Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Happening: Could A Village Make Sense Of These Signs?

"THE HAPPENING", the latest film by the former genius M. Night Shyamalan, begs many questions. Maybe the biggest question of all is, "Mark Wahlberg?"

The Sixth Sense... Unbreakable... Signs...

In the early days of the career of writer/director M. Night Shyamalan, these films were like the breaking of the day after the long cinematic darkness. Phrases like, ..."not since Hitchcock..." and, "...if only Orson Welles..." were thrown as loosely around Hollywood as company credit cards at a strip club south of Downtown.

In these motion pictures, a twenty-something outsider took three larger-than-life box office stars (Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson and Mel Gibson) and somehow caused these big-dollar, name-above-the-title giants to fill the everyman persona of ordinary folk, till movie-goers couldn't wait for more.

Even as the shiny new was rubbing off of Night's bright career with the appearance of The Village, followed by Lady In The Water, the day for Night, though increasingly cloudy, still had patches of brilliance (like when the movie critic gets eaten by a fairytale wolf while hiding in the laundry room in Lady), you still knew that as studio execs grew tired of the same old stories, the only thing keeping good Night from straight-to-DVD hell was an Academy Award and Shyamalan's ability to get Hollywood A-listers to line up to work for him.

Not only were there the Willis/Jackson/Gibson connection, but Shyamalan continued to attract a fresh wave of newer talent in multiple Oscar nominees Haley Joel Osment, Joaquin Phoenix and Paul Giamatti, even 2002 Best Actor winner Adrien Brody. From 1999 to 2006, it seemed like the toughest club in Hollywood for getting past the velvet ropes was the "Lead Role by an Actor in a film by M. Night Shyamalan" club.

Which brings us to today.

The word is out. First whispered by agents, then carried along the wind on cocktail napkin memos and mom's basement bloggers all across the country and beyond. "Avoid this guy like the Ishtar", and "You're better off doing the sequel to Superman Returns." Even Kevin Spacey passed.

So today, June 13, 2008, we welcome the premier of The Happening... a film by M. Night Shyamalan... starring...

Mark Wahlberg.

Mark Wahlberg has worked with some of Hollywood's best-known directors. The list includes Best Director winner Martin Scorsese, as well as Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights; There Will Be Blood), Tim Burton, Jonathan Demme, Wolfgang Peterson and John Singleton. Yet, he is still remembered more as a former underwear model and one-time musical star(?). In fact, Mark Wahlberg has yet to be a part of any film that has generated big numbers that didn't have George Clooney's name on it.

So why would the has-been director turn to the never-was actor to resurrect each other's careers? My guess is that the now-veteran director may have pulled a fast one on his star.

In interviews leading up to the premier of The Happening, Wahlberg has said,

"Night described this movie as Kramer vs Kramer meets The Birds."

Which explains it all. Wahlberg probably hasn't seen either movie, so it must have been simple for Shyamalan to drop this used tea bag of a script on the actor best remembered for playing opposite Helena Bonham Carter in chimpanzee make-up.

Then there's that R rating thing. This is the first M. Night Shyamalan film ever to have earned an R from the MPAA. So important is The Happening's R that is the over one month of t.v. ads for the picture, the R is displayed in blood red while an announcer tells you about it over pictures of well-edited depictions of violence. The R campaign takes on an even more heightened sense of marketing urgency when you hear the director himself say in an interview,

"One of the things that I said to everybody, the cast and crew, I said, 'This is a B movie. Let's get ourselves straight here. This is just a great B movie. We're making the best B movie we can here. That's our job. We're making a B movie'."

Nothing like lowering expectations on the success of a project with production costs estimated at around $67 million.

So what will become of The Happening? Will it return M. Night Shyamalan to the top of the food chain in Hollywood? What about Mark Wahlberg? Will his new picture prove that he, like all of Shyamalan's other lead actors is, in fact, a stand-alone box office draw?

If it doesn't, I just hope that I, as the critic of Shyamalan's apocalyptic fairytale, won't meet as untimely an ending as the cranky film critic in Lady In The Water.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Tim Donaghy and David Stern: The Fool Waha Interview

Convicted former NBA referee Tim Donaghy and long-time NBA commissioner David Stern did not sit down for an exclusive interview with's Bill Friday.

Bill Friday: Before we begin, I would like to thank both of you gentleman for being here today.

David Stern: My attorney tells me I'm currently not here.

Tim Donaghy: My attorney isn't returning my phone calls. Fire away.

Friday: All right then. Commissioner Stern, within the last 48 hours, Mr. Donaghy has leveled some incredible accusations against the NBA. Some have said that, if they are true, could in fact cause the utter collapse of the League as a sports entity in America. How do you respond to these accusations?

Stern: My attorney tells me that Mr. Donaghy is not currently here either. If neither I, nor Mr. Donaghy is currently here, then I find his allegations groundless and not worthy of a response by me, or anyone else not here at this time.

Friday: I see. Mr. Donaghy...

Donaghy: Call me Tim.

Friday: Alright then, Tim. According to court documents posted last week on the website The Smoking, it is alleged that you, "... compromised [your] objectivity as a referee because of personal financial interest in the outcome of NBA games". Yet yesterday, through your attorney, you say in essence that the League is in the business of fixing the outcome of games for the purpose of increased t.v. ratings and revenues.

Donaghy: What's your point.

Stern: His point is, NOBODY BELIEVES YOU!

Friday: Well, not no one, exactly. Just this morning, in an article on, L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson is quoted as saying, "There's a lot of things going on in these games and they're suspicious...".

Stern: Obviously, Phil Jackson was talking about that recent prime-time human cockfight between Kimbo Slice and James Thompson on CBS.

Friday: Actually David...

Stern: You will address me as Mr. Commissioner.

Friday: Mr. Commissioner. Actually, he was talking about the play-off games game in 2002 between the Lakers and the Sacramento Kings in which...

Donaghy: Mr. Commissioner stole the series from the Kings and gave it to the Lakers!

Stern: My attorney, if he were here, would say that this accusation is somewhat groundless, and completely unprovable in a court of law.

Donaghy: Oh yeah? Well my attorney says I have nothing left to lose and I better start singing to anyone who'll listen before my sentencing takes place on July 14th.

Friday: One other thing before we move on. Mr. Commissioner...

Stern: Call me Your Majesty.

Friday: Your Majesty, in 2005, the League fined then-Houston Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy $100,000 for comments he made claiming that a "League official" told him that referees targeted Rockets center Yao Ming, causing the team to lose a play-off series to the Dallas Mavericks.

Stern: The fact that coach Van Gundy received a $100,000 fine should prove that the NBA takes the irresponsible peddling of groundless accusations about the League seriously.

Donaghy: Ask him what else it means.

Friday: Okay. Commissioner, what else does it mean?

Stern: It means nothing. The League did not fine coach Van Gundy because of a so-called "conspiracy" among officials in League office. The League fined coach Van Gundy simply because he is short, bald and white.

Friday: That's fair. Shifting gears, how happy is the League with the Finals match-up between the Lakers and the Boston Celtics?

Stern: We are extremely satisfied with a return to this historic Finals pairing as we also are with the outcome of the series as well.

Friday: What do you mean "outcome"? Right now, the series is only guaranteed to go 5 games, and game 4 doesn't take place until tomorrow night.

Stern: On the contrary, the series is already scheduled to go back to Boston for games 6 and 7 next week. As far as the t.v. ratings are concerned, those two games should produce the highest rated programming for ABC television for the entire summer season. At least as soon as The Bachelorette ends its run later this month.

By the way Mr. Friday, it's my understanding that when the play-offs began, you picked the Celtics over the Lakers in 6 games.

Friday: That's correct. But how did you know...

Stern: I know many things that have an impact on our League. Tell me, do you have anything riding on that prediction... Mr. Friday?

Donaghy: I'm still HERE people!

Stern: We've already established that nobody is here my friend. Least of all you.

Friday: Before we close, do either of you have anything you'd like to say to the tens of readers who will be seeing this story?

Donaghy: I expect to write a book about my experiences while serving my debt to society. Also, I'm hoping to establish some form of visitation rights with my 4 children - just as soon as my ex-wife answers the subpoena. Other than that, my calendar is pretty clear for the foreseeable future. I guess my one regret in all this is that, as a convicted felon, I will no longer be able to vote for change in the next election. Therefore, I will be working as a volunteer in the 2012 Arkansas Gubernatorial campaign of fellow gambler Charles Barkley.

Friday: Your Majesty?

Stern: From now on, you will call me "Betty". After the conclusion of the NBA season, I am anxiously looking forward to this year's summer Olympics in Beijing. I can hardly wait to see just how this years' version of "The Dream Team" will fair against the rest of the world. Hopefully the foreign exchange rates will be favorable enough for the League to afford those cash payments the international referees are expecting to assure that Team USA will bring home the gold medal.

Donaghy: See! SEE!!! It's TRUE! It's ALL TRUE!!!

Stern: So, Mr. Friday, do you have any plans for later in the year?

Friday: Nothing concrete. After my unemployment runs out I was thinking of looking into opening a hot dog cart in Redondo Beach. I hear it's what all the creative types are doing these days.

Stern: Too bad. Someone with your special talents and abilities could always find a place for himself in the League Office. Here... take my card. My attorney will be in touch.

Friday: I bet he will be.

Donaghy: You said "bet"! Don't say "bet"! They're listening , you know! They're listening! THEY'RE LISTENING!!! Hand me that aluminum foil hat! Hurry!

Stern: And he wonders why his attorney won't return his calls.

Friday: David Stern...

Stern: Betty!

Friday: Tim Donaghy... Betty... Thank you.

Note: No attorneys, convicted felons or NBA Commissioners were seen, interviewed or injured in the writing of this article. Any resemblance to persons living, dead, famous or infamous, fictional or real is purely coincidental and should not be taken as a license for litigation.

After all, Bill Friday isn't even a real person. And even if he was, he's just an out-of-work, freelance writer working on a website that pays him no money to write nonsense like the piece you've just read.