Release Date: July 11th, 1997
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
Written by: James V. Hart, Michael Golden
Based on: Contact by Carl Sagan
Music by: Alan Silvestri
Cast: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Angela Bassett, David Morse, Jena Malone, William Fichtner, Jake Busey, Rob Lowe, Geoffrey Blake, Max Martini, Steven Ford, Tucker Smallwood
South Side Amusement Company, Warner Bros., 150 Minutes
“I know you must think this is all very unfair. Maybe that’s an understatement. What you don’t know is I agree. I wish the world was a place where fair was the bottom line, where the kind of idealism you showed at the hearing was rewarded, not taken advantage of. Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.” – David Drumlin, “Funny, I’ve always believed that the world is what we make of it.” – Ellie Arroway
Man, since the first time that I saw this movie, I just loved the hell out of it. I really should’ve seen it in the theater but it came out just after I graduated high school and that summer was insane, as I was in an alcohol, weed and/or opium induced state for months while also trying to conquer Final Fantasy VII between parties and festivals.
Throughout high school, I was a big fan Carl Sagan’s work. As a kid, I had seen his original version of the Cosmos television series but it wasn’t until high school when a good science teacher handed me the Cosmos book that my mind delved deep into the man’s written work. I’ve since gone back and read most of his books multiple times.
The story of Contact‘s genesis is an interesting one, as Carl Sagan and his future wife, Ann Druyan, wrote an outline for the film’s story way back in 1979. There were issues trying to get the picture off of the ground, so Sagan instead reworked it into a novel that was published in 1985. After that, buzz picked up around the idea of making it into a film, once again. However, after a few directors came and went, it didn’t get rolling until Robert Zemeckis took the helm in 1996.
The movie, on its surface, had everything going for it. It had Zemeckis as its director, Jodie Foster in the lead role, as well as James Woods, Tom Skerritt, John Hurt, Angela Bassett and David Morse. It also had Matthew McConaughey and William Fichtner in prominent roles, as both men were just really starting to carve out their long, great careers. In fact, I’d say that it was this movie and A Time to Kill, which came out just before it, that brought McConaughey into the mainstream and really launched him to new heights.
The story is also wonderful and it makes me wish that there were still movies like this that pushed wonder and the pursuit of real truth. It’s films like this that inspire and create the next generation of dreamers but I feel like that is something that’s been lost and I honestly can’t think of a movie since this one that had that sort of aura about it. But this was written by Carl Sagan and that man knew how to inspire and how to create genuine wonder in the hearts and minds of those he spoke to.
I love this story, I love these characters and I love the journey Jodie Foster’s Ellie goes on throughout the entire picture, from childhood-to-adulthood and then into uncharted territory through the cosmos itself.
The film is also just beautiful to look at and it came out in a time when digital effects were really starting to come together. Seeing this now, the special effects have aged well and this is still a great looking picture.
What’s most interesting about the digital effects is that they were created in a collaborative effort between Sony Pictures’ Imageworks, Peter Jackson’s Weta, George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic, Effects Associates and Pixar. That being said, this combined effort came together beautifully.
Now I know that this film gets criticized for its ending and it’s considered a disappointment and anticlimactic by some but I think the film’s ending is absolute perfection. It’s beautiful, meaningful and true to the spirit of Carl Sagan’s message.
Contact is truly an experience, a very human one. It connects to its audience in a way that’s becoming much rarer in today’s Hollywood output. I want motion pictures to make me feel like this again. But I guess I can still revisit films like Contact whenever I want. It’s just sad that this is nearly a quarter of a century old and it’s one of the last films to really capture my imagination in such a deep, heartfelt and sincere way.
Release Date: May 12th, 1986 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Tony Scott
Written by: Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr.
Based on: Top Guns by Ehud Yonay
Music by: Harold Faltermeyer
Cast: Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Barry Tubb, Rick Rossovich, Tim Robbins, Clarence Gilyard, Whip Hubley, James Tolkan, Meg Ryan, Adrian Pasdar
Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes
“That was some of the best flying I’ve seen yet. Right up to the part where you got killed. You never, never leave your wing man.” – Jester
If you weren’t around when this movie originally came out, it might be hard to understand how much of an impact it had on pop culture. As a kid and a big fan of G.I. Joe and movies like Iron Eagle and Red Dawn, I thought it was cool as hell. The coolness was also maximized through the casting of Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer, as well as the Kenny Loggins hit song “Danger Zone”.
Also, to my little mind, Maverick was about the coolest f’n name ever!
Anyway, I used to watch this a lot. It’s been years since I’ve seen it though but I wanted to get a fresh take on it before its long-awaited sequel comes out later this year, assuming it’s not delayed again.
While I actually don’t see this as a great film or have the crazy amount of love for it as many from my generation do, it’s still entertaining as hell and it’s really cool simply for the insane visuals of all the fighter jets just doing their thing. The aerial stunt work is f’n phenomenal! That being said, there just wasn’t anything like this when it came out and many have tried to replicate it with less success. Nowadays, they just opt out and go the CGI route but everything you see in this movie is real.
Apart from that, the story is just decent. It doesn’t really grab you or pull you in and it feels like its all just to set up the aerial parts of the movie. While I do like the characters, they also feel grossly underdeveloped. You spend all this time with them but it’s hard to connect to them. Sure, it’s tragic when Goose dies and you understand Maverick’s heartbreak but it doesn’t have as much impact and meaning had we seen these characters fleshed out more.
I think that the movie actually suffers from having a little too much of its best part: the aerial stunts. If that was trimmed down a bit or the film was a wee bit longer and just spent more time developing the core characters, it could’ve been something much better.
Still, it is a cool and energetic movie that’s well acted and superbly executed. And despite what I feel is a lack of character development, it does hit me in the feels when Iceman finally accepts Maverick at the end.
Also, I f’n love James Tolkan in everything.
Pairs well with: other Tom Cruise movies of the ’80s.
Release Date: December 20th, 1971
Directed by: Hal Ashby
Written by: Colin Higgins
Music by: Cat Stevens
Cast: Ruth Gordon, Bud Cort, Vivian Pickles, Cyril Cusack, Tom Skerritt
Paramount Pictures, 91 Minutes
“Harold, everyone has the right to make an ass out of themselves. You just can’t let the world judge you too much.” – Maude
I remember this coming on television when I was a kid and my mum quickly changed the channel and told me that it was some dumb movie about a teenage boy who falls romantically in love with an elderly woman on her death bed. My initial reaction at eight years-old was, “Ew… gross… why?!”
In the years since, I’ve learned enough about the film to know that there is much more to the story than that and in fact, this is sort of a black comedy that doesn’t need to be taken too seriously or looked at in any sort of realistic way. Sure, there is drama here but it’s more about the boy’s journey than it is about having a hard on for one’s grandmother.
Harold is a teenager who is obsessed with death to the point that he often stages violent fake deaths to piss of his mother and embarrass her when other people are around. He meets the elderly Maude at a funeral and is quickly drawn to her. Maude, over the course of time, teaches Harold that life is important and should be lived to its fullest.
Now the film is over the top and Maude is pretty nuts, stealing cars, stealing a cop’s motorcycle and always willing to have some sort of ridiculous adventure. Harold’s love for her grows but in that, he finds out things about himself, shifts and changes into something else and learns to live his life, as he is on the cusp of adulthood.
For those who have never seen this, you’re probably wondering as to whether or not they boink in the sheets. They do and despite getting lured into these characters’ lives, it’s still kind of odd. But it’s also not the real point of the film. And don’t worry, it won’t inspire anyone to want to go out and hunt elderly genitalia.
To some, this is a classic indie film. To me, it was an amusing watch punctuated by fantastic performances from a then young Bud Cort and a solid veteran, Ruth Gordon.
Also, you get to enjoy some great Cat Stevens tunes throughout the entire picture.
Pairs well with: other Hal Asby films, as well as other indie pictures from the time.
Also known as: Poltergeist III: We’re Back
Release Date: June 10th, 1988
Directed by: Gary Sherman
Written by: Gary Sherman, Brian Taggert
Music by: Joe Renzetti
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Nancy Allen, Heather O’Rourke, Zelda Rubinstein, Lara Flynn Boyle
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 98 Minutes
“Carol Anne! Carol Anne! Carol Anne!” – the whole damn cast, the whole damn movie
Sorry, this made me angry.
Yes, I have seen this film before but it has also been a really long time. While I re-watch the first two every few years, I just remembered this one being so terrible that I never had the urge to see it again. However, it is actually much worse than what I remembered. But since I wanted to revisit all three of these movies for review purposes, I had to tough it out and try to get through this 98 minute mess.
Let me start with the positives of this film to quickly get them out of the way. Surprise, surprise… there is only one positive: the special effects.
Now the general creature effects are actually worse than the two films that predate this, but there are some really good optical effects in regards to how mirrors were used in this picture. There are several scenes where a character is moving on one side of the mirror and evil haunted shit is happening in the reflection. These effects were pulled off magnificently for being done in an era where this couldn’t be achieved through CGI or other easier modern means. There are a few spots were the effect doesn’t work because there are two different actors having to mimic the same movements, like when Nancy Allen’s back is turned away from her evil reflection, but for the most part, this stuff came off great.
But seriously, that’s it for the positives.
I should mention that Tom Skerritt was pretty okay too but I miss Craig T. Nelson.
The rest of the film is plagued by an atrocious script that should have been bird cage liner. Then there is just a slew of unlikable characters who give the audience a clinic on terrible acting and line delivery. Most importantly, this is, by far, the most unimaginative film in the series. The mirror idea was cool to explore but this is all that the movie has going for it and they do it to death. There are literally walls of mirrors and glass in just about every fucking room in this film.
The third act of the movie is just actors running around screaming each other’s names over and over and over and over and over again. Fuck, the final act of this film is mind numbingly repetitive and infuriating.
Plus, this undoes the whole point of the second film, which was about the family’s love for one another overcoming evil. Now Carol Anne’s parents shipped her off to an aunt’s house in Chicago and the family isn’t together. So… yeah, what the fucking fuck?!
It’s terrible that Heather O’Rourke died before this film came out and that it probably ruined any chance for another sequel but regardless, this film alone killed the franchise anyway. I mean, it didn’t just kill it, it took a big ass hippopotamus shit on it.
Man, did this franchise fall into the murky depths of awful.
I think it is best to just ignore this chapter in the franchise and to see the ending of the second film as the true ending of the story. This was just some terrible fan fiction.
And Jerry Goldsmith is terribly missed because this movie’s score sounded like a drunk ape pounding its fists onto a Radio Shack keyboard.
I have to go puke now.
Pairs well with: The other two Poltergeist films. Ignore the remake. And really, you should probably ignore this one too.
Release Date: September 18th, 1992
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Music by: Paul Westerberg
Cast: Bridget Fonda, Campbell Scott, Kyra Sedgwick, Sheila Kelley, Jim True, Bill Pullman, Matt Dillon, Tom Skerritt, Jeremy Piven, Eric Stoltz, Tim Burton, Chris Cornell, Eddie Vedder, Peter Horton
Warner Bros., 99 Minutes
“Look, Debbie, I’m kind of having a bad sugar crash. Do you think you could just, you know, hold it down?” – Pam
Since I revisited Reality Bites a few weeks back, I figured that I would also look at the film it is most often compared to: Singles.
Reality Bites didn’t hold up well to the test of time but Singles does, as it works much better as a time capsule to a bygone era that features the Seattle grunge movement just before it became a huge thing that overtook American culture for a little while. Also, it just feels more authentic than Reality Bites and doesn’t rely too heavily on one-dimensional archetypes and Gen-Xers’ philosophical and hypocritical ramblings.
As a motion picture, this is a much better body of work than Reality Bites but it also features a veteran director in Cameron Crowe, where the other film was the directorial debut of a very young Ben Stiller off of the script of a teenage girl. Not to knock Reality Bites, but it does seem much more juvenile than Singles and is full of mostly unlikable characters. Singles, on the other hand, has mostly likable characters, even in the form of this film’s version of its rock star wannabe.
All that being said, I still think that Reality Bites has more value on repeated viewings. Yes, Singles is better but it is also a bit drab at times and even with a large ensemble of characters, the film plays things really safe and there isn’t enough tension to make you feel much of anything. You just see the characters as nice, mostly boring, young people confused about things like love and life because they still lack experience. With Reality Bites, even if the two main characters are selfish and pretty unlikable, there is enough tension and magnetism between them that you feel something.
Where Singles excels is in the fact that it is shot better, directed better and has actors that are able to feel like real, genuine characters. And this film just feels more mature, even if it is about young people finding their way into adulthood.
This also has a cool factor because of the real world legendary musicians who appear in this before they even reached greatness. You have Chris Cornell, Layne Staley and Eddie Vedder before his band was even called Pearl Jam. You also have an acting cameo from the it director of the time, Tim Burton.
I still liked Singles. It isn’t a film I will want to go back to anytime soon but everyone was good in it and it felt more like a social semidocumentary than an actual fictional film, which Crowe was probably going for and succeeded at achieving. This felt like one of those earlier seasons of MTV’s The Real World, before producers realized that manufacturing fights created big ratings. You know, back when The Real World actually seemed real.
Pairs well with: Reality Bites, SubUrbia, Empire Records, S.F.W. and Clerks.
Release Date: June 26th, 1998
Directed by: Chris Eyre
Written by: Sherman Alexie
Based on: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight In Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Music by: B. C. Smith
Cast: Adam Beach, Evan Adams, Irene Bedard, Gary Farmer, Tantoo Cardinal, Perrey Reeves, Tom Skerritt
Miramax, 89 Minutes
“Sometimes it’s a good day to die, and sometimes it’s a good day to have breakfast.” – Thomas Builds-the-Fire
For a film that’s title is written across the screen in Papyrus, this isn’t a bad little picture despite its poor choice in typeface.
This is a coming of age story but it is also about shifting into manhood. The interesting twist, is this is told from a Native American perspective. In fact, the entire film, top to bottom, is a Native American production. Sherman Alexie, the writer, did this to properly convey Native American culture, as Hollywood has typically misinterpreted Native life in the United States.
The core of the story is about two young men going on a road trip together, as one of their fathers, who left years ago, passed away in his trailer outside of Phoenix. The two young men travel on a bus from their reservation in Idaho down to Arizona. The young men have never really been off the reservation or experienced life in the world outside of their tiny bubble.
What really holds this film together is the performances of Adam Beach and Evan Adams. The two actors were very much different characters but they had a good chemistry that propelled the picture forward. I have really come to like Beach over the years and this may be the earliest example of his work that I’ve seen.
Gary Farmer plays Beach’s father and he does so with such grace. He’s shown being abusive to his son and his wife, as he is an angry alcoholic. But as the story unfolds and we see his regrets and understand the weight on his shoulders, which ultimately pushed him towards the bottle, we see a different man, a soft, caring, guilt ridden human being that can’t face the wreckage he caused. And like his son, we have to find a way to accept the man for who he is and make peace with him.
Smoke Signals isn’t a great film but it is unique and even though it is heavy in the emotion department, it is sweet and relatable to any man that has grown up having issues with their father, Native American or not.
Pairs well with: Powwow Highway.
Release Date: May 25th, 1979
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Written by: Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto
Brandywine Productions, 20th Century Fox, 117 Minutes, 116 Minutes (2004 Director’s Cut)
“Ripley, for God’s sake, this is the first time that we’ve encountered a species like this. It has to go back. All sorts of tests have to be made.” – Ash, “Ash, are you kidding? This thing bled acid. Who knows what it’s gonna do when it’s dead.” – Ripley, “I think it’s safe to assume it isn’t a zombie.” – Ash
I saw Alien on the big screen once before. I think it was in 1999 when it was re-released for its twentieth anniversary. Granted, I can’t miss the opportunity to see this or its first sequel when they come back to theaters. Both are perfection and both are very different. While people have debated for decades, which film is better, I still can’t decide. Why can’t they both be the best? I mean, they are perfect compliments to one another because of the different things that each brings to the table, setting them apart narrative wise and tonally.
Where Aliens is a badass action thriller, the original Alien is really a pure horror movie set in space. The Alien formula was actually so effective, that people are still ripping this film off today. Almost every year, there is at least one film dealing with an isolated crew battling a dangerous creature in tight confines, whether it be a spaceship, an underwater facility or some science research base in the middle of nowhere. Alien is still the best of these kind of films, although John Carpenter’s The Thing is a very, very close second.
What makes this film work is how dark and how cold it is. Everything just comes off as bleak and hopeless. The film has incredible cinematography and its really unlike anything that was made before it. A lot of the visual allure, as well as the film’s looming sense of doom, is due to the design work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger. His style is like German Expressionism from the future in that it is dark, disorienting but also very tech-like and beautiful. Giger’s art is very unique and very much his own. Without Giger, I feel like Alien would have been a very different film.
With as iconic as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley has become and as synonymous with the franchise as she is, it is weird seeing her not being the top billed star. That honor goes to Tom Skerritt but Ripley does become the focal point and Weaver gives a great performance, even if she isn’t as incredibly badass as she would become in the next film.
This film benefits from having a pretty amazing cast, though. In addition to Skerritt and Weaver, you’ve got Harry Dean Stanton, Yaphet Kotto, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Veronica Cartwright. All seven of these people have had pretty impressive careers with multiple notable roles.
The film is also directed by Ridley Scott, who has gone on to resurrect the franchise with new energy since he returned to the series with Prometheus in 2012 and then followed it up with the lackluster but still interesting Alien: Covenant in 2017.
Alien is still a very effective film and even if I have seen it dozens of times, there are certain parts in the movie where I still get chills. The effects hold up really well and still look damn good. And even if the sets and computers look really outdated for a movie set in the future, it still has a certain aesthetic that just works for me.
All things considered, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. It moves at a nice pace, builds suspense effectively, still feels chilling and has aged magnificently.
Pairs well with: Other Alien films and Blade Runner.
Release Date: July, 1975
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Written by: James Ashton, Gabe Essoe, Gerald Hopman
Music by: Al De Lory
Cast: William Shatner, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Skerritt, John Travolta, Eddie Albert, Anton LaVey, Ida Lupino
Sandy Howard Productions, Bryanston Distributing Company, 86 Minutes
“Think yee to destroy something stronger than life by ending life? As the cock will crow in the dawn, after my body burns, so too will the sun rise and cast my shadow over this town, again! and again! You fools!” – Jonathan Corbis
This was a weird ass movie. That’s coming from a guy who spends a lot of time watching weird ass movies.
However, Ernest Borgnine actually plays his role in goatface for a few scenes. He actually looks like a damn goat and is supposed to be Satan or something.
The film also has William Shatner, John Travolta and Tom Skerritt in it. It even has Ida Lupino and she was a good director and a pretty solid actress back in her film-noir days.
Man, this is a strange mix of some well known people and an even stranger mix of witchcraft, a Satanic cult, melting people without eyes, weird goo and rain possessed by the friggin’ devil. Truthfully, this sounds like the coolest f’n movie of all-time.
In reality, despite all the great things within the 86 minutes that is this picture, The Devil’s Rain is truly horrendous. Even Borgnine in goatface makeup can’t make up for this thing being a complete mess of nonsensical madness and a lot of gross scenes.
My hopes for this were extremely high because of all the cool shit I mentioned but I was let down harder than a six year-old sick kid waiting for John Cena to grant his wish, only for Cena to be detained by the TSA all day for yelling, “You can’t see me!” while in the body scanner. Yeah, they could see him but Cena insists he’s an invisible Superman. Maybe this movie would have been better if John Cena was in it and he put goat-Borgnine in the STF. What am I even talking about at this point? This paragraph is about as nonsensical as this stupid movie.
Captain Kirk teams up with Vincent Vega and the sheriff from Picket Fences and takes on the old man from Airwolf, who can transform himself into a goat and turn people into eyeless rubber beings that ooze green goo. Again, sounds friggin’ cool. Yet, it isn’t.
This was an ugly looking, boring picture in the worst way. I don’t even know how it can be boring with all this cool shit in it.
In the end, this Satanic turkey must be shoved into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 2 Stool: Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”
Release Date: March 11th, 2017 (SXSW)
Directed by: John Carroll Lynch
Written by: Logan Sparks, Drago Sumonja
Music by: Elvis Kuehn
Cast: Harry Dean Stanton, David Lynch, Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Tom Skerritt, Beth Grant, James Darren, Barry Shabaka Henley, Yvonne Huff
Superlative Films, Divide / Conquer, Lagralane Group, Magnolia Pictures, 88 Minutes
“There are some things in this world that are bigger than all of us… and a tortoise is one of ’em! ” – Howie
I was glad that I got to catch this in the theater during it’s very scant run in my town. It was only playing at 10 a.m. for a few days, actually. Luckily, I had a day off with nothing to do.
With Harry Dean Stanton passing away, a few months back, this film is his swan song. Honestly, there really wouldn’t have been a better film for this legendary actor to say “goodbye” with than this one and it felt tailor made for Stanton, as if he knew this was it and wanted to give his two cents on mortality.
The picture is directed by John Carroll Lynch, who you may know as the nicer one of the two McDonald’s brothers in The Founder or as the guy that saved Morgan in The Walking Dead or as that serial killer clown in American Horror Story. The guy is an accomplished actor but with Lucky, he proved he has some talent behind the camera, as well.
Stanton is very relaxed but has no problems displaying his fear of death and entering into the unknown. He has a pretty atheistic stance about the universe but late in life, he still wonders and is apprehensive about the inevitable. He talks of nothingness and none of this mattering in the big scheme of the universe but he is a man that fears not having left his mark.
He is surrounded by a great cast and I absolutely adored David Lynch in this, as Lucky’s friend Howie. He is a man that had a hundred year-old tortoise but it escaped. The tortoise is really a symbol about mortality in the film and its escape parallels the end of Lucky’s life.
Lucky isn’t a perfect movie or even a great movie. However, it’s pretty damn good at what it sets out to do, which is to create a platform for Stanton to say goodbye to those of us who have loved the man’s work for decades.
This is a sweet and subtle film that allows Stanton to showcase his wide array of talents in a delightful and respectable way. It probably won’t mean as much to those who aren’t familiar with Stanton but it does feel like a true representation of the man for those of us who have enjoyed him over the years.
There really isn’t a sweeter way to go out than what Stanton got to accomplish with Lucky. Kudos to the man and to those behind this film, which feels more like an artistic and cinematic homage to the man, than just a movie about death.