Via Chicago
— Errata Movie Podcast —
13 June 2008 — Episode 018 Podcast

The Happening
Zooey Deschanel and Mark Wahlberg in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening.
Photo credit: Zade Rosenthal

On this episode of the podcast, we speed through brief reviews of 18 summer movies, including the new film by M. Night Shyamalan called The Happening.

Like the wheels of a big rig, each of these films has a different size, shape, color, and decibel level. Some are clearly overinflated, some might benefit from an injection of air, and some have nails driven into them by rivals who are sick and tired of a driver who lets his speed fluctuate so wildly. Some are shaded by mud flaps with shapely women silhouetted in chrome, others by Yosemite Sam who urges you and yours to call an 800 number if you see the driver texting from the wheel, immediately, using your mobile carefully as you try to draft off of this erratic mofo. Some, frankly, have been reduced to flayed strips of rubber and stirred with unlucky, misshapen armadillos on the shoulder, but not by the likes of us.

Eighteen wheels from a thirty-ought-six, comin' straight at ya. Eighteen full and considered film reviews, conceived not at all hastily but presented as though they were, an illusion accomplished not with mirrors but by speaking at double the accepted conversational rate. Consider yourself forewarned.

Subscribe in iTunes and you'll get a program with the following chapter stops built-in for easy jumping, complete with links to the appropriate trailers:

0:00 Intro
1:35 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Spielberg)
10:07 The Happening (Shyamalan)
15:09 Kung Fu Panda (Foshko)
17:01 My Winnipeg (Maddin)
20:06 Mongol (Bodrov)
22:54 War, Inc. (Seftel)
24:49 Roman de gare (Lelouch)
28:37 Speed Racer (Wachowski & Wachowski)
31:03 Iron Man (Favreau)
35:21 Redbelt (Mamet)
38:24 Shotgun Stories (Nichols)
41:34 Son of Rambow (Jennings)
43:50 Reprise (Trier)
46:08 Three Films by Rivette, Breillat, and Assayas
49:47 Young@Heart (Walker)
55:18 Stuck (Gordon)
57:20 "The end is important in all things"
58:29 Outro

Listen Now or Subscribe in iTunes (it's free)
Duration: 59:12


  • Here are my written reviews of The Happening, Mongol, Indiana Jones, Speed Racer, Redbelt, and Son of Rambow at Paste. I also mentioned The Ruins.
  • And here's J. Robert Parks on Kung Fu Panda, The Happening, Iron Man, and Indiana Jones.
  • An ambiguous bit: I mentioned that I liked the way Son of Rambow studies contrasts, not just the one that develops between the two leads — a young tough reminiscent of The Butcher Boy and a skinny kid from a strict, religious family — but also the one between them and the zippered hipster who drops in from Europe. In the podcast I mentioned that this French kid is an injection of "new wave" into a tweed and bricks setting. Just to clarify: I meant Flock of Seagulls new wave, not Godard/Truffaut new wave. Confusing, because later, when talking about Reprise and The Duchess of Langeais, we did nod to the other vague.
  • Guy Maddin told me at the end of our chat last year that he hoped his next film would really jump start Winnipeg tourism.
  • This is episode 18. Kind of blows your mind, doesn't it?
Posted by davis | Link | Other Episodes
Listener Comments
June 15, 2008, 07:04 AM

Greetings from Nottingham, UK!

First of all thanks for this amazing podcast! I've came across it only a couple of months ago, and in such short time it became THE film podcast here at home, raising almost 'fanatic' following...

Cutting this comment short: any changes of reviewing Aleksandra, from the Aleksandr Sokurov , now being premiered all over Europe? and any news or info about the most recent Jae-young Kwak's, Cyborg Girl, premiered last month?

Once again many thanks,


June 15, 2008, 10:28 AM

Hey, Atomo. I hadn't heard about our fanatical following in the UK, although I do know that we're big in Japan. 'Course that's probably because J. Robert tours there every spring in a Stray Cats cover band.

I've seen Alexandra, and I mentioned it very briefly in our episode about the New York Film Festival, but we haven't really given the film a thorough talking over. Maybe it'll play in Chicago soon.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen Cyborg Girl, but I'll be on the lookout. Thanks for listening.

June 15, 2008, 05:46 PM

Actually, Rob, the cover band has changed over to Cheap Trick songs. Those go over even better in Tokyo.

Seriously, though, we also discussed Alexandra in the Toronto podcast. I'd link to it except that I'm technologically illiterate. Judging by your cool chapter breaks, it looks like we talked about it for a couple minutes. But I could see a Sokurov podcast somewhere down the road.

Thanks, Atomo, for your kind words. I haven't seen Cyborg Girl. Is it worth checking out?

June 15, 2008, 06:20 PM

Oops, actually I meant TIFF, not NYFF. The link above is to the Toronto podcast and J. Robert's comments. I saw the film later at NYFF, but we haven't talked about it since.

June 15, 2008, 11:16 PM

Aw, now you've really made me regret missing Stuck, which left town last Thursday. I'll cross my fingers that the Red Vic brings it back.

Kung Fu Panda looks gorgeous- far and away the best-looking animation Dreamworks has released, as far as I can tell (I have not seen Madagascar for example). But why does my nagging sense that all these recognizable Hollywood voice actors playing Chinese characters (anthropomorphic as they may be) amounts to a form of cultural imperialism, have to get in the way of just enjoying what's on the screen? I guess my feelers for this sort of thing are just too sensitive.

I'd like to talk about the Happening a bit- is the acting really any worse than that in Shyamalan's other films? Or the dialogue, either? In his other films atmosphere was able to better cover up for what for me has always seemed like the most blatant example of consistently self-conscious line readings in Hollywood. But I noticed the latter all the same, which has led me to appreciate his films (some more than others) for the way they seem to be investigating the very nature of storytelling. This one seems feels something like an experiment in how far the audience will remain sympathetic to a protagonist who almost seems to be making up the rules to an unfamiliar universe as he goes along. As J. Robert Parks says, it's hard to defend the film. And I won't, certainly not as a successful entertainment for the summer season. But I do think it might be worth exploring- it's not failing in the same ways that Hollywood films usually do (like the tail end of Iron Man, which I agree almost ruins what had been a very enjoyable movie), is it?

June 17, 2008, 02:46 PM

Hey, Brian. Thanks for the comments. I was on the road for a few days, hence my slow response.

"is the acting really any worse than that in Shyamalan's other films? Or the dialogue, either?"

True, maybe his other films were worse than I realized. ;-) I haven't revisited The Sixth Sense since its release, and I've always suspected that it would suffer upon second viewing because the finale depend so heavily on the twist. Or maybe it's the third viewing where it would break down; seeing it once with full knowledge of the secret might be fun.

I didn't care for Unbreakable at all, but in retrospect it's clearly my favorite of his post-Sense films. (I haven't seen The Village.) And it sort of fits your idea about his interest in the nature of storytelling. It's a superhero film, although that isn't clear at all until the very end, and rather than go through all of the steps of the usual superhero film -- the protagonist's personal problems, society's larger problems, protagonist's acquisition of power, acceptance of power, use of power for good -- Shyamalan focuses only on the first few beats. I'd have to see it again, but I like that idea.

"This one seems feels something like an experiment in how far the audience will remain sympathetic to a protagonist who almost seems to be making up the rules to an unfamiliar universe as he goes along."

True, but since Wahlberg is our surrogate it's hard to separate the protagonist's ideas from Shyamalan's assumptions about the audience. It feels like Shyamalan has the rules worked out and he wants us and his character to piece them together while navigating a mine field of red herrings. That can be fun, except that I get the distinct feeling that I won't like where we end up because it won't make sense. It's like trying to solve a poorly constructed crossword puzzle, difficult for the wrong reasons.

If I could convince myself that the movie stays firmly within Wahlberg's head, it might make more sense. It's when we're getting (or seem to be getting) an objective view that it falls down. Wahlberg says they need to run ahead of the wind, and sure enough there it comes in a line across the tall grass. (Or, I guess the tall grass might just be sneaky. The wind might be a passive element.)

And the finale (spoilers ahead) begins with a news report that says, well, the mysterious happening could have been caused by the plants, or it could have been caused by government tests that were conducted in the Northeast. If it broke out somewhere else, we'd be able to rule out the latter.

And then -- dum dum DUM -- it does break out somewhere else, a city park again. But I was scratching my head because the Luxembourg Gardens, like most Parisian parks, is notable for its lack of foliage. It has a few trees, but you'll see more greenery driving down a highway in Missouri. So it perhaps invalidates both of those theories. (Or might the French government conduct tests as well?)

Now maybe Shyamalan is just refusing to answer his own riddle. Maybe it's another red herring. (E.g. why does it spread to smaller and smaller towns? And, actually, how do the news folks know it's doing that?) But it feels to me like it may just be a crummy crossword puzzle whose answers only approximately match the clues.

Of course the whole thing could be a metaphor. If it had broken out in San Francisco and Paris and New England, I might suspect a kind of political commentary. But it's hard to handle a story driven by metaphor but not logic; my favorite movies manage to honor both.

Mick LaSalle -- who I often disagree with but may be onto something -- has an interesting analysis on his most recent podcast. He thinks that Shyamalan writes as if he knows what a Shyamalan movie is and just wants to build it instead of working more loosely to discover what a Shyamalan movie is. And I think the success of The Sixth Sense -- both financial and the way it really hooked an audience -- may have caused this top-down approach. But who knows.

July 9, 2008, 08:00 AM

Thanks for another entertaining podcast, gentlemen. Seems like you've made the transition to being in the same room when you record (I assume) without any difficulty.

I finally saw Batman Begins on DVD last night and thought at least 16 times about how right Rob is (during the discussion about the new Indiana Jones) about the way that action sequences are put together in most films. In nearly every fight sequence (in what is otherwise a pretty entertaining film), I had absolutely no sense of spatial relationships between the combatants, and could hardly distinguish any of the ones who weren't wearing a bat costume.

July 9, 2008, 10:43 AM

Actually, we were lazily at our respective homes for this one, but I'm glad that it's sometimes hard to tell. I realized after recording that my new office is rather "live" and I'll have to find another spot with less echo. The next episode, recorded in my living room, goes up shortly and sounds a little better, although, of course, it has more beer bottle clanking and slurred speech, since J. Robert insists on downing four or five before he'll talk about movies. I didn't realize he did this until we began recording face to face, but it explains a lot.