DIRECTED BY M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN
STARRING MARK WAHLBERG, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, JOHN LEGUIZAMO, ASHLYN SANCHEZ, BETTY BUCKLEY, SPENCER BRESLIN, ROBERT BAILEY, JR., ALAN RUCK
R FOR VIOLENT AND DISTURBING IMAGES.
OVERALL: 1 OUT OF 4 STARS
NOTE: ALTHOUGH IT CAN'T DO MUCH TO RUIN AN ALREADY TERRIBLE MOVIE, FAIR WARNING THAT WE'LL BE EMBRACING SPOILER TERRITORY HERE...
It's a popular point of ironic movie trivia that in 2002, in anticipation of the release of Academy Award-nominated writer/director M. Night Shyamalan's new film, SIGNS, Newsweek magazine published an issue with Shyamalan on the cover and a headline that read "The Next Spielberg".While even in 2002 it was an awfully bold statement to make, today, when you point it out to anyone familiar with Shyamalan's last several films, it elicits reactions that range from indignant disbelief to gut-busting laughter.His earlier movies that first made him a household name were not without their flaws of course, but beginning with THE SIXTH SENSE in 1999, nominated for six Academy Awards (call Conspiracy Keanu!), then the under-appreciated twist on the superhero genre, UNBREAKABLE in 2000, Shyamalan's work was a gripping tribute to The Twilight Zone-style chills.SIGNS was still a huge hit, but the beginning of the descent seems most identifiable there, with some severe lapses in logic and sense, but chilling enough to get by.In 2004, THE VILLAGE continued Shyamalan's now-reliable series of ending "plot twists" with the worst one yet, utterly nullifying the film as a whole, wherein more stupidity was already seeping into the staging.Then, LADY AND THE WATER (2007) dealt a staggering blow to Shyamalan's reputation, with a story reportedly based on a bedtime story he made up for his children, about an apartment complex repairman who rescues a narf hiding in the swimming pool from the menacing scrunts, and the closest thing to an antagonist in the film is a cynical film critic, representing all those who didn't appreciate Shyamalan, who becomes monster fodder, and Shyamalan has a major role as an unappreciated storyteller destined to change the world but die a martyr.Seriously.LADY IN THE WATER was a flop though and most people hated it, and Shyamalan tried something new by taking his supernatural-thriller formula into R-rated territory (R for retarded).
One day without warning, people in Central Park suddenly stop what they're doing and commit suicide en masse without explanation, prompting hysteria over terrorist attack speculations.Mark Wahlberg plays Elliot Moore, a high school science teacher who puts Mr. Chips to shame, joshing the handsome popular kid who doesn't care about science into participating.As similar mass suicides spread across communities on the Eastern Seaboard, civilizations falls into disarray, and Elliot, along with his wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and Julian (John Leguizamo), a fellow teacher, with his little girl, Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), leave for a less populous area and to find their loved ones.Along the way, Julian is separated and Elliot and Alma are left to look after Jess, and they meet up with new people, including a wild-eyed botanist who insists that it's the result of plants releasing a toxin as a defense mechanism against mankind's disregard for the environment.After it's well enough decided that the suicides are the result of a plant toxin, and all the plants are coordinating an effort to make people kill themselves, the plot is even less directionless, as Elliot and Company wander from place to place trying not to breathe the toxin, and sometimes running away from wind that may or may not be carrying the toxin.
Ever since LADY IN THE WATER, Shyamalan's films seem to consistent in unrepentant stupidity, but THE HAPPENING is so bad in such an over-the-top, unsubtle way, that it's hard to believe that their isn't some deliberate b-movie intentions at play here.There is so little going on for one, with reliably stagnant plants representing the threat, accompanied by many hilariously ominous shots, and the most kinetic it gets is running away from wind that comes in conveniently singular waves over long grass.This hardly represents how silly this movie is though.People do not just kill themselves.They could just bash their heads against the pavement or something until they die, or some other simplified manner, and some of them, such as police officers shoot themselves with firearms (except at the crown of the skull for whatever reason, and then as the gun falls, another person picks it up and does themselves, and so on), or people driving may suddenly ram into a tree or a wall.There are several though that are positively hilarious in their convolution, such as a man starting up a ride-on lawnmower, then jumping off and running out to lie down in its path, or my personal favorite, a zookeeper who dangles his arms in front of lions which bite them off.Even better, it's like they didn't even try to create credible-looking prosthetics; the arms don't match the actor's body size and the lions just tug at them until they tear off.
Wahlberg is not a bad actor, not at all, but some of his role choices are better than others.Elliot Moore is a lot different than most of the roles that he's played before (when dismissing the film in 2010, Wahlberg defended himself by saying, "At least I wasn't playing a cop or a crook."), but he really is hamming it up, and so is Deschanel.I don't think Leguizamo is in on the joke though.Wahlberg returns to the topic of disappearing bees several times, says, "Be scientific, douchebag!", and tries to smooth-talk a houseplant.Most of the time though, he looks bewildered at things.
The ending, even by Shyamalan's standards, is really, really, really bad.After all the other directly-involved characters have died, most of them by toxin-induced suicide, a few of them casualties of a culture of fear, Elliot, Alma and Jess have resigned themselves to their unfortunate fate and decide that if they have to die, then they want to be together when it happens.As the wind rushes over them, they wait and then... nothing happens.Seriously, just as they are about to meet their fates, it's no longer an issue.I guess the plants were all agreed that this was all a carefully planned effort to bring this family together and once they had been scared enough, the plants would just stop.There's no explanation, so justification, no background, no point; I suppose there's a one in a trillion chance of that kind of thing just ending at such an exact moment of imminent peril to this family, but it's unreasonable to expect an audience to go along with that.Otherwise, all the personages of evil or random chaos could just stop at the 90-minute mark in any film.
I believe that the well-being of the global environment is a crucial issue that doesn't getdue attention by politics and that global warming-denial and/or dismissal is very foolish, but the fact that it seems to resonate so strongly with filmmakers on the much less-talented end of the spectrum doesn't help very much in pro-environmental protection cause.Even still, THE HAPPENING does make for great 'so-bad-it's-good' viewing.
DIRECTED BY CLAUDIO FRAGASSO
STARRING MICHAEL STEPHENSON, GEORGE HARDY, MARGO PREY, CONNIE MCFARLAND YOUNG, ROBERT ORMSBY, JASON WRIGHT, DARREN EWING, JASON STEADMAN, DAVID MCCONNELL
PG-13 FOR UNSPECIFIED REASONS (CONTAINS HORROR FANTASY VIOLENCE/GORE, SOME SEXUAL REFERENCES AND LANGUAGE).
OVERALL: 1 OUT OF 4 STARS
Oh man, what can be said of TROLL 2?It's a truly godawful movie, but in the most entertaining way, even more than anything Ed Wood ever churned out.It can't possibly be described sufficiently with only words at my disposal.It has to be experienced.It doesn't even have trolls!
The story centers on the Waits family, and their youngest child, Joshua (Michael Stephenson), an approximately 10-year old lad who is party to continuing visitations by his recently deceased Grandpa Seth (Robert Ormsby), much to the dismay of his mother (Margo Prey), while his father (George Hardy) is a little less concerned ("When I was a kid, I had an imaginary playmate too.").As the film opens, Grandpa Seth is telling Joshua an old fairy tale about Peter, a young lad devoured by goblins.The goblins, however, are vegetarians, an inconvenience easily dealt with by tricking or forcing their victims to eat poisoned food that turns them in vegetative goop, which the goblins eat.The Waits are planning to spend their summer vacation living off the land in the small farming community of Nilbog, where they'll swap houses with a family for the summer, but Grandpa Seth warns Joshua that the townspeople of Nilbog are actually goblins in disguise, luring the Waits in with plans of devouring them, and only Joshua can save them. In case you didn't notice, "Nilbog!It's 'goblin' spelled backwards!"
There is an explanation, albeit a stupid one, for the troll-less movie's title.Originally called GOBLINS, the film's North American distributors of the film branded it TROLL 2 in an attempt to feed off the 1986 dark fantasy film TROLL as an unofficial, unrelated sequel.It's strange choice of coattails to ride on though, considering that TROLL was not even a major success, and barely a minor one, that received hardly any attention of its own, although it did eventually attain a cult following.TROLL 2 was filmed in rural Utah with an American cast, but it is actually an Italian film directed by Claudio Fragrasso, under the pseudonym Drake Floyd, co-written with his wife Rossella Drudi, with a crew made up primarily of Italians.The only English-speaking crew member on set was the costume designer, and the American cast and the Italian crew had to struggle through pidgin English to communicate, but the cast still had little clue about what was going on, and allegedly only received the script scene by scene.Not that it mattered a whole lot though.The cast members had little to no acting experience, with many of them having auditioned for fun, most notably George Hardy, playing the adult lead as Joshua's father, who is a dentist in real life, and a really, really, really bad actor.Even so, he's probably not the worst actor in this movie.Michael
"YOU CAN'T PISS ON HOSPITALITY!"
Stephenson, described by another cast member as "an annoying little Mormon kid," frequently has a look on his face that can't help but bring constipation to mind.Connie Young nee McFarland may be recognized for her performances in Utah-made (and Utah-centric) Mormon comedies like THE SINGLES WARD and SONS OF PROVO, but unfortunately, she's much better known for her film debut as the sister, Holly, in TROLL 2.Despite some of her occasionally crude lines in the film, I'm tempted to suspect that she had previously acted in any one of the Mormon-heritage pageants that are performed in multiple locations in her home state of Utah, not because she knows what she's doing, because she does not, but the way she delivers her lines is reminiscent of the ultra-cheesy line deliveries so common in such pageants.The most enthusiastic performance is undoubtedly the Deborah Reed as Creedence Leonore Gielgud, the queen of the goblins, who speaks with a cartoonish and unspecific Eastern European accent, despite specifying that she and the goblins come from Stonehenge.
Rosella Drudi was frustrated with the vegetarian fad that was weeping through her social circle when she wrote the first drafts for the film, and the result is one of the strangest attempts at socio-political commentary in a movie ever.The goblins have variations on Christian Revival church meetings, with a fire-and-brimstone preacher and enthusiastic congregational participation, but the subject of which is the abhorrent evils of meat.But as Grandpa Seth states from the beginning, goblins are "cruel...evil creatures," so these aren't PETA-styled vegetarians, no, the evils of meat are about its impurity and lack of nutritional value, which is simply inexcusable.An imminent demise at the hands of the goblins is deflected with a "triple-decker bologna sandwich" in one scene.But the goblins still eat people, only not until their victims partake of their special potion that takes on the forms of green food coloring and chunky milk, and turns people into vegetable/human goop that resembles green gelatin mixed with diced fruit.
TROLL 2 was filmed in rural Morgan County, Utah, and the culture shock was not lost on the Italian crew, so there's some very funny Mormon stereotypes woven into the goblin community.One scene in particular involves the Waits family beset upon by a surprise "welcome party," as the whole community has shown up with a potluck dinner, singing and dancing around the family and encouraging them to gorge themselves.Then of course, they have a religiously-based health code which, beyond excluding meat, excludes coffee ("The devil's drink!" spits a disguised goblin), andthey go about 'fellowshipping' their new neighbors with a seemingly quaint lifestyle.
THE GOBLINS JUST AREN'T AS SCARY AS GRANDPA SETH.
Nobody sets out to make a bad movie.Some filmmakers set out to make different kinds of good movies, but nobody expects their movie, a major effort on the their part (to say the least), to be laughingly derided and ridiculed.But it happens, and what's most remarkable about TROLL 2 is that there is no aspect of filmcraft in it that is not a textbook example of what not to do.The acting, the writing, the directing, the costumes, the soundtrack, the production; everything is so abysmally terrible.Fragasso doesn't think he made a bad movie; he doesn't understand why audiences laugh not only at the parts that are meant to be funny, but at everything else, too.To him, it's an important movie about the family under attack, but nobody who's seen it can feign seriousness about such a comically inferior product.The film never did make it into theaters, at least, not until years after it's straight-to-VHS release when its major cult following brought about special event screenings, including live events with cast members.Most of the people involved never saw the film until their friends approached them with question about whether they had ever been in a movie, and upon receiving confirmation, informing them that the movie is really bad.Michael Stephenson, the boy who played Joshua, grew up to make the documentary BEST WORST MOVIE (2009; currently available to stream on Netflix), a film that returns to check up on the cast and crew members, and offers insights on what it's like for people hoping for their big break only to see their hopes dashed in such a spectacular way that it can only be laughed at.Even though many of the fans shown in the documentary are the worst kind of enthusiastic, it's a fascinating look at a different kind of fame and fandom.
Now go watch TROLL 2; it's the gift that keeps on giving.
NOW, JUST FOR GOOD MEASURE, A LIST OF SOME OF THE BEST LINES IN TROLL 2:
"Do you see this writing?Do you know what it means?Hospitality.And you can't piss on hospitality!I won;t allow it!"
"Are you nuts?You tryin' to turn me into a homo?!" [said by Elliot after Holly punches him in the groin]
"Joshua is not a little shit; he's just very sensitive."
"Here's some Nilbog milk.Special milk.High in vitamin content.Here, it's free."