The Highlight Reel Preview: Big Updates!

Having sat here for a good five minutes trying to think up a decent apology for neglecting this blog so badly, I eventually decided that being nice and sincere isn’t for me, gave it up as a bad job and put my feet up with a Newcastle Brown on hand. Although, I hasten to stress, that’s not what I’ve been up to these last few weeks. No, I’ve been beavering away on The Highlight Reel, and have a couple of exciting big updates about the show, which will see a few changes to both show and blog. What might they be? Well, because I can’t be arsed to think up of some clever, interesting viral marketing ploy, I’ll just tell you now.

First things first, Monday’s edition of The Highlight Reel sees a very special bunch of guys making an appearance at Sine Towers – the lovely guys from Cookie’s Crumble productions are in the studio to talk about their upcoming project The Dinner, and what you can do to help make it happen. They’re a genuine bunch of guys and their interview makes for great listening, so do tune in over on sinefm.com at 11pm GMT to find out exactly why their incredibly ambitious project is worth getting behind. Also on the show, there’s the usual mix of news, reviews and your mum jokes that are an integral part of The Highlight Reel, so expect reviews of World War Z, This Is The End and Hannibal.

While fooling some actual human beings into sitting into a room with me is big enough news by itself, that’s not the only exciting update I have for you. On Monday’s show, I briefly introduce Matt, my young Padawan who, starting next week, will be joining me as my co-host. Yes, I’ve been indoctrinating him into the Sine Collective these past few weeks, which means an extra brain on the show and on the blog. The division of labour means I’ll have much more time to write my high-larious comedy gold pieces on here, as will he, and both the blog and the show will continue to get bigger and better. So, do keep a close eye on this blog for further updates, as we do our best to keep you informed about all the really important stuff that doesn’t actually affect your life in any conceivable way.

You can follow the lovely folk of Cookie’s Crumble on that Twittery thingy so please do and also spread the word and give them all/some of your money HERE:

Jade Hamilton

Jess Pagan

Cookie’s Crumble

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Man Of Steel: Why Superman Is The Worst Superhero Ever

Just a quick note to start with: this is NOT a review of Man Of Steel, because every other bugger has reviewed it already. This is a discussion of a couple of the main themes of the movie – namely, blowing shit up – and as such contains some spoilers. Don’t read this if you’re one of the three people alive who hasn’t seen Man Of Steel yet!

 

So, on the next edition of The Highlight Reel (which airs on Monday over on SineFM.com, as ever), I review what is arguably the most anticipated movie of the summer so far, Man Of Steel. I won’t be doing that here, because literally every other blogger on this site has also done it (probably), so instead, I thought I’d take different approach. While I didn’t come out of the film hating it like many have done (in fact I actually thought it was decent, but not much more than that), there was one overriding thought that kept surfacing in my brains whenever I thought about this movie, like a series of farts in a bathtub: Superman fucking sucks.I don’t mean as a character (although he does, and trying to make the archetypal superhero interesting is one of many areas where this movie fails). I mean as a hero. As a good guy. As the kind of guy who, say, doesn’t haphazardly lay waste to a city while fighting the bad guy. I mean, what the hell, Supes? Isn’t the whole point of Superman that he is the best of us – an alien force moulded by the best and kindest of humanity into a perfect being who values every single human life? And here he is, wiping out AN ENTIRE GODDAMN CITY in a brutal bout of fisticuffs with Zod. It looks spectacular when Superman smacks Zod through an entire city block, to be sure (something which happens several hundred times throughout this films’ 2-hour-and-change running time), but surely that’s a level of collateral that Superman just wouldn’t be willing to take. Now, I know in a fight with Zod, when the fate of the entire planet is at stake, you might expect some chaos to ensue. You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette, and all that. Or, more accurately, you gotta break a few eggs to save a few billion other eggs currently cacking themselves in fear of Zod’s giant gravity drill doodad. But come on. In the original films, Superman would fly about catching debris as it fell to protect a handful of people, often putting himself in harms’ way to do so. I know the chaotic action is increased a bajillionfold in this movie, but that’s still no excuse for turning Superman into the spandex-clad Tazmanian Devil. He simply does not give a shit in this movie, jackhammering through buildings in his pursuit of Zod, hurling trains, piledriving him into gas stations. It makes for a spectacular fight, but it’s not very heroic. Even Frank Millers’ geriatric psychopath Batman didn’t go this far, and that was Frank “Mr. Sensitive” Miller! The man who made Batman call Robin retarded wouldn’t go as far as you did! Rethink your movie!

Even Zod is appalled at Supes’ disregard for human life.

What confuses matters even more is the screwy character arc that Supes goes through in this movie. At first, I felt like he didn’t even have one, like he was the same character at the end of the movie that he is at the beginning. Literally every other character in the movie is, apart from Zod, and I don’t think being dead qualifies as character development. Although if it does, then Paolo and Nikki from Lost are actually far more complex characters than I ever gave them credit for. But no, Supes actually does have a character arc. He just has it backwards. At the start of the movie, he actually does travel the world, using his powers for good, saving people from impossible situations that were unforseeable and otherwise unpreventable. Then we flash back to his dad telling him not to use his powers for good because it scares people, and he inexplicably decides to sacrifice his own life to make his point (is it good parenting to leave your wife a widow just to teach your adult son a lesson?), which is fine, I mean, I kinda see his point even though it’s moronic, but it seems like Superman goes entirely the other way with it. I’m sure this was unintentional, and in the chronology of the movie it’s not quite true because of the random nature of the flashbacks, but narratively speaking, after this scene, Superman saves precisely no one. Yeah, a lesson well learned there, guys. Is being a good listener a superpower?

Actually, that’s not quite true. He does go out of his way to save one person. It’s Lois Lane, of course! Yaaay! You know how Meatloaf would do anything for love, but he won’t do that? Superman does ‘that’ several times in this movie. Apparently he cares enough about his fathers’ opinions right up until the point where it stops him from getting sex, so there is at least some basis in reality on display here. Anyway, the chemistry between the pair is entirely non-existant, but apparently if you just follow your man around for a bit he’ll soon fall for you. The pair even share a passionate kiss in the ruins of Metropolis, and crack a little joke about it. The kiss that is, not the ruin of Metropolis, although they might as well be doing that with this display of callous affection. Guys, literally thousands of people have died. Is this really the time? This ends with the big fight between Supes and Zod, in which even more of the city is destroyed, up until Superman snaps Zod’s neck. Hey, that was really badass, until you remember that SUPERMAN DOESN’T KILL PEOPLE. EVER. That he was forced into doing so might have been an interesting plot point, and a sign that they were to do something different with the character, but after a brief scream (he opts for the teary-eyed scream rather than the tried-and-true “NOOOOOOOOO” to the heavens), he seems pretty much over it. Come on, man. You just brutally murdered the last of your kind. If I dropped a sandwich I’d mourn it for longer than that. Granted, you were forced into it (if you can call trying to save a family who could easily run away from Zod’s eye beams, but who inexplicably refuse to do so, much like that security guard who gets crushed by the steamroller in Austin Powers being ‘forced’), but you still had to kill a guy. I guess after you indirectly kill thousands of innocents by not really caring which skyscrapers you flatten, you just become desensitised to the whole thing. He probably doesn’t even need a tub of ice cream to get over it. The bastard.

“Hey there beautiful, destroyed any good skyscrapers lately?”

So, to sum up: Superman levels a city, cares nothing for its inhabitants, doesn’t even try to save them after he smashes up their office/apartment/restaurant/whatever, because he’s ether too busy single-mindedly beating up Zod who he has no compunction about killing anyway so why didn’t he just do it in the first place, or because he’s trying to get Lois Lane horizontal. Whattaguy. They should call it Dick Of Steel. In fact, scratch that, because I think I already saw a film on the internet with that title. That film was quite different.

 

It had more character development, for one thing.

The Dumbening: The 5 Stupidest Moments in The Happening

So, on the latest edition of The Highlight Reel (which airs this Monday at 11pm GMT over on SineFM.com), I talk about cinematic idiots. It’s something I enjoy picking apart, and as such I know there are way, way too many to do a proper best and worst kind of feature. In the end, I went for a very broad view of what idiots mean to the audience when they’re on the screen – why they sometimes frustrate us, why they sometimes make us laugh, why they repeatedly get stabbed in the brain in horror movies, and so on. It was fun, but unfortunately that broad approach meant I couldn’t really get into what is by far my favourite stupid movie. Hell, it’s a film so colossally stupid, that the phrase “stupid movie” doesn’t quite cut it. It’s so catastrophically bad, in almost every conceivable area, that it’s actually one of the most entertaining films of all time, which plays out exactly like a feature length episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace with a healthy dose of Monty Python thrown in.  I’m referring to the cult classic The Happening – or Mark Wahlberg vs The Trees if you prefer – a quite breathtaking exercise in pure idiocy that, like anything that is truly dumb, so desperately wants to be smart, but it’s self-importance only serves to make it even funnier. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket. In honour of this very brown, steaming gem, I’ve decided to put together my top 5 favourite dumb moments in The Happening. In case you haven’t seen it, you should go and watch it now, preferably while incredibly drunk. Like, right now. Go.

Done that? Great. I’m taking you on good faith here, reader. Ok, you were probably so drunk that you don’t remember the plot anyway, so here’s a basic summary: plants start sending out spores that cause people to commit suicide en masse in a curiously languid fashion. Marky Mark and his wife, the hipster’s wet dream Zooey Deschanel, have to find a way to escape the population centres where those evil shrubs are striking. Bear in mind, this is supposed to be a horror movie. Everything I’m about to list was written by an actual person (well, ok, M. Night Shyamalan, he sort of counts), and other people read it, thought it was scary, and handed over millions of dollars for him to make it. With that in mind, let’s dive in, but before we do, a friendly threat to comment with your own favourite happenings from The Happening below, or else I will come round to your house and blow on you until you kill yourself.

5: “There’s a car!”

 

She's right, though. It is a car.

She’s right, though. It is a car.

 

I had to think long and hard about this one, and to be honest the coveted 5th spot faced stiff competition from just about every single frame in the movie. However, of all the stilted, awkward lines of dialogue in the movie (that is to say, all the lines of dialogue in the movie), there was one that I distinctly remember snorting with laughter at when I first saw it, purely because I couldn’t believe a professional screenwriter could put such a thing on the page and think “yep, that’s totally something a real person would say”. There’s a scene in which Marky Mark and friends are sheltering in a bar with a group of other survivors, when they find out that the happening actually isn’t happening a few miles away. They all stream away from the bar in scenes reminiscent of the start of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, leaving Wahlberg and Deschanel behind. Hey, if I saw Zooey Deschanel trying to act all emotional, with her goggle-eyed acting range which resembles a taxidermy animal being slowly inflated, I’d leave the area pretty sharpish too.  No one listens to their pleas for help. “Can you believe how crappy people are?” Zooey asks. I can believe how crappy some actors are, yes. It appears everyone has left them stranded, which holds tension for all of two seconds before a car pulls up about a foot behind them. And, in case you are as stupid as any given character from this movie, Zooey points to the car, which is literally right in front of them and within touching distance, and states “There’s a car.” Wow, M. Night. Wow. Either he has a palpable sense of contempt for his audience, whom he presumably views as some sort of pond life, or he genuinely believes people actually talk this way. I’m not sure which is worse, but either way I’d like to see this kind of abusively obvious narration appear in everyday life. This is a blog post. You are reading it. The next number on the countdown is next. You are a person.

4: Run Like (Or A Bit Faster Than) The Wind!

Next on the list is a bit different, because it probably sounded really cool on paper. There are deadly spores in the air, and the heroes find themselves in the middle of a field full of long, waving grass. And, wouldn’t you know it, a light breeze begins to waft through the grass, leading to a tense chase as Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch are forced to run away from the wind… actually no. It doesn’t sound cool on paper at all, because I just wrote it down and I have no idea what in the blue hell they were thinking of. As movie monsters go, is there anything lamer than the wind? When your movie monster falls short of literally every 70s exploitation movie ever, most of which consisted of taking a classic horror baddie and putting them in space or some shit, you need to rethink your strategy. Just… the wind? Really? You thought prolonged shots of waving grass was enough to establish a high threat level? How did the actors keep straight faces trying to sell this? Was M Night standing behind the camera making whoooooshing noises like Freakazoid to get them into character? What were the rejected monsters from The Happening? Light drizzle? Low humidity? High-pH soil? This scene provides many questions, but alas, no answers. Not that it matters, because the wind catches up to them anyway – and I’m still not sure of how you actually manage to run away from something like the wind, it seems to me like trying to fight gravity by craning your neck really hard, but whatever – and in the end, nothing happens. You can’t even invest enough in your own crappy, invisible, ultra-cheap monster idea to have it kill anyone. This is a special brand of godawful.

3: Must Be A Board Meeting…

Wheeeeeeee!

Wheeeeeeee!

The first scare in any horror movie has to be a good one. It needs to set the tone of the movie right from the off, to let the audience know that they’re going to need clean pants when they waddle out of the screen. It’s why so many horror movies open with something horrible happening to a bunch of no-name, random victims before moving on to introduce the main characters, as if we’re just catching the end of another horror movie before the main feature starts. It reassures us and lets us know that, even though we’re taking a bit of time out to get to know the characters, we did in fact sign up to a horror film and scary shit will indeed be going down. The Happening takes this approach, and, cruelly, at first has some success before it rapidly descends into farce. We see two girls on a park bench (in Central Park, no less), chatting away. It’s horrible and wooden, and incredibly awkward, but hey, it’s a horror movie. We’re here for the chills, man, not Shakespeare. Slowly, one of the girls starts to glaze over, as the entire park comes to a standstill. The zombified girl pulls a spike out of her hair and silently stabs herself in the neck with it. Hey, that was kind of cool! You established something eerie and opened with a shocker! Sure, it was horribly acted and seemingly written by a 5 year old, but you know, it looks like a neat idea. Can’t wait to see where they go with it.

Oh, what’s this? We’re cutting to a building site, oddly specifically located “three blocks away from Central Park”? Ok, well, a little weird, but I’ll go with it. A bunch of builders stand around, awkwardly bantering just like real humans don’t, when a body tumbles from a rooftop and crashes behind them. “Christ, McKenzie fell,” deadpans one builder, with all the emotion of Steven Wright reading out of a phone book. Soon after, another builder falls off the rooftop. Then another. And another. And another, until it is literally raining men. Pro tip for all you budding writers out there: when you’re planning your first big scare in your horror movie, don’t have it be a repeat of a classic Monty Python sketch. And don’t have it mirror the lyrics to 80s pop hits, either. I can’t even believe it needs to be said that your super-serious, environmental horror movie, which has this message that you really want people to believe in, should not have your audience pissing themselves laughing within 5 minutes of the credits. Surely someone involved in the production of this movie saw Monty Python, and even if they thought the idea of builders collectively tumbling to their deaths was gripping and chilling (it isn’t, though), the comparison should have still been flagged up. As a result, the first big scare actually does set the tone for the rest of the movie, but not in the way you might hope.

2: Hakuna Matata

Amazingly, the Python-aping opening isn’t even the most ridiculous example of death in the film. That’s right, The Happening manages to out-Python Python. I’ll remind you again, this is a horror film, a serious one at that, with an environmental message that Shyamalan really wanted to be deep and thoughtful. You have to question why, then, when his intentions were so pure, that he decided to include a scene in his film in which a zookeeper staggers into the lion enclosure and starts annoying the lions until they eat him. Everything about this scene is just hilarious. The idea of a guy going up to some lions, who really don’t give a shit, and just prodding them until they bite his arm off is one that most comedy writers only wish they had thought of, and here it is for your viewing pleasure in The Happening. It’s a real special, creative kind of stupidity that allowed this to happen. It doesn’t even make any sense within the films’ own flimsy logic. Even if a person did come under the influence of these deadly spores, and immediately tried to kill himself as quickly as possible, surely there were quicker and easier ways than being mauled by lions? You mean to tell me that this guy, who’s practically been turned into a zombie by these spores, decided he needed to unlock the complex security measures that are there to stop precisely this kind of thing from happening and get mauled by lions? Was that really the most immediate solution that was available to him when he was brainwashed into killing himself? It’s such a stretch in logic, and so out of place with the rest of the film that this, more than anything, is the scene which baffles me the most. At least the rest of the hilarious crap in this film, stupid though it is, has at least a grain of (incredibly dumb, but still) logic in there. If you hadn’t lost your audience by the time this scene burbles onto the screen, you certainly have now, M. Night. What on Earth were you thinking?

 

1: The Plant Whisperer

Well, if you’ve seen The Happening, you knew it was coming. I’m sure you knew what was number one before you even clicked on this article, and, unlike M. Night Shyamalan, I’m not prepared to insert some last-minute twist just for the sake of it. By far the stupidest moment in a film that’s so full of them the pure idiocy of it is physically crippling to watch is… Mark Wahlberg begging a pot plant for his life. Everything about this scene is comedy gold. Just read this statement aloud. You’re watching Mark Wahlberg beg a plant to spare his life, reasoning with the plant that he and the survivors “just want to use the bathroom” and then they’ll be gone. It’s impossible to read it without chuckling, and yet, for some reason the scene is shot completely straight. Wahlberg is doing his quiet, tense whispering voice and doing this wide-eyed, fearful expression like a woodland animal being hunted by angry hillbillies. There’s no music, and no cuts. Your entire attention is focused on the action, which is usually a sure fire way to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels WHEN THAT ACTION DOESN’T INVOLVE MARK WAHLBERG BEGGING A TREE NOT TO KILL HIM. The completely dead-straight melodrama of the scene only serves to make it even funnier. I often wonder what M. Night was doing on set when they were filming this scene. How many takes did he demand? “No Mark! You need to be MORE fearful of that plant! Really sell that killer tree to me!” And then, in what serves as a glorious, side-pulverising punchline to the whole affair, M. Night’s flair for shocking twists strikes again as it turns out the plant was plastic all along. The laughs keep coming, as Wahlberg decides to narrate his discovery without ever changing his tone or expression, as if to spell it out to you what total crap you are watching. “I’m talking to a plastic plant,” he states. “I’m still doing it.” That you are, Marky Mark. That you are. Then, the scene cuts, mercifully sparing us the (probably) deleted scene in which he asks the plant plant how its day has been, what it thinks of the weather, and if it caught the big game last night. I wonder how he ended that conversation. Did he say bye to the plant? Did he just shuffle off awkwardly? Given the dialogue in the film, he probably said “I’m going to leave now. I have to find my wife and friends in the other room so I’m going to walk out of this room and find them. I’m still talking to a plastic plant.”

What other film gives you that amount of room for interpretation? What other film asks the important questions that The Happening does? What other film gives such critical roles to artificial shrubbery? The answer is none. So, dear reader, I leave you with the view that The Happening, as well as being a laugh riot, also manages to break down centuries-long discriminatory policies against plastic plant employment. Thank you, M. Night Shyamalan. For everything. I’m going to end this blog now. I’m going to stop typing and go away. I’m still typing now, though. But now I’ve stopped. Where the lions at?