Monday, June 16, 2008

This weekend the Box Office went green, and I don't just mean money, although it made plenty of that, I'm talking about the release of two of the weekends top movies. One went green literally, The Incredible Hulk, while the other went "green" figuratively as in "the environment," The Happening.

I myself partook of a double header Saturday night seeing both of the aforementioned movies, as a much needed break after 8 hours of class. One of them was a thrilling action packed ride which I highly recommend, unfortunately the other one was one of the worst movies I've seen this year. So if you're only going to read this far I highly recommend The Happening.

Ok, now that we've gotten rid of the people who aren't really going to read my review let's be clear on this, DO NOT go see The Happening, unless you have a few drinks before hand and are ready for a comedy. I actually recommend you go see The Incredible Hulk as it is a fantastic ride with some amazing action sequences, and some wonderful acting.

This new Hulk is of course Marvel's second attempt after the much maligned attempt by Ang Lee in 2003. This new movie, from Transporter and Transporter 2 director Louis Leterrier, is not quite a sequel and not quite a reboot which replaces the entire cast and still builds on some of the mythology from the first film. The movie forgoes an origin story and instead shows a quick recap of the origin during the opening credits. We then head to Brazil where Bruce Banner (the uber-talented Edward Norton) has been successfully keeping the Hulk in check for over 5 months, having thrown the government off his trail. Banner has also apparently been working on a cure, with the help of a mysterious partner back in the US. Unfortunately for Banner his cover is quickly blown, but this is fortunate for us as it brings the first big action piece of the film.

This first big scene is a chase very reminiscent of the recent Bourne films, and I mean that in a good way, it's thrilling, action packed and beautifully shot. And it bests the last two Bourne films in that it's camera work doesn't attempt to give you motion sickness. Banner is being tracked down by the US Army under the lead of General "Thunderbolt" Ross (William Hurt) who also happens to be the father of Banner's old flame Dr. Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). Gen. Ross has recruited Emil Blonsky, a Russian born officer in the British Royale Marines, to help him track down Banner. Unfortunately the mission does not go well and ends with Banner turning into the green behemoth for the first time in months.

One thing that I'd like to mention is the look of the Hulk, my friend made a good point about his look. In the Ang Lee film, part of the problem is that the Hulk looked so fake and animated that it detracted from the movie, in my friends (paraphrased) words "The more the Hulk was on screen the less interested I was in the movie." Here the Hulk still looks CGI, it's something that's going to happen in a movie about a giant green monster, he's not going to look real (partly because we can't really fathom what that would actually look like) but this movie did a great job of making us accept this Hulk as real, mainly by constantly showing us Banner's eyes as he begins to transform. By doing this the director helps to show the emotion, and some character of the Hulk, making what could seem fake very real, and something you can empathize with. My friend continued by saying that "The more the Hulk was in this one, the more he liked it."

Banner realizes that in order to find a cure he has to retrieve information on his transformation. Meanwhile Gen. Ross decides to give Blonsky an experimental "super serum" which gives him extra strength, speed, and agility. When Banner makes it back home he runs into Betty and her new boyfriend, Doc Samson, who quickly alerts the General, which leads to another breathtaking action sequence, the main difference being more Hulk and a super powered Blonsky. The huge battle, on a college campus no less, reveals that there's more to the "monster" than just a mindless beast.

Which brings us to a third act which introduces a villain for the sequel, features a huge battle between Hulk and a massively transformed Blonsky AKA The Abomination, and ends with the much touted cameo by Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. This cameo shows what Marvel can do when making it's own pictures, bring it's comic worlds together. (Something I wish Marvel's Direct Competition would try in their movies) This cameo much like the one at the end of Iron Man points to something much bigger, which is of course 2011's Avengers movie.

Probably my favorite part of the movie is the shoutouts to the comic and old television series. We get cameos of the stars (Yes I said stars plural) of the old show, the required Stan Lee cameo, and several more that are just to good to ruin. (although I will say keep your ears open as well as your eyes!) There's also some great jokes which poke fun at the old saying from the show and at the appearance of the Hulk in the comics.

Marvel has really done a great job following up Iron Man with another home run. It proves that Marvel understands the comics better than outsiders can, and by having a say in things, can help craft a faithful, and successful, translation from the page to screen. If Marvel can continue to pump out great movies like these then the comic book genre won't be leaving theaters for a long time.

Bottom Line: Go treat yourself to a fun, action packed thrill ride, with some wonderful character moments, that will make you believe a man can transform into a giant green monster.

On the other hand The Happening, the new stinker thriller from the magnificent M. Night Shyamalan, is almost the worst movie I've seen this year. A lot of my disappointment with this film flows from the fact that I'm a huge Shyamalan fan and so this movie really let me down. This is the first Shyamalan movie in fact, that I will not be buying. And this time it's not because the final "Shyamalan twist" that many will be disappointed (mainly because there is no twist, some may even be clamoring to have him bring the twist back.

The movie centers on an "incident" which begins in Central Park in NYC. There people have mysteriously started acting weird and after talking nonsense for a minute, brought about their own demise. There are many scenes in which we see the horrible ways in which the people off themselves, so many in fact that by the end it's become old hat. The reason behind the incident turns out to be preposterous and something we can see coming from forever away.

But even if the movie had had a great plot (seriously imagine people running from the wind, and you've got about half the movie) it still suffers from some of the worst dialogue I've ever heard, and some truly horrendous acting. All of which is surprising, because anyone whose seen a M. Night movie, knows he has the ability to write and direct, and yet it's almost like after the last two movies have failed at the box office, that he's lost his way and his confidence.

The same goes for Mark Whalberg, Zooey Deschanel, and John Leguizamo. All of these people have shown over the years that they can act, yet Whalberg's performance is one of the worst performances to hit screens in years. His acting is wooden and unconvincing, and his delivery of lines is almost humorous, if only it wasn't so sad. Deschanel is weird, but in an out of character way that just kind of makes her annoying. And Leguizamo is thrown away here, with his character barely used, and his delivery like the others is awful. But it might not be their fault, as the writing is just that bad.

I think it just saddens me that Shyamalan has fallen so far from the pedestal he was placed on after The Sixth Sense. This movie is something I truly think no one will enjoy, unless it's as something to be mocked and ridiculed, and it's really questionable as to why the studio would fork up money to have this horrible thing made in the first place.

One final note, this movie is clearly Shyamalan's attempt at an environment friendly message, and it may fail even worse because of it. If Shyamalan really wanted to help save the environment he could have started with not making this picture.


Anonymous said...

I saw "The Happening" this weekend as well, and, especially after all the early negative buzz surrounding the movie, flopped into my cushy rocking theater seat not expecting much. Like you I am a huge fan of M. Night, but unlike you I was pleasantly surprised by the film. I thought it a vast improvement over his last couple efforts. The acting and dialogue were not stellar, but it wasn't George Lucas vomit-inducing tripe either. It's important to remember that all you do is show up at M. Night's films and just let him do the work... just drop reality at the door and let him do his thing. Yes, the "leaves are emitting gas to get rid of us so that we stop killing the earth" premise is extraordinarily not plausible, but is it really that far out of the realm of possibility? Everything in nature evolves, and it must in this world to keep from going the way of the Dodo. Plants emit gas, why not one that harms only us?
I do not mean to say that this movie is a masterpiece. M. Night is in no way, shape, or form in even the same realm of Hitchcock, his idol, and, let's face it, never will be. (For that matter, who is?) M. Night is a very talented filmmaker, who has made in my opinion 1 masterpiece, 2 great films, 2 good ones, and a stinker (not this one). That's not a bad percentage. He is a filmmaker who is not afraid to take chances, and though he always aims to chill, his methods are never the same. His twists and social commentaries do not always work, but I do respect his effort. I always like what he is trying to do, even if he doesn't always completely pull it off. Yes, if you are trying to find fault, you will find it. I think that critics go into M. Night's films pining to find even the tiniest seam to grab, and then slowly unravel it until they've convinced themselves that the film they just saw was dreadful. Had they not found that tiny, loose thread, it just may not have been that bad of an experience. But that is not the case. He is accused of being an arrogant and pretentious filmaker. Really? He is a filmmaker who strives to send a message, to try to get us to see the bigger picture of what his character's are experiencing, while trying to scare and entertain us at the same time. That's a lot to undertake. If he was just giving scares, someone would then accuse him of not trying hard enough, of being content to remain an ordinary horror filmmaker. If anyone else makes this movie, the critics talk about the filmmakers "promise" or of a film that was a "worthy effort" (even if they didn't like it). But because it's M. Night it gets panned. I mean come on, this movie is getting as badly reviewed as some of Uwe Boll's films. UWE BOLL!!! "The Day After Tomorrow" was even better reviewed than this movie. Say what?!?! The fact that this is happening makes me want to run over myself with a lawnmower (how scintillating anonymous is).
I realize that this isn't so much a comment on your review, as it is on the unfair bias shown towards a brilliant and risktaking filmmaker... and it was a bit tangential... but that's what this is for. In conclusion, the binary function of the square root of the right quadrant = give "The Happening" a fair chance people. Just don't go in looking for a science lesson or for tips on how to save your relationship.

The CineManiac said...

Anon - I appreciate your views and comments.
The truth is I love Shyamalan, and I didn't go in looking for fault, as I said I've enjoyed all his movies so far (since the Sixth Sense, I never saw his first one with Rosie O'Donnell) but I can't get behind this one.
It's because I hold M. Night in such high regard (I defend The Village and Lady in the Water every chance I get) that I was so disappointed by this film. It's not only an awful premise, it takes some great actors and reduces them to small town locals filming their own indie film, and I mean that in the worst way possible, it's also the horrible dialogue.
I understand where you're coming from on him getting knocked a lot, because I stood in your shoes with the last two films, but on this one I can't find any rational way to defend such a waste of celluloid.

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