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Atmospheric
Crop circles invoke suspense.
BY LOIS WADSWORTH

SIGNS: Written, directed and produced by M. Night Shyamalan. Produced by Frank Marshall, Sam Mercer. Executive producer, Kathleen Kennedy. Cinematography, Tak Fujimoto. Production design, Larry Fulton. Editor, Barbara Tulliver. Costumes, Ann Roth. Music, James Newton Howard. Starring Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, with Cherry Jones, M. Night Shyamalan, and Patricia Kalember. Touchstone Pictures, 2002. PG-13. 120 minutes.

MORGAN (RORY CULKIN), GRAHAM (MEL GIBSON), AND RORY (JOAQUIN PHOENIX) WITH BO (ABIGAIL BRESLIN), GAPE AT THE CROP CIRCLE IN THEIR CORNFIELD.

From the first images to the last, M. Night Shyamalan's Signs maintains an eerie atmosphere, where something malevolent might jump out at you from a shadowed corner of a room or a windblown row of corn grown eight feet tall. The farm house and its adjacent fields are set in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. Anticipation of danger permeates the ambiance of the Hess family farm house, where Graham Hess (Mel Gibson), his brother Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), and Graham's children, Morgan (Rory Culkin) and Bo (Abigail Breslin), live sober, cheerless lives. Tragedy has marked them with sadness, and Graham, formerly an Episcopal minister, is bereft of the comfort of faith   .

Graham is awakened at first light by the family dog barking and the children calling from the center of the cornfield. He follows Bo's voice through the quivering plants to the children, where Morgan takes him to see an enormous flattened circle. Later, Graham sees the shadow of a figure outside the house, and he and Merrill try to catch it. Suddenly they can see the figure on the garage roof, then it's gone. Thereafter, caution and fear motivate the actions of the four central characters, which eventually proves contagious to even Officer Paski (Cherry Jones), who has a close relationship with the family.

Besides atmosphere, the movie leans heavily on Shyamalan's other cinematic trademarks as well. In both The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, he shows how the routines of ordinary life become skewed when people perceive a mysterious force at work. Here, heightened drama attends a child who wakes in the middle of the night and says to her father, "There's a monster outside my room, and I want a glass of water." This isn't Bo being cute, or at least that's not all that's going on. When the family pet becomes dangerous, Morgan has to act quickly to protect his sister. Later, Morgan's asthma figures in a plot development, as does Bo's water phobia.

Too bad Gibson can't act. We all like him. He plays pretty much the same get-long, go-along kind of guy in every movie. Big, affable, gruff on occasion, but really fierce when it comes to taking care of his family. Not an intellectual, he's a man of few words who takes action. Despite his wooden, self-conscious movements, Gibson manages to dominate the movie physically. He can glare and frown, but he cannot express the range of emotions this picture requires, although Bruce Willis could have.

And Philips, who has shown that he can act (Gladiator; The Yards), bears a sappy role here. It's written and directed so that Merrill just goes along with big brother Graham. When Merrill takes a principled stand against Graham, Gibson's dumb emotional response minimizes the impact. The kids have it better. They both give grounded, naturalistic performances and aren't required to speak bad lines or do stupid things.

Disappointing, Signs still draws the crowds, because the idea of extra-terrestrials and their flying saucers fascinate a lot of people. Whether you're a believer or not, this movie suffers from Shyamalan's hubris, and a leading man, Gibson, who sucks up all the fresh air in the room. Now playing at Cinemark and Cinema World.

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Illuminated Mysteries
Ten films by the great Krzysztof Kieslowski.
BY LOIS WADSWORTH

THE DECALOGUE (1988): Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. Written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski. Music, Zbigniew Preisner. Produced by Ryszard Chatowski. Cinematographers: Various. Cast: Various. 10 episodes, total 560 minutes. Not rated.

This 10-hour series, made for Polish television in 1988, never had a theatrical release here by its U.S. distributor. A print controlled by a European distributor played a few cities, two segments a night, but not Eugene. You may be able to rent The Decalogue on five VHS tapes or two DVDs. Do whatever it takes to see this extraordinary film. This is a seminal work, not to be missed.

Co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who had the original idea for the series, said he and the late writer, director Krzysztof Kieslowski saw the Ten Com-mandments not as religious law but as "one the ethical foundations of our society." These 10 segments are set in a contemporary Warsaw apartment complex and are related to the commandments through the inner conflicts of the characters, who must weigh the morality of their conduct in specific situations and accept responsibility for their choices.

FILMMAKER KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI: 1941-1996.

The series' only religiously devout character, Aunt Irena Maja Komorowska) in Decalogue 1, tells her nephew, Pawel (Wojciech Klata), that "Being alive is a gift." This may be the series' most-quoted line, but it also speaks to the diffuse spirituality that resides in the work. The individual segments share a uniting thread that arises out of the characters' ambiguity about the relationship difficulty or moral issue they find themselves facing.

This thematic unity is beautifully illustrated in one of the most powerful segments, Decalogue 8, which touches upon the idea of bearing false witness, in a number of complicated ways.

Zofia (Maria Koscialkowska) is a professor of ethics at the University of Warsaw. She lives alone and vigorously exercises every morning. Elzbieta (Teresa Marczewska), an American who researches WWII Jewish survivors, sits in on Zofia's class. A student raises the case of a doctor, who must tell his patient's wife whether or not her husband, stricken with cancer, will survive. The woman needs to know because she is pregnant. If her husband survives, she will have an abortion. If he dies, she will not. The child is not her husband's. (This is the story of Decalogue 2.)

The teacher says that the case is well known to her. The child lives, she says, which is the most important thing. But Elzbieta is not satisfied with Zofia's answer and tells the class another story. This is true, she says. In February 1943 a Jewish child is taken by her custodian to meet the people who will send her to a priest so she can receive a certificate of christening before she goes to the young Catholic couple who will hide her.

It is cold, and the woman is serving tea, which the child wants to drink. But, the woman says, the couple must go back on their promise, because they cannot bear false witness to their God. The girl and her escort must leave. Now it is dark, and curfew has fallen.

Elzbieta says that lying to God is not as important as saving the child's life. Zofia asks the class if there are any circumstances that would justify the cruel decision, and a few respond. She makes it the class assignment to understand the motivation of the woman.

The women part, but meet again in the hallway some time later. By now Zofia has put Elzbieta's story together for herself, and although both women were shattered by the events of that day long ago, Zofia is joyous that Elzbieta has survived. "It's you," she says. "You're alive."

Transcendent filmmaking such as this is rare. Keislowski died in March 1996 of a heart attack at age 54, but he left these small jewels as well as several outstanding feature films that followed them, including Three Colors: Blue (1993), White (1993) and Red (1994), which played in Eugene. I reviewed each for Eugene Weekly (then called What's Happening). The Double Life of Veronique also played here.

On a web page devoted to Kieslowski, his music collaborator, Zbigniew Preisner, calls The Decalogue "an attempt to return to elementary values destroyed by communism." Preisener not only wrote the scores for Three Colors and The Decalogue, but he is also the faux composer Van den Budenmayer, whose name achieves prominence in Decalogue 9.

Kieslowski is one of cinema's greatest directors. Don't take my word for it. See his films. They will persuade you and maybe even change your life.

 

 



OPENING OR RETURNING:

Films open the Friday following date of EW publication unless otherwise noted. See archived reviews at www.eugeneweekly.com.

Reign of Fire: After a slumbering fire-breathing critter wakes up, all hell breaks loose, and the world descends into Medieval times. Matthew McConaughey comes as savior, Christian Bale is fire chief. Rob Bowman directs. Violent. PG-13. Movies 12.

Scooby Doo: TV's 1969 Great Dane, Scooby, returns as a computer-generated detective dog in this comedy starring Freddie Prinze Jr., Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Matthew Lillard. PG. Movies 12.

Serving Sara: Matthew Perry. Elizabeth Hurley and Bruce Campbell star in Reginald Hudlin's romantic comedy. Also stars Cedric the Entertainer and Vincent Pastore. PG-13. Cinemark.

Simone: Writer, director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca) has high hopes for his new comedy, which stars Al Pacino, Catherine Keener Jay Mohr, Jason Schwartzman and Pruitt Taylor Vince. Pacino creates a synthetic star — Simone. She becomes successful, then everyone wants to meet her. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Sum of All Fears: Ben Affleck and Morgan Freeman are Central Intelligence agents trying to prevent terrorists from getting weapons of mass destruction. Also stars James Crowmell, Liev Schreiber, Alan Bates and Philip Baker Hall. Based on Tom Clancy's bestseller. PG-13. Online archives. Movies 12.

Undisputed: Walter Hill's boxing drama about a heavyweight champ who goes to prison stars Wesley Snipes and Ving Rhames. R. Cinemark.

 

Continuing:

Adventures of Pluto Nash: Eddie Murphy, Rosario Dawson, Randy Quaid, Joe Pantoliano and Jay Mohr in a futuristic comedy set in 2087; directed by Ron Underwood. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

Austin Powers in Goldmember: If the third time is charmed, here is Mike Myers, back in multiple roles as Austin Powers. Michael Caine plays his secret-agent dad and Beyoncé Knowles is Foxxy Cleopatra. Directed by Jay Roach. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives.

Bad Company: The unlikely duo of Anthony Hopkins and Chris Rock in a spy action/comedy. Directed by Joel Schumacher, it also stars Peter Stormare and Kerry Washington. PG-13. Movies 12.

Blood Work: Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of a sensational crime novel by Michael Connelly stars Eastwood as a retired FBI agent with a heart condition who chases down a serial killer. Connelly's book lends itself to the Eastwood treatment. Also stars Anjelica Huston, Jeff Daniels, Wanda De Jesus, Paul Rodriguez. R. Cinema World. Cinemark. Online archives.

Blue Crush: Directed by John Stockwell, this romantic surfer adventure stars Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez (Girlfight) and Matthew Davis. PG-13. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Bourne Identity, The: Matt Damon, Franka Potente, Chris Cooper, Clive Owen and Brian Cox star in Doug Liman's character-based spy thriller based on Robert Ludlum's best seller. A man with amnesia (Matt Damon) sets out to discover who he is and why everyone wants to kill him, and along the way he discovers love (Franka Potente). A subtle skewing of the genre, it's highly recommended. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Crocodile Hunter, Collision Course: In this comedy of errors, undercover CIA agents suspect Steve and Terri Irwin of information theft and go to Australia to prove it. PG. Movies 12.

Insomnia: Christopher Nolan (Memento) explores sleep deprivation in this remake of a 1998 thriller from Norway. Set in Alaska, it stars Al Pacino and Robin Williams, Hilary Swank, Martin Donovan, Maura Tierney, Nicky Katt and Paul Dooley. Highly recommended thriller. R. Movies 12. Online archives.

Like Mike: Lil Bow Wow plays an orphan who dreams of playing pro basketball. When he finds a pair of magic sneakers, he makes the team. Also stars Morris Chestnut, Jonathan Lipnicki, Crispin Glover and Eugene Levy. PG. Movies 12.

Lilo and Stitch: Animated Disney comedy about Lilo, a lonely Hawaiian girl, and her small, ugly dog named Stitch. The dog is an alien experiment that's crashed to earth. Six by Elvis on the soundtrack. PG. Cinemark.

Lord of the Rings, The: The Fellowship of the Ring: The first book in J. R. R. Tolkien's literary trilogy, directed by Peter Jackson stars Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee. Academy Award winner for cinematography, makeup, and visual effects. Highest recommendations. PG-13. Movies 12. Online archives.

Master of Disguise: Dana Carvey plays Pistachio Disguisey, a waiter who turns into whatever he thinks of next - a cherry pie, a rockstar, a sports hero. PG. Cinemark.

Men in Black 2: Jay (Will Smith) drags a reluctant Kay (Tommy Lee Jones) back into the agency with the mission of "Protecting the earth from the scum of the universe." Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, it also stars Lara Flynn Boyle as Serleena, an alien masquerading as a Victoria's Secret model. With Rosario Dawson, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub and Rip Torn. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.

Minority Report: Steven Spielberg directs Tom Cruise in this sci-fi where killers are arrested and convicted before they commit murder. In 2054, Cruise heads the Pre-Crime unit until he's accused of the murder of a man he hasn't yet met. Based on a short story by the genre's master, Philip K. Dick. One of Spielberg and Cruise's best. Highest recommendations. PG-13. Cinemark. Online archives.

Monsters Inc.: From Pixar, the creators of Toy Story, comes a new computer-animated feature about a scare factory, Monsters Inc., and its top monster, Sulley (voice of John Goodman). Also voices of Billy Crystal, James Coburn, Jennifer Tilly, Steve Buscemi and Mary Gibbs. G. Movies 12. Online archives.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding: Based on Nia Vardalos's one-woman stage show, it's about the 30-year old, unmarried daughter (Vardalos) in an engaging, passionate but demanding Greek family in New York. She meets the man she wants to marry (John Corbett), and he isn't Greek. Yikes! Another humorous reminder that weddings are also a family and community affair, this sweet romantic comedy entertains. Recommended. PG. Bijou. Cinemark. Online archives.

Powerpuff Girls, The: Animated movie about tough little girls saving the world before bedtime. PG. Movies 12.

Road to Perdition: Sam Mendes (American Beauty) directs this fathers-and-sons drama set in Chicago during the Depression. It stars Tom Hanks, Paul Newman, Tyler Hoechlin, with Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Stanley Tucci and Liam Aiken. R. Cinema World. Online archives.

Signs: Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan and starring Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, this supernatural thriller about crop circles looks like a box-office bonanza. Also stars Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark. See review this issue.

Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron: Animated Western adventure with the voices of Matt Damon, James Cromwell and Daniel Studi is an action picture, not a comedy. Co-directed by Kelly Asbury and Lorna Cook. G. Movies 12.

Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams: Robert Rodriguez says his sequel has lots of action, is fun and nobody dies. Stars Antonio Banderas, Daryl Sabara and Alexa Vega. Cinemark. Cinema World.

Star Wars: Attack of the Clones: George Lucas' second of three Star Wars' prequels comes to the screen with Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Ewan McGregor, Ian McDiarmid and Samuel Jackson doing all the heavy lifting. PG. Movies 12. Online archives.

Thirteen Conversations About One Thing: A teasing riddle that casually links the stories of nine contemporary men and women, this interesting film by filmmaker sisters Karen and Jill Sprecher includes an outstanding ensemble cast: Matthew McConaughey, John Turturro, Alan Arkin, Amy Irving, Clea DuVall, Tia Texada and William Wise. Highly recommended. R. Bijou. Online archives.

XXX: Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson star in this athletic spy thriller directed by Rob Cohen. Sony is betting big on this "Vin Diesel film" to become the next hot franchise. PG-13. Cinema World. Cinemark.

MOVIE THEATERS
Use the links provided below for specific show times.

Bijou Art Cinemas
Bijou Theater 686-2458 | 492 E. 13th

Regal Cinemas
Cinema World 342-6536 | Valley River Center
Springfield Quad 726-9073 |

Cinemark Theaters
Movies 12 741-1231 | Gateway Mall
Movies before 12:30 are Sat. Sun. only. $1.50 all shows all days.
Cinemark 17 741-1231 | Gateway Mall

 



NEW RELEASES ON VIDEO:
Releases subject to change. Available the Tuesday following date of EW publication, sometimes sooner. See archived movie reviews at www.eugeneweekly.com

Blade II: Directed by Guillermo del Toro, who also directed Devil's Backbone. But there the resemblance ends. Wesley Snipes stars in this vampire horror flick. R. In stores Aug. 30.

High Crimes: Ashley Judd plays a woman who finds out her husband is not who he claimed to be. She and Morgan Freedman must defend him from being framed by the military. PG 13.

Queen of the Damned: Stars the late Aaliyah as Queen Akasha, who is wakened by the songs of the vampire Lestat, who has become a rock star. Noisy, explosive, chaotic. R.

Rookie, The: Dennis Quaid stars as baseball coach who makes a deal with his team and ends up trying out for a minor league contract. Also with Rachel Griffiths. 2002.G.

Sopranos, The: Complete third season of HBO's stellar series starring James Gandolfini and Edie Falco in a 4-disc DVD set. Lots of extras, including interviews, behind the scenes, and series synopses.

Wrestling with Alligators: 1998 drama written and directed by first-timer Laurie Weltz is about a boarding house for runaway teens and other women with problems. It stars Aleksa Palladino, Joely Richardson, Claire Bloom, Sam Trammell and Jay Sanders. Not rated.

Next week: Best of the Muppet Show, Don't Look Now (1973), Friends Complete Season 2, Mickey's House of Villains, The Sheltering Sky (1990), and Star Trek Fourth Season.


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