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  1. Haymitch Abernathy: You really wanna know how to stay alive? You get people to like you. Oh! Not what you were expecting. Well, when you're in the middle of the games, and you're starving or freezing, some water, a knife or even some matches can mean the difference between life and death. And those things only come from sponsors, and to get sponsors, you have to make people like you. And right now, sweetheart, you're not off to a real good start.

– Quote from The Hunger Games 2 years ago

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– Quote from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 years ago

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The Village

The Village

(2004)
13 hours ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Most would agree that The Village is where M. Night Shyamalan's career started to die. Critics didn't take to it, and though the box office returns weren't terrible, audiences failed to grasp the film as well. I went into the movie knowing only that there was a divisive twist...

And I can admit that I see where the detractors are coming from. Some of the editing is confusingly abrupt. Some of the acting is disappointingly bland. Some of the acting (Judy Greer and Adrian Brody, in particular) is disconcertingly odd. And yes, the twist does lead to a blank expression and a raised eyebrow. I can completely understand giving this movie a less than enthusiastic review.

But it hardly mattered for me. If there's one thing I could say to express my enjoyment of The Village, it's that I was 100% entranced the whole way through. While the film is very slow and talky, I was still mesmerized from start to finish! The setting, the characters, the music, the story - they all work together to create a thoroughly enthralling atmosphere. I realize that "atmosphere" is a fairly indiscernible reason for liking a movie, but it's the best I've got.

The Village - a 19th century town run by a group of "elders." The townspeople are not allowed into the woods, in fear of "Those We Don't Speak Of." But in desperate need for medication, a blind girl named Ivy must travel through the woods in search of help.

Minus some spotty writing and acting, The Village is expertly crafted, as beautiful to look at as it is to ponder. The visual aesthetic of the film isn't attractive in the traditional sense of the word. There's something bizarrely beautiful about the whole experience. Maybe it's in the yellow cloaks, or the fall season, or even the grotesque villains who "We Don't Speak Of." Whatever the case may be, I couldn't keep my eyes off the screen!

Much of the disregard for the film rests in the twist and subsequent message. Basically, Shyamalan asks the question: Without negative outside forces, could a society become purely good? It's a noble idea, but a foolish one. I believe that people are more inherently bad than inherently good. And not in an extreme, murder sort of way. I just believe that people are born with the ability to lie, cheat - what have you. The environment doesn't matter, these traits will crop up in any society. So in that way, I think the movie's philosophizing is a bit of a fool's errand. As much as I admire the concept, my score for the film had to drop because of it.

The acting is very eclectic in terms of quality. On the good side, we have the two stars, Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard. In his second movie working with the director, Phoenix gives an appropriately subdued but likable performance. The film really is a romance between Lucius (played by Phoenix) and Dallas Howard's Ivy. This actually marked Ron Howard's daughter's first (big) big-screen movie. She has to shoulder the brunt of the dramatics, and she is stellar! Her performance is reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn's in Wait Until Dark - and not just because they're both playing blind characters. There's fear, strength, and determination in both performances. I wasn't overly impressed with the actress in Spider-Man 3 or The Help, but she is wonderfully luminous here!

The supporting cast doesn't make much of an impact. William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver are both entirely bland. Adrian Brody gives at both times an impressive and confounding performance. He over-acts noticeably, but he is still interesting to watch. In addition, you can play a game of "Spot Jesse Eisenberg," though you'll only be rewarded with one line from the rising star.

For the first time in their long collaboration, James Newton Howard writes a score that actively stands out from the film. Not in a distracting sort of way. But unlike the previous three Shyamalan/Newton Howard films, the music for The Village can stand confidently on its own. And for his effort, the always reliable composer earned a much deserved Academy Award nomination.

Even with its flaws and its disappointing central concept, The Village has a certain "It Factor" that none of the other M. Night Shyamalan movies I have seen possess. It's not The Sixth Sense or Signs, but it's much more captivating than Unbreakable, and it's a far cry from the monstrosity that some claim it to be. I enjoyed the bizarre, poetic, and spell-binding experience.

"The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe." 7.5/10

Signs

Signs

(2002)
1 day ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Mr. Shyamalan, you've dropped my jaw again! Signs marks the third movie I have seen from the much maligned director. So far, I loved The Sixth Sense, but was left unmoved by Unbreakable - after which, I lowered my expectations for Signs. There was really no need, because this movie is the most well made, well acted, and emotionally satisfying Shyamalan movie I've seen to date!

Graham Hess is a former minister, a widower, and a father of two. He lives on a farm in Pennsylvania with his children and his brother Merrill. Things around the quiet farm begin to shake up when Graham finds crop-circles in his corn fields.

I will say this, Signs didn't hook me from the get go. In fact, it took a good hour before the movie really had my full attention. The build-up is necessary for the story, I'm not denying that. Yet it still failed to interest me. But it's the final forty minutes, the climax of the story, that really left me speechless.

And this time, it's not because of a twist. In the two movies before, the director relied pretty heavily on a surprise ending to sell the movie to the audience. It worked wonderfully once... But Signs doesn't surprise with a twist, it surprises with an emotionally effective story of redemption. It's all brought to an extremely satisfying conclusion in the final moments of the story. I loved it!

Because for the first time, a Shyamalan movie really had a message that jelled with me. The film is very faith-based. In fact, what shocked me most was the spiritual backbone holding the story together. Graham is a former minister for a reason. After the death of his wife, he questions if there really is a God. Does everything happen for a purpose? If so, then why would God allow his wife to die in a freak accident? There's an excellent scene between Graham and Merrill where they discuss the "two types of people," those who think there is a greater force making everything happen for a reason, and those who think everything is pure chance.

The drama works because Graham has a perfectly legitimate reason to doubt his faith. The movie explores that. And so while it's nice to have aliens and suspense (more on that in a second), I really like the movie because I really like the drama and character development.

But there's nothing wrong with liking this film for its suspense! Signs marks the most well-made movie I have seen from M. Night Shyamalan. The story focuses on one family during the alien attack. It's a very personal story. There's no army flying in to save the day. That makes the family's stand against the aliens that much more terrifying. No one is going to come to the rescue. The scene at the end, where the aliens invade the family's house, is dripping with suspense. I was on the edge of my seat, and I was left entirely satisfied with the conclusion. I guess it's kind of like what Unbreakable tried to do with the home invader scene, but it works so much better here.

The film looks wonderful! Shyamalan's direction is darn near perfect! He has a definitive style, a style that I really enjoy! Like his past movies, he does clever things with the camera, editing, and lighting to make the film entirely his own. Though his script, while offering a good story, also offers some cringe-worthy dialogue.

The cast is truly excellent! Mel Gibson gives a convincing performance as Graham. Like I mentioned above, there is a definite arc that the character must travel. Gibson sells the character in every scene. It's the most powerful acting performance in a Shyamalan movie I have seen so far.

The supporting cast also impresses. The role of Merrill Hess, Graham's younger brother, could have easily gone to an actor like Mark Wahlberg, and the result would have been just fine. But the movie goes the extra mile and places Joaquin Phoenix in the role. I was surprised to realize that this movie was released two years after Gladiator. But Phoenix takes the subdued supporting role and gives an admirable performance.

Graham's children, Morgan and Bo, are played by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin. Culkin gets the worst of it, he has to say lines that are well above his pay-grade as a child actor. Breslin, on the other hand, is pretty fantastic! Granted, the character's purpose is "cute kid" more than anything, but Breslin is natural and energetic in the part.

So there's a lot that I like about Signs. And I already mentioned something I don't like (the slow first hour), but the other main problem I had with the film is a certain plot-devise near the end. In short, the director borrows a weak plot-devise from Unbreakable and adapts it into this movie. Though I did prefer the rebranding, it's still kind of cheap.

In his third effort, James Newton Howard once again enhances M. Night Shyamalan's movie. Signs starts out with a fantastic opening credits piece of music. From there, Newton Howard's music fades into the background, but in a good way. I can't say I remember any of the music from Signs, but I know it helped tell the story.

I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this film, and the first hour didn't give me any reason to be overly excited about the movie on a whole, but the final act pushes Signs right up to The Sixth Sense level. It's not quite as consistently excellent, but Shyamalan's third major motion picture shows the director (not the writer) at the best he has been so far! The film has meaning, the film has weight, the film has thrills, the film has suspense, and overall, the film proves the abundant talents of one of the most negatively accosted filmmakers of our generation.

"There are a lot of things I can take, and some things I can't. But what I can't take is when my older brother, who's everything that I want to be, starts losing faith in things." 8.5/10

Unbreakable

Unbreakable

(2000)
3 days ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Part two of my M. Night Shyamalan movie exploration. Unbreakable directly followed The Sixth Sense, a year after the director's breakthrough picture was released. The movie is a superhero/comic book film of sorts. But it is approached in a totally different manner than any other superhero movie I've seen. So is it any good?

No, it isn't very good. But it isn't very bad either. The core idea of the movie is an inherently intriguing one. There are various moments that are well done. But the story is lazy and preposterous. The script offers some head-scratching dialogue. The term "slow burn" was probably invented with this film in mind. The acting is spotty. In short, there's probably more bad than good in this movie.

I think I like the thought of this film more than I like the film itself. It should be amazing: a down-to-earth adaption of the Superman story. But it's not amazing. The movie is entirely centered on build-up. The story just keeps building and building and building. I kept expected something game-changing to happen, but it never does. The movie just builds to a plot-twist that feels like it should have happened in the middle of the story.

David Dunn is the only surviving passenger on a brutal train crash. He is then called to the place of business of Elijah Price, a physically fragile comic book collector. Elijah thinks there's more to David than meets the eye. He thinks David is unbreakable.

Most superhero movies are about coming to terms with ones power. But Unbreakable is about coming to terms with the thought of ones power. The whole movie revolves around David wrestling with the thought of being superhuman. In turn, we never truly get to see his powers in action. Which could be a fine thing, but sadly, the drama surrounding David is bland at best.

Firstly, the dialogue is really quite bad. Some scenes between David and his estranged(ish) wife Audrey do not sound like actual human interactions. It's always suggested that writers should write about things that they know. But there were multiple times during this movie where I immediately thought that Shyamalan must not know what he is writing about.

And it's not just the dialogue. There are entire scenes that are entirely ludicrous! In one, David's son almost shoots him in an attempt to prove that he is invincible. It would never happen, or at least it would never be carried so far. Silliness. And then there is the only action scene in the movie, in which David takes out a home invader. The scene comes off as ridiculous more than anything else.

And there's another twist. Not a good one. A fairly predictable one at that. Though it does set up a sequel that could have been a lot more interesting than this movie. And that really is my main problem with this film: it never takes the plunge. David never faces a challenging threat. His powers are never shown. He spends the whole movie saying "I'm not unbreakable." So, punch a brick wall, stab yourself in the arm, jump off a house roof top - do something that wouldn't get you killed, but would show if you were "gifted."

But the mechanics of the filmmaking are quite impressive. The first eight minutes of the movie are spaced out over two separate shots. Shyamalan does little things with costume and set decoration that suggests "comic book movie." There is a lot of thought put into the color palette. And there is some clever editing.

The acting is disappointingly bland. Bruce Willis lacks any semblance of charisma in the leading role. It could be construed as "subtle" acting, but I didn't find it anything more than tiresome. Watching a depressed (superhuman) security guard tick off the boxes of "just getting by" failed to hold my interest.

Robin Wright is also entirely uninspiring as David's wife, Audrey. It's really some of the blandest acting you will ever see. But, I guess it goes hand in hand with the dry character Wright has to play.

The only exceptional performance comes from Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah. I just loved the whole visual style that accompanied the character, and Jackson offers some intrigue that the movie sorely needed.

James Newton Howard's sophomore collaboration with Shyamalan provides little in the way of surprises. Newton Howard's music for The Sixth Sense enhanced the movie, without being too intrusive. The same goes for Unbreakable, a decent but unmemorable score that functions perfectly well in film.

I probably filled this review with more words than I have to say about Unbreakable. The film boasts an intriguing premise, but more than anything else, the script ultimately lets down the movie. Dull lead-up with no pay-off is the shortest condensation of my thoughts on this film - and if I was in the critical synopsis writing business, that is exactly what I would say about Unbreakable.

"This is an art gallery, my friend, and this is a piece of art." 5/10

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