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The Happening June 16, 2008

Posted by Shujath in English, Movies, Reviews.
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“One film wonder”, “Last nail on Shyamalan’s coffin”, “new material to make Scary Movie 5”, “Someday someone will stop bankrolling Shyamalan’s dumb dreams and keep this kind of tripe from happening”, “If Shyamalan wanted to commit career suicide he couldn’t have chosen a more likely vehicle than this laugh inducing thriller”. Those were just some of the “critical” reactions I picked up from Rottten Tomatoes for M. Night Shyamalan’s latest offering “The Happening”. If you think these comments are probably true and the same can rightfully be applied to his previous flicks post “The Sixth Sense” then my advice to you – Kindly stay away as this won’t change your opinion either. Stay away too if this is is going to be your first Shyamalan film.

The rest actually are advised to actually watch the film than reading further – not because I am giving away spoilers (there aren’t any actually) but becacuse I feel it might take away some of the fun watching this one. Concept-wise this happens to be the simplest of Shyamalan’s films. One fine day, in New York City something extraordinary happens. People start committing suicide in droves. Medics claim that something in the air has caused flipped the “survival instinct” switch of humans. People are evacuating to safer places and among them are Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and his friend’s daughter. Can they figure out what this plague is and will they be saved from it?

What I loved about this movie are the scares. The ones featuring dead people or people killing themselves are no doubt creepy but it really takes some imagination to spook you out with images of trees swaying in the breeze that too in broad daylight. There are so many little details which enhance the creepiness to great effect. Okay, I admit now that it’s not all that rosy. The characters seem straight out of a horror film – which does bring in some humor in those tense moments…though it looks like it was intentionally meant to be that way. Also, the content of this flick can probably fill out just over an hour. So, the last 20 mins especially the episode with the old lady looks a bit forced into the narrative.

Nothing to write home about the acting except that the star presence of Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel helps. James Newton Howard yet again is in top form with Shyamalan and it would not be an understatement to say that this film would have been almost nothing if it weren’t for his score. I actually felt that Shyamalan was paying a hidden tribute to Hitchcock’s “The Birds” here. There are quite a few elements here which resonate with that film. “The Happening” is an extremely simple story effectively told – quite relevant if you think about it. All it demands of you is to sit back and watch and most importantly to stop waiting for some unexpected twist to happen.

P.S. If you were wondering where Shyamalan’s cameo was, read the end cast-credits. Also, in some of the scenes there is some tubelike contraption which keeps appearing on the top of the screen – which was always distracting the audience. I might not have observed before….but is it some deliberate blooper supposed to be Shyamalan’s trademark?

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Dasavathaaram June 15, 2008

Posted by Shujath in Movies, Reviews, Tamil, Telugu.
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The loonnnng wait is finally over and the reviews are out. Some have called it magnificent while others have called it disappointing. It’s actually both – magnificent being the effort and disappointing (relative to the hype and hoopla) being the outcome. And yes, Kamal Haasan is responsible for both. Dasavathaaram could have been a brilliant chase thriller set in the backdrop of the age old philosophical debate about the existence of God. However, along the way Kamal’s high ambitions come in the way of his self-indulgence and the the latter dominates most of the movie (add to that some extended uninteresting bickering scenes between Asin and Kamal) after the highly interesting first half.

Firstly, when you expect to see him don ten different roles you also rightfully expect each of them to be memorable. But half of the avatars (or maybe more) are totally redundant to the movie – a couple of them border on ridiculous…in the last category especially being the Sardar pop singer and the unusually tall Pathan – which in large part can also be attributed to the awful dubbing by S.P Balasubramanyam in the Telugu version. Also, his English lines for the scientist avatar (the main hero) are equally bad. In the beginning of the movie, I had to scratch my head for a while to figure out that “Khayaas theory” was actually “Chaos theory” when he explains the butterfly effect. I am sure Tamil viewers wouldn’t have to complain about this aspect of the movie because when you see how brilliantly Kamal dubs for “George W. Bush” and “Chris Fletcher” you cannot but assume that he’s done a similar job for the rest of the characters too.

Incidentally, Dubya and Fletcher are two of the most memorable characters in the film. I never expected that Kamal would actually incorporate Bushisms too….Nice job at that! The ex-CIA assassin Fletcher avatar has been wonderfully conceived and special care has also been given not just to his appearance but also his lines. However, these two characters make an impact only if you understand the language and the context (in the case of Bush). What everyone ultimately will remember from this movie is the bumbling Tamil cop Balaram Nader…in the Tamil version it’s supposed to be a Telugu cop called Naidu. After a couple of scenes simply his appearance on the screen makes you crack up. Kamal has played memorable oddball comic characters in the past and now he can prouldy add this one to his list. I strongly felt there should have been more screen-time devoted to this character. The rest of the avatars don’t strike a chord at all.

Apart from this one-man show, the VFX team needs to be given a standing ovation. Now don’t come to the conclusion that this film is devoid of the tacky SFX so prevalent in South Indian films. The thing is they get it right most of the time and when they don’t; the tackiness still gels with the tone of the film without descending into ridiculousness. The thing which they’ve achieved to perfection (and which you might not take notice of) is the seamless amalgamation of the scenes featuring multiple Kamal Haasans. There are lots of them in the movie and mind you…these are not scenes where one character is simply talking to the other with his back facing the audience or just two characters coming face to face with each other in the left and right frames. Only on watching this can one realize why this one took so long in the making – even a simple scene can become extremely complex because of the presence of multiple avatars. Also, the camerawork (Ravi Varman) is splendid…especially use of zoom-in and zoom-out shots. Himesh Reshammiya can get away with his forgettable tunes only because songs aren’t an integral part of this film. Devisri’s background score is really good – notwithstanding the fact that the main theme is lifted from the first theatrical teaser of Spider-Man 3.

Dasavathaaram fails to be the masterpiece it was intended to be be only because the not-so-interesting avatars eat into the interesting premise in the second half of the movie, but I strongly feel this one be given a fair chance purely for the efforts of Kamal Haasan and director K.S. Ravikumar.