Archive for the ‘Baseball’ Category

Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

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In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

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From July 20th, 2010:

Cop Out stumbles into stores on DVD today.  In case you are still harboring any interest in spending your valuable time with one of the laziest, crappiest movies of the year, I urge you to do just about anything else.  I hated being so mean about it, because I know how hard it is to get a movie made.  Then again, I don’t think anyone involved tried all that hard at all, and I paid to see this one.  So until I get my twelve bucks back, I reserve the right to complain.

Here’s my appraisal of this sorry mess:

Cop Out isn’t Kevin Smith’s worst movie, for those who are keeping track.  His worst movie remains Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, that celebrity-studded, laugh-free, self-absorbed in-joke of a movie.  Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back is about as funny as Scary Movie, or Epic Movie, or Disaster Movie, or any of those other lazy parody parades – but at least those other junkers tend to reference movies that most everyone has seen.  Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back expects that you’ve seen low-budget critical favorites like Clerks and Chasing Amy, which could reasonably be considered to be an arrogant assumption on the part of its makers.

Cop Out isn’t quite as bad as that.  Cop Out at least had the good sense to cast action-movie veteran Bruce Willis and comedy savant Tracy Morgan, rather than the line-mangling Jason Mewes and an endlessly mugging Kevin Smith (nepotism!), but in this case the improvement is only marginal.  Bruce Willis looks drowsy, bored, and even a little sickly throughout the movie.  He looks like he’s stuck on line at the bank, just waiting to pick up his paycheck, and some loud fat lady in front of him keeps making a lot of noise to the manager.  Meanwhile, Tracy Morgan is that loud fat lady.  He shouts every last one of his lines and shows very little of the self-awareness and charm that his fans (myself included) have come to expect.

Cop Out is a buddy-cop comedy, intended to have the charisma and care-free fun of the 1980s cop movies that made the genre so popular.  Kevin Smith directed the movie, but he didn’t write it.  That’s kind of like inviting Alex Rodriguez up to the mike to do stand-up comedy.  Kevin Smith is a talented writer who very possibly could have come up with a fun buddy-cop story.  What Kevin Smith does not have is the sense of visual stamina or momentum that the genre needs (nor does his longtime DP Dave Klein).  What Kevin Smith could also have used is a sense of history – or do I really need to point out that the reason why those ‘80s cop flicks were so great is because they started with solid scripts and energetic participants?  Always remember that 48 Hours was written by Walter Hill, that Lethal Weapon was written by Shane Black, that Fletch was written by Andrew Bergman (Blazing Saddles), that Beverly Hills Cop starred Eddie Murphy at the height of his comedic powers.

By contrast, Cop Out began life as a script by Robb & Mark Cullen, TV writers who may yet prove to be very talented but who surely haven’t done so on the basis of this evidence.  It wouldn’t be fair to blame Kevin Smith for the awfulness of the story – the blame begins with the Cullen brothers, continues with whatever studio people thought this script was worth producing, and ends with Kevin Smith, who somehow thought it was worth making as the first film he has directed but didn’t write.  Kevin Smith always struck me as a savvy guy – since when did he become the kind of cynic who is lazy enough to hang a movie on a plot where a cop causes remarkable havoc trying to get back a valuable baseball card from a Mexican gang, so that he can sell it and pay for his daughter’s wedding?

That is the actual plot of Cop Out, for the record.  Bruce Willis drives up a significant body count trying to track down a baseball card.  It’s the only way he can think of to pay for his kid’s wedding – which makes his character seem obnoxiously prideful, by the way, since her step-father was intending to pay for the wedding in the first place.  Sure, the step-father is a bit of a prick, but he’s also played by Jason Lee, and if you’re a long-time Kevin Smith fan, like I have been, it’s tough to hate Jason Lee.  (This wasn’t what I meant when I suggested that Smith work with Lee again.)  In a convoluted turn of events, a Mexican gang comes into possession of the valuable collectible, so Bruce and Tracy (as his partner) have to go on the rampage.  Since when does Brooklyn have Mexican gangs, you might ask?  Hang on to that question, because just wait until I tell you how retarded Tracy’s subplot is.
Tracy Morgan, in this movie, is married to Rashida Jones, the adorably wry actress who’s most famous for her roles on The Office and Parks & Recreation.  I have nothing but love both of these actors, really and truly, but still:  There is no comedy on earth broad enough to convince me that Rashida Jones could ever fall for Tracy Morgan.  So maybe it’s understandable that he spends the entire movie snooping around on her, convinced that she’s cheating on him with the next-door neighbor.  What isn’t understandable is what this subplot is doing clogging up a cop comedy.  We’re supposed to be taking our inspiration from ‘80s cop movies here, not ‘80s sitcoms.  At least there’s a teddy bear with a camera in it; that’s what I was hoping to see when I bought my ticket.

Along the way, Bruce and Tracy cross paths with Seann William Scott as a parkour enthusiast who robs houses and craps in their bathrooms during the robberies.  Seann William Scott can be terrific at driving comedy plots (see Role Models or American Wedding), but he is not terrific here, and that’s as nice as I can be about it.  Bruce and Tracy also rescue a hostage along the way, a cute Mexican girl who doesn’t speak a word of English.  Her one running joke is that she says “hi” a lot, and that she is the second woman in the movie who falls improbably in love with Tracy.  This character does at least bring us to the movie’s one great jaw-droppingly racist scene, where the two cops need to know what she knows but they can’t take her to the precinct, so instead they take the girl to a Mexican restaurant for the maitre’d to provide translation.

There’s plenty more wrong with Cop Out.  There’s the way it totally wastes great stand-up comedians like Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Susie Essman, and most egregiously, Jim Norton (who doesn’t even get in an attempt at a joke.)  There’s the way it was just clever enough to hire composer Harold Faltermeyer (Fletch, Beverly Hills Cop), yet not clever enough to notice that his score, sadly, is atrocious – grating and relentless.  There’s the way that Bruce and Tracy’s characters, supposed police veterans, have a weird habit of pulling loaded guns on unarmed suspects and civilians.  (If you made a drinking game out of how many times this happens in the movie, you’d die.)

This movie was horrible, and not in a fun way.  If you need to pay good money to see Tracy Morgan punch a ten-year-old kid in the nuts, this is your movie.  But if you like laughing, it isn’t.  (Admittedly, I did laugh one time, but at a reaction shot of Tracy Morgan at the climactic wedding – something I can see for free on 30 Rock, for the record.)

What makes Cop Out so depressing is that Kevin Smith was the one ultimately responsible for it, not some forgettable talentless director.  Kevin Smith is so far from untalented, but you’d never know it if you were to watch Cop Out, a movie that is best described as sluggish, unfunny, and mean-spirited.  He’s capable of so much more than this movie, but he settled for doing it, and that’s disappointing and sad.  Let’s face it:  The sun will rise and set on Kevin Smith regardless of what I think, but I wish that this time around he’d seriously listen to the people who didn’t like Cop Out, because many of them – myself included – used to be counted among his fans.

Come at me if you must, Kevin Smith army:  @jonnyabomb

And now here’s a picture of Rashida Jones, just because it makes me feel a little better:

Listen to this song while you read — it’s a rendition of the Jaws theme by the great film composer Lalo Schifrin (Enter The Dragon).  This instrumental allows me to imagine a roomful of great white sharks dancing to disco music, which is so fucking funny to me that I can’t even laugh at a level adequate to what it deserves.

Anyway, this is a collection of the Tweets I transmitted to the waking world at 3am this morning, when I couldn’t sleep and decided to test-drive my new Jaws Blu-Ray.  I had a bit of an ethical connundrum on my hands when Jaws, Shaft, and The Raid were all released on Blu-Ray on the same day and there was no way for me to justify purchasing all three on my budget, despite wanting them all almost equally.  Here’s how it all shook out:

 

BOUGHT.

 

NOT YET BOUGHT.

 

BOUGHT.

 

 

Guys, who was I kidding? I picked this up too, of course.

Putting this insomnia to good use and watching my new JAWS Blu-Ray. It’s beautiful.

 

I’ve seen this movie a hundred times, seen it projected several more. I know it by heart. So, a fact: This restoration is immaculate.

 

 

One of the greatest line readings in all of #JAWS: “A whaaaaaat?”

Unsung villain of #JAWS: Mr. Kintner. Where was that motherfucker at? Deadbeat dads are the worst.

“You’ve still got a hell of a fish out there. With a mouth this big.” Hooper way undersells it.

Most charming thing about Quint, I find, is how he refers to a 25-foot great white as a “bird.”

#JAWS ate Ben Gardner’s eyeball. That’s some mad aggro shit.

 

Anybody else ever look at Michael and Sean Brody in #JAWS and think; Those poor kids are gonna grow up to be in some BAD sequels?

If #JAWS were made ten years later, Hooper might have been played by Curtis Armstrong.

 

 

 

Odd how they head out to open water to go shark-hunting, despite all the attacks having happened near shore. #JAWS #suspensionofdisbelief

 

Talking writing technique now: Whoever came up with the barrels as a storytelling device was really, really smart.

A great and subtle character bit is when Hooper and Quint are comparing scars and Brody looks down, stops, then decides to keep quiet.

Also notice how Quint keeps a baseball bat on board the Orca — possible tribute to his friend Herbie Robinson, the baseball player?

Unfortunate foreshadowing of JAWS 4 — the shark does seem to roar a little bit.

“Show me the tank… Show me the tank… Blow up!” — something I’ve been known to chant when I’m with a lady.

Okay, good night.

More from me, day and night, on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

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Related Posts:

My Top 50 Movies Of All Time.

Jaws (1975).

Zombie 2 (1979) — where a shark fights a zombie!

Soul Surfer (2011).

Dark Tide (2012).

13 Horror Movies Everyone Should See.

Top Ten Most Unforgettable Facts About Sharks.

My Blu-Ray Library.