Friday, July 28, 2006

Lady in the Water

To my daughters, I'll tell you this story one more time, but go to bed

I believe many around the world were raving and became M(anoj) Night Shyamalan's fans overnight with the release of The Sixth Sense, starring Bruce Willis and Haley Joel Osment. I too became a fan after that movie, and have been waiting in anticipation each time the writer-director announces a new project.

However, I feel that the overwhelming success of Sixth Sense raised the bar too high even for M Night himself to reach, as the subsequent movies, each with its own signature twist, which has become a trademark of the director, have elicited doubts as to whether he's just a one hit wonder. The subsequent films like Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village, seemed to have many distracted from the essence of the story, choosing instead to focus intensely on the quality of the twist, without putting everything into the context of the tale.

Well, I'd say blame it on Sixth Sense again. Personally, I have enjoyed Sixth Sense, Signs and The Village, twist or no twist. I felt that the surprise element was still there, even though for some I'd already have a vague idea what the ending will be. The only disappointment I had so far with M Night's films is Unbreakable, which ended rather blandly, without the sucker punch. On the whole it's not a bad movie, but one which was let down by the closing tremendously.

I wonder if M Night has become a victim of his own success, that everyone approaches his movie with some form of expectation, second guessing the ending, and boxing his films into preconceived genres. Everyone's expecting something other than what is played out on screen, than what the story is told by M Night, and hence, emerge from the darkened theatre, disappointed. I'd suggest to approach the movies without these notions and expectations, and allow the storyteller to present to you his tale. Don't judge the story whether it met your expectations, but allow the story to be told, and judge it by its merits, as a standalone.

The other thing about M Night's movies, is the cast. Starring established stars like Bruce Willis, Samuel L Jackson, and even Mel Gibson, flavours of the season like Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody, and the likes of Bryce Dallas Howard and Paul Giamatti, also make his movies compelling to watch, especially for fans of the mentioned. And is it just me, but save for the break between Unbreakable and Signs, there's always a returning cast member in the succeeding movie - Bruce Willis from Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, Joaquin Phoenix from Signs and The Village, and Bryce Dallas Howard from The Village and Lady in the Water. M Night too gives himself cameo roles, and it turns out to be "spot the director" too in his movies.

So back to the verdict, did I enjoy Lady in the Water?

I love it. And in the spirit of all movies Shyamalan, I'll keep mum about the plot.

I loved the pace, the control, and the development of how the plot unfolded. It had a whodunnit feel of a mystery that is carefully revealed layer by layer. The ensemble cast and characters were fantastic, with each character possessing usefulness to the story and to peer characters, and their eccentricities make them a joy to watch. You have the Korean mother and daughter, the Vietnam Vet, a father and son, a new neighbour, a group of cock-talkers, a guy who works out only his right side, and so on. Although most of them are one-dimensional, they are no less than endearing in their own way, like those in Cocoon or Batteries Not Included.

I love the superb acting by the main leads of Paul Giamatti, who's fast becoming one of my favourite character actors, and in here, provided his character Cleveland Heep with much emotional baggage, pain and that almost natural stammer when nervous, and Bryce Dallas Howard, her Lady in the Water, name Story, is so beautiful, yet so enchantingly vulnerable. Both anchor this movie well and brought about believable character development, or in the case of Story, that oracle air of wisdom, wit and fear of the unknown.

I love the special effects, done no less by Industrial Light and Magic. They're a pretty sight, even though some scenes were dark, literally and figuratively. Cinematography was done by Christopher Doyle, so those in Asia should already well be aware what he's capable of.

There's a major departure from his previous films, which I think is probably good to keep things refreshing for the moment. Some points and scenes in the movie are so deceptively simple that you will almost guess the outcome before the next scene transition. The movie ended the way it should, instead of relying on the "next big gimmick". And probably bad news of those who loathe directors cameo-ing in the own movies, well, this time round, Shyamalan has quite a significant role for himself.

And I know why many critics out there didn't give this movie the rating it deserves. They are surprised at Shyamalan's audacity in taking a huge swipe at critics in general, since they have been highly critical of almost all his past works. It's an obvious no-holds-barred jibe at their anal characters of being high and mighty and of imposing their thoughts and opinions on others, when little do they know that their opinions mean squat most of the time. There's another cheeky reference too at romances in the rain, which I thought perhaps cinematographer Doyle would have found it amusing given his work on Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and 2046 (citing these 2 as I've recently watched the former).

But those aside, thank you M Night, for sharing with us a wonderful bedtime story, which I think will be repeated at bedtime to many children around the world. It's beautiful, simple, easy to grasp, and allows for good shuteye fantasy.

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