There Goes M. Night’s Mind

There Goes M. Night’s Mind

In M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie, The Lady in the Water, an emaciated water nymph predicts that a writer, played by Shyamalan, will pen a book that will one day pull the country out of darkness. Anytime a filmmaker casts himself in the role of a divinely-inspired man whose words will infuriate but ultimately transform the world, you know something’s not quite right upstairs.

There have been rumblings that Shyamalan went off the deep end ever since Disney gave the one-time wunderkind’s script a thumbs-down last year. According to Michael Bamberger’s book, The Man Who Heard Voices: Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale, the director stormed out of Disney production president Nina Jacobson’s office claiming the company no longer valued individualism.” Warner Brothers ultimately ended up producing Lady, but you’ve got to believe they won’t make a similar mistake with Shyamalan again. There isn’t even a twist for God’s sake!

Then again, I would say that. I’m a critic. Shyamalan doesn’t have much love for critics. In fact, he hates the smug little bastards so much that he has embedded a scene of cinematic vengeance right at Lady‘s heart. Building superintendent Cleveland Heep (Paul Giammatti- what was he thinking?) is desperately trying to decode the mystery behind a strangely alluring water nymph he’s found in the pool. But he discovers he’s been led astray by the film critic living in room 13-B. “But who would be arrogant enough to assume they understood another person’s intentions?” a friend asks Heep. The critic, that’s who. The same one who, a few scenes earlier, tells the superintendent he’s just seen a rather disappointing romance movie where “Everyone said exactly what they were thinking.” An oblique reference to Shyamalan’s much derided The Village? Or, perhaps, a pre-emptive strike against the likes of me. Either way, the critic is mauled by a grass-covered dog-like creature (a strange ode to Rick Moranis in Ghostbusters) a mere ten seconds later.

Self-referential turns like that leave the audience in a strange position. Is this one of the worst films of the year? Or is he just playing? If he’s playing, Lady in the Water is still pretty horrible. But if he’s not, Shyamalan really shouldn’t be allowed to direct another Hollywood film again. The story is so inane, the shot selection so transparent and the editing so coarse that this could only be a parody.

But a parody of what? It’s never quite clear. Instead, it looks like the writer-director has inserted every intriguing idea that’s ever floated through his head. What if we use Six Feet Under‘s Freddy Rodriguez and give him one huge bicep and one normal one? And then, what if we have Paul Giamatti give himself a milk moustache and curl up on an old Asian woman’s couch like a cat? What if we fuse horror and fantasy and self-referential comedy? That’ll work, right? It’ll be bold and individual. No one will have ever seen a film like it.

And it’s true. I’d never seen anything like Lady in the Water. As the film critic Shyamalan savages with his supernatural hedge-dog points out near the film’s beginning, every story’s been told every conceivable way by now. Sometimes artists try to stretch the boundaries of genre to give their audiences something wholly new. And sometimes those experiments remind us why originality alone should never be the goal.

Lady In the Water opens today at the Paramount (259 Richmond St. W.), the Varsity (55 Bloor St. W.), Silvercity Yonge (2300 Yonge St.) and others


The big news on DVD racks this weekend is the release of Tsotsi, the South African street story that won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 2005. Written and directed by Gavin Hood, Tsotsi follows the life of a Johannesburg thug who finds a baby while stealing a car. Hood initially shot three separate ends to the film, and all three are included with the rationale behind them laid bare. Fans of this critical favourite will no doubt be chomping at the bit to see what ended up on the cutting room floor.

Also out this week is Robert Towne’s largely ignored adaptation of cult writer John Fante’s Ask the Dust. Released in 2005, this ode to 1930s Los Angeles centres on the struggles of a young writer (Fante’s alter ego, Arturo Bandini (Colin Farrell)) to find recognition and dull his lust. Bandini ultimately meets Camilla (Salma Hayek), a Mexican waitress who takes a shine to him. Since the vast majority of the book is filled with dreams and digressions and random observations (difficult stuff to film without a clear cinematic vision), the affair between Bandini and Camilla occupies the majority of the film. And that’s more than okay. Not only do the two of them look pretty good having sex, but their relationship is also where Bandini ultimately finds his sense of self and belonging. The special features on offer here are nothing special (director and cinematographer’s commentary and a little behind-the-scenes footage), but hopefully the DVD release of Ask the Dust will allow people to discover a film that should never have gone unnoticed.

Finally, for the young ‘uns, this week marks the release of Spongebob Square Pants Karate Island. The DVD features seven episodes of Nickolodeon’s favourite sea sponge, including SquidBob Tentacle Pants, Mrs. Puff, You’re Fired and Ghost Host (all from 2005-2006). A special bonusfeature: the Karate Chops Game!