The Happening – A Lame Attempt To Scare

The Happening     D

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, and John Leguizamo
Directed by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense)
Rated R for violent and disturbing images
Appropriate for ages 17+

The Story: In the Northeastern United States, a chemical has been released into the air that is causing people to stop what they are doing and kill themselves.  A school teacher and his wife escape from the city and head into the country where they think they might be safe from whatever is happening. 

The Good: There is an interesting premise here.  Having the plants of the Earth tell us that they won’t take it anymore and remind us that they have the power to give life and steal it – well that could be the makings of a good story. 

Other than the premise, the only other redeeming quality is the beautifully haunting score by composer James Newton Howard.  As he did for Shyamalan’s last two films, The Lady in the Water and The Village, Howard gives us music that elevates far above the movie he is scoring.

The Bad: Where do you start?  I guess that the most responsible for this mess of a film is writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan.  At least with his other films one could say that the directing itself was solid and there were just a few script problems.  Many of the scenes here look completely amateurish, like a B movie made by a below-average film student.  And there aren’t just a few script mistakes here – this script absolutely stinks.  Every page of it. 

The actors could probably blame the script for their lousy performances, but in actuality, the entire film was miscast and the performances were laughable.  I’m not sure what people would be acting like if something like this were to occur, but I can assure you it wouldn’t be anything like this.

Just like The Village, the film has been misrepresented by it’s advertising.  If you recall, The Village was sold as a horror film when in fact it was a drama.  Now they are billing The Happening as M. Night’s first rated R film.  That might be true, but the only reason it is rated R is to stir up interest.  The violence is lame and looks straight out of a Monty Python movie.  There was no need for the extra violence and only exists to manipulate uninformed movie goers into going.  Now you are informed. 

The Summary: Someday someone will stop bankrolling Shyamalan’s dumb dreams and keep this kind of tripe from happening.

The Incredible Hulk – Superhero Makes a Big Thud

The Incredible Hulk     C

Starring Edward Norton, Liv Tyler, Tim Roth, and William Hurt
Directed by Louis Leterrier (Transporter 2)
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence, some frightening images and brief suggestive content
Appropriate for ages 13+

The Story: Following up where Ang Lee’s Hulk left off, mild-mannered Bruce Banner (Norton) is living in Brazil, desperately trying to find a cure to his predicament of turning into a giant green behemoth.  Meanwhile his now ex-girlfriend’s father, General Ross (Hurt) is desperately trying to track Bruce down in order to do research on how to use his disease as a weapon.  Banner and Betty Ross (Tyler) reunite in order to both help cure Bruce and escape from her father. 

The Good: While I liked Eric Bana in the first film, the choice of Norton here is a good replacement.  While it seems he isn’t in the film that much, the moments you do see him are pretty interesting. 

I also enjoyed the new villain Abomination (Roth).  While the fight scene at the end looked too much like a video game, I still found his gluttony for power to be the nice makings for a good villain. 

The Bad: Call me silly, but I thought that the Hulk looks too pretty.  Should the green beast have nice features, gorgeous eyes, and a fashionable haircut?  It’s an artistic choice that I just don’t understand.

On a more serious note, the script was just too bland.  I understand that a lot of the film was cut short in order to help the pacing, the running time, and to make the film more reliant on action rather than story, but it seems like the whole film can be summed up as ‘General Ross chases the Hulk.’  I think they could have found a better plot line than this, since the first one focused on the same thing. 

Other than Norton, I thought the acting was not the greatest.  Hurt was simpling phoning in the part.  Tyler gives the single-most annoying performance of her career, and Roth just had to act crazy (not a stretch).  Maybe it was the weak script that gave the actors nothing to work with, or maybe the casting director was more worried with getting big names than collecting the right cast. 

The Summary: Me no like new Hulk much. 

Kung Fu Panda – Kung Fu Training Wheels

Kung Fu Panda     B+

Starring the voices of Jack Black, Ian McShane, Dustin Hoffman, and Angelina Jolie
Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action
Appropriate for all ages

The Story: Set in an ancient Asian animal world, a panda named Po (Black) that dreams of being a Kung Fu master is seemingly mistaken to be the chosen one sent to protect the village from the evil snow leopard Tai Lung (McShane). He has but a few days to learn Kung Fu and then take on the enemy in a fight to the death. 

The Good: I have to admit that I didn’t want to like this film.  I’m a big martial arts movie buff and I felt like this might dishonor the genre.  Then I laughed.  And laughed.  And laughed again.  This is a very funny movie, thanks to the talent involved and should provide enjoyment for both kids and adults.  The colors of the film are mesmerizing and the pacing of the film is fast enough to keep the kiddos interested for 90 minutes. 

The Bad: While the movie is entertaining, it is still a tad bit silly (in a bad way).  Also, while the movie looks pretty, the quality of the animation isn’t even close to that which is being put up by Pixar.  While you can’t slight a film because it’s not cutting edge, I feel that Dreamworks could have done a better job with the film’s look. 

Also, there are some pretty scary scenes, so parents with young children might want to be aware.  There is nothing inappropriate, but a film about fighting might not be every parent’s idea of a family movie.

The Summary: Panda is a surprisingly good animated flick. 

War Treasure

War Treasure

If your idea of a good day off is to relax on the couch and watch old war movies, then you are in luck.  Fox and MGM have just given us a treasure trove of new to Blu-ray releases that will have you wanting to go out and buy the high def player (if you didn’t already have one).  Patton, Battle of Britain, A Bridge Too Far, The Longest Day, and The Sand Pebbles look and sound better than you’ve ever seen or heard them before.  These make for a great Father’s Day gift or just an upgrade to your collection.

You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Sandler Almost Gets It Right

You Don’t Mess With the Zohan     C+

Starring Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, John Turturro and Emmanuelle Chriqui
Directed by Dennis Dugan (Happy Gilmore)
Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, language and nudity
Appropriate for ages 16+

The Story: Israeli counter-terrorist Zohan (Sandler) fakes his own death so that he can escape to New York City and pursue his passion: hairstyling.  In order to gain success as a stylist he has sex with all of the older women that come in to get their hair done, and subsequently has them lined up around the block. 

The Good: This is not a bad premise for a film.  In fact, the first half of the film is the funniest best first half of a Sandler comedy film I’ve seen in a decade.  While the bits are way over the top, you can’t help but laugh at this unique super-hero-like character.

I would really like to see what they could have done with an R rating.  After all, they had to keep it way too clean in order to reach PG-13, and an R could have brought the quality up while not having an effect on audience numbers.

The Bad: Once the story is set up, and the premise is through with it’s introduction, the film falls flat from lack of what to do next.  In fact it almost feels like Sandler and gang improvised everything (badly) once they passed the half-way point.  To make matters worse, Mariah Carey steps in for a cameo to prove to us why we hated Glitter so very much.  While I did enjoy the Dave Matthews cameo quite a bit, I found the tale was dead by the time he made his appearance.

The Summary: The hysterical first half doesn’t quite make the dismal second half worth watching.