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    Wednesday
    Nov172010

    Crosstawk Sports: Episode 2

    Crosstawk Sports returns with the latest and greatest in the world on the field! This week, Spencer and Ben are joined by an old voice from TAWK-112: Jesse Laier! After so long, it's positively awesome to see Jesse make his return to podcasting.

    This episode, the boys are talking about some recent happenings in the NBA, some good ol' football (both NCAA and NFL) and close things down with a quick MLB postmortem.

    As always send us your thoughts/concerns/whatever at crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes. And tell the guys what you want them to talk about next in the comments on-site.

    Having said all of that, see you on Friday, folks!

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    Thursday
    Nov112010

    Introducing: Hardcore Nerdography

    From the mind of Mike Sklens comes Crosstawk.com's latest series: Hardcore Nerdography! Every episode, Mike, along with his girlfriend Amanda and their pal Dante, will shoot the shit about whatever happens to float their boat. That might come off as intentionally vague, but that's only because it is.

    On the premiere episode, Mike, Amanda and Dante basically discuss everything under the sun, from parking tickets to Animal Crossing buffoonery to awkward pictures of children at Disneyworld. Truly, this podcast is the happiest place on Earth.

    When you're done listening, be sure to send in all of your thoughts, questions and concerns to crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes. Those of you who go through with that last bit will get an extra special prize: our undying affection. It might not be worth monies, but something something something!

    Come back on Tuesday for the return of Crosstawk Sports!

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    Tuesday
    Nov092010

    Discover Music Project: Episode 5

    For Episode 5, DMP returns with a brand new guest! This time, Jonny's joined by the NWR Newscast's own Andy Goergen, who teaches our venerable host a little what's-what about the music of Ben Folds. Though Andy believes his songwriting's taken a bit of a dive in recent years, there's still plenty of great stuff to be found in his back-catalogue, so you'd do well to give this a listen.

    For those interested, here's a complete set list:

    1. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (3:52) - with BFF
    2. You to Thank (3:36) - Solo
    3. Narcolepsy (Studio) (5:15) - with BFF
    4. Missing the War (4:19) - with BFF
    5. Steven's Last Night In Town (3:28) - with BFF
    6. Emaline (Live) (3:49) - Solo
    7. From Above (4:04) - Solo
    8. Zak & Sara (3:11) - Solo
    9. Underground (4:11) - with BFF
    10. Boxing (4:45) - with BFF

    Encore:
    Fear of Pop - "In Love"
    (written by Ben Folds for a side project entitled "Fear of Pop, Vol 1.", performed by William Shatner)

    As always, once you're done listening, send all of your queries and concerns to crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes.

    Thanks for listening, guys, and come back on Friday for the premiere episode of Mike Sklens' new show: Hardcore Nerdography!

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    Friday
    Nov052010

    Crosstawk Comics: Episode 3

    Karl Teaches Kontinuity is dead! Long live Crosstawk Comics!

    After recording Episode 2, Gus seemed like a perfect fit to the permanent co-host, and if it's a two-man project, it wouldn't be fair to just have Karl's name in the title. So we thought it over, and decided that going forward, our adventures in continuity would be flown under the banner of Crosstawk Comics.

    Now, on to the actual subject at hand. We're going to be putting away the conversation on The Ages for the time being to explore the Life and Times of Jean Grey, the ever-dying (and re-appearing) X-Woman. This is the first part of a two-parter, but we do manage to track the major plot points up to the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga. Be sure to come back for Part 2 when we get into Madelyne Pryor, a mysterious coccoon and of course, XORN!

    As always, send all of your questions and concerns to crosstawk@gmail.com, follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) and rate/review us on iTunes. And keep an eye on Crosstawk.com as we'll be adding some great new text features soon, not to mention a brand new Thoroughly Manly Musical.

    Having said that, come back next week for the debut of a brand new series from the mind of Mike Sklens: Hardcore Nerdography!

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    Tuesday
    Nov022010

    Crosstawk Presents: Crosstawk Sports

    Crosstawk Presents returns with a pilot for an upcoming Crosstawk.com series! From the minds of Spencer Darr and Ben Dunkel comes Crosstawk Sports, bringing you the latest and greatest in the world on the field. For their first episode, Spencer and Ben recap the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series (as well as some predictions as to how they'll do next year), and bring it home with an NBA Season Preview.

    After listening, please send in all of your feedback - we'll be incoroporating your ideas when the show returns as a regular series. You can email us at crosstawk@gmail.com, comment on the website or even tweet us (@crosstawk).

    When you're done with that, be sure to head over to iTunes and rate/review us. We'd sure appreciate it. Having said that, enjoy Crosstawk Sports!

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    Thursday
    Oct282010

    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Day 7 (The Last Airbender)

    Well, I suppose it had to end. That's right, guys - this is in fact Day 7 of Seven Days of Shyamalan. We've talked about a lot of movies, from Wide Awake to The Happening with a few mixed in between. And like I've been saying, the point was to take a look at one of the strangest downturns in the history of film by taking a look at the selected filmography of the one and only M. Night Shyamalan.

    Today, that look comes to an end with The Last Airbender, released earlier this very year.

    Like Wide Awake, I should note that The Last Airbender isn't really much of a Shyamalan movie - in fact, it probably has less in common with his other films than the former did. This isn't a mystery or thriller, there's no crisis of faith and there's no real sense of looming doom. Despite being written and directed by M. Night, it doesn't seem to have his finger prints on it. This may have to do with the fact that The Last Airbender is based off of Avatar: The Last Airbender, a cartoon on Nickelodeon. I didn't watch the television show, so that'll be the last time I mention it here.

    Having said that, let's get right on into it.

    The Last Airbender, surprisingly, tells the story of the last airbender.

    Unfortunately, there's more.

    You see, over a hundred years ago, the Avatar, a reincarnation of a great leader ran from his duties, and having done so, left the world to fend for itself without his guidance. Thus, the four nations of the world (Air, Water, Fire and Ice) fell into disarray. The Fire Nation decided that this was their chance to take over, and began warring with the other nations for their territory. Fearing that the Avatar could always return and gum up the works, they went after the only lead they had: that the Avatar would be an airbender. So they killed all of the Air Nation tribes and all of the airbenders.

    Or so they thought.

    In reality, the last airbender, and the only who really mattered, had indeed run away from his duties, but fell into freezing cold water and was preserved in a giant sphere of ice along with a large yak or sorts. He stayed there, dormant and in the frozen body of a child, until the events of the film. Which brings us to now.

    Katara and Sokka are two Water Nation kids who are bummed out, because the Fire Nation won't stop giving them shit and kidnapping their elders (to retain their supremacy, the Fire Nation arrests and imprisons anyone who might be powerful enough to bend the elements). So they're walking around the South Pole, hunting and such, until they find a shadowy figure underneath the ice. Sokka strikes at the crack with his boomerang-knife, and when he does, the giant ice sphere containing you-know-who rises from the depths of the ice. After striking the sphere once it got topside, it melted and revealed Aang the Avatar and his large, creepy-looking yak.

    When Aang finally comes to, he's in Katara and Sokka's hut. They notice his strange tattoos, signifying that he's an airbender, but the conversation is cut short when the Fire Nation shows up to be dicks again. The Fire Nation's Prince Zuko is leading the inquisition, and when he sees Aang's wicked tats, he decides to take him by threatening to burn the entire village down if Aang doesn't follow him to his ship.

    Once he's on-board, Zuko and his uncle test to see if Aang's really the Avatar by placing all four elements on a table and seeing if they react to Aang. They do. Zuko and his uncle are intrigued, and they decide to bring him back with them to the Fire kingdom. Aang doesn't like the idea and escapes on a glider he was hiding in a bo staff. Then he catches up with his giant yak (the giant yak flies), and meets up with Katara and Sokka.

    They travel to an Earth village and see that all of the earthbenders have been captured and imprisoned. Aang uses some of his airbending skills to galvanize them into rioting and driving the Fire Nation back. Katara, Aang and Sokka decide that their mission will be to free the Water and Earth Nations from the tyranny of the Fire Nation.

    While they're traveling, we learn a little more about Aang. He traveled with a band of Air Nation nomadic monks, and bonded greatly with one of the more senior benders. When Aang was proclaimed to be the next Avatar, his mentor and the rest of the nomads bowed to him. When Aang learned that, as the Avatar, he would never be allowed a family, however, he decided to scram. That's how he ended up in the ice, and that's how the Fire Nation got the balls to start this world domination plot.

    It's also what led to the extermination of the Air Nation, as I mentioned earlier. Aang doesn't believe it until he sees their rotted-out bones for himself, which throws him into a rage of meditation. That's right - he meditates so fucking hard that he starts talking to a dragon spirit and wrecking everything surrounding him with a giant cyclone. The dragon spirit, being on a totally different plane of existence, doesn't seem to mind, and promises to check in with sage advice periodically throughout the film. Which is handy.

    It's during this travel that Aang also reveals that he doesn't know how to bend anything but air, which is a big problem because, as Avatar, he's supposed to be the only one capable of bending all four elements. So he's got to learn how to bend the other forces of nature, starting with water. It turns out Katara is actually a fledgeling waterbender herself, so she takes Aang on as a student as they travel up north to one of the larger Water Nation tribes to learn from the royal kingdom.

    On the way over, Aang makes a quick stop at one of the old Air Nation temples alone. He finds an elderly Water Nation monk who pretends to have something to show him, but actually leads him to a Fire Nation trap. Bummer. Aang is captured by the Fire Nation's Commander Zhao, who's actually in a race with Prince Zuko to see who can retrieve the Avatar the fastest for the King of the Fire Nation. While Zuko must find the Avatar to be accepted back into his father's good graces (they had a falling out, and Zuko had his face half-burned off - just roll with it), Zhao's mostly just looking to fuck Zuko over.

    So Zhao brings Aang back to the Fire Nation and chains him up, starting to ask him questions about where he's been (and why he can only bend air), but he's called away before they get anywhere. Suddenly, a mysterious warrior wearing an oni masks breaks into the dungeon, busts Aang out of prison, and they fight their way to freedom. As they escape, the warrior's hit with an arrow and passes out. Aang removes his mask to reveal that it was actually Zuko. He was probably just there to let Aang out so that he could re-capture him for himself, but Aang thanks him anyway, leaves him somewhere safe, and makes it back to Katara and Sokka.

    When they finally reach this royal kingdom, they're greeted by Princess Yue, a young girl with white hair and blue eyes. She was actually born a brunette with brown eyes, but she was delivered stillborn. Her parents dipped her into a very special pond that houses the moon and ocean spirits, and they endowed her with some of their energy, bringing her back to life, but also giving her blue eyes and white hair. It's give and take, you see. Also, Sokka's in love with her pretty much instantly.

    Aang continues to train and grow more and more proficient with waterbending, but it's all cut short when the Fire Nation attacks the royal village. There are a lot of waterbenders there, and their castle stronghold is pretty elaborate, so they've actually got a fighting chance. A big battle erupts.

    During all of the craziness, Commander Zhao breaks into the secret mystical pond, grabs one of the fish (the fish is a moon spirit, FYI) and stabs in, proclaiming something to the effect of, "No God but Man!" Then the sky turns red and people start freaking out. The waterbenders can't bend water anymore.

    Before this, Aang had meditated a while and talked to the dragon spirit. He knows he needs to stop the Fire and Water Nations from fighting, but he doesn't know how. As he considers it, he's interrupted by Prince Zuko (again). They fight a while, and Zuko even manages to get the upper hand until Katara freezes him from head to toe in ice. Aang breaks the part covering his face so that he can breathe, but leaves him behind. "We could be friends, you know," he says. How sweet.

    What's more sweet is that Princess Yue knows she has to do something to help the moon spirit. She knows she's still got a little bit of his power in her, so she lays in the pond and returns that energy back, giving the moon spirit his mojo and return the sky to a blue color. The waterbenders are okay again. Unfortunately, this also means Yue dies. Sokka isn't happy. Sokka mad!

    Then Aang becomes a badass, air-and-waterbends the shit out of some Fire Nation people and makes his way to a vantage point. Then he creates a giant arc of water, and everybody basically shits their pants. They stop fighting and bow to Aang, who bows back. The Avatar has returns. This is the end of the first book (and movie).

    Still being so recent in the general subconscious, you probably already know that The Last Airbender was released to horrid reviews. Pretty much everybody pointed out that all of the child actors were awful, across the board, and the more seasoned actors like Dev Patel (who played Zuko) hammed it way up, and couldn't be taken seriously. I have to agree.

    And unfortunately, this isn't a situation like The Happening. Indeed, The Last Airbender's great crime is that it's just really mediocre, and not bad enough to be enjoyable on a different level. There's tons and tons of exposition (I left a whole lot out just to spare you), and even the CG action scenes (which are pretty sparse) aren't impressive enough to make them worth waiting for.

    I really wish I could've ended this series of recaps on The Happening. Say what you will about it, but at least it's fun. The Last Airbender feels like the work of a director who's just phoning it in. M. Night Shyamalan may be ridiculous, self-obsessed and in love with the idea of a cheap twist, but it never felt like he'd phoned it in before this film. And that's just sad.

    Is this really where it ends? Is this how we leave the Seven Days of Shyamalan - with a pile of mediocrity and half-hearted shrugs?

    Let's not.

    (TWIST)

    That may be Day 7 of the Seven Days of Shyamalan, but everything that has a beginning has an end. Everything that goes around must come around. And everything that has a Prologue just have an Epilogue. Come back tomorrow for...

    Seven Days of Shyamalan: Epilogue

    Thursday
    Oct282010

    Discover Music Project: Episode 4

    Discover Music Project returns, and this time it's Jonny's pick. Listen as our own Mr. Metts introduces Jon Rind to the music of the late, great Jeff Buckley. Though Buckley died shortly before recording his second album, there's a nice selection of live shows and B-sides to showcase, and there certainly wasn't a shortage of material for Jonny to peruse. And for your convenience, here's the set list:

    Last Goodbye (Grace) - 4:35
    Yeh Jo Halka Halka Saroor Hai (Sin-e) - 6:09
    Mama, You've Been On My Mind (Radio Bootleg) - 3:40
    Eternal Life / Kick Out the Jams (Sony Studios) - 9:10
    I Know It's Over (So Real) - 6:28
    Night Flight (Sin-e) - 6:42
    Everybody Here Wants You (Sketches) - 4:45

    TOTAL - 41:29

    Encore: Sahib Teri Bandi / Maki Madni (Derek Trucks Band, Songlines) - 9:55

    As always, you can send in your thoughts/concerns/suggestions to crosstawk@gmail.com or comment on the site article. You can also follow us on Twitter (@crosstawk) to hear the latest in what's going on with Crosstawk.com. And if you're feeling charitable, you can rate/review us on iTunes - we'd sure appreciate it!

    Thanks for listening, folks! Come back next week when Karl Teaches Kontinuity returns under its new name: Crosstawk Comics!

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    Wednesday
    Oct272010

    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!

    Tuesday
    Oct262010

    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.

    Monday
    Oct252010

    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.