M. Night Shyamalan's The Village (Disney, 2004) D: M. Night Shyamalan, w/ Bryce Dallas Howard, Joaquin Phoenix, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver. Rating: NNN
There are enough strong ideas in The Village for three or four good movies. Sadly, none of them is developed enough to make even one.
The first idea starts with a little 19th-century pacifist community isolated in the woods full of monsters. Think Living Dead Among The Amish.
But that slides quickly into the possibility that the monsters and the community are somehow connected. This notion's well expressed in the powerful presence of Joaquin Phoenix, who's always convincing as someone bursting with ugly, dark thoughts.
But instead of unleashing Phoenix's inner monster, the story puts it to sleep via his romance with Ivy (Bryce Dallas Howard), the village blind girl, a brave soul with a supernatural aura. Then Phoenix's character and the monsters both drop out of the running and the film warps into a weird take on Little Red Riding Hood, with Ivy as the apparent protagonist.
That giant left turn at the end is what makes the movie make sense and fall apart at the same time. It reveals why the dialogue's been written in that ponderous Hollywood Quaker style but points up why there's no way, within the story, that people would actually speak like that. An earlier revelation about the monsters functions in much the same way, explaining and undercutting at the same time.
This leaves the elements M. Night Shyamalan is good at - atmosphere, colour, composition and action - all lovingly used to depict village life and a sense of unseen menace.
A commentary track would be a big help, but there isn't one. The star of the extras is Howard, whose diary excerpts, sometimes revealing about herself and her co-stars, have charm. Also worth a look is the Boot Camp chapter in the making-of, in which the actors chop wood and make cheese on a period farm. This, they tell us, was the key element in eliciting the film's performances.
Extras Making-of documentary, Howard diary excerpts, deleted scenes introduced by Shyamalan, home movie by teenage Shyamalan, photo gallery. English, French version; English, French, Spanish subtitles. Dolby 5.1.
The Buried Secrets Of M. Night Shyamalan (Disney, 2004) D: Nathaniel Kahn, w/ M. Night Shyamalan, Deepak Chopra, Johnny Depp. Rating: N
Beware of this one. It's packaged to look like director Shyamalan's The Village and was released on the same date. But the title lies: no secrets, buried or otherwise, are revealed. The package blurbs are misleading: there's no in-depth look at the director. Instead, there's a false documentary about a documentarian commissioned to do a piece on the director as he shoots The Village.
But the alleged documentarian becomes convinced that Shyamalan is somehow uncanny, that his movies are disguised autobiography. He pursues this notion with 12-year-old fan boys, shamanistic masks, New Age guru Deepak Chopra and Johnny Depp, and visits various Philadelphia locations from Shyamalan's life.
It's just like one of those Fox network Aliens Among Us specials. Director Nathaniel Kahn has the style down pat - the wobblecam, the leaden pace, the boring eerie music, the endless repetition, the much ado about nothing.
Along the way, we learn absolutely nothing reliable about Shyalaman's life or work. In fact, he's in the movie for at most 10 minutes and says little of interest.
You could call this a mockumentary, but that carries strong connotations of comedy, specifically satire. There's none here: no exaggerated stereotypes, no pompous director, no earnest, wonky conspiracy theorists, no lunatic dialogue. No attempt at humour or anything else to reward your attention. Just a flat waste of two hours of your only life.
The Take (Alliance Atlantis, 2004) D: Avi Lewis, w/ Lewis, Naomi Klein. Rating: NNN
Working from 200 hours of tape, first-time documentarians Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein have put together a solid piece of journalism largely by letting their subjects speak for themselves. Their articulate and informed protagonists are group of workers in suburban Buenos Aires who occupy the auto parts factory that fired them all and then went bankrupt. They resist all attempts at eviction while working to reopen the factory.
They're part of a grassroots movement that's seen workers reclaim 200 Argentine companies in the wake of massive unemployment brought on by the government's adherence to International Monetary Fund policy.
Lewis and Klein describe themselves as activist journalists. He's a producer of CBC's CounterSpin, she's the author of best-selling exposé No Logo. Their anti-corporate, anti-IMF point of view is completely overt in the movie, but they're not preaching.
The factory workers speak for themselves, ordinary blue-collar Argentines with no interest in ideology or career activism but strongly motivated to find their own way out of their country's mess. Their opponents - a judge, a former factory owner, politicians - also get their say. Only the factory owner gets interviewed, while the politicians are caught in action.
The extras flesh out the picture. A short documentary on a supermarket worker murdered by police shows Argentina's political climate and lends credence to the filmmakers' view of ordinary Argentines as a justifiably fed-up people. The making-of documentary lets us in on the methods of professional activists at work.
As a film, The Take is remarkable mainly for its clarity. Its chief value by far is its story, a warning of what we may face before long and a suggestion on how we might proceed.
Extras Documentary on police murder, making-of documentary. English version; English, French subtitles. Dolby 5.1, Dolby 2.
Coming Tuesday, January 18
Catwoman (WB, 2004) Halle Berry in leather. How bad can it possibly be?
Cellular (Alliance Atlantis, 2004) Kim Basinger's been kidnapped, and only a slacker with a cellphone can save her. Far better than it sounds.
The Forgotten (Columbia, 2004) Conspiracy coils around Julianne Moore.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb