Thursday, September 16, 2010

Open Letters to Semi-Famous People #1: M. Night Shyamalan

Dear Mr. M Night Shyamalan,

I have a question for you.  It’s rhetorical. Can you stop?

I don’t know if you need a break or you’re meant for early retirement where you can count the funds rolling in from your one-trick-pony parade that you use to cloud the minds of studio heads into allowing you to make the same movie over and over again (usually with a rotating cast) and expecting the audience to keep coming, keep paying, and continuing to be underwhelmed.  Interestingly enough, the public has avoided the film on its own even though the money has continued to pour into different kinds of schlock (the bloodier the better which is a point for later).


It seems you tried to reinvigorate your career by attempting to bring a popular animated Nickelodeon show Avatar (hmmmm… good name) to the big screen in The Last Airbender.  A move into the kiddie, tween realm is a smart move especially in the current tween pandering times.  Too bad it failed, miserably, and was universally panned.  You had your chance to start a series, a Harry Potter or Twilight of your own, (not with the same level of American fanbases including a large amount of adults).

Let’s take a stroll through your career, a M. Night Shyamalan This is Your Life.  Many people forget your early work on Wide Awake with Rosie O’Donnell  as well as a co-writing Stuart Little, the movie with the talking mouse.  You know why you do those kind of things, money and a chance.  I can’t blame you.  I heard that Garfield 3D is looking for a script doctor, but I can’t see why they’d call you in since all your mind seems to produce is redundant, boring, supposedly haunting PG-13 visions without blood that center on people on the outskirts of society, quirky fokks lioving in the real world through mystical circumstances with the expected twist ending.

The Sixth Sense is stuck in our culture even though no one really watches it anymore and in another 10 years, it will most likely be completely forgotten.  Remember Haley Joel Osment?  Now just another run down twenty something (drug addict?) who can still collect checks from Forrest Gump weekly showings on Sunday afternoons as Little Gump. (That reminds me that I’m surprised they never made a Gump sequel.  I credit Hanks, who I could see blatantly slapping that down till they blew him away with cash to be the lead freaky haired code-breaker in the Dan Brown series.)

I remember the excitement I experienced when meeting you as a teenager.  It was at a preview screening of your highly anticipated follow-up to Unbreakable.  This was pre-full blown Internet era, when no one recognized you by face except for me and my film-loving friends.  You were sitting incognito by the bathroom at the suburban North Jersey movie theater.  You were a nice man, encouraging of a young man’s interest in film-making, and generous with your time, even though this was a test screening where you were trying to gather reaction to your film and we were probably the perfect test subjects, although it probably would have been more useful if we didn’t know who you were.

Unbreakable was a strange film.  It was quite good actually.  The more I think about it,­ it was your best.  Samuel L. Jackson engaging in one of his more unique performances, the comic book overtones were geek-friendly.  It should have been a home run.  It hit all the right points.  It was the start of something or so some though.  Who would know that that was pretty much the end of it?

After that, you did your best to make yourself the star of the movie, the headliner.  Not many directors receive that top line possessive billing on top of their movies, especially after just a few movies but the studios believed you were the future.  They took the modern more of preemptive blowing up of your stature (kind of like Sam Worthington except that he was lucky enough to be in Avatar).  Most directors should and do wait a career for that kind of credit. Was it called Martin Scorcese’s Mean Streets? How about Steven Spielberg’s 1941? You tried to become a brand, a modern day Hitchcock, but you probably should have waited until it was merited. The making of your films seem to be often to be shrouded in mystery with oblique trailers that often don’t give the audience anything but your name, the name of the movie, and who is in it.  This is actually a good thing.

And let’s get to a big annoyance, this new piece of shit that you didn’t even direct. The one with a bunch of actors stuck in an elevator and getting scared “From the mind of M. Night Shayamalan.”  Maybe that gives the studio hope it will make money, but it gives me even less hope that it will be good since you wrote it.  I think by now you figured out the problem.  Your visual style is pretty good, faux-Hitchcockian, a contrasting subtlety to the standard mainstream overly loud, predictable revelatory explosion fests.  You are an auteur in that sense of recognizable style but your hope to be full bred auteur is unlikely to happen because the films that you write are just sub-par.  The plots are sometimes appealing, but the characters are gag-worthy and the endings are… well that’s already been discussed.

Viewers gave you another chance with Signs, and made it the most successful film of your career.  It had the star power of Mel Gibson and intriguing Joaquin Phoenix. (Interestingly, both of these may be trying to tear/invigorate their careers apart in totally different ways, see Mel Gibson's tantrums and texts along with Joaquin Pheonix's weird new quasi-documentary thing I'm Still Here.)  Gibson was quite a casting coup since actually had star power back then.  You got a chance that Mel Gibson might never ever get again for various other reasons (including the unbelievably atrocious Edge of Darkness, along with more well-known public mishaps in the realms of Jew-bashing & angry message leaving etc).  At least Mr. Night, you have not embarrassed yourself in public.  Let’s continue to the inexplicable The Village, the first part of your descent from your Hitchcockian vision of yourself. Follow that up with the awful Lady in the Water, despite the acting talents of Paul Giamatti and that true shit bomb The Happening, that took your credibility with the audience lower than when you started.

Mr. Night, your time has come and gone so why not give the audience what they really aren’t expecting and retire. Disappear. Take a breather.  Sit down and dig into that mind, find something worth watching as movies get more and more expensive to produce and to match in theaters. Maybe your time away will make people think about your later and they will be better appreciated (not likely) and then you can swoop back in and people may love you again.  Save the hopeful soul, some time, energy, and expense and come back with something good or nothing at all.  A triumphant return will be the greatest twist of them all. 

I know you won’t but there’s always a chance.  Good luck.  Tell Philly to fuck off for me as well.


Joe S.

P.S. If you need some recommendations of people taking the opposite path of yourself, see Coen Brothers, Spike Jonze, and more in line with your experience the lost and found Danny Boyle.  Don’t become an American version of Guy Ritchie, be an American Danny Boyle.  That would get you an Oscar if you follow that analogy through.

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