Now that The Dark Knight had solidified itself as the king of this summer's blockbusters. I figured I would catch up on some of the other summer offerings that I missed…
I have a friend who was feature in one of our prominent local newspaper earlier this year for his study on the effects of “too much praise in the workplace.” The study basically showed that productivity actually slowed down when workers received constant praise. What does this have to do with M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, “The Happening”? A lot actually! “The Happening” pretty much confirms the suspicions I have had ever since watching the vastly overrated film, “Signs”. The extreme praise that Shyamalan received for both “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs” has done more damage than good.
While I still believe that M. Night Shyamalan is a great director, his writing has been horrible of late. His two best films, in my opinion, “The Sixth Sense” and “Unbreakable” had characters that were richly layered. Sure the “big twist” was an early stable of M. Night’s work, but it was always the depth of the characters that made the “twist” work. Since the success of “Signs,” Shyamalan seems to be resting on his laurels; content with writing one-dimensional characters that are quirky for the sake of being quirky (e.g. “Lady in the Water’s” bodybuilder who only works out one side of his body, etc.). “The Happening” is filled with an abundance of these characters. There is the wife who has problems expressing emotion (Zooey Deschanel), the creepy old lady (Betty Buckly) who is...creepy and old, etc. Not only do these loose character sketches bog down “The Happening”, but they completely erase all the terrific tension that the first twenty-minutes of the film setup.
The film starts off with large numbers of people inexplicably committing suicide. What is causing this? Is it a terrorist act? Through his graphic yet stylish shots, Shyamalan weaves together a truly suspenseful film…until the main characters start to open their mouths. The lack of overall depth becomes quickly apparent as characters say, and do, things that have no real logic whatsoever. Once the true nature of the suicides is revealed the film takes a sharp turn into the absurd. Part of this stems from the fact that Shyamalan devised an interesting concept but never fully realizes how his one-note characters are to cope within it. While “The Happening” is an improvement over both “Lady in the Water” and “The Village”; it is still no where near what it could have been. If Shamalyan hopes to rekindle the success of his earlier works, he must get back to developing multi-layered characters. From there the chills and thrills will fall in place.
Kung Fu Panda
It seems that now more ever animation studios, such as Pixar, are bringing new levels of emotion and depth to the big screen. Once dubbed merely “just for kids”, animation is now consistently changing how we view the medium of film. “Kung Fu Panda” is the one or the more recent movies to join the animated film canon. While the movie may not have the depth or the visual appeal of Pixar’s “Wall-E”, which is a vastly superior film, “Kung Fu Panda” is surprisingly engaging. The movie follows Po, a noodle making Panda who longs to be a kung fu master.
Fans of old martial arts films such as “The Five Deadly Venoms”, “Drunken Master”, “Sonny Chiba’s The Street Fighter”, etc. will get a kick out of all the subtle references to those films and many others. Yet the real strength of this film is the voice work of Jack Black as Po. While Jack’s over-the-top style of delivery can often hinder him in certain roles, it works to his benefit here. Black brings the perfect level of energy needed to keep the audience’s attention. Sure there are other celebrity voices involved (e.g. Angelina Jolie, etc.) but none of their voice work is really that distinct. Without Jack Black, I do not think the movie would have succeeded on the level that it does. Sure the animation is good but nothing truly eye popping. Plus, if you remove Black’s charisma, it quickly becomes apparent how paper thin the plot is. Still, with its brisk running time and Black’s vocal work, Kung Fu Panda is a fun movie that surprisingly holds up well upon multiple viewings.
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