Weekend Viewing Roundup: The Happening, This Is It, The Matrix

It’s quite an eclectic weekend, movie viewing-wise. Friday night we saw The Happening and This Is It back to back and The Matrix just an hour before the Oscars begun. Why these three, you asked? Well, if you must know, after seeing Unbreakable, arguably M. Night Shyamalan’s best work, my husband and I got curious to check out his supposedly worst movie. Well, actually this one now tied with The Last Airbender as that’s the second M. Night’s movie to clean up The Razzies (you can see the full winners here).

So anyway, here’s my mini reviews of all three:

The Happening (2008)

Well I guess all those critics and the average moviegoers are in agreement with this one. But to M Night’s credit, I thought the premise was intriguing enough, which was why we were willing to give it a shot to begin with. It starts out incredibly intriguing as a mystifying epidemic suddenly strikes Central Park. Regular folks doing what they normally do in the park—reading a book, walking the dog, etc.—abruptly starting to commit suicide. One gruesome incident after another is shown, much to the horror to the people next to them, but only long enough until they themselves starting to do the exact same thing. Mark Wahlberg is a high school science teacher in Pennsylvania, and as soon as news of this catastrophe hit his town, he and his wife (Zooey Deschanel) must do whatever it takes to survive it.

I must admit this film does pack quite a bit of suspense. In the Special Features, M. Night said he set out to create ‘the best B-movie horror thriller’ and to a degree he does achieve that sense of dread, but the inept acting and lack of coherent plot just lessen its impact. Let’s start with the acting first. Now, I like Wahlberg as much as the next guy and he does convey a nice guy ‘everyman’ vibe in this one, not the usual brooding, intense action hero type. But for some reason, I feel like he’s not quite engaged nor convincing in the role of a man in peril. The sense of desperation just isn’t there. The wide-eyed Deschanel is in the same camp, devoid of much emotion even during the supposedly tender scenes with Wahlberg. Note to miss Zooey, looking terrified requires a bit more than a blank stare. It doesn’t help that the script never quite give us a good reason to care for either one of them. I think the only one I kinda feel sorry for is little girl of Wahlberg’s BFF (played by the usually-watchable John Leguizamo) that the couple is left with.

In the end though, I think the biggest beef for me is how much this movie fails to live up to all the build up. Basically the overall theme is ‘what if nature suddenly fights back?’ as the terrorism theory was debunked early on. In a not-too-subtle way, we’re told that we deserve this as we’ve been so irresponsible in taking care of our planet. Ok, so it’s a horror flick with a ‘green’ message, yet it never really get into much depth. Instead, the filmmaker is more concerned about paying homage to classic fright fest where the ‘evil’ never really goes away and in the end, the horror starts over again in a different time and different place. Perhaps M. Night is attempting to pay homage to the classic thriller The Birds for which no explanation was provided for the birds’ attack, but one thing for sure, M. Night is no Hitchcock.

1.5 out of 5 reels

This Is It (2009)

I actually got the 3D-enhanced Blu-ray as part of the purchase of the SONY HDTV a couple of months ago (we also got the animated feature BOLT but can’t watch it yet without the 3D add-on). This Is It is basically a compilation of interviews, rehearsals and backstage footage of Michael Jackson as he prepared for his series of sold-out shows in London. It starts out with interviews of the dancers auditioning for the tour and what MJ meant to them, which is an emotional segment of the piece.

Watching it is a bit bittersweet for me. I mean, he seemed to relish being on stage and doing what he loved. I mean, to call him a musical (and dance) genius is not hyperbolic at all, he is brimming with so much talent that’s still tough to match even today. It’s heartbreaking that he died so suddenly and the world would never see the spectacular efforts that he and his team put together here… Y’know all those reports/rumors that he was nervous about the tour and all that, after seeing this I thought, ‘Rubbish! He’s the KING of Pop, this man is born to perform!’ If the rehearsals were already this good, I can’t imagine what the live performance would be like.

It certainly was fun reminiscing on his past hit songs — Bad, Thriller, Smooth Criminal, etc. — they’re all still so catchy and timeless. Watching this definitely made me appreciate him so much more as an artist, it’s apparent his team of musicians and dancers revered him as they too stood in awe when he performed solo. Even at almost 50 years old, he was still at the top of his game and as nimble as ever in his dance moves alongside people half his age!

At the same time, we also see the diva-like attitude which is to be expected from stars of his caliber, it’s quite interesting to see how patient his choreographer Kenny Ortega was throughout the whole thing. If you haven’t seen this documentary, I highly recommend it. Even if you weren’t a fan of MJ (but really, who wasn’t?), you’d appreciate the level of artistry and creativity this man had and be entertained by all the song/dance sequences.

4 out of 5 reels

The Matrix (1999)

I’ve been watching quite a bit of Keanu Reeves’ old movies lately… The Replacements, Speed, and now this (I just bumped Constantine further up my Netflix queue). I’ve always liked him, though not necessarily his movies (i.e. The Lake House, sorry Ross!), but The Matrix is one that made him a superstar and I could see why.

I can’t quite recall when exactly I saw The Matrix, but I know I was hugely impressed by it, even if I thought the overly-philosophical storyline was more of a head-scratching variety. Now over a decade later, when tons of movies have copied it left and right (especially the signature slo-mo action style that’s been done to death as Castor pointed out as cliches that should be banned from cinema), I have a new appreciation for this movie.

Reeves plays Thomas Anderson, a.k.a Neo, a man living two lives as a computer programmer by day, and a sly hacker by night. When suddenly he’s contacted by a group led by Morpheus, he learns that the truth of his existence stretched beyond anything he’s ever thought or imagined. The storyline might not feel as ‘fresh’ as it did originally, but overall this movie holds up really well. Sure, the technology is now dated (especially the cell phones!), but not the concept. People will always be fascinated by an idea that asks, ‘what is reality?’ ‘What if everything we see day in and day out and the world as we know it is nothing more than an illusion that we’ve been blinded from seeing?’ It’s certainly a thought-provoking premise and the Wachoski’s brothers’ direction set the bar for a sci-fi action movies since.

The main strength of the movie is obviously the visual effects, there are lots of ‘whoa!’ moments from the innovative action sequences. They’re not just cool, they’re iconic, hence the countless imitation. But yet, I don’t see this as a ‘style over substance’ kind of movie. There are themes of self sacrifice, honesty, loyalty, betrayal, love, and ultimately hope that are weaved throughout.

The acting is great all around as well. I realize Keanu isn’t the most expressive actors out there, but he’s just downright perfect for the flawed hero Neo. I can’t imagine anybody else more suitable in that role. He’s supported by an excellent cast: Aussie thespian Hugo Weaving is phenomenal as the relentless Agent Smith (one of the greatest movie villains IMO), Laurence Fisburne is charismatic as Morpheus, and Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, and Marcus Chong as Morpheus’ cohorts are all compelling in their roles.

I find this a bit more satisfying than Inception that I just re-watched recently, which also deals with the theme of alternate reality. It remains to be seen if that Chris Nolan film will become a classic, but The Matrix sure is one. It’s rewarding upon repeated viewings as well, so I’m glad I own the Blu-ray. Too bad the sequels don’t live up to the original, but fortunately I skipped the third one and can’t really remember if I had seen the second.

4.5 out of 5 reels

What movie(s) did you end up seeing this weekend? If you’ve seen any of these, I’d love to hear what you think.