Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan back in the dark days when he was making one stinker after another, The Happening has too many dull stretches to be a proper good bad movie. Still, I find Shyamalan’s bad movies fascinating in the same way I find Star Wars prequels and films like Jupiter Ascending weirdly fascinating. Say what you want about them, but they’re not your generic bad movies and they bear the individual stamp of their creators.
The DVD I rented offered me a choice of the theatrical cut, and the alternative version with the original ending that was scrapped after it was unfavourably received at the test screenings. While I really enjoyed the movie this story of two radically different endings is probably its most interesting aspect. The DVD menu made me feel like a character in a fairytale: shall I take the road on the left, or the road on the right? With the magic of the remote, I watched both endings, and once again marvelled at Hollywood’s willingness to ruin a perfectly fine film.
Spoilers for the endings ahead.
A mind-bending Spanish psychological thriller with Penelope Cruz, which later was remade as Vanilla Sky, an ill-received American version with Tom Cruise and, bizarrely, Penelope Cruz again. I’ve watched this in a rather groggy state of mind after a poor night’s sleep, and the movie’s twists and turns definitely perked up my brain by the end of it all.
Another book club read, this time a crime novel by an author with a perfect crime writer name (imagine if she wrote romance instead; Forbidden Love, a new luscious bodice-ripper from Karin Slaughter).
The book is about a family destroyed by the unsolved disappearance of the eldest daughter, Julia Carroll, who went missing near her University of Georgia dorm when she was 19. Her father Sam became obsessed with his own investigation, retreating from the rest of his family and ignoring his two remaining daughters, and eventually committed suicide. Sam’s anguished diary entries introduce the central mystery, and serve as one of the three points of view used to tell the story.
This big-screen version of Stephen King’s 1,200-page doorstopper is not great, but solid enough, and considering the overall woeful track record of King film adaptations, it can be counted as a success. I haven’t read the book or watched the popular 80s mini-series with Tim Curry, but knowing King’s propensity to write and write and write and write some more, I gather that the screenwriters pruned away the verbiage and streamlined the novel to its basic story about a bunch of kids in a small American town who are terrorised by a creepy, cackling clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Actually, make it half of the story, as the filmmakers split the novel into two cinematic chapters, with the follow-up a certainty now that this movie has made a mountain of cash.
I’ve read quite a few John Grisham legal thrillers over the years. At their best, they’re tightly constructed, entertaining, compulsive page-turners you can’t put down. At their worst, they’re… well like this dud of a book.
It starts off rather promisingly. Our protagonist is Samantha Kofer, a young associate working in commercial real estate who loses her job at New York’s massive law firm after the financial crash of 2008. With hundreds of lawyers left unemployable, even non-paying internship positions are hotly contested, but eventually Samantha finds a pro bono opportunity in small-town Appalachia, where she’s to provide free legal aid to the downtrodden. There she meets Donovan Gray, a fearless lawyer crusading against the Big Coal, companies whose strip mining practices defile the land and poison the local population. Oh and he’s young and handsome too, though an estranged wife and kid put a damper on a potential fling.
A stark and powerful mystery thriller, with a mood of deep melancholy that stuck with me long after I’ve left the theatre. Part of it is the natural setting, the vast, silent wintry expanses of snow and forbidding mountains of Wyoming, where the story takes place. While beautiful in its own way, this desolate environment makes for a harsh life. Another part is the sorrow and desperation of the people who live on the edge of this wilderness, and the hard-hitting, ugly violence of some key scenes. And there’s the haunting, sparse score from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.