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If you like M. Night Shyamalan, go see "Lady in the Water" but avoid (at all costs) "The Man Who Heard Voices"

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If you like M. Night Shyamalan, go see "Lady in the Water" but avoid (at all costs) "The Man Who Heard Voices"

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Maybe you've heard about this book ...

... which chronicles writer / director M. Night Shyamalan's February 2005 falling-out with Walt Disney Studios. Supposedly, M. Night felt that Mouse House execs didn't understand or appreciate the screenplay that Shyamalan had carefully crafted for his next big-screen opus, "Lady in the Water." Which is why M. Night eventually decided to decamp from Disney and then set up shop across town at Warner Bros.

Though Michael Bamberger's "The Man Who Heard Voices Or, How M. Night Shyamalan Risked His Career on a Fairy Tale" (Gotham, July 2006) won't actually turn up on store shelves 'til this Thursday, a friend was nice enough to slip me a early review copy of this book. And -- to be honest -- in Bamberger's book, M. Night comes across as this thin-skinned loon. This oh-so-sensitive auteur who's prone to bursting into tears whenever some suit dares to question his genius.

Given that this was an authorized book (By that I mean: Shyamalan actually gave Bamberger permission to follow the writer/director around for a year or more. So that Michael would then have a keen understanding of M. Night's creative processes, so that Bamberger could then write about how the "magic" really gets made), I have to admit that I continually cringed as I read "The Man Who Heard Voices." For -- though this book's original intention may have been to illustrate how the creator of "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable," "Signs" and "The Village" works -- what it actually did was shine a rather unflattering spotlight on M. Night Shyamalan. Revealing the acclaimed writer/director to be ... Well, a precious & pretentious jerk.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

I had literally just finished reading the thing when I got the chance last night to catch a preview screening of "Lady in the Water." And given that I still had Michael Bamberger's version of events running through in my head, I wondered: "Am I actually going to be able to sit & enjoy this film now? Knowing what I know about how 'Lady in the Water' supposedly came together? That highly regarded Disney Studios execs like Dick Cook & Nina Jacbson allegedly asked for significant changes on the film's original screenplay because ... Well ... To be honest, 'Lady in the Water' just didn't make any sense to them?"

I have to admit that I was not all that optimistic as I sat in that darkened theater last night. I figured that -- given all of the awful behind-the-scenes stories that I'd just read over the past few days -- that I was now in for an awful night at the movies.

I figured wrong.

Don't get me wrong, folks: "The Man Who Heard Voices" does painstakingly document each & every little fret & foible that occurred to M. Night Shyamalan during the making of this motion picture. This book really does redefine the term "too much information."

And yet -- as you watch "Lady in the Water" -- none of that backstage angst ever appears on the big screen. This heartfelt fantasy comes across as a film that was made by a moviemaker who's working at the very top of his game. Not some guy who repeatedly bursts into tears whenever some studio head dares to ask for rewrites.

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

"Lady in the Water" is a magical little movie. In interviews, Shyamalan has repeatedly described this project as being a "bedtime story." And M. Night's right. There's a genuine sweetness, a child-like innocence that pervades this entire motion picture.

"Lady in the Water" starts off by introducing us to the world of the Cove, this rather modest apartment complex that's supposedly located just outside of Philadelphia. Handyman Cleveland Heep (played by Paul Giamatti) does what he can to keep the place running. Killing over-sized bugs for the tenants, unclogging garbage disposals as well as trying to figure out what exactly it is that keeps clogging up the filters at the complex's pool.

Given the title of this motion picture, I'm guessing that it won't really surprise you to learn that this swimming pool plays an awfully big role in "Lady in the Water." That this is where Cleveland first encounters Story (Played by Bryce Dallas Howard), the beautiful young woman who is much more than she appears to be.

That's one of the running themes of "Lady in the Water." That people are often much more than they actually appear to be. That a sad sack of a janitor could have once been a well-respected doctor with a loving wife and a family. Or that a rather ethereal-looking young girl could eventually turn out to be ...

Copyright 2006 Warner Bros.

Nah. To tell much more would really spoil a lot of the magic & the fun of "Lady in the Water." For this motion picture to have the maximum impact on you, you want to go into the theater knowing as little as possible. Have this story unfold in real time.

Mind you, "Lady in the Water" isn't perfect. I could have done without the whole writer-whose-book-in-going-to-change-the-world plotline. And movie critics the world over are sure to rise up & attack this M. Night Shyamalan film just because of what happens to Bob Balaban's character.

But -- that said -- I really enjoyed "Lady in the Water." In a summer that's seen more than its share of overly-long, CG-filled would-be blockbusters, it was kind of nice to finally get to see a movie that doesn't feature a single gunfight or explosion. Mind you, things can get pretty intense at times (Small children may particularly have problems with the scenes that feature the Scrunt). But happily, everything works out okay in the end.

Okay. I know. What with M. Night Shyamalan being the guy who's famous for his twist endings, it may surprise you to learn that "Lady in the Water" is such a straight-forward film. That this movie is what it says it is -- a modern fairy tale, a bed-time story.

And -- to be frank -- after the nightmare-ish experience that I had while reading "The Man Who Heard Voices" -- I really needed a bed-time story last night.

I'll be genuinely interested to see how "Lady in the Water" does at the box office this coming weekend. To see if audiences are really ready to embrace a kinder, gentler version of M. Night Shyamalan. Where the only twist is that there is no twist ending to this film.

If you're an M. Night Shyamalan fan, I heartily recommend that you A) see "Lady in the Water" and B) avoid picking up a copy of Michael Bamberger's "the Man Who Heard Voices." Because (as long-time fans of Woody Allen will tell you) sometimes it really is a mistake to know too much about the private lives of your favorite film-makers.

Your thoughts?

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  • I guess the man who hears voices is currently hearing: "Stop your egomaniacal ways! Your gloating and sense of entitlement are hurting the relationship to the common man! Step down from your ivory tower!" Of course, as soon as he does this he's instantly attacked ans consumed by the mysterious creatures that surround his village. Then he only can be seen and communicate with with sad, isolated children which is his problem to begin with.
  • I hated Signs and The Village. The only truly good Shyamalan movie I have seen that actually warrants repeat viewings in my opinion is Unbreakable.  Sixth Sense, gets tedious after the third viewing.  I might give this one a chance this weekend but it's opening up against Clerks 2 and Monster House, both of which hold much more interest to me.  I might wait a couple of weeks and see it then.  But if I have to choose this weekend, I think Kevin Smith seems to be a little more deserving of my hard earned dollar.  At least I haven't hated any of his movies....well maybe Mallrats...
  • All right--First ground rule, before this thread devolves into the usual "Eww, 'The Village' stinks!" misdirected-anger, I'll disclaimer that I loved Night's Bruce Willis films (Sixth, Unbreakable) for giving us realistic atmosphere to go with our Neato Twist, and Signs was also realistically creepy -until- Night showed off his "Look how I can foreshadow!" wrapups at the Big Finish.

    And that said, I'm on Nina's side--The more we hear about it, the more "Lady" sounds like the one self-indulgent "No one told him 'no'" mess every up-and-coming director jumps the shark with sooner or later:
    "You're going to let a critic get attacked? They'll kill you for that... Your part's too big; you'll get killed again...You've got a writer who wants to change the world but doesn't, but somebody reads the writer and does? Don't get it... What's with the names? Scrunt? Narf? Tartutic? Not working... Not buying it. Not getting it. Not working."

    ...Oh, you are SOOOO right, Nina:
    We killed Dean Devlin for "Mayor Ebert" in "Godzilla", and some of killed Wes Craven for depicting himself as a "Writing god of creation" in "New Nightmare".
    And the "I'm a persecuted artist!" bestseller was just the last icing on the cake.

    (And let's not even -start- with the "Pinky & the Brain" jokes for the whole "Narf!" plot.)  :)
  • //I could have done without the whole writer-whose-book-in-going-to-change-the-world plotline.//

    And from what I hear, that character is played by...drumroll please...


    Casting yourself in a movie you wrote and directed as the character who is going to change the world seems a little self-indulgent to me...

    The title of the article says "If you like M. Night Shyamalan, go see "Lady in the Water."  I don't like him, so I'm not going to bother with this flick.

    Clerks II is getting my money this weekend.  Especially since, thanks to MySpace, my name's gonna be up there in the credits.
  • My partner told me everyone was picking on Mr.NightShine. Very naughty, boys! LOL! Give the guy a break!! He's allowed to be a bit of a crackpot because he's a visionary. :)
  • Everything I've heard about the movie has been negative, so this review surprised me a bit.

    Although I think MNS gave himself a nice out, which Jim picked up on (perhaps unwittingly) in that he can say "critics hated the movie due to my treatment of their own kind within the film!"

    I greatly enjoyed the Sixth Sense when it was released, not for the cleverish twist but for the time and attention MNS gave to the world and the characters, leaving in little scenes that did nothing for the plot, only enhanced the personalities.  I enjoyed the talent and thought he put into Unbreakable.  And, although I didn't like much of Signs, I enjoyed that he tried to make a horror movie with no effects.  By that point, though, he was starting to wear a bit thin and predictable.  The Village just capped that - his entire "thing" had worn thin.  His plots, technique and skill seemed to have been on a downhill slide from the start, and he was getting significantly worse with each release.

    The critics seem to agree in their reviews, and knock this as being all gibberish (and Pinky terms!)

    With Nina being canned, I'd like to see this fail.  Just some vindication I think she deserves, if only due to the circumstances of her canning.
  • That is just ridiculous. Either the film is good or it isn't. And so far as Mr.Night's "shtick", that, my friend, is the mark of a great director. It's called a signature style. It's the reason I always look forward to his films. They're not all perfect, but they are all quite interesting.

    If I were that executive, wouldn't want a project to tank because of professional differences. IMHO, that's unethical.
  • "And so far as Mr.Night's "shtick", that, my friend, is the mark of a great director. It's called a signature style."

    Uwe Boll has lots of signature style, too.  Does that make him a great director?
    It's also worth mentioning that there isn't necessarily a fine-line between "signature style" and "one-trick pony."  Sometimes there's a blur that directors live between.

    "If I were that executive, wouldn't want a project to tank because of professional differences. IMHO, that's unethical."

    It's not unethical, not that Hollywood is ever particularly ethical.  But you may be able to argue that MNS was unethical in creating a book whining about how she didn't see his vision.  Given how he set out to make her look, don't you think she'd be justified in hoping she was right and he was wrong?

    "Either the film is good or it isn't."

    Again, there's no fine line between "good" and "bad."  There's a enormous blur between those that almost every movie exists in.  I can't think of many movies black-and-white good or bad.  I'm curious to how you see otherwise.  I can name hundreds of movies that are "just ok" or "not all that great" or "worth watching, but only once" or "worth catching if it's on cable" or "almost awesome but fell a bit short."
    This is why critics don't give just 0 or 4 stars...
  • Well I can't help it if everything is a blur to you, MC. If you think his work is like that you're entitled to your opinion. I really look forward to his films. I enjoy his perspective.

    I do think it's unethical to get personal in a professional setting, though. Maybe that's why Hollywood annoys me so much. It wouldn't be half as hard to take if so many of the films coming out of there weren't so moralistic and preachy. I do feel there is a line somewhere. Maybe the line gets blurred when we're moving too fast, or when that's what's convenient, but we all know it's there. And a lot of visionaries are a bit loony, but that comes with the territory. Creativity isn't really a cut and dry kind of thing-- just to get in that space where things come together, we're toying with madness. And how can things improve if we all just throw up our hands and resign ourselves to "the way it is in Hollywood"?

    What I meant is either she likes the film or she doesn't, but it should still be given the same chance as any other film, regardless of any personal differences between people making it. I know that's the ideal, and that these things can be painful, but I wouldn't go bragging about it not being like that because it reflects poorly on everyone else who worked on it too. That's just childish. So if she's the bigger person, she might be better off moving onto her next project and letting the work speak for itself.

  • //Either the film is good or it isn't.//

    MC's right, though.  Look at all the debate that flows around the Cars/Pirates related comment sections.  Some people love Cars, others don't.  Some love Pirates, others don't.  Some people sit in the middle.

    There are people out there who think that great movies are awful and awful movies are great.  Opinions vary.  There are very few movies that are universally loved, and there are few movies that are universally hated (as surely SOMEONE out there probably thinks that the worst movie of all time is the best movie they've seen).  It's subjective.

    However, to point to RottenTomatoes (as it is seemingly inevitable that someone would), Lady in the Water is currently at 10% fresh from the critics, which is ridiculously low.

    If you insist on believin that a movie is either good or bad, and that there is no middle ground, well then, that should say something.
  • When I said, "either a film is good or it isn't", it was precisely this subjectivity I was adressing. And IMO, when a film is so-so, it is bad. I don't like gray art unless it is saying something valid about grayness.

    Take your icon, for example, Anonymouse. It is vibrant and very readable. That is because it contains black and white and floating in red. The text on the other hand, grays in comparison. It is illegible.

    When you get political motives affecting the judgement of a piece, the whole debate ceases to be about whether it's a good film. My point was that I found it hard to lend credulity to the perspective of an executive who had a personal conflict with a director whose work I normally enjoy. And if everybody is taking her side, then that only reinforces my opinion that I have to see the work myself before I decide who I believe.
  • "My point was that I found it hard to lend credulity to the perspective of an executive who had a personal conflict with a director whose work I normally enjoy."

    But it wasn't a personal conflict.

    It was a conflict over whether his movie would be good or not.  She said it wouldn't.  He said it would.
    That's not a personal conflict, it's a business one.  She didn't want to invest in a movie that she thought was an egotistical vanity piece.  Like, say, one in which a writer casts himself as a writer that will one day be recognized as a brilliant savior...
  • It doesn't help that WB seems to be really going heavy on the advertising... even sent MNS to talk on one of the HPotter fan podcasts. I am curious about the movie... Yeah, it's a bit much with his Mary Sue character but I do understand the idea- that fiction can be influential and all that.
  • "She didn't want to invest in a movie that she thought was an egotistical vanity piece. "

    Sounds like a personal attack to me, especially considering "Antz", was such a pinnacle of artistic achievement…
  • Well it looks like Disney did well by this one. Friday estimates are up and Lady in the Water only made a little under 7 million while Pirates did nearly 10 million to lead the pack. With Miami Vice lerking around the corner, Lady is dead in the water.
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