Kung Fu Panda- In recent years animated films have become increasingly more popular, more common, and more artistic. Pixar has led the way while several other animation studios have tried to play catch up. With "Kung Fu Panda" DreamWorks doesn't attain a Pixar-like level of greatness, but they've produced a movie that's far more enjoyable than their usual fare.
In what appears to be ancient China, a young Panda named Po (voiced by Jack Black) dreams of being a kung fu master. In fact the opening scene is a hilarious dream sequence in which Po leads "the Furious Five" into battle against an army of thousands. Upon waking up Po must come down stairs to work for his father (who's actually a goose), serving up noodles to hungry crowds. This is not where Po wants to be for the rest of his life and certainly not on this day. An age old question will be answered when one of the Furious Five is chosen to fulfill an ancient prophecy.
Po has a difficult time getting to the event but upon stumbling in he finds out he is in fact the chosen one. He must immediately begin training with Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) to defeat the much feared Tai Lung (Ian McShane). The problem is Shifu does not believe in the bumbling Po and wants him to quit.
It's not difficult to discern how the rest of the film unfolds from here. "Kung Fu Panda" doesn't win any points for story originality but it's a lot of fun and Jack Black is clearly having a great time voicing Po. He brings an enthusiasm to the film that is infectious. I also liked his relationships with Shifu and the Furious Five. Typically in films such as this he would end up gradually winning over all of them at the same rate. Here he wins over one or two at a time. It's a nice little touch that I wasn't expecting and as we get to know the characters through the film it makes sense.
"Kung Fu Panda" is a very enjoyable movie that really does have something to offer to children and adults. It is currently in wide release. 7/10.
The Happening- I am not a knee jerk M. Night Shyamalan apologist. Yes I did very much like "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," and "Signs." I even thought "The Village" was a decent film, even if it falls to pieces at the end. But "Lady in the Water" was horrendous tripe and one of my most loathed films of the past few years. I feared "The Happening" might somehow manage to be worse. I suspected I might end up referring to it as "The Crappening." The real twist this time isn't the ending, it's that this movie is actually pretty good. Not in a serious minded "Sixth Sense" way, but in a silly B-movie that you can't take too seriously sort of way.
In a genuinely chilling opening sequence we see New Yorkers inexplicably freeze, walk backwards, and find any means available to them to commit suicide. Cut to a Philadelphia classroom where high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is telling his class about the disappearance of honey bees throughout much of the country. He tells the kids that the answer to this question will never be fully understood and that there are forces at work beyond our comprehension.
The events in New York have sent the entire northeast into a panic. Not knowing if they are the result of a terrorist attack or not, large cities are emptying in droves and Philadelphia is no exception. Along with his wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and his best friend (John Leguizamo) who's bringing along his daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez), Elliot heads for the country and what he hopes will be safety. But wherever people go the mysterious plague follows.
As I said in the opening paragraph, "The Happening" is a silly B sci-fi horror movie. When the explanation for the events is revealed (thankfully not in a twist ending) it comes across as being utterly ridiculous and stupid. But in the world of this film utterly ridiculous and stupid just manages to add to the fun. Wahlberg and Deschanel have taken some hits for their performances in this movie but they're acting like they're in a B-movie. They know what they're doing here.
"The Happening" has some groan inducing moments to be sure and Shyamalan's attempt to make a real statement wrapped up in the B-movie package doesn't come off, but he's given us quite an entertaining hour and a half of film with some sequences that inspire true chills.
Of course there's always the chance I'm completely wrong and Shyamalan has tried to make a serious film and has failed miserably. But honestly I don't believe that to be the case. The question is am I the only one? "The Happening" is currently in wide release. 7/10.