Gainesville Ramblings

This is a blog, and thus it barely qualifies as writing, let alone formal writing, so I'd not let it bother you.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

How can you not like a man from Philly?

After reading this article in Slate, I got to thinking about the movies I like, and in particular, M. Night Shyamalan. Everyone enjoys The Sixth Sense, but after Unbreakable, Signs, and The Village, everyone has started really panning the writer/director/producer. I think I may be in the minority when I say that I really enjoyed those movies.

Admittedly, I have some biases. I love a director who pays extra attention to cinematography, how the camera moves, and comes up with cool ways to show what’s happening on screen. This may be why I'm probably the only person on earth to have seen the horrible, horrible movie Nicholas Cage movie, Snake Eyes twice. It was the first time I had seen split screens, flashbacks, and camera tricks like that, and I was fascinated.

Shyamalan is a director who is looking for that interesting shot. Most of my examples come from Unbreakable, as that’s the movie I've seen most recently. The first scene in the movie is a one camera, one take deal, which starts out shooting into a mirror reflection, turns around, and turns back to the mirror. Another shot has Bruce Willis looking out an open window, with the curtains blowing. The curtains obscure the entire view for large chunks of time, but it adds suspense and builds tension.

Also, I like slow movies. I'm a guy who can sit through Brokeback Mountain and Lost in Translation and still enjoy them. Most people get bored half way through. Heck, I can stay awake through those, but last night I feel asleep during the Two Towers during the Warg Attack.

Shyamalan isn't afraid to let silence do the work. A good silence, done by a good actor, can be much more powerful than the most heart wrenching of monologues. Most directors, inspired by MTV and action movies, don't know what to do without sound. Shyamalan can.

His weakness is completing a story. Sometimes, things just don't fit together well. Unbreakable could have stood a little more superhero-ness, Signs' ending was a deus ex machina that let the viewer down. But what Shyamalan can do is construct a simply amazing scene. The moment in Sixth Sense when the ghost turned around to show the gaping bullet wound in his head. The final scene in the same movie when everything came together. In Unbreakable, the scene where Bruce Willis is lifting weights in his basement, and suddenly finds he can lift 500 pounds. Also in Unbreakable, the scene in the train station, with the main character standing in a crowd, touching them, and finding out what bad things they've done. All of them beautifully acted, shot, written and directed.

My favorite scene from M. Nigh Shyamalan was in I. Joaquim Phoenix is sitting watching television when the news comes on, saying they have a picture of an alien. They cut to a home video of a birthday party in Brazil. There's screaming children, and the camera is taken to a window looking over an alley way. All of a sudden, an alien walks by.

That's it. No alien attacks, no fights. Just an alien walking across an alleyway. I'm getting chills just writing about the scene. Every time I see it, I freak out just a little. I think the first time I saw the movie, I hissed "oh shit" during that scene and gripped the armrests tightly. Its a combination of how the scene was done, but also a bit of the realization of "If aliens invaded, this is exactly the way we'd first see the alien."

I never saw The Village, but its going on my Netflix queue right now. And I definitely plan on seeing Lady in the Water. Will it be The Sixth Sense? Probably not. But when a person is as talented at M. Night Shyamalan, I want to be sure to take their work in.


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