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Signs: Signs: A Concurring Review
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2002 12:44 am    Post subject: Signs: A Concurring Review Reply with quote

nother in my on and off again series of film reviews.

SIGNS
Review by John Bernard Jones (Rejoined@aol.com) • ©2002 All Rights Reserved

CAST & CREW
Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Patricia Kalember
Directed, Written & Produced by M. Night Shyamalan


Last time......

There was the double review of the summer of 2002's biggest twin terrors, the entertaining, yet anemic and unsatisfying Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and Spiderman, the year's best comic book movie. Between then and now, I've seen a number of other movies including Minority Report (a great film nearly undone by it's last 8 minutes), skipped a few (Men In Black II...no thanks), and am eagerly anticipating a couple of recent entries (Austin Powers in Goldmember and Road to Perdition). Of this summer's bumper crop of films, only one has made me sit down and think for a couple of days before setting fingers to keyboard due to its narrative breadth, it's philosophical questions and grandeur of it's cinematic scope.

"Signs" is M. Night Shyamalan's third major film. His first blockbuster, the phenomenally successful "The Sixth Sense," made something like a trillion gazillion dollars. The second, "Unbreakable," only made like a trillion but was superior to "Sixth Sense" in every way. No one knows what kind of box office magic or curse that "Signs" will engender, but if there is any justice in the universe, it will make a trillion bazillion, somewhere in between the other two. After all, Time magazine has questioned whether or not Shyamalan is the next Steven Spielberg while other critics have likened him to the great Alfred Hitchcock. But the truth be told, Shyamalan is actually a lot closer to Orson Welles than either of those other giants all the while simultaneously hovering between critical & audience acceptance and poised to take off in any of their respective directions. And like those other three icons, Shyamalan's detractors like think of him as a one trick pony....except they can never quite point to his "one trick." With "Signs," I happily count myself as one of Shyamalan's faithful, because this man is truly a genius.

The basic plot of "Signs" seems simple enough: a former minister named Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), wrecked with grief over the recent death of his wife, finds himself and his family caught up in a possible invasion by extraterrestrial forces when mysterious crop circles appear in his corn fields. As events unfold, Graham and his brother Merrill must protect his family and fight....what?

Ah. Like Shyamalan's previous works, "Signs" is not exactly what it seems and I'm not talking about the shocking twist ending that his fans have come to expect. Shyamalan is interested in taking conventional movie genres and turning them on their ear and inside out to probe the genuine mysteries of oour real lives. "The Sixth Sense" is less a ghost story than it is a meditation on guilt, unfinished business, redemption and what we leave behind. "Unbreakable" may be a comic book origin movie but it really concerns itself with the ways in which we limit our own potential or how we are limited from reaching our potential and how we might rise to it for good or evil...and whether or not this is the basis of good and evil. "Signs" takes the alien invasion movie and turns it into a meditation of faith.

The direction and production design of this film is first rate and so convincing that no one would guess that the Hess farmhouse was built from scratch and the cornfields planted just for the film. The shots are long and languid, like the best of Welles' greatest works and evoking the cinematography of the legendary Greg Toland. And James Newton Howard's score (the same one featured in the early trailers) is rich, eerie and evocative without being used to distraction or as a device to telegraph to us what we "should" be feeling (you know, ominous music swells because something baaaaaaaddddddd is about to happen). Thank God, there is none of that.

In the acting department, Mel Gibson may not be the most convincing Episcopalian ex-minister around, but as a wounded and grieving father he does some of the best acting of his career if not his absolute best. As a father of like 90 kids in real life, Gibson brings all the joy, mirth, fear and even gravitas of fatherhood to a role that demands those emotions and more along with a palpable sense of grief that almost jumps off the screen. Joaquin Phoenix proves that his Oscar nomination for Gladiator was no fluke, peeling back the layers of Merrill Hess (Graham's brother) with near comic genius and, in a death-defying feat of acting, simultaneous intensifying terror. Rory McCulkin and Abigail Breslin as the Hess children, Morgan and Bo, are phenomenal. And an extra special mention must be given to Cherry Jones, who as Officer Caroline Paski provides one of the sharpest characterizations of such a small yet pivotal role since Beatrice Straight's in "Network." But this is all M. Night Shyamalan's doing and the credit must be given to him for all of "Signs' " glories.

Unlike "Sixth Sense" or "Unbreakable," "Signs" does not have a gotcha-twist-ending which may disappoint those expecting one. Nor does it contain huge "Independence Day" or "Attack of the Clones" style special effects, which would have been unnecessary in the first place. In fact, everything is presented as very matter of fact, which serves, reinforces and ultimately strengthens the story being told. What "Signs" also has are those elements of filmmaking that make Shyamalan one of the most brilliant writers and directors working today: the way the story is meticulously constructed, the way the audience is never cheated because everything is laid out before them, the respect for the audience's intelligence, the careful and deliberate shots giving us time to see and absorb what's going on instead of disguising mistakes with hyper-warp speed editing, and the attention to detail and character that sets this summer blockbuster above all others. We see things the way the director intends us to see them, with red herrings and blue herrings all around, but each one having resonance and meaning. "Signs" is also filled with moments of suspense, horror, and outright comedy that are pitch perfect in every way.

Be forewarned: the marketing campaign is partially misleading. "Signs" may be about the meaning of crop circles and the terror in that answer, but it is really much deeper and much more meaningful.

There is a refrain in the movie that recurs throughout the film that has more meanings than one. I hope to add another:

"See."
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TheAngryJew
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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2002 4:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Solid review!

Here's mine:

Signs: Good flick. Wink
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2002 2:45 pm    Post subject: you have GOT to be kidding!!!! Reply with quote

Every time I read a good review about this movie, I ask myself - "did I see the same movie as these people? Am I on crack? Are THEY on crack? Was M. Shayamalan on crack?" Please forgive me for being perhaps overly harsh, but I can't for the LIFE of me figure out how anyone could see any merit in this film whatsoever. The writing was so poor, that I couldn't even be convinced that Mel Gibson's character - "Father" Hess was real.....guess what??? The only clergymen that are called "Father" are Catholic priests, and they aren't allowed to marry....so BZZZZ! Error! Error! Hard for me to buy in to a character who's whole existence must be questioned. Secondly, the television broadcasts of the alien "invasion" were not convincing - particularly the "home video" at the birthday party - the only thing the news media would be interested in would be the shot of the alien. They would certainly not use all that time in a newscast to build suspense like that, only to show a mere single frame of the alien! And, what's the deal with the stars and moon cutouts on the boarded up windows after the attack? Are we supposed to believe that aliens would make such shapes while they were trying to break into the house? It looks like Martha Stewart came by to set up some nice welcoming decor for them.....

Now don't get me wrong, I can suspend reality as well as anyone...I'd be a liar if I said I didn't jump once or twice in that 2 hours of my life that I will never get back. But the end of this stupid story was so ridiculous that I found myself staring at the screen in disbelief. "This couldn't possibly be how they are going to end this!" I said. I actually started to laugh at the method in which the "last battle" took place....I whispered to my friend in the theatre that I think I enjoyed the ending of "The Evil Dead" more than this.

Finally, I must comment on the cast of this film. I love Mel Gibson. But quite frankly, extreme close-ups are not the best choice for someone who has had a face-lift. And Mel, could you swing your arms when you walk, dude? You look like you're carrying 2 heavy suitcases. Thank God Joaquin Phoenix is a babe....at least I was able to enjoy watching him....and his acting was pretty good considering the script he had to read. I think without a doubt the most charming person was Abigail Breslin, who could not have been cuter. She at least gave me a few reasons to smile. Especially when she was wearing the tin foil hat - which was my favorite part of the movie....

Maybe I need to start doing crack... Confused
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2002 4:15 pm    Post subject: Two points Reply with quote

Two points:

1) Episcopalian priests can marry and are called "father." You may examine this link -- http://emmanuel.exis.net/Pages/episcopalian.html -- at the bottom of the page, for proof.

2) I don't recall EVER seeing TV news reports in movies that looked like real TV news reports. I noticed it in "Signs," but I've noticed it in just about every other movie I've ever seen that's had them. So yeah, it's a flaw, but one that's hardly unique to "Signs."
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edna nosredna
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2002 5:05 pm    Post subject: signs Reply with quote

Look -would it have killed m night to give us a little teeny tiny bit of spectacle? I like to examine issues of faith and loss as much as the next guy but a few beautiful visions of otherwordly ships, creatures, more crop circles, crop circles being made -anything would have enhanced the plot without destroying the humanity and matter-of-factness about everyday horror in life.

As far as Im concerned, ridley scotts alien still holds the top prize (in alien genre) for measured deliberate filmaking with alternate slow and fast pacing while reeking of humanity in the character of ripley.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 06, 2002 6:16 pm    Post subject: Re: you have GOT to be kidding!!!! Reply with quote

smartypants wrote:
I couldn't even be convinced that Mel Gibson's character - "Father" Hess was real.....guess what??? The only clergymen that are called "Father" are Catholic priests, and they aren't allowed to marry....so BZZZZ! Error! Error!


Actually,
As profiled in Newsweek a couple months ago, Anglican or Episcopalian priests who are married and convert to catholicism are not forced to divorce their wives and bastardize their children. These married priests are allowed to keep their families intact on conversion.

-M
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2002 4:59 pm    Post subject: Re: you have GOT to be kidding!!!! Reply with quote

You are not on crack. I completely concur. I think it's one of the most boring films I have ever seen. It is also SO unscary, that I can't fathom how this long bore can keep people up at night!?! Try nytol.

J.
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2002 11:16 pm    Post subject: i usually enjoy the thrashing reviews Reply with quote

i like hollywoodbitchslap. if it had been my site, i would only allow the reviews that are negative in some way. that said, i would also only publish reviews that make sense. jim the movie freak, you ask several questions in your review which are clearly answered in the movie, such as why they don't leave. because they discussed it and voted, that's why. you're allowed to not like a movie. but you aren't allowed to not like it unless you paid attention.

love, sporkgirl (loved it. unbreakable is still number one, followed closely by 6th sense, but until this is on dvd and i can dissect it, it'll have to be in 3rd, in case you were wondering.)
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Oz
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2002 11:40 pm    Post subject: Spork should review again. Reply with quote

How I've missed those long posts without a single letter in caps.

Hail Sporko! Laughing
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let's sue shyamalan
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 2:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

bloated, fallacy-laden, cliche-esque, ill-reasoned, LOW-BUDGET, insult to anyone with half a brain.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 10:30 am    Post subject: Signs made me think... Reply with quote

That I could have squirted a better ending in snow!
Doubt this? How about: THEY WERE DEATHLY ALLERGIC TO CATS!!!!

Honestly - This was one of the most disappointing endings to a mildly enjoyable movie that I have ever witnessed. My jaw was left hanging open.I won't attempt to pick apart most of the film - since others here have done such a good job, but if anyone thinks this was "AMAZING" or "SCARY" then they should rent more movies. Any movies!

What advanced alien race would seek out a planet to attack, do recon missions to test it, and then find out they're deathly allergic to the one thing that covers 80% of the planet? It was an insulting leap of logic!
Good thing it wasn't raining somewhere, anywhere!
Wouldn't this have made the news?
I personally know the word for 'water' in at least 3 languages, and I'm willing to bet anyone could pantomime it for universal understanding.

So much for CARBON BASED LIFEFORMS...! If this is all we have to worry about from the deep reaches of space then maybe its time we hang up on science fiction.

Great, classic Science Fiction always probed the unknown from a human perspective and M. Night succeeded in this. I liked the Gibson character and his family and felt for them as they were attacked in their homes. I also liked the questioning/faith angle. But a good film should have an ending that wraps up the loose threads in a plausible way. I would have even bought an ambiguous ending (like THE BIRDS, maybe?) but the OFFICIAL ending SUCKED for air, and like a lead weight - it crushed the film.
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Oz
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 11:46 am    Post subject: What a tool. Reply with quote

On behalf of all of us who haven't yet seen the film, thanks a lot for ruining the ending. You Nathan Lane motherfucker. Why does some idiot always ruin M. Night Shyamalan movies before I get to go see them?

Oz

- wants a law passed so tools like this have to leave before the last ten minutes of each film.
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Maegs
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 1:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ben, will you remove the post?!

-M
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 6:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

water only covers 71% of the earth's surface, and the genre is called science fiction, with fiction in the title, for a reason, and the aliens weren't the focus of the movie anyway, and wow i sure can run on a sentence, can't i?

-rose, who went out of her way not to spoil only to be thwarted 3 posts later, thanks.
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 7:59 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

We should make a rule in the forum.

For example, in www.racesimcentral.com they have the yellowcard/redcard rule.

Translation: if someone spoils the ending of a movie, should be given a yellow card, in other words a yellow warning.

If he does it again, he should be given a red card, red warning, and be banned from the site.

-----------

Or simply ban the fucker and tell him that he'll have to e-mail Ben about being back on the site
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PostPosted: Thu Aug 08, 2002 11:12 pm    Post subject: I agree with you Smartypants Reply with quote

I really cannot understand what others found in this movie that was so great, but then, I suppose "different strokes for different folks" applies. I waited for months to finally see this flick once released...since the previews looked promising, and was totally insulted. Sad
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2002 5:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Welllll,

I figure if someone's visiting a "Signs Discussion Thread", they've already seen the movie.

Tough to discuss a movie when you can't talk about it. Cool
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 09, 2002 11:48 am    Post subject: Re: i usually enjoy the thrashing reviews Reply with quote

"jim the movie freak, you ask several questions in your review which are clearly answered in the movie, such as why they don't leave. because they discussed it and voted, that's why. you're allowed to not like a movie. but you aren't allowed to not like it unless you paid attention."

It's hard to pay attention when you're trying to keep your eyes open. I KNOW they voted to stay, but their explanation why is quite the cliche in the first place ("let's stay because this is where mommy was" GIMME A BREAK!). If they were smart they would've high-tailed it to the nearest lake. I ask the questions in my review that primarily question their stupidity, not because I didn't know the answers. Paying attention is difficult when you cease to care about moronic characters. I walked in hoping I'd be moved and freaked out like the first time I saw "Sixth Sense," but "Signs" proves that Night is a one-trick pony and he can't come up with a decent third act or ending. It's all smoke and mirrors, and I don't buy the magic. Okay, done.

Jim The Movie Freak.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2002 3:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This wasn't a movie. It was 106 minute advertisment for Reynolds Aluminum Foil.
Movies have stories and plots, this had........ erm......... ??? Well it had some very nice aluminum foil hats. As form the whole "Alien Invasion" premis, we were promised in the very missleading pre-release advertiseing.... Where the hell was it? I sure as hell didn't see it. What ever happend to truth in advertising?

I say wait till this crap comes on cable, then watch it during the addvert breaks in the middle of a better show.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2002 5:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't remember being 'promised' anything in the trailers.

Maybe you should stick with Independence Day and Mars Attacks.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2002 8:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Crop circles, cryptic "help I'm being pursued by something scary" flashes of Mel Gibson and the news flash scenes. That pretty much pointed to some kind of alien/invasion basis for this movie. What the hell did you think it was about? Crop rotation and agricultural techniques?
Other than a few fleeting and mater of fact "by the way, here’s an alien" scenes, this movie had nothing to do with how it was portrayed in the media prior to its release.
I went to the theater expecting something to do with aliens that would be presented in Shyamalan's unique style. All I got for my time and money, was a long tiresome collection of flash backs, moral dilemma and suspense moments that lead nowhere. They weren’t even strung together in any disenable order. I left that theater with nothing but the urge to buy some aluminum foil.
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PostPosted: Tue Aug 27, 2002 9:05 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

if you judge a movie based on the preview trailers, why bother to see the movie at all? the vast majority of trailers are produced by a completely seperate company before the movie is even edited. your argument is pointless. book/cover, ever heard of it? your post wasn't put together in any discernible, or "disenable" (to you) order. the end.
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 28, 2002 6:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Of course I don't judge a movie by it's trailer. But I do use trailers to seperate the wheat from the chaff as it were. How do you deside to which movie to go and see?
And this is not an argument. I'm mearly giveing my view on this movie. That is what this forum is for, is it not? As for it being pointless I don't think it is. My point is that through some clever trailer editing, some over the top advertising and media hype, this movie was portraid to be something other than what it is.

BTW. Congratulations on spoting a spelling mistake. Smile
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Oz
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 28, 2002 1:25 pm    Post subject: Jezars Krist. Reply with quote

Do I get a t-shirt for spotting eight?

Seriously dude, the main point here I think is that if you honestly take anything from a trailer or a movie poster or who's in it, you're pretty much setting yourself up for a fall. I never, repeat NEVER, see a film unless I've talked to, listened to, or read the opinions of those I respect before seeing it. (Or unless I'm invited to a press screening, but that's because I'm cheap.)

If you see a trailer and go, "Jinkies! It's gonna be an alien fest!" and duly line up in the opening few days and spend your hard-earned eight without doing a little verification checking first, then you really ain't got no grounds for complaint.

I do, since a little further up some chump gave away the ending before I got out to see the flick. But you don't.
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sporkgirl
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PostPosted: Wed Aug 28, 2002 1:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

i agree almost totally with oz.

i try to avoid trailers, because they often give away the entire plot of a movie and or are totally misleading. this is called marketing. when i am deciding whether or not to see a film, i gauge several factors. if i like the cast and or director's previous works, if i've heard overall good things from people i personally know (and have agreed with in the past), and i read very few reviews beforehand. usually the new york times and the new yorker magazine, and i read the ratings sections on this site, rotten tomatoes, and my local paper. that list, by the way, is, for me, in order of importance. the exhaltations in commercials for movies or on movie posters, to me are meaningless. what is the marketing company going to do? be honest and give impartial quotes? "pluto nash: reviewer x says wait for the network broadcast!" likely.

this allows me to view a movie without feeling "owed". for example. i avoided the previews for signs so much that i didn't even know it was going to be a scary movie. i mean obviously i knew it would be somewhat scary based on the director's previous flicks, but... you get the idea. judge a movie based on the movie. not on what you were promised.

and by the way, "And this is not an argument. I'm mearly giveing my view on this movie" that is your argument. you and i may not be having a fight, but it was still your argument.

love,
sporkadillyo
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