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.

37 thoughts on “Weekend Viewing Roundup: The Happening, This Is It, The Matrix

  1. Nice mix of films there Ruth. A good weekend of viewing pleasure (and not so much with The happening hey?)

    I agree with all points, which is very boring of me.

    “This is It” was a surprise for me. My wife was banning on about it for ages. It didn’t really appeal to me at all. But after enough hassling I gave in. I really enjoyed it. You are right that it is a bit sad to see the King of Pop doing what he does best, and my word he does do it well, after he passed. I too loved the way he controlled the band and show. Making sure it was totally perfect.

    The Matrix? I need not say anything about this awesome film, shame the 2 sequels failed in every way for me


    1. Ha..ha.. I feel that it doesn’t get any more random than this. I would’ve added North by Northwest to my viewing list if it weren’t for the Oscars.

      I gotta admit, This Is It wasn’t on my radar until we got the free BD in the mail, but I’m so glad I watched it. In fact, we were just going to see bits and pieces of it but ended up seeing the entire thing. MJ really was the best in the business.

      Well, I’m sure glad I can’t remember/skipped the Matrix sequel. I guess only Pixar can make sequels as good or even better than the original.

  2. I haven’t seen THE HAPPENING, since I tend to avoid everything with that Wahlberg person. But since I know the film is despised among the fanboys, I’m guessing it can’t be that bad 🙂

    PS how on Earth did you have strength to watch three movies and plus five hours of Oscars? 🙂

    1. Ha..ha.. I forgot you can’t stand Wahlberg. I generally like him, but he wasn’t given much to do in this one. If you don’t even like him, I’m guessing you might not enjoy this, Dezzy.

      Y’know, I’m quite surprised by that as well, normally we got to watch about 2 movies in a weekend, but I think we ended up watching This Is It to ‘relieve’ us from The Happening 😦

  3. We watched The Social Network, as you know. The Matrix is indeed awesome, but the sequels are a total letdown. And oddly enough, I really enjoyed Constantine … I mean, it’s got Rachel Weisz and Tilda Swinton in it, how can you go completely wrong? 🙂 On tap for this-coming weekend … How to Train Your Dragon, yaaaay!

    1. Yes, and great review, too!

      I’m looking forward to watching Constantine. My hubby actually recommended it to me as I’m kind of in a bit of Keanu craze 🙂 He liked it enough to want to see it again.

      HTTYD, yay!! Oh you’ll enjoy it, Sam, one of my faves of 2010. Looking forward to reading your review.

  4. Great reviews on 3 of those movies. The Happening was such a let down..I thought it was going to be great but…naaah!!

    I love This is it…as for The Matrix, it remains in my number 1 spot as the best sci-fi I have ever seen in my entire life. I love everything about The Matrix. I agree with Custard, too bad the sequels was not as good as the 1st

    1. I kept an open mind as I don’t always agree with critics. The first 15 minutes or so was ok, quite promising in fact. He set up the suspense pretty well, but then it just kept getting silly and the acting, or lack thereof was so distracting.

      Y’know, I think The Matrix would be in my top 5 sci-fi (hey, thanks for the post idea, Nov!) Yes, it’s darn near perfect IMO, no wonder everyone copied it.

  5. You know, “The Happening” didn’t bother me nearly as much as a lot of the critics and moviegoers. I didn’t think it was great, or even good, but I also didn’t think it was as awful as the reviews. Now “Lady in the Water”, on the other hand…

    1. That’s why I still give it 1.5 stars while a lot of people gave it a big fat zero. I haven’t seen ‘Lady in the Water’ but it didn’t appeal to me much at all.

      1. There’s a scene where Bryce Dallas Howard weeps and bemoans, “Why must I be a madam narf?!?!”. Amongst mainstream Hollywood movies, it might be the worst/funniest line I’ve ever heard in a movie.

          1. I found it on RT and I guess the line is “I do not want to be a Madame Narf”. It’s just so… I don’t know, ridiculous? And takes itself so seriously. I mean, you’re talking about being a “madame narf”. Anyway, here it is:


            And while searching for it, I found/remembered another scene that ranks right up there as one of the worst scenes I can remember in a mainstream Hollywood movie.

            1. Hey thanks! Well I suppose the whole movie is kinda silly isn’t it? Man, Bryce is such a gorgeous girl but she doesn’t look flattering at all in this film.

              What’s the other worst scene you’re referring to? Perhaps you could make another top ten on that topic, John 🙂

              1. Yep. I like her, but felt bad that she had to be part of that movie.

                There’s a character in the movie who’s a film critic… and Shyamalan intended as a really obvious symbol for all of his own critics… and it doesn’t end well for that critic. I kind of smacked my forehead when it happened. “Really? Did you really just do that, M. Night?”

  6. Haven’t checked out The Happening, heard so much bad things about it. The Matrix was a great pop movie, a huge phenomenon at the time. Many aspects of it have been redone to death so that it has lost some of its luster but still, a great movie.

    1. I’d say give it a shot and make up your own mind, Castor. I don’t always agree with the critics, that’s why I was willing to give it a shot.

      I guess that’s the downside of an iconic movie, but I feel that The Matrix still stood out amongst the rest of similar sci-fi movies, yes even Inception!

  7. Ted S.

    After the script of The Happening leaked online a few months before the film came out, I decided to just stay the heck away from it. I haven’t watched any of M. Night’s films since Lady in the Water and I stopped watching that film after 40 mins, it was so bad.

    I might give This Is It a rent since I’m a fan of MJ.

    I still like The Matrix a lot, the sequels definitely ruined what could have been a great trilogy. I always imagine what the film would have been like had Val Kilmer accepted the role of Morpheus.

    1. Vince

      Hey Ted,

      I just read somewhere that the new MGM is trying to get the Robocop remake off the ground…

      I think RTM should set aside a Robocop blu-ray night.

      1. Ted S.

        Yeah I tweeted last night about it, apparently MGM found some up and coming director from South America to take over the project. I still would love to see Aronovky’s version though but he’s busy with The Wolverine so it’s all good.

        Hey I have all three of Robocop films on Blu-ray, you guys should come over and watch it on my big screen.

        1. Vince

          man that would be sweet – i can only stomach the verhoeven one. someday when the kids learn to sleep thru the night…

      2. @ Ted, don’t rent it, I own the BD for This Is It, it’s my turn to lend you something 😀

        Oh boy, I like Kilmer but I don’t think he’d be better than Fishburne. He had such gravitas and the Kung Fu scenes were awesome!

        Oh I saw your tweet about Robocop, it’s a matter of time they’re remaking that. I quite like the original, but I don’t think I saw the sequels. Though if I rewatch it, I’ll ffwd the ambush part, man that guy from The 70s Show was just vicious! I can’t help thinking of that scene when that show came on TV, ahah.

  8. PrairieGirl

    I was surprised about how much really liked This Is It. I was never a fan or owned any of his music, but certainly admired his talent. The film really sums up his extraordinary career.

    1. You know, me too. We were just gonna see parts of it but ended up watching the entire thing. I’ll go back and watch the extras as well, and once I have my 3D equipment, I’ll be able to watch the 3D stuff, too.

      1. PrairieGirl

        I should mention the first 10-15 minutes were kinda flat, but once you get past that it really explodes! I don’t remember all the extras, but know I watched them all. I was thinking “how could there possibly be more here along with the main film”, because that was almost like one big extra in itself. So enjoy the extras when you guys get around to it ;-O

  9. The Matrix: One of the best action movies of all time…that, unfortunately, received some of the worst sequels of all time. I was late to many classes in highschool due to this movie!! A classic icon! Glad you liked it so much.

    The Happening: Agreed. Enuff said.

    This Is It: Haven’t seen it yet, but glad to see you rate it so high. Michael Jackson was one of the BEST entertainers of all time!

    1. Everyone seems to be in agreement The Matrix sequels are horrid. So why were you late to class because of this movie?? Care to elaborate? 🙂

      This Is It was highly entertaining so I can’t rate it lower than this. Amen about MJ… the king of pop is sorely missed!

      1. In my last year of HS, some of my computer-know-how friends had a beautiful copy of it on disc. (It was still in theaters, mind you). We would oftentimes find an empty classroom and sit there and watch it at lunchtime…which meant we would miss the subsequent 1 or 2 classes afterward. LOL. This became a fun ritual. Just couldn’t leave before the lobby scene! I mean, come on! 😉

  10. God, The Matrix is one of my all-time faves. Such a bummer that it’s legacy was so totally tarnished by the sequels ’cause this changed the game completely. Still as awesome as it was back in ’99. Glad you dug it too, was worried this was the first time you’d seen it or something.

    1. Ha..ha.. yeah I’ve missed out on a lot of cult classics, but fortunately I did see The Matrix when it first came out. And yeah, still as awesome after all those years!

  11. Oh God, The Happening. What a dumbass premise for a movie. There’s just no way you can make inanimate flora and fauna seem menacing. He didn’t stand a chance.

    1. Ha..ha.. yeah I suppose if you put it that way it’s tough to take this seriously. I really did try to be open minded about this one and not be swayed by the critics but in the end I couldn’t disagree w/ them.

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