From Shyamalan to Sighing Along

I consider myself a fan of M. Night Shyamalan. At least, I try to be. In recent years it has become downright difficult. But once, years ago, it was really quite easy. Take a looksee.

**********

The Sixth Sense

I was one of the later folks to find out about this movie. I saw the trailer and thought it looked like a horror film. I like my movies to be a little cheerier than that, so I passed. Then, in a college class, the professor brought up an interesting point.

This was a movie where the opening weekend made less than those succeeding it. The week after its initial release, its numbers went up.

That, my friends, is unheard of. Normally a movie comes out, has a fine opening weekend, then makes about forty percent less the second weekend. After the initial surge of people goes to see a movie, it is supposed to become less popular; not more. That was enough to get me to give the film a second shot.

They were right.  It was interesting, skillfully made, and worth multiple viewings.

Unbreakable

But The Sixth Sense was nothing compared to Unbreakable. For my money, it is still one of the greatest comic book movies ever made (I vote the best), and easily makes my top ten list any time.

I admit, I was his target audience. As soon as I sat down in the theater and saw the opening shot describing details of a typical comic book nerd, I knew I was going to like it. I mean, c’mon, the DVD came with sketch cards by Alex Ross. (Shyamalan would repay the favor by writing the introduction for Ross’ Mythology book.)

You have the real-world version of an origin story. It is a slow burn, granted, but it makes it that much more believable. Also, it does not hurt that he framed many of the shots like a comic book panel. That shot when David goes to the train station in the rain parka? And you see the entryway perfectly framed around him as he walks directly through the middle? Comic panel.

Samuel L. Jackson before anyone had offered him a Marvel movie. A terrific score. The weightlifting scene. (And the deleted scene weightlifting; which I thought could have stayed in.) Oh, and the surprise ending. I think the movie would have been satisfactory enough without that last revelation, but it hit me in the chest that much more because I honestly did not see it coming.

With Unbreakable, I was officially on board (a speeding train?).

Signs

Ah, back when it was okay to cast Mel Gibson and no one really knew about Joaquin Phoenix or Abigail Breslin. Simpler times.

Now, my first reason for loving this film is the dialog. The entire television scene where the brothers talk about signs and miracles? One of my favorites; it makes me happy. And I have no problem going along with the notion that everything happened for a reason to build up to that one moment.

Yes. I know. That one moment at the end. The one everyone makes fun of. I am aware. But still, I have no problem with that being the aliens’ foil. It works for me. (I cannot swim and I love on Earth. So there.)

On top of all that, no movie has made me jump as much as this one has. The first time was the worst, but if I go long enough between screenings, it still has the desired effect. (Minor spoilers. But really? It has been about fifteen years. Catch up!) The first time the dog barks. The footage by the birthday party. The knife chopping/ scrambling fingers. The reflection on the television. All four of those scared the crap out of me. (Thanks in part to an expertly timed score and sound design.)

The Village

Let me be clear him. I am talking about the first hour of The Village. I think the movie suffers once Bryce Dallas Howard leaves for her mission. (But I think the last half hour of Wall-E is complete bunk compared to the first hour, so I do not consider this a special compensation.)

This may very well be my favorite movie for dialog. The world moves for love. It kneels before it in awe is still a line that I have never forgotten. It causes a lump in my throat. And the movie is filled with lines like that.

William Hurt? Adrian Brody? Brandon Gleeson? The supporting cast is drool-worthy.

I did not see either of the endings coming (the monster-reveal or the location), but I still thought the first hour was terrific. Take it as a purely hour-long study on romance and closed communities, and it is top-notch all around.

Lady in the Water

Olay, I admit it. Now things start to get slippery (when wet).

Of the Shyamalan DVDs I own, this one gets the least play. I like the idea of a bedtime story as a movie. I like Paul Giamatti just fine. The camera shots were interesting and suspenseful.

But.

First off, I could never take the creatures seriously. Their coming out of the lawn and being terrifying beings, that all worked for me. That part was great and creepy and worked. However, he gave them the same name as something Pinky from Animaniacs would say.

When a treasured cartoon is playing in your head every day, naming the “bad guy” after that silly phrase is only going to cause problems.

Secondly, he changed things in the middle for no apparent reason. It was almost like he thought the movie needed a reason to be twenty minutes longer. Or he was trying to be clever. Regardless, spending all this time setting stuff up, only to have it not work and change it all to something entirely different? It came across as arbitrary and annoying.

It seems telling that I cannot offer up a single line of dialog when that is what I love so much about his writing on the previous films.

(Bonus reason: When I saw this movie for the first time, the projectionist screwed up. Back when movies were shown on film, the projectionist was responsible for setting up the framing (the aspect ratio). Normally, the studio will send a little sheet suggesting volumes, aspect ratios, etc. You pick how widescreen the movie needs to be, and ya set it up. Done.

Nope. For some reason, the movie was filmed with a lot of excess stuff. And I choose to believe that if properly framed, I would have seen none of it. Nope. I saw microphones in the shot for a third of the movie. Completely and utterly distracting. When I watch the DVD, it is framed so that none of that is there. So I figure there was some confusion on the movie theater. It certainly did not make the movie any better.)

The Happening

This movie broke my nerd heart. My favorite director, up until this movie came out, made one of the worst films I have ever seen. Watch the Honest Trailer. You will understand.

The dialog was terrible. The acting was non-existent. The bad guys were trees. I…. I mean…. I…. sigh. No. There is nothing about the movie to defend. Nothing. It was bad all around.

I walked out of that theater thinking it was the saddest movie for a fan to watch. That was the breaking point. I became “a Shyamalan fan up to Lady.”

The Last Airbender

I did not see this movie until years after it came out. I have too many Avatar fans and they complain about this flick non-stop. Some of the crazier ones refuse to acknowledge that it was ever made.

I watched the trailer and replied with a resounding yawn. It looks like a generic action film, I thought to myself. I was still mad at The Happening. I shrugged it off.

It was not until last year that I finally got it from the library. I still have not watched the whole thing. Twenty minutes into it, I knew I had better things to do with my life. It was not terrible, but nothing really was happening.

I’ll wave my arms around until this happens! Well I’ll wave my arms around until this happens in response! Oh no, time for me to wave my arms back!

Eh. CGI can only do so much for me.

Dev Patel can act. We know he can. It simply is not evident in this movie.

I try to watch movies until the end in hopes that they will get better. This and Napoleon Dynamite are possibly the only two where I could not muster up a reason to care.

After Earth

This movie should have been great. It had my favorite director from the ‘90’s. It had one of the most in-demand action stars of the ‘90’s. And what do we get for their efforts?

Take. A. Knee.

For a director who is known for slow-burns, this one took the cake. You sit around waiting for something to happen. Sure a ship crashes. Sure an animal appears. Yet I remained bored.

It did not help that a famous actor, known for being loud and wacky, sat in an emotional coma for the entire movie. Ugh.

Oh, and his kid did not help. I tend to dislike kids in movies. Why? They whine. A lot. Never so much as in this movie.

Yeah, your life is hard, your dad is hard, and the ground is hard. Shut up and run. Maybe, I dunno, work to make your situation better. Ya keep saying how you are a soldier? Then do something ya little twerp!

I did not hate it. I certainly did not love it. I was nothing-ed by the entire affair. (Here, another Honest Trailer to reinforce my point.)

**********

I am still grateful to Shyamalan. Given the proper reason, I am quite happy to watch a Shyamalan-a-thon. (Which, by the way, is really fun to say out loud. Try it!) Back to back screenings of any of the four movies is fun for me. You can bet Unbreakable will always have a place on my DVD shelf.

If I had the opportunity to meet M. Night Shyamalan, I would be quite eager to do so. I still think he has talent. To write and direct those first movies? That takes skill. Just because he has not recently made a movie in the last few years that appeals to me, does not take away from the earlier ones. Those are great and I will appreciate him for those regardless of what came after.

I continue to root for Shyamalan. These days that leads to disappointment. However, I have to believe that he can still make a movie that will resonate with me. Christopher Nolan has replaced him as my favorite director. But M. Night is my favorite underdog. I keep hoping that one day he will make a return to the filmmaker I remember fondly and knock me off my feet. Maybe it is coming, but it is a really slow burn? I mean, he is famous for those after all…

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About anecdotaltales

He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.
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