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Tomorrow Is Forever (1946)
Nicely Turned Melo
Take a journey back to the mid-40s and enjoy this weepie about lost love and balancing pleasant memories against present endowments.
Colbert's character must wrestle with what she "lost" twenty years ago and what treasures she now has. Welles' character is there to assist in her deliberations, while Brent offers a conciliatory bridge between what was and is now.
The casting couldn't be bettered: what a treat to see Colbert and Welles working together. This provided Orson with one of his most sensitive roles, and he plays it with great compassion. Colbert and Brent are both excellent, and young Natalie Wood offers a most impressive performance as a war refugee. Richard Long is likewise fine as an idealistic young man wanting to do his part to make this a better world.
Max Steiner's score is unusually rich, complete with high voices mixed with strings, and a romantic main theme highlighting the essence of this sentimental script.
Irving Pitchel's direction is on target for this emotional material. Very beautifully rendered.
Music, Play On!
Three quarters of this Porter portrait is like a musical tree, full of song and dance, with dramatic ornaments dangling cheerfully from its branches.
We're treated to a delightful roster of Cole's tunes and lyrics and, yes, they're delicious and delectable.
I particularly liked the spirit and spunk of the performers, and the way Director Irwin Winkler allowed the music to carry the day. He also kept the film moving with quick editing and scenic changes.
After Porter's riding accident and the decline of his spouse, Jay Cocks' script allows the drama more leeway, and the tone turns more poignant. Still, a few upbeat numbers are cleverly inserted in the latter part to balance things out.
Kevin Kline offers a heartfelt characterization of this beloved composer, and the entire production honors Porter's greatest asset--his absolutely marvelous musical creativity.
We in the audience tap our feet, hum some tunes, and applaud a most de-lovely film.
The House I Live In (1945)
Early Sinatra Short
This eleven minute film that came out toward the end of WW2 conveyed a message of religious tolerance and acceptance of people's differences.
It's notable in that it featured a young Frank Sinatra, singing two very beautiful songs, "If You Are But a Dream" and the title song. Both have rich orchestral arrangements by Alex Stordahl, one of Sinatra's favorite music directors at the time.
Earl Robinson, composer of the title song, was also noted for his "Ballad for Americans," which Paul Robeson made famous. In spite of these two nobly patriotic compositions, Robinson was one of the "blacklisted" artists (along with Robeson) by the House of Un-American Activities, which today seems ironic.
Not available on DVD or VHS at this writing, "The House I Live In" was seen on tv following a showing of Sinatra's debut film, "Higher and Higher." Although Frank's voice is lighter here than generally remembered, it still exhibits his trademark smooth lines, firm breath control and clear diction. His acting forecasts his later work, and the film makes its admirable points within a short time frame.
Daisy Kenyon (1947)
David Hertz's screenplay on Elizabeth Jenneway's paperback novel focuses on three very empty-headed characters. They're impulsive, confused, and extremely lacking in self understanding and appreciation.
Is it any wonder "Daisy Kenyon" reeks of a kind of gloomy hollowness? The shadowy lighting of the production merely amplifies the emotional state of these pitiful characters.
Although three full-fledged stars--Crawford, Andrews and Fonda--bring their unique talents to this enterprise, what their characters say and do doesn't really make much sense.
I couldn't help but pondering what a glum experience this must have been for these three actors, limning roles that probably did nothing to make their own private lives happier. Each reportedly could be considered in the "dark star" category, with alcohol, divorce, and depression playing a large part in their profiles. (While Crawford's and Andrews' situations have been well documented, Fonda's lackluster private life is more recently emerging: one of escaping reality by continuously burying himself in his work.)
The charismatic leads all look fine and give their all to this endeavor, making "Daisy Kenyon" seem much more substantial than it really is. Otto Preminger's direction is serviceable.
Little Man Tate (1991)
Tough Being 'Different'
In many respects savants, polymaths and autodidacts are in the same fix as slow learners, retards and idiots. They're all "special ed" cases, estranged from "normal" society by their intellectual "superiority/inferiority."
They share similar problems in classrooms; namely, the tendency to be bored, frustrated and/or disruptive. It's not easy being either too advanced or slow.
"Little Man Tate" dramatizes the plight of a "super-gifted" seven-year-old, subtly played by Adam Hann-Byrd. Little Fred Tate must cope not only with normal problems of childhood but also his extraordinary mental gifts which set him far apart from fellow children his age.
After feeling a lack of empathy from his mother (caringly portrayed by Jodie Foster) and his teacher-mentor (sensitively executed by Dianne Wiest) Fred reaches out to a college student who befriends him. Unfortunately, that relationship comes to a disappointing end when the older chum tells him that he must seek out kids his own age.
Scott Frank's script may have its peaks and valleys, yet its heart's in the right place, and he concludes his little drama on a happy (if tidy) note. Jodie Foster directs with concern and reveals genuine promise.
Since You Went Away (1944)
As I watched this recently on Turner Movie Classics, a number of trivial points ran through my mind. David O. Selznick certainly had a knack for making clear statements and making sure that everything in his productions (at least up to this time) was easily understood by viewers of all levels.
As his cinematographer, Lee Garmes, was noted for his tendency toward dark images, I was constantly aware of the many shadows in his shots. For his actors to move from one position to another they walk through at least one area of total darkness. There are many shadows on their faces, many profiles, and sharp light and dark contrasts in the background. While Selznick reportedly didn't appreciate Garmes' signature style for GWTW, David certainly tolerated it here, and this dark ambiance gave "Since You Went Away" a quality of depth and substance it might not otherwise have had.
David's effort to get the "perfect" cast paid off. With Colbert anchoring the enactment with a great performance, the film was also blessed with excellent work from Cotten, Jones, Temple, Wooley, McDaniel, Moorhead, et al.
It looks like Colbert's preference for being photographed from the left side is valid. On my system, motion can be stopped and slowly forwarded, observing her from the right side when she turns. In real time one only glimpses; in slow motion one can see her point.
Max Steiner's themes are quite haunting (one of his main ones reveals generic influences of the "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde--another the basis for a later Christmas song) and his careful underscoring of every action works well here. TMC Channel's inclusion of the complete Overture and Entr'acte enhances the presentation's effectiveness. It's a joy to see material once cut from so many "classics" now sensitively restored.
Knowing what the Walkers were going through in real life (marital separation) during this filming does indeed make me further appreciate the fine quality of their work. Though Jennifer reportedly often left the set in tears, not a hint of that shows. That indeed is strong acting.
The volume of sad and tragic events depicted in this film now seems, by the end, a wee bit much. Still, this "tear jerker supreme" continues to be enjoyed by many viewers, and "Since You Went Away," remains a nostalgic enactment of an emotional period in American history.
The Karen Carpenter Story (1989)
Same Old Story
The same fate which befell Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys was bestowed upon Karen Carpenter and her brother Richard.
How to negotiate and balance super-successful careers with normal, healthy lives? Although this pattern's been repeated time and again, it's still tough when it happens to young, "green," people coping with "pro" pressures.
Had Karen remained "hidden" behind that trap set, instead of being "exposed" out front (where everyone could see how "pudgy and plump" she was) things might have gone better. It was no accident that she protested leaving those drums ("That's where I belong . . .") for that may well have been her true place.
As soon as she stepped to the front mike and solo spot, things began to change--for the worst. However, neither management nor peers realized the great price she'd have to pay, until too late.
This biopic has good casting, and a sumptuously beautiful soundtrack, with Karen's (and Richard's) vocal and instrumental ringing out with their greatest hits (including the ravishing "The Masquerade").
The film does omit their college period (c. '66-'70) at California State University at Long Beach, and the subsequent inclusion of their vocal director from CSULB, Frank Pooler, who greatly enhanced their tour work.
It also avoided dramatizing the death of Karen, making the mood less sorrowful, and ending on a more optimistic note with her mother's expressing her love for Karen.
So, another story of the high price of fame, and a touching memorial to the life and times of The Carpenters.
Fans of mystery fare such as "Sleuth" are most likely going to find this creepy tale engrossing.
The scenario's credibility depends on whether the viewer buys Rex's compulsive desire to satisfy his curiosity about missing Saskia--which is fully exploited and utilized by abductor Raymond.
"Spoorloos" is a thinking-persons' sort of tale, especially geared for intellectual types, who'll most likely accept the "reverse logic" of Rex in finally imbibing the crucial "witch's brew."
Scripter George Sluizer and writer-novelist Tim Krabbe obviously put a lot of effort into creating this macabre yarn. Apparently, judging from ratings by critics and public alike, a goodly number viewers bought into its strange predestination rationale which comprises the denouement.
It's the sort of thing even an Edgar Allen Poe might savor.
The finale of this New Orleans melodrama has always left me a-gaga. By what logic does Julie think she can save Preston by going with him to that restricted island?
The quarantined area, according to the film's description, is tantamount to a leper colony. There's no apparent hope for its indigent inhabitants and, with no known cure available, it's all downhill from there.
So when Julie pleads and persuades Amy to let Julie go and tend Preston, is this supposed to exonerate her from her past selfish and manipulative acts? Can this ultimate sacrifice finally wrest her from her Jezebel sins?
To me, it only makes her look foolish and, frankly, I thought Julie had more sense than that. Then again, within the world of wet period romance, perhaps 'tis a far, far better world to which she now goes than whatever might await her back on the ol' plantation.
Bigger Than Life (1956)
There's more going on here than just a father/husband abusing a prescription drug.
What drove him--a full-time schoolteacher--to secretly moonlight as a cab dispatcher? What motivated his quest to clothe his wife beyond their means or drive his young son to the breaking point to shine in football and math? For that matter, what urged his over indulgence in Cortisone in the first place?
Could it be a deep-seated depression in trying to measure up in mid-50s suburbia, to keep up with the Joneses and gain acceptance with the in-crowd through posturing as superior--all the while wrestling in elitist middle class values?
Nicholas Ray's "Bigger Than Life" is a scathing expose of the underbelly of this period and lifestyle. Things certainly weren't as cozy as previously painted, and the insatiable drive toward peer acceptance may be the underlying cause of the hero's problems.
James Mason offers a powerful portrait of a very pathetic suburban victim; Barbara Rush is his dutiful wife, and Christoper Olsen his sympathetic son.
Midnight Lace (1960)
Just Hang Up
That's the advice phone companies give customers who complain of harassing calls.
Without a listening ear, the prankster's deprived an audience and, after a while, gives up and moves on to another target.
Unfortunately, Doris Day doesn't know this in "Midnight Lace," that rather contrived mystery she undertook with Rex Harrison and Myrna Loy.
Not only does she keep listening to those quirky threats, but becomes increasingly hysterical and out of joint. In short, she plays right into the stalker's hands.
Well, if she'd just hung up we wouldn't have a story, and no one would've gotten paid. So she continues her downward spiral with some tense and breathy episodes before the final resolution.
The whole thing seemed very put on to me, and I tend to lay due blame on the script. Certainly Day gave her utmost effort here -- so much so that she reportedly suffered great emotional strain, including a serious breakdown, before production wrapped. And I can understand her personal vow never again to undertake a career role like this (a pledge she dutifully kept).
Like typical Ross Hunter/Universal-International projects, the leads are all dressed in the most stylish of wardrobes, and sets and furnishings are all slick and shiny. Add nice color, and we have an attractive commercial package, which the public supported at the box office.
John Gavin as second man looks right at home in these smooth surroundings.
The National Geographic TV Specials, once fairly rare events, are now offered regularly in the form of series (currently on the Dish Satellite Network and others).
The high quality of those specials of years past is today a gift available on a daily basis. All I can say is the National Geographic brings the same superior standards of its magazine to its television programming.
There are so many series now offered on this channel that it becomes difficult to point out any one as outstanding. However one, "Living Wild," revealed the remarkable restoration program of the Arabian oryx. Once almost extinct, the conservationists' twenty-year planned program has rescued and restored this magnificent creature.
Seeing the unique animal once again breeding and thriving through careful attention of concerned individuals is truly heart-warming.
Another series on conservation demonstrated the need for vigilant care of the Canadian/Alaskan wilderness from the possible onslaught of oil drillers and barges. By actually seeing the deft ecological balance of nature to its myriad of native fish, animals and birds, and what the historic 1989 oil tanker spill did to upset that balance, gives one pause.
The National Geographic Channel is one of the best, and earns a pristine position in the hierarchy of television programming. It takes its place along with such as FSTV, PBS, TWC, Wisdom, Bravo, and Travel as bringing high quality education and culture to viewers.
Guys and Dolls (1955)
Good Film Adaptation
Frank Loesser's spirited Broadway musical, "Guys and Dolls," was given a serviceable presentation for the screen version.
In a most unusual piece of casting, Marlon Brando took on the singing-acting role of Sky Masterson. What I found commendable was the way he used his singing voice as a creative extension of his speaking part.
The result was most interesting: a pleasant, sweet quality emerged; yet he didn't shortcut halves and whole notes, rather sustained tones in a legato, musical manner. Likewise, Actress Jean Simmons nicely matched him in her specialty solos and their duets.
Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye all added high quality to their respective roles, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's direction was most adequate.
One omitted original score song, "More I Cannot Wish You," was Loesser at his most was classical and poetic. Probably considered too abstract for the film production, (and granted it requires an exceptional singer to put it across) it was still missed.
The production design was most colorful and the sets a nice carryover from the stage. All in all, a good presentation of a beloved musical.
Dante's Inferno (1935)
Modern Morality Drama
Today "Dante's Inferno" is seventy years old, and it was interesting to view the film uninterrupted on the Fox Movie Channel. Spencer Tracy's 28th of a whopping 78 film credits, and the young Rita Casino featured in a prominent dance sequence (before her last name became Hayworth) are points of particular interest here.
This is no routine melodrama: Director Harry Lachman, his writers and actors were into its moral message with dead earnestness. On display is Tracy giving it his all, along with impressive work from Claire Trevor and Alan Dinehart.
However, the basic crux of the tale, given the takeoff of Dante Alighieri was tough to take, as I personally don't believe in that poet's vision of either the underworld or its upper realmed counterpart. Too, the lengthy segment based on Gustav Dore's ridiculous lithographs were as meaningless and skewed as Michalangelo's and other Renaissance artists' graphic interpretations (all of which are traditionally designed to keep people spiritually restive, therefore controllable.)
Thus this enactment from a mythological perspective is pre-school mentality. From a pragmatic perspective, it has some cause and affect validity, in which blind ambition is felled by experienced tragedy.
Tracy's work is most effective, as he executes a flawed yet well-meaning character. Trevor beautifully supports him, rising to the challenge of a courtroom cross-examination in which she conflictingly supports her husband's business indiscretions.
Director Lachman keeps his film moving forward, while steering the entire production crew with a sure hand. For a film with its vintage, "Dante's Inferno" impressively holds its own.
About a Boy (2002)
His Charming Nothingness
It's rather like looking into a mirror. What we see, like or dislike in him may be what we see, like or dislike in ourselves.
It's a rare trait to have, and Hugh Grant seems to possess it in abundance. No particular point of view. No special ambition. No burning agenda.
Thus his role in "About a Boy" is ideal for this fine actor. Grant perfectly plays this vapid, irresponsible playboy, who fortunately realizes his own lack of character and grows in the enactment.
He has help from other characters with whom he comes in contact, including a boy and some single-parent moms. While the growth may be minimal, there's some progress, and the promise of future pleasantries with a congenial groupie.
Like his role in "Notting Hill," the feel of this comedy drama's light as a souffle, yet constantly buoyed by Grant's unique persona and neat direction by Chris and Paul Weitz (memorable from "Chuck and Buck").
"About a Boy" may seem lightweight, yet notice how it holds the attention straight through to its consonant conclusion.
Willie & Phil (1980)
Caged in Convention
A couple of years before Michael Ontkean made the groundbreaking "Making Love," he co-starred in "Willie and Phil," about another romantic triangle puzzlement.
What the Willie, Phil and Jeannette characters don't really come to terms with is the potential for a nurturing, satisfying, mutual triangle. While Willie's and Jeannette's, and Phil's and Jeannette's liaison is richly explored, Willie's and Phil's remains dutifully platonic and unconsumated.
The reason for the latter points to the kind of social convention all three are obviously trying to surmount. Yet their exploration remains far more routine than any of them might like to think.
Thirty five years later, as the content of unions and marriages are in the process of redefining, "Willie and Phil"--timely for the 80s--now looks quite conventional and dated.
Willie and Phil's final roll on the beach, wrestling and hitting on one another now looks like a playful prelude to a passionate embrace. But no such luck. The script squanders any such possibility, and the film ends on the kind of ordinary note acceptable to 80s standards, without breaking any new revelational ground.
Rain Man (1988)
A Look at Cruise
The chemistry between Dustin Hoffmann and Tom Cruise go far in making "Rain Man" a winner. Both beautifully complement one another, and their mutual respect as actors enhances their fascinating two-character interaction.
Focusing on Cruise a bit, his career work as leading man has always proved serviceable, and he's certainly played a wide variety of roles effectively. Thus, it was particularly interesting to see his interview on the tv series, "Inside Actors Studio."
The actor really put some staunch Method proponents "in their place" by asserting that he doesn't tend to draw painful memories from the past, and rather uses his fertile imagination in engaging himself forever in the present, in the moment.
What was amusing to me was that, although the moderator gently tried to curtail him from going too far along these anti-Method lines, Cruise persisted in detailing his own imaginative approach to roles, which includes writing out extensive histories of the character, that everything comes from the standpoint of character, and that he as actor seeks to imaginatively "become" that person.
It was a refreshing moment on this skewed series. For like many "movements," Method proponents can ultimately get too "big for their britches." In trying to push their particular agenda and ideology (which admittedly has achieved extraordinary success) they might just discover they've become ingrown and fundamentalistic.
In truth, there are a variety of ways to achieve success in the dubious and fickle field of acting (which remains a spurious profession) which pre-Strasberg history has proved. Thus, Mr. Cruise's comments effectively put into perspective what may be on the verge of becoming more artistic cultism than one of many technical approaches to the thespianism.
Hats off to Mr. Cruise. May he continue to engage us with interesting performances, like that in "Rain Man. "
Party Girl (1958)
Neat Ray Film
Most any film directed by Nicholas Ray is usually worth watching, and "Party Girl's" no exception. Ray took here what might have been a quite routine movie under another director and turned it into something quite interesting.
He extracted an unusually strong performance from Robert Taylor, who celebrated his final MGM film here, and drew equally effective work from Cyd Charisse, who also demonstrated her formidable dancing skills.
Then there was that burly "brute" Lee J. Cobb doing his no-nonsense "gangster thing," which always rang true. Yes, "Party Girl" had lots of bite.
A bit of age comparisons are interesting here. Would you believe the actors playing the "handsome leading man" and "sinister character villain" were both born the same year? It was 1911 when Taylor and (gulp) Cobb entered this world. Adding to the mix, Ray was also born the same year, making for a perfect triumvirate. (Trivia note: Taylor and Ray both expired of the same terminal illness.)
Charisse showed what a 37-year-old-dancer-in-shape can do. Dig those mobile movements: cool hip action, fast torso turns, strenuous leg extensions and fantastic full-bodied falls. Cyd seemed one of the last holdouts as the film musical glory days "bit the dust."
The post-Lewis B. Mayer period allowed for more violence than ever before at MGM, and "Party Girl" had its abundant supply in the final gangland sequences.
Since this film, along with another, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," deals in imagination and the supernatural, this comment is appropriately offered:
As our three-fold nature of mind-body-spirit parallels other realms as past-present-future and conscious-subconscious-superconscious, so our intuitive perception often comes into play in evaluating artistic stimuli.
Abstract criteria as feelings may provide less concrete reasons as more deeply felt emotions; however, such energies may come from somewhere deep, begging attention.
This dramatic opus yields a reaction of strong negativity and distraction. The usurption of our focus on an ultimate internal power offers a skewed substitute, draining knowingness and awareness at the highest level.
With self actualization being unconcerned with technical achievement, its purpose points toward a profound remembrance of genuine origin. The said dramatic presentations seem good examples of emissions alien to that infinite objective.
The Bad Seed (1956)
Generic Child Exploitation Story
"The Bad Seed" was one of the first stories to employ the gimmick of a young child as murderous monster. Bill March's novel starting things off, followed by Maxwell Anderson's stage play, and later John Mahon's screenplay.
While there's some medical and psychiatric case studies confirming such possibility, the odds for this happening are extremely rare. Thus when it's put up on the big screen it takes on gargantuan proportions--much more so than when enacted on the stage.
The movie seems stagy and contrived, though the hard working original theater cast certainly tries its best. Too, by the time little McCormick did the film she had aged some, which the telling camera reveals in closer shots.
The imposed censorship changes (like the final "bolt from the blue") hurt the film's impact, while the "cast call" as "codetta" which seemed silly in '56 looks incredible today.
Thank "The Bad Seed" for such as "The Exorcist" and its spinoff "The Omen." Yes, these young "bad seed and possessed monsters" are mere ploys to intrigue and titillate horror/mystery fans, while having little basis in real life. Mervyn LeRoy's direction is serviceable, as is Alex North's appropriately quirky score.
Plata quemada (2000)
Style to Burn
And fiery acting, too--especially the leads. After that, a strangely protracted mid-section, weirdly cut, which often left me dumbfounded.
What was more confusing, on the video print I saw the film's English title appeared on screen about a half hour before the actual end. In fact, I thought the movie was finishing and credits about to roll.
No such luck--it went on for what seemed an interminably drawn out finale. No wonder some might think it over the top.
Yet, there was a strong visual style and iron-fisted acting from the principals throughout. Did I feel much for them? No, I merely observed their plight, with nary a moist tear formed for their requiem.
Still, I note many appreciated this "male Bonnie and Clyde import," which apparently was based on true events.
The Story of Three Loves (1953)
The first of three stories, "Jealous Lover," offers sheer bliss as the great ballerina, Moria Sherer, dances to Rachmaninov's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini."
One is reminded of the exquisite beauty of Sherer, who thrilled audiences for many years at the Sadler's Wells. What a treat for moviegoers when she graced the screen, which was all too rare.
Of all the prima ballerinas of the 20th century, Sherer stood out. Her light came from within, and her graceful executions became a spiritual experience.
James Mason is perfectly cast as Charles Coutray, and their scenes together are richly romantic, under Gotfried Reinhardt's sensitive direction.
Vincent Minnelli lovingly guided the remaining two episodes, whose writings were unevenly crafted, yet ardently realized by as fine a cast as MGM could offer.
Miklos Rozsa's original score was vibrant and knowing, melodiously underscoring the action. "The Story of Three Loves," remains a good piece of work, unusually artistic coming from a major studio.
Film's Claim to Fame
Were it not for U.S. Customs taking action against key scenes in this import from Denmark, "Venom" (U.S. title) wouldn't be remembered. In fact, it isn't much detailed or voted on in the Database.
Yet, during its American run, this picture made quite a stir in national magazines, like Time, with pictures of the censored shots featured. It was one of the few films in which moviegoers in theaters were forced to endure large white "blots" on the screen, completely covering key scenes.
The story concerns a hedonistic young chap who delights in stirring up trouble with his video camera, screening filmed private intimate moments to parents of their children who are prominently featured on the video.
Apparently the explicit nature of said scenes were too much for Customs, who blatantly "barred" viewers from seeing the original film - yet still released it in an incredibly "blocked out" version.
A look at the low response on the Database indicates that the movie's quite forgotten, and another chapter of the past is past.
Fine photography, rich color, careful casting, and fluid camera movements all contribute to this imaginative production. Yet its being filmed in eight ten-minute takes is what marks this work as historically unique.
There was "The Thief" ("not a word is spoken") and "Lady in the Lake" ("subjective camera") -- and now with "Rope," the closest thing to a filmed play on celluloid.
Certainly Patrick Hamilton's play as source helps in the adaptation by Hume Cronyn (assisted by Ben Hecht and Arthur Laurents). The reported ten-day rehearsal period really paid off in achieving a smooth, nicely flowing presentation.
Aside from the leads, copious attention to each supporting character is evident, and they rise to the occasion as the camera pans in for numerous closeups. Cedric Hardwick adds stature to the proceedings, and Farley Granger's uneasiness helps sustain the suspense. It's also a good day for James Stewart, who anchors the rendition.
Lastly, Alfred Hitchcock is credited with taking a bold and unusual gamble. Less than enthusiasticaly received at the time of its release, "Rope" is much more appreciated today. All in all, a fascinating variation on the Leopold-Loeb case--well mounted and cinematically original.
They're everywhere! Lurking in the cornfields, caught in the pantry, scaling the roof, stalking down alleyways, and up in the sky... You name it.
The script seems to borrow a little of this and that from at least a half dozen other works. These include "The Birds," "The Thing," "Day the Earth Stood Still" and "Night of the Living Dead."
So this plot (described as "drama/horror/scifi/thriller") connects crop circle phenomena with UFOs and aliens --though I don't recall such tangible connections being made before -- anything to create some tension.
It's H. G. Wells meeting Steven Spielberg (and those precocious kids are definitely Spielbergian) for a sincerely acted piece. Its impact will depend on the degree to which one's willing to buy into all those divergent reference links.
Mel Gibson certainly was, and delivered his role with the seriousness of enacting Hamlet (which he reportedly wants to play). He rather passed his audition.