RIORI Redux: M Night Shyalaman’s “Lady In The Water” Revisited


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The Players…

Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffery Wright, Cindy Cheung, Sarita Choudhury and Bob Balaban, with Jared Harris, Bill Irwin, Mary Beth Hurt and…M Night Shyalaman (jeez).


The Story…

Nothing much ever happens at Cleveland’s apartment complex, his home and his work. Endless days consist of fixing leaky pipes and skimming out the pool. Sure, it’s a living, a simple existence and Cleveland wouldn’t really want it another way. Sort of. So when a water nymph pops up in said pool one night and tells him her desperate tale of escape and peril, his simple world is totally upended. To say the least.

Wait. What?


The Rant (2013)

Poor Night. After being slathered with praise for his Oscar-nominated opus The Sixth Sense, he just hasn’t been able to make lightening strike twice. Don’t get me wrong, his follow-ups Unbreakable, Signs, and to a lesser extent The Village were all fine films. But audiences are a fickle bunch. They want the goodies delivered twice, thrice and over and over again. Some directors can do this effortlessly with no question (Spielberg) regardless of whatever pap they churn out (Always, Hook, Jurassic Park 2 etc). But not poor Night, seemingly always living in a private hell of his own making, shadowed by ghosts and a psychic Haley Joel Osment.

Whilst The Sixth Sense was more or less a high concept Twilight Zone episode, Lady In The Water plays kinda on a fairy tale Night cooked up for his kids. How’s that for a healthy ego? Pretty damned good considering the literal ghosts at his back. F*ck the critics, I’m gonna base my next failure—ahem—feature on this!

Bad idea, dad

The circumstances described at butt end of the synopsis is usually when Night’s movies come off the tracks. Lady is no exception. I know it’s early in the film, but the sh*t gets really weird really quick, and not in a fun way, either.

I’ve found that with Night’s better films, the weirdness is creeping, not like being slapped in the puss with a dead haddock, all slimy and smelly. It’s called building tension, if not atmosphere. Sure, we can be dropped into the thick of it in, say, action movies. But with fantasies like Lady, we need a slow climb with some significant backstory. Since fantasy and its cousin sci-fi work in worlds of their own separate  from conventional drama and comedy, we need a steady climb in such a film from the mundane to the fantastic. Within context, of course.

(The following malarky is loaded with spoilers.)

A good example? The twin intros of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I say “twin” because the opening with the proto-humans struggles to survive and the eventual arrival of the Monolith then paired expertly executes backstory that will only reach fruition within context later in the film.

Millions of years later we have the metaphorical jump cut leading into the heralded, ballet-esque docking sequence between the shuttle and the space station, which serves as the second intro. In Kubrick’s version of 1999, space travel has become so routine that the miracle of tech doesn’t even touch Dr. Floyd or his companions imaginations. Being on their ISS is just work. It takes 20 more minutes of keen exposition until sh*t gets weird, and by that point in the film Kubrick has laid the groundwork for the proceeding sci-fi mystery.

(Spoiler alert over. You may now return your stewardess to her upright position.)

In sum, Night, you just can’t drop weird out of the sky and expect us to just roll along with it. Especially when you continue to lay on the weird all rich and thick-like. Both the audience and the cast can’t digest/process it very well.

Speaking of casting, I love Paul Giamatti, but it’s a plutonic relationship (he never returns my calls anyway). He’s far and away my favorite character actor. His work is almost always delightful, humorous and often separate from the film he’s in. He always gives it his all, regardless of the pap smear he’s gotten himself shackled into. This takes chutzpah. It takes a lot of gumption as an actor to throw yourself into a role for a film with a lot of rusty gears grinding against it. You gotta respect that. Especially if the actor is the only redeemable facet of the film.

Like I said earlier, Night conceived this movie on the basis of a story he made up for his children. Now, just because a tall tale enthralls young ears at home does not mean it will gain traction outside the house, especially considering the multiplex. I looked up the disparity of budget versus gross for Lady. Production budget, $70 million. Domestic total gross, a little over $42 million. Ouch. Even taking in the worldwide gross, this movie took in only a little over $2 million profit. That’s the price of certain actors’ trailers. In other words, a pittance. Even simpler: dud.

For all its canny flourishes, solid acting and outstanding cinematography, Lady is (if you’ll pardon the pun) dead in the water. And the funny thing is I had high hopes for this movie. The premise is just so mysterious and wonky, it had to provide some crazy fantasy elements to tickle the mind. Plus it stars Paul Giamatti! And Bryce Dallas Howard is naked! It’s something I wanted to recommend to others with great enthusiasm!

What went wrong?

Well first things first, I’d like to say (and he probably would, too) that M. Night Shyalaman is the Hitchcock of the supernatural film. That’s a fair comparison I think, if you consider The Master’s mid-period films of the Fifties. Night employs a lot of deliberate camera angles, centering elements of the scene to either drop hints about future plot points or to frame the actors (a good example of this in action is Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window). There are always elements of mystery in his films, paranormal or otherwise. And he always likes to make a cameo in each of his works. Or co-star, as it would appear in Lady. Nope, it wasn’t enough Night made a big budget movie based on a kiddie story, but he had to contribute large chunks of dialogue and plot progression as well. This sort of hubris might’ve offended a certain portion of the movie going audience. The phrase, “Who does he think he is?” seems apt. Just cuz it worked for Hitch, well, you know (that and Alfred never uttered a syllable of dialogue in his films. Smart).

Now don’t get me wrong on that paltry matter. Lady is superbly, well, filmed. It’s crisp and clean. The CGI is an accent, not filler. And the acting by the cast (save Night) is well done. It’s the damned plot that’s hair-brained. This film is so f*cking obtuse. It commits another cardinal sin in my book about bad films: it fails to maintain its interior logic. I know it’s a fantasy film, but watching the story progress is like watching someone patch up a leaking dam. There are corners cut to cram in each element of Night’s supposed fairy tale, seemingly shoehorned into being for the sake of…what? His vision? His kids’ expectations? The fact the audience would lap it up like so much melting ice cream?

Examples: Like all of Night’s films, there is that pervasive weirdness. It oozes from every pore of every frame. It usually works. But not weirdness for its own sake. Like I said, pieces of the story are introduced suddenly, thrown against the wall and maybe they’ll stick and forgotten to only later take up a different tack in the movie. Also, it’s odd (to say the least) how everyone in Cleveland’s apartment complex easily, unquestioningly goes along with Story’s, well, story in trying to make the fable come to life. Is it because Night’s moral of the movie is to say that some fantastic stories should be true? It’s as subtle as a fart at a funeral here. Way too much exposition takes up the second act, mostly consisting of a lot of mumbo-jumbo to allegedly push the fractured plot ever onward. If you’re paying attention, it becomes headache inducing. Again I say: hubris.

Lady In The Water is a waste of a good idea. In execution, it was a shambles. I think we might need more fantasy films at the box office nowadays. True escapism. And based on something else besides Tolkien. Small praise for Night in trying to fill this void, but he tried in a very clumsy fashion. Too bad.


Rant Redux (2019)…

As I update this installment, it’s only fair to note that Night’s films have had a renaissance of sorts over the past few films slowly sliding our of the murky haze of hubris-created schlock and getting on with it then; plots playing out like a malign version of The Twilight Zone where host Rod Serling was replaced by Screaming’ Jay Hawkins. Who remains dead the whole time yet can still sing. In simpler terms, the man’s work is earnestly creepy again, but he’s taking baby steps, keeping the cards against his chest. Better than no steps at all, right? Or knowing when to fold ’em.

I’ll quit the cheesy music metaphors now. Breathe easier.

So yeah, Night has been trying his darndest to stay off the glue and put a spell on us again. Everyone likes a comeback story, especially when it’s a comeback against insurmountable odds. Like your own ego and hubris, which ran riot all over Lady‘s production. However upon review Lady was a muddled mess, but it was an interesting muddled mess. Night was really reaching for something, but damned if I could figure out what.

The only lead I had into Night’s fever dream was that Lady was intended to be a “bedtime story for grown-ups.” Yes the story was concocted and adapted to screen by a bedtime fantasy he spun for his kids, but do we so-called adults really have a need for PG-13 rated Goodnight Moon? Night answered this in an affirmative affirmative. I only wished he was on massive hillocks of blow to justify this very interesting mess. And BTW, do his kids sleep well?

Lady was the penultimate tipping point for Night’s fall from grace. Crawling up one’s ass is a surefire way to alienate an audience. That screams the director in question forgot there’s an audience out there to consider. Since Night is more or less a mainstream cult director, when you dismiss your core fanbase you cut yourself off at the knees, Oscar nom regardless. I’d like to believe that the quiet lies the locusts told Night during Lady whispered, “You have almost lost the plot.” After came The Happening (the aforementioned implied ultimate nadir) and the sky fell in. And even after further mediocrity, Night readjusted his watch and said to himself, “Reel it in some, sport.”

I’d like to think, like to, that Lady was a red light implanted in his field of vision that planted the seed of doubt. Sure, this film is interesting, and stars Giamatti (EG: agent fired) and there’s a lot of mood. To quote Gertrude Stein: “There’s no there, there.” Lady was all artifice, and seriously that pissed off your fans who sided with you even through The Village.

Reeling it in, Lady wasn’t as off-putting the second time around. Sure, it still stunk, but upon a second spin it permitted a bit more perspective. I’ve often found rewatching Nights films always have deliberate Easter eggs to indirectly shove the story along…

…I hate to do this, but I’m going to have to resort to spoilers now, if only to make my point. And I do have one. For the lot of y’all who refuse to look behind the curtain avert your eyes and don’t think of a purple elephant…

Night drops a lot of hints in his movies, kind of like the “Hidden Pictures” feature in Highlights For Children (the most popular feature, BTW and don’t ask me how I know that. Maybe because I’ve been to the dentist). Anyone with a sharp eye may spot lots of “the hell?” moments in Night’s universe.

For example:

  • The color red indicating contrivance and/or deception in The Sixth Sense.
  • David Dunn in his shadowy poncho, cowl to cape in the train station testing his “powers” in Unbreakable.
  • The screaming inconsistencies about the alien invasion in Signs designed to fool everyone.

That last one is my favorite. Night misled us good big time with Signs. You’ve heard the clamor: “Why would aliens invade a planet that’s 80 percent water even thought the stuff’s toxic to them?” “Where’s the alien tech, like UFOs and anal probes?” “They have trouble with doors?”

All valid questions and massive plot holes with Signs…if you thought the movie was about an alien invasion (another spoiler: it wasn’t). In actuality Signs was about a demonic invasion.

The idea gained some traction over the movie sites, and the more one peeled away the onion, the more “huh” folks got. An article in The Imaginative Conservative (of all places) dissected Signs in such a convincing way that all of them plot holes are not plot holes but plot hints. In Night’s traditional style. So now, go ahead. Hit the link and read up. I’ll wait.

See? Sometimes knowledge creeps forth from some strange cross-wiring. Go fig.

Anyway, maybe there were connections missed with Lady. I missed them the first time out, as did most of bewildered America. In short, Lady was the most intractable movie Night ever made. As executed, it was spot on. And that’s it. Lady never seems to go anywhere, but the trip it takes you on is nothing less than interesting. That makes no sense, of course, but it follows in line with the yarn Night tries to spin: bedtime stories only exist to lull the listener into sleep. A haze. A fugue state. A torpor. To a place where you just give up. You submit. I’m still unsure if that was Night’s muse, but that was the overall effect on me. Just go with it, hope upon hoping it all makes sense, that there’s some reward. Like a good night’s rest. A satori, even.

Lady is a coherent mess. I’ll explain that: recalling what I spoke about in the Skyline installment regarding “interior logic” in movie making, Lady has all its ducks in the pond. The fantasy element is pretty wonky, can’t deny that, but Story’s story follows the rules. Within the context of the movie all makes sense. However (and this is a big however, hence the italics and parenthetical reference), Night’s delivery is f*cking redolent with ego, hubris and an incessant urging, pleading to the audience puh-leeze go along with this. It’s important. More important than hydrophobic fiends running riot, dammit!

We get it. We get it. Fantasy is important. It’s what imagination is made of. We don’t need Night’s ham-fisted direction (and story. And production. And acting) to remind us denizens of the Apple logo society. There’s no substance, no vitality, no sense of urgency a film like this deserves. Its delivery is cloying, its tension is weak and its acting is wooden. Yet it still is interesting. Interesting inasmuch as you cannot ignore the potential Lady is striving for. It’s sense of wonder is almost there, and you root for that to bloom, but it keeps fizzling out over and over again. This dynamic reminded me of how the stereotypical punk dresses to impress…almost. Spiky hair? Check. Leather studded jacket? Check. Sneer? Check. Footwear…Doc Marten’s? Nope, loafers. Oops! You were this close. Now let’s go slam into things at the Rancid gig.

Let’s hope this renaissance of Night’s movies keeps a-rollin’ and let Lady be his only albatross. It really sucks when a genuinely interesting film misses the mark, like here. Wasted potential. Crap. I’ll stand by my original verdict…


The Revision…

Rent it or relent it? Sustained: relent it. Simply put, Lady was a letdown. Still.


Some More Stray Observations…

  • “Put my mom on!”
  • Never have I ever seen Giamatti embarrass himself with such beauty.
  • “Is there anything further I can assist you with during my naptime?” Two days detention.
  • I think I realize I’ve been nurturing a man-crush on Wright.
  • “I’m 13B.” Is there such a thing as being anti-smug? Because I think Balaban nailed it.
  • Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Ask Joey.
  • “You have to believe that all this makes sense somehow.” Amen to that.
  • This was the first installment ever to have off-site links. I’ll fix the other pages. Promise, I guess.

Next Installment…

We reunite with Night again…again. The family Smith jaunts afar After Earth and we’ll be there for the return voyage. Again.

Again.

(Why didn’t I launch a mediocre, silly cat blog instead?)


 

RIORI Vol 3, Installment 21: Brad Peyton’s “San Andreas” (2015)


San_Andreas_poster


The Players…

Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, Paul Giamatti and Alexandra D’Addrio, with Ioan Gruffudd, Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Art Parkinson, Archie Panjabi and Kylie Minogue (of all people).


The Story…

SAR has always been Ray Gaines’ calling. It’s his strong suit, what he’s done all his life. He’s always been good at rescuing those in distress, so long as they’re strangers. Get too close that way and it’s no longer just a job to do, a mission. It becomes personal.

Getting up close and personal hasn’t really ever been Gaines’ strong suit. In fact, it’s his weak spot. It might cloud his judgment when it comes to doing his duty. Lives may get on the line, and the last thing Ray should be considering is what the endangered’s fave Beatle is on an intimate level.

However, following his usual routine for only a mere few hours on duty, Ray’s issues with getting personal are going to get quite shaken up. A lot.

Literally.


The Rant…

It feels like lately at RIORI your humble blogger isn’t being as much of an prideful assh*le as been his custom. I think the degree has been showing, dammit. In it for all I apologize. I apologize to all you sniveling brats who take offense to any blogger trying to refine his delivery in hopes to gain a wider audience. You know, like any entertainer would. And the majority of bloggers are really entertainers gussied up as creative writers and only that. It’s all bollocks. RIORI was created out of a need for this guy to write but also be read. Be creative, earn an audience. I mean, no one raised anything but a cheer when Midnight Oil released Diesel And Dust, not disregarding the Aussie audiences. I only make a point of this because of multiple comments regarding the lessening of venom spat here at. I assume this in response: you can only piss so long on the same patch of grass before it starts to turn brown. Dig?

Enough. Let the folks know they’re out there. Anyway, time for movie sh*t you f*cknuts.

Ahem.

I’ve always taken a shine to Dwayne Johnson—

*screeeeech*

Wait. Before that. San Andreas is—at the time of this post—the most recent mediocre movie slid under the microscope here at RIORI. It ain’t even a year old yet. I only point this out as not any relevance to this week’s movie proper—or even The Standard for the matter—but a practice in Hollywood that I find dismaying (but also inevitable).

When I was a youth, you could guarantee that that summer’s blockbuster would be in a first-run theatre for at least three months. Sometimes if the flick was a big deal hit, say like ET or the original Die Hard it could have an extended release before petering out to second-runs and eventually the endless wait for home video release. That sometimes took up to a year. Be glad you of this generation never having to endure the Bataan Death March of waiting for new releases at Blockbuster to return on a Friday night so you could scoop one up (I’ve been a Netflix customer since its inception, over sixteen years. You Millenials are so lucky).

Nowadays, theatrical runs for new movies are lucky to stay in the cineplex for one month, regardless of their success (or failure). You gotta be quick to catch the latest Hunger Games chapter on the big screen before whoosh. At least you only have to wait three months till you can stream it.

Curtailed theatrical releases are now the norm for—not surprisingly—business reasons. One, it cuts back on piracy, what with the proliferation of smartphone video tech (doesn’t seem to work. It’s how I got my “instant copy” of…well, that’s another story, probably for the FBI). Second it allows Hollywood to jam more movies into the theaters over the course of a year. Churn and burn. Thanks to winnowing attention spans of American audiences, Tinsel Town can score for direct profits that way, rather than wait for the big bucks that roll in with home video sales and streams.

I understand all this, and partially agree with these practices. But I miss the lazy days of summer when I was a kid and didn’t have to feel a match under my ass to catch the original Jurassic Park before the month ran out (bad example; I bought my tix in advance for opening night with that one. Sometime I’ll recount what happened during the show, disregarding velociraptor antics).

Um, where was I? Oh yeah. Welcome to “The Rock.”

Johnson’s a local celeb in my neck of the woods. He grew up where I’m from, light years from his stint in WWE. It should come as no surprise that in high school, Dwayne played football, wrestled and was active in the drama club. All of this came into play when he became The Rock, his macho, humorous and charismatic wrestling persona. It translated well into his movie career, no duh.

That being said, I find Johnson the actor as rather enjoyable. Granted he’s not going to win any awards with his delivery, but his charm, humor and almost self-effacing demeanor can easily win over the most hardened of cinema snobs. Even in his tough guy action mode, he never comes across as some macho assh*le. Johnson strikes me as the kind of guy at the neighborhood summer cookout, bottle of beer in one hand and manning the grill with the other.

I think his likeability stems from both a vulnerability and an innocence. What? This burly dude? A former pro wrestler? Well, again, check out his acting style. Really. Johnson’s pretty relaxed when in front of the camera. At ease in the spotlight and all that. One could make the argument that all those years hamming it up for the WWE prepared him for the jump to the big screen, and I couldn’t agree more. Sure, Johnson’s bread-and-butter in movies have been mostly action hero types (e.g. The Scorpion King, The Rundown, the Fast & Furious movies, etc), but you gotta be a kind of softie to be built like a brick sh*thouse and star as the Tooth Fairy, GI Joe’s action figure come to life Roadblock or an animated astronaut in Planet 51 (okay, it was voice acting, but still). Not to mention Johnson’s roles in family adventure films like the remake of Race To Witch Mountain and the recent nostalgia trap Jem & The Holograms big screen treatment (okay, perhaps a questionable example. Show’s over, Synergy). And if that ain’t vulnerable and innocent, putting one’s literal movie muscle on hold to have a little fun, I don’t know what is. That and he does it better than Schwarzenegger ever did.

This amiable, almost universal appeal makes a lot of Johnson’s otherwise derivative, lame films go down a bit easier. His is akin to my assessment of one of my favorite actors, Sean Connery. I ain’t saying the Rock can outdo 007, but like Johnson, Connery’s made a lot of sh*tty movies, but he’s always entertaining. Also like Connery, Johnson looks like he really enjoys acting, devoid of the pretensions. It’s infectious, really. We all need more movie stars like Johnson. Or Connery, for that matter.

Okay. Now before this becomes some sort of man-crush lovefest (not unlike my questionable fascination with Don Cheadle), I gotta reel it in on a practical level. Johnson’s degree of charm can somewhat sabotage the feel of an entire movie. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it can get to be confusing. Sometimes it becomes hard to separate the quality—or lack thereof—of a movie from the likeability of the stars (refer to my The Day After Tomorrow installment). Sometimes you catch yourself being conned into thinking you’ve seen a great movie, but only able to remember the leads’ performances and forgetting the connect-the-dots, boring plot or the distracting 1.21 gigawatts of blinding pyrotechnics (again: Day After Tomorrow). It takes a bit of discernment to separate the two.

Not that this is always a tough decision. Especially when the movie in question is intentionally designed to just entertain, philosophical musings about the human condition be damned. Sometimes what you want is just a likable leading man and a lot of kerblooey. Sometimes you just want to put your brain on hold.

Check that: need to put your brain on hold. Another viewing of My Dinner With Andre can wait.

So let’s Rock and roll, shall we…?


Just your typical bright day in Southern California. Sunny skies, fresh air, perfect day for drive. Until a minor temblor hits and a rockslide sends your ride off a cliff, wedging it precariously in a very deep chasm.

It’s a good thing that Ray Gaines (Johnson) and his crack rescue team is on hand to swoop in with their chopper and crane your ass out of the jaws of certain doom. Y’know, just your typical day.

When it comes to his job, Ray is the calm, cool character. When it comes to family affairs, he gets kind of rattled. Ever since his marriage to Emma (Gugino) recently dissolved, he’s been forced to play catch-up as a beleaguered weekend dad to his daughter, Blake (D’Addrio). She’s back off to college soon, and his tenuous grasp as being Dad feels like it slipping away. Permenantly.

Permenantly ever since Emma shacked up with the big deal architect Dan Riddick (Gruffud). Riddick’s world-famous designs are renown for being near impervious to natural disasters, not to mention very tech sophisticated. So Emma needn’t worry to want for anything, especially balanced against what meager existence Ray squeezes out. So a trip out to Riddick’s to see Blake doesn’t feel like a typical day in the chopper.

Meanwhile at CalTech, it’s just your typical day in the lab. Esteemed seismologist Dr Lawrence Hayes (Giamatti) and his crack team of researchers have been applying his newest tech to study the latest series of tremors that have been rattling the California coast. Hayes suspects a major earthquake along the San Andreas is way overdue, and figures he and his team should conduct some field research with his new gear to see if its possible to accurately predict earthquakes.

On a jaunt to the Hoover Dam, Hayes and crew discover their readings to be quite accurate. Proven especially when an 8.1 temblor tears the dam in half. And it only get worse from there.

Unbeknownst to Ray half a world away, his job is going to get a lot more hairy, beyond the friction with Emma and Blake. As of recent, Ray’s life’s been torn in half. Now it’s the state’s turn, and Ray races to the rescue of both with the same ablomb as a sense of responsibility allows.

You know, just your typical day…


While watching San Andreas, I couldn’t help from catching me smile in spite of myself.

Heed this: San Andreas is a very derivative, stupid movie. It’s your typical summer blockbuster disaster to rote. The acting is wooden. It’s terribly predictable. The massive CGI collateral damage is the real star over the lukewarm casting. You see everything coming, even the scenes you’ve yet to see. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before, and seen before with much more verve.

Yet I couldn’t help but smile.

San Andreas is not a good movie, unless your 16 years old or less. It’s cheap, dumb fun entertainment. And to say that is the point is a truism. It’s a digitally rendered summer movie, practically genetically engineered to fill your popcorn bucket to eruption. “That’s the point” seems even beneath it.

But I liked it.

The smiling thing wasn’t meant in any ironic sense. You know how some say you need to be in the proper mindset to appreciate a movie? With Andreas, you best have your mind properly wired prior to even hitting the PLAY button. You should plan on wasting time. You best not have anywhere to go for few hours. You want to have your common sense whipped into tapioca. You need this sometimes when seeing a movie, right?

Okay, Puddinghead, here’s the poop.

Despite the fact that Andreas prides itself—nay, revels—in its collateral damage, dopey acting and stale story, it has a certain warmth that’s hard to miss. Sure, it’s a warm fuzzy kept on the down low, if not muffled by the sound editing. Director Peyton is known for family adventure films, like the (seemingly needless) sequel to Cats And Dogs and Journey 2 (also starring Johnson, BTW). That presence is felt here. It’s to be understood that Andreas is kinda lightweight in that regard. I mean, after directing pixelated kitties a second time ’round it would be kind of tough to shed your fluff (I’m not apologizing for the double pun. Deal). This fluffiness, however lends Andreas a certain charm. It feels like a 70s disaster film, minus the overt cheese. Andreas indeed has a corny charm, but this vibe being at odds with the dire circumstances of the movie injects some unintentional humor into the script.

And boy, is there a lot to laugh at. There’s some really flat, pat dialogue. Of course the manic havoc being wreaked, so over the top it’s all too much unless you turn off your brain and give in to laughter. Most of this stuff can be forgiven thanks to Ray as tentpole, though. As usual, Johnson is a smooth operator. His Ray is a walking cliche, also adding to the humor. But it’s all about the delivery. The man oozes charisma, to be sure. It’s what usually elevates a banal movie to something at least watchable. It works here. Ray is a gritty chopper pilot. He’s a caring dad. He still cares for his estranged wife. He rises to the occasion when the latter two are in danger. It’s a family affair, the same for all of Peyton’s movies. It’s also all for rote, but Johnson turns on his old, rocky (sorry) charm and you know everything’s gonna be okay, if not better. Even if his world is literally crumbling beneath him.

Speaking of crumbling, props must be given to the F/X guys. The utter chaos is a feast for the eyes bleary with butter-flavored topping. Again, disregarding the ridiculous destruction, some nice, if not realistic touches were dotted here and there along the rending Cali coastline. I like the fact that during the catastrophic earthquakes not every skyscraper got felled. In a disaster film, wanton chaos is expected. Any excess can become comical. Peyton used a little restraint here. A little, and that I respect if not welcome. It lets in a scintilla of breathing room, almost there to let the audience to take in what’s going on beneath what’s going on. Is there such a thing as tasteful collateral damage? Andreas kinda reminds me of a Godzilla movie, only the prehistoric lizard is replaced by angry tectonics. But the scattering, screaming cast remains.

Yeah, let’s get back to that. I find it funny that such an esteemed actor like Paul Giamatti signed up for this production. I’ve mentioned in the past that Giamatti is one of my favorites, and his acting chops make his Dr Hayes work. His character is like—harkening back the Godzilla metaphor—Raymond Burr’s Stephen Martin, the only sane voice reporting on the all-consuming mayhem from the sidelines. Giamatti’s skills make Hayes’ delivery have some verve. He’s a tonic to Johnson’s mostly even-handed poise. Giamatti is a prickly actor in most of his roles (check out American Splendor and/or Cinderella Man), but apart from the question of “What the hell is he doing in this flick?” (the chewing gum mentality helps here) something tells me the guy just wanted to have some fun. He is fun here in Andreas.

D’Addrio being a relative unknown possessed a very good onscreen confidence. She did well with the hand she was dealt. Despite my somewhat muted raving about Johnson’s steady work here, some note should be given to her performance. I liked the fact that her Blake simultaneously plays girl in distress and anchor. Ostensibly she’s the raison d’être for Ray’s motivations, and yet she stands well on her own (minus a few hack scenes of wayward damsel). There’s a trio of plot lines going on here in Andreas, and I found Blake’s plight (as well as Ollie and Ben’s in tandem) the most interesting. The three actors portray the element of the victims on the ground, trying to survive and get to safety. Like another vaunted disaster film, the three are like the survivors in The Poseidon Adventure. The pacing here is good, swift and economical.

The same can be said of the rest of the film. Andreas wasted precious little time to keep elevating the stakes. Sure, such pacing sacrifices plot development (such as it is), but the editing is good and the film’s progression wastes no time with filler, for good and for bad. There are a lot of technical aspects here to appreciate, if separate from the film proper. There are some arresting visuals, maybe the best thing in the film. Like I inferred, the F/X guys earned their weekly pay with how they conceived the California coastline toppling into the Pacific. Yeah, such stuff screams, “We’re trying to do the ‘summer movie’ thing.” However…well, duh. Andreas is ultimately about the visuals. I liked the aerial shots. The tsunami climb was beyond nuts. Of course San Francisco dissolving into the ocean was the cherry on the sundae. Back to whipped custard viewing practices, this movie is all about the eye candy. Look for anything beyond that (and actually get something out of that), you’re either wasting energy, popcorn or needless logic.

But it’s not just open praise for open season on the Golden State’s foundation. There are some nagging flaws, like that popcorn shell wedged in the back of your teeth. Andreas is lighthearted—if not lightweight—and feels like blockbuster disaster film junior. There really isn’t much meat on Andreas‘ bone. No sh*t, right? True, but its compartmentalized, incoherent story progression can get a bit rough. The rough angles can’t shake off Peyton’s family film style. It’s like if Disney went R. You can take it if, yet again, you don’t place too much weight in emotional gratification. Sure, visceral entertainment pukes freely here, but regarding Peyton’s oeuvre, Andreas is at heart a family drama disguised as an action flick. Thanks to that there’s no true, palpable sense of danger—of urgency—at play here. It’s at odds with the kerblooey nature of Andreas. It might be a minor carp here against all of the carnage, but it’s a real detriment to any movie designed to be an “action/adventure.”

However, thanks to the cool cast and serious visual nonsense, I can give such cinematic merit a pass. All in all, such bitching here is akin to navel-gazing while watching a Sandler turd. You don’t possess a desire to watch a flick like Andreas to later walk away with the heat in your tummy like after seeing, say, GoodFellas or even The Shining. You want a buzz, fleeting and fun. Andreas is big, stupid fun. That’s its purpose. So tune in a drop out.

Right, folks?

Hey…What’s this grey sh*t on the floor?

Eeyeew. Smells like neocortex.

Good work, Rock. That’ll do.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. In a word: kaboom!


Stray Observations…

  • “Close your eyes…”
  • According to its builders, the Hoover Dam’s concrete will take almost a century to fully cure. Not soon enough here.
  • Gruffudd has a lousy American accent.
  • D’Addrio has the most amazing, piercing blue eyes.
  • “Contrary to popular belief, scientists don’t know everything.” Sure, just ask your average Republican.
  • The rearview mirror thing. There goes the past.
  • “I can’t wait to be 20.” Right on, kid.
  • I think I got a thing for Carla Gugino.
  • “Who wants an A in an independent study? I’m starting a new class.”
  • Wait a minute. The sporting goods store Ray crash-landed into. The sign outside read “Ray’s Outdoors.” Quick joke for us attentive morons?
  • I’ve been educated about the “lost child” effect on families. Who wants another s’more?
  • “Where’s you get your hat?” Salute with no irony.
  • “Mom’s going to love her.”

Next Installment…

Who watches The Watcher? I will, and am making no apologies for co-opting my very first “Next Installment” tag here at RIORI (for those fools who’ve paid attention. Get a life, will you?).


RIORI Vol. 1, Installment 15: M Night Shyalaman’s ”Lady In The Water” (2006)


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The Players…

Paul Giamatti, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jeffery Wright, Bob Balaban, Jared Harris…and M. Night Shyalaman.


The Story…

Nothing much ever happens at Cleveland’s apartment complex, his home and his work. Endless days consist of fixing leaky pipes and skimming out the pool. Sure, it’s a living, a simple existence and Cleveland wouldn’t really want it another way. Sort of. So when a water nymph pops up in said pool one night and tells him her desperate tale of escape and peril, his simple world is totally upended. To say the least.

Wait. What?


The Rant…

Poor Night. After being slathered with praise for his Oscar-nominated opus The Sixth Sense, he just hasn’t been able to make lightening strike twice. Don’t get me wrong, his follow-ups Unbreakable, Signs, and to a lesser extent The Village were all fine films. But audiences are a fickle bunch. They want the goodies delivered twice, thrice and over and over again. Some directors can do this effortlessly with no question (Spielberg) regardless of whatever pap they churn out (Always, Hook, Jurassic Park 2 etc). But not poor Night, seemingly always living in a private hell of his own making, shadowed by ghosts and a psychic Haley Joel Osment.

Whilst The Sixth Sense was more or less a high concept Twilight Zone episode, Lady In The Water plays kinda on a fairy tale Night cooked up for his kids. How’s that for a healthy ego? Pretty damned good considering the literal ghosts at his back. F*ck the critics, I’m gonna base my next failure—ahem—feature on this!

Bad idea, dad…


Cleveland Heep (Giamatti) is your average maintenance man for an average apartment complex in a perfectly average corner of Philadelphia. (I’d be remiss to not mention that Night shoots all his films in southeastern PA. Guy wants to work close to home.) His days run seamlessly into the next, unclogging toilets, changing light bulbs and trying to enforce the rules of the roost. Cleveland’s life is very…average. Crushingly so.

One night Heep is patrolling around the complex’s pool, trying to catch any after hours swimmers. Pool closes at 7 don’t ya know. Well sure enough, someone…or something is mucking about in the water, and when Cleveland goes to investigate…

…He wakes up in his apartment dazed, confused and to a naked, young woman dripping water and looking spooked. Things could be worse, but definitely not weirder. The woman calls herself Story (Howard). If ain’t on the nose just like cocaine on Truman Capote’s, I don’t know what is. Story is fearful, wistful and has a certain aura about her. What’s more is the she seems to know things about Cleveland’s history that he’s tried to forget. And…wait. What the hell? Where did Story freaking come from?!?

Well after taking her in, Cleveland discovers that she is, surprise, not what she seems. He does a little sniffing around, and discovers (with thanks to the Asian tenants with the oddest bedtime story recollection ever) that Story is a “narph,” better known as a water nymph in the Western tongue. Story desperately needs to get back home, but forces beyond her control are colluding against her. So it’s up to Cleveland, as he reluctantly discovers, to draw upon knowledge of myth and legend to return Story to her realm and ultimately fulfill a prophecy, which could either save or damn both of their worlds.


Uh…yeah.

The circumstances described at butt end of the synopsis is usually when Night’s movies come off the tracks. Lady is no exception. I know it’s early in the film, but the sh*t gets really weird really quick, and not in a fun way, either.

I’ve found that with Night’s better films, the weirdness is creeping, not like being slapped in the puss with a dead haddock, all slimy and smelly. It’s called building tension, if not atmosphere. Sure, we can be dropped into the thick of it in, say, action movies. But with fantasies like Lady, we need a slow climb with some significant backstory. Since fantasy and its cousin sci-fi work in worlds of their own separate  from conventional drama and comedy, we need a steady climb in such a film from the mundane to the fantastic. Within context, of course.

(The following malarky is loaded with spoilers.)

A good example? The twin intros of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I say “twin” because the opening with the proto-humans struggles to survive and the eventual arrival of the Monolith then paired expertly executes backstory that will only reach fruition within context later in the film.

Millions of years later we have the metaphorical jump cut leading into the heralded, ballet-esque docking sequence between the shuttle and the space station, which serves as the second intro. In Kubrick’s version of 1999, space travel has become so routine that the miracle of tech doesn’t even touch Dr. Floyd or his companions imaginations. Being on their ISS is just work. It takes 20 more minutes of keen exposition until sh*t gets weird, and by that point in the film Kubrick has laid the groundwork for the proceeding sci-fi mystery.

(Spoiler alert over. You may now return your stewardess to her upright position.)

In sum, Night, you just can’t drop weird out of the sky and expect us to just roll along with it. Especially when you continue to lay on the weird all rich and thick-like. Both the audience and the cast can’t digest/process it very well.

Speaking of casting, I love Paul Giamatti, but it’s a plutonic relationship (he never returns my calls anyway). He’s far and away my favorite character actor. His work is almost always delightful, humorous and often separate from the film he’s in. He always gives it his all, regardless of the pap smear he’s gotten himself shackled into. This takes chutzpah. It takes a lot of gumption as an actor to throw yourself into a role for a film with a lot of rusty gears grinding against it. You gotta respect that. Especially if the actor is the only redeemable facet of the film.

Like I said earlier, Night conceived this movie on the basis of a story he made up for his children. Now, just because a tall tale enthralls young ears at home does not mean it will gain traction outside the house, especially considering the multiplex. I looked up the disparity of budget versus gross for Lady. Production budget, $70 million. Domestic total gross, a little over $42 million. Ouch. Even taking in the worldwide gross, this movie took in only a little over $2 million profit. That’s the price of certain actors’ trailers. In other words, a pittance. Even simpler: dud.

For all its canny flourishes, solid acting and outstanding cinematography, Lady is (if you’ll pardon the pun) dead in the water. And the funny thing is I had high hopes for this movie. The premise is just so mysterious and wonky, it had to provide some crazy fantasy elements to tickle the mind. Plus it stars Paul Giamatti! And Bryce Dallas Howard is naked! It’s something I wanted to recommend to others with great enthusiasm!

What went wrong?

Well first things first, I’d like to say (and he probably would, too) that M. Night Shyalaman is the Hitchcock of the supernatural film. That’s a fair comparison I think, if you consider The Master’s mid-period films of the Fifties. Night employs a lot of deliberate camera angles, centering elements of the scene to either drop hints about future plot points or to frame the actors (a good example of this in action is Hitchcock’s classic, Rear Window). There are always elements of mystery in his films, paranormal or otherwise. And he always likes to make a cameo in each of his works. Or co-star, as it would appear in Lady. Nope, it wasn’t enough Night made a big budget movie based on a kiddie story, but he had to contribute large chunks of dialogue and plot progression as well. This sort of hubris might’ve offended a certain portion of the movie going audience. The phrase, “Who does he think he is?” seems apt. Just cuz it worked for Hitch, well, you know (that and Alfred never uttered a syllable of dialogue in his films. Smart).

Now don’t get me wrong on that paltry matter. Lady is superbly, well, filmed. It’s crisp and clean. The CGI is an accent, not filler. And the acting by the cast (save Night) is well done. It’s the damned plot that’s hair-brained. This film is so f*cking obtuse. It commits another cardinal sin in my book about bad films: it fails to maintain its interior logic. I know it’s a fantasy film, but watching the story progress is like watching someone patch up a leaking dam. There are corners cut to cram in each element of Night’s supposed fairy tale, seemingly shoehorned into being for the sake of…what? His vision? His kids’ expectations? The fact the audience would lap it up like so much melting ice cream?

Examples: Like all of Night’s films, there is that pervasive weirdness. It oozes from every pore of every frame. It usually works. But not weirdness for its own sake. Like I said, pieces of the story are introduced suddenly, thrown against the wall and maybe they’ll stick and forgotten to only later take up a different tack in the movie. Also, it’s odd (to say the least) how everyone in Cleveland’s apartment complex easily, unquestioningly goes along with Story’s, well, story in trying to make the fable come to life. Is it because Night’s moral of the movie is to say that some fantastic stories should be true? It’s as subtle as a fart at a funeral here. Way too much exposition takes up the second act, mostly consisting of a lot of mumbo-jumbo to allegedly push the fractured plot ever onward. If you’re paying attention, it becomes headache inducing. Again I say: hubris.

Lady In The Water is a waste of a good idea. In execution, it was a shambles. I think we might need more fantasy films at the box office nowadays. True escapism. And based on something else besides Tolkien. Small praise for Night in trying to fill this void, but he tried in a very clumsy fashion. Too bad.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Ever saw a movie you wished you could recommend but in good consciousness could not? This be it.


Stray Observations…

  • Howard looks incredibly young without any make-up (or at least minimal coverage). She was around 25 years old when this film was shot; she looks bloody sixteen here.
  • The casting director must’ve had a field day with this movie. The sheer abundance of faces here is amazing, extras and all.
  • “Thank you for letting me wear your beautiful shirt.”
  • Night has the most on screen time here than he’s had in any other of his films. It seems that the more face time he gets, the poorer the return at the box office. I think I discovered a corollary.
  • The verdict for Lady from my stepdaughter was “Awesome!” She’s thirteen. Maybe I wasn’t the target audience.
  • Damned sprinklers!

Next Installment…

An M Night return engagement! Will and Jaden Smith figure out how to live life After Earth.