Garbage Truck Hat Trick: M Night Shyamalan

Why can't they just SEE how great I am?
Hi everyone! I thought I'd do something a little different today, and talk about a specific block of movies, rather than cherry-picking the worst. Now I admit, the director in question pretty much did my job for me in that regard, by going 0-3 in a row with the last 3 movies he directed (arguably the last four movies he directed, but I'm giving some leniency here). I'm talking of course of the illustrious M. Night Shyamalan, a living example of the consequences of tremendous hubris, as if he were trying to make ancient Greek myths come alive before our very eyes. After his career making film The Sixth Sense (spawning bad spoofs and "I see ___ people" jokes for the rest of eternity) Shyamalan had a run of two more movies that I thought were good, those being Unbreakable (which I think is largely forgotten by most people, but not me because come on Bruce Willis) and Signs (definitely NOT forgotten by anyone). Those were pretty damned good movies, and things were looking bright for the future of a new director. Alas, like the child actors of the 80s and 90s, perhaps M. Night got a little bit too big for his britches, and that began to manifest in his demands for 'artistic leeway' in the production of his later movies, and his absolute rejection of any criticism of himself or his movies, ever ever ever. Before that point, he made The Village which... okay. So I didn't like The Village. I thought the whole premise, and again its "twist" ending, were not very interesting, but I'll allow that it wasn't a simply horrendous movie. It was terribly marketed, as a scary movie that was really just a sort of unusual drama movie with some occasional jump out at you moments. So I can at the very least, forgive The Village. What followed... not so much.

Now we get into it for real:


I must find the great Shamalamadingdong!
Lady in the Water (2006): Here's where the wheels really start to come off the Shyamwagon. As an idea, Lady in the Water doesn't sound like the worst thing ever conceived. It stars Bryce Dallas Howard (who also starred in The Village incidentally) as Story, who is some sort of fairy-naiad or something who appears in the pool of an apartment building one night, and is found by Cleveland Heep (played by Paul Giamatti, I think the last movie I saw him in was Cosmopolis which was WEIRD), who is kind of a handyman around the place. Story has come to our world to find a writer, whose work will be SO IMPORTANT that it drastically changes the course of history for the better, influencing a future president to take action. So okay, not the most horrible setup, but do you know who that writer is? DO YOU?! THAT'S RIGHT, IT'S M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN. Seriously though, rather than restricting himself to a brief cameo (as in Signs) here M. Night has set himself up as some sort of modern prophet for good, whose writing is just SO GREAT that it will make the world a better place. If that doesn't seem a little indulgent to anyone, than nothing will. The whole movie has a seriously hokey vibe to it, mixed with the distinct suspicion that something really arrogant is happening. For instance, there is a film critic in the movie, who is portrayed as a smug asshole, who ultimately meets a grisly, violent end, after having some wrong ideas, based on his knowledge of film. GEE THAT IS SUBTLE. I'm sorry to keep caps-locking on you here, but it's just so bad that frankly it's offensive. If you want to see what true self-aggrandizement looks like on a Hollywood budget, look no further.

Rated R for Really Dumb!
The Happening (2008): Well I think we can all agree, that when at all possible you should follow something bad with something dumb... and bad. That was, I assume, the driving mantra behind The Happening, a vaguely titled movie that is vague about the driving force behind its events, presumably because the cause is so very stupid that the movie itself is embarrassed about it. Starring good old racist Marky Mark as a high school science teacher named Elliot, Zooey Deschanel as his wife, and for some reason John Leguizamo as his friend Julian, the movie details the outbreak of what is believed to be a neurotoxin that makes people kill themselves. In an attempt to evade this maybe toxin, Elliot and company head for the hills, and along the way lots of people kill themselves. About 30 minutes into the movie I found myself wanting to follow suit, because it is just not a very interesting movie. The explanation eventually is that like... plants rustle in the wind, and then they make people kill themselves, because humanity threatens the Earth? I assume that the plants first decided humanity was a threat when they saw Lady in the Water, but regardless of how you feel about the damage mankind has inflicted on the environment, that is just not a good premise for a movie. Why is that? Because there is nothing for your main characters to do but wander around, run away, and wait to die. If you were trying to fill your audience with utter despair, and make them pray for an end (to the movie and their lives) then bravo, you've come up with a method almost as good as Chairman of the Board. The attacks end just by... ending, and it's hinted that they might start again. We can rest easy though, knowing that this movie will not. OR SO WE HOPE DUN DUN DUN.

Believe it or not, the movie looks less dumb in stills.
The Last Airbender (2010):  After you've made a movie that proclaimed yourself as the messiah, and a movie so stupid and pointless that it defies accurate description, where do you go and what do you do? Why not take a wildly popular animated series with a fervent fan-base, and adapt it into a movie so awful that it causes people lasting harm to watch? Proving himself once again our better, M. Night was already on his way, with The Last Airbender, an adaptation of Nickelodeon's widely acclaimed and vastly popular series Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now I admit, being a fan of the show myself, I took this one kind of personally, but even if I hadn't it would still rank in my book as one of the worst movies I've ever seen, and that really needs to make you think, given some of the movies I've reviewed or alluded to on this blog. When I first tried to watch this movie, I became furious, and then shortly after fell asleep. I assume that this was some sort of psychological defense mechanism on the part of my body, like when a person suffering severe trauma dissociates, so that the pain seems less immediate. There was also I think some sort of weird racist thing going on with the character casting, but I'm not sure what to make of it. In the show, the water tribe members Katara and Sokka are clearly not anything resembling a white analogue, but they are all played by American actors of caucasian descent in the movie (Katara is portrayed by Nicola Peltz, Sokka by Jackson Rathbone of Twilight fame, and Aang by Noah Ringer). On the flipside, Fire Nation Prince Zuko is possibly the palest human to ever have lived, and here he, and indeed all other Fire Nation citizens we see, are apparently Indian (as is Shyamalan one might note). Now the Fire Nation is in power, but they are also the bad guys, so I'm not sure what to make of it, other than to deduce that it is really weird. Maybe it's not a race thing, and maybe I'm racist for noticing, but it was just... kinda odd is all. All of that peculiarity is besides the point of course, because the movie is just plain shitty. It is awkwardly shot, poorly acted, the script is awful, the pacing is a disaster, the effects are incredibly cheesy and lame, and the plot of an entire season of the show (roughly 10 hours of television) is crammed into a movie that is about an hour and 40 minutes long. The end result is a train wreck of a movie that still managed to gross over 300 million dollars worldwide, just by virtue of what it was about. If I could take my money back, I would eagerly do so, but alas, I was suckered by the hope that it could be an even okay movie. Shame on me I suppose. I t

The question now is, can M. Night learn from his past mistakes and excesses, and redeem his work? Will his upcoming film After Earth (with Will Smith as one of the stars) be the movie we've been waiting for? I'll leave you with this Youtube clip where he basically tells a Mexican journalist to kill themselves, so that you can reflect. I'll see you Tuesday!

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