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Monday, August 05, 2002
Signs ***1/2
Directed by: M. Night Shyamalan
Written by: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin and Cherry Jones
Rated: PG-13 (philosophy, violence, language)

It's been awhile since I've done this, so I'm gonna play the 'rust' card. Also, unlike all my previous reviews, this is being written 3 days after seeing the film, rather than 20 minutes. The second part of the disclaimer might actually be a benefit to the review, rather than a crutch.

I am probably preaching to the choir here, but M. Night is a damn good director. Don't compare him to Spielberg. They are playing two different games. Spielberg is in love with movies. M. Night is in love with science fiction. Spielberg is a throwback to the "Golden Era" of Hollywood -- he makes big, spectacular movies with lots of flash and glamour, and characters that we relate to. M. Night is part of a new school. A school that's pretty far away from the neighborhood that housed the school that Tarantino and Rodriguez went to. It's probably near the school where Christopher Nolan and Brian Singer went, but not the same school. Am I making sense? Actually, go back a few sentences -- M. Night Shyamalan is actually the only person playing his particular game. It's a game that looks pretty much like all the other games, but there's something just a little different about it. It's kind of like other directors are asprin, while he's Nuprin.

So -- the story. Graham Hess (Gibson) is a former priest. He left the church after the death of his wife. He lives on his farm in rural Pennsylvania with his son Morgan (Culkin), his daugher Bo (Breslin) and his brother Merril (Phoenix). He's a good father. Worries about the safety of his children, all that good stuff. One morning, his children find that their field has been marked with crop circles. Of course, you already know that. The movie isn't about Tesla, after all. Is it the work of pranksters? No. Is it the work of aliens? Well, yes. It turns out that crop circles have been showing up around the world. They're too extensive, too similar, to be copycats. This is real. Then, it turns into a M. Night Shyamalan movie. The tension doesn't come from the fact that Earth is being invaded. It comes from things that should be ordinary. Are miracles real? Is there a guiding force in the universe? Does God do things for a reason, or is everything a matter of chance?

In a strange way, this movie is a lot like Being John Malkovich. Bear with me here. The strange part about Malkovich wasn't the whole notion of a doorway that lead into the mind of John Malkovich -- it was the bizarre love triangle that developed between the characters. In Signs, the heart of the movie is in how this family, already stressed by tragedy, deals with an alien invasion. Do you pray? Do you enjoy what might be your last moments of life? What kind of person are you? I'm really not doing justice to the questions the movie asks, but, that's not my job here. You are supposed to think about these things. I already have. And I'm not sure about my answers.

I went to see the movie with my friend Mike. Afterwards, I said that it was nice to see Tak Fujimoto working again. He got all confused and thought I was being a smart ass. Then, I explained. Tak Fujimoto was also the director of photography for the Grumpy Old Men series. He doesn't make fancy shots. He's not Janusz Kaminski, who worked on the last few Spielberg movies. Fujimoto has very clean shots. There is nothing wasted in them. He's not out to wow you -- he's there to show you the picture. No overtly moody lighting, no crazy angles, just clean, tight shots. Exactly what Signs needed. It's a naturalistic movie.

Like the previous M. Night movies, Signs takes its damn time in telling the story. Which is good. If it didn't, it wouldn't work. At all. As a bonus, M. Night has learned how to use humor. I'm talking belly laughs here. And they're placed perfectly. While, for me, it never had white-knuckle tension, it did have suspense, and the laughs made it work even better.

You should probably go get your tickets now. Odds are, you won't get any if you go like 30 minutes before showtime.

You hate me. I know that you do. And I don't care.

Why do you hate me? Because I'm the asshole who drives the speed limit in construction zones and on the interstate. I'm the guy who is responsible for you being backed up behind 4 semis. And I like it that way. I like making your life miserable because I am perfectly capable of driving 55. I drive the speed limit just to piss you off. Not because of safety or out of respect for the law -- it's just to piss you off. I want to get a bumper sticker that says "Jesus would obey the speed limit".

Comments by: YACCS