#295. M. Night Shyamalan

Being a recognizable name in Hollywood is sometimes a double-edged sword. If an actor’s name is recognizable, most people will usually know what type of movie the actor appears in and will either attend or avoid accordingly. The challenge with this is sometimes actors will branch out into different genres, thus making the name recognition a little unreliable. Directors, however, are usually pretty consistent with their genres and styles. While this can help give audiences an indication as to whether or not they’d want to see a movie or not, sometimes a running track record for a director can help them gain ticket sales, especially after a particularly well-received film. Unfortunately, what if a director peaked after their second or third film? This week’s two films will examine the early, successful films of M. Night Shyamalan.

The Sixth SenseThe Sixth Sense
Year: 1999
Rating: PG-13
Length: 107 minutes / 1.78 hours

Even though Shyamalan directed two films before The Sixth Sense (1999), neither Praying with Anger (1992) or Wide Awake (1998) gave him the recognition The Sixth Sense did. Consequently, most consider The Sixth Sense to be his “first” film insomuch as it was his breakthrough into Hollywood. While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for six. M. Night Shyamalan could have walked away with Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, along with his film winning Best Picture, if it were not for American Beauty (1999). Nevertheless, The Sixth Sense has remained a key part of American popular culture, ranking at #89 of the American Film Institute’s latest list of the top 100 films. It is clear from this film; many people had high hopes for the future directorial efforts of M. Night Shyamalan.

Dr. Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) finds himself hesitant to continue his job as a child psychologist after a former patient of his claimed Malcom failed him and shot the doctor as a result. However, when Dr. Crowe comes across Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) and recognizes many traits of his former patient, he decides it’s time to try again. While the former patient suffered from hallucinations, Cole admits to seeing dead people, even if said dead people don’t realize they’re dead. Through Malcom’s encouragement, Cole helps a young girl obtain closure for her wrongful death. Cole even gains enough confidence to return to school, as well as admit to his mother that his gift has allowed him to communicate with his dead grandmother. Feeling his work with Cole is now complete, Malcom returns home to his wife only to discover that she has moved on from him; the twist comes in revealing why.

Year: 2000
Rating: PG-13
Length: 106 minutes / 1.76 hours

Because of the strong twist ending in The Sixth Sense, people were not surprised when his next film, Unbreakable (2000), had a twist ending as well. In fact, even the film after that, Signs (2002), had a twist for an ending. Some would consider Signs to be his last successful film, as the expectation of a twist ending would haunt his next many films. Critical reception of Shyamalan’s films sharply dropped over the next decade, with such flops as The Village (2004), Lady in the Water (2006), The Happening (2008), The Last Airbender (2010), and After Earth (2013) earning him more Golden Raspberries than Oscar statues. Despite his name being tied to disappointment after disappointment, he eventually found the core of his success again with The Visit (2015) and this year’s Split (2017). Perhaps now we can expect great films from M. Night Shyamalan once again.

In a stroke of what could only be unfortunate luck, David Dunn (Bruce Willis) finds himself the sole survivor of a train wreck that killed every other passenger on board, but left him without a scratch. Through this tragic event, he is sought out by Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a collector of rare comic books who was intrigued by David’s survival. Elijah posits the theory that, since he has a rare disease which makes his bones fragile, someone out there must possess the opposite physical flaw. David initially scoffs at Elijah’s hypothesis that he is an indestructible superhero, but once he begins to test this theory, he finds he’s stronger than he ever imagined. Suddenly, incidents from David’s past have deeper meaning. Elijah encourages David to explore some of his superpowers, which eventually leads the hero to learn of the sinister force behind some of the tragic events in his life.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Shyamalan sensations

Bacon #: 2 (Split (directed) / James McAvoy -> X-Men: First Class / Kevin Bacon)


#252. Will Smith

Much like Jamie Foxx, Will Smith is both a successful musician and actor. While he started out with a career in rap, his most famous role spanned the gap between his music and acting. In the eponymous role of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Will Smith made the jump to the small screen that quickly expanded to feature film roles. With a four-year gap from 2008 to 20012, Smith has been acting in films for almost every year since 1992. Even though he’s had a few Oscar nominations, he’s also made a few flops. Of course, Will Smith is not the only one in his family to be a musician and actor. His wife, Jada Pinkett Smith and children, Jaden Smith and Willow Smith, all have careers of their own, oftentimes appearing in films alongside Will. This week’s two films highlight some entries in Will Smith’s acting career.

I, RobotI, Robot
Year: 2004
Rating: PG-13
Length: 115 minutes / 1.92 hours

Before his brief hiatus from acting, Will Smith delved into producing, going so far as to produce six of the films he starred in before 2008. While I, Robot (2004) was his first foray into this realm, Hitch (2005), The Pursuit of Happyness (2006), I Am Legend (2007), Hancock (2008), and Seven Pounds (2008) also bore his mark as producer. Of note is that his portrayal of down-on-his-luck father Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness garnered him his second Oscar nomination, his first having been earned five years earlier for the bio-pic Ali (2001). Unfortunately, not every film he produced was a hit. He won two Golden Raspberries for his acting (both alone and in combination with his son, Jaden) for After Earth (2014), the latest of his films to also be produced by him. This was not due to any inexperience in the science fiction genre, as I, Robot has shown us that he can excel in it.

Chicago police detective Del Spooner (Will Smith) is highly suspect of the robots that have permeated every aspect of the modern world. When a robot saved him from a car crash instead of a teenage girl, he developed a grudge against them, distrusting their ability to determine which life to save. While the Three Laws of Robotics are designed to keep humans safe from robots, the mysterious death of Dr. Alfred Lanning (James Cromwell) spurs Spooner on to investigate the robots surrounding the doctor. In the process, he finds that one of the new NS-5 robots named Sonny (Alan Tudyk) has been modified by Dr. Lanning to ignore the Three Laws. This in turn leads Spooner to discover the artificial intelligence known as VIKI, the mastermind behind a robot uprising being developed near Lake Michigan. It’s now up to Spooner to stop VIKI before she eliminates all humans in an execution of the “zeroth law”.

Independence DayIndependence Day
Year: 1996
Rating: PG-13
Length: 145 minutes / 2.42 hours

Right out of the gate, Will Smith was attached to two franchises that helped to cement his name as an actor in Hollywood. In 1995, he starred opposite Martin Lawrence in Bad Boys. Two years later, he would star opposite Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black (1997). With a Men in Black sequel in 2002 and a Bad Boys sequel in 2003, Will Smith was once again a on top of his game. Since then, the third Men in Black installment in 2012 has been his only return to either franchise. Of course, with two Bad Boys sequels set for 2017 and 2019, respectively, Will Smith is ready to continue the franchise. For me, the first film of Will Smith’s that stuck with me was Independence Day (1996), which is unfortunate, because this year’s sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence (2016), was notably missing his highly-quotable character.

Marine Captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend. One morning he’s called to report to duty as a F/A-18 Hornet pilot to take care of an odd threat that’s appeared all over the world. In battling this alien invasion, Hiller was able to shoot down one of the alien spacecraft. With both him and his foe crash-landed in the desert, Hiller accidentally finds his way to Area 51, where they accept him and the alien specimen. After a nuclear attack fails to damage any of the alien ships, a friend of the President (Bill Pullman), David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) arrives with the solution: upload a virus to the main ship in orbit around the Earth. Despite being turned down by NASA, Hiller’s dream has always been to be an astronaut. When the opportunity arises, he volunteers to take David to the alien mothership to enact Earth’s last plan of survival.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 wonderful Will Smith roles

Bacon #: 2 (Hancock / Mark Simich -> Frost/Nixon / Kevin Bacon)