Tag Archives: Never Back Down

Off Topic: Happenin’ Hulk Smash

I saw The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan, 200eight) and The Incredible Hulk (Louis Leterrier, 200eight) on Friday and Saturday respectively. I reviewed the former for FilmThreat. It’s not a very long piece, so I’m copying and pasting it below. I gave it three out of five stars:

Minor spoilage!

In a virtually packed AMC movie theatre in metro-Atlanta, I heartily chuckled and gasped while watching “The Happening,” M. Night Shyamalan’s new tossed-genre escapade. Starring Mark Wahlberg as science teacher Elliot Moore and Zooey Deschanel as his somewhat reluctant wife, Alma, “The Happening” whips up a menacing force that causes a forty-eight hour wave of suicides in the northeast region of the United States. Joined by survivors they encounter along the trail of evacuation, husband-and-wife and Jess [ (Ashlyn Sanchez), the daughter of Elliot’s colleague (John Leguizamo) ], must figure out an explanation for what has been happening in neighboring states and how to stay alive.

In light of increased organized efforts in the past few years to reduce, re-use, and recycle, and to avoid taking natural resources for granted (or relying too heavily on them), it shouldn’t be that difficult to make an educated guess as to the identity of this film’s “monster.” If you’ve seen any promotional videos of “The Happening,” you shouldn’t be surprised to learn rather early in this nature revenge picture that “it’s the plants.” Specifically, an airborne toxin causes “confused speech,” “disorientation,” which leads to self-termination.

Mark Wahlberg’s manner of speaking may seem wooden, corny, and occasionally overly diplomatic; and Zooey Deschanel appears offbeat and self-conscious a la “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” (Garth Jennings, 2005). Considering the film’s themes, however, their performances are purposefully out-of-sync or out of place for a science thriller. Moreover, the result of this mismatch resembles B-movie comedy, which counteracts the anticipated and the sudden appearances of onscreen acts of self-inflicted violence.

As writer and one of the producers, Shyamalan’s creative control remains intact. “The Happening” differs from the rest of his filmography (“The Sixth Sense”, “Unbreakable”, “Signs”, “The Village”, and “Lady in the Water”) in the precise development of suspense (breadcrumb-trail-of-clues), viewer identification (do we really care?), and adherence to genre conventions (nature revenge story with comic-drama performances), but the deviations do not outnumber the similarities. The viewer is still expected or strongly encouraged to pay extra attention to the significance of repeated images and phrases. Although “The Happening” lacks the crescendo of a third-act plot twist, the audience can nevertheless experience a certain satisfaction in cracking the verdant enemy’s method of attack—something the characters have yet to understand. Whether you’re a casual or an ardent follower of M. Night Shyamalan’s films, “The Happening” could alienate or dominate your thinking cap. Remember—it’s perfectly acceptable to laugh one second and shriek the next.

Now for my other thoughts: I do not mean to offend or shock or confuse any readers, but I have to verbalize my in-a-nutshell impression of The Happening–not to be confused with the 1967 Elliot Silverstein film of the same name. M. Night Shyamalan’s film might carry messages of environmental awareness and respect for planet Earth, but it reminds me of what would happen if Stephen King were to make (write) a romantic comedy musical–except there would be suicides instead of song-and-dance numbers.

Observations & Miscellania:

1. Product Placement: the iPhone. If you’ve seen a movie in a theatre in the past month, you’ll likely have seen that Sprint commercial that goes “no guns, no romance, no plot, just phone.” Well, in part of the The Happening, it’s basically “just iPhone.” There’s another scene about halfway through the film where a late 90s red Ford Taurus can be seen in the background driving away. I haven’t seen one of those dune-buggies in a long time.

2. In the formulaic horror film, the good guys (or the eventual victims) never stay together. They always end up separating and subsequently get murdered. In The Happening, though, not staying together has its benefits.

3. If you’ve seen at least two of Shyamalan’s previous films, you know that M. Night and substantial-plot-twist-near-end-of-film are pretty synonymous. They go together like PB and J. As I mentioned in my review, The Happening doesn’t confront the viewer with a potent “whoa!” of a plot twist. Instead, the film leaves a simmering of thematic implications: why and how the antagonist is squashing the human species and what does it mean?

Major spoilage ahead. Highlight relevant words at your discretion: Less than halfway through the film, the characters and the viewer are told that the plants (or rather trees) are responsible for sending out a litter of toxins in the wind. Starting in parks in big cities, where there are large concentrations of people, these chemicals are inhaled and within seconds, people start killing themselves. And then it moves to smaller towns. Taking an initially deity-like, indiscriminate approach to annihilating the humans (go after the most number of people converging in the smallest area), the trees then alter tactics and go after sources of hostility and aggression. See, that is the reason that Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel’s acting styles don’t seem to belong in a sci-fi-suspense picture. Wahlberg’s acting isn’t bad; Deschanel’s line delivery isn’t overly self-aware. They’re actually demonstrating the traits that will ultimately save them. He’s a science teacher–he’s calm and objective, clinical. The only time he gets anywhere near “upset” is when he and a group of people are crossing a field in the country and they can hear another group of people succumbing to the infection.

He just wants one second to think about what to do, and the members of his group keep asking him to hurry up and decide. He quickly collects his cool, applying the principles of scientific inquiry to discover that they need to travel in smaller groups to make it across. Unfortunately, or incidentally, Wahlberg’s character has not realized that it isn’t just large populations in small spaces; the second trigger for the trees’ murdering behavior is extreme negative emotion. This point, the viewer does come to understand. The mood ring that Wahlberg wears is significant in this respect.

Going back to the simmering thematic implications–cynically, what is Shyamalan advocating? Sure, live with lots of people, but never get angry or display truculence? One particularly unnerving character that Elliot, Alma, and Jess encounter in the final story arc has lived by herself for many years. But she’s anal retentive and becomes very mad at the protagonists. She doesn’t make it. Does her death suggest that if you can’t be calm, peace-loving, friendly, or happy all the time, you shouldn’t live with or near anyone otherwise the probability of your getting pissed off increases?

4. The disappearance of honeybees isn’t explored further after it’s brought up in Wahlberg’s first appearance on screen. The purpose of that conversation is to present the idea that not all acts of nature can be understood. The words at the top of chalkboard are: If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then men would only have four years of life left.

5. Another aspect of Shyamalan plot twists is that they reinterpret film genre formula or audience expectation. The Sixth Sense isn’t just a suspense-thriller or ghost story. Unbreakable isn’t a “fantastical” superhero narrative. Signs reconsiders the benefits and handicaps of human ailments. I didn’t watch The Village, so I can’t comment on its plot twist. Lady In the Water, which I found visually impressive but rather narratively disappointing, well, I haven’t quite come to any cohesive or gestalt conclusions about it. The Happening is the Shyamalan take on the nature revenge/disaster film. During the Cold War, when-nature-attacks movies frequently, if not exclusively, incorporated nuclear waste as the reason that flora and fauna went on a murderous rampage. The Happening might possess a ecology-awareness lesson, but there’s more to it than save the trees.

6. Aren’t these a couple artistically disappointing posters?

Click here for more Happening pictures. Click here for links to trailers.

Previews that were shown along with the film that incited my excitement: Bangkok Dangerous (I’m not a Nicholas Cage fan but I do like Charlie Yeung; the Pang Brothers, directors of the original Bangkok Dangerous helm the remake), Lakeview Terrace (Patrick Wilson is talented actor), and another X-Files movie.

And now for The Incredible Hulk.

Doesn’t this poster look like it could be the cover of a country album?

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I watched Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) when it was rentable. I thought it was well-cast: Eric Bana as Bruce Banner, Sam Elliott as General Ross, Jennifer Connelly as Betty Ross, and Josh Lucas as Talbot. I also thought it was too much of an Ang Lee film: exploration and emphasis of human nature. I appreciate an action film that delves into this subject, remembering that drama must accompany spectacle, but it was too much.

To quote Filmthreat reviewer Zack Haddad’s review, “the biggest issue that fan boys and film-goers alike had with Ang Lee’s bloated 2003 version is that there wasn’t enough Hulk smashing stuff.”

The Incredible Hulk, on the other hand, succeeds where its predecessor could not. This time, Edward Norton is Bruce Banner,

William Hurt is General Ross,

Liv Tyler is Betty Ross,

Tim Roth is Emil Blonsky,

and Tim Blake Nelson is Samuel Sterns aka Mr. Blue.

Louis Leterrier’s sequel integrates spectacle with character development and motivation. Zak Penn conceived the story and wrote the screenplay.

Observations & Miscellania:

1. Product Placement: Coca-Cola, Deer Park bottled water, Sandisk flash drives, Polar heart monitor watch, Pringles (probably bbq flavor), Blackberry, Lumix digital camera or a Coolpix digital camera, Windows 98 or Windows 95, and Budweiser.

2. Intertextual moments: Sesame Street (specifically Grover), The Courtship of Eddie’s Father (the TV series) and Bill Bixby, Lou Ferrigno, Bourne Identity-esque chase sequences in Brazil, Cloverfieldish action sequences in NYC streets, Never Back Downy fights between the Hulk and the Abomination at the end, Iron Man.

Do you see it?

Never Back Down:

Click here for moving images.

The Incredible Hulk:

3. Edward Norton looks adorable here.

4. Liv Tyler definitely looks older (less child-like) in this film, but then you have an expression like this one

and it’s like going back in time to her Empire Records days.

Click here for The Incredible Hulk trailer.

Click here for more photos.

Beat the Best: Doomsday Never Back Down

I spent my Saturday watching Doomsday and Never Back Down. I reviewed the former for Film Threat.

Here is an excerpt from my review:

Judging from the likes of “Dog Soldiers” and “The Descent“, writer-director Neil Marshall has an affinity towards examining the interplay between Darwinian survival and the crumbling of humanity in times of extreme stress. His latest bundle of dystopic dreams, “Doomsday,” marches onward under this thematic banner…..

Once the characters are inside, “Doomsday” curves its narrative course. Instead of serving up a compost heap of “Resident Evil” legs and “28 Days Later” arms, Marshall’s film adds a few helpings of “Mad Max,” “Gladiator“, “Timeline,” and a spritz of “The Village“. Sergeant Eden’s team finds survivors all right; it’s just unfortunate (though sociologically inevitable) that they’ve lost touch with modern society. Social disorder and desperation force one group to adopt a leather-and-tattoo, “badass” cannibalistic lifestyle, while the other group retreats from the manic streets of Glasgow into the country and sets up a medieval existence—knights, a stone castle, jousting matches and all.

Click here for a trailer for Doomsday.

Click here for more pictures from the film.

Now for my thoughts on Never Back Down.

Directed by Jeff Wadlow, Never Back Down is an amped up serenade to the distressing days of adolescent emotion that incorporates mixed martial arts as spectacle (for the viewers) and therapy (for the characters). Margot Tyler (Leslie Hope) moves her two sons, the younger Charlie (Wyatt Smith) and the older Jake (Sean Faris) from Iowa to Orlando, Florida to make a new start (after her husband died in a car accident) and so that Charlie can continue to pursue his dreams of becoming a tennis star. Oh yes, and so that Jake can hopefully end his misbehaving tendencies.

Not long after mingling with his new classmates and befriending eventual wingman Max Cooperman (Evan Peters) and fated love interest Baja Miller (Amber Heard), Jake finds himself the unwitting slap-down target of the school’s most popular set of washboard abs: Ryan McCarthy (Cam Gigandet). Try as he might to avoid any rumblings with Ryan, Jake is ensnared. To salvage his own ego, to put a stop to his peers’ demand to see him fight, Jake must face up to his nemesis….with the help of a certain mentor in the form of Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou).

As a film about teenage angst or turmoil, Never Back Down is mostly mediocre and unnecessary–it adds little if anything to the ranks of Thirteen, Bully, Better Luck Tomorrow, and even Pretty In Pink. As a sports film, however, it fills up every slot on the dance card. Whether or not it invigorates the “genre” is debatable.

I knew very little about this film’s story when I decided to see it. I didn’t have to know much–it’s a sports film that showcases mixed martial arts and would be relevant to Sitting Pugs. I was pleasantly surprised that the opening sequence was a football game…in the rain, edited with a rapid cutting rate, filmed in hand-held mode, and consisting of more medium close-ups and close-ups than long shots (very Friday Night Lights the movie). Point-of-view shots were prevalent as well, including a visual reference to the college football film The Program (inside the helmet).

Jake Tyler is also introduced in this game sequence. The viewer learns three facts about him:

1. His dad is dead.

2. He gets angry easily and is prone to violence.

3. Mentioning his father makes him angry and figuratively induces an Incredible-Hulkian transformation.

After this opening, Never Back Down progresses like a high school film: new kid trying to bide his time and stay out of trouble. Throw in a love interest that already belongs to the soon-to-be-antagonist and there’s no doubt about it–the hero of the story won’t have the luxury of laying low. The film characterizes Jake Tyler as basically being a good kid. His fighting impulse is not borne out of leisure. He’s just got some unresolved anger and guilt issues relating to the circumstances of his father’s death.

It’s with respect to ameliorating this situation that Never Back Down achieves the most number of brownie points as a sports film. In addition to an adequate number of sports sequences (six fights and three or four practices), a female character that plays a significant role in the protagonist’s rise/fall, and other people’s wishes to consider (mother and younger brother)–all qualities of the standard sports film, the conflict in Never Back Down is both man vs. man and man vs. himself. Through the many bruises endured and heart-to-heart talks had, Jake must conquer a part of himself before he can take down his other enemy, Ryan. Some viewers might find this theme too “spelled out” for comfort, but I found its direct and unambiguous presentation to be the film’s one salvaging grace.

Observations & Miscellania:

1. Product Placement & Branding: Riddell helmets, Epcot Center, U-Haul, Jansport backpack, I-Phone, Mapquest, IMAC, Aquafina, Youtube, Nokia, Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Company, Motorola. The foregrounding of the cell phones and (the concept of ) online streaming video is narratively and thematically significant. Ryan finds Jake to be such a worthy opponent (er, punching bag) because of what he saw Jake do to a football player (from the beginning of the film). Ryan is both impressed but also determined to take out any possible threat, regardless of that perceived threat’s intentions.

2. The viewer is supposed to like and identify with Jake Tyler because he’s the protagonist. Perhaps Mr. Faris needs to brush up on those acting skills, but I wasn’t connecting with him at all. I actually found Ryan McCarthy much more sympathetic (especially in that scene with his father–no wonder he’s such a bully).

3 . It’s interesting that Baja Miller gets Jake pulled into an unwanted rivalry with Ryan, but she–minor spoiler, highlight pertinent text if you want to know details about the film’s end–doesn’t end up dismantling him, the way she would if Never Back Down were a traditional boxing film.

4. Following Jake Tyler’s first arse-kicking by Ryan, Max Cooperman brings to Jake’s attention a crucial distinction between the two. Jake has heart; Ryan only has technique. This remark reminded me of the ballet film Center Stage.

5. During aforementioned arse-kicking session, Ryan tells Jake that old school boxing methods are not going to cut it. Immediately, I thought of Annapolis. James Franco’s character had the emotion, the anger, but his technique was sloppy. He became a better human being after transforming from a brawler to a boxer. In Never Back Down, it’s essentially the opposite.

6. The comic relief in this film works a lot better than the dramatic bits.

7. Lukas Ettlin was the cinematographer for this film. The way in which the fight scenes were filmed and edited (quick cuts, POV shots, swirling camerawork, slow-motion for dramatic effect) made me think of the opening sequence in Stomp the Yard.

8. Despite the lavaflow of cheese in this film (and the terrible, cloy of an ending–the very end, final image end), I’m going to buy this movie when it comes out on DVD because of five words: exploitation of the male body.

Tinseltown cultivating a new Tom Cruise? It’s a little creepy, the resemblance:

With a sprinkling of Christian Bale?

Click here for the trailer for Never Back Down.

Click here for more pictures from the film.