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I was very surprised to see such an ordinary theme in Shyamalan's latest movie. The leitmotiv in his two prior movies dealt with how the protagonist comes to terms with an extraordinary ability, while in "Signs" its about a priest who has lost his faith and how he finds it again. But instead of using the development of the protagonist as a theme, Shyamalan chooses to tell the story about an alien invasion and how its affects the protagonist and his "faith". If you look hard you may find some submotiv about if events are accidential or destiny (as in "Unbreakable").
Even more surprising is how weak the visual construction of the movie is. Despite some stunning compositions, especially in the early stages, Tak Fujimoto's skill seems wasted. The compositions are flat and at certain points almost banal.
The story itself takes alot for granted without informing the audience of it, but worse, it has elements which are so coinsidential that they belong in a bad b-movie. For instance, the only bookstore in town has one book about aliens and that book is perhaps the most insightfull book ever written, since it predicts everything which the aliens later do. Another example is when Gibson encounters the alien, locked up by Shyamalan, who for some reason knows they dont like water, he basicly leaves it be and doesnt call the police. "Signs" has many coinsidences which function as nothing but a temporary suspence/scare motiv.
Overall a extremely weak movie, which has none of the originality that "Six Sense" and especially "Unbreakable" had. I cant help feeling that this was an amazing pitch that was rushed thru production and never found the time to mature into what it may have been.
Star Wars (1977)
One of cinema's magical gems
Cinema is full of magic moments, and as a cinephile your mind drifts away just thinking about them. Thus all reflections over those moments will become purely subjective; who can say if the mirage sequence from "Lawrence of Arabia" is better than Dorothy opening the door to Oz. But in my book, the most magical moment is to see the Millennium Falcon coming towards the screen with the sun behind it, right after Han Solo hit one of Darth Vader's wingmen during the final assult on the death star.
"Star Wars" is far from original. The main plot is very close to Kurosawa's "Hidden Fortress", the final assult on the death star brings up memories from "Dambusters", and Luke returning to see his family burned is a clear copy from "The Searchers". So its not wrong at all, to see "Star Wars" as a hypotext of classic iconographic scenes. But does that make a classic ? The answer to that is no.
To me the secret to "Star Wars" is its characters. Pure two dimensional, but so clearly drawn, that it gives them personality. The corrupted evilness of Darth Vader, the charming scroundelness of Han Solo, the humble power of Obi Wan and not to be forgotten C3PO and R2D2, who adds comic relief as well as function as indirect narrating linkers. Its the presence of these characters that drives the movie. Like the characters of Milne's "Winnie the Pooh", the characters of "Star Wars" represent a side of human nature. Crude, simple, but very effective.
To top it all off, Lucas chose to make it a modern faery tale. "Star Wars" opens with "In a galaxy, far, far away", which is the same as our childhood stories that opend "Once upon a time". To read the structure of "Star Wars" is as reading Propp's structures of faery tales.
All in all, "Star Wars" is a gem of cinema, and it is as valuable to our culture, as the stories collected by the Grimm Brothers. Its not just science fiction, its a collage of visual imagery and archtypes on which we build our own imagination.
May the force be with you...
Lust for Life (1956)
Passion for life
When I hear the name Vincente Minnelli certain scenes pop up on my inner screeningroom: A tracking shot at the fair (Some came running), the low tracking zoom towards Douglas and Turner at the pool (Bad and the Beautiful), snowmen (Meet me in St Louis) and the agony in Douglas's face in "Lust for life"; in fact as soon as his redbearded agonized face pops up, all the other movies fade away and "Lust for life" takes over my inner screening room.
But apart from being my favorite Minnelli movie, its a movie that more than any other shows his genius in use of colors; every scene is composed in breathtaking technicolor with the deepest respect for Van Gogh's own use of color, and Douglas's acting is filled with the same agony and passion as the strokes of Van Gogh's brush. As the other great movies who uses color to its fullest (Wizard of Oz, Black Narcissus, Ten Commandments), the simularities between the director and the painter is obvious. Hence, Minnelli's struggle for "painting" the scenes with the richness of technicolor becomes an echo of Van Gogh. It also reads as a textbook in composition from Steinberg's Dead Space to Eisenstein's juxtapositions. In all, Minnelli is of great skill and uses it to the fullest.
The story, which focuses on the struggle for a new way of expression, is tame at times and the acting (apart from Douglas) seems static most of the times, but the tortured face and body of Douglas and the use of color makes this one of the greatest achievements in MGM's history and one of the best movies Minnelli ever made.