Late nights and Netflix instant play: Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School

This is the entertainment I seek when I can't sleep and it's 1:30am:

Everyone ever is in this movie. I didn't think there would be big stars in this obviously independently made film, but you recognize every one in this. It gets more ridiculous as the movie goes on. Highlight: Donnie Wahlberg with a handlebar mustache and Latin dance pants.

Somehow, Donnie manages to make his role not as obnoxious a caricature as it could have been. He may be my favorite Wahlberg.

The movie itself? Imagine combining Shall We Dance, A Christmas Story, Return to Me, and a Lifetime movie about abuse. It's kind of an awkward combination. It's Hallmark Channel worthy entertainment. It's innocuous, but not the worst thing that's ever happened. I fell asleep shortly thereafter.


The English Patient, briefly

The English Patient (1996) won about 9835 awards, meaning it was epic with a requisite heavy dose of historical context.

1. It's almost 3 hours long. And while I don't feel like there are any completely extraneous scenes, Willem Dafoe's subplot doesn't really need to be in the film. At least he's less creepy than usual in this movie.

2. For the first half I care about Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas' story. In the second half I care about Juliette Binoche and Naveen Andrews' story.

I'm sorry I'm only mildly curious at this point of your story. This must have sucked.

3. Props to Ralph for bringing some charm from behind his burn victim make-up. Seriously. I've never seen him so charming. This is most likely because I associate this Fiennes brother with being either an evil Nazi, an unloving Duke, or Lord Voldemort. Also, he's not half-bad when he's healthy and loosens up with Katharine.

Still socially awkward in this film, but I'll take this Joseph Fiennes over my other options any day.

4. NAVEEN ANDREWS IS IN THIS MOVIE. This was obviously a highlight for me. Basically, he's Sayid, but Indian and in the 1940s. He's some sort of bomb specialist for the British. But the real highlight comes when you see him sans turban:

Who knew Mr. Andrews was capable of even more luscious manlocks than he currently sports on Lost? Lovely. (screen shot via)

5. But really the best is Juliette Binoche. I'm not sure having the framing device be more interesting than the meaty story of the English patient was a success, but I'll go with it. Ms. Binoche is so full of life after the over-the-top beginning sequence (everyone she loves dies. Maybe she should build a shrine). I enjoyed spending time with this character and was loathe to leave her for flashbacks.

Isn't she just radiant?


Medley of the Day: Quirky love edition

1. "Ana Ng" by They Might Be Giants -- I find this song completely endearing and lovely. I really hope they find each other some day.

2. "Seven Days" by Sting -- Leave it to Sting to write yet another pathetic sort of love song. At least he's honest?

3. "Cynical Girl" by Marshall Crenshaw -- Sorry, I like TV. We'll never be together, Marshall.

4. "Little Moments" by Brad Paisley -- This is when Mr. Paisley's funny lyrics are kind of sexy.


The Audacity of Rock: Part 20

Boys and girls together.

It's too bad there aren't more bands that have guys and girls together because I love the combination of male and female voices (one million points for country music). Unfortunately, they don't have the best track record.

"The Chain" by Fleetwood Mac (1977)

This band had it's share of issues, letting a girlfriend into the band. But you can't tell me the beginning of this song isn't magic thanks to some mixed-sex harmonies.

Feel free to sing along in Japanese.

"I Know What I Am" by Band of Skulls (2009)

I like that Russell Marsden and Emma Richardson take turns singing the verses. They have similar delivery, but there's still a difference in timbre that makes the song much more interesting than just one singer. Also, got to love a low range in a lady.

Questions to ponder:

1. Are guy/girl bands always a bad idea?

2. Is it okay to love Fleetwood Mac?


Some inappropriate crushes

After rewatching and refalling in love with William Powell in My Man Godfrey, I was reminded that my deep attraction to him might be inappropriate. Certainly he's middle-aged, and certainly he doesn't have an overt love of young women, so I'll classify my crush on him as mostly inappropriate.

But I find myself mildly to really attracted to inappropriate characters all the time. From the top of my head, here are some more:

1. Sylar (Zachary Quinto) from Heroes.

So serial killer with both mommy and daddy issues. Probably not the best pick for a person to fall in love with. Whatever. His Gabriel Gray look is adorable.

2. Benny "The Jet" Rodriguez (Mike Vitar) in The Sandlot.

(fanastic picture with pink border: via)

I only feel awkward about this because Mike Vitar was 15 when this movie was made, making him 7 years younger than I am now. But baseball shirts and bravery are eternally irresistible.

3. Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) in How I Met Your Mother.

He's pretty gross.

4. Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola) from Mansfield Park.

At least he's funny and reads well, despite his rakish decisions later in the film.

5. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) in House.

I know this isn't an original sentiment, but House is old enough to be my dad. Also, Hugh Laurie is an absolute goofball in pretty much every other role. Amazing what scruff and caustic insults can do for a guy.

6. Eugene "Doc" Roe (Shane Taylor) in Band of Brothers.

Awesome medic with a great accent. Although I'm pretty sure the purpose of this miniseries wasn't for me to lust after him.

7. Tom Riddle (Christian Coulson) Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Sorry, but proto-Voldemort is hot in a clean-cut schoolboy sort of way.

Alright, I'm officially creepy.


Bringing Up Baby (1938) vs. My Man Godfrey (1936)

Bringing Up Baby is kind of hit and miss for me. One the one hand, Cary Grant gets to play a daft paleontologist with glasses and Kathrine Hepburn gets some fabulous one liners ("If you had an aunt who would give you a million dollars if she liked you and you knew she wouldn't like you if she found a leopard in your apartment, what would you do?") Also, Cary Grant, wearing a feminine/feathery robe yells, "Because I just went GAY all of a sudden!" deemed more hilarious by that fact that I have no idea what the connotations of "gay" were in the 1930s. Basically, Hepburn and Grant are always a delight, even in the worst of movies, so watching them is a pleasure.

Cary Grant in a frilly robe.

But Bringing Up Baby also ends up being fairly tedious. For all the funny moments, there's an equal amount of time spent running around doing nothing funny which in turn neutralizes the parts that were funny. This probably has to do with my severe dislike of comedy about stupid people. There's a reason I hated Amelia Bedelia books growing up, and that's because she was dumber than dirt and never understood instructions. To me, that's not funny, that's incompetent and tedious. (I was snobby even as an 8-year-old.) The same holds for any The Office storylines that focus too much on David Brent/Michael Scott--they're only funny when smarter people are making fun of them. In the case of Bringing Up Baby, both Susan and David are idiots, although in different ways, and for me that gets old because no one onscreen is mocking them.

Cary Grant in nerdy glasses. Adorable.

My Man Godfrey, though, I find hilarious. Certainly the film has a heavy Depression-era "do good to the less fortunate" streak that grounds the humor, but the reason I love the movie so much mostly has to do with William Powell's Godfrey. He's a smart man who has come to understand himself as an upperclass man through heartbreak and life on the streets (er, river bank). But it's his reactions to the insane Bullock family that make this film so great. He's underminingly polite, managing to make fun of the family with a straight face as their butler. (The question, "Can you butle?" never fails to make me laugh.)

William Powell being kind and condescending at the same time. Hot.

I even go along with the absolutely crazy scenes, like when Mrs. Bullock's musician protege Carlo starts acting like a monkey while Irene (Carole Lombard) has a huge nervous breakdown because Godfrey doesn't love her and there's chaos and yelling. I enjoy having an ally in watching ridiculous things happen, and Godfrey is that man in this movie. His calm looks of wonder/disdain are unbeatable. In other words, he's the Tim/Jim of the situation, and thusly my favorite character.

Classic Godfrey expression as Irene literally throws herself at him. By throwing her in the shower, Godfrey loves her of course.

But despite his intelligence, Godfrey manages to fall into an odd sort of relationship with Irene. Irene gives him the job as butler at her house after she uses him as a "forgotten man" in a scavenger hunt. She subsequently falls in love with him, even though he clearly shows no interest in her besides gratitude for the job. But they have an easy, sweet sort of chemistry despite not feeling an equal affection for each other. Their movie relationship makes sense seeing as how Powell and Lombard were married and divorced a few years before this movie was made. They remained good friends, and their comfortable real-life chemistry bleeds through onscreen. Anyway, the way Irene throws herself at Godfrey, and he calmly refuses, but doesn't completely push her away. Their proximity, their banter, their difference in wit. For whatever reason, it warms my heart.

To sum up: Bring Up Baby doesn't bring enough laughs or heart for me to care. My Man Godfrey is basically perfect.


The Audacity of Rock: Part 19

I'm totally going to get a girl with this song.

Since the dawn of music (probably), men having been writing songs for the ladies. The most surefire way to get your message of love to the girl of choice is to put the chick's name in the song, preferably making the name the title*. There are so many to choose from, so I picked one from the last five decades.

"Michelle" by The Beatles (1965)

Even the Beatles weren't above using a bird's name in a song--or rudimentary French.

"Alison" by Elvis Costello (1977)

This is one of my default-stuck-in-my-head songs. I'm bound to sing it to any Alison I know.

"Amanda" by Boston (1986)

If you're all, "This sounds exactly like every other Boston song, but with just hint of Power Ballad," I'm like, "That's why it's awesome."

"Valerie Loves Me" by Material Issue (1991)

Apparently bands hated girls' names in the 90s. They're getting raped ("Polly"), rejected ("Molly"), called a whore ("Ava Adore"), or fake ("Josie (Everything's Gonna Be Fine)"), but not loved. Anyway, after way too much "research" here's a 90s song that's kind of an ode to a woman. I guess.

"Kelsey" by Metro Station (2007)

It took long enough to get a song with my name in it. Too bad it's kind of a lame song, in the sense that I doubt they'd actually swim the ocean for me. They didn't even spell my name right, so whatever. They suck.

Questions to Ponder:

1. Why did the 90s hate women?

2. What happened to Jayne?

*I realize most (read: all) my posts for The Audacity of Rock are about dude rockers. Sorry.


Shyamalanathon 2009: The Music

This week I looked at the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan: The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, Lady in the Water, and The Happening. Thanks for bearing with me. I hope people rewatch some of Shyamalan's films. He's a fantastic filmmaker who, in my mind, has had only one real misstep with The Happening. The rest of his films accomplish their goals well, and I enjoy going along for the ride with him.

To finish off a good week in movie watching, I want to feature one of my favorite things about Night's films: the music.

James Newton Howard composed the music for all the films I watched for Shyamalanathon 2009. He's a brilliant composer who creates a sense of genre, time, and mood without being overbearing. So, have a listen to some beautiful and oftentimes frightening music.

The Sixth Sense "Main Theme"

The score is so gorgeous and sad with a hint of haunting. It just sounds like it should go with a ghost story: the piano playing a repeating melody of a few notes on top of an orchestra playing in a minor key. The resolving chords at :40 are my favorite.

Unbreakable "The Wreck"

Probably the most epic and cinematic of the work Howard's done for Shyamalan. It builds up to a heroic theme, but with plenty of melancholy dissonant chords. This is goosebumps and tears in the eyes music.

Signs "Main Titles"

This is the music that you hear at the beginning of the movie during the titles. Absolutely creepy. The driving pace of the music adds urgency to the film, making it much more suspenseful. The slides and on-edge violins just add to the creepy level.

The Village "Those We Don't Speak Of"

This is a suprisingly earthy soundtrack that features tribal-like percussion and a melee of insturments to create tension. I mostly love the soundtrack for the gorgeous 19th century-sounding theme and expert violin solos by Hilary Hahn (which is in the second half of this track), but the scary stuff on the soundtrack is uniquely frightening.

Lady in the Water "The Great Eatlon/End Titles"

This is a bit of a dramatic track toward the beginning, but the payoff is gorgeous. Never fails to make me cry. Have I mentioned I'm a huge instrumental music crier? The whole score for the film is just magical. And this ending music brings in the theme we hear from the beginning to full force and then resolves it to a calm end.

The Happening "Main Theme"

The music is by far the scariest part of the film. The ominous low horns, the strained solo cello, and the building tempo and volume. Perfect, except the movie didn't meet the greatness of the music.

Bonus scene from The Village:

Those We Don't Speak Of come into the village one night. Here's the music I featured earlier in the post, but with visuals is even more stunning:

Can we talk about the hand holding here? The multiple shots, the slow motion. It's basically a Korean drama. This is just to say I love it.


Shyamalanathon 2009: The Happening (2008)

This week I'm looking at the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan. So far I've reviewedThe Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and Lady in the Water. This is the last film review I'll be posting; a wrap-up post of odds and ends will be posted tomorrow. Spoilers follow.

Quick synopsis: Some sort of airborne toxin is causing people to kill themselves. Most signs point to the plants being the culprits.

Something is just off about The Happening. I don't know what it is, but it is not an effective movie. It's not particularly scary. It's not particularly interesting. I don't really care about the characters. It's not even so bad it's funny. It's just bland. I was excited to rewatch The Happening to see if a second viewing would give me more perspective like rewatching The Village did, but it was just as lackluster as I remembered. Now it's time to speculate why.

Alma (Zooey Deschanel) and Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) staring into the distance. Are they scared or just bored?

The biggest thing that makes this movie so disengaging is the characters. Shyamalan in his other films manages to quickly establish likable and interesting characters in the first few scenes. Something about the writing and the performances in this film didn't engage me, except two scenes where Mark Wahlberg gets to be funny by talking to a plant and later telling his wife about almost buying a superfluous bottle of cough syrup. But Zooey Deschanel is pretty dull. I'm not sure if I would have thought the same thing if a more present actress was in the role of Alma, but it seems like she doesn't have a lot to do. Her declaration that she can't express emotion is about as nuanced as Cameron Diaz's inability to cry in The Holiday, meaning it's not. These two are supposed to be married, so I feel like there should be a connection of some kind, but it doesn't show. Unbreakable was effective in portraying a marriage on the rocks because I felt like Bruce Willis and Robin Wright Penn had a comfortable chemistry. The Happening just doesn't have any character spark. What happened?

I think a big part of these dull characters has to do with a lack of room to develop scenes and moments. The beginning feels pretty rushed, at least in getting to know our main characters. Elliot (Mark Wahlberg) fares better because we see him as a teacher, using his best "say hi to your mother for me" voice. But our introduction to Alma is through other people, specifically Elliot's BFF Julian (John Leguizamo) expressing concern about Alma's commitment to the marriage. Cut to her inability to press "ignore" as her phone vibrates from a call from some guy named Joey. Honestly, besides a few expository explanations for her behavior by herself, we don't really see her be anything except kind of dull, although cute in her halter top-only wardrobe. We don't see Elliot and Alma share any extended exchanges, and we certainly don't see a long take scene of them conversing that's so effective in other Shyamalan films. Were scenes cut out? Were the actors ill-equipped to handle the material? What happened?

This guy shot himself. That's kind of creepy I guess. Where's the hot dog guy? He's creepier than anything else in the movie.

It seems like the aim of the violence in The Happening is to be shocking, but my reaction to it ranges from vaguely fascinated to laughing out loud. Part of that has to do with the fact that most of the suicides are of characters we don't know. This is also known as Beginning Sequence of Saving Private Ryan Syndrome. You're not going to get any reaction out of me besides "Huh, his duodenum is hanging out of his abdomen" if you don't give me a reason to care. The violence later in Saving Private Ryan works because we've gotten to know these characters and care about their lives (which is why Band of Brothers is a more effective portrayal of the horrors of war since it spends more time with the characters, obvs). Same with The Happening. When Julian gets infected and kills himself, it's kind of disturbing; he was the only character I cared about in the first place. But watching some random guy make a lawn mower run over himself is suprisingly not that scary, but just silly. Maybe more mood music was needed--maybe even more blood--but it didn't do anything for me. What happened?

And finally, I find the threat not threatening. Plants rustle in the wind and people kill themselves. Plants blowing around is such a passive threat. Suicide is passive, too. I needed more of something to be freaked out. Whether that was a more psychological approach or a more aggressive symptom. Maybe if everyone acted like the crazy old lady who lives alone in stead of just giving up on life. The deaths were so quick and passively observed, they didn't affect me. I don't think that makes me a horrible person; I think it means The Happening didn't bring the scares when that seems to be its goal. What happened?

John Leguizamo, you still have my heart. Mark Wahlberg--sorry, your brother did way better in a Shyamalan movie.

Maybe I just can't figure out what the goal of the film was. Was it supposed to be straight up scary? Because someone feeding themselves to lions is kind of funny. So is it supposed to be funny? Because you're not really offering up very many moments that are funny. So is it supposed to be a character study? Because I don't care about these characters because they don't seem to care about each other even if they keep saying they do. Is it supposed to be an environmental message? Because the cause of "the event" isn't really clear. I'm at a loss. It's not a completely bad film, but it's not that good either. It's just blah.


Shyamalanathon 2009: Lady in the Water (2006)

This week I'm looking at the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan. So far I've reviewed The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village. I think my brain might be breaking from so much writing, so here's me mostly making glorified captions for production stills of the movie.

I can't help myself: I adore Lady in the Water. It's a fun, somewhat self-indulgent film that completely charms me. Like most of Shyamalan's work, it has some scare moments, but in this case, the movie is mostly warm-fuzzy.

I think most of the reason I enjoy this movie so much is because the cast really seems to enjoy themselves. This isn't high art or overly dramatic. It's just a film that flourishes on an ensemble of actors and their funny interactions, making this a kids movie that's more entertaining than it needs to be.

Harry Farber (Bob Balaban) is a new tenant and is the new movie and book critic for a new paper. Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti), the apartment manager/maintenance guy is introducing him to Young-Soon (Cindy Cheung). This is just an awkward conbination of characters, and I love it. Mr. Farber is so cynical and self-righteous, anyone interacting with him is going to be awkward.

This is Long Haired Smoker (Jospeh D. Reitman) and One-Eyebrow Smoker (John Boyd). What descriptive names. Anyway, as part of a bunch of lay-about guys, they're pretty funny. The guy on the right (One-Eyebrow Smoker) is the genius behind the catch phrase "blim-blam."

Well, it's catch phrase to me. I use it often.

This is when Mr. Farber gets his come-uppance. This is a point when the movie takes self-indulgant stabs at film critics, but I'm amused by the sequence--especially since it comes right after Mr. Dury asks "What kind of person would be so arrogant as to presume the intention of another human being?" Just spell out your vitriol Night.

Here's Noah Gray-Cabey (aka Micah on Heroes) as the symbolist/interpretor Joey Dury. Let's identify all the adorable things about this scene: small child using phrophesy-like language, small child interpreting cereal boxes, an overly-supportive/nervous father, the original Guild and Mr. Heep trusting in the words of a small child, a whole lot of cereal for two people.

Mrs. Bell (Mary Beth Hurt) trying to heal Story (Bryce Dallas Howard). To the right of Mr. Heep we have sister and brother Anna (Sarita Choudhury) and Vick Ran (M. Night Shyamalan). Honestly, I don't care that M. Night cast himself in his own movie. He's not distracting and he even gets some funny moments. And Sarita Choudhury usually steals all the scenes she's in anyway, most of which are with Mr. Shyamalan. Anyone who can sell me on the line "He's hearing the voice of God through a crossword puzzle" is a winner to me.

Story and Mr. Heep have a sweet sort of chemistry. It's not quite father-daughter, but it's also not man-woman. It's more like a friendly fondness and deep affection for each other. Paul Giamatti is the one that makes me tear up in this movie. He's so likable and earnest, it's hard not to really feel it when his character gets desperate. And it's incredible how other-worldy and meek Bryce Dallas Howard seems in this film, especially because I just saw her being so effervescent and bold in The Village. Now if only she were cast in films that weren't awful, I would be happy.

But let's be honest, Reggie (Freddy Rodriguez, who I adore) really steals this movie. Like an experimental scientist, he only works out half his body. Mr. Heep notes early in the film that he's just trying to be special, and if it doesn't turn out to be the moral of the story: finding out who you are and what your purpose is. He ends up being the Guardian, and it's just so fun to see someone so goofy, but affable become a hero. It's the final warm-fuzzy on top of a whole lot of other warm-fuzzy moments. What a great kids movie.


Shyamalanathon 2009: The Village (2004)

This week I'm looking at the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan. So far I've reviewed The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, and Signs. I'm assuming whoever reads this post has seen The Village and remembers main plot points.

The Village seemed to mark a turning point for M. Night. It's a pretty polarizing film, at least on first viewing. When I first saw, I didn't know what to think at the end, but seeing it again, it's clear that Shyamalan had a purpose that was more Blowup than Jurassic Park. In this I mean that The Village was more to explore an idea than just thrill audiences. If you can distance yourself from some engaging performances to see a big picture, the film makes a lot more sense.

Certainly knowing what's going to happen next makes The Village go down easier. A second viewing allows you to ask why the story is told like it is instead of wondering how some very charming characters are going to come out in the end. This viewing allowed me to see the film more of an exploration of the price of preserving innocence and whether that's even possible. Seeing it in this light, some of the cinematic choices, especially in the second half of the film, made more sense.

Fun fact: this is Jesse Eisenberg of recent Adventureland fame.

The first half of the film quickly establishes and develops the relationship between Lucius Hunt (Joaquin Phoenix) and Ivy Walker (Bryce Dallas Howard). Their story shows us what good can come from the rules of the village. A sweet romance comes out of the institution of fear the Elders keep in place to keep people in the village and out of the towns. The group of Elders is played by an impressive collection of veteren actors, led by the eloquent William Hurt as Edward Walker. By mid-film when Noah Percy (Adrien Brody) stabs Lucius, it's a jarring turn around for the film. We are no longer following a budding romance, the protagonist switches on us from Lucius to Ivy, and most importantly, the innocence of the village is interrupted. Reality hits, and the more we realize what a farce the whole first half of the movie is, the more the film beomces alienating.

Bryce Dallas Howard and Joaquin Phoenix put in some great performances in this film. Their relationship is sweet and often funny. I'm always sad we don't get to see more of it.

It's easy to complain that the movie deliberately manipulates the audience, but except for the date on the grave stone at the beginning of the film that indicates the time period is a century before it really is, the choices make sense for the purpose of exploring the concept of innocence in a society. We learn that this is a utopian village established by heartbroken men and women looking to go back to a time that seems very pure. Agree with the Elders' decision or not, it's an interesting concept. Our experience as audience members for the first part of the film is like that of one of the children who grew up in the village. We accept what is going on at face value.

Ivy listening to one of the village Elders talk about her sister who was murdered in the towns.

It's a big deal when Edward Walker decides to let Ivy in on the truth. Because the Elders have been forced to create an almost religion, at least a cultural one, to meet their goals, this interrupts Ivy's whole way of thinking as a daughter of the village. Her indoctrination/innocence is reestablished once she is attacked by Noah in one of the monster suits, but her disillusionment for a portion of the film is similiar to growing up and realizing that real life often flies in the face of what you've been taught as a child. This is a version of loss of innocence that everyone goes through; so by appealing to pathos on that level and banking on the fact that we've experienced life in the village for an hour, Shyamalan seems to hope that we understand what Ivy is going through.

Another version of loss of innocence is through the character Noah who as an embodiment of innocence. His actions early in the film and his obvious mental limitations indicate that he doesn't have a clear concept of right and wrong. That someone who is innocent/oblivious to many things is the vessel of for a terrible crime is just another case when the village's plan falls through. In other words, it's a small scale version of what will inevitably happen to the village in the end.

Justice plays out through, again, oblivious means by Ivy (blind to who she is killing). Because no one had to directly confront punishing a bad deed, even the Elder's innocence is preserved.

Ivy and her father Edward Walker after Lucius is stabbed.

But even though the integrity of the Elders' village remains in the end, their idea still has chinks in it. People still die. Adulterous temptation still exists. Deliberate violence can still happen. It's a bit angering that the group of Elders still want to keep the village going at the end, but fascinating. It leaves us wondering when their way of life will end. When the funds to keep the "wildlife reserve" private runs out? When more young adults question their isolation like Lucius did? They've survived this threat to their experiment, but when will the next one happen, and how will they survive that one?

The Village might seem hokey to some, but aren't all metaphors and morality stories on some level hokey? I mean, Fellini-esque mimes playing tennis with an invisible tennis ball are pretty corny if you're not looking at what their actions mean. Maybe M. Night Shyamalan isn't a cinematic genius, but it's hard to fault a writer/director that's so deliberate in the creation of his films.


Shyamalanathon 2009: Signs (2002)

This week I'm looking at the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan. So far I've reviewed The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. This installment is my very first vlog. Bad editing, me trying to be eloquent, and spoilers follow.

Signs Review from Kelsy Chesnut on Vimeo.


Shyamalanathon 2009: Unbreakable (2000)

This week I'm looking at the films of one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan. So far I've reviewed The Sixth Sense. Spoilers follow.

Coming out at the start of the superhero renaissance of the '00s, Unbreakable gave us the realistic superhero. While Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005) gave us a grittier view of the Dark Knight, M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable gave us a skin and bones superhero movie, with little embellishment. Very little about it seems too far out of the ordinary to actually happen. It's a film that is spectacularly subtle. Almost everything about it is muted--even the extraordinary elements. But the more times I see it, the more I'm impressed by its elegant story telling.

The first frame as a title card of facts about comic books, indicating that this is going to be a meta-story about comic books, heroes, and villains.

Samuel L. Jackson plays Elijah, a man whose life has been spent with comic books. Known as Mr. Glass because of his easily broken bones, he seeks out his opposite, an unbreakable man. Elijah is usually seen in shades of purple, while David, his opposite, is seen in green. The secondary colors give us a more subtle version comic book colors.

The lighting of this movie is often very stark. In this scene, David (Bruce Willis) is lit by a light bulb with visible lens flares. Nothing in this film seems particularly glamorous or glossy. Just real.

David and his son Joseph (Spencer Treat Clark) share a fun moment when they pile as many weights as possible onto the bar. The situation more than the acting is what makes the scene so humorous. Again, subtlety is the name of the game.

While this scene shows David's extraordinary strength, David's typical superhero tropes seem realistic. He's strong enough to do more than an average man, but probably couldn't lift an airplane. His uniform is a green poncho he wears for work. His weakness is an ease for drowning in water. The one real extraordinary thing about him is his ability to see the bad things people have done when he touches them. But even that isn't that flashy.

A funny moment in the comic book store. Elijah is depressed from his latest encounter with David and is moping in the comic book store, while a clerk (Bostin Christopher) needs to close the shop. Minor characters are often given scene stealing moments in Shyamalan films.

Audrey (Robin Wright Penn) and David on their first date as they start over. It's one long take with the camera slowly pushing toward the couple.

Many of the scenes in Unbreakable are made of long takes. In an early scene, we learn the family's dynamic: David is the only survivor of his train crashing. When he comes out into the waiting room full of victims' families, his son rushes to him, followed slower by Audrey. Joseph gives David a big hug, but Audrey just lightly gives David a kiss on the cheek. As they walk out of the hospital, Joseph forces his parents hands together, which they only hold for a second before letting go as Joseph turns around. It's a revealing moment that establishes the family dynamic of the rest of the film. Audrey and David are struggling to keep things together, while their son needs and wants things to work out. This is established effectively without any editing or words.

A creepy dude taking advantage of a drunk girl.

Once David discovers he has a talent for instinctively knowing things, he explores his power. The bad stuff that's flashbacked on when David touches a person is seen in this upper corner view. While the colors are already muted to dank versions of secondary colors, these flashbacks are seen in black and white, with only identifying clothing items colored in. We witness all this from an upper angle. Somehow, David's power to see the bad things people have done are seen in a familiar way as if his mind has access to security cameras.

David finishing his heroic work, wearing his green poncho.

Another long scene is where David follows the man in the orange jump suit. After he frees the two girls in the bathroom, he goes into a bedroom containing a woman tied up as well. This is where the man in the orange jump suit comes in. Nothing ever breaks up and nothing is embellished as we see David slowly choke the man to death. If you don't look closely, you almost miss the extraordinary way David bears multiple collision to the wall or how he hangs on so tightly to the struggling man. The camera movement simply follows the fight back and forth and slowly raises to an upper corner of the room, again kind of like a security camera. The lack of editing makes this action so real, it's easy to miss how subtly the incredible is happening.

The music punctuates this scene well. Keeping in a minor key, the music is as melancholy as it is triumphant. His act of heroism against the man in the orange jump suit is accompanied by mezzo forte horns. In other words, this isn't "Fanfare for the Common Man." It's triumphant, but not overwhelming.

Through the film, we see David take up some sort of mantle of saving people. He's brought from his passive denial of his gift to an active embrace. When he saves the family from the man in the orange suit and starts embracing his own family, we see him become more of a man than he was. Too bad his motivation came from Elijah, whose obsession brought insanity.


Shyamalanathon 2009: The Sixth Sense (1999)

This week I'm looking at one of my favorite writer/directors, M. Night Shyamalan. While his execution can sometimes be hit or miss, I think is oeuvre is impressive, and I always enjoy rewatching his films. Spoilers follow.

Quick synopsis: Malcolm Crowe is a successful child psychologist who ends up getting shot by a patient he had years ago that he couldn't help. The next fall, Malcolm finds himself with a similar patient, Cole, that he can't quite help either. Cole lives with his overworked single mother, and to make things even harder, Cole sees dead people everywhere. It comes to the point that Cole has to open up about his talent/gift(?) to help Malcolm move on and to improve his relationship with his his mom. If you haven't watched The Sixth Sense in a while, I'd recommend it. It's one of the most rewatchable horror/thrillers out there.

Malcolm (Bruce Willis) thinking about quitting Cole's case.

A lot of that has to do with solid performances from the cast. Bruce Willis does underplayed well, Toni Collette does white trash mom well, and Haley Joel Osment does a good job of not being obnoxious or overly precocious. I think it would be very easy for these roles to get histrionic, but these actors make these characters ring true. Part of that, I think, has to do with the pacing of conversational scenes. Often in Shyamalan's films, the actors are given long takes to converse in a scene. It gives the actors more control of their character, as opposed to a heavily edited scene in which one line at a time is edited together to create an exchange. It also makes tension and silences more palpable since we know it's not being manipulated.

One of the most impressive scenes is when Lynn Sear (Collette) is trying to talk to her son Cole (Osment) about her pendant that she found in his bureau. They are sitting down to dinner and in one take we see her have a very tough conversation with her son. We see Collette slowly go from gently trying to get her son to confess to outright frustration. And Osment does great in this scene as well, knowing that lying would be easier than telling the truth, but tells his mom the truth to her anyway. He talks so quietly, just like a kid would when being interrogated by a parent. While Cole's secret adds an extra element to this scene, the family dynamic is familiar. And because it's done in one long take, you have to admire these actors for creating such a real moment, without the assistance of editing, music, or fancy cinematography.

Lynn (Toni Collette) and Cole (Haley Joel Osment) at the beginning of the dinner scene.

Another reason this is a much richer horror/thriller, is that there are a few plotlines going on at once that have as much to do with relationships as that fact that Cole sees dead people. On Dr. Malcolm Crowe's (Bruce Willis) end, we have him trying to help Cole, who is so similar to another patient he couldn't help. By helping Cole, he can redeem himself from past failure. We also have Malcolm's relationship to his wife. This is a storyline that doesn't really work the second time around once we know he's dead, except to see how unresponsive his wife is and how Malcolm only sees what he wants to see at this point. (Also, to prove that apparently these dead people have enough corporeal form to break windows when they see their wives with another man.) On Cole's end, we have him trying to come to terms with his gift with the assistance of Malcolm in which they end up helping each other out. Then we have Cole's relationship with his mom that is strained, not only because his father left, but also because he keeps a dark secret.

Most of Shyamalan's films are overwhelmingly optimistic, even in bleak situations, and this is no exception. By focusing on the relationships and giving everyone a happy ending of sorts, the horror seems to bring catharsis for all involved, dead and alive, and helps them to move on. The last 20 minutes or so don't have big scare moments since dead people no longer feared and healing relationships is the focus.

Malcolm and Cole talking about what they want to get out of their sessions.

And speaking of scare moments, they don't seem cheap the second time around. They seem to reflect how the characters feel as opposed to just a way to manipulate the audience into jumping (although that's kind of the point, too). This isn't a story about dumb people walking into suspiciously dumb situations. It's about a little boy who sees creepy dead people and doesn't know what to do about it. The scary moments with loud noises help the audience experience what Cole's experiencing. Not to mention the mentally unstable man (a frightening Donnie Wahlberg) that a doctor couldn't heal breaks into a house with a gun and destroys that doctor's life as well as his own. But for all the violence and creepy images, The Sixth Sense comes back to families and helping other people (even if they're dead). Shyamalan manages to get a traditional moral into a horror movie. This is no Capra, but M. Night manages to get values into a modern film without it feeling contrived or cheesy. And I think that's where this film's appeal lies: it has more of a point than just scaring the audience. Sure, the boy who shot his daddy's gun has half his head blown off, but he just needs some help getting to the other side.

And I didn't even touch on the fun moments, like parents at a school play all pulling out their camcorders to record their kids or Malcolm's lame magic trick, that break up a rather grim scenes. But The Sixth Sense is definitely worth another viewing, especially if it's been a few years. There's a lot to watch besides a few dead bodies and a twist ending. You might even jump a few times.


Some great yarns

I always wished I was a good storyteller. Ask anyone, my stories are usually of the "something like that happened to me once" kind with little to no purpose. I usually have to announce the end. What this comes down to is that even though I can't tell one, I love a good story. If you're a good storyteller, I will give you my full attention. But no story beats an urban legend. I personally don't remember too many from my childhood, but they make the best tales because there might be--just might be some truth behind them. Here are some great pop culture moments in urban legends. Note: best if read with a flashlight to your face.

1. The Sandlot (1993)

Initially thinking about this, my mind instantly went to the legend of the dog in the backyard next to the lot in The Sandlot. In the story, the dog is huge, is a great junk yard dog, eats people, and then is eventually banished for, you know, ever. This really puts the gang into a huge pickle. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the whole story online, so please enjoy Squints' enduring final words:

2. Season 1 Episode 3 "Stoop Kid" from Hey Arnold! (1996)

My favorite storyteller is an animated boy named Gerald. He is the holder of his New York neighborhood's secrets (which are probably in his towering hair). Motivated by a football landing on a stoop and the fact that they can't retrieve said ball, Gerald tells the classic tale of Stoop Kid (about a minute in):

3. Ode to Billy Joe (1976)

Prossibly one the most gimmicky movies ever, Ode to Billy Joe aimed to give a background story to the legendary song that shared the same name, basically filling in why Bill Joe McAllister jumped off the Tallahasee bridge. The two don't have much in common other than the name, but the movie itself is pretty weird. It holds promise at the beginning, but turns into one of the most unexpected endings ever (at least to me the one time I saw it late on TV one night). Poor Billy Joe. He's pretty cute, and all he wanted to do is get with Bobbie Lee, but then he gets sexually confused. The beginning:

4. Anastasia (1956)

Based on one of the best urban legends, Anastasia brings a legend to life. A woman with a mysterious and sordid past is transformed into the Princess Anastasia, who supposedly survived the revolution. At the end, we're still left wondering is she or isn't she Anastasia? In this scene we see Anna (Ingrid Bergman) after she learns General Bounine's (Yul Brynner) plot to use her as a fake Anastasia to earn money. Anna then starts to tell crazy stories of her own:

Side note: I find Yul Brynner unbelievably attractive in the movie.

5. Gone With the Wind (1939)

Part of what makea Rhett Butler such an interesting character is how he allows others to define his character. From the very beginning we hear that he has a bad reputation, but further along, he's hailed as a war hero. His fame, good or bad, tends to precede him wherever he goes. Urban legend? Maybe not, but a legend nonetheless. Here's the initial gossip about Captain Butler (the first minute):

6. The Village (2004)

There are a lot of legends in horror movies, but the way the stories work in the film is more complicated than just a monster: they're a way to keep everyone in the village. Say what you will about the last half of the film, the first half is engaging and has some great scare moments involving the strange creatures in the woods. At about 4 minutes into this clip, we see Shyamalan implying the legend of the "those we don't speak of" through the characters' actions. Lovely filmmaking:

This post has been submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society.

Speaking of M. Night, prepare yourselves for Shyamalanathon 2009. Coming soon.


Live-blogging 10 Things I Hate About You the TV Series!

I have secret love of ABC Family original series. I usually end up watching the first seasons of them for masochistic reasons. The new one is based off the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. What a terrible idea. Of course that means I'm watching it. And of course that means I'm sharing my pain with you:

9:00 - The same dad as the movie. Poor Larry, reduced to a mere shadow of the hilarity he brought to the movie. And of course he's on the phone in the middle of a woman's labor.

9:01 - Shakespeare name drop! 'Cause it's based on that one play he wrote that one time.

9:02 - Kat drives a Volvo, so far the best thing about this series. I drove a Volvo in high school. It was old and awesome.

9:03 - Um, apparently the sisters are the ones new to the school and not Cameron. And Cameron is now a Tedding-out idiot. Also, he's not Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Fail.

9:04 - Ooo! Fiery sexual tension between Kat and the guy I'm assuming will take over Heath Ledger's role. Mostly involving glaring at each other.

9:08 - Harry Potter references. Along with every other innocuous pop culture reference under the sun. Oh dear, they're trying to be relevant.

9:10 - Yep, glaring dude is Patrick. He's certainly hotter than Heath Ledger--well, at least has better hair than Heath in the movie. And um, I think they just made an impromptu staring contest a plot point.

9:12 - Text messaging plot point!!

9:13 - New Chastity proves that she's no Gabrielle Union when she Bring it On-captains at the cheerleading try-outs.

Commercial break thought: Is anyone else upset that Christian Coulson isn't coming back as Tom Riddle for the new Harry Potter movie? Is it weird I know his name off the top of my head?

9:17 - Maybe movie-Bianca already had my love thanks to being Alex Mack, but seriously, new-Bianca is the dumbest character possible.

9:18 - Ha! Driving Miss Daisy reference. That was good. Way to go Kat.

9:20 - Non-alcoholic beer keg. This is no Freaks and Geeks.

9:21 - Calling Patrick Hannibal Lector? That one didn't even make sense in this context. I revoke my impressed card from Kat.

9:21 - Kat and Patrick totally just had a moment. I know because a piano melody of 2 notes started playing.

9:23 - "You're really smiling with your eyes." lolz.

Commercial break thought: Dude, the guy who plays Cameron is super tall. I just thought every one else around him was short, but his IMDb fun fact page informed me that Nicholas Braun is 6' 6''. Oh, and his nickname is Nick. Who knew?

9:28 - "Dead mom card." Making light of death is always a good thing.

9:29 - Elphaba! Ha!

9:30 - Bianca is terrible at putting things in her locker, namely her Peguin mascot head. Turn it sideways, idiot.

9:31 - Here's the French tutor tie-in!

9:31 - Oh, new-Patrick rides a motorcycle. That's how you know he's bad.

Commercial break thought: U2 is offering a public service announcement? Um, for Blackberry? I couldn't hate Bono more.

Oh, apparently it's over. And a sitcom. Hmm. Much like new Pride & Prejudice, this contains many of the same plot points as the original source, but stripped of any humor or likable characters. Except maybe Patrick. That kid can glare.

Patrick Verona (Ethan Peck) wears a leather jacket. That's how you know he's bad.

The Audacity of Rock: Part 18

I'll sing your song, but I'm not going to work too hard at it.

This edition is the antithesis of last week's edition. Today we feature the more preferable low end of the vocal range, with specific focus on male voices. Anyone who was ever in high school choir knows that the cool people are the altos and basses. So it would only seem to make sense that low singers are the best in rock and roll. That's debatable, because low singing men make things really hard to sing along to, not to mention their rarity. I'd probably hang with them, though.

"I'm Your Man" by Leonard Cohen (1988)

Leonard Cohen is one of those mythical guys that's lauded as great but still manages to be underground. There's probably a reason he's still underground, and that's because most of his songs are underwhelmingly tuneless and boring, set to a permanently slow tempo with a heavy streak of dated synthesizer. Let's just say I like the idea of Leonard Cohen more than I actually like him. The one great thing about him, however, is his lovely low voice (which I think comes out more in the later years of his career along with the synth). Really, the voice is the only thing that can make me listen to more than a minute of one of his songs. Here's one of his more charming songs. Enjoy the glacial pace of the lyrics:

"Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" by Crash Test Dummies (1993)

This song got unbelievable airplay for how quirky it was, although it's a pretty well written song. I think the big reason this song really caught on because of the novelty of ridiculously low vocals in a radio friendly song. Can you really resist that?

"Take These Thoughts" by Chris and Thomas (2007)

There are so many things about Chris and Thomas to love: the bluegrass/folk inspiration, slide guitars and mandolins, a discernable melody, male vocal harmonies. The cherry on top: one of the harmonies is awesomely low. Maybe not Leonard Cohen low, but nice and relaxed. Proof that a low range doesn't have to be weird, here's "Take These Thoughts":

Questions to ponder:

1. Why aren't low vocals more prevelant in pop/rock music?
2. Was I only 6 when "Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm" came out? I remember this song distinctly, but it's not like you ever hear it today. Um, I guess that's a question for me to ponder.