Thursday, September 10, 2009

M. Night Shyamalan

He fascinates me. No matter what he makes - and much of it can seem nonsensical at times - he concentrates on holding it all together with all the tricks of the cinematic trade. He is a craftsman, which is a whole lot more than can be said for many filmmakers.

I am one of the few that will admit I didn't see the hook in "The Sixth Sense" coming until it was revealed in the film. When I go to see a film, on the first watch I try to NOT figure it out. I prefer to allow my self to be immersed in the screen - if the film doesn't warrant immersion, it will kick you out itself. And the cinematic craftsman, such as Night, always invites immersion. Second watches are when structure and details can get close examination.

"Unbreakable" - I still judge this as a magnificent film. The structure, in which mise-en-scene connects each scene to the next, is cinematic mimicry of the comic book, as if each scene were a panel, and each edit the gap between the panels. The style echoes the narrative about the comic book hero and his arch-villain. Perhaps his greatest film.

I have only seen "Signs", "The Village" and "Lady in the Water" once each, so I won't make grandiose comments on these like I just did for "Unbreakable". I recall liking "Signs"; being extremely disappointed in the ending of "The Village"; and liking "Lady in the Water" - I'm a big Paul Giamatti fan. I do think I should re-screen these three films. I have not seen his earlier works "Wide Awake" or "Praying With Anger".

So what's left? "The Happening" - of course. When it came out to theaters, I remember being surprised. I had heard nothing about it. This bodes ill for a film, with low publicity usually meaning the studios are trying to sneak a film by the critics, and the audiences, to get to a DVD release. It usually means advanced screenings have already doomed its chances. "The Village" and "Lady in the Water" were not as successful - economically and critically - as his earlier films. It seemed "The Happening", with no real advance word on what it was even about, was a real bomb.

Then my brother told me it was about and that it was ridiculous - plants were causing the Happening. Perhaps he even said he walked out of the film. I may have invented that, but if it was fiction, it was enough to prevent me from seeing it. As he said recently "sentient plants", to which the probable reaction is "Blecch!". I felt bad though - I liked Night's work and no matter how silly it sounded, I knew I should see it. A year or so later, I did.

It showed up on OnDemand as a free movie. I almost forgot about it. It was time to watch, though I went in expecting little. On first view, it was defintely odd. Some strange lines and odd deliveries, not to mention the whole plant angle - I enjoyed it though, feeling it may be too simple and direct, and that was that.

It stuck with me though. I like Mark Wahlberg. I like John Leguizamo. Zooey Deschanel - I didn't know, but she stuck with me also. They were not perfect in these roles, but oddly good. And something must have been right, because as I said, they stayed in my head. Then - strangely - and perhaps it is because of my yearly craving for Horror around Memorial Day and Labor Day (there's a blog for another time) - and knowing my wife would say "Yes" when I suggest we watch a Shyamalan movie she's never seen yet - I just watched it again.

And I am rather in awe that I liked it a whole lot more the second time around. The odd tone and premise somehow go down better when you know what to expect. And some of the details - the web of connection that makes for satisfaction at the cinema - stuck out more on second view.
A quick scene of a car backing up over plants became creepy. The view toward science in general, though sometimes overdone, really shone through on the second view with Wahlberg's character in the classroom. Night produced an environmental message movie with an almost Todd Solondz creepiness to it, which is also a sweet love story by the end.

Sort of a mish-mash, I guess. But I liked it. In spite of some weird dialogue - what sticks in my mind is when Wahlberg tells the crazy woman "I'm a teacher!" - as if that is going to make her not be crazy any more? Strange. But cool in some way also.

Next is M. Night Shyamalan's "The Last Airbender" - based on the pretty cool cartoon series that I wanted to watch but just never found the time. Sounds and looks weird and cool. Yes, another Night triumph.


Nikki Faith said...

I love M. Night too. 6th sense is stunning. I wish I could have my memory removed and rewatch it for the "first" time again. ;-)
I thought the Village was brilliant. Really, I've enjoyed all the films you mentioned. I definitely need to go back and watch Unbreakable again, which I only saw once when it hit theaters.
I'm glad On Demand brought The Happening to you. I thought it was great.

richmus said...

I really liked The Happening. Sentient plants can be cool. I vaguely remember saying that it was kind of corny (no pun intended) but that I really liked it. I think it worked on a number of levels. I stayed for the entire movie. My favorite Shyamalan film is Signs. I can watch it over and over. (I also have lectured on the film in seminars [the scene in the basement when the father saves the boy's life]). Thanks for the mention in your blog, Joe. You're too cool.

Joe's brother, Rich.