M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN’S LADY IN THE WATER
a bedtime story by M. Night Shyamalan
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
produced by M. N. Shyamalan
written by M. Night Shyamalan
co-starring M. Night Shyamalan
inspired by the true adventures of M. Night Shyamalan
dedicated to M. Night
The movie I really wanted to watch this week was WASSUP ROCKERS, but for some reason it went straight to the second run theater in Seattle. That theater’s a little out of the way for me and today I just wanted somewhere nearby with some air conditioning, so instead of seeing Larry Clark ogle Hispanic skateboarders from Compton I got to see M. Night Shyamalan ogling Ron Howard’s daughter. I’m not sure which one’s freakier.
The advertisements say that LADY IN THE WATER is “a bedtime story by M. Night Shyamalan” which is a nicer way of saying “he made this shit up as he went along so it doesn’t make any god damn sense and it doesn’t matter because the whole point of it is to put you to sleep.” And now that I think about it there actually was a dude snoring in front of me (no lie) so Shyamalan must know what he’s doing.
I actually think Shyamalan is a real good director, at least when he’s working with Bruce. SIGNS was a little too goofy for me, and I didn’t see that last one (maybe that’s why I still like him). But I like his filmatism – his pacing, his deliberate camera moves, etc. On most of his movies he has this very serious tone and you feel like he’s in total control of what’s on screen, showing you the best angle to watch things from, making the right part of the screen be bright red or whatever, getting good quiet acting performances out of Bruce and that little Haley Joel Osment dude. But those movies were directed by the old “guy who got lucky and got to work with Bruce” Shyamalan, this is the new Shyamalan who thinks he’s a fuckin rock star, makes credit card commercials about his brilliant imagination and casts himself in this movie in a major role as the savior of humanity, wearing a hip shirt. Rock Star Shyamalan doesn’t seem to have the same control over the movie, he’s too busy making googly eyes trying to look sensitive to give as much of a shit about a story and characters and where to put the camera as he used to.
The characters are all wacky gimmicks or bordering on racist stereotypes. Paul Giamatti, as the hero/building superintendent, is the only one with any kind of humanity to him, but it’s all Giamatti doing his best with a formulaic character. Even the backstory that’s supposed to give him depth kind of pissed me off. At the beginning the movie seems to be saying, “Look at this schlubby, lonely, stuttering apartment manager… now watch as he helps do something extraordinary!” But then later the movie says, “actually he used to be a respected doctor with a family but they were murdered so now he’s sad and he doesn’t give a shit about being an apartment manager because it’s a loser job that anybody could do.” And then at the same time they keep saying that “everybody has a purpose.” (As long as they are a doctor or brilliant writer.)
That shit pissed me off because WHY CAN’T he just be a schlubby apartment manager who lives by himself and still be a hero? We have to find out that he used to be upper class in order to truly accept him? Shouldn’t we acknowledge that going around fixing people’s toilets and light bulbs might be a pain in the ass job and a perfectly acceptable purpose in life because somebody’s gotta do it? Seems kind of insulting, Shyamalan.
By the way, please note that I am spelling Shyamalan’s name correctly. None of that “Sham-a-long-a-ding-dong” or “Shymalawhateverthefuckitis what a CRAZY name it’s not American!” xenophobic bullshit. I’m not one of those type of jokers. I am treating the man with dignity and respect. However in the next paragraph I might accuse him of betraying his wife for a girl spawned by the dude who directed “The Grinch”.
Probaly the most distracting element for most people is gonna be Shyamalan’s appearance in the movie as a Writer who is writing “some thoughts about society” which it turns out are destined to inspire a child who will go on to become president and make the world a better place but the writer won’t be able to see it because his ideas are so dangerous he’s gonna get assassinated like Dr. King. Shyamalan’s acting is passable but you can’t help but be distracted because there is a large ego that keeps blocking the view of the camera. People were bothered when Spike Lee cast himself as Malcolm X’s buddy, this is kind of like if he had played Malcolm X himself. Or at least Elijah Muhammed. And because this is a Shyamalan movie alot of his role involves long shots of him staring meaningfully or with awe. And by far the most uncomfortable scene for me is when he talks emotionally to Story the Sea Nymph about how they have a connection and she inspired him and changed his life, and I couldn’t help but start to wonder if this movie is actually about how he fell in love with Bryce Dallas Howard while filming THE VILLAGE but he doesn’t want to admit it because he’s married and that’s Ron Howard’s daughter so instead he rationalizes her as being a Muse sent to him by the destiny of the universe to inspire him to make a movie about her walking around with no pants on.
This is a bit of a tangent but has anybody else ever watched that fucked up “Dateline NBC To Catch a Predator” series? I saw one of them a couple weeks ago, it’s this show where they somehow lure pedophiles in chat rooms to come to a house where they are supposedly gonna have sex with an underage kid but instead they get humiliated on TV and then arrested. And the worst part is that they are able to do these stings all day, they got an appointment every two hours or something, so apparently it’s not that hard to find a whole bunch of these fuckos in one area.
Sadly, I can’t turn away from creepy shit like that but the stuff that really fascinated me on the episode I saw was actually the unnecessary touches of flair they add to the sting. The guy comes in the house and the police officer posing as a teenager can’t show herself so she yells something about how she’s in the other room changing her shirt so wait for her out there. They already got this guy but for some reason they have to throw in this touch where she’s supposed to be naked in the other room. Maybe they’re hoping he can’t control himself, he’ll run in there and get a beatdown, but they never take the bait on that one. And the weirder part is they always have chocolate chip cookies there and she says “I just baked cookies.” For some reason, part of the storyline is that she just made chocolate chip cookies. Why is that in there? I got no idea. Maybe thinking of delicious snacks gets perverts to let their guard down. Who knows?
Then all the sudden a TV personality in a suit walks through the door and says, “Hi!” sort of menacingly and then, “Have a seat.” And then the horny internet pervert tries to play it cool so he sits down and allows himself to be interviewed about what he’s up to. And we already know what his current project is so the idea is now we hear it in his own words. Usually they rationalize for a minute, then they admit that what they did was wrong and promise never to do it again and the whole time you wonder why they are doing this interview anyway. Sometimes the host guy reads back things the guy said in the chat room and in one case (I swear to you I’m not making it up) it involved a sex act with a cat.
When the interview is over, what the “journalist” fellow could do is say, “Sorry to tell you this freako but we can’t just let you go, that would be unethical, so we got cops here to arrest you.” What they do instead is tell the guy he’s free to go and then they show hidden camera footage of him walking out the door and taking a deep breath, walking a few steps before a fuckin SWAT team jumps out blocking his escape. And THEN the crowning touch: a dude disguised as a bush (or “an officer wearing a special type of camouflage” as the narration calls it) jumps out of nowhere and tackles the dude. This is so awesome because the pervs always give themselves up peacefully and they easily have enough officers to stop them IF they tried to run. But this is television and they want to entertain – er, I mean inform – an audience, so BAM! Pervert broadsided by bush.
I’m only bringing this up because I wanted an excuse to share my fascination with that show, but coincidentally the show does illustrate something of relevance here. Number one, people got weird fetishes, and number two, people do stupid shit when they hear voices coming from their crotch. Now, I don’t mean to compare acclaimed director M. Night Shyamalan to TV cat molesters and I don’t mean to be judgmental. If Shyamalan was indeed obsessed with Bryce Dallas Howard as I’m theorizing, she is well past 18 and, equally important, doesn’t look anything like her father. She is kind of cute in a freaky alien kind of way. So if he really does think she’s his muse and made a whole movie about it, it’s not a crime against society, only against moviegoers.
Shyamalan is an American, so he is innocent until proven guilty. But the point is that the scene made me seriously consider the possibility that a respected filmatist made an entire movie as a confession of his love for Ron Howard’s daughter. And that’s fucked up, man.
The part of the movie that actually made me lose respect for Shyamalan, though, was this whole subplot about a movie critic played by Bob Balaban, the director of PARENTS. I’m not stupid, I know what Shyamalan’s doing, he’s criticizing the critics for not liking his last movie and at the same time making an excuse to say why critics won’t like this one. Well played, Shyamalan, well played. To me this comes off as petty and childish, but more importantly, the guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. This character is not an intelligent criticism of criticism. He’s just an asshole who makes speeches about the different formulas for movies, and they turn out to be wrong (because get it, this movie is SO UNPREDICTABLE! because he MADE IT UP AS HE WENT ALONG!) This character would’ve been a good guy in SCREAM but here you’re supposed to hate him (in fact, he even states that he is the character you are supposed to hate, in case you don’t get it) and he is the only character who gets killed, and nobody even finds out that it happened or cares.
You guys know me so you know I’m not getting defensive on account of being some kind of critic. I actually agree that alot of critics are stupid. In fact because I’ve spent these years striving for excellence in reviewing I’ve thought this shit out a hundred times more than Shyamalan and I probaly hate some of those critics more than he ever could dream of hating them. Obviously you got your Gene Shalit types with the puns and shit. Hell, you got all kinds of punsters out there who are more respected than Shalit but they still think if they review PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN they gotta work in a thousand boat and grog and bottle of rum and yo ho ho references. Then you got your “quote whores” or your Peter Travers with his “EXPLOSIVE! The summer’s best whiteknuckle thrill ride!” hyperbole. You got Larry King (if that counts) saying that every other movie he sees is “FINALLY a movie to get excited about!” or “THE FUNNIEST MOVIE I’VE EVER SEEN!”
That shit’s obvious, but for me it gets deeper, the actual writing style pisses me off. You write these things over and over again you start to find yourself using the same phrases and words to describe movie after movie. So then either you settle in to a predictable formula and you’re boring or you start coming up with the corniest shit to describe movies, words nobody would ever use to describe a movie unless they were writing a review. I got hearing like a dog for this shit so I see phrases that probaly wouldn’t bother a normal person but for me I wince when I see these magazine writers with the corny phrases like “whizbang” and “crackerjack” and “hangdog” and using “meta” whenever possible and talking about whether or not a movie has “crackle” or “verve” or whether it “pops” and then they have to work in some reference to The Sopranos or Lost or whatever TV show they are currently obsessed with.
“Like the island inhabitants of LOST these apartment dwellers are trapped in their own world while mystical beasties creep and crawl in the shadows just beyond the cabana room. But alas, LADY IN THE WATER doesn’t have the crackerjack sparkle or verve of J.J. Abrams. It’s as flat as the carnivorous ‘scrunts’ become when they camouflage themselves in the courtyard foliage.”
And yes there are more pretentious critics who look down on “entertainment” which I guess is what this character is supposed to be, but in modern society those type of critics are few and far between, they have almost no power over who goes to see Shyamalan’s movie and they are marginalized members of society who are only respected (or even known of) in an insulated subculture of film buffs that 99.99999% of all earthlings will never even know about, let alone encounter. So who the fuck cares?
What I’m saying is, Shyamalan takes cheap shots when I thought he was a guy who could take dead aim between the eyes. Back when he made UNBREAKABLE I woulda figured he was a really smart guy, if he chose to go after critics he would have a smart way to do it. But this movie is telling me that the guy is not actually that smart.
If you’re around movie discussions for long you eventually run into these chuckleheads who claim “I listen to what the critics say and then I do the OPPOSITE – ha ha ha that’s how cynical I am I blew the lid off this whole thing with my unique iconoclastic stance.” I always wonder what those people do when they read the reviews for, say, almost any movie ever made, and discover that critics disagree with each other. Or do they just wait until the cases where the critics are unanimous, and then show those fuckers by going out and enjoying CATWOMAN and CHRISTMAS WITH THE KRANKS and shit? There’s this idea that critics don’t know how to enjoy “a good popcorn flick.” But you look on that silly “Rotten Tomatoes” sight you see a 93% for DIE HARD, a 92% for FACE/OFF, a 100% for ALIENS. Hell, look here you can see that about half the critics will even go for a shitty one like fucking INDEPENDENCE DAY.
There are so many deeper, more accurate points to make about a critic than “they think they know everything about movie fomulas.” So if that’s all you got and then you kill the guy you look like a fuckin whiney baby, especially when you’re a filmatist who’s a had a better track record with critics than most. And by the way, Joe Dante did it better when he killed the real Leonard Maltin 16 years ago in GREMLINS 2. But only a critic would say that.
I guess maybe the critic part is supposed to be funny. Stranger things have happened. But that’s another problem, Shyamalan knows how to do deadly serious melodrama but when he starts trying to make you laugh he’s out of his element. This one is so cartoony that you figure it must be supposed to be funny, but if there was a good joke in there I must have missed it. There’s a character who works out only the right side of his body as “a scientific experiment” which I thought was a really funny idea. And then that’s where he left it. A funny idea, nothing happens with it. And that’s the best he’s got in the whole movie.
So that’s alot of complaints there but I honestly think he could get away with all that if he had a really good dramatic story here. Which he doesn’t. It all comes back to this bed time story gimmick and the fact that bed time stories are something you make up on the spot to put a kid to sleep. They are not something you spend a hundred million dollars on and make a person pay money to watch for 2 hours. I know Shyamalan is into this idea of the magic of storytelling and storytellers and he even has the lady in the water be named “Story.” But bedtime stories, by definition, are half-assed bullshit with no effort involved that are considered more successful if they are boring. So the idea of a feature length bed time story is an insult. They don’t make feature length versions of the sketches on that “Who’s Line Is It Anyway” show, do they? I mean it’s kind of like if Walt Disney Studios made an animated movie about bathroom graffiti. “You don’t get it. The drawing is bad because IT’S BATHROOM GRAFFITI. It’s not SUPPOSED to look good. It’s a shape scratched into linoleum, possibly a dick. You snob critics don’t understand the magic of a dick carved in a door.”
Look here Shyamalan, you wanna tell us a bed time story, then come to our house and tell us a bed time story. We’ll be thinking, “Oh shit, I can’t believe M. Night Shyamalan, the famous movie star, came to my house and told me a story!” We won’t hold it to a high standard of entertainment and storytelling. We’ll think “that’s cool that he would do that.” When we pay money to see it on a big screen, though, we’ll expect you to put a little god damn elbow grease into it. Please.
This is the story: Giamatti’s whimsically named character Cleveland Heep spots somebody in the pool at night, but he slips and hits his head. He wakes up and Story the Pantsless Sea Nymph has rescued him. She wants to go home (the pool?) but when he tries to carry her out there he gets chased by a wolf made out of grass. Instead of asking her “what’s up with that?” he goes and asks one of his tenants, whose mother knows a bed time story about the world of the Sea Nymphs but she only speaks Korean. So throughout the movie she keeps translating to him the rules of the magical sea world: the nymph appears to inspire a writer to change the world, then she has to go back and get picked up by a giant eagle but there’s a wolf that tries to eat her but also there’s three evil monkeys who try to stop the wolf. Various apartment tenants have parts in bringing her to the pool to get picked up by the giant eagle, he just has to figure out who’s who for it to work. then he figures it out and a giant eagle picks her up and BAM! WRITTEN, PRODUCED, AND DIRECTED BY M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN, GENIUS.
I don’t know why Cleveland doesn’t ask her to explain what’s going on until halfway through the movie. Then when he finally does she says she’s not allowed to talk about it so instead she answers questions in sign language. Then later she starts telling him stuff without sign language and nobody seems relieved or surprised at this development. I also don’t know why, if she comes from the magic world of the sea in the swimming pool, the way to get home is to fly into the sky with a giant eagle. Shouldn’t she just jump back in the swimming pool?
Maybe that’s the big M. Night Shyamalan twist ending. She needs to get home to the swimming pool… BY FLYING AWAY FROM THE SWIMMING POOL. Look at that man, M. Night just blew your mind like a fuckin balloon.
The last time I saw a giant eagle in a movie it was LORD OF THE RINGS PART 1 I believe. And that was a movie where you could tell they weren’t making it up as they went along. They planned out the world in intricate detail. They knew what this world was and it all made sense and seemed like reality and sure as fuck didn’t use half-assed fantasy creature names like “narf”. I mean come on man, “narf?” That’s really the best name you could up with for magic pantsless sea nymphs? I had faith in you Shyamalan. I think you’re due for a Bruce intervention.
You know what this is, this is one of those half-assed fantasy movies they had in the ’80s, like, I don’t know, LADYHAWKE or some shit like that. I’m sure some kids will see it and kind of like it because it’s corny as hell and talks about magic. And then years later they’ll remember it fondly because of the wolf and the monkeys. But then they’ll catch it on TV and realize that’s about 5 minutes of the movie and the rest is about people explaining things to Paul Giamatti. And they’ll say, “Huh, I remembered that being alot better. Oh well,” and then they’ll never think about it again. It is possible that one of these people will then go on to become president and change the world. But if so it would probaly be a coincidence.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.