Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gary Moore - Live At Montreux (1990)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I asked for, and got, a Gary Moore concert DVD for Christmas, which I just got around to watching the other night (which is just as well, as it gave me a good electric blues performance to watch on my birthday). This is the first Gary Moore item I own, although since watching the DVD, I have put a few of his albums on my "want" list.

I believe I was first introduced to Gary Moore through my classic rock message board forum of choice (not a big surprise). I know him best as the guy who inherited Peter Green's old guitar. And not only does he own it, but he plays it. And he's a real Peter Green fan - he even recorded an album of covers in tribute (one of the albums I added to my list). He was around back in the '70s, and had some connection with Peter Green, I think. Pretty sure he played with the band Thin Lizzy at some point. Had some solo success, and then in 1990 he released Still Got The Blues, which is kind of his blues revival akin to Eric Clapton's From The Cradle.

The DVD I got is the live performance in 1990 from the Montreux "Jazz" Festival, by Gary Moore and the Midnight Blues Band. More or less, it's Still Got The Blues in a live concert format. And it's very good.

Gary Moore can play the blues convincingly, and yet, he's also quite the shredder. If you're curious about what "blues shredding" must sound like, just listen to Gary play one of the many old blues tunes on this disc. He's incredibly talented, and he does a good job of imitating other players. For example, the Peter Green covers he does really do manage to capture that Peter Green sound, just with a little shreddy flair over top in parts. And Gary does an impressive cover of Roy Buchanan's The Messiah Will Come Again at the close of this concert. Just doing the song itself is an amazing thing, but he actually plays it convincingly. I wouldn't say these covers are better than the originals, but they're very good, and certainly worth listening to (especially if you could hear them live in person) - and part of that is a testament to Gary's taste, and the sheer quality of the artists he's so moved to cover.

And despite the blues being all about covers, two of the songs that stood out to me were what I presume are Gary originals - or at least had more of an original sound to them than the majority of blues standards he played. Midnight Blues is a good song, very soulful, and the title track from the album, Still Got The Blues, is an incredible song in its own right. Simple, but oh so powerful. "So long, so long ago, but I've still got the blues for you." I even got a little teary-eyed during the song. Another of Gary's tricks, perhaps even contrary to his shredding, is the sustain he can get, holding certain notes for extended periods of time - something I've always admired in a guitar player.

Albert Collins guests on a couple songs. It's quite illuminating watching Collins and Moore play together on stage. You've got the old watch going up against the new blood. Naturally, Collins plays with less notes and more soul, but you can't deny Moore's proficiency with his instrument. You have to wonder how a guy like Collins must feel on stage at a time like that. To his credit, he's a revered legend, but I can imagine myself in his position. "Yeah, I've got soul and a strong reputation, but this guy can just play circles around me, how in the hell am I supposed to save face?" And yet, I think he manages to do a pretty good job. He's also a bit of a showman, which helps - I actually read that he used to do the "walk into the crowd while playing a solo" trick that I've seen Buddy Guy do, and that one time, he actually walked out of the venue, went down a block, ordered a pizza, and came back to the stage, all while playing a guitar solo - followed by the pizza guy showing up to the stage with the pizza he ordered at the end of the song. Yeah.

Anyway, Collins does one of his own songs - Cold Cold Feeling - which really struck a chord with me. Sounds somewhat Jimmy Dawkins-esque, and I've been downright crazy about Jimmy Dawkins lately (within my bluesphere). At any rate, I've put an Albert Collins album on my "want" list, too. He's another of the classic bluesmen I've heard a lot of praise for, but hadn't been properly introduced to. I'm excited to hear more.

Before we leave the Collins "thread", another comparison we can make between him and Gary Moore is in singing ability. Gary's a pretty good singer for his material, fairly melodic, but compared to Collin's bluesy growl...well, there is no comparison. Sorry, Gary. Of course, Gary's a "prettier" singer, but lemme tell ya boy, one thing the blues ain't, is pretty.

So what have I got left to say? Gary also does some Billy Gibbons (of ZZ Top) and Stevie Ray Vaughan impressions (on guitar, of course). I've enjoyed listening to Gary Moore, and he puts on a great show. I recommend blues fans interested in what I've described here to check him out. I'm not about to put him in my list of top favorite guitarists - maybe if he had a bit more soul and less shredding - but his talent is impressive, and I have no hesitation in putting him on my 'good' list. I wonder if he tours around here - I got the impression he was never as big in the US. By the way, he's an Irishman, just for the sake of curiosity.

Gee, I wasn't sure if I'd have enough for a book report. And now I feel like I'm back in elementary school...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations (2009)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.

The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations

This is Butterfly Effect with an urban flavor, and an extra helping of gore. I don't think it's anywhere near as effective as the first Butterfly Effect movie, though. The whole serial killer idea is interesting, but the execution is weak. When you make a film about time travel, there's gonna be a heapload of time paradoxes. You can either ignore them or piece them together for a clever story. In this movie, they seem to ignore a lot of them, and the ones they do use, which they use to drive the whole plot idea, don't seem to be explained or pieced together very well. I dunno, it feels like a good idea, but it just doesn't quite work out that well.

The best part of the plot is the idea of having the character who can time travel using his abilities to become a freelance psychic helping the police close cases by traveling back and observing various murders. He can't interfere, of course, because that would trip the butterfly effect and screw everything up. Which is bound to happen, or else there wouldn't be a movie. Well, the character in question gets pushed into going back to solve the mystery of a murder close to him - that of his once-girlfriend - and he inevitably screws things up. Back in the future (present?), he finds that not only was he unable to prevent the murder, but he also seems to have created a serial killer. Why he doesn't just stop there is beyond me, but he seems to have an iron will to keep screwing things up worse and worse, thinking that one of these times he's gonna manage to fix things.

And that's where things kind of fall apart. There's an interesting twist at the end - I knew the identity of the serial killer would turn out to be significant, but I was still surprised - but it's hardly worth the ride. Besides, "this is so Scooby Doo"? Not a convincing serial killer. There are some pretty emotional turns which serve to reinforce the whole "changing the past is dangerous" idea, but honestly, just watch the first Butterfly Effect movie. It's far more...effective.

From Within (2008)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.

From Within

Now here's a movie that surprised me. It's hard to get a feel for a film from just a poster and a quick synopsis - even trailers are often misleading. So I wasn't sure what to expect from this film. What I got was an interesting story of good vs. evil in a suburban setting with a summery "Sunday morning service" kind of atmosphere. The town featured is a very religious town, which takes care of their own, but is especially vindictive towards those who prefer to follow different spiritual beliefs.

In a nutshell, a gothy pagan initiates a curse which presents itself in the form of a string of suicides jumping from each victim to the next, as a form of revenge against the town which wrongfully burnt his mother, believing her to be an agent of Satan (or, if you like, a witch). The struggle plays itself out between the strong-faithed residents and the misunderstood pagans (of which there are only a few). And I think the film does a fairly good job of making the point that a person's faith doesn't make them good or bad, but their choices in life do, as there are villains and heroes (arguably) on both sides.

Watching this film as a pagan, it's obviously pure fantasy, in terms of the curse, but getting past that, it's quite enjoyable. And wow, hey, the high school kids actually looked like high school kids for once! The setting of the film is a suburban-like area, but with woods and a lake, which looks very nice. And the whole religious character of the town itself really plays a large part in setting the mood of the piece. It almost has a retro "family values" kind of feeling to it which, despite my penchant for exploitation cinema, is refreshing in a way. And of course, it's still a horror movie, so there are some creepy scenes, too.

For me, it was especially satisfying watching the pastor's son turn into such a jerk and a creep on account of his passion for god. But like I said, the film doesn't seem to make any kind of statement about religion itself, but more about the people who follow it and the path they choose. I thought it was a very enjoyable film, and it deals with issues that are close to my heart, being something of a misotheist myself.

Dying Breed (2008)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.

Dying Breed

Dying Breed has an interesting idea, if not altogether original - something like a Hills Have Eyes with an added adventure element, since it's set out in the Tasmanian wilderness. Unfortunately, the main characters are downright idiotic, and thus I found it very hard to sympathize with them whatsoever. Especially the obnoxious one. Bad idea: taking a misoxenist (xenophobe?) on an international trip. By the way, if you're taking your car out into the Tasmanian wilderness, don't expect it to come out still in brand new condition! God, that guy was a jerkass. At least his head ended up in a mantrap (a beartrap set for people).

As for the reasoning behind the adventure, it's all about trying to get proof that the Tasmanian Tiger is not extinct and still lives in seclusion in the Tasmanian wilderness. One girl went out and got a photograph of a paw print in the mud, but didn't make it out alive. Now, her sister is going back to finish the job. But what's waiting for them is not just a presumably extinct species of tiger, but also a secluded town harboring an ugly secret involving inbreeding and cannibalism. The Tasmanian Tiger's existence quickly takes a back seat to the characters' own survival.

The shots and locations were pretty scenic and set a good atmosphere. Unfortunately, as I said above, the obnoxiousness of the travelers distracted from the film. And ultimately, I think I would have enjoyed it better if there was more tiger and less inbred cannibal...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Voices (2007)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.


I didn't even realize until it started, but Voices is a Korean film. I forgot that Horrorfest so far has always had a token Asian horror. And yet, despite being the token Asian horror, Voices was a great film (i.e., it deserves its spot and is not just there to fill a quota). A good supernatural thriller. One thing is certain when it comes to Asian horror - those Asians understand frightening imagery. I don't know that Voices is all that scary a film, in the traditional sense, but there were certain scenes that gave me chills - unlike any of these other horror titles I've been watching.

And I have to say, I'm partial to the Japanese, but let's get real, Asian schoolgirls are Asian schoolgirls no matter which side of the sea you're on.

So, the idea of this one is that people who love each other are killing each other for some reason. The reason has to do with some sort of supernatural curse. At the risk of spoilage, the curse comes in the form of a boy, who quite creepily looks the part - he's normal enough that you don't suspect that he's not human, but something in his eyes tells you that he's not quite normal, either. He's like the devil in a tux kind of character. And as the curse, in simple terms, he's more or less an embodiment of Jealousy.

You know it yourself. Think of the people you care for. There have been times when they upset you or worry you or whatever and you find yourself wishing them harm. Well, Jealousy, if we can call him that, merely feeds on those wishes and amplifies them. It's clear that he's an aid to all the wild murders and suicides going on, but he does a pretty damn good job of tormenting his targets by reminding them that he only gave them the knife (or other implement of doom) - they were the ones that committed the acts. Very diabolical, indeed.

The details of the story revolve around one particular schoolgirl and her family. She fences, in case that interests you. The rest you can pick up if you watch the film. We never really figure out the reason behind the curse - where this Jealousy character came from, but I don't think that's really all that important, because the film leaves you with that uncertain feeling, that maybe Jealousy really exists, and that we ought to be careful with those dangerous wishes we have, lest they consume us and we become another of the unthinkable tragedies that frequently pop up on the news.

The Broken (2008)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.

The Broken

The Broken is the doppelganger story of the group, and is a riveting psychological suspense thriller. I spent most of the film with a furrowed brow. And not because I was confused, but absorbed, and working out the pieces and wondering what was gonna happen next. The movie is slow, without a lot of action, but not in the sense that it bores you, but that it engages your mind and makes you wonder where the story is heading.

The story revolves around the case of a radiologist (she deals with x-rays in a hospital), Gina McVey, who has a car accident after seeing what can only be described as her doppelganger (though that precise term is never used). Following the accident, the people around her seem to be replaced, one by one, by hollow shells that look and act (for the most part) like the people she knows, but are missing that certain something. Of course, Gina had her head shaken up a bit in the crash, so there's the question of how much of what she's experiencing is some form of psychological trauma. (In fact, the term "Capgras syndrome" is brought up by the doctors looking after Gina).

From the evidence, I think it's pretty clear in the end that there's something going on beyond the purely psychological explanation. There seems to be some kind of "dark world behind the mirror", of which we get only a glimpse, where the body-doubles come from (shattering the mirror during passage), to murder their "hosts" and take on their identity. Or something. (Tip: the whole thing with the x-rays with the heart on the wrong side - proof that the subject being x-rayed is one of the "pods" - the heart is on the wrong side because they come from the mirror world, and/or they must have taken their form from the mirror image of their victims). I felt that there was the possibility of some kind of social commentary being made about people going through the motions of modern life without a sort of human passion - we are the doppelgangers already, or something, but it wasn't necessarily obvious.

Anyway, it's a deeply engrossing film with an atmosphere not far from Jacob's Ladder, albeit with considerably less demonic imagery (although the glimpses we do get of the "monsters" is pretty unnerving - even if they do have human form). It seems to raise a lot of questions and is the kind of film that promotes a lot of thought and speculation about the plot details after the fact. Though not so much as to leave you feeling inadequately informed by the end of the picture. I give it a thumbs up.

And there's one other thing I wanted to mention. So far, of the Horrorfest movies I've seen this year, this one gets my seal of approval for inclusion of nudity - and it's not the prurient kind of inclusion, as this is, in all aspects, a very mature film. I'm hesitant to make a generalization so quickly, but I suspect we're seeing a considerable difference in cultural attitudes toward nudity here. In the bath and shower scenes, the camera neither lingers on nor avoids the areas of the actresses' breasts or buttocks in a very unpresuming and natural way. I'm used to films that would either make a point to avoid the exposure, or else go all the way and make a big deal out of it. Also, in one excellent scene, the main character, Gina, gets out of bed in the middle of the night, completely nude, and doesn't bother to cover up. When it's so easy to just have her throw on a night gown or something, I applaud the filmmakers' apparent "laissez-faire" attitude towards the scene (whoever is responsible, and for whatever reasons). Surely an American production wouldn't dare take such a trivial "risk" with the misguided censors. I know it's a little odd (and maybe unfair) to focus on this particular aspect of this great film, but I'm sick of the "fuck-or-duck" attitude towards cinema nudity, and seeing an approach like this just warms my heart.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Autopsy (2008)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.


Simply put, Autopsy was amazing. Pretty fucking incredible. No deep morals or any of that shit, just hardcore FUN! This was an exploitation film, and it had style. I saw in the credits that Dario Argento was given special thanks, and in retrospect, I can totally see the influence there. This film just has style in spades. And oh my god, it is so over the top!

So what's it about? A group of young coeds are heading home after partying it up at Mardi Gras in New Orleans (told in innovative fashion through a wild selection of snapshots during the opening credits) only to crash their car out in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, there's a hospital nearby, but unluckily, it's not your normal kind of facility. It's actually being run by an insane doctor and his few sadistic assistants, who are working on some bizarre and gruesome cure for the doctor's wife's cancer. Unfortunately for the coeds, they don't find this out until much too late. They enter the hospital hoping to get patched up after their accident, only to get split up one by one, and end up brutally murdered, with their organs harvested (though not necessarily in that order >;).

Lots of gore in this movie, I'm not gonna lie. But there's so much style in its over-the-topness that you can't help being just as shocked and amazed as you are disgusted by some of these scenes (well, I was, at least). My favorite part was when the naked guy jumps on top of the one girl and tears his torso open and starts ripping his organs out on top of her. Good god, you can't make this stuff up! There's some humor in there, definitely, like when the one guy asks the doctor if he's gonna be okay, and just before putting him under, the doctor says "I don't think so".

This film is just fantastic. I don't think I've had this much fun at a horror movie since I saw the Grindhouse throwback by Rodriguez and Tarantino a couple springs ago. Go see Autopsy!

Perkins' 14 (2009)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.

Perkins' 14

This was a good one. It's got an interesting concept, and it's executed strongly. There's a lot of emotion - a lot of humanity - in this film, and it's played well by Patrick O'Kane in the lead role of Officer Hopper, who lost his son to a serial killer who was never captured, ten years prior. Also, Hopper's daughter Daisy, played by Shayla Beesley, is a likable character - and lo and behold, she can actually pull off being a teenager! Actually, in some of the darker scenes, I was surprised at how much she looked like a younger version of Maggie Gyllenhaal. Weird. While we're talking about the cast, Richard Brake was pretty creepy as the titular serial killer, Ronald Perkins. It's a shame he actually only plays a short role in the film, because I would have liked to see him have a bigger part. (In fact, it would have been nice if he had survived long enough to explain just what the hell he did to the victims he abducted...)

And on that note, let's talk about the plot. Perkins abducted 14 kids ten years ago and was never caught, nor were any of his victims found (dead or alive). It's revealed that his stunt was actually an elaborate (and effective) plan to get back at the society which took his own parents' murders lightly, writing the incident off as a murder-suicide instead of making an effort to find the killer. It's not entirely clear just what Perkins did to the kids he abducted (other than having kept them in cages), and even whether or not they were ever killed, but in the ten years since the incident, they've transformed into murderous (yet intelligent) zombies. Perkins is actually a pharmacist, so it's not that far off to suggest that he may have perfected the Rage virus, since his zombies seem to be quite like the ones from the 28 series. Of course, I say that as a positive thing.

Exciting movie, the best part is the whole section around when Perkins is killed. Officer Hopper gets all his rage out and then it's like, ok, you got your "revenge", what are you gonna do with your life now? And then all hell breaks loose across the city. And the ending's pretty good, too. Not very forgiving. I kept wanting to tell Hopper to let it go, that he didn't have to put that much meaning into what Perkins did - that Perkins is just another sick freak doing terrible things, that Hopper should forgive himself for not being able to save his son - but this is a tragedy story, simple enough. And I do like a good tragedy.

Slaughter (2009)

Note: This review is part of my coverage of Horrorfest III.


Slaughter was my least favorite of the three movies I saw today - not to say that it was actually bad. It's about a girl who moves into the city to restart her life after getting away (supposedly) from an abusive boyfriend. She befriends a farmgirl and even moves onto the farm with her, only to find out that not all is safe on the farm.

A couple things confused/bugged me about this film. Firstly, the main characters made a point of needing fake id's to go out clubbing, and yet they clearly looked old enough not to need them - in other words, fake teens? Secondly, I was kind of disoriented by the fact that the characters would seemingly switch between being out on the farm, and shopping (or clubbing or whatever) in the city - multiple times per day - like as if the city were just down the street from the farm or something. And thirdly, I have to say it bugged me that "sexy farmgirl" was having sex with the ferrari guy with her clothes on. For a horror movie, this is unforgivable.

The majority of the story may have been so-so, but I have to say that the ending really redeemed this title. I'm gonna go ahead and try to piece together the details of the plot, so if you're worried about spoilers, stop reading now. The film unambiguously sets up sexy farmgirl's rough 'n tough farmer father as the villain, but we get quite a treat of a twist-up (or two or three) near the end. It's a little ambiguous as to who did what, but if we can trust the farmer father's words (which isn't a certain thing), he wasn't the killer, his daughter was. What is clear is that they're both pretty messed up, if you consider all the evidence. But what makes the ending so much fun is, firstly, how it goes back and forth - she's gonna make it! she's never gonna make it! - and how in the very end, the villain gets her victory - and in quite brutal fashion, too. This one's definitely got the "exploitation ending".

At any rate, it turned out to be more than the typical "farmer splatter story" I was expecting it to be, and some of the scenes in the slaughterhouse, with the pigs and the darkness, were actually quite creepy. I'd say it's worth a spin - for the ending alone, if nothing else.

Horrorfest III (2009)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Night 1 - And it begins. Overall, I was quite impressed with the quality of the movies tonight. I had heard that After Dark had put more effort into getting better titles this year, and if the three films I saw today are any indication, it shows. I hope the rest of the titles are up to snuff.

Perkins' 14

Night 2 - You could call it "thriller night". Or, alternatively, "foreign film night". Although the first one is a UK production, so it's very much still in English. The crowds were a lot thinner on a Sunday night. Not that there was any chance of a sell-out last night, but instead of a few other groups, there was just one group of three people during the first movie I caught, and I was alone for the second (and last showing of the night). I'm conflicted about the crowds because, on the one hand, I want Horrorfest to be popular enough to keep coming back, but, frankly, I love it when the theaters aren't crowded with people.

The Broken

Night 3 - I suppose you could expect it from the "A" schedule, but tonight's films weren't quite on par, in my opinion, with the past two nights. Still, at least 5 out of the 8 films were really good, and it's hard for me to pick just one or two as my favorite (although Autopsy...). Anyhow, here's what tonight's films were like:

Dying Breed
From Within
The Butterfly Effect 3: Revelations

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Satan's Slave (1976) & Terror (1978)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

To get me in the mood for Horrorfest, I fired up the Exploitation Cinema double-shot I picked up at Best Buy recently. I didn't even notice that it was "Exploitation Cinema" and not "Welcome to the Grindhouse" until after I watched the movies and was putting the disc back in the case. But the format is exactly the same, complete with trailers and intermission. Speaking of the trailers, I saw two that really looked interesting - Nightmare, and Beyond the Door, which look like (in loose terms) X-rated versions of Nightmare on Elm Street and Rosemary's Baby, respectively. Those are definitely titles I'd like to check out if they're available.

Satan's Slave (1976)

The first title in this double feature is another witch-cult movie (the classic British kind, that is) - I say "another" because it's structurally similar to Virgin Witch, which I've seen before. I'm sensing a cultural difference here, as "backwoods family" films in America tend to deal with in-bred cannibals living on farms, whereas the same in the British film scene tend to deal with wealthy witch cults that live in nice mansions out in the country. Between the two, the cannibals might be a little scarier, but the witches are almost certainly sexier.

And saying that, there are a number of great scenes in Satan's Slave that involve Satanic rituals and naked women. The plot is your typical "city girl gets caught up in a country coven's secret plans" story, this time with the high priest desiring to resurrect a powerful witch (who was burned at the stake) by making a special sacrifice. The good scenes are good, but I'm afraid that overall, the film tends to drag. And the ending is kind of ambiguous, but it's bombastic, and really, you're not watching an exploitation film for the intricate plot details, right?

Terror (1978)

I felt that this title raised itself above "average" exploitation fare and was actually quite good. Here's the setup: a witch is burned at the stake (yes, another witch story), but casts a curse on the family that condemned her. It's present day, and the family's ancestors (and various innocent strangers that happen to get entangled in the plot) start dying off in gruesome ways as the ghost of the witch seeks revenge.

Instead of a flashback to tell the pre-story with the witch's original burning and cursing, this part is actually told in the form of a film-within-a-film created by the main character, who happens to be a film director (in the story) - and right at the beginning of the story, before you know it's just a film. I thought that was quite a clever and effective device.

The rest of the film is full of scares, as well as a decent share of raunch - between the club the girls work at, and the soft porn being filmed in the director's studio. All in all it makes for an entertaining time as you watch the witch take out each of her victims in, as the box says, "brutally inventive fashion".

And now let me mention one of the things that's so great about exploitation films. In a mainstream film similar to Terror, by the end of the movie, the witch's curse would probably either be left ambiguous or discounted entirely, and at least one member of the cursed family would make it through the ordeal alive, right? But here, since it's an exploitation film, that witch gets the job done, and you get to watch in satisfaction as she unambiguously kills off the last ancestor of the family that burned her alive, and there the film ends. No consolation. No resolution. Welcome to the grindhouse, baby. Similarly, in Satan's Slave, you expect the innocent girl to eventually make it out of the mess she finds herself in the middle of. No such luck. Satan's gonna have his slave, and there ain't nothin' you can do about it. Ah, exploitation is good.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Happening (2008)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

The Happening reinforces my belief that M. Night Shyamalan's greatest weakness is over-preachiness. The Sixth Sense was a great movie, and The Village is probably my personal favorite Night flick. Overlooking the Silvertide tease, I enjoyed Lady in the Water, and I think it works well as a fairy tale - and, I will mention in passing, Bryce Dallas Howard looked particularly good wearing nothing more than a shirt for the majority of that movie. But, the pro-faith conclusion of Signs was a huge disappointment, and the moralistic overtones in The Happening distract from the fun of an apocalyptic thriller.

For example, early in the film, the main character, a science teacher, is teaching his class about a "happening" in which the world's honey bees simply disappeared. He asks various students in the class what they think might be the cause of this anomaly, only to conclude that it was an "act of nature" that we will never fully understand - and that it is important to recognize the limits of our knowledge. Uh-huh. This is not a science teacher speaking. The words may be coming from the actor's mouth, and uttered in his voice, but it is clearly M. Night Shyamalan speaking this passage.

Warning: Spoilers from here on out!

So what is "The Happening"? Well, if you don't mind spoilers, the general idea is this: all of a sudden the plants in the northeast corner of the US have identified mankind as a serious threat to their wellbeing, and have developed a toxin which causes people to pro-actively kill themselves without remorse. We're talking about an airborne toxin that causes an epidemic of mass suicides here. When you think about the fact that trees are largely responsible for the very oxygen we need to breathe for survival, the idea of such a plant-based attack on humanity is rather frightening, indeed.

And indeed, the concept behind this movie is very interesting. Unfortunately, the execution doesn't quite live up to its potential. The movie is supposedly Night's first R-rated flick - and in fact, without the need to cater to a PG-13 rating, they supposedly went all out to get a "hard" R. And while there are some pretty creepy and gruesome scenes, I don't think overall that it measures up to what an R movie could be. A "hard" R, at least. I mean, Hostel is a hard R. Shyamalan doesn't really seem to me to be a hard R kinda guy. He acts like it in the behind the scenes footage, but let's be realistic. He says he tried to cast "light" actors so that he could be as dark as he wanted with the material, and light actors would keep it from going too far, being too much. He obviously hasn't studied under Edgar Allan Poe. "Every word should serve the overall goal of the story - if it doesn't support that goal, get rid of it" (paraphrase from memory, of a quote I read in elementary school...).

Anyway, I don't mean to rag on M. Night Shyamalan, I like the guy. (Does anyone else think he looks like Jeff Goldblum?). One of the great scenes in The Happening was when the two punk kids got offed. That was definitely one of the more satisfying "offing of dead weight characters" I've seen recently. The one kid gets shot and you're like, omg, is this really happening? This is getting serious. And then the gun barrel goes for the other kid, and you're like, there's no way Night's gonna kill off this kid, too. And then bam! They had it coming.

The old lady at the end was pretty cool at first. She's this loner, living out on a farm in the middle of nowhere, without even electricity. She's totally disconnected from the rest of the world, and she has no concern or interest for it. She could have been this awesome loner character, but Night had to go and make her psychotic. When she ran out into the garden, for a second I thought it would turn out that the "Happening" was all her doing - that she was the one who wanted mankind wiped off the face of the planet, but then she became just another victim of the toxin and I knew it wasn't meant to be.

Alongside the apocalyptic story (with its environmentalist overtones) was the story of the two main characters - a young couple whose marriage is facing some problems. Going through the ordeal, they unsurprisingly reconcile their differences and end up living happily together, after it all. Kind of annoying, yes, but hey, it was fun watching Zooey Deschanel in the somewhat airheaded but sensitive cutie role. And by god, she's got eyes you could just fall into...

And now that I've lost my train of thought, I think that's a perfect place to end this review.