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Signs (2002)
Despite brilliant sequences and some terrific performances, the story doesn't hang together, 6 August 2002

One is aware watching this film that it is the work of an independently minded artist who has been given relatively free reign. In the realm of committee-created summer garbage, that's breathtaking! Unfortunately, despite many brilliant sequences and some terrific performances (the two children, Joaquin Phoenix, and Cherry Jones), the story of a minister's struggle with faith in the midst of an alien invasion, though intermittently powerful, just doesn't hang together. You're left with too many questions that linger and grow in number in the days following -- and not good ones, but rather questions like what were they doing with all that crop since no one seemed to really be farming it? The comparisons of Shyamalan to Hitchcock and Spielberg are apt, however, and the framing of almost every shot, the choice to keep most of the horror off-screen, shows an all too rare insight, taste, and intelligence.

Some powerful moments and strong performances, but much ado about nothing, 25 January 2002

Vivid and potentially haunting recreation of a bygone era is undermined by frequent indecipherable dialogue, impossible-to-follow story lines, and the tendency of those stories you can pick up on to be fairly predictable and familiar. The "mystery" is especially lame, and the character of the inspector seems to have required no more than ten seconds' thought on the part of its creators. The cast, of course, is impressive -- Emily Watson and Helen Mirren are particularly good -- but one cannot escape the sense that most of them are wasted here. American critics, alas, are easily seduced by British accents. There is less here than meets the eye.

Long, confusing film about the mind neither enlightens nor entertains, 19 December 2001

If Cameron Crowe had written this as an original screenplay, one could at least credit him with attempting a unique and personal vision. Knowing that the script is based on a previous film, one is left with little justification for its frustrating and ultimately pretentious muddle. The actors are all good -- Cruise unusually so -- but what are they doing in this long, complicated movie that actually becomes less interesting as it goes along? The entire, endless last forty minutes is spent explaining the rest of it, but in a way that's neither interesting nor satisfying. There are flashes of a much more compelling, daring, and provocative movie on occasion, but they go nowhere. One leaves the theater feeling disturbed, but for no gain.

12 out of 14 people found the following review useful:
Unusually realistic, beautifully acted film from the fifties, 21 April 2001

Don Murray is good as a married man coaxed (by his wife!) into attending a bachelor party for a fellow bookkeeper. The wife (well played by Patricia Smith) seems to know the party will test Murray's nose-to-the-grindstone dedication to their marriage. It does -- and reveals a great deal about the other participants as well, especially the prospective bridegroom, who seems to get more emotional satisfaction from friend Murray than his bride-to-be. The ending is sentimental, but moving, too, if you give it a chance, and there's a truly brilliant small performance from Carolyn Jones, probably seven or eight of the most mesmerizing minutes ever filmed.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Evocative and powerful love story of redemption, 31 December 1999

Neil Jordan has exquisitely adapted Graham Greene's novel and produced the most lushly romantic and deeply felt evocation of mid-century English Catholicism since BRIDESHEAD REVISITED. This is really a love story about a woman who leaves a man for God, and that's where it gains its greatest power and uniqueness: a movie in 1999 daring to say there may be something greater in life than shtupping Ralph Fiennes. Add to that gorgeous photography, achingly beautiful music, eloquent narration, and all that rain, and you have an extremely moving experience, which, like the director's other work, operates very successfully on a number of levels, some of breathtaking depth.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Disappointing suspenser is too much surface dazzle, 29 December 1999

Despite many flashes of visual style, this film misses opportunity after opportunity to be a truly Hitchcockian study of sociopathology. The scene in the lobby of the opera house, for example, directed by Hitchcock, would have been a genuine gasper. Other, more obvious gaffes: the film begins with narration, which never recurs (Where is Ripley when he is telling us this story? Why is he telling it? Why have only one line of this narration?); the skyline in the background of the opening scene is modern day. The film comes vividly to life in scenes where Ripley's buried emotions come to the fore -- in the boat, for example, or in the final scene -- but ultimately Matt Damon is not a strong enough actor to bring this fascinating character to life. Both he and Gwyneth Paltrow, in fact, seem startlingly amateurish alonside Jude Law, Cate Blanchet, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who are all superbly confident. The tendency of visual and sound effects to dominate modern movies here invades what could have been a wonderfully complex character study; instead it seems to be a film about photography and jazz.