Category Archives: Star Rating

Alien (1979)

Ebert – Great Movies Review – 2003

Ebert – 30th Anniversary Review – 2009

Alien1In Alien we follow a seven man crew en-route to earth on board the huge space freighter “Nostromo”. The crew is in cryosleep, but the on board computer interrupts the journey when a foreign radio signal is picked up. It originates from an uninhabited planet and the crew lands to investigate. There they make contact with an alien life-form…

What makes Alien so great is the constant feel of uneasiness. Right from the beginning you have a feeling that something is wrong. The crew is not particularly friendly towards each other, and you truly feel all the in-group tension. The ship itself is a huge worn out industrial-style maze of halls and corridors, and it feels more like a prison than a place to live. It is as if not only the alien but also the ship itself is against the humans. The alien itself is the scariest monster in history because it is a ruthless, soul-less parasite completely devoid of any human or civilized traits. alien3The design of the monster is a stroke of genius. Sure it has a humanoid form, but it has no facial traits or anything else which could give away emotions or intentions. Its actions reveals no weaknesses nor civilized intelligence. The alien is more or less the opposite of everything human and civilized, plus the creature is more well-adapted to the inhumane interior of the ship than the humans who build it. To sum up, you then have a setting where the humans are caught in a web of in-group tensions, an inhospitable ship and the perfect killer which thrives in the ships intestines. You almost get the feel that the humans are the ones who are alienated to each other and to their own ship.

Ridley Scott tells the story with a perfectly synchronized blend of visuals and sounds. The actors do a superb job, portraying their characters in a subtle but very realistic way. The seven man crew is not a bunch of Hollywood heroes. They are ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. In this way they all seem so fragile when confronted with the enemy.

alien6As mentioned the ship is very claustrophobic and Ridley Scott adds to the eeriness by using camera movement, lights and shadows in an effective way. The living quarters are bright and should be comfortable to the crew, but there is something sterile about it all. The rest of the ship is basically a huge basement. The music by Jerry Goldsmith underlines the eeriness so well, and the movie wouldn’t have worked without his score. Combined with the sounds of the ship it all adds to the uneasiness.

alien4This is not a story about heroic people who boldly teams up against evil. It’s a story about ordinary people facing true fear, which is the fear without a face. The fear we can’t understand and can’t negotiate with, because its only goal is to survive on the expense of us. It’s a story where some people bravely fight back whilst others are destroyed by the terror. It’s a story where people are killed in a completely random way. There is no higher-order justice behind who gets to live and who dies. All seven characters are just part of a race where the fittest – not necessarily the most righteous – will prevail, and all seven characters start the race on an equal footing. None of them are true heroes, and none of them are true villains.

alien5All the above makes Alien so great as a horror movie. The terror isn’t just the Alien itself, it’s the entire atmosphere which gets so effectively under your skin, that you just can’t shrug it off after the end credits like you can with so many other Hollywood horror movies. The title “Alien” doesn’t just refer to the monster, it is the theme of the movie and it is the feeling you have during and after the movie.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Ebert – Original Review 1994

Ebert – Great Movies Review 2001

Writer/Director/Actor Quentin Tarantino with the stellar Harvey Keitel as the Wolf.

Continuing on the idea of watching the best movies that you can find on Netflix, I come to Pulp Fiction. Of course, Pulp Fiction is the film that simultaneously shot Quentin Tarantino into elite directorial status and cemented his place as one of the most innovative auteurs of all time.

His screenplay is divided into three stories, each introduced with a title card. First, there’s the story of the hit man who has to take his boss’s wife out for the evening while her husband is away. There’s the story of the aging boxer paid to throw a fight and the quest to retrieve a uniquely special family heirloom. Finally, there’s two hit men in a messy situation that needs a quick solution. These three separate stories are intertwined and not told linearly. Each story could easily stand on its own as a short film, but told as they are, each adds a further dimension to the others. The non-linear progression is not simply a gimmick, but rather an essential aspect of the film’s narrative.  Continue reading Pulp Fiction (1994)

Rain Man (1988)

Ebert Review – 1988

I’m working through several 2015 movies and tying to put my feelings into writing before the Oscars come on in two weeks. My problem is that I have found a couple that I very much enjoyed watching and it is always more difficult for me to write a review of a good movie than one that I despised. So often it is hard to even express why a movie resonates with me, but usually the reasons that a movie is awful come to mind very easily. In the meantime, I am going to share some really good movies that you can watch on Netflix while you are stuck inside during #snowpocalypse.

rainman1Rain Man is “definitiely” a very entertaining movie, but it isn’t just funny in certain points. It is Charlie’s character development that keeps the movie interesting. Raymond is steadfast. He is an autistic savant and is unwavering in his personality, his delivery, and his routine. God help you if you mess with his routine.

rain-man-1988-03-gThis film was made before the autistic spectrum was really outlined the way that we have today. We can even see this in Ebert’s review of the film as he compares autistic people to cats. He asks, “Is it possible to have a relationship with an autistic person? Is it possible to have a relationship with a cat? … I have useful relationships with both of my cats, and they are important to me. But I never know what the cats are thinking.” This film was partly responsible for bringing the savant form of autism to light in popular culture, but it did it in a way that didn’t pander to the audience or play on it for emotional trickery, nor does it linger on the sideshow parlor tricks that Raymond’s disorder affords him. Instead it remains focused on this complicated relationship.

There is a moment in “Rain Man” that crystalizes all the frustrations that Charlie feels about Raymond, a moment when he cries out, “I know there has to be somebody inside there!” But who? And where?

It takes some time and work for him to get there, but by the end of the film Charlie find himself loving Raymond, this brother which he never knew he had and of whom he tries to take advantage. How does he get there? Does he find a way to fix Raymond? Some miracle cure that turns him “normal?” No, as anyone who knows someone who suffers from autism, the way to love them is to love them right where they are.

RAIN MANIf you do decide to watch this as a family, I would encourage only much older children because the language is pretty salty and there are even a few brief moments of nudity. If you can catch an edited version on television, it may actually make it better, because in this case, those aspects do nothing to drive the story further. This could have easily been a PG-13 movie. The message comes through loud and clear however as we ask ourselves if Charlie is really any more mature than Raymond even though society accepts one but not the other.

In Memoriam: David Bowie (1947-2016)

Roger Ebert – Labyrinth – 1986:

Roger Ebert – The Man Who Fell to Earth – 2011:

The world lost one of its true creators this weekend. David Bowie was a perpetual outsider, ahead of the curve. He made a career and a life out of living outside the norm as an alien, a misfit, a sexual adventurer, a faraway astronaut. His first film, The Man Who Fell to Earth has become a cult classic. I regret to say that I have not seen it, but hope to rectify that shortly. In the film, he plays an alien from a drought-stricken planet who journeys to Earth in search of water. Ebert remarks, “Bowie, slender, elegant, remote, evokes this alien so successfully that one could say, without irony, this was a role he was born to play.” Ebert remarked about meeting David Bowie and about his quality as an actor.

[He] has an enviable urbane charm. I met him once, and rarely have been so impressed by someone’s poise. If he hadn’t been a rock star he could have had success as an actor, playing roles such as those given to James Fox or William Hurt. Bowie demonstrated that in such films as “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence,” “Absolute Beginners,” “The Hunger” and “Labyrinth.” … He is … Other. Apart. Defined within himself.

Besides his progressive, challenging, and remarkable body of work, Bowie also gifted us with his son with Mary Angela Barnett, Duncan Jones, who I believe is one of the most promising up and coming directors working today. He directed two sci-fi thrillers, Moon (2009) and Source Code (2011). Bowie has had such an impact on our popular culture and he held such respect from such a wide array of people, receiving memorial tweets from people like Madonna, Astronaut Tim Peake, Kanye West, and even the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The world will be a slightly less interesting place with him gone.

Labyrinth posterAs I have read and heard so many people speaking fondly of him, I felt compelled to share my first memory of David Bowie. It was in the 1986 film Labyrinth, I was too young to remember seeing it when it first was released, but I recall renting the film from our local video store and watching raptly as a Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) struggled on a magical adventure to rescue her brother from Bowie’s deceptions as the goblin king Jareth.

Bowie joined forces with Muppet creator Jim Henson, special-effects guru George Lucas, and screenwriter Terry Jones of Monty Python fame to produce this fantasy which reminds me of a strange blend of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

It was a great work of Jim Henson and very ambitious. To my young mind it was a swirling and thrilling adventure. Unfortunately, I think I may have lost some of the youthful exuberance that I once possessed, because upon a re-watching a year or two ago, I was amazed at how meandering and drawn out the film is without good reason. It is longer than it should be and is lacking enough of a coherent plot to keep me attached. However, I may still dust it off again, if just to hear the soundtrack as Jareth himself composed and performed a number of songs for the film. Farewell Major Tom, God’s love be with you.

Contact (1997)

Roger Ebert – First Review – 1997:
Roger Ebert – Great Movies Review – 2011:

mv5bmjeymdqxmtmxmf5bml5banbnxkftztcwntu0odcymg-_v1_sx214_al_I watched the 1997 film, Contact, again last night and I, like Ebert, was struck with its boldness as it seeks to weave together politics, faith, and science. As an HR Manager, I have advised employees that they would be better off not discussing those topics in the workplace because they are too controversial. I spent years speaking about faith as a pastor and I am unashamedly and evangelically Christian.

However, many people don’t know that before I was called into ministry, my desire was to be a scientist. I was vacillating between organic chemistry and theoretical physics particularly quantum mechanics. I have always had a deep love for science. I seek to observe our world much like I observe movies, to look beyond the visuals to mine deeper. I seek to find truth and beauty wherever it may be found and in whatever way it may be conveyed.

As a scientist, I must concede that there is a possibility that our universe and everything in it is not the production of an Intelligent Designer. But I have experienced something so magnificent and awe-inspiring that it continually reminds me of both my insignificance and my value. I cannot deny this and it will forever shape the way that I look at the world.

I think it is important to say that I don’t agree with Roger Ebert on everything. But I believe that he would agree with me on this. Whether you are an atheist, an agnostic, or a person of faith, I encourage you to watch this film. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, majestic, and rich. If you let it speak to you, I don’t think you will walk away unchanged. And what more can we ask of a film than that?

Quantum of Solace (2008)

Roger Ebert – Original Review – 2008

I have no particular rhyme or reason by which I am choosing these movies. I wish that Ebert’s website had a random review button, but since it doesn’t, I am looking through them alphabetically and then grabbing one that catches my eye. Today I choose the 22nd installment of the James Bond Series from 2008, Quantum of Solace. Ebert was not a fan of this film. He pretty much eviscerates it because it fell short of what he believes a Bond film is supposed to be. 2 stars.

What did you think of the film?