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THE VILLAGE There's a reason Alfred Hitchcock didn't write the vast majority of his movies: He knew his forte was directing, and he left the scribbling to others. M. Night Shyamalan would do well to learn from The Master. As a director, he has a distinct visual style, and this thriller about a town whose surrounding woods are filled with monsters includes scenes that shimmer with an eerie beauty. But as a writer, he's becoming a parody of himself: Eager to top the climactic twist of The Sixth Sense, he has masterminded three subsequent movies in which the "gotcha!" endings seem to be the only reason for their existence. This one isn't really worse than Unbreakable or the silly Signs, but Shyamalan's carny act already feels like it's decades old -- it's a shame, because some good ideas are squandered in a muddled piece that ends up duping itself.

ZATOICHI Debuting theatrically the same year as James Bond, Japan's Zatoichi has enjoyed a healthy shelf life comparable to that of Agent 007: The blind masseur-cum-master-swordsman has been the star of two dozen feature films and over 100 TV episodes. Writer-director-actor Takeshi Kitano elected to bring the character back to the big screen, and the result is a marvelous showstopper of a samurai flick, a genuine crowd-pleaser that earned audience awards at the Toronto and Venice film festivals. Plot-heavy and bursting at the seams with what can only be described as visual non sequiturs, Zatoichi is at heart a musical disguised as an action film, with meticulous attention to choreography and sound synchronization (plus room left over for homages to Kurosawa and slapstick comedy). More than just a treat for the martial arts crowd, this is a boon for movie lovers of all stripes. 1/2

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