Thursday, June 12, 2008

Ego Under Troubled Water...Or, Give the Baby His Bottle

Four words: Lady in the Water. And now just one word: Yikes.

I was so furious at M. Night Shyamalan after The Village that I cinematically broke up with him. We were through. Ah, but old flames certainly have a way of finding their way back into your life somehow, don't they? Damn you, Shyamalan.

At least this time, I wasn't expecting anything good. No more hope or faith. He robbed me of those. I had heard about how awful Lady in the Water was from tons of people, how it was even worse than The Village. Impossible, I thought emphatically! Well, I found out the hard way that nothing is impossible. When you're told over and over not to do something, like watch a movie, your instincts kick in, and you're compelled to do the opposite. I waited two years, so I think I did a pretty respectable job holding out. Ah, but in light of The Happening happening this week, I thought it was time. I've seen everything else he's done, after all.

Bad Lisa. Bad. Still, I don't regret it. I had a hell of a lot of fun watching...for all the wrong reasons, though. I was constantly amused, appalled, or bewildered. There were moments when I was in such total disbelief that my jaw was on the ground and I had my hands covering my mouth. I just couldn't believe what I was seeing. What a pretentious, pointless piece of junk.

I suppose I have to explain the plot. Oh, that plot... Okay, I refuse to waste any energy describing this convoluted "bedtime story" on my own (Shyamalan originally made up this story for his little girls - I bet they sleep really well every night). I'm already going to have to say the most abominable made-up words in this review, like "narf", so I can't do it now. Thus, I will turn to the summary of the brilliant critic Matt Fagerholm: "The film would like you to think it’s about a water-dwelling narf (Bryce Dallas Howard) materializing in the swimming pool of an apartment complex, seeking a human who has the undiscovered potential to save the world…or something like that. But she must hurry before the grassy fanged scrunts do away with her, although she can be protected by tree-dwelling branch-people, who will allow her fly back home on the wings of the Great Eatlon, if only she can find three distinct humans and a group that can work with their hands and…give me a break! All this film is really about is the bruised, over-inflated ego of its writer/producer/director. " Yeah... Pretty much. Oy...

Toss the plot out the window. It's absurd. The movie is bogged down in so much dialogue and explication that I felt like I was drowning in that pool and being pushed into its deepest recesses to the point of hurtling through the portal that would take me to The Blue World of the narf. Yack, yack, yack. Shut up! Stop talking! It might be okay if the dialogue was at all tolerable. People talk so strangely in Shyamalan's films, but this is the blade that broke the scrunt's back. Has he ever heard of a contraction? Seriously. Try it some time.

UGH. I have so much to say, but the awfulness is suffocating me. I can't think straight. I guess I'll just rattle off the problems. Okay, for starters, the narf's (Bryce Dallas Howard) name is Story. Her name is STORY. Sickening. Planet Terror's infamous El Wray, Freddy Rodriguez, plays a character named Reggie whose defining characteristic is only working out one side of his body. He's seen a couple times pumping iron with just one arm and then bragging that there's a four inch or so differential between biceps.

ARG! I hate this movie! I don't want to write about it, but I need to exorcise it. I feel about as whiny right now as M. Night Shyamalan is with this movie. Poor baby was so pissed off about The Village getting (deservedly) slammed, and this is his one hour and fifty minute hissy fit. What happened to cameos? He's a MAJOR character in Lady in the Water. He is the sacred Chosen One whom the narf is supposed to find. The Chosen One, a pissant writer named Vick, is penning a book that will one day revolutionize the world and instigate great change. Talk about a savior complex.

Foretells Story: "A boy, in the midwest of this land, will grow up in a home where your book will be on the shelf and spoken of often. He will grow up with these ideas in his head. He will grow into a great orator. He will speak and his words will be heard throughout this land and throughout the world. This boy will become leader of this country and begin a movement of great change. He will speak of you and your words and your book will be the seeds of many of his great thoughts. They will be the seeds of change." Give me a fucking break. Wah, Shyamalan is so misunderstood. Another character comments, "What kind of person would be so arrogant as to presume the intention of another human being?" Gee, I wonder if that comes from a personal place. Wah, I want to make movies, but I don't want to accept the consequences. I think I'm contributing valuably to cinema, but you just have to believe me when I say so. You're not allowed to critique me or my work.

Shyamalan is in no place to speak of arrogance. He's about the biggest hypocrite around when it comes to that matter. So, not only does he make himself the hero, through his writing, but the bad guy (well, something bad that isn't fauna, anyway) is played by Bob Balaban. Guess what his occupation is... A film critic! Revenge anyone? But how futile the revenge. I'm going to get back at you for making fun of my movies by making one that's even worse. That'll show ya. Wait, neither Shyamalan nor anyone in his films would ever say that. They would say, in his trademark overly enunciated, nobody-has talked-like-this-since-the-1800s way, "That will show you." The critic's last name in the movie is Farber, allegedly based on a real life critic who obliterated The Village. Wow. That's really mature.

Balaban/Farber has a brutally awful, obscenely pointed and self-conscious scene where he looks straight into the camera and says this crap, "Hello? Is the bathroom on this level working? A dog inside the building! Go! Shoo! Why you're not a dog at all. My god, this is like a moment from a horror movie. This is precisely the moment where the mutation or beast will attempt to kill an unlikable side character. But, in stories where there has been no prior cursing, violence, nudity or death, such as in a family film, the unlikable character will escape his encounter, and be referenced later in the story, having learned valuable lessons. He may even be given a humorous moment to allow the audience to feel good about him. This is where I turn to run. You will leap for me, I will shut the door, and you will land a fraction of a second too late." I don't even get the point of this nonsense. It almost seems like he's insulting himself WHILE attacking film criticism, but he would never ever insult himself. He's his favorite person. I think this soliloquy de Balaban just proves that even Shyamalan was confused, though he would never admit that. Shyamalan thinks this self-referential "commentary" is clever, no doubt. What a sly boots he is. Zing.

Lady in the Water is the work of a selfish child. Shyamalan is so completely self-involved that it makes me want to scream. I loathe him for making this movie. He's one of the worst screenwriters ever. He's technically competent, sure, and he surrounds himself with amazing talent, cast and crew (How? Don't ask me. That's the biggest twist, n'est-ce pas?), but he can't write worth a damn. The dialogue is torturous (hilarious torture at times, but torture nonetheless) and just plain stupid. His little girls could probably write a better script and tell a better bedtime story. I bet even they're like, "Dad, enough with the narfs. Can you read us Harry Potter?"

The acting is decent, especially considering what the actors were given to work with. Poor Bryce Dallas Howard just stares blankly for about 95% of the movie. I know she's talented and that there's something special there. I just hope she's learned her lesson. Work with Shyamalan once, shame on him for tricking with him twice, and you could very well end your promising, just-blooming career.

For me, the biggest tragedy is not how atrocious the movie is, but how great Paul Giamatti is IN it. It's an epic waste of talent unlike any I've ever seen. He puts everything he has into the starring role of the stuttering apartment complex handyman, Cleveland Heep, who takes in and bonds with Story (I can't say or write that name without wincing - he should get an Oscar just for being able to say it repeatedly with conviction and a straight face). It's absolutely one of his best performances, right up there with Sideways, American Splendor, and John Adams. I was moved to tears by his work in this clip (it's from the end, if you care - he's great in the whole thing, but if you're impatient, skip to about 3 minutes in):

He's exquisite! It's the type of performance that I'd want to watch over and over and savor, but how can I when it's in THIS? Damn you for putting me in this predicament, Shyamalan. You don't deserve Paul Giamatti.

Lady in the Water also has a profoundly beautiful score by James Newton Howard. Again, it's too good for this crap. Seriously, I would buy the soundtrack. Howard's music is that phenomenal. The cinematography by Christopher Doyle is also pretty great. How did Shyamalan assemble all of this talent? HOW? For the crew, maybe it was a loyalty/guilt issue (many crew members had worked with him on the rest of his stuff). The only thing I can think of is that it must have read better on paper. Or else they just had a lot of faith in him. I mean, based on his first three films, I guess if I was in the industry, I'd probably give him a chance, even despite The Village. Maybe. I don't know. They believed in him, I guess. They shouldn't have, but they did. Shyamalan could have been the next big thing if he hadn't let his ego consume him. Sad for cinema, yes, but I have no sympathy for him.

Let's talk about Paul Thomas Anderson. Random? Actually, not so much. Paul Thomas Anderson is perhaps the greatest filmmaker working today. I definitely believe that. Every film he's made has been a masterpiece, and all of them have succeeded in wildly different ways while maintaining his auteurism. I don't know if he's the nicest guy, but I don't mind or care. I adore him. I think he has a bit of an ego himself. It's never been a secret that the Academy's snubbing has left him disgruntled. After Punch-Drunk Love, he was full-on pissed. Despite glowing reviews, it flopped big-time and was totally passed over come awards season. Then, he made There Will Be Blood. His rage at the capitalistic and conformist system that has never quite accepted him is palpable. There Will Be Blood is an angry, angry film. In many ways, I think Anderson IS Daniel Plainview. I could get into a huge discussion now, but I'll refrain. Ironically, There Will Be Blood, the film he made as a giant "Fuck You" to Hollywood and society, garnered the accolades. I bet he loved it. Hell, I love it. Might I even say he drank it up?

Like Anderson with Punch-Drunk Love, Shyamalan was furious at the reaction to The Village. However, Punch-Drunk Love is genius, critics adored it, and it has only gained audience approval over time. Also, he followed it up with another brilliant film, There Will Be Blood, effectively filtering his rage into his art and not being so petty as to communicate his personal feelings in a painfully obvious way. He sought his revenge smartly and never let his ego or emotions interfere. It's there, but it's not everything, and you have to look for it. Shyamalan, on the other hand, produced a shitty movie that was panned. He didn't have a leg to stand on with The Village. And then he followed THAT up with an even worse movie, and he acted like a total moron by placing himself in the story so prominently, making his ego the real star, and doing it all with the finesse and subtlety of a two-year-old. There, boys and girls, is the difference between a good filmmaker and a bad one.

I found most of the dialogue in Lady in the Water so ridiculous that I wanted to cement my arguments by including lots of quotes. Alas, not many are around. I certainly wasn't going to go back and rewatch just to find the lines, so I thought maybe I could find the script online, but nope. I find it extremely interesting that the scripts for The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs ARE available, but the ones for The Village and Lady in the Water aren't. Hmm. Shady.

Quick story: I saw the Psycho remake in theaters because I felt I HAD to because of my loyalty to Alfred Hitchcock. I had to be there to jeer FOR him. Now, I know Shyamalan has no business even being mentioned in the same paragraph as Hitchcock, and it's a very different situation obviously, but it's my way of trying to explain my next statement. I wish I could say that I am swearing Shyamalan off for good, but I can't. I hope that doesn't make me a hypocrite. It's morbid curiosity of the most macabre level. It's a sickness. I just believed in him so much for the first few ventures that I feel personally jilted by the last two disasters. When he fell, he fell hard, and he took me with him in a way. Thus, there's a sense of obligation, like I need to keep tabs on what he's up to or something. I sort of want to watch him fail, because he disappointed me so monumentally, as a filmmaker and as a person. But I suppose there still is that tiny part of me that's curious to see if he can find himself and ever make a good film again. Also, M. Night Shyamalan is a train wreck of epic proportions. The cliché is true. I just can't turn away from his frustrating, infuriating, incompetent, pitiful self-aggrandizement.

Still, nothing changes the fact that Lady in the Water is one of the worst films I've ever seen. For making it, being such a delusional egomaniac, spitting in the face of respectable cinema, and continuing his reign of inept terror, M. Night Shyamalan can go narf himself.

I was planning on ending the review there, but something serendipitous happened. I do generally try to avoid profanity, but this seems like fate, so I must. Fat Boy Slim's "Star 69" is on my playlist right now. While it has been pumping through the speakers of my laptop, it struck me: this song could be the anthem of this review, or even M. Night's personal theme:

"They know what is what,
But they don't know what is what.
They just strut. What the fuck?"

Those are all of the lyrics in the song. Shyamalan certainly is someone who thinks he knows what is what but doesn't know what is what. He just struts. But one line is emphasized, repeated over and over at the end: "What the fuck?" As it echoed out of my computer and resounded in my head, I thought it was extremely appropriate. That's how I feel about Shyamalan and this movie.

What the fuck?

Rating: Zero stars.


BraveSrRob said...

Frankly, M. Night's career has been skewered perfectly on Robot Chicken and South Park. I liked the Sixth Sense a lot and was amused by Signs (though that may have to do more with my friends and I saying "It's a SIGN!" anytime anything happened on screen. The Village lost me when the villain dressed as little Red Riding Hood. Unlike you, the Village made me completely swear off M.Night until I have it confirmed by two or three reliable sources that he has stopped being a pretentious ass. In other words, I'll never watch him again.

I've only seen There Will Be Blood from PTA's work. That movie was an absolutely BRUTAL film. Would I recommend someone see it? Yes. Will I ever see it again? Probably not. I consider it the Raging Bull of this generation. A must see for any film fan, a wonderful acting tour de force, and about as pleasant as a root canal.

And I'm not criticizing him for that. I think the movie is amazing (though my man-crush on DDL probably is the main reason for that). Films don't have to be a joy/entertaining as long as they're interesting and well-done or groundbreaking in some aspect [cough]2001[cough]. If the movie is directed at mainstream Hollywood, it's probably one of the greatest "FU's" since the last four episodes of Arrested Development. Actually, it probably rivals Jordan's obliteration of Malone in the 97 Finals (are NBA analogies valid?).

Anyway, great review.

Also, since you're not going to do the animated Batman films [shakes fist] I guess I have no choice but to do them myself.

Lisa Draski said...

Of course NBA references are valid! I wish I had your strength to swear him off completely. I thought I had with The Village... I did wait a long time. I also just love Giamatti so much, so that was a big factor. And HE didn't disappoint me.

I agree wholeheartedly with your opinions of There Will Be Blood. It's not really a film you can enjoy... It's more a film you appreciate.

Man-crush on DDL? Totally understandable. I think it's great when a man can be open about his man-crushes. I have a regular crush on him. My current girl-crush is Eva Mendes.

Ooh, 2001? We can open that up if you want. I've never been a fan, although I highly regard it.

The Bulls, Arrested Development... you have good taste!

Are the animated Batman films REALLY that good? I suppose I can make a concession, although I think my mind is so made up. But, I can be open-minded.

Lisa Draski said...

Also, refer to my I Want to Live! post for my last comment.

Bill Treadway said...
This comment has been removed by the author.