Friday, July 2, 2010

Shyamalan's Last chance - really


I can't believe I've had a blog for 18 months (almost to the day), and I have yet to write a post about M. Night Shyamalan.

His latest movie, The Last Airbender, comes out today. (I thought it was supposed to be tomorrow, but it appears to be today, so I'm moving this post up a day.) I actually think it looks like it will be, or at least could be, good. I have such faith in it, in fact, that I'm planning to see it tomorrow afternoon, assuming I get the traditional early release on the day before a three-day weekend.

But if it's not good, like the overwhelming evidence of the last six years' worth of Shyamalan movies would suggest, can we finally put this guy out to pasture?

Some people would even extend Shyamalan's streak of crapitude back further, but I happen to like Signs. I didn't much care for Unbreakable, though I did respect it. But let's say you take a person who didn't like Signs, and also didn't much care for Unbreakable -- like my wife. That person sees a writer-director who's made a career's worth of god-awful movies, on the strength of just one great one.

Because really, does anybody like The Village, Lady in the Water or The Happening?

I'm suggesting we need to pry the clapboard out of Shyamalan's hands, but if we did, we'd be deprived future instances of the sublime hilarity of these three films, each of which has contained at least one extended section that left me aghast at its ridiculousness.

In fact, so sure was I that Shyamalan was done after Lady in the Water, I was amazed to hear that someone had greenlit The Happening. Then, so sure was I that Shyamalan was done after The Happening, I was amazed to hear that someone had not only entrusted him with yet another movie, but had doubled or tripled his budget as well.

Now, one clear thing The Last Airbender has going for it is that it is based on material that did not originate in Shyamalan's head. By needing to adhere to the basic structure of a popular children's series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the man is less likely to botch a basically good idea with bursts of his trademark flaws: the overuse of twists being one, his developing God complex being another. (He cast himself as a writer who would be the savior of mankind in Lady in the Water.) What I'm hoping is that the brilliant direction that has made an appearance, however brief, in each of his films, will get a chance to shine here, and the writing won't get as much of a chance to torpedo the movie.

But if Shyamalan is being allowed to branch off in a new direction, and this also turns out to be professionally disastrous for him, how, I ask you, can Hollywood keep giving him work? The fact that he's doing something different, and still fucking it up, would certainly seem to be the Last straw, wouldn't it?

And it's not like Hollywood doesn't understand that he sucks. He's been dropped by studios and worn out his welcome on projects, and he was even the recipient of two Golden Raspberries for Lady in the Water: worst director and worst supporting actor (for the aforementioned writer-savior role). But -- at least for Shyamalan -- a hit shines more than a dud stinks, and The Sixth Sense has still been shining strong for Shyamalan some 11 years later.

IMDB does not currently have another directing project listed for Shyamalan, but I've been fooled by that one before. It does mention the first of three movies that Shyamalan is going to be writing and producing (but not directing) called The Night Chronicles. (For another sign of the man's ego, I invite you to look no further than here.) The first one, subtitled Devil, is about a group of people trapped in an elevator with the devil. Like most of his movies, it sounds interesting. But like most of his movies, it comes with a cloud over its head, symbolizing the high likelihood of its suckiness.

And even though the footage from The Last Airbender looks good, the guy just can't seem to escape controversy. The movie was criticized for using a predominantly white cast in an Asian-themed film. To be fair to Shyamalan, I'll have to reserve comment here until seeing the movie. At a glance, I don't necessarily see what the fuss is about, as the film features Indian actors Shaun Toub, Aasif Mandvi and Dev Patel (from Slumdog Millionaire), and Maori actor Cliff Curtis. And while those may not be Asian Asians, at least they are not white, per se. Then again, if all the heroes are white and all the villains are non-white, I guess the critics have a point. Besides, you can't really call it "branching out" for an Indian-born director to cast Indian actors in his films.

At least we can say one thing for sure about The Last Airbender -- if it's incompetent, it won't be incompetent in the same ways his other recent films have been incompetent. I think we all need a break from that particular brand of incompetence.

Because as much as I've laughed at Shyamalan's recent work, it's not like I've stopped watching. I too continue to be drawn in by the long-ago promise of The Sixth Sense, and to a lesser extent, Signs. As much as I blame Hollywood for forever giving M. Night Shyamalan one last chance, I've been doing the exact same thing myself.

Then again, I'll see anything, so I don't really count.

13 comments:

Don Handsome said...

Ebert gave this thing 1/2 of a star.

Not that Ebert means everything...but I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to form my own opinion about this film (I don't know if I want to) and so I'm looking at that 1/2 of a star and thinking 'no fucking way is this guy going to get my money again'.

Vancetastic said...

Yeah, I saw there was a 1/2 star review from Ebert after poking around a little bit, after I finished this post. That's why it's hard to be aware of the critical consensus on films without letting it affect your own desire to see the film in question. I haven't seen a single one of the "spectacle" films that have been released this summer -- I don't count Toy Story 3 as a "spectacle film" -- so I may just go anyway.

Mike Lippert said...

I kind of really liked The Happening. I think it was intellectually stimulating but also kind of sweet and kind of honest. It dealt with things that are both current, open-ended and, in a way, strangely poetic. I think the problem isn't that Shyamalan has been making bad movies (although Village and Lady are quite bad) but that they keep getting released in the summer and their pace doesn't fit in with the shoot first ask questions later mentality of summer films. This is, after all, a guy who's films rely primarily on images and tones to tell their story as opposed to explosions or shoot outs. I know Airbender is supposed to be pretty bad but I hope this dude gets another chance because, even when he fails, he at least fails interestingly.

Vancetastic said...

Mike,

I definitely don't think his movies are devoid of interesting ideas/moments. In fact, I was all prepared to like The Happening, because the main idea is spooky indeed, and you can take an endless number of places. In fact, one of my big complaints about the movie was that the promise of the first 10-15 minutes was basically squandered. There was so much he could have done, yet he did so little.

Plus, I couldn't stifle the laughter during the scene where the family listens to their daughter becoming suicidal over the cell phone call. Not only was it logistically ridiculous -- who can get a cell phone signal when the world is being plagued by mass suicides? -- but I also thought the scene was played as emotionally absurd. I consider it to be almost worse than any moment in Lady in the Water.

For me, those three go in this order:

1) The Village
2) The Happening
3) Lady in the Water

TS Hendrik said...

I have no faith in this movie. His last really good movie was Signs. I more or less hope this film bombs so that he can't get his new "Top Secret" script he's been shopping around into production.


http://thenonreview.com

Vancetastic said...

TS,

I agree, but I haven't seen ANY of the big summer blockbusters yet this summer -- I have to pop my cherry sometime! I guess Inception is only two more weeks off now ...

(For the record, I have seen films like Get Him to the Greek and Toy Story 3, but I don't consider those "summer movies" per se.)

"Top Secret" project? Leave it to M. Night Shyamalan to think everyone cares so much about his next "big idea" ...

moviesandsongs365 said...

I always think Shyamalan movies are interesting, but you could argue they are becoming increasingly worse and worse, and he is running out of ideas.

Lady in the water was poor, I agree. I think 6th sense is good, but a little overrated. Airbender is a miss for me, it has been given awful reviews, 9% on rotten tomatoes.

I actually recommend The Village on my blog, one of his best efforts for me. It had more depth than his other movies in my opinion. Although it is kind of strange why the girl in the woods near the end is still scared, in spite of knowing the truth about the monsters, but probably she is also just scared of what is outside her comfort zone.

I'm curious, what is it you hate about The Village, your no. 1 worst Shyamalan movie ?

Vancetastic said...

MAS365,

Oh, I might have been unclear there -- I meant that The Village was the best of those three movies, not the worst.

I think The Village has a pretty good first act, and I will say that I was genuinely surprised by the twist. However, the scene you reference encapsulates why I think of it as a textbook storytelling failure. That prolonged scene where she's fumbling around in the woods would have had ten times the impact if we did not already know that the monsters were just the elders in disguise. Because we already know that, the scene is laughable instead of chilling. I considered this the first true example of Shyamalan losing it. His next two movies provided me with many, many more examples.

I'm just a couple hours now from a potential Airbender screening, and I have to decide if I can really go through with it.

Dexter said...

I've been reading your blog for months (found it via Flickchart, so much for your anonymity issue :P ), I guess I should leave a comment now that I disagree on something. :P

I've come to terms that I'm one of the few people on the planet that genuinely likes Shyamalan's style of filmaking. The only one of his films that I find really bad is "The Happening", which doesn't feel like him at all. "Lady in the Water" has many problems (script mostly, and then there's that "God Complex" thing that you mention too), but I felt a strange attraction to it, and since then, I consider it a guilty pleasure. "Unbreakable" is imho awesome, "The 6th Sense" has superb atmosphere (and I've discovered that knowing the twist actually improves it) and "Signs" is pretty good too. But my favorite Shyamalan film, is "The Village". I think it's criminally underrated (bad marketing had a hand in this, presenting it as a horror movie), and has great atmosphere, fantastic cinematography and strong messages (and I consider the twist pretty brilliant).

Sorry if my English isn't that good, it's not my native language, and sorry for the long comment. Your blog is amazing, interesting posts and great writing. Too bad you don't know greek, I'm preparing a Shyamalan post myself. :P

Vancetastic said...

Dexter,

No language problems that I can see! Thanks for the generous compliments. I know, I used my real name on the Flickchart blog. For some reason, in that context, I felt weird using an alternate identity. I've about decided that anonymity is overrated, but now I'm attached to my current Vancetastic identity.

Yeah, the twist in The Village worked for me too. I didn't hate The Village, but as time has gone on I have come to think of it in more and more of a negative light -- which is probably not fair. Funnily enough, The Village is actually the last Shyamalan movie to really use a twist -- but he'll still never be able to escape being stigmatized as a pony who has just one trick.

You may be glad to know that I actually thought The Last Airbender was basically fine. Then again, a person would not really see much of the Shyamalan we know and either love or love to hate in that movie -- it's pretty much separate from most of what you'll find in his oeuvre, so I don't even know if it's worth discussing it in a conversation about the rest of his body of work.

Monty Burns said...

I got raked over the coals on the Onion AVclub for trying to note the difference between 'Asian' and 'Indian'. I was heartily and lustily reminded that India is an Asian country, and therefore Indians are indeed Asians and one cannot make a distinction. So, there are plenty of 'Asian' actors in this movie. The kids were watching a 'making of' type thing about Airbender, where MNight was saying he changed the pronunciation of the character names to a more traditional Asian sound. So I don't think racism should be part of the wave of hate towards this movie. It'll suck plenty on its own, regardless of race.

Miss Topanga said...

"a hit shines more than a dud stinks"

ahaha! i have to remember that line.

Miss Topanga said...

Oh and "Signs" is also my favorite movie of his... don't like the rest of them.