Grade rating: AA (as in double-A, not Avatar: the last Airbender, which is frankly the polar opposite of this movie. What happened to Shyamalan?
Thursday, October 31, 2013
If you’re reading this right now, congratulations. You’re officially the member of a cultural elite devoted to pursuing intellectual activities like reading instead of badgering your neighbors in a stupid costume late one October night. I honestly would have put this special scary edition of The Author’s Files up sooner, but none of you reminded me that today was Halloween except my brother earlier this morning, so I was forced to write up this review on short notice over the last 12 hours. Life is hard for a part-time film critic who insists on being timely with his posts.
The late movie ‘critic’ Roger Ebert once wrote of The Village, “(It) is a colossal miscalculation, a movie based on a premise that cannot support it, a premise so transparent it would be laughable were the movie not so deadly solemn. Eventually the secret... is revealed. To call it an anticlimax would be an insult not only to climaxes but to prefixes. It's a crummy secret, about one step up the ladder of narrative originality from It Was All a Dream.” Such is the dilemma of the best M. Night Shyamalan movie and possibly best horror movie ever made, that it will unavoidably divide viewers into those watchful patriots who fear “the village” itself and those narrow-minded thrill-seekers in the critical network who desperately want to fear the monsters lurking beyond this village but find their reason getting in the way. Through clever, unpredictable writing and symbolically rich direction, Shyamalan masterfully interweaves an array of tones and themes into a film that seems not like a disjointed jumble of genres but a cohesive and powerful story that terrifies thoughtful audiences on both an emotional and a psychological level. Far from being just a generic monster movie that the ad campaign might indicate, The Village is a harrowing, Gothic, and thought-provoking twist on the dystopian tale, drawing viewers into a small community governed by fear and constrained by deceit. All is not as it seems in this village, which one character declares has “secrets in every corner”, and those secrets are best discovered for onseself instead of prematurely absorbed through a blog review, so if you haven’t seen The Village yet, please bookmark and close this page immediately, then revisit it once you’ve watched the movie.
The titular village is a vaguely 19th century community situated on a praire that’s enclosed by an ominous and alien forest. The villagers, by rule of a council of elders, have marked the forest’s borders with yellow (“the safe color”) flags and paint to ward off “those we do not speak of”, dangerous and territorial entities cloaked in red (“the bad color”) who separate this isolated village from the towns that lie beyond the Covington woods. Central to the story is a trio of young friends in the village who live under the constant shadow of the wood’s inhabitants. Lucius Hunt is a stalwart and seemingly fearless man of few words who reads prepared speeches to the elders requesting permission to brave the woods and retrieve vital medicines from the towns. Noah Percy plays the village idiot, not so much by choice as by mental impairment, erratically shifting his focus, struggling to learn, and succumbing to violent bursts of fury. The nearly blind but ever vibrant daughter of the village leader Tom Walker, Ivy sees through a dense and unrevealing haze but recognizes Lucius by the unique color he exudes, a relationship that has drawn the two very close over the years, though the shy man has thus far failed to express what they both feel. Shortly after they confess their love for each other in a beautiful and marvelously underplayed scene, by a disturbing turn of events Ivy ceases to see Lucius’ color, and desperation drives her to complete her lover’s long anticipated journey through the woods to the towns, a foreign place the elders shun for its great evil. At this point, our heroine, so blind in more than just the obvious way, comes to discover that those we do not speak of, the village’s rituals, and even her whole existence have been built upon a foundation of lies, and here The Village morphs from an effective if tired experiment in using creepy sound design to elicit scares into a full-fledged, horrific assault on the audience’s mind and senses.
More so than anything else I’ve ever seen, The Village is an emphatically 1st-person film, especially in the final act, even without condescending to cheap handheld camera tricks and the other pitfalls trapping modern horror flicks that profess to unveil “found footage” of real events. As Ivy wanders through the forbidden realm of the forest, directionless and confused, her surroundings appear to blur in front of the camera’s eye, everything dissolving into a bleak and undistinctive gray while eerie moans and sharp noises of the wild spring from no definite area. When she emerges from a pit and finds the bright yellow of her coat masked under a heavy layer of mud, the change leaves not just her but the audience alarmed. Possibly the movie’s most chilling scene occurs when she unwittingly walks into a clearing of red flowers and the camera zooms out overhead, letting the stark and violent brilliance of the shade illuminate the full peril of her situation. We tremble not at the literal image but at its symbolic association, for we, like Ivy, have been nurtured for so long with symbols that we struggle to dissociate them from reality. When she subsequently turns to her side and glimpses one of the woods’ creatures standing at a distance, we see only the glaring red of its cloak against the muted backdrop of the trees, while the rest of its body is obscured in shadow, left to Ivy and her equally blind followers in the theater to imagine. It goes without question that The Village utilizes color and camerawork within its storytelling more effectively than virtually anything else; by refraining from disruptive angle switching in favor of lengthy, uninterrupted shots, Shyamalan lulls viewers into a kind of trance so that they overlook they’re watching a movie, and in withholding vibrant colors for the majority of the film’s run time, he makes their rare appearances even more dramatic and substantive in the narrative. The violin-intensive score by James Newton Howard enhances the mood exponentially, helping to establish a sad and haunting world away from worlds.
But all of Shyamalan’s directorial techniques would be for naught had he been working with a lackluster cast. A veteran of Shyamalan’s also noteworthy thriller Signs, Joaquin Phoenix is given as the star of the movie; fine though he is playing the honorable and uncommunicative Lucius, Bryce Dallas Howard is the true centerpiece of the film in the role of Ivy. Though she was basically an unknown face at the time this was shot, she’s since come to appear in a number of high-grossing pictures, portraying, for example, one of the evil white people in The Help. Needless to say, she’s a lot more memorable in The Village, which depends completely on her performance for the second half. The old “watch a vulnerable and usually unrealistically sexualized woman survive terrors in a haunted place” trick has been played many times throughout history, dating all the way back to Alien, in fact, but rarely have actresses played the part with as much tact and raw credibility as does Howard, who conveys both determination and apprehension, strength and fragility at once. That the film succeeds at inspiring horror even after Shyamalan assures us that the woods hold nothing to be feared is a testament not only to his prowess at visual storytelling but also to Howard’s force as a literally and figuratively blind woman who falters to accept the real state of things and is compelled by love to face her deepest fears.
The most frightening part of The Village, indeed, is not Those we do not speak of or the idea of becoming lost in the wilderness, but the sudden realization that one’s whole worldview and way of life have been based on a falsehood. Whether one is deeply affected by this fear or simply perplexed by it, like Ebert, will largely boil down to the skepticism one bears towards authority figures. The Village subtly raises many philosophical and sociopolitical questions, but Shyamalan wisely declines to spell out his verdict on them that plainly, as he unfortunately did with the spiritualist themes of Signs, which heavy-handedly pushed a rather simplistic and only vaguely theistic belief: “All things happen according to a plan/there are no coincidences.” At its core, the movie obviously deals with the contrast between the idyllic fantasy and tragic reality; can the elders’ social experiment be morally justified, as they use deception and fear to protect their offspring from their world’s true nature, or is their retreat from civilization a moral necessity to keep men from harming each other in their self-interest? Should we strive to “protect innocence”, and is such a goal even attainable? Can a utopia be sustained apart from lies, and if not, can it really be called a utopia?
As with Shyamalan’s resolution to all these questions, The Village concludes on an ambiguous note, leaving its characters apparently contented regardless of whatever doubt has now infiltrated their minds. Whether they choose to “move towards hope” and subdue that inner doubt or throw down their old beliefs to follow the gravel road towards truth falls ultimately to the individual viewer’s speculation. The implications of those villagers’ decision are truly horrifying, enough so to make this one of the finest dramas I’ve ever seen.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
|Serving humanity... and its best friend. ~ Courtesy Fox Broadcasting Family Guy|
In the grand scheme of history, books on current events have never fared too well as far as permanency and future appeal. Whilst history does tend to repeat itself through human stupidity and historical ignorance, the worldviews and societal ills of one generation rarely correspond precisely with those of the generation directly preceding it or generations older still. Commentaries by Mark Levin and Ann Coulter will generally soar to the top of bestseller charts and hover there for a few weeks until they and their specified grievances fade into perceived social irrelevancy, so recognized by political junkies who must keep their pulse on the constantly shifting problems and debates of their day. So rare are the works of this genre which have lasted the test of time that I can only think of one outstanding example, viz. Thomas Paine’s Revolutionary advocacy pamphlet Common Sense. With this in mind, the most astounding thing about Rush Limbaugh’s duo of books from 1992 and ’93 is how little they’ve aged relative to the political atmosphere of today. The most unfortunate aspect of this phenomenon is that Rush’s media-spanning educational efforts have failed to significantly correct the United States’ self-destructive ‘Progressive’ direction, but the bright side to his books’ endurance is that readers can approach them as they would any contemporary political piece and unearth truths that apply equally to the present as to decades past.
Entitled The Way Things Ought to Be, the first of these books was written over the last year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency and concerns itself mostly with the shortcomings of liberalism, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a moderate Republican willing to enact their agenda. However, Rush shrewdly chooses not to open his debut novel with a diatribe on politics, instead giving a detailed examination of his career and all the difficulties he faced in becoming the #1 talk radio host in the nation. Far from shooting straight to the top of his business, he had to inch his way to the position he holds currently with numerous small advances, starting as a DJ before getting a show on WABC, surviving the FCC’s “Fairness Doctrine”, and finally going nationwide with the EIB network. Rush argues using his own history and other statistics that the American Dream cannot be handed to anyone on a silver platter or acquired instantaneously but must be earned through hard work, self-reliance, and perseverance. From these opening chapters, the book segues from something unique into a more predictable Conservative Manifesto format, offering commentary on a smorgasbord of subjects contemporary to the 1990s, such as sexual harassment hysteria, Mikhail Gorbasms, animal “rights” and dolphin worship, man-haters/feminazis, condom distribution in government schools, homelessness advocacy, and Hollywood hypocrites, many of which persist to this day with only superficial changes. A lot of the controversies he dissects in the first book may seem outdated at first glance, as the flames of public opinion over Anita Hill, Rodney King, and the House Banking Scandal, for example, have diminished immensely over the past two decades, but in reality we see figures and outrages like these surface anew with every generation. Herman Cain is the Clarence Thomas of today, an intelligent and principled black conservative whose reputation was unjustly smeared and slandered by, in his case, faceless and cowardly Democrat operatives who proliferated unproven and ideologically motivated attacks on his character in order to ruin his eligibility for American politics. The Trayvon Martin racebaiting fiasco in the media also degenerated into something like the Rodney King coverage, wherein the news media edited and distorted material evidence in order to portray law-enforcement officers and not the true assailant as the perpetrators of crime. As a result of the media’s racially driven reporting on the Rodney King affair, the defendants were subjected to a long, expensive, and ultimately fruitless judicial frenzy that yielded justice for no one, aggravated racial animosity across the nation, and allowed the true offendor to escape judgement for his violence. Likewise, though we haven’t heard about representatives issuing fraudulent checks on so large a scale for a long time, Congress continues to put itself above the law, routinely exempting itself from the destructive legislation that it forces upon Americans and absorbing countless benefits and privileges denied to the people they rule.
If the first book recalls some isolated scandals that have despoiled politics in recent years, then the second, See, I Told You So, bears an even more striking resemblance to the Obama regime. Barack Obama is so nearly the spitting image of Bill Clinton as articulated by Rush’s documentation that the book has essentially developed a resounding message over his last 5 years of governing: those who don’t learn from history are bound to repeat it, and the power-hungry will always exploit that historical ignorance to advance their interests. Much like the current Messiah in chief, Clinton and his advisors devised a campaign strategy that in no way reflected his actual policy goals. Masquerading as a “moderate” and a “New Democrat” who would unite Americans of all political leanings, he took great care never to honestly come out of the liberal closet and indeed campaigned on fiscally conservative promises of ending wasteful programs and reducing taxes on themiddleclass, which obviously cannot be identified by any objective standard and which probably doesn’t pay any taxes in the first place, depending on how you define said class. Compare his statement in January of 1992 that “I want to make it very clear that this middle-class tax cut… is central to any attempt we’re going to make to have a short-term economic strategy” to his full reversal a year later: “From New Hampshire forward, for reasons that absolutely mystified me, the press thought the most important issue in the race was the middle-class tax cut. I never did meet any voter who thought that.” In fact, less than one month following his inauguration, Clinton was already peddling tax hikes on the very citizens he pledged to relieve of governmental oppression, all to pay for billions of dollars in new spending programs.
This is just one of many instances illuminated by Rush where Sick Willie knowingly lied to the people so as to curry favor. Clinton insisted also that he would reverse the Bush administration’s “immoral” “racial politics” towards Haitian refugees and take a more humane position on their plight, but this too was an abject lie that he retreated from immediately upon taking office, in the same exact way that Obama decried Bush for entering expensive conflicts in the Middle East, then turned around and beat war drums against Syria earlier this year. Clinton crony George Stephanopoulos lamented conservatives’ devotion to truth and consistency by saying, “We have become hostage to LEXIS/NEXIS. The problem is an excess of literalism.” Rush contends, on the other hand, that the problem is really a deficiency of literalism in the mainstream media and the public, which allow liberal politicians to escape rebuke for any falsehoods they sow or catastrophes they create. It’s this lack of accountability which enables Obama to claim that he “will cut the deficit by the end of his first term” and close Guantanamo Bay and also to say that, “If you like your health care plan, you can keep your health care plan. Period. No one will take it away. No matter what.”
On this note, Rush emphasizes throughout both books that words mean things, that symbolism is inferior to substance, and that the preservation of liberty and legible speech requires us to speak with discretion, using words thoughtfully with a full understanding of what they indicate. To that end he often assumes the role of a modern-day Socrates, who implores his fellows to comprehend just what they believe and why, impeccably ripping into seemingly noble and unapproachable conceits like “raising awareness”, “the politics of meaning”, and Hillary Clinton’s “children’s rights”, defending such perceived crimes as “sexual harassment” and “discrimination”, and exposing the anti-American undertones of “hate crime”. Rush has a knack for stripping away the heroic and demonic connotations that society has ascribed to certain words and clearly explaining what those words actually mean. E.g., in chapter 18 of Book 2, he writes:
“… liberals couldn’t care less whether a crime is committed with hatred – unless the hatred is of a politically incorrect variety. If a murderer commits a crime based on his hatred of African Americans, Native Americans, homosexuals, probably even pornographers, he is committing a hate crime that is deserving of more severe punishment than if he murders because he hates white males or right-wing evangelists, for example…
As is clear from this selection, Rush writes very logically and his voice on paper is almost an unfiltered translation of his voice on the radio. This is both a good and a bad thing. One of the reasons Rush has ascended to the supreme throne of talk radio is that he’s very conversational, forthright, and plain-spoken. During any segment of his daily program, he gets straight to his point, whatever that may be, and presents it in a reasonable manner that any of his listeners can easily follow. As he himself acknowledges in the opening pages of The Way Things Ought To Be, the first draft of his book was compiled mostly from interviews he made with John Fund, a writer for The Wall Street Journal, and hence the book feels like a very faithful and certainly readable extension of the Rush we hear transmitted through the airwaves. The downside of Rush’s fidelity to his on-air schtick is that his charisma and force don’t really carry through to the written word, a fact that should already be clear to anyone who has tried reading transcripts of his shows online. Nor is his writing style all that satisfying or sophisticated compared to the works of his neighbor in the business, Mark Levin, who’s purely argument-oriented, eschews humor almost entirely, and uses citations extensively to prove his assertions, columnist and author Ann Coulter, whose books ooze with bitterness and exasperation at liberal buffoonery, most of which is justified if suitably inflammatory, or his arguably superior fill-in host Mark Steyn, who has such a command of the English language and so keen an eye for spotting the fundamental absurdity of political discourse that I wouldn’t hesitate to call him the modern Joseph Addison.
In contrast to these three writers, Rush doesn’t include any appendix of sources or footnotes of any sort, which is a darn shame given that many of the stories he analyzes, like Tom Cruise giving an Earth Day speech after accidentally driving over a flock of seagulls for a movie, Martin Sheen declaring Malibu a haven for displaced species upon becoming honorary mayor, or Project Dignity designing custom shopping carts for homeless people so that they wouldn’t have to “liberate” them from supermarkets, are so ridiculous that the reader is left begging for more details. Unfortunately, most of these stories are so old that they’re a pain to find and research even with the advent of Algore’s internet and its various search engines. Rush does reference a lot of data and tables from the CBO and Treasury in his chapters dealing with Reaganomics, free enterprise, and the failures of wealth redistribution, but the inclusion of a more traditional source list would definitely lend credibility to his arguments and appease readers desiring additional information.
Still, Rush’s books are a delight to read whether one experienced the early 90s and all its woes or not, particularly because the problems enumerated here are so reminiscent of today’s headlines. Fans of the Excellence in Broadcasting network will appreciate the many throwbacks to the program’s first days, from caller abortions (wherein Rush cut off guests with a roaring vacuum sound effect) to Dan’s Bake Sale, and those who, like me, were too young at the time to vividly recall the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton years will enjoy the immediacy and 1st-person perspective of Rush’s account. His new children’s novel Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims should arrive in my mailbox today, and I may promptly devour it just to get that nightmarish, white whale Moby Dick out of my head. More on that and the philosophical dimensions of the color white later…
Friday, October 18, 2013
Marking the first Ironic Review for The Author's Files...
Grade rating: ?
Friday, October 11, 2013
One of the few funny parts in the movie.
“You are about a hundred miles from smart.”
Grade rating: B+
** Those are all Tim Conway Jr. Show sound bites.
*** The post title is a punny allusion to something you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re Mr. Perry.
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
One can only wish that this movie was as poetic as Ozymandias. The Big Year doesn’t do anything remotely original in terms of storytelling, its normally funny cast flounders without anything funny to say, and the $40 million some idiotic ex-producer granted to this box-office dud appears to have been squandered on some of the worst effects-generated critters I’ve seen outside of Terra Nova. Still, ridiculous-looking and expensive birds aside, this film has a long way to go before it reaches the depravity of Terra Nova. “How many dinos have you sighted so far this episode?” “I saw a CGI fish, a giant dragonfly, and a triceratops egg – does that count?” “Wow. I saw a poisonous spider and a statist utopian village powered entirely by the clean energy of a single windmill, but nothing else. You must be doing a Big Series!” “I wish.”
I’m done making fun of Terra Nova on The Files now.
Grade rating: B-