Here’s a review from Cara of Silver Screen Serenade who chose this month’s Genre. If you don’t already follow her site, go there and catch the tail end of her spectacular Blogiversary event that has been going on for a few weeks.
It’s not too late to send in your reviews for this months Genre, so get them to me by Friday by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Let’s see what Cara has to say about Signs (2002)….
“See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?” –Graham Hess
Number of Times Seen – I would say at least five times, maybe more.
Brief Synopsis – “A family living on a farm finds mysterious crop circles in their fields, which suggests something more frightening to come.” (from IMDb)
My Take On It – I know I decided on this theme myself, but man was this a tough choice! I picked an alien theme to give a wide range of options, but there are almost too many options! Still, I managed to narrow it down to a handful of my favorites, and from there I chose what happened to strike my fancy at the time. Today’s pick: Signs.
It’ a real shame that this is, in my opinion (and in pretty much everyone else’s opinion), the last of M. Night Shyamalan’s good films. Everything since has sounded cool in theory, but in execution…not so much. Part of me is still crossing my fingers that he makes some glorious comeback one day. But I won’t hold my breath.
I’ve always thought the performances in this film are stellar. It’s just a shame that the leading man has revealed himself to be such a rude, hateful person in real life. That’s right—Signs was released during an era I like to refer to as the pre-crazy Mel Gibson years. Well, that’s not entirely accurate, I guess. He was always crazy; we just didn’t know about it. Anyway, if you can manage to look past the ugly stigma attached to his name, he really does give a fantastic performance as Graham Hess, a former reverend who has lost his faith following the death of his wife. Gibson has those big, sad puppy eyes that show his emotions so clearly, and he goes through a whole range of feelings in this film, expressing everything perfectly. He even gets a few comedic moments in between all the drama, and those are great, too.
This film was my introduction to Joaquin Phoenix, though I know many (if not most) people saw him in Gladiator first. Because of that, I think this will always be my favorite of Phoenix’s roles. As Graham’s younger brother, Merrill, Phoenix is just…perfect. Funny, sincere, sweet, and a little slow-witted, Merrill is undoubtedly the primary comic relief, but he’s more than that, too. He’s a father figure to Graham’s children when Graham wallows in misery. Merrill can be childlike himself, but he isn’t afraid to drop some hard truths on Graham when necessary, and he’s always looking out for his loved ones. As for the rest of the family, Rory Culkin (how many Culkins are there anyway?) does a great job as Graham’s son, Morgan. And then there’s Abigail Breslin. I mean OMG can we talk about how adorable she is in this film? Playing Graham’s daughter, Bo, was Breslin’s very first film role, and she just nails it. You could tell from this film that Breslin was going to do okay for herself, and so far that’s proven to be pretty accurate.
When Shyamalan is at his best, there are a lot of clear factors that contribute to that. Getting excellent performances out of his actors is part of it, but I also think Shyamalan is (or maybe I should say “can be”) an excellent writer. He understands natural dialogue, and he can write a damn good monologue. That moment on the couch where Graham and Merrill are talking about fate is just awesome. To tie in with the writing, Shyamalan really can tell a great story, particularly when you realize how every character’s talents or quirks or flaws are all important pieces of the grand finale. Plus, there are so many interesting camera angles in this film—underneath a glass spilling water, focused on a television screen reflecting an alien, down to crack under a pantry door, etc. It’s a feast for the eyes.
Admittedly, the film can be a little slow-moving at times, and perhaps some of the themes are somewhat heavy-handed. Oh, and there’s the fact that for an alien film, you see very little of the aliens themselves. I guess you could classify this as a “slow burn” type of film. But a pretty darn good one.
Bottom Line – Signs isn’t Shyamalan’s masterpiece (The Sixth Sense still wins that title by a landslide), but it’s a well-crafted, suspenseful sci-fi drama with strong actors, excellent writing, and a moving story. If only we could get Shyamalan back to doing stuff like this again…
Rating – Oscar Worthy
Thanks again to Cara for this great review!