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The Happening (2008)
I went into this movie fully expecting it to be like the last two Shyamalan movies I saw Signs and The Village: no so veiled religious symbolism and social commentary, an abrupt anti-climactic ending, and the slight feeling that I was cheated out of a good thriller. I was prepared for all of that...too bad those things weren't what made The Happening so awful.
When they first introduced the idea about the plants I thought it was interesting. However, when they escalated that to scenes with characters trying to outrun the wind, and suck up to a ficus it got just ridiculous.
Although, M. Night Shyamalan movies do tend to be more character driven than plot driven overall so maybe the strength of the characters would hold your interest right? Unfortunately no...most are just plain dull and while putting on terrified expressions seem to have a pulse rate you'd guess was barely above comatose, and the few you're at all tempted to like are quickly killed off.
The two I liked where John Leguizamo as the likable best friend who brilliantly played out the old joke of 'did you know that X number of statistics are just made up on the spot?' And Frank Collison as the eccentric nursery owner who first solves the mystery of The Happening.
The main character played by Mark Wahlberg reminded me of how many people said that Scott Speedman's character in The Strangers was such a wimp...well if they liked Speedman in that movie they'll just LOVE Wahlberg in this one. He plays a high school science teacher who embodies all the worst stereotypes of teachers, and is a complete joke as a scientist! Even more boring was Zooey Deschanel as his wife. Her character seemed pretty under developed, and the parts that you did see weren't ones you liked. I spent the entire time either wanting to slap "Alma", or, being a Bones fan, marveling at how much Zooey really does look like Emily. The two have basically no chemistry together so the old storyline about two characters in a crumbling relationship being brought back together through shared hardship just didn't work that well. The scene where, on what they think is the brink of death, they reminisce about their first date put me to sleep rather than melting my heart, and I didn't feel any enthusiasm for the happy news they got in the aftermath of The Happening.
The creepiest character, by far, was Betty Buckley as the isolated shut-in who lived without any connection to the outside world including electricity. In regards to her this was one time where I agreed with Alma...I'd rather take my chances with airborne toxins than take shelter with "Mrs. Jones"! I couldn't help but wonder, though, whether she was stuck in at the last minute because Shyamalan realized the airborne toxin idea wasn't creating as much suspense as he'd hoped.
The final 'twist' can hardly be called one because I don't think it'll come as a shock to anyone.
As a 4th year biology student, I do agree with the idea that humans are the biggest threat on this planet, but this movie was a poor exploration of that idea and may have even set back acceptance of it! The premise could have been interesting, and the plant idea, while far fetched could probably have been pulled off, but, alas, as a cautionary eco-thriller this one fell flat, and, as a character driven exploration of the the human condition, it feel even farther!
I Am Legend (2007)
A good look at a man-made apocalypse situation.
My one complaint is that I found the scientific accuracy to be uneven. From the very beginning it was dubious with Emma Thomson's cameo as the scientist who genetically modified a common virus and produced what she thought would be the cure for cancer. The cameo is a news program interview, which, of course, features an everyday analogy for the benefit of lay audiences, however, I found myself saying out loud "that comparison made absolutely no sense!" One thing which bugged me was that the main character Robert Neville seemed firmly convinced that the "Dark Seekers" were not at all human anymore, but it was clear that they were still displaying human intelligence when they copied the design of a trap he used to capture one of them. It was also unrealistic in that they seemed to have super human agility, because, while obvious that the Dark Seekers' metabolic rate is much faster, they're still in human bodies. Although, I'm willing to forgive that because I'm well aware that much accuracy is a bit too much to expect from Hollywood.
What I liked most was the thoughtful details which are not explicitly stated, some of which you might actually miss the first time you see the movie. The main one is the vacant New York City, the trees and grass growing over aged Christmas decorations and Broadway billboards. It's incredibly sad because it's a reminder that everyone is dead, and yet there's so much green and you can hear birds singing so in a way it's more beautiful than the real New York City is. Another one is in later scenes when you realize that the paintings in Neville's livingroom are, not only classics by artists such as Tousseau and Van Gogh, but are actually the originals (which he presumably salvaged from one of the NY museums). This fact, however, is never discussed or even really noticed by any of the characters.
The power of the film is, of course, Will Smith's performance. He brings emotional drama as well as comic relief due to the fact that his character is a little nutty (though after watching all of NYC die and spending 3 years alone, who could blame him?). He ends up being somewhat of a Christ figure, but he's a very flawed character. During the flashbacks as well as the later scenes when two other survivors finally find him, he seems overly stubborn and his quest to cure the disease more like a personal obsession than a noble aspiration to save humanity. In the end you find that you'd rather be there with him in the middle of the city, instead of in the pastoral "survivors community" that is revealed at the very end.
The Mist (2007)
A lot of people seem to be comparing this to The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, but a better comparison is to Lord of the Files. The difference The Mist, though, is that the beasties are real.
Residents of a small Maine community (the usual Stephen King setting) are trapped in a grocery store by a mysterious mist which hides mysterious monsters. Along with the battle against the monsters, the characters battle each other and their own natures in a good illustration of the primal side of humanity and what happens when society devolves.
There is also a realistic illustration of how in times of crisis there are acts of amazing compassion and bravery, but also ones of cruelty and self preserving. The protagonists are the group who remain rational for as long as possible, and the antagonists a group who fall into the group hysteria stirred up by a religious zealot played by Marcia Gay Harden. Some have said she overacted the role, but I think she pulled it off brilliantly in that she achieved what she should when playing an antagonist....she got everyone to hate her. I live right smack in the middle of the Bible belt in a community where several real Mrs. Carmodys live, but when Harden's character was finally killed I wasn't the first to applaud! SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING The ending was horrifying, gut wrenching, and I absolutely loved it! Searching for a moral in it probably isn't the best idea. It's better to look at it as just a dramatic tragedy. It seems so pointless, but you realize that it really couldn't have been avoided without the 20/20 vision that hindsight allows.
Interesting concept, bad execution
From the beginning this movie did have a few flaws. The main character played by Hayden Christensen is a the rich young mogul who has inherited his father's considerable wealth and power, and he is struggling to both fill his father's shoes and cut the apron strings mother (and co-executive) keeps too tight. He also has the problem of having a heart condition and waiting in the limbo that is the organ donor registry. There are also minor back stories which your first instinct is to mostly ignore that become important later, such as his friendship with his surgeon (Terrence Howard) and his romance with a middle class girl (Jessica Alba). Uncreative story lines, but not bad enough to ruin the movie. The only real "oy vey!" moment was the name of Lena Olin's character. Overbearing woman named Lilith...subtle!
The surgical scenes are not at all censored. I appreciated that, people who find surgery scenes scary might not. The horror of being awake during anesthesia was done well at first. You watch in emotional agony as Christensen screams inwardly through the chest incision and the rib spreader. The moment of irony from the trailers then comes where while he is one of the unlucky few to be awake during anesthesia, he is also luck in that it helps him learn that his surgical team is planning to murder him.
The big twist, however, is very predictable and sends the film delving into the conspiracy and his memories of the little signs which were there but he, like us, initially missed.
There are two more twists at the end involving his relationship with his mother. One is an impressive gesture by Olin, which comes of as unimpressive due to poor writing. The other is a secret about the family's past which seemed very tacked on and pointless.
The initially well done anesthesia awareness drama gets lost in the poorly written conspiracy drama. There is a one final attempt to bring it back which falls flat, taking the entire movie with it.