You and I and all those people out there
with a vocal love of film have ruined it for everyone, pimping movies
up, falling in love with mediocre films and championing them to
near-legendary status. We’ve embraced turkeys, legitimized borderline
movies, and elevated modest films in our favorite franchises above and
beyond realistic standards. We’ve even embraced the films everyone
likes, somehow adding a credibility to them that transcends the
mainstream. Sacred cows, little flicks, and everything in between. It’s
time we took a look inward and came clean with 25 movies we think need
to be taken down a peg or two.
These are our four categories for this list:
These guys have had it too easy. Far too easy. Don’t believe the insane hype.
Good flicks that have gotten too damn big for their britches.
Asshole, you love this film for all the wrong reasons.
WHAT THE FUCK
Something went horribly wrong here and it’s carried over the the fans, who are blinded by shizer.
Your guide: Devin Faraci
Its Legacy: Empowered annoying comic book nerds who think that dull and dour equals important. Demonized a segment of the population with a real and serious condition, leading to pogroms and the horror of Bonennacht. Briefly kept M. Night’s career afloat, allowing him to get closer to making The Village.
Why It’s Here: Walking out of my first screening of Unbreakable it
became obvious that there was something wrong with me. There was no way
that I could have actually hated a serious superhero movie from the guy
who had wowed me with The Sixth Sense.
It must have been a bad day. Determined to give the movie a fair shake,
I saw it again a week later. The reaction remained the same: this movie
sucks. And yet there soon grew a cult of people who loved the movie,
who even thought it might be M. Night Shyamalan’s finest work.
Usually diverging opinions are matters of taste, and you can look at someone else’s
take on a movie and understand where they’re coming from… but not
here. The love for this movie is vexing, and there’s not a moment of Unbreakable that doesn’t leave me whispering to myself (like every goddamned character in this movie) ‘What… the… fuck.’
The biggest problem with Unbreakable is the relentlessly dour tone. Why is this movie slightly less happy than The Bicycle Thieves?
M. Night seems to think that discovering that you’re a super powered
being is the equivalent of getting cancer, but there’s no reasoning for
this. Sure, Bruce Willis’ character has plenty to be bummed about at
the beginning of the film, even leaving aside the fact that a terrible
train accident means that he’s going to be late getting to his
destination. Willis plays his character as if he’s just been loaded up
with a handful of Quaaludes, only deepening the somnambulistic air of the film.
Wait, did I say air? This movie has none. Unbreakable is
a musty, dreadfully paced crypt of a story. M. Night’s previously
winning strategy of teaming Bruce Willis with a young boy just didn’t
pay off here as the duo never create any chemistry. The domestic story
never takes off because the telling is so sluggish. And when Willis
begins to understand his powers – way too slowly (Unbreakable seems
to have set the standard for the modern interminable comic book
technique of decompressed storytelling, where a story that might have
lasted 30 page in the 80s has become a six issue series) -things never
quite lighten up. His weakness, like the stupid aliens in M. Night’s
other What the Fucker, Signs, is
water, which isn’t really that big of a deal; if M. Night wanted to
give the character something to be bummed about, he could have gone the
Marvel Comics route and made him unable to touch people or something
else. Instead he just has to wear water wings.
For all the grimness and glacially paced ‘grown up’ narrative (“This
movie is so important that I’m going to make it tough to sit through.
That’s what important movies are like, right?”), M. Night never gets
away from the most ridiculous crap from comic books. I would love to
have seen a movie like this tackle superhero stories in an adult,
meaningful way, but it seems like M. Night doesn’t understand what that
would mean. Watching Unbreakable gives
the impression that M. Night isn’t aware that the superhero world
underwent a post-modern phase in the 80s where prominent creators
examined the meanings and underpinnings of the genre; you can just
about hear the director patting himself on his insufferable back as he
thinks that connecting comic book stories to ancient myths will elevate
the medium or something.
All of this is leading to Samuel L. Jackson, playing one of the most
ill-conceived villains in the history of cinema. A guy whose super
power is that he can be hurt really badly really easily is right up
there with the Silver Age Flash’s villain The Turtle, The Slowest Man
Alive (how fucking one sided is this nonsense?). There’s a lot that’s
silly about Mr. Glass, but perhaps silliest is that the idea that a guy
with a real world disease – osteogenesis imperfecta – is the harbinger
of a superman. Other villainous osteogenesis imperfecta sufferers
include the dwarf from Twin Peaks and the wheelchair girl from the British version of The Office.
I was going to say that this bit of reasoning was retarded, but I want
to save that particular word for the ending of the movie. Ready?
The ending of Unbreakable is
retarded. It’s among the worst endings in modern film – a text bit
saying that Mr. Glass went to jail? I mean, you can’t have a really
cool showdown between a guy who can’t be hurt and who has super
strength and a guy in a bad wig whose bones break when he shakes it too
much at the urinal, but still. Come on. This is the ending we waited
three and a half crawling hours to reach? The inane reveal that the
Breakable guy set up all these accidents to find the one dude who could
survive them all, and then… text! Unbreakable began the proud M. Night tradition of batshit awful endings that would finally culminate in The Village
– which probably would have been improved by a bit of text that simply
read ‘And then they left the village and… HOLY SHIT IT WAS THE MODERN
DAY ALL ALONG!’
Pretentious is a critique that should be used sparingly, but here it’s
all-too fitting. M. Night thinks that he’s above the pulp roots of his
story and that he’s going to elevate the superhero with his deathly
slow meditations on being seriously bummed out, but he’s got nothing to
say. He has no insight into the genre and he has no insight into the
human condition, something that would come into sharper focus over his
next few ham-handed movies. Unbreakable is
the equivalent of a guy in a tux who slowly walks to a podium, shuffles
some papers for two minutes, clears his throat into the mic and then,
in his best slow John Houseman voice begins relating the plots of The Banana Splits episodes: motherfucker has nothing to say.
A Moment of Piss: ‘They called me… MR. GLASS! LOLOLOLOL’
These Ain’t Chopped Liver Alternatives: Condorman, Super Fuzz, The Greatest American Hero
Russ Fischer Agrees: It’s almost like the
years between The Dark Knight Returns and Unbreakable never happened,
like the realization about the self-indulgent stupidity of grim and
gritty heroes took place in our collective imagination. Comic book
movies don’t have to be full of Spider-Man one-liners, but Ingmar
Bergman has made movies about mental illness that are more
invigorating than this. And during Unbreakable‘s interminable 105
minutes, I feel like Shyamalan is trying to pull a Bergman superhero
flick out of his hat. Look at Robin Wright Penn as Willis brings her
to bed at the film’s end; it’s Cries and Whispers, the graphic novel!
Echoing the attitude of would-be villain Elijah Price, who treats
fully average pencil renderings as high art, Unbreakable is fully
convinced of it’s own importance. It trudges along as if slow camera
moves and funereal music can impart the shallow story and dull
characters with some mythic quality. The choice of visual framing,
which sacrifices storytelling for faux-comic panel composition, is
the worst kind of showing off — the kind that doesn’t work. And
though at times I can overlook Shyamalan’s refusal to write third
acts (a tendency also on display in The Village) there’s no reason to
allow this insipid twist ending, which mocks every viewer
with ugly, diabolical laughter.
Nick Nunziata Disagrees: This is my favorite M. Night Shyamalan film, which in some respects is like saying it’s my favorite bout with polio but despite some of the arch dialogue and incomplete nature to the narrative it’s still a brave and mostly successful little movie. In fact, Samuel L. Jackson [who should only be able to act once every three years] and his inability to do anything in life with subtlety notwithstanding, there’s some really good work here by the cast. Bruce Willis, whose work can often be identified as “Smug A”, “Smug B”, “Smug C”, or “John McClane Demo Mode” delivers what is more than a maudlin one-note performance as summarized above by the boys. In The Sixth Sense he was a vacuum, substituting blandness for grace but here he carries the weight of Philadelphia on his shoulders and has some very un-Bruce Willis-like scenes, which is nice. The breakfast table moment with his son stands out as does the train station sequence.
Time has been unfair to Unbreakable in that at the time there wasn’t really a superhero movie that snuck up on its audience like this. In comics there were plenty of examples of reality based comic book movies, but this one carried the weight of being the sophomore effort [I know it’s not his second film but you know what I mean] of the guy who directed the extremely overvalued The Sixth Sense as well as something with a concept that’s niche to say the least. This isn’t supposed to be the definitive comic book movie. It’s a curiosity, something I think that eludes Devin. It’s not trying to be some sort of genre beacon but more of an appetizer of things to come. Granted, they scrapped the two sequels due to middling interest in this one but this is what would be issue #0 of a comic book run. The origin story and a showcase of the uncomfortable and uncertain nature of discovering the extraordinary in oneself in a reality that has no precedent of such powers and skills. It’s a little stiff, it’s morose, and it’s a GRAY film in almost every way.
Which is why I love it. The fact it exists is a case of power and responsibility comic book fans should get behind. Given carte blanche after his Haley Joel trendsetter, M. Night went and made the most odd and difficult film he could with that cred. I respect that and find this to be really solid effort that has aged well despite the excellent superhero movies that followed it.
Comic books aren’t seamless and onscreen there’s certain leaps of faith one has to take to suspend disbelief. This flick is a minor offender with those rules in place, yet somehow it doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves for that.
The only ‘What the Fuck’ about Unbreakable is in how more people don’t enjoy and support it.