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I love entertainment...

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    Highest Rating

      • 5/5 (2 votes)
      • Pacific Rim Movie Review : Pathetically Grim
        5/5 (2 votes)
        Pacific Rim Movie Review : Pathetically Grim

        Pacific Rim is a Guillermo del Toro film. Let me say that again because it’s little a hard to believe. Pacific Rim is a Guillermo del Toro film. The first time I saw the promo of this film, I said to myself it’s going to be...

      • 5/5 (1 votes)
      • Interstellar
        5/5 (1 votes)

        Nolan’s "Interstellar," about astronauts traveling to the other end of the galaxy to find a new home to
        replace humanity’s despoiled home-world, is frantically busy and earsplittingly
        loud. It uses booming music to jack...

      • San Andreas
        5/5 (1 votes)
        San Andreas

        In a match between a supremely catastrophic California
        earthquake and the former wrestling star turned movie action hero Dwayne
        Johnson (a.k.a. The Rock, aptly enough here I guess, although he’s not thusly
        credited), who are you going to bet...

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        We are announcing that we are rescheduling Ebertfest 2021 to September 8-11, 2021, to give us the best chance to come together in person to watch great films on the big screen. We came to this decision after much thought and consultation. Not having Ebertfest this year was a great loss to all of us. When we postponed our 22nd film festival to April of next year, our priority was the wellbeing of everyone in the Ebertfest family. Our dilemma is that we still find ourselves in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and while we hope for either a vaccine or more effective treatments soon, the future still remains far from certain.

        Some of you have joined us for the online films and panels we programmed in order to continue our connection with you, and we will inform you as we plan other virtual Ebertfest cinema events. However, we believe that the heart of Ebertfest remains the community that our audience, our filmmakers, our sponsors and our critics build each year when we come together in person. Nothing can replace the communal feeling of watching a film in the Virginia Theatre as part of what Roger called “the perfect audience.” Next year, we want to give the festival every opportunity to happen in the format that we all love.

        Instead of our April dates, Ebertfest will go ahead as a fully in-person event at the Virginia Theatre--with all precautions--from September 8-11, 2021. Pass Sales for Ebertfest 2021 will begin online on January 4th, 2021.


        We hope that our new dates will give everyone the confidence that they will be able to join us. We also hope that by giving as much advance notice as possible everyone can make adjustments to their schedules to be with us in the fall of 2021. Like never before, the pandemic has meant that many of the art and cultural events that enrich and fulfill us have been placed under threat. We have worked tirelessly to make sure Ebertfest weathers the storm. But we need the support of everyone to make sure that Ebertfest comes back as strong as ever


        As we begin planning for Ebertfest 2021, we hope that you and your families are staying safe and well. We look forward to seeing you at the 22nd Ebertfest Film Festival, September 8-11, 2021. Please check this space for additional notice as our pass sales go online starting January 4, 2021. Until then, here are some memories from the past for you to enjoy...

        imageThe Alloy Orchestra at Ebertfest. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageThe Martin Luther King Jr. Community Choir of Champaign-Urbana performing at Ebertfest 2019. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageEbertfest co-director Nate Kohn. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageJeff "The Dude" Dowd abides on closing night of Ebertfest 2018. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageProducer Sandra Schulberg, actress Tommye Myrick and Sacha and Dominique Jenkins, the children of filmmaker Horace Jenkins, attend the Ebertfest 2019 screening of "Cane River." Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageGina Gershon, Chaz Ebert and Jennifer Tilly at Ebertfest 2019. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageThe epic critic's panel headed by Leonard Maltin at Ebertfest 2018. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageThe Opening Night Gala for Ebertfest 2019 was hosted by University President Timothy Kileen (left) and his wife Dr. Roberta Johnson. Opening speeches were also given by Chancellor Robert Jones (right) and College of Media Dean Tracy Sulkin (center). Photos by Timothy Hiatt. imageBurl McLiechey, the sixth-generation great-grandson of Sojourner Truth, join Chaz Ebert and Cal Calloway at Ebertfest 2018. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. image Assistant Editor Nell Minow, "Maya Angelou And Still I Rise" filmmaker Rita Coburn and "The Curvy Critic" Carla Renata at Ebertfest 2019. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageFilmmaker Gregory Nava with a poster of Ebertfest selection "Selena" signed by Jennifer Lopez. Photo by Timothy Hiatt. imageChaz Ebert surrounded by some of the Ebert Fellows at Ebertfest. Photo by Timothy Hiatt.

        By: Chaz Ebert
        Posted: August 12, 2020, 1:23 pm

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        The eye-opening entertainment of “Boys State” concerns a microcosm of the American political system: put a bunch of political science buffs in the same summer camp, and let them create their own government for a week, including electing all of their own officials. What bills would they want to pass? What tactics would they use in their campaigns for roles like governor? How much would their actions be inspired by what they see in Washington, D.C. every day? Filmed in Texas’ version of the popular program (which has alumni like Dick Cheney, Garth Brooks, and Roger Ebert), the series follows charismatic kids like Robert, Steven, Rene, and Ben, all who have different goals for this week of summer camp. Their individual journeys, like mini political coming-of-age stories, play out in fascinating, and often very funny ways. 

        In the scope of verité documentary filmmaking, this is a blockbuster endeavor from co-directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss, who are used to "one-man-band" productions like the 2014 doc "The Overnighters." "Boys State" made possible by the organization of multiple cinematographers, who film different lives through each part of the campaign, while collectively capturing the ambiance of it. The movie is as much about being a teenage boy as much as it is about confrontations in politics, and a sense of decorum or lack thereof that can have adults in Congress acting like kids.  spoke with McBaine and Moss about the making of the film, casting the right people, the hope they felt from their week at Boys State, and more. 

        Given that you had cameras follow around certain boys more than others, was there any worry from the Boys State people about having the presence of cameras influencing the campaigns? 

        AMANDA MCBAINE: They were worried about a number of things. I don’t think that’s one they specifically mentioned. I think as always, making a film like this can be a leap of faith. Let me put it this way: when we showed a rough cut of the film to city organization or the group of guys who were our leadership there, they loved it. Afterwards one of the directors, Gary, said, “I was as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs before I saw this rough cut.” You never know, you have to trust that we’re going to tell an accurate story, and that we’re not coming into it with any kind of agenda, and I think that’s something that had happened for them in the past, because they’ve been covered in the news in negative press about the program, but also they’ve never worked with documentary filmmakers before. 

        JESSE MOSS: If you’re asking abut the influence we had on the process, of course we always think about that as documentary filmmakers. I never remove myself from the equation, in fact that relationship of subject to camera, subject to filmmaker is sort of at the heart of documentary. It’s not objective either, we’re subjective, we make subjective decisions, we have politics. All of that influences the choices we make and also the choices of the subject, and it has an effect on events. It’s hard to parse what that effect is. 

        But what Steven has to say, is that first of all there’s a lot going on, and [the boys] were more concerned with the electoral process and the thousand boys around them in the chaos of the environment. They sort of quickly forgot about us. Steven says that the camera’s presence didn’t really help him get signatures or get on the ballot. He still had to struggle, and Robert, of course, had no trouble. 

        image(L-R) Thorsten Thielow (Director of Photography), Amanda McBaine (Director/Producer), Patrick Bresnan (Cinematographer), Daniel Carter (Cinematographer)

        A boy named Eddy enters the story later, and you get a playful sense that you guys had the right impulse on a few kids, but maybe you missed Eddy. How do you know who to focus on in that regard? Were you surprised Eddy took over? 

        JM: We actually interviewed Eddy once it was clear that he was an ascendant candidate. And we thought a lot about this--we always felt like Eddy was more of an extension of Ben as a character. And so I think, our attention was in the right place. Ben was, as you can see, the master strategist of the Federalist Party’s victory. And Eddy was, he’s talented and the boys liked him, but we were less drawn to him as a character in this story. I think he plays the right role, I love what Ben says about him: “He knows his facts, or at least he presents like he knows his facts.” 

        AM: He’s not as emotionally accessible as you might need a film character to be. He’s a great candidate, he presented his facts and his confidence, and he’s a very smart, very genuine kid. But there was something missing for us in terms of what we wanted from a film character. 

        When looking for that emotional accessibility, how do you cast that? 

        AM: I don’t know if it’s totally rational. 

        It can’t be, right? 

        AM: Yeah, I think casting a verité film is always a big challenge. 

        JM: It’s about finding them infinitely interested and complicated; charismatic. In this case, they were all smart, passionate and ambitious. That was a necessary prerequisite for us. Diverse in their backgrounds, socioeconomically and politically. But I think they have a kind of intangible x-factor. We’ve been making verité films for over 20 years, “The Overnighters,” “Pastor Jim.” You’re looking for people … like Robert, you sense they have a kind of inner turmoil that isn’t always clear to you and it became clear to Robert and to of course the narrative. With Steven, his heart and his old soul-ness touched us. We didn’t know he was an exceptional candidate, we just knew that he was wise beyond his years. It’s hard, we’ve struggled to answer that question of casting this film, because the answer eludes us, even. It’s just, you know it when you see it. 

        image(L-R) Steven Garza, Jesse Moss

        In the process of making it, how much can you rely on a day-by-day plan? How much of it is truly chasing it moment by moment? 

        AM : This film was a very different animal than other films we’ve made, because usually it’s Jesse as a one-man-band, following one or a small group of people over a long period of time. This is the opposite; we had a crew of 28 people and we needed to capture a movie within a week. There was a lot of preproduction leading up to that, a lot of like a fiction film. We cast most of the film, we found after a long time, Robert, Ben, and Steven, so we knew we would have our main characters and we were going to follow them through every second of their experience. And then we needed that very solid crew so we put together what we felt was going to be the people who could help us through it. But with all of that, the amount of chaos we faced was unlike a fiction film set, in the sense that it’s not … there’s three or four set pieces happening at any given time, and we do not know how long, or who is going to be there, or what is going to happen. 

        JM: I think there might be a tendency to imagine that the camera had more of an influence because we did get very fundamentally lucky with the choices we made with the characters with the intersection of their trajectories. That’s verité filmmaking and why it’s so hard to finance, because you don’t know where it’s going to go, and you push all your chips onto the table. Usually with verité there’s no chips because no one will give you any to play with. But this is an unusual moment in documentary, where Concordia was willing to take that plunge with us, and to allow us to scale-up a 28-person crew and bring on six or seven DPs, plus me. That allows you to take a bigger swing, and that’s exciting. I think we swung and we got lucky. There’s skill too, I won’t divorce that, but it’s hard to disentangle. 

        AM: I think it’s lucky to have found not just one but four people who really just constantly fascinated us. You could follow any one of them through the program and I think it still would have been interesting, but to have four in the range of everything they represent and feel, is one of the magical things about the movie. And then they come to head-to-head, that’s the second piece of storytelling magic.

        How many kids are mic’d at one time? 

        JM: We only really mic’d our main characters. And in the climactic confrontation there might have been four lavalier mics in a room. It was a nightmare, so I’ll say that. We had to learn the hard way that we had not done as much thinking and planning with audio as we had with camera. We had assumed that the DPs, who were pretty much one-man-band style, would just lav their subjects. But we actually realized that we needed sound recordists, because the room dynamics were challenging. We were hiring on the fly in Austin, like if you were a body who had ever held a boom, we probably hired you. We brought in Mark Roy who is exceptional as a verité sound guy, and there’s not many of them, like Mark Petersen in Austin. But we needed more, and then we had to act. The post-production on the film was very complicated with the multi-camera. We had soundboard feeds, and we had lavs, and we had booms.

        AM: I did sound at some point, that was part of the chaos on the ground. That was one of the fires we had to put out. 

        Even with all of your experience, this sounds like a blockbuster in comparison in terms of size crew. How do you keep your composure as creatives? How do you find that clarity to work in the high stakes shoot? 

        AM: It’s a fugue state. This is not the first film we’ve ever made, and I’m glad it wasn’t because I think it was hard to stay in the zone. But on the other hand … we always want to be scared of what we’re working on to keep us moving forward creatively. I think this was one of those moments. 

        JM: I think it’s important, for me particularly, to surrender my ego a little bit. We brought in this team of cinematographers who were brilliant in their own right. And I’m used to verité where I shoot every frame in the film. On “The Overnighters,” there was never a crew, I shot 100% of that movie. And we couldn’t make this movie that way, and to surrender to Torsten Thielow and Wolfgang Held and Claudia Raschke and Martina Radwan and Patrick Bresnan and Ivy Chiu, was a little bit of surrendering of ego, and a trust. We set the parameters for them, we said, “This is the camera, this is the lens, this is the f-stop, but then it’s really up to you, and your relationship with the subject. We’re only two people, we have four main characters, and we can’t be all places at once.” I don’t think we ever like, outside a fiction set I don’t think we’ve ever orchestrated something like this, and I think it’s wonderful when you have a team and the people you trust. 

        imageRené Otero

        That sense of these different perspectives and relationships, would that influence how you put it all together? 

        AM: I don’t think so. 

        JM: Part of hiring these people is that they’ve done so much of it that they’re so good at it, and they have instincts. But there’s a little armchair quarterbacking. 

        AM: I think in the one instance, we had our friend Patrick Bresnan who is a film director in Austin. I think the footage he shot had real resonance to it. 

        JM: He wasn’t assigned a character, but he’s a still photographer. Brilliant eye for people. And we just empowered him to go find the corners and pockets of this experience, the wider tapestry of the event. The pageantry, this bizarreness. 

        AM: The talent show, he really went deep in that rabbit hole. He was also assigned the House and the Senate, so it’s really interesting to watch him follow bills as they got written and who he chose in that mass of people. There are directorial choices that are very Bresnan-ish in those spaces. I’d say that’s probably the most distinctive that footage got. 

        JM: Usually when you have these omnibus films where one director does a ten-minute piece and they assemble a feature out of it, they never work for me. So it’s really kind of a terrifying prospect to do what we were doing, and as a director you fight so hard for control. And then you give it up. I think that’s what does excite us at this point in our careers, is pushing into a space that feels riskier.

        Do you feel a certain kind of control with "Boys State" going to wider audience immediately, via AppleTV? 

        JM: I think introducing a film about politics into a very charged political moment gives one pause. It’s why we made the film. We wanted to engage with our country’s political paralysis in a way that felt fresh to us, and we hope that an audience would come to it and see the experience of teenage boys in Texas and their politics, something to be reflected back on our national politics. I think people are looking for a kind of ideological certainty and reassurance, and yet we know we’re at a threshold moment where we need to kind of break open the paradigm, it’s breaking open in front of us in some very unhealthy ways but also hopefully some positive ways.

        If it’s only an experience, an opportunity for parents and their teenage children to watch a movie ... speaking for myself, there’s a lot to the national political conversation that I simply can’t engage with. I have to choose very carefully, yet I still want to engage and understand and think about where we’re at. I hope that the film can find that sweet spot. 

        This was one of the first documentaries I’ve seen where you get to see teenagers talk about gun violence and its effect on them, all within this context of them trying to create this next generation of legislation. I thought that was really powerful, and important.

        AM: Going into the week, we knew that guns were going to be one of the big debate topics. Every year there is one. The year before it was secession, but we knew it was going to be the topic. Parkland had happened two and a half months before, and Santa Fe happened two weeks before that. And it’s Texas. So we knew that debate was going to be vivid, and we were excited for that. I think we didn’t know to the degree that Steven had been such a muckity-muck in the March For Our Lives, we didn’t know his past that well, so that was really interesting that his past played out. Again, the House and Senate, they did debate this and pass a Universal Background Check bill. I think that takeaway for us was powerful, that in Texas, with this group of kids, with the conversation that we don’t get into in the film. But we did watch very smart, very layered, very sophisticated conversation that resulted … 

        JM: In compromise. People ask, 'Does the film make you hopeful?' And the film engenders complicated feelings in most people. But for us, [its] mostly hopeful, in that these kids throw themselves into the process, and present themselves as great examples of leadership or integrity. That this group of kind of crazy, anarchic, Lord of the Flies teenage boys could also be smart, and come together and agree on significant issues, is very important to all of us. That was hopeful. 

        Available on August 14 on AppleTV+. 

        By: Nick Allen
        Posted: August 12, 2020, 2:36 pm

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        Clever, fun, and richly layered, HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” echoes obvious inspirations while also feeling fresh and new. A few pacing speedbumps aside, there’s so much to admire here, from the overall ambition of the project to a pair of performances from obvious future stars at the show’s center. It’s a tightrope-walking act of a show, something that constantly looks like it’s about to fall but always regains its overall balance. Much like “Watchmen,” “Lovecraft Country” is a show that uses genre storytelling to peel back layers of American history to reveal the systemic problems underneath it, but it’s also got a marvelously entertaining side, one that’s gory and sexy in unexpected ways, recalling another HBO smash hit, “True Blood,” and even old adventure serials that dug into history’s mysteries. It’s a joy to watch this show’s influences blend together into creator Misha Green’s vision, which people are going to be talking about for at least the next three months.


        Atticus Black (Jonathan Majors) returns from the Jim Crow South to the city he grew up in Chicago after his father Montrose (Michael K. Williams) goes missing. He heads out with his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) and a friend named Leti (Jurnee Smollett) to find dad, using a cryptic letter Montrose sent as a guide to a mysterious cult in the heartland of America. The narrative takes them into a world of monsters, both literally and those that are technically of the human species. For example, the premiere finds the trio of adventurers in a “sundown county,” an entire county in which non-whites aren’t allowed after the sun goes down. Being chased to the county line by a gun-wielding racist police officer is one thing; the monsters they stumble upon in the woods are another. It’s hard to say which is worse. Each episode of “Lovecraft Country” plays with these dualities—legendary monster storytelling of the H.P. Lovecraft model intertwined with the stories of racist violence that are embedded in this country’s history.

        While there’s a continuous narrative, one of the fun things about “Lovecraft Country” is how much Green and her collaborators, including producer Jordan Peele, embrace a playful episodic structure as well. For example, the third episode features Leti moving into a home in a white neighborhood, which just happens to be haunted. Simultaneously, the writers are telling a story that can be enjoyed purely as a standalone episode, one that has repercussions to the overall arc of the story, and comments on segregation and racism in 1950s Chicago. It works on three levels. A later episode involving Leti’s sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku) is even more ambitious in the way it balances a stunning story-of-the-week while also pushing the narrative forward. The habit of binge-watching entire seasons and showrunner over-reliance on the cliché that their season should really be seen as a movie that’s been cut up into episodes has led to creators forgetting the joy of episodic storytelling. “Lovecraft Country” has a breathtaking balance, allowing each episode to be analyzed and discussed on its own terms, but also in the context of what the series is doing overall.

        From George A. Romero to Jordan Peele, “Lovecraft Country” continues the tradition of socially conscious horror by embedding its messaging in some of the most startling and terrifying imagery on TV this year. Keep in mind—this is H.P. Lovecraft-inspired horror. It’s not “things that go bump in the night” as much as “portals to Hell.” And the show addresses Lovecraft’s deep racism, even quoting some of his worst work in that regard, but then reclaims many of his concepts by subverting them.


        If Lovecraft’s vision of cult members and lesser beings destroying the fabric of humanity reflected what he thought of non-white people, “Lovecraft Country” suggests he might have had the right idea but the wrong target. Most of his fiction was about someone discovering that the smiling face of the country held true horrors underneath it. What better writer to use to expose the actual systemic problems in the history of this country? While “Lovecraft Country” pretty quickly gets away from actual Lovecraft stories and creations, the thematic sense remains of a curtain being pulled back on stomach-churning horror—both human and supernatural.

        All of the many thematic undercurrents of “Lovecraft Country” aside—and there will be some great pieces written on individual episodes and themes throughout the season, including one here in a couple weeks—there are other reasons to praise this exceptional work. The technical elements are top-notch, as the team of creators find a way to make their show look fantastic but not sterile. It’s both moody and grounded at the same time, a hard trick to pull off. As for performance, being a fan of “The Last Black Man in San Francisco” and “Da 5 Bloods,” I expected to love Jonathan Majors here, and he doesn’t disappoint. However, the revelation is Jurnee Smollett, who gets to play a range of emotion in the first half of the season that most actresses don’t get in an entire series run, and she nails every complex beat. It’s one of the best performances of the year. The whole cast is strong—Williams and Vance are always welcome presences—but the show really does belong to Majors and Smollett. In fact, they’re so good that the show admittedly seems to sag a little bit when they’re off-screen for long periods of time. Luckily, that doesn’t happen often.

        There are a few minor growing pains in the first half of the first season of “Lovecraft Country”—a tin line of dialogue here, a thin supporting performance there—but nothing that holds the show back from excellence overall. If it’s not on the absolute top tier of what’s on TV in 2020, it’s not far behind at all, and I suspect the first season of this show is going to be one of the year’s great conversation starters. Let’s make that happen because if we get an even more confident and refined second season of “Lovecraft Country”? That could be a true game-changer.

        Five episodes screened for review

        By: Brian Tallerico
        Posted: August 12, 2020, 1:31 pm

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        “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”—Dr. Seuss

        I care a whole awful lot. And I'm hoping to make things better in ways big and small. In the first installment of my Happy Place column, I encouraged readers to share the places they go to find joy during this pandemic quarantine, and to tell us what gets them there. In addition to work on practical solutions to our problems we have to find a place of peace and hope in our daily lives to shore up our reserves of hope.

        I encouraged you to e-mail us at and tell us about a movie, TV show, book, play, song; or even a recipe, remembrance, person, dream or life’s experience that takes you to your Happy Place. I received some great submissions and today I am publishing a few of them. One submission was about a book, one was about a pivot a reader took from her career that gave her time to learn to cook and to lose weight, another spoke about her dogs, and we also found a very perceptive article about a movie that took the journalist to her Happy Place. 

        But in the interim something happened that is so extraordinary and historic that it filled me with me absolute untamed joy. Vice President Joe Biden chose Senator Kamala Harris as his Vice Presidential pick for the 2020 elections coming up in November. So I will lead off Part II of my Happy Place article with this...


        Vice-Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris's selection gives me untamed joy

        Senator Kamala Harris becomes the first African-American/Asian-American woman to be selected by a major political party to be the Vice Presidential nominee. Vice President Joe Biden announces his selection for the Democratic Party Tuesday, August 11, 2020. This fills me with untamed joy. I couldn't contain the tears of happiness and hope I cried when I heard the announcement. Kamala Harris is a wise pick--brilliant, strong, experienced from her roles as District Attorney (read Niki Solis' article on why Harris is a progressive pioneer here) and Attorney General of California running the largest justice department in the country outside of the  U.S. Justice Department, as well as her roles in the Senate serving on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. She also has the background to help intercede in public health issues which will help establish much needed national leadership during this pandemic.

        She will hit the ground running when she is in the White House as Vice President and she has the empathy and compassion to help heal the nation during this crucial time in history. She is fair and will represent all the people, not just a select few. In the video linked here, Joy Reid explains why Biden's picking Harris is the greatest affirmation of Black women's power since Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm in 1972. And Nicolle Wallace gave Joe Biden his props as a man who was not afraid to pick a running mate who was tough on him during the presidential debate. She says that Harris represents a seismic advantage.


        Marian Tompson, co-founder of the La Leche League tells which book gives her hope

        One of the seven founding members of the La Leche League International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the world about breastfeeding, Marian Tompson has been tireless in her advocacy efforts. Ever since she began her 24 years of service as the league's president in 1956, Tompson has traveled the world and met an extraordinary array of people, including her friend Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco. On July 16th, 1971, she introduced Kelly at a La Leche conference held at Chicago's La Salle hotel (you can find the video of it above). 

        When asked where she currently finds joy in her spare time, Tompson says, "Rereading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho always settles me down with hope for the future."

        imageThe men of the Manley Career Academy High School rowing team reunite in Oakland, 20 years after their introduction to the sport. Photo courtesy of 50 Eggs Films.


        Mary Mitchell's Sun-Times article on "A Most Beautiful Thing" and why the movie touches her soul

        Chicago Sun-Times reporter Mary Mitchells recently published article about the film "A Most Beautiful Thing" beautifully and joyfully articulates why the documentary is so important (you can read it in full here). The movie, which follows the story of the first all-Black rowing team from Manley High School on Chicago's West Side, "shows the power of empathy," according to Mitchell.

        “Many of us cannot relate to the pain that these young men experienced just trying to get from home to school,” she writes. “For instance, I grew up poor, but I don’t know what it is to have nothing to eat because my mother was strung out on crack and my father was nowhere to be found. I grew up in public housing where crime was a fact of life, but that was before the gangs and guns took over and young Black men were being shot dead on the street. The fact that these young men are alive to tell their own stories is itself a true triumph of the human spirit.”

        imageA mouthwatering meal cooked up by Beth Miller.


        Learning to Cook brings Beth Miller joy after pivoting away from a career in jewelry

        "Silver linings has been my mantra over the last few months," writes Miller. "I closed my jewelry business in early March after a highly successful 11 year run. From a life of travel, excitement and connection to one of isolation, deafening quiet and the unknown. I knew it was up to me to move to a place of peace and connection and I wanted to do something outside my comfort zone. I decided that cooking lessons via FaceTime with dear friends would be a perfect way to push myself towards learning a new skill while interacting with those I love in a beautiful way." 

        imageBeth Miller

        "My friends were at first so surprised that the woman who eats out or does take out most nights and doesn’t really know how to use her oven would want to learn to cook," she continues. "These FaceTime cooking lessons have been my #untamed joy over the past few months. I love the feeling of accomplishment and connection. There’s plenty of laughter and along with these FaceTime cooking lessons I’ve built an amazing vegetable garden and lost close to 20 pounds, wonderful silver linings that bring me to my #happyplace in these unprecedented times." 

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        Dogs bring Maura Clare to her Happy Place every time

        "I loved the blog post about happy places—and was especially moved by the beautiful companion dreams story at the end," says Clare. "My happy place is enjoying my dogs. Whether they’re curled up sleeping nearby, galloping through the yard after a tennis ball, or grinning expectantly up at me in the kitchen, they remind me to be exuberantly in the moment."

        Video of the Day

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        It gives me joy to see a portrait of leadership in the making, Naomi Wadler, who delivered an impassioned speech at the 2018 March For Our Lives rally when she was only 11 years old. As Toni Morrison said: "If there's a book you want to read but it hasn't been written, then you must write it." Let's write a world full of equality and joy.

        By: Chaz Ebert
        Posted: August 12, 2020, 3:34 pm

        • Entertainer
          Entertainer published a blog post Valley of the Gods


          Of all the films this year that have been forced by circumstances to make their debuts via home video and streaming services, I can't think of one that I would've rather seen in a theater than “Valley of the Gods.” This is partly because it is indeed a large-scale drama with a grand visual sweep that presumably needs a big screen to be properly appreciated. However, the real reason I wish that I could have seen it in a theater is to be able to see the faces of the other audience members once the end credits started rolling. My guess is that their facial expressions would greatly resemble those of the first night crowd for “Springtime for Hitler” at the end of the opening number. This is a movie so strange, bizarre and so unclassifiable that as soon as I was done watching it, I contacted my editor to see if deploying the phrase “batshit crazy” would be acceptable. It was approved but I have decided not to employ it on the basis that even that description undersells the experience.

          As the film opens, a man (Josh Hartnett) arrives at the Valley of the Gods, an area of southeastern Utah near Monument Valley where the spirits of Navajo Indian deities are said to reside within the enormous stones on display. The man pulls a desk out of the back of his car and begins writing, in longhand, of course. In due time, we learn that he is John Ecas, an advertising copywriter whose life has collapsed since his wife (Jaime Ray Newman) left him, evidently for her hang gliding instructor. His therapist (John Rhys Davies) suggests that the best way for John to cut through all the absurdity that he sees in the world is to beat it at its own game by doing things that are even crazier—climbing up a mountain face while dragging all of his pots and pans with him or walking the streets both backwards and blindfolded. Having accomplished those feats, John has now decided to write the novel that he has always dreamed of penning and while I cannot be 100% sure, it is implied that most of the rest of the film is a visualization of what he is creating.

          This eventually introduces us to Wes Tauros, the richest man in the world, and rumored to have gone mute following a personal tragedy. He is played by John Malkovich, who is not exactly the first person one might think of to play a mute. Anyway, he's in the midst of closing a deal to acquire the mineral rights to the Valley of the Gods in order to mine for uranium, a move that divides the Navajos still living there between those who want the money that they will receive as part of the deal and those upset that the development of the land will desecrate what they consider to be holy ground. Eventually, John turns up at Tauros’ super-lavish estate in order to write the man’s biography but discovers things that are peculiar, even by the standards of a character played by John Malkovich.

          By most critical standards, “Valley of the Gods” is a film that starts off as being fairly berserk and quickly becomes frothing mad. It feels as though writer/director Lech Majewski had a marathon of the films of Terrence Malick and the recent works of Wim Wenders and decided to try to make something that would combine the two, minus the lucid plotting. The narrative, which unfolds via a prologue and ten separate chapter headings, is, to put it charitably, a mess. The various plot threads involving the rich man, the tormented writer, and the Navajos are largely inscrutable and they do not so much weave together towards the end as much as they clumsily crash into each other. Too often, Majewski abandons them entirely to go off onto strange tangents that range from Tauros catapulting a luxury car over a cliff vis some dubious effects work, to the scenes in which Keir Dullea turns up as the rich man’s spectral butler. (This may indeed be the most bewildering film that Dullea has ever appeared in and you know what his most famous credit is.) Then there is Bérénice Marlohe, who turns up in the world’s stretchiest limousine but otherwise does nothing but get a makeover and appear in what is only the film’s third most ridiculous sex scene. (The winner, FYI, is the bewildering sequence where one of the Navajos climbs up a giant rock formation and, uh, has sex with it.)

          So yeah, the movie doesn’t “work,” as they say. And yet, even though it pretty much goes off the rails right from the start, never to return, I never quite minded. The film may be nuts but it certainly isn’t boring and there is never a moment where you feel the plot gears grinding away—this is definitely a movie that moves to the beat of a different drummer, even when it seems as if the drummer in question is Keith Moon. Additionally, it has a formal beauty to it that can't be denied and which is frequently ravishing to behold—there are times when you just want to sit back and let the whole thing just wash one you. I also admired the willingness of actors like Hartnett and Malkovich to go way out on an artistic limb by taking part in it.

          “Valley of the Gods” is a film that most people may find to be, at best, wildly uneven and frequently ridiculous and I cannot disagree with those assertions. However, I am still kind of happy that I saw it and I know that there are things in it that I will remember long after most of the more conventional movies of late have faded away. If you are someone who has in the past embraced such wonderfully unrestrained and seemingly foolhardy cinematic visions as Emir Kusturica’s “Arizona Dream” (1994), Richard Kelly’s “Southland Tales” (2006) or the Werner Herzog title of your choice, you might want to check this one out for yourself. If you do, be sure to stick it out for the jaw-dropping finale in which ... well, you wouldn’t believe me even if I told you. 

          Now available on digital platforms.

          By: Peter Sobczynski
          Posted: August 11, 2020, 2:18 pm

        • image

          When the sky blackens, and the distant trembling of thunder overwhelms the white noise of cars, buses, and scuttling pedestrians, instinct tells us to seek refuge, to go home. But what if there’s no escape? Nowhere truly safe? And that our means of protection have failed us—proven quaint and flimsy? Alien invasion movies have always toyed with these fears, plunging us into a dizzying no-man’s land not unlike the country’s greatest upheavals and disasters. Filled with the demons of our post-9/11 climate, “Signs” and “War of the Worlds” use the immediate threat of an alien apocalypse to echo with a gasping frenzy the feelings of vulnerability that swept everyday life—feelings that have returned with a vengeance during the Covid-19 pandemic as we scramble for signs that things will eventually go back to normal, that things will be OK. 

          Science-fiction movies have always been about twisting our contemporary social and political realities into fantasies—or nightmares—that put humanity, science, and technology to the test. Alien invasion movies are no exception, but for the most part their us-against-them set-ups mesh nicely with the American exceptionalism that underpins Hollywood blockbusters. 

          Consider Roland Emmerich’s “Independence Day,” the movie that marked the splashy return of the sub-genre at the tail end of the '90s. It’s hard to imagine that film’s wild success in the box office without considering the multiple doomsday conspiracies floating around at the time. As the clocks ticked forward into the 21st century, the symbolism of global catastrophe seemed too apt to ignore. Meanwhile, our Soviet adversaries had long been vanquished. "Independence Day" gave us a disaster befitting the turn of the century, and truly formidable enemies. Our alien rivals—unsentimental and exacting, and equipped with technologies that surpassed our own—are ultimately foiled by humanity’s gutsy ingenuity and bristling spirit. Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum valiantly board the mothership and upload a computer virus that wipes the aliens’ defenses, while Randy Quaid’s washed-up ex-fighter pilot achieves redemption by downing the ship kamikaze-style. Emmerich blows up the White House—a harsh battle wound to say the least—but America still comes out on top, its willpower fortified, its families reunited. In the end, exploding alien space-crafts in the distance light up like the world’s most magnificent fireworks. 

          Tim Burton’s “Mars Attacks!,” also from 1996, takes a different approach: the aliens are comically sadistic and our leaders are blundering idiots. In typical Burton fashion, outcasts and losers remain our only hope—a donut-shop employee and his grandma, a recovering alcoholic, a washed-up former boxer turned casino employee, etcetera. These people aren’t brazen patriots, just resilient underdogs, and their victory comes with the discovery of an unusual achilles heel, Slim Whitman’s country music anthem “Indian Love Call,” which literally makes the martians’ brains explode. When the “resistance,” so to speak, catches on, the song is proliferated across the airwaves to cause brain-splatting en masse. These visions of alien arrival aren’t situated in some future dystopia, they take place in the present day, and imagine how our government agencies, our military, our everyday citizens resist the threat of destruction—and how they ultimately triumph. Our actions, they tell us, will save us. Our actions have meaning.

          Ironically, as the industry searched for newer, bigger enemies to put in our movies, the country eventually got one with the attacks of 9/11. The event was deemed the “new Pearl Harbor” by politicians and pundits alike, which acknowledged the rarity of attacks on U.S. soil while reminding us of our retaliation and righteous victory in World War II. “Strength” and “courage” became popular keywords meant to instill trust in the government and to manage the public’s grief and anxiety. Yet those terms felt—and feel today—manipulative and hollow. Ultimately, the events of 9/11 gutted the idea that we are the masters of our own fate. Images of two towering infernos, seemingly ripped out of the movies, haunted every news channel, every home. We learned it was the “terrorists,” a term that implied we had no idea what we were talking about. Who were the terrorists? From where did they come? The U.S. government’s ensuing overseas campaign of brutality seemed to confirm its cluelessness. And at home, the uncertainty of it all was crippling.


          Then in the following years came two very different types of invasion movies. In M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs” and Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” there’s no question of a proper war between humans and extraterrestrials. Our scientific advancements, our sophisticated weaponry, our leaders and heroes—none stand a chance. Both films follow ordinary people on the margins as they fight to simply stay alive, protagonists motivated by a raw desire to protect their children from grisly fates. The politicians and military men are as flustered and impotent as the average Joe, so the cameras never bother turning their way, choices that reflect a sense of abandonment and betrayal. It’s a feeling that these past months have rekindled to a staggering, devastating degree. Despite our leaders’ efforts, 9/11 made things like flying, visiting major cities, even driving seem risky—a condition of floundering insecurity, and deep, existential unease that also plagues our every outing, our every interaction in these pandemic times. But it’s not just the fear of contracting and spreading the Covid-19 virus that has thrown our existence into disarray. Nor merely confronting the Kafkaesque nightmare that is our failed institutions and systems of care. It’s the total loss of control, the uncertainty of how much longer and how many more deaths until it’s over, that fills us with dread. 

          A scream cuts through the twinkle of wind chimes, the faint rustle of cornstalks. The kids have stumbled upon something strange, something they have difficulty explaining. The crops have been flattened with an eerie precision, and from above they seem to form enormous geometric patterns. Meanwhile the dogs won’t stop barking; they grow restless and savage. It’s easy to remember “Signs,” Shyamalan’s third straight hit following “The Sixth Sense” (1999) and “Unbreakable” (2000), as merely a pop culture artifact—the tin foil hats, the birthday party scene, those crucial, countless glasses of water—yet the atmosphere of menace and panic it creates remains lodged in my gut. Father of two young children and an ex-priest, Graham Hess (Mel Gibson) calls the sheriff, hoping she’s got a lead on this crop circle prank: “It’d sure take the strangeness away if I knew it was just Lionel and the Wolfington brothers messing around.” Of course, it’s not, but the real culprits—hostile alien invaders—are hardly what makes Shyamalan’s invasion movie so effective. It’s Graham’s quivering desire for normalcy, for reasonable explanations, for all the “strangeness” to be taken away, that feels familiar and true. 

          His family has recently suffered a great tragedy—his wife’s sudden death at the hands of a weary commuter, Ray Reddy, who dozed off behind the wheel at exactly the wrong time. Graham cannot cope with the injustice, the cruelty and meaninglessness of it all; he bitterly renounces God, and we meet him as he struggles to cast off his image as the community holy man. Then the “strangeness” swoops in—the agitated dogs, midnight shenanigans on the rooftop, the feeling that something sinister is watching and waiting. Graham’s youngest, Bo (Abigail Breslin), announces that all the channels are playing the same thing. The crop circles are everywhere, impossible to ignore despite Graham’s efforts to keep his family focused on “ordinary things.” Shyamalan uses wide angle lenses and shoots from shifting, low angles to disturb our sense of proportion; the camera is in near-constant motion, panning and tilting to inject the otherwise static, sleepy farmhouse location with a breathless urgency. Things look the same, but they don’t feel it. 


          In times of crisis, we’re starved for information that might settle our spirits and grace us with that cherished illusion of control. When Graham sees something disturbing in the cornfields, he knows he can no longer live in denial. Everyone in the family gathers around the television set where the “history of the world’s future” plays on the screen: unidentified lights hovering above all the major capitals. The experts and reporters merely speculate, and offer theories as useful as the ones in the extraterrestrial book written by a “Dr. Bimbo” that Graham’s son, Morgan (Rory Culkin), carries around like a bible. Merrill (Joaquin Phoenix), Graham’s younger brother, a newer resident in the house, holes up in a storage closet glued to the T.V., horrified by every new scrap of intelligence, but unable to pull away. 

          “What’s happening out there?” Graham asks as his family huddles in the basement in the final act. “I can’t even imagine,” mutters Merrill, “I hope they’re doing better than we are.” A student of Hitchcock, Shyamalan understands that less is more when it comes to building suspense, so the world beyond the farmhouse only trickles in through grainy home videos and nervous journalists, reporting from what seems more like a bunker than a proper news station. Like the aliens themselves, which only rarely make appearances, the unimaginable horrors of what’s happening “out there,” and what might soon happen to them, fills the Hess family with doubt. 

          When the aliens finally strike, the news broadcast goes blank and their final connection to the rest of humanity snapped off. Off-screen barks turn to whimpers, then silence; the porch creaks under footsteps, and shadows flicker in the cracks of boarded-up windows. Walls shake, doorknobs rattle furiously as James Howard Newton’s score swells in panic-stricken fury. Then Graham clutches Morgan, and tells him about the day he was born. 

          Watching "Signs" today, some elements feel wooden and hackneyed; knowing what we now know about Mel Gibson’s profanity-laced outbursts as a private citizen, and in other films, Graham’s reluctance to curse seems laughable; Bo’s mousy eccentricities just a little too precious; Merrill’s dumb jock tendencies forced and unfunny. The movie continuously circles back to Graham’s crisis of faith by replaying in bits and pieces his final conversation with his dying wife, the scene of his life’s greatest tragedy and betrayal. It takes surviving an alien invasion to renew his faith in God, a predictable outcome that reads like a mildly icky Christian genre movie. Because of this, I’m tempted to roll my eyes when Graham tells Morgan about his birth, which feels contrived. Yet the way the camera sets a fixed gaze on gushing father and attentive son even as mayhem builds around them resembles the experience of a panic attack, a flood of terror that one fights back with focus and controlled breathing. Hiding in the cellar, Morgan suffers an asthma attack that makes palpable this internal struggle. Father comforts and guides son through the darkness, even as he himself trembles in despair.

          Released in the summer of 2002, “Signs” was never intended as a direct response to 9/11, though the cast and crew were waist-deep in the process of filming when the attacks took place. Nevertheless, its mysterious alien invaders seemed to represent this new, unknowable enemy; and its methods eerily resembled the mood of alarm and uncertainty that seemed to hang in the air. Long gone were the days of conquerable foes, and with them a certain picture of America itself. 


          Also hinging on the spiritual crisis at the center of American politics and culture, was “War of the Worlds,” which follows Tom Cruise as an estranged father charged with protecting his children as they evade murderous extraterrestrials on a perilous journey to Boston. Like the Hess family, the Ferriers are just random people hoping to make it out alive, not heroes ultimately responsible for humanity’s salvation. Whereas “Signs” is a minimalistic psychological thriller, “War of the Worlds” is a more straight-forward horror-adventure movie, with big, impressive set-pieces and visions of sprawling catastrophe. In my book, Spielberg’s adaptation doesn’t get at the marrow-deep feeling of dread that “Signs” so effectively conjures—instead it belongs to a lineage of big-budget disaster movies whose relationship to 9/11 is more plainly obvious. Spielberg has acknowledged the connection: “We live under a veil of fear that we didn’t live under before 9/11. There has been a conscious emotional shift in the country.” In a visual callback to the infamous World Trade Center plume, heavy dust clouds the air in the opening attack scene in Brooklyn—a tripod emerges from the ground and begins zapping humans into powdered smithereens, leaving behind only scraps of clothing drifting in the sky. Cruise’s Ray Ferrier, like Graham, returns home after this chilling encounter, nearly paralyzed by what he’s seen, but determined to get his loved ones out of a soon-to-be burning Brooklyn pronto. 

          There’s a strong survivalist streak to "War of the Worlds," namely because we’re so tethered to Cruise and his exceptionally capable and fortunate avatar. Ray has one of the only functioning cars around, and zips past envious stragglers with kids in tow until a mob overwhelms the vehicle and takes over. A plane crashes into the family’s hideaway in the suburbs, but the trio manage to take cover in the basement utility room at exactly the right moment. A run-in with an unstable stranger, played by Tim Robbins, ends in justified violence, and Ray’s teenage son, Robbie (Justin Chatwin) is emboldened to take a stand and joins the resistance. Much later, when Rachel (Dakota Fanning) is swooped up by one of the tentacled spacecrafts, Ray deliberately gets himself caught to join his daughter in the attached holding cell. And when a tentacle chooses Ray as the next unlucky victim from its reserve of juicy bodies, he gets sucked into the tripod with a grenade in hand, and releases it before getting pulled out by his fortuitously energized fellow prisoners. Ray may be especially resilient—a quality as miraculous as the hand of God that supposedly saves Morgan in the final showdown of “Signs”—yet we’re told as he looks out, battered and wide-eyed, into a field doused in human blood, that it’s only a matter of time before luck runs out.

          In the H.G Wells book, a wizened artilleryman explains, “there never was a war, anymore than there’s war between men and ants.” In both “Signs” and Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” this fact remains true to the end. Our protagonists come out alive, but not by their own, or any sort of human intervention. The aliens are defeated in final act twists by biological forces beyond their control. Our planet is made up of mostly water, and the invaders in “Signs” turn out to be deathly allergic—they retreat, leaving behind their injured to get killed by baseball bats and smashed glasses of water. In “War of the Worlds,” the aliens are ravaged by Earth-borne infectious microbes to which we are immune—these once intimidating, hulking creatures tumble out of their spaceships like pale corpses. 


          In the face of utter hopelessness, these outcomes suggest that the cosmos is on the side of humanity, that something ingrained and incontestable in the fabric of the natural world has got our backs. We need only tough it out, brave the horrifying darkness, before these forces kick into gear. It’s only natural given the spiritual devastation of 9/11 that the movies would turn to a higher power for salvation, and that that higher power would be at least nominally rooted in science. If our leaders and weapons can’t save us, what could be more comforting than knowing that the planet itself will accommodate our existence? Upon closer look, such a message comes off as deeply frightening, an obvious fiction. It’s striking that today, in the throes of an actual global crisis, and in a country led by con men and bigots, we find ourselves feeling similarly abandoned. Otherwise forsaken, our hope lies in the doctors and scientists—the cult of Dr. Anthony Fauci, while not undeserved, speaks to our desperation, our mad scramble for truth and certainty in times that deny us these comforts. 

          While writing this piece, my mind continuously circled back to the opening invasion sequence in “War of the Worlds,” when Ray runs out into the street and finds himself among friends and neighbors looking up at this unnaturally prodigious storm. Spielberg cuts to the many bewildered faces of the community, people clutching their lovers and children, staring in awe, exchanging wordless, worried glances. It’s strange to walk around outside these days and look at every person that passes by me knowing, with a level of certainty, that their lives in some way have also changed because of the pandemic. The spiritual malaise may be inescapable, but the question of where we’ll come out on the other side remains at large. 

          By: Beatrice Loayza
          Posted: August 11, 2020, 2:19 pm

          • Entertainer


            Kevin Tran’s “The Dark End of the Street” is a warm, modest film all around—its ambitions, filmmaking, and especially pacing. It seeks to have the stillness of a night in some random suburb (in this case, in the state of New Jersey), but imagines how the neighbors would react if a mysterious pet killer were on the loose. The news inspires a few people to connect in ways they might never had, and for others to have a pretty regular night. This is not a movie about big moments, and the sooner you roll with its atmosphere, the more Tran's assured directorial debut has to reward you. 

            Tran slowly builds a story almost in the style of vignettes, bouncing between different lives without rushing to connect them. Marney (Brooke Bloom) is the woman who has been the latest victim of the murderer, as she comes home in the opening minutes of the movie to talk to her older neighbor Ian (Anthony Chisholm), and then to find her dead pet on the floor. It’s a horrific moment, especially with the scream she elicits upon seeing it off-camera, but the pulse of this movie is not that of terror. Marnie is later seen grieving, quietly, and Ian arrives with two beer bottles, hoping to keep her company. They have one of the movie’s most tender scenes as they talk about why they live where they do.

            Getting to know the backgrounds of these New Jersey residents is a big part of the effect of Tran’s script, especially when it comes to their philosophies that are engrained in why they chose the 'burbs. As Tran displays a gentle touch, the story is about spending time with them, like how Keith (Daniel K. Isaac) and his wife Sue (Jennifer Kim) worry about their safety in the neighborhood. Or it's in how expectant father Jim (Scott Friend) talks with Richard (Jim Parrack), a new guy he met at a bar, about the value of education. They share the movie’s ultimate hangout sequence, which is one of many moments in which we get to know friendly faces by small chat. 

            Jim's wife Patty (Lindsay Burdge) stays at home because she's exhausted. She writes a poem, and reads it outloud to her unborn child. The sequence is intercut with images of some kids skateboarding at night. Like a good deal of moments in "The Dark End of the Street," it floats. 

            Tran has a loving eye for the suburbs, with its fenced-in skate park and homes that all have different kitchens. Sometimes his camera seems to be watching from outside, but not in a mysterious pet killer way, and other times it's in a random living room, laying back with the people and space with a wide shot. Even if that means watching a few teens have band practice in a basement—a bassist, a drummer, and a guy screaming into "What the f**k is up" into an upside-down beer bottle—it’s all a part of the piece, and telling of Tran’s sense of humor and openness as a storyteller. 

            This is a movie that enjoys the characters we only know so briefly, so it can a little frustrating when you don’t share Tran’s fascination with them. Some people in the film simply prove to be fuller than others, and some performances are simply stronger than others. And the way in which Tran brings the anxieties to a climax is better with its cinematography than its writing.  

            But it’s the confident ease of “The Dark End of the Street” that holds the viewer. It’s not a very stressful movie, despite putting an insidious bringer of nightmares at the center. His house is not the only one we want to peek into; he's not the only person who we want to know how they spend their night. 

            Now available on digital platforms.

            By: Nick Allen
            Posted: August 11, 2020, 2:18 pm

            • Entertainer


              James Cameron’s “Aliens” (1986) is rightfully regarded as one of the greatest follow-ups in film history. Even though it shares several elements with its predecessor, comparing them feels like a case of apples and oranges. Ridley Scott’s “Alien” (1979) is slow and involving; Cameron’s feature is one of the busiest, most chaotic movies in memory. 

              “Aliens” deals with the return of Ellen Ripley to LV-426, the planet where the Nostromo crew first came upon the title creature. Just a few days after waking up from a 57-year nap, Ripley learns that a colony set there 20 years before has recently lost contact with Earth and is eventually recruited to join a rescue mission. She embarks there with a group of Marines on an assignment to wipe out the creatures (why is it that characters in movies like this are never told about the nature of their mission before they have already traveled light years from Earth?). As with all of those “Jurassic Park” entries that “Aliens” inspired, the arrogant Marines will find themselves over their heads facing an almost unstoppable enemy.

              Even though this is clearly a Great Movie, I wouldn’t go as far as to call it a perfect one. For a space feature set in the far future, it has too many elements that instantly give away the exact time period when it was made: Paul Reiser’s '80s hair; its “widescreen” monitors that simply consist of old-fashioned, low resolution ones cropped with over lapping frames; and the unlikely prevalence of smoking (unless such habit does make a comeback and this prediction turns out to be true).

              There are also several plot elements in “Aliens” that don’t make much sense. What was the point of taking a spaceship the size of a small city in order to transport no more than a couple dozen passengers? Why wouldn’t the Marines leave at least one person aboard the Suloco while orbiting LV-426 (like their counterparts in the later “Alien: Covenant”) just in case something went wrong? And why do the surprisingly brilliant Aliens kamikaze themselves by the hundreds in order to grab a handful of humans, when the whole point of them going through this process is to be able to hatch their eggs and allow their species to flourish? (I think of the deleted scene where dozens and dozens of them are wiped out by unmanned machine guns).

              Additionally, why is it that every sequel to the original “Alien” seems to overlook the fact that the creature’s acidic blood once almost blew a hole through the Nostromo, but when their characters are sprinkled with such, they simply get bandaged and move on? I was also under the impression that “Aliens” was a more original movie until I watched its predecessor’s DVD deleted scenes and ran into a sequence that depicts the creature’s modus operandi for reproductive purposes, an idea that was clearly written for the original. Still, these are all minor details that don’t take away too much from the movie.

              Despite their many similitudes and a similar impact on the viewer, the first two "Alien" movies differ in one essential facet. Even though the emergence of Ripley as a most powerful presence is central in both features, motherhood is clearly the main theme behind the sequel. With this in mind, editing out the timeline that deals with Ripley’s own daughter (from the Special Edition) makes no sense whatsoever. The longer, and truly definitive version of the sequel is really about a mother who loses a child and comes upon an orphan in dire need of one, even if that means facing the ultimate menacing matriarch. This time around, Ripley is simply a woman forced to become a full-fledged warrior, with the strength to show up the terrifying Alien Queen with just a glance, in what is surely one of the greatest performances ever in such a commercial project.

              Along with its off-the-charts intensity, Scott’s “Alien” became a classic thanks to several bravura sequences of immense shock value, like the chest-bursting creature’s debut, the milky revelation of the Science Officer's true nature and the emergence of one the most unexpected film heroes in history. These sequences would seem impossible to top, but several moments in “Aliens” turned out to be just as good or even better. Just think of the jaw-dropping moment when Ripley accidentally enters a room that fully reveals how these creatures come to be. There’s also the film’s final sequence, structured similarly to that in the original (just when you thought the creatures are dead … ) but much more elaborate, giving a seemingly harmless contraption seen early in the movie the most unexpected use. This sequence is introduced by what is surely my favorite moment in the whole series (get away from her…!).

              What truly makes “Aliens” even better than its predecessor is how it maintains a seemingly impossible fever pitch. You sit there in awe watching the film, realizing the great expectations that every sequence creates are invariably surpassed, and as much as you assure yourself that the following scene can’t possibly top the last, you are still astonished when it invariably does. This is the rare movie where I find myself pleading for a break in the action, which doesn't arrive until the credits finally rolled. Cameron manages all of this, even when dealing with the disadvantage of having to work with elements previously familiar to the audience. Let’s face it, watching an Alien pop out from a human being the second time around isn’t remotely as shocking, as proven by every later entry in the series.

              “Aliens” also doesn't share the benefit of being able to gradually reveal what was once an unfamiliar creature (a la “Jaws”). Watching the movie recently I came to realize just many of its illusions are achieved through the magic of editing or through sheer ingenuity, as when several of the creatures attack the characters, all done with a single Alien suit, usually occupied by the same actor.

              The special effects in “Aliens” may not live up to those in the more recent entries in the series, but, after all these years, most of them still look outstanding. “Aliens” represent action filmmaking at its finest, and no matter how many state-of-the-art techniques Cameron got to work with in his later movies, this is still his best. 

              By: Gerardo Valero
              Posted: August 10, 2020, 1:53 pm


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