Monday, July 17, 2006

Director in the Water

The return of self-aggrandazing auteur M Night Shyamalan is nigh upon us. His fairy tale Lady in the Water with Gwen Stacey Bryce Dallas Howard as a mer-creature of sorts and Paul Giamatti as a super opens a week from today. I don't know how many of you have read this frighteningly ill conceived piece about LitW in EW's latest issue. I've been thinking about it ever since I read it. It's an excerpt from a book on 'the making of.' The problem is this: If you hire someone to write a book about your genius, it's bound to be a comedy even if you, the subject, are a genius. Real books don't have such embarassingly naked PR agendas.

I have contradictory feelings on Shyamalan. I loved The Sixth Sense but found the follow-ups (Unbreakable, Signs, The Village) to be both finely crafted and, well, stupid. For lack of a better word. They all have fine moments but it's almost like his raw filmmaking talent (man can direct a scene) is continually thrown off by questionable/dumb ideas that think themselves brilliant.

Surely by now everyone knows that M Night is a narcissist but what is surprising to me about the whole thing is how he has become the narcissist. He's hotter for Shyamalan than even QT is for Tarantino. Consider: Tarantino (wisely) did not appear in Kill Bill despite having been a blemish in all of his other films. M Night is much easier on the eyes but he still isn't a good actor. But rather than giving up (a la Tarantino) he has apparently written himself a larger world-saving role this time. See what I mean about stupid?

Reverse Shot has some interesting words about this EW debacle and also about the actual film which they call "ineluctably, maddeningly, memorably bizarre", thus raising my interest from none to lots. I'm all for memorably bizzare... even if it involves M Night Shyamalan's insatiable ego.

38 comments:

Kamikaze Camel said...

See, I really (i mean really) loved Signs and thought The Sixth Sense was pretty brilliant as well (that birthday party scene in Signs gets me every. single. time.) Even if the ending is blah, it's at the very end so I can just switch it off before it happens :P

I dispised Unbreakable and thought The Village had some very fine STUFF but it equalled something rather odd and unfocused.

I am hopefully going to see Lady in the Water because when this man makes a good movie, I like to see it on the big screen. Lady should be interesting. I absolutely hate the idea of him giving himself a lead role. That's just bizarre.

He belongs in Hollywood though. He's got the ego for it.

Kamikaze Camel said...

btw, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who thinks the Best Original Score nomination for The Village was completely deserved. That movie owed whatever scares it had to that music.

JA said...

I love Signs, too, but agree about the ending. But I love Unbreakable as well, and... well, The Village is a mess, but (a hot mess!)... it's got some shots and moments that still pop into my head every so often for being so beautifully framed and shot. That shot of BDH reaching out the doorway into the darkness, her arm parallel to the screen, and you expect the monster to reach in from the opposite side but then in the darkness you actually see it coming straight for the screen? Freaks. Me. Out. Just thinking about it.

But man I agree about Night himself - that AMEX commercial makes me want to scratch my eyes out, and I can't stand to listen to the man talk. I went on a tirade to the boyfriend when I saw that piece in EW about how I wouldn't even read the thing because I knew it was all gonna be about how hard poor lil' Night has to fight to keep his amazing vision intact and The Man just keeps interfering and blah blah just shut the f- up and make a movie that isn't about your excellence?

Arden said...

MICHELLE PFEIFFER'S GONNA BE IN HAIRSPRAY!!!!!

Kamikaze Camel said...

OMG is it confirmed? Or still just a rumour

Chris Evans said...

God, it's so crazy to find people that actually feel the same way I do about M. Night! I love it!

Witchiepooh said...

Your analysis of Night is spot on. I loved "The Sixth Sense" and I think that he is a very skilled story teller. But unfortunately, he seems bogged down in his own ideas and I think he needs to let up on the ego a bit and direct a script that he hasn't written.

He wants to be Hitchcock, but rather than coming off like the modern-day Hitchcock, he's gotten into this pattern of gimmicky twists that get more ludicrous with each film. It seems like a spiral he can't get out of.

That said, that description of "Lady in the Water" is intriguing.

Thea

Anonymous said...

So far I have only really rated Unbreakable, which is still only a 4/5.

Of course, I'll drag myself along to see this one too, out of hope that one day he'll deserve to brand himself... Wait... Waddayamean he has already?!

Rob

Anonymous said...

Pfeiffer has indeed signed onto Hairspray, but the director is the same guy who did CHEAPER BY THE DOZEN 2, THE WEDDING PLANNER, etc. and it has John Travolta, and Amanda Bynes, so bleh, i'm feeling very scared about this one, I wish Pfeiffer would have stayed far away from this.

wait, wasn't this a M. Night post? lol anyways....

Beau said...

Personally, I think Shyamalan can direct the fuck out of anything. I watched The Sixth Sense in awe when I was a kid, because I had a different experience from everyone else. (A friend of mine had seen it before I did, so I wanted to know the ending, not knowing the fact that I'd be ruining one of the greatest twists of the cinematic age. She told me and I was, naturally, shocked.)

I walked into the film under the impression that there was a bigger twist beyond that one (which there wasn't) so I left the film somewhat disappointed but also, rather illuminated. I'd just watched a brilliant exercise where a director keeps the audiences eye away from the plain truth for roughly two hours. And you watch it again, and I'm sure you wonder how you didn't catch it the first time. It's a memorable, extremely well-acted film that I love to this day.

Unbreakable is my favorite film of his thus far. It's gotten the 'bastard child' rap of the four, even if The Village got critcally raped beyond comprehension. It still is remembered for that. Unbreakable is a brilliant piece of pop mythology; it incorporates numerous styles that, by themselves, wouldn't work and yet when you form them together as he did, you're rewarded with something quite exquisite.

And the kitchen scene? with Clark, Willis, Wright Penn and the gun? The best scene Shyamalan has ever directed. FUCKING BRILLIANT.

Signs is wonderful. No more needs to be said. It's a gorgeous, breathtaking film, that I feel is Shyamalan's reply to the b-movie monster flicks of the 50's, as well as his own particular version of H.G. Wells "The War of the Worlds". A great success.

The Village is by far his least work yet, but did not deserve as bad a rep as it got. One thing Shyamalan can do is direct actors, and even if some seem rather bland/dazed in a film (as William Hurt has these past few years up until AHOV), you can fix that by giving us one performance. One performance by one performer that can erase the flaws of everyone else involved. In this case, it was Dallas Howard. She brings such a strength, an innocent almost entirely naive strength to the character and her proceedings, that you're in awe of how she holds herself in some moments. It's that performance which holds the film together; it's THAT performance which keeps the film from falling to ruin.

He needs to get off the twists, most definetely. To be a great director, you have to either be skilled in all genres or a master at one. A twist can make a film better, but when it's what you're known for, it becomes more your taboo as opposed to your trademark. It distracts from the story at hand.

Even so, the thing that pisses me off about all this is that we KNOW the man can direct. We've seen it, we've witnessed his ability to take a scene and just make it into a living, breathing thing, and yet there are still so many detractors out there who say he's falling off the wheel. So what? Look at the greatest American directors of the 20th century, and I assure you every single one of them had at least one or two films where you're wondering "WTF happened?" Woody, Spielberg, Scorcese, Coppola... all of them have had a few misfires, but they've all had great successes as well.

I'm just saying that when a director as talented as Shyamalan undeniably is, is criticized as often for being 'unfocused', 'arrogant', 'pretentious', it seems stupid to exclaim such supposed faults in a world of Little Man's and You, Me and Dupree's. The point is, the guy is trying something, and he's learning along the way.

and I would much rather lay down eight bucks for a director to attempt something new and fail at it, than sit through a forumulaic bore with gay jokes and a happy ending. my preference.

Witchiepooh said...

Good points, Beau. I don't think anyone is arguing with his skill as a director.

I think for me, personally--like I said--his films could use some outside creative influence, maybe even someone he can collaborate with on the screenplay in order to reign in his worst impulses a bit. Daring and original is great, but not if it ventures into silly and pretentious. I think every one of his films is worth seeing so far, but I think that if he can take his ideas (most are good and interesting) and let go of his ego just a little bit, he could be even better.

Beau said...

agreed, definetely. but it's hard for an artist, much less a hard-headed conceited one, to even entertain the notion of collaboration. i don't consider myself an artist, i don't even know if my stuff is any good, but i know that were any of my projects to become collaborations, i'd be worried that their message or the way that i'd want to present them would be compromised.
eventually, i think he will take that advice. he's got good stuff ahead i suspect, and possibility for a masterpiece.

vince said...

1. The Sixth Sense ... I was floored, as most everyone, by the ending. He really delivered something special. I can't say it stood the test of time, but I recall fondly the effect it had on me.

2. Unbreakable ... under-rated. I liked it. It created its own little mythology. It was plodding like Sense, with less of a pay-off, but it wasn't bad.

3. The Village ... a few creepy moments, but so boring. The ending was clever, but he asked way too much of his audience to stick around for the conclusion.

4. Signs ... Ugh! This is one I truly despise. There were a few great shots of the aliens, but the ending was LAME! And M. Night's "contribution" as an actor was AWFUL!

... the EW piece was great, though. I can't wait to read the book. Thanks Nate. Your writing is suberb. Just don't let your ego get as big as M. Night's. :)

Anonymous said...

This. trend. of. putting. periods. after. each. word. is. annoying. and. passe.

Please. stop. it. now.

JavierAG said...

HAIRSPRAY?!? Nooooo! Bad Michelle!

My love for La Pfeiffer made me read "Stardust" (which I loved) but she's not getting me into some C-list movie musical.

NATHANIEL R said...

yeah tis definitely a pity on the production team. what are they doing?!? it sounds so low grade chintzy when it should be an A list hunk of cheese.

wait what were we talking about again. ?

Beau said...

Shyamalan, love.

Witchiepooh said...

Beau, as a writer I definitely understand where you're coming from. It *is* very difficult to give up even a little creative control. I may not be a mother, but I have that maternal instinct when it comes to my personal writing (I am much less attached to my work related writing)...

But I think that even the greatest artist in the world can benefit from some kind of collaboration, even if it is just having someone to bounce ideas off of. Now, I'm sure Night has that--but I just wonder if he has someone who is willing to tell him "actually, that idea is kind of lame," or if it is just "whoa, brilliant dude!"

Dustin said...

Beau, that was an amazing post.

As for his films, I think I'm like the only one on this planet who LOVES The Village and I can actually sit down, and think while watching it more so then any of his other films.

As for Lady in the Water, I'm a bit worried about the plot, it sounds very interesting and unconventional in a way, but I'm just worried about the execution of it all. I'm seeing even if the reviews are less then steller because(as beau said), I'd rather watch someone attempt something different and fail then to see a conventional and forumulaic mess which Lady in the Water(no matter how good or bad it may be) looks to be anything but.

Kamikaze Camel said...

Shyamalan's desire to make twist endings would work much better if he spread them out through his films. Make some with no twist, and then one with a twist and people would appreciate them more.

I still don't believe Signs had a twist though. Seriously, where was the twist?

Anonymous said...

The Sixth Sense was very fine but the rest were really disappointing. Nathaniel's comments were spot on -- they were beautifully shot and plain stupid at the same time. I agree that the problem appears to be not with Mr. S's talent but his self-indulgence i.e. ego. Unbreakable and Signs had their moments and I enjoyed them for those bits. The Village I totally despise. The critics were right -- what a pretentious stilted piece of crap. Watching it actually made me so angry I was swearing at the (video) screen. The dialogue -- who talks like that, in any century? Just thinking about it makes me wince.

Beau said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Beau said...

Q: "The dialogue -- who talks like that, in any century?"

A: People.

<3

John P. said...

The twist in Signs was that the aliens were invading a planet composed almost entirely of something to which they were allergic, and were therefore remarkably stupid. Plus, they were totally shitty-looking.

vince said...

I still think it was a dumb twist.

vince said...

... but I'm open-minded, so if there is a brilliance beyond the aliens being smart enough to find us first, but dumb enough to attack us when they're allergic to our water, than please enlighten me.

(Sorry, I don't mean to sound bitchy)

Beau said...

you might as well say the same thing about the aliens in wells's "the war of the worlds". come to a planet that they "observed and studied, the way a man with a microscope might scrutinize the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water", you'd think they'd be intelligent enough to realize "oh, this shit kills us. let's just leave that bit to get annhialated by the humans and then freeze over for a few millennia", but nope.

hence why i believe the ending is more an homage to wells' rather ridiculous finale. shyamalan, while a tad bit conceited and unfocused, is not that stupid.

vince said...

I like your argument more than I could ever like Signs. Is that possible?

Kevin Laforest said...

The SIGNS ending is obviously an homage to WAR OF THE WORLDS. It's not the water that's killing the aliens, it's the microscopic bacteria that's in it.

BTW, I love (LOVE) all four major Shyamalan flicks. Can't wait for LADY.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to see people saying good things about Shyamalan. It seems like all I've read reading lately are criticisms of him, and people talking about his terrible little movies, including Sixth Sense, but I've always liked him.
I love your post Beau (the 1:41 pm one). Myself, I've really liked all of Shyamalan's movies.
My least favorite is probably Unbreakable, though I still liked it.
My favorites are Sixth Sense and Signs. I was also spoiled for Sixth Sense when I first saw it, and I still thought it was a very good movie.
And I don't think that The Village deserved the mauling it got. There are so many movies that are far, far worse. I was actually entertained by it, which is more than I can say for a lot of movies. I've been surprised about how hated it is.

NATHANIEL R said...

one thing i want to say about sixth sense. it works even if you know the twist. I thought it was just as strong the second time personally.

Kamikaze Camel said...

It really does.

"It's not the water that's killing the aliens, it's the microscopic bacteria that's in it."

That's true! They weren't to know that our planet is a disgusting wasteland. From up above I'm sure it looked quite lovely. But I still don't say that should qualify as a twist. Seriously. I don't here everyone saying how War of the Worlds had such a huge twist ending (even though we already knew it).

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Witchiepooh said...

Yeah, I think "Sixth Sense" works even if you know the twist. I made a friend spoil it for me beforehand (stupd me!) ... It is fun to pick up all the clues.

So I've seen a few reviews of "Lady" and it is getting hammered....

vince said...

I had Fight Club spoiled for me and now I don't know if I should ever bother watching it.

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