Monday, 30 June 2008

Film Review: The Happening

I learnt many things from The Happening: wind only forms in isolated patches and with determination it is possible to run ahead of it; dusty old farmhouses are completely airtight; elderly women own gas masks but the military and police don’t; and M Night Shyamalan has made probably the worst film I’ve ever seen.

Kind of like the opposite of the 1956 sci-fi movie, The Death of Grass, The Happening has an interesting premise: plants have become so pissed off with humans polluting the planet that they are fighting back. Not, as you might expect, by growing legs and arms and throwing boulders at their enemies like the Ents in Lord Of The Rings but by releasing biotoxins into the air that make people kill themselves.

How infected individuals top themselves varies, but – and this is one of the film’s biggest problems – suicide seems to involve the most ridiculous route possible. One man at the zoo strolls into the lion enclosure and allows the lions to rip his arms off, an elderly woman head butts all the walls and windows in her house, and another man runs himself over with a lawnmower. Even when those infected choose more traditional suicide routes like when John Leguizamo slashes his wrists with broken glass, or when Private Auster turns his pistol on himself, it is impossible to take their deaths seriously.

An unseen threat is always a difficult cinematic trick to pull off but it certainly isn’t the fault of James Newton’s Howard’s chilling and nerve-wracking score. The blame lies entirely with Shyamalan’s pathetic script and pitiful direction.

The oft-quoted infinite monkey theorem states that an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite amount of typewriters given an infinite amount of time will almost certainly eventually type up the complete works of Shakespeare. And the same is almost true of The Happening. Only one monkey with a lump of shit and a pointy stick would definitely write a better script than this.

The problems listed in the opening paragraph of this review are certainly the most glaring but there are plenty of other examples. With the catastrophe isolated to the north east of America, and with the safe zone just 90 miles west, our heroes decide to drive further east. Having already established that the toxin is mostly likely to affect large groups of people, Mark Wahlberg invites two complete strangers to join him, Zooey Deschanel and the little kid they’ve adopted. Later, in an effort to prove his sanity to the inhabitants of a blockaded house, Wahlberg decides that the best course of action is to start singing Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary.

As for the dialogue, when twenty people shoot themselves to death, all Wahlberg can offer is, “Oh no”. To which Deschanel laughably responds, “What ‘oh no’?” Later, when a teenage boy has been shot in the head at close range, Wahlberg leans over his body, shakes him and says, “I’ll get us out of this nightmare.” And, towards the end of the movie, Betty Buckley’s character mutters this eternally brilliant line, "The world don't care about me. I don't care about it. Now, I suppose I need to invite you to stay.”

The cinematography is just as bad. Not only does Shyamalan use a hammy slow-motion reaction shot of Wahlberg when said teenage boy is murdered, not only are there far too many embarrassing close-ups of trees swaying in the wind that are supposed to be menacing, but there are two scenes in the film where the boom mic is clearly visible.

It’s difficult to conceive how the man responsible for a pair of films as inventive and tense as The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable can be capable of making such amateur mistakes but Shyamalan’s fall from grace that began with The Village shows absolutely no signs of stopping. In fact, not since Plan 9 From Outer Space has a film been this incompetently shot and incoherently written.

The Happening isn’t a disaster movie. It’s a disaster.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Album Review: Tha Carter III

One look at the Nas and Biggie-aping cover tells you all you need to know: this is Lil Wayne making a deliberate stab at greatness.

He’s made the ‘best rapper alive’ claims for long enough and after a series of momentous mixtapes, Weezy is clearly ready to prove his reputation with a long-player.

3 Peat, then, serves as a decidedly weak intro. Maestro’s puny synthetic production is far too weak to support Weezy’s bombast. As an opening gambit it’s no The Genesis and it’s certainly no Things Done Changed.

But after a false start, the superb Mr Carter marks the true beginning of Tha Carter III. The last time Wayne teamed up with fellow Carter Jay-Z on Jigga’s Hello Brooklyn 2.0, the results were disastrous. Not this time. Over Infamous’ surprisingly effective chipmunk gospel sample, the Carter pair spit about the troubles and travails of being the best rapper alive. At the song’s conclusion, in a telling moment, Weezy recites the verse from Jay-Z’s Lucky Me. You can sense the torch being passed.

Wayne returns to his natural habit of hyperactively babbling nonsense over a pair of blaring beats courtesy of Bangladesh and T-Pain on A Milli and Got Money, but Weezy’s finest string of consciousness is saved until the album’s conclusion. On the seven minute-plus DontGetIt, an unapologetically stoned Weezy cuts loose on laws concerning crack and cocaine, sex offenders, the media, Al Sharpton and the state of being black in America.

Then, of course, there’s Lollipop. It’s one of the year’s biggest jams for a reason – an obscenely colossal track that has Weezy make the du jour auto-tune effect his own. A minute too long and all too ubiquitous, by the end of 2008, it will still be the year’s defining track.

And yet, it isn’t even the outstanding song on Tha Carter III. That status is reserved for Dr Carter. With the statute of limitations up on Eminem's Guilty Conscience, Weezy tries his hand on his own three-part concept track. Wayne attempts to save three patients suffering from a lack of style, vocabulary and swagger, by brilliantly dissecting what it is that he does so well (“gotta work everyday, gotta not be cliché, you gotta stand out like Andre 3k”). Despite his skills and Swizz Beats’ masterful sampling of David Axelrod’s Holy Thursday, Weezy is only able to save one patient.

Sadly there are a couple of missteps along the way which prevent Tha Carter III attaining the all-time classic status Weezy so clearly seeks. The saccharine Comfortable falls well short of Kayne West’s usual production standards, David Banner’s glockenspiel sample on La La begins as novel and ends up irritating, and Phone Home veers a little too close to Kool Keith Black Elvis weirdness for it’s own good.

So while there’s plenty of evidence here to suggest that Wayne isn’t far away from producing an all-time classic, Tha Carter III isn’t it. A brief listen to Illmatic and Ready To Die is all you need to remind you that Weezy isn’t quite ready to join that exalted company, but he’s not far away.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

LG Secret

After another problem free 18 months with O2, I signed up for an improved contract and got myself a new phone.

Despite warnings from the friendly customer retentions woman that LG phones were "not that good", I preceded to order the new LG Secret.

If the Secret is anything to go by, the woman at O2 was right - the LG Secret is absolute dog dirt.

Like some blinkered fetishist, I'd been seduced by the faux leather and the touch sensitivity. And, actually, when the phone is closed, it does look pretty fucking sexy.

However, once you slide the keypad down, it reveals the cheapest, nastiest digits I've seen since the Nokia 3210. I don't have fat fingers, but I found it an absolute chore trying to access the 1, 2 and 3 keys.

The other thing that wasn't clear from the fluff I'd read about the phone is that it's only touch sensitive when the phone is in certain modes, which rather negates the point of having touch sensitivity. It must have been LG's most braindead (or perhaps funniest) tech who thought that having to access a menu via a standard keypad to turn on touch sensitivity was a good idea.

I really could go on, but I've had enough. I've had, I think, ten mobile phones and this is the first one that's an unmitigated disaster. I'm sending it back to O2 tomorrow and getting the Samsung Tocco instead. Frankly, a paper cup and a length of string would be more useful than the LG Secret.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Hamster vacuum

Monday, 2 June 2008

Snakes alive!