Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Like a stock with a beta equal to two...
Heavily hyped and expectantly positioned, SIGNS is casting a paranormal spell among the mainstream, tentpole-seeking flock. The third major work from one M. Night Shyamalan, it is a film which is rather simple in premise but rich in design.
Let's propose an analogy. Ever buy a fish from a pet shop? What's the first thing you do when you bring the little guy home? You take that half-filled- or half-empty, if you're of a pessimistic persuasion- bag of murky water which serves as a transient home for your unblinking, fin-sporting friend and place it on the aqueous surface of the aquarium tank for a brief period of time for purposes of acclimating the swimming critter to the new environment's thermo characteristics. In a similar fashion, one has to acclimate oneself to SIGNS; it doesn't necessarily grab you from the beginning. It's not such a work. Instead, you have to float on its surface for a little while, get a feel for the different world on the screen; once you do, once you relax and are used to the fresh locale, you'll be in business.
Up to a point. Let me explain.
SIGNS is the story of a simple family of farmers led by Graham Hess, portrayed by superstar Mel Gibson. Joaquin Phoenix plays his brother Merrill Hess, and Graham's son Morgan and daughter Bo are represented by Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, respectively; this is a tight clan, but one which is also filled with multiple neuroses. For instance, Bo can never finish a glass of water because she is obsessed with germs and contamination; Morgan never seems happy, like a kid his age ought to be; and Graham has a passionate hate for someone he used to love and work for- he loses all semblance of faith when his wife Colleen perishes after being struck by a hapless motorist and leaves the priesthood. Doesn't necessarily make for a happy family.
Life goes on for them, hard though it may be, they tend their crops, go to school, try to make the best of whatever existence they've been dealt. But an intrusion suddenly appears: geometric shapes have formed themselves- or have been formed- in the vast acreages of corn fields growing on the premises. Crop circles. And it's not just on the Hess property; the weird symbols crushed into the fields begin appearing all over the globe. What are they.what do they mean?
They mean this: an invasion is on the way. Extraterrestrials bent on raping the planet of its most prized and sophisticated resource: human beings. The family Hess decides to band together even more tightly than before, to try and survive the oncoming onslaught as best they can. But can Graham do it without faith? Can he do it without the help of his former employer? And what about his kids.can what was once a set of odd ways spontaneously morph into a set of useful mutations?
The first thing you notice about SIGNS is the acting; it is the most stifled, stilted craftsmanship ever seen. It is done on purpose, and obviously serves a purpose- one valid interpretation would be that it demonstrates the fact that this is a family made gravely sober through tragedy- but, nevertheless, it does take some getting used to (hence the fish analogy). In fact, it took me some time to get past the perception of petrified wood reading sides during an audition at a casting agent's office. (This did make for some interesting attempts at dry, sarcastic humor.)
What eventually got me over this stumbling block was the architecture of creepiness which slowly but steadily built itself over the course of the acts. The spook quotient crawled and slithered along in a very satiating buildup reminiscent of THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. For acolytes of Mulder and Scully, the omnipresent X-factor is there and accounted for.
There was also some superb foreshadow and follow-through present. As can be expected, Graham's loss of belief plays a pivotal role, as does little Morgan's nasty asthma attacks. Then there is the main theme, as depicted in an excellent exchange between Graham and his fraternal sibling: are there miracles, or are there only instances of random chance? Divine hand or capricious statistical clustering? Magic?.Mayhem? The aliens serve as a catalytic vehicle for such discussion and resolution, raising the philosophical intellect of the piece to an acceptable level.
Yet, there are deficiencies.loads of them, in fact. Let's talk about one in particular: the aliens themselves. What word/phrase should I use? Insipid? Uninspired? Lacking? Devoid of creative imagination? Parched and looking to drink from the river Muse? How about this.they disappointed and subtracted from the grace which was forming. And let me mention a specific scene, the one in which one of the otherworlders is caught on tape at the opening of an alleyway; not only was I immediately struck by the sense that it was a guy in a horribly bad Hollywood suit, but the way in which it was shot valued any chance at instilling lurid fear in the hearts of the viewers at zero. Sorry, M. Night, you failed on that one, we're way past zippers running up the back of a costume accidentally getting caught in frame. (I have to agree with the sentiment of a friend: perhaps he should've Blair-Witched the aliens and either not shown or shown very little of them.)
The unraveling of the plot also left me emotionally listless. In addition, there were some discrepancies of logic as well (big example is the Achilles heel of the aliens). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the experience of SIGNS. It was a bit volatile at times, like the NASDAQ, but like the battered index, it formed quite a sweet bubble at certain points- I was happy enough to have realized profits where I could.
SIGNS. Shyamalan has pretty much batted a thousand at this point (if you begin with THE SIXTH SENSE). I ask you.miracle, or coincidence? Which one are you?.
Blood Work (2002)
Clint's feeling lucky even without Harry...
Clint Eastwood's BLOOD WORK does an amicable job of presenting a diverting detective story. From prologue to conclusion, the plot ably conserves the viewer's attention, disassembling with smooth manipulation the complicating mystery facing the protagonist. Don't worry about lapses into generic Dirty-Harry mnemonics- there are no cheap retreads of devices from that universe, the film stands dutifully, as well as gracefully, on its own.
Terry McCaleb is a profiler for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. All cinematic profilers have that one nemesis, that bête noire, which eludes them like a shooting star on a cloudy night and irritates them like cold air on a decayed tooth. For McCaleb, it's the `Code Killer', a serial homicidal perp who courts the agent's attention and affections, leaving cryptic numerical messages at the bloody crime scenes. In the opening sequence, McCaleb thinks he sees the man responsible for the latest killing, and hightails after him; unfortunately, the suspect gets away just as the elderly crime fighter's heart freezes into arrest from all the strain.
Dissolve to a couple years later: McCaleb now possesses a new blood pump. He feels a bit of guilt about it- as evidenced by comments he makes to his doctor concerning the younger patient down the hall who is also waiting for a transplant- but one has to imagine he's pretty happy to be alive just the same. His whole world now is focused on the proper cultivation of his health, as he has to be extremely careful not to give the imported muscle any excuse to reject its second home.
A distraction, however, comes along. Graciella Rivers- portrayed by the sultry Wanda De Jesus- needs McCaleb's assistance in finding the culprit responsible for her sister's murder. The retired profiler attempts a course of polite refusal, but it doesn't take long for him to accept the case; after all, it just so happens that the heart which has afforded him a second chance at life used to belong to Rivers's sister. McCaleb enters the case, intent on bringing order to the messy chaos.
BLOOD WORK yields many clues and false leads, a cavalcade of possible suspects and sticky situations, as every good detective story should. The viewer does not experience a tight winding of suspense, nor are there any gritty, visceral sequences- the seat's edge is never occupied, certainly- but it matters little, as the picture operates on a different emotional level, a mellower, cooler one, where the story occupies the prime real estate of intent and execution. The fly dangling off the main hook- that of the surprising situation of heart-transplant-recipient chasing organ-donor's murderer- does its job and baits you in, silvery-shimmering thing that is; it probably isn't wholly original, but then again, what lure is? So long as you can catch fish with it and tie it in somewhat of a unique fashion, then all is well and legal in the world.
Eastwood captures a string of competent performances. Some shine more than others, but for the most part, they don't go too beyond the level of mere competency; once again, this is what is called for by the fundamental nature of the material. All the stereotypes are present and accounted for, they do their job without going 'method', and whatever minimal character dimensionality exists either meets or beats the necessary requirements (of special note is Paul Rodriguez, whose Detective Ronaldo Arrango role lights the fuse to several comedic sticks of dynamite). In terms of cinematography, the look of the film possessed a contemporarily elegant tone, the lighting bright and mellow; the camera techniques utilized were unassuming, straightforward, utilitarian. These directorial choices were- forgive this crossing over into the land of tautology- justified and only worked to enhance the tale by keeping out of its way.
BLOOD WORK didn't find its audience; it got swept up in the swift summer currents, the other sharks bigger and faster, biting down on the lucrative discretionary-carrying prey before it ever had time to perceive a chance. That's okay, because it will find its theoretical cult of admirers over the long run, as the story will prove to be a timeless one; ancillary markets, here comes Clint.
And you are?...
A few years back, SEINFELD inflicted upon television one of the worst nadirs in the medium's volatile history: the backwards episode. Stephen King used to intimate for purposes of jocularity that he might be able to get away with publishing his shopping list- or some such mundane, domestic record anyway- due to his immense fame and brand inculcation; he of course would never be so arrogant (one of the Monkees- Nesmith, I believe- said a similar thing, only this time it was recording the banal standard of "Happy Birthday [interestingly enough, the Beatles essentially accomplished such a feat]). No one would ever try to publish their shopping list, but that's exactly what Jerry et al. did by synthesizing an episode where, get this, instead of setup/punchline, let's do- are you ready for this, gang?- punchline/setup! That's right, let's do it backwards! Instead of starting at the beginning, let's start at the end! Instead of reading left to right, let's go right to left! The audience will love us, we're practically Gods by now in their eyes, we can get away with anything! This particular lapse into experimental episodic theater met with questionable justification and perhaps challenged too harshly the faithful flock into assimilating a hook which was too sharp-edged for the typical viewer; or, to be more colloquial, it sucked.
I had this show in the back of my mind when approaching MEMENTO. Would it essentially be a bad Seinfeld episode, I wondered. I was really worried while viewing the opening scene, which literally was celluloid run in the unorthodox polarity. I braced myself for the experience, determined to give the sucker a well-deserved chance, for I had heard such laudatory comment about it.
What I discovered in MEMENTO was perhaps a pinnacle of achievement. Could it be genius, the inspired kind? Or, maybe, proactively divined from the center of the human mind? I have no idea. Suffice to say it is a rare beast: an experimental film which actually yields practical results. Mark the genus, the species, capture a specimen, place it in a menagerie, and study it so that we might learn how to raise more of it.
The engine of the film was nothing less than off-the-wall quirky: run the plot from finish to start. Keep the scenes themselves in proper format, but change their locations on the sequence. This would be stupid, of course, if there wasn't a good enough reason for it; I mean, you don't want to run a work backwards just for the sake of running it backwards, do you Mr. Seinfeld? Gratuity was defeated by this: the main character can not hold memories for any significant length of time. And as a character in the film stated: it's like living in reverse. At first I didn't really get the concept, but then it became as clear as a protozoan cell: run the scenes backward, and the viewer immediately empathizes with the sufferer. Talk about being disjointed! I certainly was, and that's what I needed to be. I needed to figure the mystery out along with the main character. The plot certainly could have been done in a conventional way, but then the viewer's omniscient awareness would have rendered the project a useless exercise in typical made-for-premium cable banality. And if you think it's impossible to inject twists and contortions and red herrings into a movie where you see the ending first, I will ask you to think twice, you can count on it.
For all intents and purposes, this is a science fiction film, one theoretically based on a Philip K. Dick tale (Dick would have loved this). TOTAL RECALL is one of the most clever films to ever be recorded, but it is not really open to interpretation due to a certain scene in it; MEMENTO, on the other hand, is one for which many possibilities are equally plausible it is a chaotic system to be sure, and it invites the watcher to elucidate his/her own equations in the interest of resolving and replicating the fractal nature within.
No thing is perfect, certainly, and the one glaring question I have- unless this was accounted for within the story and I missed it anyway- was why the main character didn't make use of audio/video recording devices. But I suppose it is easily explained away. The point is, I enjoyed the film, and maybe you will as well