The Critical To-Do over Lady in the Water


The cast of the movie Miami Vice hard at work

If you keep tabs on the movie world, you’re probably aware that right now, two sort of big deal stories are going on between critics and directors. The first one involves Joel Siegel making a big to-do and walking out on a screening of Clerks 2, and then being called out by Kevin Smith on the Opie and Anthony radio show. Interestingly enough, Smith’s going to be filling in for Roger Ebert on the “Ebert and Roeper” show this weekend. The second one is a little more high-profile, mostly because the movie’s director is a little more mainstream.

M. Night Shayamalan’s new movie “Lady in the Water” was released into the wild this past Friday, and was met with mostly bad reviews. Strike that; terrible reviews. Strike even that: Reviews that not only claimed that the movie was bad, but “a charmless, unscary, fatuous and largely incoherent fairy tale“, or “idiotic, contrived, amateurish or sub-mental… [and] pretentious, paralyzing twaddle” among other things. The movie pretty much received pans across the board, with rottentomatoes counting only 28 “positive” reviews out of 130 total, with nearly all of the major papers/writers, Variety, Entertainment Weekly, and in probably the best-written of all of them, Roger Ebert’s MAMMOTH Mega-Review, completely tearing the movie apart.

Movies get bad reviews all the time though. Just look at the 15 percent that Little Man got on Rottentomatoes, or the 20 percent that You, Me and Dupree got. The difference in these reviews though is that they’re written about the movies themselves. They’re not out there angrily insulting the Wayanses, or whoever was behind the latest Owen Wilson vehicle.

With such terribly scorching reviews claiming that Shayamalan has basically declared himself a god, and that this movie is the “biggest ego-trip” ever devoted to celluloid, I was terribly worried about going to see it. But you know what? I enjoyed it. I didn’t take any of it seriously, because I knew that much of it would involve highly elaborate mythology that was quite silly. I didn’t care though. The movie looked good, was well-acted, and paced well for what was written, which by proxy means that it was directed well. Was it written well? That’s a matter of opinion, and usually that opinion is no. I’d say it’s serviceable while watching it, but the more you think about it, the worse it gets. Ignoring the overelaborate mythology for a second, there’s the way most all of the characters are said to have a specific purpose, and I guess that’s true to an extent, if you count being a red-herring, or standing around watching something as purposes. There are a lot of characters and they are diverse, and so in order to get their personas across in such a short time, he uses some stereotypes, which I don’t mind, but seems to be another cause for the death sentence he’s being handed. To me, the worst part of the writing was the obnoxiously expositional way that the “mythology” was told to the main character and how easily he and the rest of the people in the apartment complex believe it. Yes there are flaws, but while you’re watching it, it’s for the most part an enjoyable film. I’d give it two and a half stars, out of five.

It seems though that the only person who really shares my sentiment is the guy from the Boston Globe. Everyone else seems to be caught up in this M. Night-hating party that’s all the trend. It’s one thing to criticise the movie, but they’re taking aim straight at him for being a complete egomaniac who won’t listen to other people’s ideas and who presents himself as a savior. What’s their basis for these accusations?

Well, first of all, there’s this book that some guy wrote about why Touchstone Pictures (read:Disney) didn’t want to make this movie unless changes were made. Supposedly he refused to make the changes and they walked away, leading him to go to Warner, where they let him have free reign. Secondly, he likes to cast himself in his movies. That’s not a secret. People who thought he was full of it for casting himself in the role he had in Signs will probably be even angrier at this role. It’s not the size of the role that seems to be bothering critics though; it’s the importance of it. He’s cast himself as the person whom the Lady has come to see, whom she’s come to inspire to write a great piece of literature that will cause a great change in the world. Critics have seen this as the ultimate sign of messianic aspirations.

What angers them the most though is the idea that he had the guts to throw in a character who’s a movie critic. He’s cold and unfeeling, snooty, likes to talk about annoying movie conventions, and (this isn’t much of a spoiler because it’s been talked about and the character isn’t important anyway) he dies.

My take on the whole thing is “Why should I care about this book?”. This goes for both the people who put it out, and the reviewers who care to bring it up in every review. They see the book as being a publicity stunt for the movie, and not the possibility that the book people might want to put it out when the movie comes out as a publicity stunt FOR THE BOOK. Even if it was the case, I don’t see why these movie critics chose to review him instead of his film. When “War of the Worlds” came out, critics didn’t say anything about Tom Cruise’s shennanigans. In fact, they all liked the movie, even though the story was terrible and had more plotholes than both Lady in the Water and The Village combined.

As far as casting himself goes, I don’t mind. I find his acting competely fine for the roles he’s cast himself in. He’s usually cast himself in inconsequential parts, and in his most emotional role in Signs, he was perfectly serious and brooding. His delivery seemed natural and all. In this movie, I understand the reasons why they’d think that he was full of himself for putting himself in the role that he was in. But he was perfectly capable in the part. When he wrote it, he knew that he was going to be playing a fictional version of himself, or maybe how he seems himself. But criticizing him for doing this is like complaining about Eminem in 8 Mile, or Woody Allen in that movie with “Humphrey Bogart”. Acting-wise they could do a lot worse, and any no-name actor would’ve been just as good.

As far as the last issue, I actually agree with the critics. The character is useless in serving the story, except to provide some “wink wink”-type moments meant to criticize both the lack of originality in movies, and the pretensiousness of movie critics. At the same time however, the criticisms that the character has of movies seem to all appear in the film. Examples include characters talking aloud to themselves (ironically, this is done by the critic himself, when confronted with an angry creature), “seemingly unimportant” characters actually being “important“, and the climax taking place in a rain storm. He’s simultaneously written himself into a corner AND been brilliant about it. It’s as if halfway through it he realized that plot elements were too convenient, and so he needed a way to say “I know that that these things are too cliche”. While I understand the character’s “purpose” in the story, it would’ve been better off had he decided to either fix the story issues, or get take the character out entirely. The critic is basically the lazy way out.

I guess my thought about the whole thing is that with such bad reviews, I figured I’d be squirming at how terrible it was, or want to walk out on it, or rip my ticket up out of anger. I didn’t, and I think that for critics to go this ballistic is unnecessary, especially attacking the director, and not the movie itself.

For the amount of complaining that everyone does about how there is nothing new and unique that ever gets a big release, or all the gratingly bad horror movies, or Wayans Brothers projects that keep coming out, M. Night is ALWAYS putting out something different and unique. People should at least give him credit for attempting something like this, even if there were majorly unresolved story issues.

*½

The critics’ response to Lady in The Water gets one and a half stars for having a few legitimate issues with the movie to complain about, but instead opting to attack the director for off-screen dealings and the role he’s cast himself in, nevermind about whether he was a capable actor in the role. I think that critics should spend more of their time vocally ripping apart terrible movies instead of mediocre ones.

Sort of “Getting” the Appeal of Celebrity Gossip Magazines

I actively subscribe to one magazine, Car & Driver. Generally, I’d stand behind it compared to the other of the “big four” car magazines (Road & Track, Motor Trend, and Automobile). It gets a bit silly sometimes, and the fact that their staff is made up mostly of former engineers is a bit too evident in some of their testing methodologies, but all things considered, that’s neither here nor there; simply enough, it’s a well-written magazine with lots of personality, which is an accomplishment considering they cover a usually slow-moving industry with potentially soul-less products. Similar to most any magazine between the letters to the editor and the feature-length stories, is a section devoted to sort of random, short news items devoted to the topic at hand, in this case, automobilia.
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I wonder what kind of car she drives! See, Brokeback Mountain humor is already no longer topical.

As a sidetrack, the whole celebrity gossip business bothers me. Similarly to how stars’ lives don’t affect the lives of the readers, the celebrity gossip business equally affects my corner of the world to that same degree (not at all, in other words). I’m not sure if that makes me somewhat of a hypocrite or not, but as usual, that won’t keep me from judging. The problems with it are obvious, and of course, they’re all compounded by the fact that people somehow get something out of knowing the “news,” gossip, rumors, etc. Of course, I know that “Hollywood” uses the celebrity press as much as possible and any publicity is good publicity (to an extent). I really don’t care the gender of whoever’s not-yet-born baby, and I don’t really “get” why other people care so much, but again, I’m not the first person taking this stance.

But how are these two sort of random snippets related? In the above-mentioned “short news items” section of May’s Car & Driver, there was a five sentence or so write-up of Joaquin Phoenix’s overturning of his Ford Escape Hybrid in California. I initially didn’t think twice about its inclusion; they had a picture of the wreck, a picture of the crowd (with the back of Mr. Phoenix’s head circled), and a slightly humorous superimposed image of Kermit the Frog over one of the accident-scene photos.

I didn’t realize that it was odd that pictures existed of the accident until I made the conclusion that they were probably taken by a papparazzi who had good luck that day. Yuck. Principles right out of the window. Had Joaquin Phoenix not been in the accident, of course it wouldn’t have been in the magazine, and had they written up some other random accident involving that same car, I wouldn’t have been remotely interested. I guess I finally “got” the appeal of celebrity gossip magazines.

In the end it’s weird. I’ll watch MTV Cribs, basically waiting for the part where they show the person’s garage/car collection and not think that I’m contributing to “celebrity culture,” though in this hindsight, I know that I very much am contributing. Likewise, about that wanting to know the gender of some pair of celebrities’ baby, I think I don’t care just because I’m not interested in that sort of thing (babies, in other words); I don’t care if such and such’s kid fell off of a jungle gym and broke his four-year-old hand. I have no interest in that parental, traditionally domestic sort of stuff. But I am interested in cars. The Bugatti 16.4 Veyron is currently the fastest, most expensive, most etc., production car. I’m interested in it, if only for those reasons. Unfortunately, in thinking about that little inclusion about Mr. Phoenix’s crash, I realized that I also know that David Beckham owns one. Is my life enhanced knowing details about the car? I’d say that as a car enthusiast, to some degree, yes it is. Is my life enhanced knowing that David Beckham owns one? Not in the slightest. But why would I subconsciously decide that that snippet is worth retaining? I don’t know. Why would I also know/remember that Bill Gates and Ralph Lauren both own the not-legal-to-drive-in-the-US-before-1999 Porsche 959? I guess cars replace relationship/baby/etc. gossip for me.

***

Sort of “Getting” the Appeal of Celebrity Gossip Magazines receives three stars due to the fact that I had thought I’d never understand it. It’s weird to think that celebrity culture really permeates everything, but in the same way that I’m still not interested in the whole celebrity babies/relationships/etc. stuff, I’m just as interested in the celebtiy car/home theater/etc. “news.” I’m not sure what the solution is; I can’t say that my life is any better in that I know Jerry Seinfeld’s favorite car is the Porsche 911, but I can’t help but be interested in knowing which of the countless models Porsche has made over the years he owns. I can’t help but want to know if his favorite is the same as mine.

iwry

When Your Reach Exceeds Your Grasp (aka “The Husky’s Bite”)

For those unfamiliar, please peruse this PDF of the first (and only) issue of the publication in question. Feel free to right-click and “save as” on that file so that you end up reading both it and my review. If you’ve used the internet before, you probably already have Adobe Reader installed, but if you don’t, you’ll need to download it here.

The year was 1999. It was sometime in early Winter. It was also just about the end of the “good old days,” and arguably, our little foray into journalism accompanied the starting of what are now known as “the bad old days.” Similar to what kicked off this very site, I (and the “others”) were feeling very opinionated and somehow disenfranchised for disenfranchisement’s sake. We were fed up with our high school’s policies and felt like we were getting the short end of the stick. We also had free time. Lots of free time.

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Don’t we all. click the image for a picture of the whole first page (it’s the same as the first page in the pdf)

Being that we have now conquered all media (similar to the “King of all Media,” Howard Stern), it’s important to remember that there was a time when the only conquered medium had been VHS tape. And by conquered, I mean “Let’s write a review entitled, ’13 and Oblivious: The 8th Grade To Kill a Mockingbird Video’.” Anyway, 1999. I said, “Why don’t we make an underground newspaper?” Yeah, no one’s done that gem of teenaged rebellion before.

We rounded up a crack team of writers and gave them free reign on topics. As always, the topics seemed wonderfully, well, topical for the time, but needless to say, they haven’t aged well and bare a striking resemblance to the articles found in any “underground” high school newsletter. Topics ranged from complaining about the (then new) ID policy, complaining about the prospects of having to do a High School Graduation project (that’s basically just what it sounds like), complaining about the cafeteria foods (way to go, me. very original), complaining about obnoxious teachers/security guards on “lunch duty,” and finally one senior student complaining about his fellow gifted/honors classmates.

As you can see, none of these are pressing issues; in fact most none of them are particularly, well, anything. The issue would be that we really thought we were getting something done. As if the principal would read it, and say, “ahh, so that’s the pulse of the students.” In fact, we thought it/we would be/were so important that we devised pseudonyms, for, you know, “just in case.” Hindsight makes it obvious that not only were our points of contention of the “tough sh*t” category, some were just complaining for the sake of complaining, any remaining legitimacy lost due to the “editor in chief’s” name being Jarvis P. Fundlebottom. My (er, Jarvis’) take on school lunches is probably the worst offender if only because it’s a topic that’s been beaten to death since the invention of the tray/plate combo. What makes it worse is that I wrote pretty much the same article when I was in 5th grade, except in 5th grade I didn’t bring up Chaos Theory incorrectly (read the article in the PDF to see me butcher Jurassic Park).

Little of the “expected” controversy manifested itself with the “publishing” and distribution: keeping in mind that we used fake names (though we were so proud of our accomplishment that we gladly told everyone and anyone, teacher or student, of our involvement, usually at great detail) and, again, to anyone that would care about what we thought was “controversial,” what we wrote about was simply inconsequential. BUT, what did cause some controversy (according to the word on the 1999 street) was the opening article, titled, “Skip the IQ Test, We’re All Dumb Anyway.” Ian Cofre (under the “Spike Spiegel” alias) wrote the article, but I’ll very much take credit for the headline.

Now, at the time (and in very different way, now) comparing the intelligence of the student body to that of a fictional canine boarding school in Wisconsin was hilarious. I’d hate to think of myself as being “politically correct,” but I would think twice about “publishing” something with all of my accumulated maturity. I don’t mean to speak for Ian (and I’m sure that he hasn’t put much thought to it since then– heck I only re-read the whole issue because I recently re-discovered it on one of my backup CD-Rs), but I’d assume that he (or anyone, really) might think twice about the content. In his article, aside from the references to the MCOS (Milwaukee Canine Obedience School), he very much and very directly called out his classmates. Granted he was probably right, but (again, 1999 word on the street), it didn’t go over well with said classmates. Obviously it’s beyond water over the bridge for everyone at this point, and even then, it probably wasn’t a big deal. The significance is that as sort of “editor” of the whole thing, I didn’t think twice about why that might not be the best sort of thing to include in a “publication” we really thought was going to “make a difference.” I didn’t even think in terms of “most of our articles our less than five paragraphs; that doesn’t sound like in depth, hard-hitting commentary.”

Nate, as “Martin Stephenson,” wrote two features, one of which detailed the (then new) graduation project process and actually did contain some disturbing facts about how different school districts and even schools within districts interpreted the “state-wide” guidelines differently. Nothing wrong with including that article, but it’s just funny that back then, we really thought it would affect something. Now we look at it and say, “of course it didn’t, why would it?” but they call it hindsight for a reason. In classic move common to inconsequential journalism, his second article about cafeteria “issues” managed to highlight the supposed unfairness in having students and teachers follow different codes of conduct (namely: a student yells, he gets in trouble; a teacher makes a lot of noise, no big deal). Again (more of that “hindsight” stuff), of course this is the case, but back then, we thought we wouldn’t stand for it. No, I’m not calling out the Junior Staff’s article; if I remember correctly, we had jointly brainstormed ideas for that article, and I definitely didn’t see any issue in that very immature/uneducated/etc. line of thinking; maybe it was even my (bad) idea, and I’d think that Nate would agree that the “angle” of the story was merely a product of being a subjugate in an high school environment.

Wrapping up the articles discussion, Josh Shaffer (spelling?) wrote a well-organized, very coherent (click on the link on his name to understand why I’m including that adjective) take on having to wear ID’s while in school that pretty much covered all of the issues, and showed how ridiculous and reactionary the policy was. Naturally, my 10th grade self decided that was by far the most boring of the articles, while it would be the first one I’d hand to someone if I said I was involved in an “underground newspaper” in high school.

The first issue of The Husky’s Bite was also the last issue though we promised future issues and even future years of it by including not only “issue number” but “volume” on the header. The last page of the issue included a call for submissions, which generated one actual article the very same day we distributed copies and one promise of an article about the Jr. ROTC program. Needless to say, the publishing of something about Jr. ROTC probably wouldn’t have been a good idea (and we were never given an article anyway), and the first/only article submitted was a vulgarity-filled and particularly detailed rant about how all the cheerleaders were sluts. Needless to say, the author (hey, we respect our promise of anonymity!) had been wronged (in his opinion) recently by his cheerleader (ex)girlfriend. I can’t remember the details of the letter, but I do think it included this gem: “All [the cheerleaders] are good at is spreading there [sic] legs and yelling ‘Yeah!'” No, that wasn’t going to make it into issue two.

Of course, there was no issue two. Not long after distributing the copies of the first issue and the “buzz” had left, we realized that we were basically just looking for something to complain about, and we hit pretty much all of the big, non-complicated, non-nuanced ones in that first issue. I don’t remember if we even got to the point of discussing details of what would be in the second one after we realized we didn’t have anything easy to complain about anymore and recognized how much work putting together an issue was. Sure, a lot of that work was waiting for the “writers” to be done writing their articles, but having been tasked to put the issue together, that was a “not wanting to have to do this again” amount of work. Not that it’s the most demanding program in the world, especially in its Office 97 form, but I learned to use Microsoft Publisher while I was laying out the issue, and as we’ve learned, some companies don’t like to hear that you’ve learned to use a program by teaching yourself as you’ve worked on a project. Making the charts (well, chart), headlines, etc. all took considerable effort (check out the barfing stick figure on page 3!), so made me understand that future issues would not be released in any short, regular length of time.

**

When Your Reach Exceeds Your Grasp (aka “The Husky’s Bite“) receives two stars due to the ridiculousness of the content that made it into the debut issue: whether the use of pseudonyms, general concept of the articles, or the “just plain dumb in hindsight” highfalutin attitude we had about it. (To be fair, we got past that within a school week or two of distributing it.) Much of my current opinion on the newsletter can be attributed to hindsight, but that doesn’t mean it’s unfair. Part of the whole “reach exceeding your grasp” thing is that you don’t realize it until after the fact. With that in mind, the font selection is uninspired (there’s an obscene number of different fonts throughout it). When I couldn’t figure out formatting, I just let it go. Check out the sexy horizontal rules that just plain cover-up some lines. All that isn’t to say that we didn’t finish it or that we didn’t have some measure of fun while doing it. It’s what we use as our “newspaper example” when we call ourselves “Kings of All Media.” Simply, it was once. It was fun. It was done.