MCN Columnists
Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest

M. Night Shyamalan – The Next Spielberg? Nope!

It was just a few years ago that M. Night Shyamalan was on the cover of Time Magazine, which had proclaimed him the “Next Spielberg.” It’s incredible that just a few short years and two films later, many folks are wondering if he’s even a competent filmmaker; he has faced accusations of being egotistical and two straight critical and box office duds and the early word on his new film The Happening has not been positive. What happened to the man we all thought would inherit the mantle from the bearded master of spectacle?

Since he disowned his first widely released film,Wide Awake, I will too and focus instead on his career starting with The Sixth Sense. In the years since that cultural phenomenon was released, it has gone through the grinder of being both wildly over-praised and then widely underrated. The truth is that it’s a very good film, an assured one, that has a genuinely surprising twist ending as well as some great understated performances; it mixes elements of an unsettling ghost story with one of a family drama and the end result is both affecting and disturbing. But it is clear where Shyamalan’s heart truly lies when he ends the film not with the resolution between the boy who sees ghosts and his hard-working single mother, but with a goosebump-inducing conclusion to the ghost story. This isn’t a bad thing at all; in this film, Shyamalan has a clear grasp of which notes he wants to hit and when and where to draw that line between the macabre and the poignant.

His next film is one that I feel is his masterpiece, Unbreakable. With the proliferation of superhero movies now at an all-time high, Shyamalan’s feature about the realities of being a superhero is remarkably prescient and understanding of the genre. It was definitely a wonderful set-up to a trilogy that never happened and the best part about it was that Shyamalan was telling a story that sticks to the core of who he is as a person and as a filmmaker: a geek. Almost all of his films have fantastical elements to them, but Unbreakable is the only one that takes a completely nerdy concept (how a superhero and a super villain are born) and makes it something deeper and more resonant. In his later films, he uses aliens, water nymphs and monsters in the woods but none of them cut to the heart of their respective genres; those films are not told from the perspectives of the aliens or the nymphs or the monsters. Instead Shyamalan uses ‘everyman’ kind of stand-ins as interlocutors for the audience, while in his first two films we actually are given a different perspective by seeing things through the eyes of a superhero or a ghost.

Many people enjoyed Signs, but I am not one of them. I feel that the first hour or so of the film works in some ways, but the ending is like something out of a Roger Corman film. The film works so hard to be believable – trying hard to make the audience connect with this family – and then craps all over itself in three very big ways: 1) the repetition of the “swing away” line.Mel Gibson already tells the story of his wife’s accident and how she told him to tell his brother (Joaquin Phoenix) to “swing away,” so then why is it necessary to then show that same scene? I thought maybe she would actually tell her husband something different, but no it’s exactly the way it was already described to us. 2) The alien costume at the end is ridiculous and 3) this has already been said all over the place, but as sophisticated as the aliens are, why would they come to a planet that is mostly covered in something they are allergic to? I think this is the film where Shyamalan started to trust his audience less and spelled things out a little bit too much. All in all, however, it was decent enough.

The man’s next two films, however, are so unbelievably atrocious that it’s hard for me to fathom that the filmmaker behind Unbreakable was responsible for them. I have a weird quirk when it comes to bad movies: I think the worst ones are the ones that you actually have expectations for. For example, I think a movie like Beloved is a worse movie than something like What Happens in Vegas… because there is actually a possibility with the talent assembled, thatBeloved could have been a great film. When it turns out to be bad, it stings way worse than when I see What Happens in Vegas… and it sucks as much as I would have anticipated. So while The Village might not be a terrible movie, it was definitely harder for me to sit through than any movie that came out that year because I know Shyamalan is capable of so much more. The Village was a film that didn’t seem organic at all, like Shyamalan was rushing so fast to get to the “big twist” at the end that he didn’t care that by the time the ‘monster’ attacksBryce Dallas Howard, we know it’s not a ‘monster’ at all, but Adrien Brody in a suit. And don’t even get me started on the mere idea that a blind girl could walk through wooded trails she’s never walked on before and never run smack into a tree and break her nose.

Nothing however could have prepared me – or the rest of the film world – for the awfulness that was Lady in the Water. And this is where, for me, it’s hard for me to understand how he could ever again be considered the heir to Spielberg’s throne. Spielberg has made some bad movies (Hook leaps to mind) but I don’t think he’s ever made a film that was quite on the level of Lady in the Water, which is one of the most inept productions I’ve ever seen. Not only is the story ludicrous, but it is this: boring. No matter how many times I’ve walked out of a Spielberg film under-whelmed, I’ve never been bored. We could talk all day about how Shyamalan is pretentious and egotistical for putting himself in the film as an “artist who will save the world with his stories” but the truth of the matter is that that was the most interesting aspect of the film.

So, if this is the man who would be king, then why hasn’t he made a film that truly takes him out of his comfort zone? By this time in Spielberg’s career, he was making The Color Purple. M. Night Shyamalan’s big risk is making his first R-rated film. By this time in Spielberg’s career, he had directed Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters, and E.T. If this is Shyamalan’s hero, then why does M. Night insist on staying in his own dark corner of the world, making only the films that are easy for him to make?

I personally would love to Shyamalan direct an original adventure film or his long-gestating adaptation of Life of Pi. I hope The Happening is good, that it’s a return to the geeky roots that made us love the man to begin with. I don’t think he’s the next Spielberg, but I think he can carve out his own path that might be special too, if he were willing to take real risks.

Women in Cinema

Sex and the City: The Movie is proving to be quite the phenomenon and I’m happy that it’s doing as well as its doing because I hope the inevitable sequel will be better. Having said that, I feel quite a bit dismayed when I read quotes like this by Sarah Jessica Parker (in EW): “Women are not a phenomenon. We want to read good books, see good TV. We want to be engaged.”

Now, that’s a great sentiment and one that I fully support as a feminist. But I find it quite disheartening that this is the kind of film that women support; not because it’s a ridiculous fantasy (men support films like this all the time) but because it’s one that is not written or directed by a woman. I just wish women (and men, for that matter) would support female directors the way they supported this Sex and the City film. There are so few female directors out there and some of them are so incredibly talented, but if they aren’t directed fluff films about women in dresses, it’s incredibly hard for them to get films funded.

One of my top ten absolutely favorite filmmakers right now is Rebecca Miller who did the incredibly searing Personal Velocity and the devastating Ballad of Jack and Rose. She makes films about real, fully developed and rounded female characters and yet none of her films are smashes at the box office. Her new film, coming out next year, is called The Private Lives of Pippa Lee; I’d like to see that film met with the same kind of fanfare as Sex and the City.

Movies made by men and for men are always dominating at the box office, but movies made by women and for women only seem to be successful when they involve glamorous gals wearing designer clothes, strutting around New York City. I think it’s great that those fantasy films do as well as male-driven fantasy films; I just want to see the more realistic, better made films by women and about women do as well as the same genre films made by men, that’s all.

So yes, see Diane English’s remake of The Women which I’m sure will be fluffy and fun; but please, please, also see the next films by Sofia Coppola, Kasi Lemmons, Mira Nair, Kimberly Peirce, Karyn Kusama, Susanne Bier, Catherine Breillat, Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Zoe Cassavetes, Niki Caro, Nora Ephron, Julie Delpy, Catherine Hardwicke, Tamara Jenkins, Sally Potter, Rose Troche, Mary Harron, and Julie Taymor.

These filmmakers need the support just as much as the men and they make films just as good as the guys too; so ladies (and gentlemen too) let’s take this positive energy we have right now towards female-centric flicks and put it towards the great female directors’ next works.

– Noah Forrest
June 10, 2008

Noah Forrest is a 25 year old aspiring writer/filmmaker in New York City.

The opinions expressed in these columns are the writer’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Movie City News or any of its editors or other contributors.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon