborately described in the script, which is why I think this would be the ideal screenplay for film students just starting out and making silents (as I did at Columbia) to study.

WALL-E is a masterful specimen of filmmaking. Technically, it's flawless. The animation is staggering, as you would expect, but don't take it for granted. The visuals are the perfect blend of tasty and nutritious. I felt like I was devouring the screen. The score by Thomas Newman is simultaneously grave and gorgeous and sure to be nominated for an Oscar (if Ratatouille got a nomination for a totally forgettable score, WALL-E is definitely worthy of a nomination and should, justice provided, get one, the latter depending on what other scores pop up as the year goes along, of course). I am, however, POSITIVE that Peter Gabriel's hauntingly catchy tune o'er the end credits, "Down to Earth," will be nominated for Best Original Song. The script by Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter, like I already mentioned, is a triumph. Stanton also directs, proving that he is Pixar's resident genius (sorry, Brad Bird), the force to be reckoned with around the studio. He confidently conducts WALL-E like a symphony.

The robotic voice work is stunning. WALL-E and EVE only communicate by saying their names, making sounds, or repeating a few choice words. Yet, more is expressed with the simplest "EVE" or "WALL-E" in this film than with the most articulate, long-winded soliloquy. Ben Burtt is the sound design maestro responsible for WALL-E (and other characters, including the spunky cleaning bot M-O). Elissa Knight, an actual human, provided the voice for EVE, but it was digitized by Burtt. WALL-E is the result of no human voice whatsoever - only noises mind-blowingly created and mixed together by Burtt. It's unbelievable how much emotion is packed into WALL-E's voice. If WALL-E doesn't get some kind of sound Oscar or recognition for Burtt (through the techie Oscars, at least), then I'll have beef with the Academy...and we all know that's unusual for me.

WALL-E is truly one of the most endearing and complex characters ever created. I adore his dedication and loyalty (to EVE and to his work), indomitable spirit, selflessness, hopefulness, belief in the power of love, and even his anxiety and neuroses. His relationship with EVE is exquisite. WALL-E is seriously one of the most romantic films ever made. One particularly breathtaking scene involves WALL-E, EVE, the stars, and a fire extinguisher. It's a lover's ballet. I was rooting for these two robots to get together more than I do for most live action pairs. And it didn't seem the least bit silly, not even when WALL-E's sole romantic inspiration, his only basis for love, is a worn-out VHS of Hello, Dolly! that teaches him how to court, dance, kiss, and hold hands (the most important gesture of affection and devotion for WALL-E).

Without telling you what happens, WALL-E is perhaps the single most subtle, beautiful, and effective cautionary tale about humanity's greed, over-consumption, all-encompassing reliance on technology, lack of interpersonal connections, and disregard for the environment and Earth, all of which allows them to continue their mindless self-destruction. Does that sound harsh? The sad part is that it's not inaccurate. I'm a cynic (frankly, any American not after 8 years of Dubya deserves a Nobel Peace Prize or something), and WALL-E gave me hope that things could change, but not without shaking my soul first. WALL-E is quite a dark film, but it's disguised so well that you might not even realize it until it's over. I was enthralled from the first second, but even then, it managed to sneak up on me and hit me hard.

I've heard people say that all of the humans on Earth were saved and are now living on the Axiom liner. I don't know when the last time you counted was, but last time I checked, we were hovering around six billion people on the planet. There are not six billion people on that ship. Not even close. Most of humanity is extinct. And of the people on the ship, most are white (not sure if that was intentional, but it probably was). They're also all really fat due to the comforts of technology (space gravity is an issue, as well - bone loss and what not), and they don't know how to function or interact without it. The passengers float around (literally) in a totally clueless, comatose state. It's very pod people-esque, as evidenced by the captain's proclamation after snapping out of it: "I don't want to survive! I want to live!" I think the sheep-like, sedated state of the people on the ship means two things: 1) humankind needs to cool it with the technology, escape its clutches, and learn to live without it, and 2) the remaining government wants the people rendered helpless so they don't ask questions. That's scary in its feasibility.

So, since we see that cockroaches and Twinkies are still around, we know that there was some huge nuclear crisis that caused destruction of the planet as well as a holocaust. Whether this happened before or after the rampant pollution, I'm not sure, nor does it matter. Earth is completely covered in garbage. In fact, since there's no room for it on Earth anymore (despite the compacting efforts of WALL-E and his colleagues), trash is being projected ("disposed of") into space. The general climate of the film also leads me to believe that global warming eventually lived up to the hype. Apparently, a lot happened, and it was all our fault. I'm not being facetious either. Earth didn't destroy itself - we did. WALL-E deals with these issues deeply, sensitively, and movingly without reducing the severity of its moral and social messages one bit. And despite all of the horrible stuff that happens to humanity in the film, the real beauty of WALL-E is that it's not nihilistic. How refreshing and remarkable.

There have been rumors about WALL-E getting a Best Picture nod, and I wouldn't be surprised. It deserves it. I'm not sure what'll happen if it ends up getting nominated for Best Picture AND Best Animated Film (I mean, whether it'll split the votes and tragically get nothing), but I'd like to at least see. Here's my predictions for WALL-E's Oscar nominations: Best Picture, Best Sound Design, Best Animated Film, Best Score, Best Original Song, Best Screenplay. We'll see how right or wrong I am in about six months.

I have never liked 2001. Yeah, yeah, I know. Cue the throwing of the rotten fruit and vegetables. I just think it's boring as all heck. BUT, I respect it tremendously. It's the benchmark that started science fiction as we know it now. I would even call it the quintessential science fiction film. WALL-E is also worthy of that title. It's just as significant historically, socially, and cinematically, but I find it fascinating and enchanting as a story to boot. WALL-E displays as much reverence toward the beauty and bigger-than-us quality of outer space and life as 2001, and it's truly as powerful, profound, and philosophical as 2001, or any other science fiction film for that matter (I recently compared Danny Boyle's Sunshine to 2001 in its awe-inspiring nature, divine visuals, and poignancy, and I stand by it). That's darn good company to keep.

WALL-E moved me so deeply and stole my heart. It made me laugh, it made me think, and it made me cry. As generic as those last statements of mine might be, I promise WALL-E is anything but.

In the increasingly impressive Pixar pantheon, WALL-E is the best. It's also the second best film I've seen in 2008 so far.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Random Dark Knight-Ness

So, here's a screenshot of my own countdown clock. Yes, I am a nerd, but come on, all the numbers line up, it's fun! What's even more fun is that there's now less time than that, and the wait is only getting shorter as we colloquially speak. Hey, I'm just doing what I can to ease the sweet pain of anticipation.

Smile...You've Been Jokerized!

Remember these links to the official websites for The Dark Knight that I posted awhile back? Well, I hope you checked them out then, because they've officially been Jokerized in preparation for the film's release. Too cool, man, too cool. This advertising campaign is so inspired that it almost makes me want to jump professions.

Doesn't it all just put a smile on your face?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Let's Pretend This Never Happened

*The following review may or may not have happened. Read it and see what happens. Is something happening yet? Well, what did you expect to happen, really?*

Sigh. Can you guess what movie I'm reviewing? That's right: M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening! I know, I know... In all fairness, I admitted in my review of Lady in the Water that I couldn't promise to stay away from The Happening, though. I need to be "in the know," what can I say other than that? I also mentioned in my Lady in the Water review that I loved James Newton Howard's way-too-good-for-the-material-or-filmmaker score and that I was considering buying it. Well, I did buy it, and I'm thrilled because it's so exquisite. Anyway, I was on iTunes and decided to check out and sample Howard's score for The Happening. One track title stood out: "You Eyin' My Lemon Drink?" Really? REALLY? Hmm. This didn't bode well for The Happening. Still, I kept my mind open, as always.

And, well, I never thought I would say this, but...

The Happening is worse than Lady in the Water.

Process that sentence. Absorb its impact. The Happening just so happens to be worse than Lady in the Water. Way worse. And if you're curious, yes, I plan to use some variation of the word "happen" in this review a lot, à la Mr. Shyamalan in his dreadful screenplay. We get it already! We KNOW what the title of the movie is - it's not clever to simply repeat it over and over.

The Happening is one of the worst movies ever made, and surely the death knell of Shyamalan's career. How did this...HAPPEN? Let's examine some dialogue, shall we? As we happen down this treacherous path, I'll intersperse my snarky commentary. (Oh, by the way, this review will contain spoilers. But, really, how can you spoil a movie that spoils itself with its lousiness or that is just one big, appalling spoiler in the truest sense of the word? Also, the quote origin won't be revealed unless it comes from a major character.)

Alma (Zooey Deschanel): "Can you believe how crappy people are?"

I don't remember why she said this, but trust me, it was horrifically lame when she did. Who calls people "crappy"? Certainly there must be a better adjective available. Everyone's dying, and she lashes out with that? Me-ow. Stay away from that kitty until she retracts her claws.

Train Conductor: "The train service has been discontinued. This will be the last stop for all passengers."
Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg): "Hey, what do you mean? Where are we?"
Train Conductor: "Filbert, Pennsylvania."
Elliot Moore: "Filbert? Does anybody know where that is? Why are you giving me one useless piece of information at a time? What's going on? Hey, why would you just stop? You can't just leave us here!"
Train Conductor: "Sir, we lost contact."
Elliot Moore: "With whom?"
Train Conductor: "Everyone."

I tore this scene apart in another post. It's so wrong on so many levels. First, Wahlberg's character is ridiculously belligerent. What's with the barrage of questions? I mean, concern is one thing, but harassment is another. Bad acting doesn't help either. "Filbert? Does anybody know where that is?" Well, yeah, apparently, that's why the train stopped there. Also, I bet the residents of Filbert would be highly offended. Elliot's not running for mayor anytime soon, I guess. "Why are you giving me one useless piece of information at a time?" To clarify, this is the first time the two have spoken. One useless piece of information at a time? The implication in Elliot's question is that the conductor is hurling words at him, chock full of facts, at a rapid rate. The conductor couldn't be more calm, and he only said ONE thing.

"What's going on? Hey, why would you just stop? You can't just leave us here." He continues to get more aggressive. Actually, it's more whiny, like a baby with anger issues (ah, it must be an autobiographical character). The use of "just" two sentences in a row is just bad writing ( "just" is justified, though). The nearly-comatose conductor responds: "Sir, we lost contact." Elliot: "WITH WHOM?" AHH! That phrasing bothers me to no end. It's a dealbreaker. Yes, it might be grammatically correct, but it doesn't sound right. People don't talk like that. And while he's screeching it, Wahlberg looks like he was the victim of bad Botox. If he's not careful, his face will freeze like that. My face was certainly frozen at the movie - in horror...and not in the way Shyamalan desired that reaction.

Elliot Moore: "You're not interested in what happened to the bees?"

[Jake shakes his head]

Elliot Moore: "You should be more interested in science, Jake. You know why? Because your face is perfect. The problem is, your face is perfect at 15. Now if you were interested in science, you would know facts like the human nose and ears grow a fraction of an inch each year. So a perfect balance of features now might not look so perfect five years from now, and might look down right whack ten years from now."

[students laugh]

Elliot Moore: "Come on, buddy. Take an interest in science. What could be the reason bees have vanished?"

Jake: [after a long pause] "An act of nature, and we'll never fully understand it."

Elliot Moore: "Nice answer, Jake. He's right. Science will come up with some reason to put in the books, but in the end it'll be just a theory. I mean, we will fail to acknowledge that there are forces at work beyond our understanding. To be a scientist, you must have a respectful awe for the laws of nature."

[Jake raises his hand]

Elliot Moore: "Jake?"

Jake: "How much does the human nose grow each year?"

Elliot Moore: "It's miniscule, buddy. Okay? Don't worry about it. You're going to be a heartthrob your whole life. I was just messing with you."

Again, so much wrong, so many levels. This is an exchange between high school science teacher Elliot and one of his students. At least he'd stopped calling them "honeybees" by this point. Elliot's majorly homoerotic rationale for why Jake should be more interested in science is horrifying. I don't think teachers are allowed to talk like that to students. Two words: child molester. "To be a scientist, you must have a respectful awe for the laws of nature"? Isn't "respect" a part of "awe"? It's not a necessary modifier, but such is the awkward screenwriting of M. Night Shyamalan, a man who has apparently never heard people talk in real life. But the more important part - Jake will be a heartthrob the rest of his life. Like, say, until he's 18, Elliot? CREEPY. "Hello, School Board?"

To continue with the quotes, I need to briefly explain the plot, and ruin it by telling you what...happens. Elliot (Wahlberg), a high school science teacher, is married to Alma (Deschanel), but their marriage is strained. She's cheating on him (sort of) with a guy named Joey (Shyamalan in his, thankfully, only cameo, and he's just heard through the phone for one line). An event happens in Central Park, New York City. Here's the secret: the plants are conspiring to kill us. We've been mistreating them, and boy, are they mad. They're releasing a toxin that causes people to commit suicide with whatever implement happens to be handy at the time. Word gets around, causing people to evacuate, but wherever they go (in the realm of the northeast, at least), it's still happening. Elliot, Alma, and a random sampling of Americans, including Elliot's colleague, a Math teacher named Julian (John Leguizamo) and his young daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) flee. Julian soon kills himself (a total relief - no more math problems or nasally accent), so Elliot and Alma, who stereotypically don't have kids because there are "issues," have to adopt Jess for the day. Um, what else? Suicide abounds in graphic and increasingly uninventive ways. The ending is ridiculous, but I'll deal with that later. I guess that's it. Resuming excessive quoting:

Principal: "Alright, there appears to be an event happening. Central Park was just hit by what seems to be a terrorist attack. They're not clear on the scale yet. It's some kind of airborne chemical toxin that's been released in and around the park. They said to watch for warning signs. The first stage is confused speech. The second stage is physical disorientation, loss of direction. The third fatal."

I'm not sure what I'd call this catastrophic phenomenon, but it certainly wouldn't be an event (if I happen to slip and say it in this review, it's just a matter of convenience). "Event" makes it sound like a cocktail party or a benefit. Is this event that's happening and making people kill themselves black tie? Hey, if it is, the tie can double as a fashion accessory AND a suicide tool. Awesome!

Okay, the warning signs are stupid. Confused speech is such a norm in Shyamalan's films anyway - how can anyone tell the difference? The physical disorientation and loss of direction lead to paralysis. Then, they become un-paralyzed and kill themselves. That struck me as terribly odd. It doesn't make sense to go from paralysis straight to suicidal. It's just a dumb excuse to have a bunch of people stand eerily still in the middle of a crowded public location. As I heard the stages being described, I thought, "Maybe the whole film is an experiment." You know, the speech is nonsensical, I felt disoriented, the film seemed to be paralyzed by its own ineptitude, and the result was fatal. If Shyamalan was a better filmmaker, or at least a more audacious one (like Michael Haneke, even if his efforts don't always pay off), I would believe that the whole film was an experiment, thus reflecting those stages through cinematic techniques. But, that's not the case. How do I know? Have you heard Shyamalan blather on about this movie? And besides, I just know. He's not that interesting.

Alma: "It makes you kill yourself. Just when you thought there couldn't be any more evil that can be invented."

Is evil really invented? ARG. What a horrible way to phrase it.

Weird Plant Guy: "We're packing hot dogs for the road. You know, hot dogs get a bad rep. They gotta cool shape, they got protein."

A "cool shape"?! Seriously, Shaymalan writes the worst filler dialogue. It's so unrealistic. I don't think he's had an actual conversation in years.

This next passage is from one of the worst scenes in the movie (and there were so many that you know this must be a doozy). Context: Elliot, Alma, and their group has separated from another group in a grassy field, thinking that larger clumpings of people were causing the plants to act up.

Elliot Moore: [shots are heard firing in the distance] "Oh no..."

Alma Moore: "What 'oh no'?"

Elliot Moore: "The toxin? The toxin's affecting them?"

Woman in Group: "Are those people killing themselves?!"

Realtor: "You were with the Private, what do we do?"

Alma Moore: "We need to do something!"

Elliot Moore: "Just let me think..."

Alma Moore: [as shots continually fire in the background] "They're dying!"

Elliot Moore: "I need a second..."

Realtor: "They released it? We're not near the roads!"

Alma Moore: "We can't just stand here as uninvolved observers!"

Elliot Moore: "I need a second okay? Just give me a second!"

Alma Moore: "We're not gonna be one of those assholes on the news who watches a crime happen and not do something! We're not assholes!"

Elliot Moore: "Just a second!"

Woman in Group: "There were children in that group!"

Alma Moore: "Elliot please tell us what to do!"

Elliot Moore: "I need a second okay? Why can't anybody give me a goddamn second?! [talks to himself] All right, be scientific, douchebag. Identify the... rules... design the experiment... careful observation, measurements, that's what I'm trying to do, interpret the experimental pattern, interpret... What if it IS the plants? That group was larger than ours. This thing's been escalating all day. Smaller and smaller populations have been setting this off. They react to human stimulus. Maybe people are setting off the plants?"

Alma Moore: "What are you saying? That guy was crazy! We have to save them!"

Elliot Moore: "They're already dead! What if they're targeting us as threats? This part of the field may not have been set off. Something in this field could be releasing the chemical into the air when there's too many of us together. Let's just stay ahead of the wind!"

And...scene. Riveting stuff, huh? It was agonizing for me to even read it. On the Hitchcock Suspense-o-Meter, this scene, and movie, gets a ZERO. First of all, Elliot is kind of nuts. There's reason to panic, sure, but he's practically having a panic ATTACK. Chill out, dude, they're just looking for some guidance, a position which you sort of took upon yourself, Mr. Alpha Male. His "I need a second" tantrum is pretty uncalled for and really melodramatic. How he comes to his conclusion, utilizing the steps of scientific investigation that he was conveniently teaching his students somewhere during the honeybee lecture, is irritatingly lame. He calls himself a douchebag? Who does that? Oh, and I beg to differ, Alma. You ARE assholes. What a stupid couple lines of dialogue she spews with that asshole mini-diatribe. It's just, yet again, something that doesn't sound natural in the real world or in whatever world this movie happens to be taking place in. People criticize a film like Juno for how the characters talk, but when they say it in the film, we believe it. It fits the world they inhabit. So, dialogue doesn't have to be realistic - it just has to make sense in context. It's not a lot to ask. And it doesn't make sense in The Happening, or in any of Shyamalan's recent films.

How Elliot and Alma reconcile the fact that she had freaking tiramisu with a guy ONCE:

Elliot Moore: "If we're going to die, I want you to know something. I was in the pharmacy a while ago. There was a really good-looking pharmacist behind the counter. Really good-looking. I went up and asked her where the cough syrup was. I didn't even have a cough, and I almost bought it. I'm talking about a completely superfluous bottle of cough syrup, which costs like six bucks."

Alma Moore: "Are you joking?"

[Elliot nods his head]

Alma Moore: "Thank you."

HUH? She didn't even really do anything to begin with, but it somehow causes Alma a huge amount of grief, Elliot gets unreasonably upset, and then this ties it all up in a pretty little bow? Wow, they should run a couples therapy group. What's superfluous was that passage of dialogue.

Crazy recluse lady: "Why are you eyeing my lemon drink?"

As per the track title on the score, I believe she actually said, "Why you eyin' my lemon drink?" or "You eyin' my lemon drink?" Whatever it is, it's absurd.

Julian: "Don't look outside. Stop it! Stop it! Just look at me. Just keep looking at me. Close the vents. I'm going to give you a math riddle, okay? And you're going to tell me the answer."

Panicked Woman in Car: "What?"

Julian: "How much would you have if I said I would pay you a penny on the first day, and then two pennies on the second, and then four pennies on the third, and then it just kept doubling and it did this for a month. How much money would you have at the end of the month?"

Panicked Woman in Car: "Ten dollars?"

Julian: "Higher. Just keep looking at me. Just keep looking at me."

Panicked Woman in Car: "Twenty dollars?

Julian: "No. Keep going. Keep going."

Panicked Woman in Car: "Thirty. It's thirty dollars."

Julian: "I'll tell you the answer. It's over ten million dollars. You'd have over ten million dollars at the end of the month. Want to hear another one?"

NO! We don't. Math riddles?! Come on! What the hell, man? What kind of writing is this?! Yeah, math riddles are just about the worst way to distract someone from impending death ever.

Weird Plant Guy: "You know plants have the ability to target specific threats. Tobacco plants when attacked by heliothis caterpillars will send out a chemical attracting wasps to kill just those caterpillars. We don't know how plants obtain these abilities, they just evolve very rapidly."

Alma Moore: "Which species is doing it if you think it's true?"

Weird Plant Guy: "Plants have the ability to communicate with other species of plants. Trees can communicate with bushes, and bushes with grass, and everything in between."

Can they? How fascinating. That last bit of explanation from WPG was one of the most cringe-inducing moments in the entire movie, and certainly some of the worst screenwriting.

Elliot Moore: "Can this really be happening?"

Unfortunately, yes.

So, I did things a bit differently to start off this review, but now it's back to paragraphical prose. Geez, where do I go from that, though? Well, The Happening does not work at all. I'm sick of making concessions to him by saying that it's technically competent. It is. I expect most movies of this stature to be. James Newton Howard again extends himself for Shyamalan the life-draining leech by producing a score that's too good for The Happening. He manages to adapt his style to the tone of every film he does without losing his signature compositional voice. It's quite mind-blowing. The score is great, even though I barely noticed it because I was so appalled the whole time...that, or giggling uncontrollably. It's a chilling, eerie, poignant score for a movie that is none of the above. Tak Fujimoto's cinematography is consistently great and often stunning. But I feel sad for the two of them, because none of it really matters. Nothing makes this movie redeemable.

The acting is some of the worst I've ever seen in a mainstream movie. Mark Wahlberg should be stripped of his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his atrocious work in The Happening. Let me see how I can put this - in terms of his competence and skill, it's like he's been catapulted back to the womb. He's totally helpless. To be fair, though, even a fetus could deliver a better performance than Wahlberg's, which truly is one of the most awful I've ever had the misfortune of witnessing. As I said before, Wahlberg looks like he's had bad Botox or something. His face is frozen in this idiotic mask of confusion throughout the entire movie, his eyebrows raised too high, wide eyes totally vacant...just the poster child for complete befuddlement. Zooey Deschanel is no better, but she's certainly not worse. Wahlberg is by FAR the worst, but Deschanel is excruciating to watch with her wispy voice, doe eyes (beautiful blue gaping voids of nothingness), and automatron-y behavior. I don't want to get into the other actors because, frankly, none of them are any good. And it's not just the material. Look at what Paul Giamatti did with Lady in the Water. An unispired project makes motivation difficult to find, but a real artist (lead, supporting, or extra) should be able to make it work. It doesn't even seem like the actors expended any effort whatsoever. In fact, I'm not sure they weren't drugged. Maybe they tried to get the hell out of Dodge, and Shyamalan had to drug them to keep them around, hence the comatose states of the leads.

There's something seriously wrong in the universe when a movie makes me think FONDLY of Lady in the Water. That's what The Happening did. I still stand by my review and my rating of LITW, but I was definitely feeling a twinge of nostalgia after I escaped the theater. I missed Paul Giamatti and his transcendent acting. It made me appreciate him even more.

Like I said (or at least distinctly alluded to), The Happening is worthless. It's not scary or suspenseful in the slightest. It doesn't function as entertainment in any capacity, and it's a pitiful cautionary tale that answers its own questions. It doesn't provoke thought or inspire change. It only tells us what we already know, in a very nihilistic way. Yes, global warming is a problem, we need to be nice to nature. Thanks for the memo, Shyamalan. There's this ridiculous news footage near the end of a professor or some other authority talking about why what happened, happened. I liken it to the psychiatrist scene at the end of Psycho, but way more out of place and even insulting to the intelligence of the audience. Oh yeah, I said I was going to discuss the ending. Well, I thought it was going to end about five different times. I briefly found religion just to pray for it to be over. It's a relatively short movie, only a little over an hour and a half, but why did I feel like I lost a year of my life in that theater? So, here's what happens (have you been keeping track of how many times I've used a form of "happen"?): Alma, Elliot, and little Jess are the only people alive. I guess the "event" took place over the course of a day, getting exponentially more harmful as time progressed. They're at the farm house of the crazy old lemon drink lady. I don't remember why, but the trio gets separated. Alma and Jess are in a shed, and he's in the house. Ah, but never fear (seriously, there's nothing to fear in this movie except for how bad it is), there's an Underground Railroad-era tube that serves as a rudimentary telephone between the structures.

So, Elliot and Alma are all lovey-dovey and weepy. If they go outside, they'll die. Then, Elliot decides that if they're going to die anyway (if they had just been patient and stayed inside, maybe they wouldn't have... worth a shot, right? PLOT HOLE!), he wants to die with her. I thought he was just going to go to their building, but I guess if he opened the door, they'd be exposed. Still, no one thought staying inside was the best option? Hello? Little girl with you, remember? Save your reconciliation for if you survive. Elliot comes outside, and Alma brings Jess with her outside to meet him in the middle of the field. They stand out there, it's windy, and then nothing happens. Fade to black. As it's fading, Elliot says, so faintly that I had to ask my companion later what the heck he said, "The event must have ended before we came out today." That's a rather important piece of information. Enunciation, louder sound on the dialogue, avoiding a long shot, perhaps not fading out to detract from it - all would have helped.

It could have ended there. However, it did not. Fast forward some months later to Philadelphia where Alma and Elliot are raising Jess. Alma finds out she's pregnant. This would be wonderful if we even remotely cared about the characters. Alma goes to greet Elliot in the street with the baby news. They embrace. NOW it must be the end, right? Wrong. At Alma and Elliot's, the TV is on, featuring the awkward news footage I mentioned earlier. Basically, the naysayer heavily suggests that this "event" was the result of the government. If it was really an enviromental problem, wouldn't it have happened in more places than just the northeast United States?

Well, sir, M. Night Shyamalan anticipated your skepticism, and he has designed a twist especially for you! After the hug in the street, cut to France. The scene exactly bookends the opening scene from Central Park, in which everyone starts talking crazily, freezing, and then killing themselves. Uh oh! It really is happening. We're all doomed. Finally, that was the end. And then I had to pick my jaw up off of the floor before exiting the theater.

Something else that really bothers me about The Happening is how Shyamalan sets up all of these plot elements early on that are supposed to be rewarding when they come back around, but instead, they make you roll your eyes and groan due to the sheer lameness of it all. It's so obvious that he's doing it, too, and that he thinks it's clever. A couple examples: the token sentimental object, a mood ring given to Alma by Elliot, which ends up being too prominent a part of the movie; Elliot giving his student a crash course in the scientific method only to be pressured into using it himself.

Also, the R-rating is the very definition of cheap. The violence is gratuitous and exploitative. It was all a shameless marketing stunt. You know what else is shamelessly offensive and presumptuous on Shyamalan's part? Naming Deschanel's character Alma. Coincidence that Alma is the name of Alfred Hitchcock's wife? I think not. What an ego.

Appeal to the studios: Please stop giving M. Night Shyamalan money until he figures out what he's doing with his career! Unfortunately, that won't...happen...because The Happening made a surprising amount of money on opening weekend, somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 million. It's disheartening, because that's enough to greenlight another project of his.

There was a pronounced sense of irony surrounding my viewing of The Happening. All the people in the movie talk gibberish, experience paralysis, and then commit suicide. Well, Shyamalan's script is gibberish, the movie felt like it was made by someone in arrested development with creative paralysis, and I felt like I was watching him commit cinematic suicide. What a twist, huh?

Ooh, hey, how about this: The Happening made me doubt M. Night Shyamalan ever had any abilities as a filmmaker at all. Now there's a major twist that I didn't see coming.


Monday, July 7, 2008

Coen Country

The Coen Brothers are superheroes. I'm convinced of it. They're tragically underappreciated as filmmakers, despite the No Country for Old Men Oscar recognition (about damn time). Their versatility excites and inspires me. They can make an epi-tragedy like No Country, a poignant folk story like O, Brother Where Art Thou?, the raucous, raunchy ride that is The Big Lebowski, or a classic screwball throwback like The Hudsucker Proxy. The Coens are definitely boss. The cheese to, you get the point.

Somewhere in the midst of the brilliant creation of No Country for Old Men, the Coens concocted Burn After Reading (to be released theatrically less than a year later - SO impressive, especially given the quality of No Country and the apparent quality of BAR). Burn After Reading is definitely more in the vein of something like Lebowski (the "hell of a lot of fun" Coen sub-genre), but it looks much better (I like Lebowski but don't have a shrine erected to it). I can't WAIT. Check out the two trailers (redband and regular). By the way, I totally heart Brad Pitt.


Friday, July 4, 2008

The Fireworks Just Don't Sparkle As Brightly Anymore...

This is really for Heath Ledger, not America. They merely happen to coincide today.

I miss very much.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"W" Is For "Warmonger"

Oliver Stone's new film, W., stars Josh Brolin as George W. Bush and Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush. I don't get how this is not a comedy, but it's listed as a drama on IMDB. It also runs three hours and ten minutes (typical Stone, with four director's cut sets to follow, no doubt). I'm not sure what to make of this project.

However, I saw this poster for it.

Out of the mouths of idiots, right? Well, just one big idiot in this case.

I don't know what kind of shenanigans you're up to, Oliver Stone, but I think I'm digging them.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Talk Cinema: The Parody Problem

The following is a transcript of what I felt was a rather amusing conversation that I had with a long-time friend the other day via instant message. It was prompted by an admission through his Facebook status that he watched the Disaster Movie trailer out of morbid curiosity:

Me: "the disaster movie trailer?? tsk tsk"
Him: "it's like a car crash or physical deformity - you don't want to look but you're drawn to it anyway"
Me: "I understand"
Him: "god those movies are the harbingers of our societal destruction"
Me: "can I quote you on that some time?"
Him: "go for it"

And I did. I thought it was a hilarious and brilliant statement.

Him: "that's their second one this year. they 'parody' movies that aren't even fucking out yetand they make almost the exact same amount at the box office each time. I think it's the exact same assholes going to see each one."
Me: "yeah, I bet"
Me: "they're like 15"
Me: "and boys"
Him: "the remedial 15 year olds"
Me: "carmen electra's career is certainly doing well because of them"
Me: "how much do they gross?"
Him: "hey, i can't fault the talentless or struggling people in the movies, make your money where you can...the writer/director duo are the ones who need punishment"
Me: "true"
Him: "those two guys though...i'm irrationally angry about these things"
Him: "these movies don't even have jokes"
Me: "no"
Me: "what movies do they spoof that aren't out?"
Him: "pop culture has completely collapsed inward on itself like a dying star, where the mere reference to something qualifies as funny"
Him: "hancock"
Me: "ugh"
Him: "but yeah, have someone dress like will smith does in the movie, have him fly and hit his head on somthing and fall down - there's your joke"
Him: "have a cow fall on iron man...COMEDY"
Me: "lol" (not a fan of the internet acronyms, but sometimes the situation calls for it)
Him: "I wish I was making these things up"
Me: "iron man is in this one?"
Him: "yes"
Him: "and a cow falls on him"
Me: "isn't he a superhero?"
Him: "the hulk's pants fall off"
Me: "aren't they mixing their genres?"
Him: "i guess they're upset they didn't get to do superhero movie first"
Me: "is batman in it?"
Me: "so they make these shitty movies and can't even categorize them correctly?"
Him: "no, but juno fights sjp from sex in the city"
Me: "in DISASTER movie?"
Me: "what, fashion disaster?"
Him: "i think the main 'plot' is based on either day after tomorrow or cloverfield"
Him: "hence the title"
Me: "but everything else is taken from wherever they feel?"
Him: "oh yes"
Him: "like the princess from enchanted being hit by a car"
Him: "or a boulder falling on hannah montana"
Me: "that isn't even the right genre!"
Me: "can't they do one thing right?"
Me: "how old are these guys?"
Him: "ooh, there's a character called McLover"
Him: "GET IT?"
Me: "sadly"
Him: "so anyway"
Him: "all you can really do is let out a long, defeated sigh and move on"
Me: "how old are they?"
Him: "dunno"
Him: "old enough to be castrated"


Sex and the Blockbuster

As corny as this might sound, seeing Sex and the City: The Movie was like reuniting with old, cherished friends. At the first glimpses of our four girls in the opening credits recaps, time just melted away, a smile lit up my face, and a warm sensation of familiarity washed over me. Had it really been four years since the show ended? Boy, did I miss them.

The film picks up three years after the series left off. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (Chris Noth) are still dating (of course, not married yet - typical Big - and no, I can't call him by his real name, it's too weird), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Steve (David Eigenberg) are raising their son Brady in Brooklyn, Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Harry (Evan Handler) are raising their darling adopted daughter Lily, and Samantha (Kim Cattrall), in undoubtedly her longest relationship, is living in LA, thousands of miles from her best friends in NYC, representing her beau, Smith Jerrod (Jason Lewis), in his acting career.

*Now, there will be spoilers. You've been warned.*

Carrie and Big decide, in a pretty unromantic fashion, to get married. They even find a lush apartment complete with Carrie's dream closet (first time I ever heard people gasp at a closet in a movie theater). The girls have not been keeping in touch as often, and so whenever they get back together, I almost wept with joy at their sheer euphoria. Samantha makes frequent trips to NYC. She isn't happy in LA, despite a tasty morsel of a neighbor who likes to shower outside naked and have wild sex in front of open windows (Samantha and Smith have hit a rut, so she, ever the eager voyeur, gets her thrills vicariously). The wedding plans ensue, and Carrie poses in a bunch of fab designer gowns for an issue of Vogue in which she's proving that women can still work it in their 40s. Meanwhile, Steve tells Miranda that he cheated on her. At the rehearsal dinner, Miranda makes some drunken, bitter comment to Big about how stupid he and Carrie are to go through with it. Big, ever-impressionable and flaky, lets his doubts consume him. He tries to call Carrie all the next morning, but her phone has been misplaced. Still, not the best way to tell her the news. The girls show up at the huge, lavish wedding, all decked out, and Big cowers in a limo outside. Carrie finally confronts him, and surprise, he calls it off, which leads to a really powerful, moving moment when Charlotte attacks him, viciously telling him to leave her alone.

The foursome goes to Mexico on what would have been the honeymoon. Carrie mopes, understandably, and the other three provide comfort and support and try to cheer her up. While there, Charlotte reveals that she's pregnant, which is huge because they thought she was infertile, hence the adoption. Okay, I'm going to try to wrap up the plot, because I have a lot to say about this film. Let me oversimplify: Miranda and Carrie are both holding grudges against their men (the men are groveling, Big through e-mails, lamely) and trying to figure out whether to forgive, Jennifer Hudson randomly shows up as Carrie's personal assistant and offers sage advice, Samantha gets a horny female dog that likes to hump everything in her path, Samantha's depressed because she feels like she's lost herself and overeats to compensate, she gets a little chubby, more significantly, she decides that she doesn't want her life to center around a man and declares her grand single independence (you go, girl!), Charlotte runs into Big and gets to confront him with her long-prepared "I curse the day you were born!" (it got one of the biggest laughs), her water breaks, Big takes her to the hospital, she gives birth to a baby girl that they name Rose, Carrie and Big meet up there, they get back together, she wears a frumpy, non-designer white suit-outfit to their unceremonious court wedding, and the whole gang celebrates with a reception at a diner. And I win for writing the longest sentence ever.

Before I delve into analysis, I will say that the film is really well-made. It sparkles visually, and Michael Patrick King, resident series genius, establishes a nice, sleek style and does a great job writing and directing. I'm glad they didn't hand it off to someone unrelated to the show. I think he did the best job he could.

I wish I thought this was the perfect film, but I don't. I have major issues with how it all turned out. So, I'm going to start with my negative reactions. Jennifer Hudson was pointless. It was nice that she was helping Carrie, but that's a job for Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda. They can take care of her just fine.

Okay, I'm just going to say this: I don't like how Carrie's "fairytale" ends. I don't like Big. I never got the appeal. Certainly Carrie could do better than a guy who takes her for granted, walks all over her, and treats her like crap. But, there are women who like that. I guess Carrie's a bit of a love sadist. Does that make me love or respect her any less? No. She's a real human being with real flaws. That makes her stronger to me. Still, I want more for her in the love department. Big calling off the wedding was inexcusable. Carrie taking responsibility for it by saying "I let the wedding get bigger than Big" is pathetic and just the kind of thing society would want a woman to think. It's not her fault. She should have her dream wedding if she damn well wants to, and he should be understanding and loving enough to give it to her, especially after all the grief he caused her over ten years.

And then, how Big grovels is to send her e-mails containing love poems written by other people. He didn't even find them himself; he only knew of these poems because Carrie was dreamily reading them to him one night in bed. The e-mail that seals the deal for Carrie isn't more than a couple lines. I can't remember exactly what it says, just something about him screwing up, and then, from a poem, the words, "Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours." Please. He should be writing her the most gushing love letters ever, in his OWN words. I do believe that Carrie is happy and that she loves him, so can I really fault her? Well, yes, I can, and I will. But on the other hand, I support her decisions as if she was my best friend. I mean, despite their happy exteriors, I know Charlotte, Samantha, and especially Miranda were biting their tongues. And Carrie getting married in court, not wearing a label? That's just not Carrie. I feel like she's compromising too much of herself for the dud that is Big. And if anyone tries to compare him to Cary Grant, I will personally hunt you down. But, given how the show set it up, I guess there wasn't any way she could end up with anyone else. And, as Carrie says, "It wasn't logic, it was love."

Now, on to the overwhelming positives. Even if Carrie's choices are questionable and her feminist integrity is a bit shaky, she's still a pretty amazing heroine - smart, successful, comfortable with her femininity and sexuality, and resilient. All four women are successful, self-sufficient, and strong, and I know that scares men. As for the other men in the group, Harry and Steve are great guys, so they kind of make up for Big. Steve did cheat on Miranda, but he actually has feelings and was always totally devoted to Miranda, so her forgiveness not only makes sense, we demand it.

And then there's Ms. Samantha Jones, a true pillar of feminism. I worship her. I had honestly forgotten how wonderful she is. Samantha breaks up with Smith because she refuses to let her life revolve around a man. She rightly asks, "Is a relationship saying his name fifty times more a day than my own?" Samantha is selfish, yes, but she's not ashamed of it. She loves herself more than any man, and I think that's a great message. We should all love ourselves that much. We don't need men, no matter what anyone says. Women are completely capable of being self-dependent. Samantha is an inspiration.

By the way, the acting is astounding. It's great to see Sarah Jessica Parker in a movie worthy of her talent. She hasn't lost one iota of that Carrie magic. She makes us root for Carrie with her touching, funny, and subtly beautiful performance. Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon are back in top form, but the real stand-out for me is Cattrall. She just rocks this movie. Every line she said brought down the house. She's such a scrumptious delight. And she still looks amazing. They all do.

Without question, though, the best part of the show is the best part of the film: the camaraderie between the four women. The film was satisfying because I got to spend two and a half hours with them again. In fact, my biggest problem with the film was that it ended. I instantly missed them again. Their friendship is so empowering. They're always there for each other. In fact, they've referred to each other as soul mates, and I agree with that assessment. You know, when it comes down to it, the men are rather incidental. It almost doesn't matter who they end up with, because the love that matters is the love that Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha share. Nothing can ever break them up. That's the real fairytale ending.

The midnight screening of Sex and the City that I attended was exhilarating. The place was swarming with women. I was practically moved to tears by the sight of women of all ethnicities (seriously, all ethnicities - it was the U.N.) and backgrounds banding together and collectively celebrating our gender and this remarkable show that itself has given us so much to celebrate and be proud of over the years. It was truly inspiring.

Sex and the City is the first female blockbuster, and as such, it deserves respect. This is such an important milestone in feminist history. I'm honored to be a part of this phenomenon. Step back, men. It's our moment. And you know what? That's just fabulous.

Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

Why So Serious?

It's here! We have officially entered the month of July. And you know what that means...