Up Very Late

I did something incredibly lame; and I admit that. Let me talk you through the process.
I was up very late last night listening to the LifeZero show.
One of the hosts, Ben Durbin, I recognized from the “MacBreak Tech” show mentioned he was on Twitter.
I looked at what he had to say, and found this:
I’m calling it: “Yak-Sized Piece of Grit That Flew Into My Eye, Causing 15 Seconds of Painful Disorientation” for oboe and pianoforte. 02:02 PM May 01, 2008
“Huh”, I thought. “That should exist.”
And now it does.

Get Smart

“Missed it by that much.” That was about all I knew about the Get Smart TV show, just that catch phrase and the shoe phone, really. I think once, long ago, I saw the episode where Max and 99 get married, because I vaguely remember being puzzled over how someone could get married and not even say their real name. I researched it before I went, but I’m sure I missed a ton of in-jokes. For instance, the current Max (Steve Carell) had a wanted poster up on his refrigerator for Dr. Loveless from Wild, Wild West (I’ve seen every episode of that); but it turns out he also played a bad guy on the Get Smart series named Mr. Big. So there were probably a lot more references that just slid right past me. But that’s okay, because you don’t have to catch every one.
Supposedly, CONTROL (not an acronym, apparently, though you’re supposed to capitalize it) was disbanded after the Cold War ended and their arch-enemies, KAOS (ditto) went away. Except neither is true; both groups just went underground, literally. Max says something about being sixteen stories underground at one point. I don’t know how the original plot went, but in the film, Max isn’t an agent, but rather an intelligence analyst. Insert obvious joke here. Still, he’s very good at his job, and the Chief (Alan Arkin, and don’t forget to watch him in Catch-22) thinks that the world needs the old-fashioned type of agent, like the two of them are. So as much as Max wants that promotion to field agent, he isn’t getting it, even though he passed all his exams. Frankly, I was just glad that they didn’t make him into a total idiot, because I don’t think I could have tolerated that for almost two hours.
Early on, CONTROL headquarters is broken into, and KAOS grabs a complete list of all CONTROL field agents. But they have a secret weapon in the form of Agent 99 (Anne Hathway, not looking at all Princess Diaries-ish), who has recently had extensive plastic surgery and therefore won’t be recognized; and also (you guessed it) in their newest operative, Max, now Agent 86. Their super agent, the guy who gets applauded whenever he walks in the room, Agent 23 (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson), is forced to stay at the base and learn how to work the copy machine, while 99 and the untested Max go off to save the world.
KAOS has been making bombs (‘nucular’ ones; James Caan has great fun playing a president who no one ever quite comes out and says is George W., but we all know) and our heroes have to track the factory down, with 99 reluctant all the while and Max almost ridiculously enthusiastic yet deathly serious. They have great little gadget fights. (“Exploding dental floss. You don’t have this? Huh.”) She harps on his inexperience, he chides her for wanting to hit everything, and you sometimes wonder why the whole world doesn’t know that they’re undercover agents, the way they argue in public. But they muddle through (of course) and find the factory, and you think the movie’s over for a second. Then everything goes wrong again, and the good guys have to start all over.

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99 prepares to fire, and Max prepares to show off his skills at a made-up martial art.

I was expecting tons of physical humor, and while there certainly is that (such as the obligatory ‘maneuver around the security lasers crisscrossing the room’ scene), it isn’t just that, thankfully. There’s a scene involving a miniature crossbow and tiny darts that absolutely made me cringe, though I have to admit that the rest of the audience seemed to like it. Go figure. But surprisingly, it’s kind of a feel-good movie, in its way — the once overweight Max goes out of his way to make the chubby girl feel like the belle of the ball; and the Chief, after being called ‘gramps’ repeatedly, gets to beat up on a younger guy. So everyone gets to be a hero in his or her own way — except the bad guys, of course.
They’re led by the mysterious and nasty Siegfried (Terence Stamp), who is in turn led by the voice of the Unknown Caller on the phone. The sidekick angle is covered by Ken Davitian as the unheard voice of pseudo-reason, Shtarker, and muscle is provided by the Easter Island man, as Max christens him — really Dalip Singh, also known as the Great Khali to any wrestling fans out there. I had to look him up on imdb.com — he’s actually 7’2″ and weighs almost 400 pounds. So, yeah, Max and 99 get nearly flattened by him. He could flatten people just by looking at them funny, really.
Three and one-eighth idols here, and I never thought I’d be rating it that high. I did subtract one-eighth for that awful pincushion scene, but really it was pretty fun overall. You can see Masi Oka of Heroes fame as a tech, Bruce, and one of Max’s buddies; witness the upgraded version of the TV series’ Cone of Silence; and learn what can be done with one of those banners that they trail behind light planes. You’ll also see the Disney Hall in LA, which looks like a large heap of slightly melted aluminum sheets, and is a singularly ugly building. But don’t forget to pay attention to the man in the tree.

The Happening

The previews made kind of a big deal of the fact that this was M. Night Shyamalan’s first R-rated film. That was actually a surprise, but it seems it’s true. And you can tell that you’re watching an R-rated movie within the first five minutes, I think — I’m not positive of the exact criteria, but I’m pretty sure the way that girl in the park dies is no longer PG-13.
But this is a hard film to review. Not because I can’t make up my mind about it or don’t know what to say, but because I’m trying so hard not to give anything away. The twist isn’t much of a twist, but still. And I’m still mad at that movie rental chain that gave away the ending for The Sixth Sense, and I don’t need to attract that kind of bad karma. So I have a fine line to walk here, but I’ll do my best.
Mark Wahlberg plays science teacher Elliot Moore, who of course teaches in Philadelphia, because M. Night sets all his movies there. His wife, Alma (Zooey Deschanel, who I really only know as Emily’s sister) is just… weird. She walks around with those huge blue eyes and pale face and absolutely no expression beyond vague concern for a good part of the film, and though she keeps insisting that she just doesn’t like to share her feelings, I think that’s just to cover up the fact that she has no sense of humor whatsoever. Absolutely zero. Elliot’s best friend Julian (John Leguizamo) doesn’t like her, and I don’t think I blame him. But she’s kind of a nonentity anyway, so you don’t really need to worry about her.
The happening of the title is the fact that people are, out of the blue, committing suicide in various gruesome ways, starting in New York’s Central Park and radiating out. (See, I told you that Central Park is still dangerous!) And this is seriously gruesome. They may even have topped the whole helicopter blade trend that’s been bothering me, but I’m not sure. When I saw that particular gruesome death coming, I covered my eyes.
The twist, such as it is, comes from what’s causing this. Apparently something is making the brain’s safeguards against self-harm break down, but theories about that something range from divine intervention to some weird nuclear leak. The part I can’t figure out is why that makes people so actively kill themselves. It seems to me that shutting down those neurochemicals or whatever would just make you take foolish chances, like crossing the highway without looking. Here, they apparently can’t even bear to wait to find less hideously painful ways to die.

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The brooding scientist, the traumatized little girl, and the scarily disconnected wife wait for the plot twist.

Anyway, best friend Julian has a little girl, Jess, and since Julian isn’t the main character, the main character soon ends up taking care of said little girl. Fleeing the cities, even the smaller towns soon become unsafe, and with a rapidly-dwindling group, Elliot, Alma, and Jess head out into the wilds of Pennsylvania. They meet maniacs who barricade their houses against nerve toxins (I always wonder if that would really work); a private separated from all his superiors and wandering around trying to act like he knows what to do; and even a little old crazy lady (Betty Buckley) who has no electricity and doesn’t even know what’s been going on. She’s also completely forgotten how to interact with other humans.
And… overall, it really wasn’t very good. I love M. Night, really, but he just can’t seem to hit the high notes of Unbreakable or The Village anymore. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I went to this film with high hopes, and it just didn’t work out. People have blamed bad casting, which could be part of the problem, but I know it isn’t just that. Something’s not clicking anymore, and it’s really a shame.
So two and three-quarter idols — one for the whole atmosphere of the film, which is very much up to his usual standards; one just because M. Night is M. Night, and three quarters because they actually leave the Philadelphia city limits for most of the movie. Otherwise, the only good thing I really got from this movie was another reason for me to dislike crowds.

Not just horror!

But yeah… a lot of horror. It was what I was working on this week.
Also made a fanfare for brass, though! That’s not horror!
The Rule
And here’s a simple request for the now classic style of piano music for horror films…
Classic Horror 1, 2, and 3
Finally, I did… quite a bit for “The Weakness: Episode 4″
Long Note 4, Ritual, Dark Walk, Unnatural Situation all come from that.
Ritual is a particularly nice piece. Super moody.

The Strangers

Finally, a movie has beaten Sunshine for the shortest cast list, with a mere eight people. You don’t even need to bother with three of the names. You never see what they look like, they don’t really act, and they might as well have been played by three random body doubles. I mean, they cast a supermodel, and never even show her face! But they’re the title characters, just the same, and they’re darned annoying.
When I was little, watching Looney Tunes cartoons, I never liked to watch the Roadrunner cartoons because I always wanted the Coyote to win, and of course he never could. It was just that everything always went the Roadrunner’s way, and poor Wile E. could never catch a break. After a while, I got so frustrated on his behalf that I couldn’t bear to watch anymore. This is kind of like a 90-minute version of one of those cartoons, only here there are two coyotes: Liv Tyler as Kristen McKay, and Scott Speedman as James Hoyt. And there are three roadrunners: The Man in the Mask, Dollface, and Pin-Up Girl. The two girls get real masks; but the Man in the Mask is actually wearing a bag over his head, with eyeholes and a mouth painted on. I think it’s burlap. Anyway, it must make it hard to breathe, because he spends most of the movie wheezing like an asthmatic. But even if he is asthmatic, it doesn’t matter, because he’s a roadrunner, so everything goes just the way he wants it to.

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Liv Tyler competes in the 100-yard crawl under the watchful eye of a supermodel.

I’m not exaggerating. It’s like covering their faces gives them the power to read minds. Their victims make a break for the car; they’re waiting to stop them. Their victims set up a trap; they neatly turn it against them. About halfway through, I was absolutely desperate for those two to find some good luck. I wanted to help them, and just kept fidgeting in my chair.
I think part of the problem was that the victims weren’t being quite as stupid as one might expect. They have their moments, of course — for instance, when things start to turn weird, Liv very sensibly exchanges the frilly dress she was wearing (they’ve been at a wedding reception) for jeans and a flannel shirt. Except she never actually puts shoes on, or even socks, and runs around barefoot the rest of the film, which is the opposite of sensible when avoiding homicidal maniacs. But for the most part, they don’t make a whole lot of moves that make you want to scream, “What were you people thinking of??” So I kept thinking that things would simply have to get better for them somehow, but they never did, and it was frustrating. And you know how people say that having a cell phone is safe, because then you’re never without a phone to call for help? It doesn’t help these two any, because you still end up without a phone. The batteries die, you can’t get a signal, or you leave it out in the car and the serial killers steal it; and you’re so dependent on the thing you don’t know what to do when hitting ‘Send’ doesn’t get you anywhere.
*ahem* Anyway. Two and three-quarter idols — one for Liv, one for Scott, and the three-quarters because the filmmakers took a bit of a risk, and it did work to an extent. The acting was solid, but it did suffer from something of the same problem The Hitcher did, and I can’t believe I’m saying that, because this was way better than The Hitcher. But though it is cool and trendy to hide the villains’ motives, too much of that just gets really aggravating. Basically, ninety minutes was a little too long. It needed to be more the length of a Loony Tunes cartoon.