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    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 6 (The Happening)

    Good evening, folks, and welcome to Day 6 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. We've done Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village and Lady in the Water, so be sure to head back and read those recaps if you haven't already. As always, this feature is meant to study the strangest downturn in the history of film by recapping the selected filmography of one M. Night Shyamalan.

    And today, I'm going to be talking about 2008's The Happening.

    It's hard to write about The Happening in the same manner as I would The Sixth Sense or Signs or even The Village. This movie is a total farce from beginning to end, so it's hard to recap the events of the film without commenting on what I'm writing. This won't be a straight-laced written depiction of what happened, so just read on with that in mind.

    The Happening begins in Central Park, New York City (giving the audience hope that we'll be able to stay away from Philadelphia for once) where two women are talking about a novel. One of them hears what sounds like a child screaming, and notices that everyone walking by has suddenly stopped in place. Then her friend stabs herself in the neck with a hair pin. Spooky foreshadowing or audience wish-fulfillment? You decide.

    Then we cut to our main man, Elliot (Mark Wahlberg), a science teacher in Philadelphia (son of a bitch). He's lecturing his high school students about how weird it is that a bunch of bees disappeared, and asks them for possible reasons. One student poses that maybe it's not for us to understand, and that if nature has as plan, we should be in awe of it. Elliot starts to agree, because he doesn't know anything about science, but he's cut short by the assistant principal, who drags him into the auditorium with all of the other teachers. There, the principal is telling everyone that there's been some sort of biological attack in Central Park that makes people kill themselves (the movie offers up some nonsense about blocking brain receptors, but it doesn't really matter). They're sending everyone home until it all blows over. Elliot says goodbye to his students and tells them to say hi to their mothers for him.

    Before he gets out of his classroom, Elliot's co-worker Julian (John Leguizamo) shows up, and tells him that his mother has a house out in the country, and that if Elliot and his wife Alma want to tag along with him, his wife and his little girl, they're more than welcome. Elliot calls up Alma (Zooey Deschanel), and they decide to meet up at the train station.

    On their way out from school, Elliot and Julian discuss how Alma's been really distant lately, and Julian reveals that he walked in on her on their wedding day, and that she looked really sad. Now Elliot is sad. Thanks a lot, Leguizamo. You dick.

    Meanwhile, over at Elliot's house, Alma is avoiding phone calls from someone named Joey. Elliot is not named Joey. The suspense builds and then explodes into nothingness when Elliot barges in like a damn idiot asking if Alma's ready to go. She is. They leave.

    They all meet up at the train station, but Julian's wife isn't there. She'll meet up with them later. Alma and Elliot have a fight about Julian knowing that something's up, and that Elliot revealed that she's been "distant." Alma decides to sit alone on the train because she's angry, and Elliot looks sad again.

    I know it seems like I'm just listing things, but that's because there's no emotional content to be found. The plot is just kind of drunkenly stumbling forward. Maybe that's why this movie's called The Happening.

    On the train (side-note: I've ridden those SEPTA trains, and let me tell you, they never looked this clean), Alma finally answers one of Joey's calls. She yells at him that she feels like he's stalking her, and that it's going to turn into Fatal Attraction. They had dessert, and that's all, she exclaims. Joey says, "But-" and Alma hangs up on him. Luckily, that's the extent of M. Night Shyamalan's acting in this movie.

    Julian dials his wife up, but can't hear what she's saying. He gets a text that she's in Princeton, New Jersey to pick up a gift for their daughter. You'd think she'd have the sense to save that for after a terrorist attack, or that she'd be able to find a gift that isn't in fucking NEW JERSEY, in a town that's closer to New York City than Philadelphia, but you know what? Fuck you and your logic.

    Shit gets worse (for the characters in the movie, at least - I'm not sure if it's possible to get worse for us) when the train stops randomly in some small Pennsylvanian nowhere town. The train conductor lost contact with everyone, so they decide to just maroon everyone out in Hicksville. Just rolling with it instead of rioting like you KNOW people from Philly would, all of the passengers go to a nearby diner to eat and spread paranoia. After some iPhone product placement, we find out that this biological attack is affecting every city on the northeast. Basically, the message is this: get west or get fucked.

    Everyone scrambles to hitch a ride out west from the locals who have cars, but Elliot and Alma are having trouble finding someone to cart them. Eventually, a pretty rapist-y looking botanist and his wife offer them a ride, and even promise seats for Julian and his daughter, but Julian's got other plans. He's going to let his daughter ride along, but he's going to hitch a ride with this other Jeep that's headed to Princeton so that he can track down his wife. It sounds like a bad idea, but the Jeep's actually being driven by Brian O'Halloran (Dante from CLERKS), so it might be a good time after all.

    It isn't. When they hit Princeton, they see that everyone's hung themselves from trees, and it gives one of the girls in the Jeep bad vibes. Dante solves this by driving at full-speed into a tree, killing everyone but Julian, who grabs a shard of glass and stabs himself in the face with it. Clearly actors will do whatever it takes to get the hell out of this movie.

    Meanwhile, Elliot, Alma and Julian's daughter are riding along with the botanist and his wife. The botanist seems to think that this might have to do with plants - they can communicate with any species of flora, so they might all be in on it together. As plants. Then he asks them if they like hot dogs. He likes hot dogs. They're underrated, he says. Elliot looks confused, by Alma kind of looks like she wants a hot dog. I'm not making this up. I feel like I need to say that.

    They keep driving until they hit a four-way intersection. Off on one road, they see a military vehicle pulling up. Out pops a freaked-out soldier who tells them that they can't go the way he came from - everyone there is dead. Then another driver comes from another road, and says the same. Then it happens again with the other road. Everyone hangs out at the intersection for a bit until the soldier tells them about a nearby county where there aren't many people - they might be safe from an attack there. So they hoof it over this field until a strong wind passes by and people start killing themselves. People start yelling at Elliot, asking him what they should do, and he has a small panic attack.

    He eventually comes up with the idea that the wind is carrying the toxin, but that the plants are releasing it based on the amount of people around. Because the plants know, he says. So he suggests they all split up into small groups and try to make it on their own. The group is now Elliot, Alma, Julian's daughter, and a couple of high school kids. They end up coming across a model house, but everything's plastic, so they can't grab any useful supplies. They keep walking until they come across another house. It looks kind of beat up, but there are actually a couple people living there. They ask to come inside and get food for Julian's daughter, but the guy inside the house tells them to get their diseased asses outta there. The high school kids take great offense to this, and start kicking the door, trying to force their way in. Then the guy in the house shoots them in the chest and face, respectively. Elliot, Alma and Julian's daughter decide to leave the bodies and keep walking.

    Some time before this, Alma had revealed to Elliot that she'd had dessert with some man named Joey. It never went further, but she felt bad about it, and wanted to tell him in case they died. Elliot looks sad again, and I think about getting a hot dog.

    Then they find Mrs. Jones' house. Mrs. Jones is easily the weirdest thing about The Happening. When Elliot sees her on her porch, hanging out, she immediately tells him that she doesn't care about what's going on out in the world, and that he best not tell her nothin'. Then she yells at him that she has to make them dinner. During the meal, she slaps Julian's daughter and tells them to stay the night. They comply.

    Alma expresses concern about Mrs. Jones' mental health. Elliot walks out into the hallway, and there's Mrs. Jones. She hears them whispering. She bets that they're going to steal something. Elliot tells her they're not going to steal anything. Then she bets they're going to try and kill her in her sleep. Elliot tells her they're not going to kill her in her sleep. Then Mrs. Jones goes to bed.

    The next morning, Elliot wakes up and puts on a shirt that he didn't have with him the day before, but must have gotten at one of the various outlets available in Nowhere, Pennsylvania. He walks around the house, trying to find Mrs. Jones, thinking he sees her lying down in one of the downstairs bedrooms. As he walks in, though, he sees it's just a doll. Then Mrs. Jones springs out from behind a corner and starts screaming at him to get out of her damn house. Elliot follows her out the door, but then a strong wind goes by, and Mrs. Jones starts exhibiting signs that she's infected.

    Elliot closes the door and hides in the house, but it's no use - Mrs. Jones starts head-butting the glass windows, impaling her own face with shards of glass. It's pretty awesome, but Elliot's a pussy and can't appreciate this kind of stuff. He starts looking around for Alma.

    He hears her voice, but when he goes to the storage room, he realizes that she's actually in the carriage house across the field. There was a noise-pipe set up in that room that leads to the carriage house so that it people on either side can hear each other like they're right next to each other. Elliot yells at Alma and Julian's daughter to close the door and windows, because the toxin's heading for them.

    Elliot and Alma come to terms about the Joey thing from before and make up. Then Elliot decides to cross the field, not caring if he died, because it'd be better than being apart from the person he loved. Alma decides to meet him in the middle, putting Julian's daughter in terrible danger in the process. Luckily, they don't die from the toxin. The threat's over.

    Three months later, Elliot and Alma have adopted Julian's daughter, and Alma is even pregnant. Things seem to be going pretty okay. Some people on the news argue about what the attack was. One of them postulates that it was nature sending us a warning about our threat to the planet. The other guy laughs it off.

    Then the same damn thing starts happening in France. The end.

    In case you couldn't tell from that recap, The Happening is awesome. It's an absolute joke from start to finish, no matter what Shyamalan's intentions were. I'd like to think he knew he was making total schlock, but even if he wasn't, this movie is a riot. Within a few minutes, I was already laughing my head off at Wahlberg's acting, and I never felt like it was becoming too much. There's good, and then there's bad, and then there's so-bad-it's-good. The Happening is most definitely so-bad-it's-good.

    There's really not much else to say. There's no great artistry going on here, and The Happening's faults (of which there are many) only enhance the already-hilarious viewing experience. I loved it. Seriously,  invite a few friends over, pick up some beer and watch The Happening on a lazy weekend. I dare you to not have a good time.

    So that's The Happening. Come back tomorrow for The Last Airbender!


    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 5 (Lady in the Water)

    Hello again, and welcome back to yet another entry in the Seven Days of Shyamalan, a look back on one of the strangest downturns in the history of film. As I've said before, be sure to read all of the previous recaps, which cover Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs and The Village.

    Having said that, let's get to 2006's Lady in the Water.

    Set in a Philadelphia apartment complex, the film finds its protagonist in Cleveland (Paul Giamatti), the owner/super of the complex who spends his days bouncing back between different tenants and handling their problems. He's a bit of a broken man, having lost his wife and children to a violent home invasion before the events of the film (it's established that he was once a doctor).

    Everything changes for Cleveland one night when he hears some splashing noises coming from the complex pool (which his house overlooks). He heads out to investigate, and spots someone peaking out for a moment before disappearing back into the water. Waiting for them to come back up for air, he grows worried when over a minute passes and jumps into the pool to bring them back up himself. Unfortunately, after running around the side, he slips, hits his head on the concrete, and rolls into the water, unconscious.

    When he wakes up, he finds himself back in his home, and with a young redheaded woman sitting half-naked on his couch. Identifying herself as Story, she tells him she can't leave just yet, because she's scared of something outside. Cleveland decides to let her stay for a little while until she feels better, but when she falls asleep on the couch (and in his arms, no less), it takes a turn for the long-term.

    Story eventually identifies herself as a Narf from the Blue World. Not knowing what the hell that means, Cleveland speaks with two of his East-Asian tenants, who are familiar with Narfs from an old fable. Apparently a Narf comes to the surface world from the ocean to awaken something in their vessel (basically a person who needs a radical life change). When their vessel is suitably changed by the experience, Narfs are allowed to return to the Blue World via a giant eagle who gives them a lift. They have to be careful, though, because there are also giant dogs who can hide in the grass who really hate Narfs, and they'll do almost anything to impede them. To keep the balance, certain rules are in place to protect Narfs from these grass-dogs: giant wooden tree-monkeys. It's a whole thing.

    Mystified by her nakedness, Cleveland decides to just roll with this information and pledges to do everything he can to help her in her quest. Story tells him that her vessel is a writer, but she doesn't know anything beyond that because Shyamalan needs to build up the supporting cast by having Cleveland ask every fucking person in the building if they're writing something. At first he thinks it might be Farber, the snooty movie critic who's just moved in, but Farber snootily tells him that he hasn't written anything original in a long time. Cleveland moves from tenant to tenant until he finds out that Vick (played by Shyamalan himself) is writing a manifesto of sorts about his views on the world. Bingo.

    So Cleveland lures Vick into his den of lies/Narfs so that Story can release his inner potential. After Vick sees her half-nakedness, he experiences an awakening of sorts (in his PANTS), and professes that all of his fears have floated away. Mission effing accomplished.

    Something's wrong, though, because when Story goes back to the pool to be air-lifted away by a giant eagle, she gets scratched by the grass-dog (which is apparently illegal according the aforementioned rules of protection). Because of this scratch, she's going to die... UNLESS Cleveland can get some mud from the Blue World. Apparently Blue World mud will make her feel better. So we see Paul Giamatti take his shirt off, jump into the pool, and dive deeper and deeper until he ends up in a conveniently-placed portal to the Blue World. He grabs a rock (because it's not like they said it needed to be MUD), heads back up to the surface world, and gives Story the good stuff. Because his place is closer, they actually end up staying at Vick's apartment.

    Seeing that something must have gone wrong with the awakening, Cleveland decides to just tell Vick and his sister what's going on with Story and her Narfness. They also decide to buy into it immediately, and pledge to do whatever they can to assist Story in getting back to her magical water-world, proving that this apartment complex is a grifter's wet dream.

    Cleveland learns from his East-Asian tenants that there's more to the story, and that sometimes the grass-dogs will break the protection law if it means preventing the return of a Queen Narf. Though she doesn't know it, Story is actually a Queen Narf, destined to be a great leader among her people. This makes her return even more important than ever. Also, in some versions of the fable, there are supporting characters: a Guardian who protects the, a Sybologist who can interpret signs pertaining to what to do next, a Guild who act as extra muscle and a Healer who can bring the Narf back from death.

    Luckily, all of these people happen to live in the apartment complex and are just as gullible as Cleveland, so they set up a big party to confuse the grass-dog. Since there'll be a lot of people in attendance, it'll be a lot more careful about revealing itself, and when it's not looking, Story will grab onto the talons of the giant eagle and get the fuck outta dodge. Drinks will be raised, laughter will echo throughout the land and Paul Giamatti will stick a cigar in his mouth, exclaiming, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

    Unfortunately, it's not all happiness and rainbows, because Story goes into more detail about why Vick's book is so important. He'll be killed, and in death, his book will be held in high regard. Down the line, a boy in the midwest will be inspired by his book and become President, ushering in a new age of prosperity and change. Vick is (understandably) bummed that he's going to die, but at least he'll be a martyr. So it's not all bad, after all.

    That is, until everything goes to shit at the big party. In a horrific twist, it turns out that all of the people Cleveland had gathered to fulfill the roles of the Guardian, Sybologist, Healer, etc. were actually the wrong people. And in their ineptitude, Story's gotten scratched again, and now she's dead (and blonde, because this was around the time Bryce Dallas Howard was filming Spider-Man 3). Whoops! Cleveland makes a mad dash to put together the right team (for real, this time), and finds out that he's actually the Healer. The only way he can bring Story back from death is to unleash his inner energy and finally let go of his grief over his dead wife and children. He does this, and Story comes back to life. Well, that was easy.

    Though the grass-dog tries to jump her again, it's intercepted by the wooden tree-monkeys I mentioned earlier and kill him or something. Then the camera shifts perspective to inside the pool so that the giant CG eagle is hard to see as it picks up Story and takes her back to the Blue World. Drinks are raised, laughter echoes throughout the land, and Paul Giamatti sticks a cigar in his mouth, exclaiming, "I love it when a plan comes together!" The end.

    Lady in the Water is a pretty awful movie. Shyamalan's revealed that it's all based on a fairy tale he made up to get his kids to fall asleep, and I believe him, because I needed several naps to get through this film. The plot twists are hackneyed and out-of-nowhere, the characters are anything BUT believable ("Well clearly this young lady is telling the truth - I can see her vagina!") and after The Village, there's a noticeable drop in aesthetic quality.

    Even so, none of that tops Vick as portrayed by M. Night Shyamalan. As a struggling writer with a prophetic vision for how the world should be (not to mention Farber, the movie critic, being portrayed as snide and out of touch) who will be remembered as a great man after he's dead, it just all comes off as pathetic. I want to like Shyamalan, but what the hell was he thinking casting himself in this part? He had to know how it would look. Unless, of course, it was intentional, which is even sadder.

    I usually try to say more in these critiques at the end of the recap, but honestly, what else is there to say? I don't think Paul Giamatti's ever portrayed a more feebly-written character, and he was in Shoot 'Em Up, for Christ's sake. Hell, Bryce Dallas Howard changes hair color from SCENE TO SCENE and nobody even attempts to explain it.

    After finishing Lady in the Water, I couldn't help but feel like this was where it all broke bad for Shyamalan. The Village was pretty disappointing, but I at least felt like it was a competent film, for the most part. And at least The Village attempted to showcase some inner strife. Cleveland's grief over his wife and children gets about four minutes of screen time, most of it happening in a melodramatic monologue that feels so forced Giamatti looked actively nauseous while he was reciting it.

    So that's Lady in the Water, a truly bad film. Come back tomorrow for The Happening, which I haven't seen yet. May God have mercy on my soul.


    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 4 (The Village)

    Hey there, folks, and welcome to Day 4 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out the previous recaps on Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs. If this is your first article in the series, the basic premise is to take a look at the strangest downturn in the history of film by looking back on the selected filmography of M. Night Shyamalan.

    Today, it's time to get to The Village.

    As with Signs, this was my first viewing of The Village. Going in, I didn't really know much aside from that Adrien Brody and Bryce Dallas Howard were in it and that a lot of people were frustrated with the ending. As with all of Shyamalan's movies, I tried to go in with a fresh perspective and let the film speak for itself.

    As a period piece set in 19th century America, on land that I can only assume is close to Philadelphia, The Village tells the story of a small town surrounded by a thick forest. The Town Elders, a group of older villagers who seem to run things, have held up a truce with supposed creatures who live in this forest, the terms being that as long as no one trespasses into the forest, the village will be safe from attacks.

    After the death of a local boy who may have been saved, were it not for the limited medicine supply, Lucius (Joaquin Phoenix) volunteers to travel to the neighboring towns to get more. Thinking that he'll be seen as pure of heart by the woodland creatures, he won't have any trouble getting there and back. The Town Elders don't want to risk it, however, and his request is denied.

    Not easily deterred, Lucius brings the issue up again after spending some time with a local blind girl, Ivy (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) and her "simple" friend, Noah (played by Adrien Brody). Lucius sees Noah pull red berries out of his pocket and give them to Ivy. It seems that red is the color associated with the forest creatures, and that berries of this color primarily only grow in the forest itself.

    Lucius reasons that if the creatures let Noah come and go due to his innocent nature, his pure heart should grant him the same leeway. After his request is denied yet again, Lucius ventures into the forest anyway, though he quickly returns after seeing one of the creatures nearby.

    Later on, the villagers are alerted by their warning bell that the creatures are among them. They all run to their homes and hide in their cellars, but Ivy won't hide with the rest of her family as long as she thinks Lucius might still be out there. Just before a creature makes it to her house, though, Lucius appears and leads her down to the cellar.

    This puts the town on high alert, and one night, Ivy finds Lucius sitting on her porch keeping guard. Asking him why he's so worried about her, they have a frustrating conversation, which leads to them revealing that they're in love with each other. The next morning, they announce it to the Town Elders and, before long, the whole town knows.

    This, of course, upsets Noah, who visits Lucius. Taking pity on him, Lucius starts telling him that he knows Ivy likes him quite a bit, and that there are different kinds of love. He doesn't finish his sentence, though, because as he turns around, Noah stabs him in the stomach. He stabs him a few more times in the chest and leaves him for dead.

    Heartbroken, Ivy visits Noah in the house he's locked up in and slaps him around a bit. Luckily, Lucius isn't dead, but he won't last long unless the town doctor gets some new medicine to treat the infection. With this, Ivy decides to head to the towns and get it herself. She only needs permission from her father, one of the main elders, played by William Hurt.

    Hurt agrees to let her go, but before he does, he takes her to a shed to show her something that he feels tremendous guilt over. As the camera slowsly pans over, we think it's a creature's carcass, but Ivy soon realizes it's just a suit. There are no actual creatures - her father and the rest of the elders had just taken an old superstition about monsters in the woods and put on some suits to scare them into staying away from the forest that leads to the towns. Throughout the film, various elders relate how one of their family members had been killed in the towns, and that they're full of evil. Inventing the creatures was their twisted way of scaring their children into the safety of the village.

    Now knowing that there's nothing to fear, Ivy makes her way through the forest and onto an old dirt road that leads to a giant wall of wood and leaves. After climbing over it, she sees oddly modern pavement... and then a fucking Range Rover. It's a woodland preserve ranger, and he's asking her why she's messing around out there.

    So, as it turns out, the elders had convinced all of their children that it was actually the mid-19th century, when in reality, it was modern times. Ivy is freaked out by all of the modern technology, but manages to give the ranger the list of medical supplies she needs. Confused, the ranger takes the list of supplies and gets it for her, not really understanding that Ivy isn't just a whacko who needs first aid for her other whacko friends who are living in the whacko forest.

    Meanwhile, back at the village, William Hurt's character opens his secret box (all of the elders have one), which contains photographs and other remnants of their old lives in society. It was true that they'd all suffered terrible loss in "the towns," and they really only wanted to preserve the innocence that they'd found out here in the middle of nowhere. Eventually, Ivy makes her way back to the village, and everyone pretty much goes on with their business. The end.

    The Village is a giant mixed bag. There are a lot of things to like here. Chiefly, Roger Deakins is a brilliant cinematographer, and as a result, this film is downright gorgeous. It's easily the most visually interesting movie I've seen yet from Shyamalan. Furthermore, the movie's got an amazing cast, with Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver (she plays Phoenix's mother), Brendan Gleason and a really solid early performance by Bryce Dallas Howard. We even get a few scenes with a very young Jesse Eisenberg.

    Shyamalan has a gift for creating suspense, and for the most part, it's utilized very well here. Before we're told that the creatures are fake, they come off as really spooky. Throughout the entire first two acts of the movie, the atmosphere is practically dripping in intensity.

    As with Signs, The Village's strength is in its emotional plot and not its fantasy. Unfortunately, the love story between Lucius and Ivy just isn't compelling enough to make up for the serious ho-hum storytelling associated with the creatures being nothing but disguises, and then the reveal that it's really the 21st century. I'll admit that I didn't see the twist coming a mile away, but it still wasn't very satisfying. It'd be as if, at the end of Bambi, they revealed that the hunter who killed Bambi's mom was actually Bambi's dad. Sure, you might not have expected it, but you probably wouldn't have enjoyed it, either.

    Worse still, after the reveal (which happens at about 85 minutes into the film), Shyamalan spends the next 15 minutes dumping exposition down our throats about how planes don't fly over these particular woods, and how the rangers aren't supposed to talk to anyone. It all felt really sloppy.

    After Signs, I'd begun to think that Shyamalan was moving away from the kind of "Gotcha!" stuff we saw in The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable and was focusing more on creating emotional tales of internal journeys with fantastical settings. The Village barely has any sort of internal struggle. William Hurt's guilty conscience over lying to everyone outside of the Town Elders had some promise, but it's barely explored. As it is, with its lack of emotional depth, the film's weak twist just left a bad taste in my mouth.

    All right, guys. That's The Village. Come back tomorrow for Lady in the Water.


    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 3 (Signs)

    Hey there, folks, and welcome to Day 3 of Seven Days of Shyamalan here at If you haven't yet, make sure you check out the Prologue and Days 1 and 2, which covers Wide Awake, The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, respectively.

    Today, though, we're going to be talking about 2002's Signs.

    Before I begin, I'd like to mention that Signs is the first movie for this feature that I haven't seen previously (well, aside from Wide Awake). With The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, I already knew what to expect, and was able to really judge the film as a piece of work. With Signs, I found myself getting more caught up in the story and can only really critique it as a watching experience.

    With that out of the way, let's begin.

    Signs opens on a serene day in Buck County, Pennsylvania (45 miles outside of Philadelphia). Suddenly, our protagonist, Graham (played by Mel Gibson) is woken up by the screams of one of his children. As he races outside, he sees that his brother Merrill has been alerted to the cry for help, and they both run into the corn field that their property overlooks. They first find Graham's daughter Bo, who seems to be fine. Graham continues running through the corn field until he finds his son, Morgan, who points out an entire patch of corn stalks that have been flattened. The camera pans upward and we see that there are other patches that've been flattened, as well. Eventually, we see that they make a giant crop circle.

    Oddly enough, it appears that this is just one circle of many occurring all around the world, instigating discussion that it might be alien invaders of some sort. Graham laughs it off until the following night when he hears someone walking around the house. He and Merrill intend to ambush the interloper, but he escapes onto the top of their roof before they can catch him. Unfortunately, all they see is a shadowy black figure.

    With no description to go on, one of the local deputies can't really help them, but she does mention that strange things have been occurring recently (i.e. animals have been acting confused and hostile). She repeatedly calls Graham, "Father," and it's eventually revealed to us that he was a man of the cloth before the violent and untimely death of his wife.

    From here, Graham's family becomes more and more enraptured by the idea of aliens coming to Earth, which is only exacerbated by news stations reporting on crop circles and found-video of supposed proof that aliens are among us. Merrill and Graham have a heart to heart about the idea of aliens invading Earth with the intent to conquer it, and Merrill asks Graham to say something hopeful. Graham asks him if he's the kind of person who believes in miracles, and Merrill relates a night where he avoided kissing a girl who was about to vomit and that miracles must exist because of that. The conversation takes a dark turn when Graham reveals that he doesn't believe in any sort of higher power and that after the random, meaningless last words of his wife, he knows we're truly alone in the world.

    We're then shown via flashbacks what actually happened to Graham's wife. She was walking on the side of the road one night when a local vet named Ray fell asleep at the wheel and pinned her to a tree. Graham made it to the scene of the accident in time to be with her for her last moments, but her death has haunted him ever since, leaving him a broken man.

    Graham decides to visit Ray one day, and manages to catch him just before he leaves in his truck, "to get near water," he says. Ray apologizes to Graham for mistakenly killing his wife, and comes to terms with his ultimate fate with God. With all of the alien craziness happening, he feels that we're headed toward the end of the world. Before pulling away, he tells Graham to stay away from his pantry closet. "I've got one of 'em trapped in there," he says.

    Graham hesitantly makes his way to the pantry, and uses a kitchen knife to slide under the door and act as a mirror. Before he gets a good look at what's inside, a hand slides out, and in a panic, Graham cuts off two of the outstretched fingers before running out of Ray's house and back to his own.

    The film comes to a head when the news relates that several UFOs are hovering and moving around, and that they seem to be using the aforementioned crop circles as focal points. Knowing that it's only a matter of time before they come for them, Graham and Merrill board up the house and hide with Bo and Morgan. Eventually the aliens break in, so they run down to the cellar as a last resort. Of course, this is only a temporary solution, and it's made a whole lot worse when Morgan suffers a severe asthma attack. Graham's able to coach him through it, but without his inhaler (which is upstairs), he won't live through another attack.

    Suddenly, numerous aliens are heard upstairs, including one that's trying to break down the door. All of the exits are boarded up and blocked, but Graham knows it's only a matter of time before they're found and killed. Merrill looks into Graham's eyes and sees that he's lost all faith, believing that he and his whole family are going to die. The noise lasts into the night, and eventually, Graham falls asleep.

    When he wakes up, Merrill informs him that "it's all over," and that someone must have figured out a way to beat the aliens. They hear on the radio, however, that some of the wounded have been left behind, and that they still might be out there. They see that Morgan is still asleep, but they need to get his medicine from upstairs before he has another attack. The whole family heads upstairs, and when they do, they find the alien who'd been stuck in the pantry from earlier waiting in their living room. He's able to take Morgan hostage, extending a stinger from his wrist.

    At this point, we flash back to Graham witnessing his wife's passing, and we see her final words. She tells Graham to "see," and to tell Merrill to "swing away." This memory alerts Graham to the souvenir bat from one of Merrill's games during his baseball years. So he tells Merrill to swing away, prompting the alien to secrete poisonous gas into Morgan's face before letting him fall to the ground. Merrill hits him a few times with a baseball bat, but there doesn't seem to be much of an effect. He eventually knocks him into a glass of water, which burns the alien like acid. Taking this as a sign of their weakness, Merrill's able to kill the alien by dousing it in more and more water.

    Graham rushes Morgan outside the house and sticks him with an epinephrine needle to administer his medication. Reasoning that he might not be dead (since he wasn't breathing correctly, he might not have ingested much of the gas), he pleads with God to let his son live. Thankfully, Morgan soon wakes up, and asks if someone saved him. "Someone did," Graham answers.

    The movie then fast-forwards to the following winter. We find Graham dressed in his old reverend attire, heading off to church. His faith in God restored, he moves on from the death of his wife toward a brighter future. The end.

    Typing out that synopsis, it's easy to see why some people don't like Signs. It's tremendously melodramatic, and if you put it under a microscope, a lot of the logic falls apart. There's no denying that it's not a very smart movie, and yet I can't help but profess that I enjoyed it immensely.

    I think it's because Signs leans much more heavily on its emotional storyline than its fantastical premise. Where with The Sixth Sense - and even moreso with Unbreakable - the climax is all about something supernatural, Signs finds most of its intensity in Graham's hatred of God, and his bitterness over his wife's death. This isn't a movie about a kid who can see dead people or a man who can't be harmed. Signs is about someone experiencing a crisis of faith. It just happens to be happening around an alien invasion.

    I suppose, because of that, Signs' biggest weakness is in its science fiction. Aliens coming to a planet that's mostly covered in a substance that's toxic to them (especially if they're here to harvest) seems incredibly stupid - the aliens are treated exclusively as "the other," and never as actual characters. They're a plot device, and little else.

    As always, Shyamalan turned in some very competent direction and genuine scares. He's extremely gifted at creating tension, and it's utilized incredibly here. There are also some great visual gags and comedy thrown in, which was surprising after Unbreakable was so bleak and humorless.

    So again, I can appreciate and understand why some people were frustrated by Signs' gaps in logic, and especially its melodrama; but it's the heart that Shyamalan displays that makes me forget all of that and enjoy Graham's journey. It might be flawed, but I was really impressed with it.

    So that's Signs. Come back tomorrow for The Village.


    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 2 (Unbreakable)

    Hello and welcome to Day 2 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. In case you've missed them, be sure to head back and read the prologue, as well as Day 1, which covers Wide Awake and The Sixth Sense, respectively. As you probably already know, the whole point of this weeklong series is to recap and critique the selected filmography of one of the strangest downturns in the history of the medium.

    Today we'll be doing that with 2000's Unbreakable.

    Starring Bruce Willis as David Dunn, Unbreakable gives us a look at the origin of an unlikely hero and his journey to come to terms with his gifts (a theme carried over from The Sixth Sense). Working a dead-end security job and dealing with a shaky marriage, David seems like your average, run-of-the-mill schmuck, but that all changes on a train ride back to Philadelphia from New York. The conductor loses control, and all 131 passengers on said train die.

    Except for David. Not only is he alive, he's completely unhurt. He doesn't have a scratch on him and he can't explain why.

    Elsewhere in Philadelphia we find Elijah, played by Samuel L. Jackson, a man with Type 1 osteogenesis imperfecta, making his bones extremely fragile. He owns an art gallery dedicated to comic books, and believes that comics are the last remnants of passing myths down from generation to generation via pictures (citing hieroglyphics and the like). Not only that - he also believes that a hero of extraordinary abilities must exist somewhere - he only needs to find him.

    You can probably guess where this is going.

    Elijah contacts David after hearing about his miraculous survival and begins asking him questions about his past, looking for past injuries or holes in his theory that David is somehow superhuman. Thinking Elijah insane, David politely removes himself from the conversation. Something that Elijah says sticks, however, when he asks David about the last time he was sick. David can't remember. Not even his estranged wife can remember.

    You can probably guess where this is going.

    Ever persistent, Elijah continues to look into David's life, discovering that he has an acute sense of intuition when it comes to violence (it starts as hunches during his security job, but later develops into brief psychic flashes, where he's able to see the misdeeds of others when he makes physical contact). David also comes to realize that he has a vast reservoir of strength that he had no idea about, enabling him to lift over 350 pounds. He insists that he's just a normal man, but Elijah says (and thinks) otherwise.

    Stop me if I've said this before, but you can probably guess where this is going.

    It all finally clicks for David when he has a sudden flashback from his early days of dating his wife, Audrey. He'd been a talented college football player with a seemingly bright future in the sport, but Audrey hated the idea of him getting hurt. One night during a drive, they crash on the side of the road. David is flung from the vehicle, but sees that Audrey is stuck inside. A fire is starting to build, so acting quickly, he's able to rip the door off of the car and pull her to safety. After flagging a passerby down, he's asked if he's hurt. He doesn't answer during the flashback, but we're shown earlier in the movie that he claims he was critically injured, ending his football career, but ensuring that his relationship would continue with Audrey.

    Thus, David decides to try out being a hero. Extending his hands out into a crowd, he sees their wrongdoings via his psychic flashes, with each impact yielding a more violent result. Eventually, he comes into contact with a janitor holding a family hostage in their home. He decides to follow him, and is able to free the two children before moving towards the parents. Despite falling into a pool tarp (David has a severe weakness to water - if any gets in his lungs, he can easily drown, and is shown to be a poor swimmer), he manages to get back out with some assistance from the aforementioned children. Strangling the home intruder, he finds the parents dead, but goes home having made a difference.

    The emotional journey of our protagonist ends here, but much like The Sixth Sense, Shyamalan decides to throw in a "Gotcha!" pertaining to our supporting lead. Thanking Elijah for his help in realizing who he is, David has another psychic flash. It turns out Elijah had been orchestrating all kinds of disasters (a plane crash, a building burning down, and the train accident that David walked away from) in order to expedite his search for a hero.

    Horrified, David stumbles back, and we get an "Evil, motherfucker! Do you speak it?!" speech from Sam Jackson. He finally realizes that his role in the world is to be David's opposite - his archenemy. He notes that he should have known all along after being teased as a child for his brittle bones and being given the nickname, Mr. Glass.

    We're then treated to some haphazard exposition (via freeze-frames and text) as to what happened to David and Elijah, with the former moving on with his life for the better and the latter currently being held in a psychiatric facility for the criminally insane. The end.

    There's no easy way to say it so I'll just say it: the problem with Unbreakable is that it's just boring. Whether it's the muted color palette or the unbelievably dry and un-compelling performance by Bruce Willis or the constant, "Hey, you're special," "Nah, man, you've got me confused with someone else," "No, but really, you are special," I felt like I was ready for the plot to move forward far before the movie did.

    And unlike The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable's grounded, emotional plot, David and Andrea's shitty marriage, just sort of plays out without any catharsis or point. Andrea enters as a woman who can't connect to her quiet, emotionless husband and she leaves as a woman who, all of a sudden, can accept the fact that she can't connect to her quiet, emotionless husband. One night, she approaches David and just announces that it'd be okay if he wanted to take her to dinner. And from then on out, she just seems to get along with him. We're told that it's because they're re-connecting, but we're never shown why it's different this time around.

    As a fan of comics, I can appreciate Shyamalan borrowing comic book tropes and using them cleverly in film. Elijah, for example, shows up many, many times as a reflection in glass (mirrors, television sets, etc), and wears distinctly purple clothing in contrast to David's green. These are all nice touches, and aside from Unbreakable's pacing issues (which have more to do with the story itself), I didn't have any problems with the direction.

    I suppose what makes watching Unbreakable so difficult is watching it back to back with The Sixth Sense, which has the exact same theme of an unhappy protagonist who finds his way to happiness by accepting his gifts and not running away from them, and just does it so much better. Unbreakable isn't a bad movie - far from it, but it is very disappointing.

    So that's Unbreakable, folks. Come back tomorrow for Signs.


    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 1 (The Sixth Sense)

    Hello and welcome to Day 1 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. In case you missed it, be sure to hit up yesterday's entry on Wide Awake which, while an M. Night Shyamalan movie, doesn't share a lot of the same traits as the movies that I'll be focusing on, and thus I decided it'd be best to talk about it as a prologue.

    Today, though, we'll be talking about 1999's The Sixth Sense.

    I should mention right off the bat that I'll be discussing key plot points during this overview, so if you're on of the four people on the planet who haven't seen this movie, come back after watching it, or read on ahead at your own peril. Here there be spoilers.

    The Sixth Sense tells the story of a young boy in Philadelphia (we've seen this before) named Cole, played by Haley Joel Osment, who's experienced quite a bit of loss recently (this, too), what with his father moving out of the house and the implied-to-be-recent death of his grandmother. He doesn't fit in at school and has strange cuts and bruises all over his arm. His mother loves him dearly, but he's too scared of what she might think if he truly opened up to her. Cole truly has no one to confide in.

    That is, until he meets Malcolm, a middle-aged children's psychologist, played by Bruce Willis, who's recently been through some trauma of his own. Months prior to the events of the film, Malcolm and his wife are shocked to find one of Malcolm's former patients, now an adult, sobbing in their bathroom. Violently unstable and claiming that Malcolm "failed" him, he shoots Malcolm several times before turning the gun the other way, killing himself instantly.

    Though physically fine, Malcolm feels like he's lost his edge after this encounter. He questions his skills as a psychologist, and with his relationship with his wife seemingly going down the tube, he latches onto Cole being his second chance. He figures that if he can help this boy (who exhibits similar behavioral patterns to his former patient), he can get his mojo back, so to speak.

    As Malcolm and Cole bond more and the latter begins to open up, we find out why he's afraid to be alone, and why he's afraid of confiding in his mother: he can see and communicate with the dead. Apparently hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of lost souls are walking around every day, not even aware that they're dead. They see only what they want to see, and can get stuck in the same patterns that lead to their (usually untimely) deaths. For whatever reason, they flock to Cole, sometimes confusing him with someone from their lives, sometimes asking him for help and sometimes lashing out at him with violence (thus the strange scratches and bruises).

    After some initial disbelief that something like this could be possible, Malcolm realizes that Cole is telling the truth (it turns out his old patient had the same ability, and by listening to his old session tapes, audible ghost-speak could be heard by turning the volume all the way up). With the idea that the only way to keep these ghosts sated is to approach them and help them, Malcolm convinces Cole to try and see what one of them wants, and to see if he can assist them with moving on.

    After solving the murder of a young girl whose mother was poisoning her every day to keep her sick, Cole seems to be on the up-and-up. He gets a leading part in the school play, and for the first time in the film, seems to act like a kid. He and Malcolm say their goodbyes. Our disheveled shrink's done his bit. It's time to get back to that wife of his to let her know that he still loves her and he's not ready to give up on them.

    Well, too late. This is probably the most famous part about The Sixth Sense: Malcolm was a ghost the whole time. His former patient actually killed him when he shot him during the opening of the film, and while we've seen him converse with Cole throughout the movie, he never directly interacts with anyone else. Coming to grips with this reality, Malcolm says some final words to his wife (who can apparently hear him provided she's asleep) and "moves on."

    Meanwhile, Cole decides to finally confide in his mother, and after relaying a message from the aforementioned dead grandmother, she comes to believe him, too. They embrace, a mother and son finally communicating.  The end.

    The Sixth Sense is more than ten years old, and in that time it's received numerous accolades, parodies and as with all successes, disparaging remarks about how it's overrated. I'll go on record by saying that The Sixth Sense is a really good (if perhaps not great) movie. There's plenty of sincere and genuine affection between Cole's mother, played by Toni Colette and her son, and even though Bruce Willis is physically incapable of playing a character as anything but understated, even he manages to get worked up and shed a tear or two. And it never feels forced. The pain these characters exhibit feels real.

    Furthermore, Shyamalan shows some spectacular aptitude for building tension. A few of the ghost-related scares fall flat, but their build-up is almost always expertly crafted. I don't really have any issues with his direction or his storytelling. It's the story itself that I have a few problems with.

    Primarily, I don't feel like the Bruce Willis "Gotcha!" is anything more than a "Gotcha!" It's a clever that Shyamalan was able to pull it off, but after the first viewing, all it gives us are a lot of pointless scenes meant to draw our attention away from the fact that Malcolm's dead. If he was alive and able to reconcile with his wife, it really only would've changed about three minutes of the film. There just wouldn't be a "Gotcha!"

    The fact is this movie is about Cole, and his journey to come to terms with his gifts. Malcolm's side-story isn't really compelling at all once you get past the twist ending. Going forward with Shyamalan's filmography, I have the feeling that he's going to focus more on the "Gotcha!" moments of supernatural twists and less on the human, emotional scenes like the one that takes place between Cole and his mother. Shyamalan put a lot of heart into this movie, and that's what I enjoyed about it. The big reveal is all flash and little substance.

    So that's Day 1 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. Come back tomorrow when I critique Unbreakable!


    Rough Draught: Episode 4

    After an all too long wait, Rough Draught, the beer appreciation show, is back with a brand new episode. This month, Karl and Jon invited our buddy Antonio (who guested on Episode 2) back onto the program to check out three new brews, including:

    Lobster Lovers Beer (Blue Label)

    St. Peter's Old-Style Porter

    And Lagunitas Little Sumpin Wild Ale.

    As always, once you're done listening, take the brand new Crosstawk Listener Survey on, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk), send in your emails to and last, but certainly not least, rate and review us on iTunes.

    Direct Download

    Thanks for listening, folks! See you next week!


    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Prologue

    Hey there, folks, and welcome to Seven Days of Shyamalan, a look back on the filmography of one of the strangest downturns in the history of film. Today's entry is actually the Prologue, where we'll be looking at a film that, while it predates The Sixth Sense, doesn't really fit the usual tropes associated with the releases that would follow.

    That film is 1998's Wide Awake, written and directed by none other than M. Night Shyamalan.

    I should note that he actually directed one film before this, titled Praying With Anger, but it wasn't a major release, and it's pretty much impossible to find on DVD. It's really a shame, too, because in addition to being the movie's writer and director, M. Night also starred in the story of an American man with Indian ancestory going back to his family's homeland and discovering his spirituality. You can tell by watching this short segment that the source material likely meant a lot to Shyamalan, and I hope to track it down one day.

    Having said that, let's get to Wide Awake.

    The movie tells the tale of Joshua Beal, a fifth-grader in a Philadelphia suburb who's recently lost his grandfather. Finding himself grief-stricken, and hoping to find out what actually happens when someone dies, he embarks on a year-long "mission" to find God and ask him if his grandfather is being taken care of.

    The "mission" itself ultimately ends up ranging from speaking to the priest at his all-boys Catholic school to learning about and practicing a plethora of other religions from around the world to simply praying for any sort of sign that God actually exists. Frequently disheartened with his lack of results, there's a surprising amount of agnosticism to be found, usually in Joshua's best friend, David, who eloquently says, "Is there a God? I drink chocolate milk through my nose. What do you I know?"

    Mostly due to the light, orchestral score, you can never really escape that "90s Kid Movie" feel, which is a shame, because there are some genuinely touching and heartfelt moments to be found, especially between Joshua and his grandfather in various flashbacks scattered throughout the film. Needless to say, this is not a movie you'd ever suspect M. Night Shyamalan to be behind.

    And yet, he wrote it and directed it. It's hard to deny that this was probably his vision. I suppose there is a little bit of Joshua's precosiousness and soft nature that was brought into The Sixth Sense's Cole, but that's a tenuous link at best. I suppose the best compliment I can give this movie is that it handles a child's crisis of faith subtlely enough to not be heavy-handed. Wide Awake is a thoroughly light-hearted movie, from David's antics in driving the nuns at school insane to Joshua's doughy classmate Frank, who constantly thinks "today" is "tomorrow."

    So is Wide Awake a good movie? It's a very competent children's movie that explores some mature themes, but it hardly ever elevates itself to being genuinely great. Joshua's actor, Joseph Cross, is adorable and charming in his own way, and there are a few funny casting choices (Joshua's father is played by Dennis Leary, and two of his teachers are played by Rosie O'Donnel and Camyrn Manheim), but it's hardly a classic, and you're not missing anything by skipping over it. I can't even really recommend it to die-hards, since it doesn't have anything close to the same tone to Shyaman's later works.

    Oddly enough, Wide Awake was actually filmed in 1995, even though it wasn't released until 1998, and after watching the movie, I can understand why it was shelved. The fact that it only took in a little over a quarter of a million dollars (on a six-million dollar budget, no less) proves the fact that this movie has no audience. The crisis of faith moments are too heady for children, but still too simple for adults.

    So that's Wide Awake. Come back tomorrow for Day 1, where I'll be going to town on 1999's The Sixth Sense.


    Discover Music Project: Episode 3

    DMP returns to give you a spotlight on one of the all-time great independent rock bands: Pavement!

    Guest-starring Rough Draught's Jon Rind, our two Jonathans go to town on one of the most under-the-radar bands in the history of alternative. And for your convenience, here's the set list with runtimes:

    Silence Kit (Crooked Rain) - 3:01
    Gold Soundz (Crooked Rain) - 2:40
    Range Life (Crooked Rain) - 4:55
    Grounded (Wowee Zowee) - 4:16
    Father to a Sister of a Thought (Wowee Zowee) - 3:30
    Kennel District (Wowee Zowee) - 3:00
    Pueblo (Wowee Zowee) - 3:25
    Spit on a Stranger (Terror Twilight) - 3:04
    Stereo (Brighten The Corners) - 3:08
    Summer Babe [Winter Version] (Slanted and Enchanted) - 3:17
    Here (Slanted and Enchanted) - 3:58

    Total - 38:12

    Encore: Hopscotch Willie (Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks) - 6:56

    As always, be sure to send all of your questions and concerns to, take our brand new listener survey on and follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk).

    Come back on Friday for a new episode of Rough Draught!

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    Box Office Poison: Episode 4

    The crews' back with more movies and movie things! Once again, Evan Burchfield couldn't take time away from school, but we're still a five man team thanks to Rough Draugh's Jon Rind, who stepped in to guest star. This month there are a bunch of movies to talk about, from The Social Network to Biodome to Henry V to a Lifetime Original Movie (yep - that's right!).

    Our Movie of the Month this episode is 2007's I'm Not There. Telling stories in and around the mythology of Bob Dylan, there were a lot of different opinions, and I definitely think you'll enjoy the conversation. Next month we'll be tackling The Third man.

    As always, send all of your thoughts and concerns to, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and head over to iTunes to rate/review us.

    See you next week when Rough Draught returns!

    Direct Download