A “bedtime story” is a fairly succinct way to describe Lady. Of course a bedtime story being told by M. Night Shyamalan can go into any number of weird and wild directions. The writer/director says the idea for Lady was based on a story he’d told his kids which began with “Did you know that someone lives under our pool?” and revolves around Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) a lowly superintendent for an apartment building who inadvertently finds Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) a mysterious nymph-like “narf ” living in the pool. She’s there to complete a task and now that it’s done she needs to go home back to the Blue World. But that’s easier said than done. She only has a small window of opportunity and apparently there’s a ferocious beast called a “scrunt” lurking in the grass around the pool waiting to kill her if she tries to leave. Now Cleveland and a few of the other tenants—who find themselves intricately tied to Story’s plight—must help her escape to freedom. Thank god for Sideways. Without it Giamatti would have gone on playing under the radar without the recognition—and juicier parts—he deserves. He is truly a wonder as Cleveland a sad little man with a stutter who is quietly trying to hide from a tragic past. It’s only when Story comes into his life does he face his personal tragedy and learn to live again. Howard on the other hand who wowed most of us with her stunning performance in The Village doesn’t have nearly as much to work with as the pale water nymph. The mystical character is fairly one note—befuddled and cheerless. But the rest of the apartment tenants shine: Jeffrey Wright (Syriana) as a single dad who has a penchant for crossword puzzles; Freddy Rodriguez (HBO’s Six Feet Under) as a weight builder who only lifts weights on one side of his body; Bob Balaban (A Mighty Wind) as a pompous film critic (and as a critic I’m not at all offended when he gets his comeuppances); Cindy Cheung as a Korean college student who is key in telling the epic bedtime story; Sarita Choudhury (She Hate Me) as a quippy young woman looking for her mission in life and Shyamalan himself as her brother the person Story is meant to inspire to write something extraordinary. There’s never a dull moment with this crew around. In a way M. Night Shyamalan has become his own worst enemy having to live up to this reputation as a master of suspense and surprise twists. His last effort The Village left many of his fans feeling unsatisfied—and unfortunately he may alienate more with Lady in the Water. But the fact of the matter is he is still one of Hollywood's more brilliant minds on par with screenwriter Charlie Kaufman for originality who has an innate talent for crafting ingenious stories filled with genuine human emotions. So maybe this time around he’s made a movie more for those most ardent of his fans who simply revel in the way his mind works no matter how incomprehensible and frivolous it may seem. So what? The diehards might feel compelled to defend Shyamalan’s choices with Lady—how he has come up with an entire universe where things like “scrunts” and the “Tartutic” (simian-like creatures who form an invincible force that maintains law and order in the Blue World) and “Madam Narfs” interact with humans in the real world. If the story actually took place in the Blue World then maybe it’d be easier to swallow. But that’s sort of the genius of Shyamalan. It’s as if with Lady in the Water he’s crafted a child-like movie for those adults who remember being told wildly creative bedtime stories who then in turn tell the stories to their kids.
Everyone involved in End of the Spear does indeed in one way or another end up facing a spear of some kind. The film dramatizes the real-life story of the Waodani people--a violent Ecuadorian society living in the Amazon jungle--and the five young missionaries who in the early ‘60s tried to communicate peace with them. Lead by Nate Saint (Chad Allen) the five men make contact with the tribe but are brutally speared by Waodani leader Mincayani (Louie Leonardo) and his fellow warriors. Then in an odd twist some of the slain men’s family members including Nate’s young son Steve (Chase Ellison) go and live with the Waodani in a continued attempt to promote peace. But as Steve grows up he is haunted by his beloved father’s death while Mincayani struggles with his past actions and his ever changing world. Steve (also Chad Allen) returns to the jungle and he and Mincayani finally have a meeting of the spears er minds so to speak. Remember little Chad Allen from the ‘80s TV show Our House? Exactly. But although the former child actor hasn’t done anything of major note since his performance in Spear is a worthy effort. Here the actor adequately distinguishes the roles of the saintly father and the grounded grown-up son. Ellison meanwhile with his angelic yet inquisitive face aptly conveys the pain of losing his father in the role of the young Steve Saint. But while Leonardo is convincing as the virile but conflicted Mincayani trying fit in with the modern world the actor loses much of his punch as the charcter's older older incarnation who has apparently given up his violent ways (something which isn’t explained clearly in the film). Writer/director Jim Hanon already detailed this real-life story in his 2005 documentary Beyond the Gates--but apparently felt that wasn’t enough. Someone should have advised him it was. Hanon a former advertising executive has a nice touch as a documentary filmmaker putting moviegoers right in the middle of the lush tropical surroundings but he lacks the skills to make a cohesive feature film. It’s far more fascinating to watch the real Ecuadorian people struggle to reconcile their violent culture with their peaceful lives than it is to watch a dramatization of the events complete with clichéd dialogue and stiff acting. The feature is simply ineffective and fails to give the actual story any more resonance.