::Literate Blather::
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
"I See Bad Director"

M. Night Shyamalan's Amazing Fall From Grace

It’s an ancient story: one day you’re the shiniest, most magnificent trout in the river and the next day they’re gutting you with a fillet knife and tossing your head into a bucket of guts.

Welcome to Hollywood M. Night Shyamalan.

“The Happening,” which opened last week to an onslaught of gleefully negative reviews, never stood a chance. By most accounts the film is a middle-of-the-road thriller with some spooky moments and a rather mediocre twist at the end.

New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis captured the mood perfectly:

“A fine craftsman with aspirations to the canon, this would-be auteur has, in the last few years, experienced a sensational fall from critical and commercial grace, partly through his own doing — by making bad movies and then, even after those movies failed, by continuing to feed his ego publicly — and partly through the entertainment media that, once they smell weakness, will always bite the hand they once slathered in drool.”

The reviews for “The Happening” have been vicious. Here’s Ty Burr, film critic of the Boston Globe:

M. Night Shyamalan has metaphors to torture. Actors and audiences, too. “The Happening” asks what would happen if Planet Earth decided to reject the species bedeviling its surface, and the best it can come up with is a slack, increasingly ludicrous B-movie about people running in terror from... wind.”

Here is Justin Chang of Variety’s scathing observation:

“One might charitably describe "The Happening" as a transitional work for M. Night Shyamalan. In an attempted rebound from the critical and commercial calamity of "Lady in the Water," the writer-director has scaled back most of his characteristic touches -- the contorted horror/fantasy mythology, the "gotcha" twist ending, even his trademark cameo -- instead serving up a patchy, uninspired eco-thriller whose R rating (a first for Shyamalan) looks more like a B.O. hindrance than an artistic boon. After an initial bloom of interest, the Fox release will likely wilt quickly in the summer heat.”

It’s hard to believe that “The Sixth Sense,” the highest grossing movie of 1999 ($294 million), was nominated for six Academy Awards, including best director and best picture. Those were the days when Shyamalan was the Moby Dick of fish swimming in the Hollywood river.

So here’s the question. Is M. Night Shyamalan a bad director? Unfortunately for him there’s plenty of evidence in his body of work that “The Sixth Sense” was an aberration (kind of like Bucky Dent hitting that &$#@% homerun against the Boston Red Sox).

Shyamalan has one good movie (well, one great movie actually) and the rest, well, the rest are pretty terrible. Here’s the roll call (and it’s ugly):

Praying With Anger (1992)

An autobiographical film about a young Indian (Shyamalan) who was raised in the United States, but then returns to India on a college exchange. It’s one of those fish out of water stories that secured mediocre reviews and passed into the dustbin of Hollywood also rans without much fanfare. Film critic James Berardinelli called it “tedious because of its lack of originality,” but found glimpses of promise in the young director.

Wide Awake (1998)

A Rosie O’Donnell comedy vehicle (she plays a nun with a baseball jones). The story centers around a boy who loses his grandfather and then tries to find a sign from God that his grandpa is doing all right in heaven. It’s one of those heavy-handed tear-jerking comedies that don’t know what to do with itself. Film critic Roger Ebert gave it two stars. It says a lot that the film was made in 1995 and wasn’t released until three years later.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

There’s no doubt that “The Sixth Sense” is a brilliant psychological thriller. It stuck to the ribs of American culture to the point where the line “I see dead people” became part of the lexicon. The amazing thing about “The Sixth Sense” is where it came from. There’s no evidence in the two films Shyamalan directed beforehand that he had this kind of taut, spooky film inside him.

Unbreakable (2000)

Shyamalan’s take on the superhero origin story. Ray Pride of Salon called “Unbreakable” a soggy follow-up to “The Sixth Sense.” He’s right. The film is plodding and dense and no one seems to be having a good time. It’s the kind of film audiences want to enjoy (and kind of do because of how much they liked “The Sixth Sense”), but ultimately the film is a let down.

Signs (2002)

Probably Shyamalan’s best film after “The Sixth Sense.” It’s an alien invasion movie at the micro-level – as the viewer sees the entire takeover through the eyes of a small farming family. Yet, the movie remains too small – too micro to please. In the end, “Signs” disappoints because the audience is expecting a better pay-off. There’s too much set-up. That’s why Variety’s Todd McCarthy called it “all smoke and mirrors.”

The Village (2004)

This movie is similar to “Signs.” It is so meager and small – that viewers are left with disappointment. It’s supposed to be a monster movie – but there aren’t any monsters. A.O. Scott of the New York Times said: “It is hard to think of another filmmaker so utterly committed to the predictable manufacture of narrative surprise.” That’s a poignant point about “The Village.” It’s carefully constructed twist feels like it was built in a machine shop.

Lady in the Water (2006)

A disaster. One of the worst movies of 2006 and the winner of two Razzies: for worst director and worst supporting actor (it was also nominated for worst picture and worst screenplay). The plot has something to do with a water fairy being found in a motel swimming pool. James Berardinelli called it “the biggest misfire of M. Night Shyamalan's career.” He’s right – until, of course, “The Happening.”

The evidence in place, we have no choice but to sharpen our own fillet knife and start scraping the scales off of Shyamalan’s hide. The evidence speaks for itself – and we see a bad director.

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Blogger Spankermatic said...
Totally agree - 1 good movie and the rest are total crap. Ranks alongside Uwe Bole as someone who we wish would just stop making tripe, and do something useful.

Blogger GFS3 said...
It is a head scratcher though. In a sense (go with me here), Shyamalan's biggest mistake is his biggest success. Because his record shows that when he makes movies as a normal course -- they aren't that good. So "The Sixth Sense" breaks out of that pattern and was amazing. Maybe he should try to make a bad movie and it will come out fantastic.

Blogger Mr_Fett01 said...
Its funny because technically his films are good. He has a good cinematic style, Its just his stories which he writes himself are poor. He needs to direct something written by someone else. We might get something good out of him, by the way I liked signs, mostly coz of the soundtrack.

Blogger GFS3 said...
That's a good point -- he should try and direct material that isn't his own. He may be trying to write for the screen -- and then direct for the script (if that makes sense). Maybe that's why his films feel so manufactured.

Blogger Bybee said...
Not even Paul Giamatti could save Lady In The Water. The Crappening is here, but I won't go.

M. Night Shyamalan should work with a different writer.

Blogger Jacs said...
He's too caught up with this style he's trying to keep that he forgets just about everything else. Most importantly, he forgets to produce a good, original narrative. It's like a glossy black shell.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Which is exactly what "The Sixth Sense" doesn't do. The movie really is the anti-Shyamalan film.

I enjoyed more of his movies than most viewers, largely because I'm not nearly as discerning about my movies as I am about my books. Probably because all I want when I go to see is a movie is two hours of fun escapism, and movies like 'Unbreakable' can do that for me. That said, I find I don't have any interest in seeing 'The Happening' after reading about it. It sounds like he's letting his message/agenda overwhelm his medium in a huge way, and that's rarely a good road to travel. Even those who agree with your message aren't likely to enjoy that kind of heavy-handedness, and without an enjoyable/good movie, you certainly won't reach those who don't agree with you.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Bybee referred me to your blog just so I could take some comfort in the words of someone else who has seen this movie. We should form a support group for others like us.
This movie is something like what would happen if Tom Green took himself seriously. Oh my god! Thinking about it gives me a migraine. Thank you for your curt and accurate filleting of this man.

Blogger GFS3 said...
That's Boldfont. Any friend of Bybee is a friend indeed. Stop by anytime!

Blogger Uncle Gustav said...
I thought M. Night Shamalamadingdong's movies sucked right from the start. And why do all the characters whisper in them? Where the fuck do you find people who go around whispering all the time?!?

Blogger GFS3 said...
Apparently you haven't had dinner with my aunt. She whispers all the time. She'll say: "Did you hear about..." and her voice drops to nearly inaudible levels as she reveals a juicy bit of gossip about a neighbor, friend or family member.

Blogger Dave Zeltserman said...
The thing with Unbreakable is I think you have to be a comic book fan to enjoy it. I liked it quite a bit, have known others who also have, and also others who feel the same as you. BUT--after Signs and The Village, I'm not about to pay money to see another of his movies.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Hey Dave:
I'm a big fan of comic books, but I had trouble of Unbreakable. I like the premise, but the pay-off just didn't work for me. It needed more oomph!

Anonymous cerita dewasa said...
nice info

Anonymous cpns said...

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