Month: June 2016

Midnight Special 

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Midnight Special (2015) – Drama | Science Fiction 

Directed by: Jeff Nichols 

Starring: Michael Shannon and Joel Edgerton 

How I Watched: Amazon Instant Video

Jeff Nichols makes a habit out of taking his viewers into a different dimension. Take Shelter lifted Michael Shannon into an otherworldly acting status and Mud further solidified this decade’s Matthew McConaughey dominance. In both of those films, it was easy to get completely absorbed into the stories. His characters, often seemingly simple people, can be frustrating, yet immensely likable. Shannon is fighting paranoid schizophrenia in Take Shelter, stricken with visions of an imminent worldwide storm threatening his family’s safety. In Mud, McConaughey quite literally takes shelter in the forest on an island in Arkansas. While both stories stay grounded, there are times in each which border on the unbelievable. I don’t want to say this film is unbelievable, but Nichols definitely has jumped into another genre with this effort.

Midnight Special tells the story of a young child with extraordinary powers and his father (played brilliantly by Nichols alum, Michael Shannon) who does everything he can to protect his son from all those who threaten his existence. From the beginning, the film is exciting, unnerving and incredibly mysterious as it ramps up toward the heart of the movie. There’s a creepy religious cult, car chases, shit crashing to earth from space and some breathtaking CGI that is refreshingly done right in today’s world of graphic overabundance. While it might not reach the emotional levels that Nichols’ previous two offers do, Midnight Special has earned its place in the world of modern Science Fiction.

The film’s ensemble is one of the most impressive elements of Midnight Special. Joel Edgerton shines as Shannon’s old friend, driving and protecting the father and son throughout the film. Adam Driver is not a huge part of the movie, yet provides some of the little humor that pops up. Kirsten Dunst makes an appearance, which seems questionable at first, until I remembered when she rocked the hell out of the transcendent Melancholia. This is not quite the emotional rollercoaster that Melancholia is, but it’s easy to compare elements of the two. I get annoyed by child actors quite often, but Jaeden Lieberher does a great job as Alton, the film’s focus as the young boy with supernatural abilities. Whenever I see Sam Shepard’s name in the credits, I know I’m in for a treat. He does not let down in Midnight Special, as the leader of the cult. His character is unsettling, and walks the tightrope that begs both empathy and hate.

As I mentioned previously, Jeff Nichols has a knack for creating his own worlds. Like Steven Spielberg, you know when you’re watching one of his movies. David Wingo (who has worked with Nichols on all three of his features) and his music in the film, oppressively drones at your emotions, only ramping up when the action does. The beginning of Midnight Special is strange, but delivers an important sense of wonder, much like Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Not much is said for quite a while and we as the viewers are left wondering where the story might move next. Little by little, the story comes together and is pieced together much like a 1980’s sci-fi flick (ala Spielberg) would be. Nichols ultimately abandons his typical penchant for leaving us suspended by the time the film comes to an end, but it still leaves enough to probably require a second viewing.

Midnight Special is the ultimate display of just how much Nichols is capable of with the appropriate budget. With more than three times the amount of money he was given to make Take Shelter, Nichols created a golden Science Fiction film that does not forget to keep the human element an active part of the story. While I feel it does not quite reach the level of Take Shelter and MudMidnight Special is a spectacular visual treat that lovingly takes from exciting sci-fi of yesteryear. If you haven’t yet experienced Jeff Nichols’ cinematic worlds, do yourself a huge favor and soak all of these in.

Final Score: 3.5/4

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Similar Films: Melancholia, Take Shelter, Close Encounters of the Third Kind

A Recap of Thrones: S06 E10: The Winds of Winter

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A Recap of Thrones: Season Six, Episode Ten: The Winds of Winter

By Holly Hill (@hollishillis)

It’s fitting that the title of this episode is the title of the next book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. You know the one that George RR Martin is taking a million years to write. Well, save yourself the trouble of waiting, and just watch this 10 hour season instead.

It was an extremely satisfying season overall. There were some lows, but mostly highs. It was nice to overall feel like the ‘good people’ didn’t get screwed over and over again per usual. The season finale starts with the credits showing a direwolf back on the top of Winterfell, but we also see Dorne show up on the map so I guess we have to deal with that too.

The episode starts out beautifully with Cersei, Tommen, the High Sparrow, and Margaery all getting ready for the day. The music in this scene was incredible, and also very unlike anything we’ve heard before in the series. It looks like everyone is getting ready for a funeral, and it’s fair to say we were all very on edge about who will live, and who will die this episode. In the end we should have known that Cersei was wearing black for everyone else’s funeral. She concocts an elaborate plan to gather everyone in the Sept for her trial, then blow up the entire thing with stores of wildfire.

Of course Margaery realizes her plan, but when she announces Cersei’s intent, the Sparrow ridiculously won’t let anyone leave and so everyone dies. RIP Natalie Dormer’s character. You were very good looking, and it’s sad to not have you to look at anymore. Cersei keeps Tommen from going to the Sept, and when he sees it blown to pieces, it is clear that the only thing that was keeping him together was probably his wife. In an act I didn’t see coming, Tommen barely hesitates as he walks toward a window and jumps out of it.

To me, it was the most shocking part of the episode (only because R+L=J has been on my radar for some time now – we will get to that don’t worry). Cersei’s victory isn’t sweet. She has lost everything just as she becomes Queen of Westeros. Jamie shows up, and he gives her a brief ‘WTF’ look, and she replies with an ‘I thought we were the only people who matter’ look. Jamie seems to be cool with it though, which once again proves Book Jamie is 1,000 times better than TV Show Jamie.

On a boring but adorable note, Sam and Gilly show up at the Citadel. Sam is like Belle in Beauty and the Beast when he sees the library and pretty much gives zero fucks when the guy says Gilly and the baby can’t come in. He gives her that look like, “Sorry, but who care, you can stay here, I need to go visit my peeps.” His peeps happen to be tons upon tons of books. Sam is there to be a Maester just in case anyone forgot, but I think his real purpose will be finding one of those books that will tell him how to defeat White Walkers. Otherwise what a wasteful storyline.

A white raven is sent from the Citadel to Winterfell to let Jon know Sam has made it. A white raven symbolizes that Winter IS finally fucking here, and Jon and Sansa share a knowing glance that acknowledges their house saying is no longer relevant. Davos calls out the Red Woman for killing Shireen, and Jon banishes her South. She will eventually no doubt meet up with Dany and start worshiping her.

Jon and Sansa share a beautiful moment where she accepts him as a Stark, and apologizes for not telling him about the Knights of the Vale. Sansa says anyone would be a fool to trust Littlefinger. Littlefinger confesses to Sansa all he wants is himself on the Iron Throne with her next to him. For once, he might be telling the truth, but WHY Sansa seems mildly intrigued by this idea is beyond me. Considering she JUST SAID anyone would be a fool to trust him. I’m hoping she isn’t playing that game, but they exchange some worrisome glances later in the evening as the rest of the Northern houses sit at Winterfell proclaiming their alliance to Jon ‘Stark’. Once again Lady Mormont knows what’s up, and leads the grown men in a declaration of ‘King of the North’.

Olenna Tyrell shows up in Dorne and tells all the sand snakes to STFU, which was pretty epic considering we’re all thinking it. Varys appears, and is pretty much like, ‘How about joining the Dragon Queen?’, and everyone agrees, so that’s the end of that story.

Dany dismisses ‘that guy she is sleeping with’ via Tyrion’s orders. She seems bored the entire time by it, and does finally admit she felt nothing while doing it. It’s a sad moment where she confesses to Tyrion she’s worried she’ll never love anyone, and Tyrion confesses to her that he doesn’t have faith in anything, but he has faith in her. It’s a beautiful moment, and she gives him a ‘Hand of the Queen’ pin that she had made, which he gladly accepts.

Her scene ends as the Greyjoys are sailing to Westeros alongside the Dothraki, the Unsullied, Greyworm, Messandi, Tyrion, Dany, three dragons, and the mysterious teleporting Varys who has somehow sailed to Dorne and back in one episode and is now on a ship. I KNOW that we have to assume all of these events are taking months at a time, because no one wants to watch a show where people travel constantly, but sometimes it’s hard to keep that in mind.

Speaking of time travel, Arya is suddenly in Westeros. She bakes a pie full of dead Frey sons to give to Walder Frey. Arya is wearing a mask, and she takes it off to reveal herself to Walder as she slits his throat. Satisfaction and vengeance for the Red Wedding. Now go to Winterfell and reunite with your kin!

Benjen Stark leaves Bran and Meera just in front of the wall at a weirwood. Bran decides now is a good time to end that Tower of Joy cliffhanger we’ve been dealing with since one of the first episodes of the season. Finally R+L=J. This is a fan theory that Rhaegar Targaryen (Dany’s brother), didn’t actually kidnap Lyanna Stark, they were really in love with each other, and she died in childbirth, giving birth to their son, Jon Targaryn. A young Ned finds her bloody and broken on a bed, and she confesses that the baby is hers and Rhaegar’s. She asks Ned to keep the baby, and raise it as his own bastard for the baby’s safety. Jon is half Targaryen and half Stark. Kind of a big fucking deal. Now we are really getting into the Song of Ice and Fire.

So Jon isn’t a bastard after all. He is practically royalty. I’m hoping him and Dany can get along when she shows up considering that Jon is her…nephew? Maybe a marriage? The Targaryen’s never had trouble in the past marrying each other. Yikes. What a fucking season.

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Best quotes this week:

– “My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know that. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.” – Arya Stark
– “There’s something wrong. Cersei is not here. Tommen is not here. Why do you think they are not here? Forget about the bloody Gods, and listen to what I’m telling you. Cersei understands the consequences of her absence and she is absent anyway. Which means she is not intending to suffer those consequences. The trial can wait. We all need to leave. We all need to leave now. Loras, stay with me. Let me through, let me through. Get out of my way! Let us through!” – Margaery Tyrell
– “We need to trust each other. We can’t fight a war against ourselves, we have so many enemies now.” – Jon Snow
– “Jon a raven came from the citadel. A white raven. Winter is here.” – Sansa Stark
– “Fire and blood.” – Varys
– “Tyrion Lannister, I name you Hand of the Queen.” – Danaryes Targarean
– “But House Mormont remembers. The North remembers. We know no king, but the King in the North, whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard. Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins. He is my King, from this day, until his last day.” – Lady Mormont, the real MVP

Cathy’s Take on ‘The Shawshank Redemption’

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The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Great Family Romp | Total Science Fiction

Directed by: Not Steven Spielberg

Starring: Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman

How I Watched: VHS Rental from the Uptown Library

Full disclosure: I have never been to prison. I live my life according to the law and have never had a run-in except for when I dropped a Dairy Queen Chocolate Cherry Blast Blizzard in my lap in front of a police officer and got pulled over. The officer said I almost swerved into the oncoming lane and he feared I’d had a stroke. I was so T.O.’d for dropping my Blizzard that I almost had an aneurysm. Those treats are seasonal and it was the last day of the season according to a Blizzard-specific Facebook group I am a member of. When I called DQ, they said they’d send me a coupon for a free one and I ended up getting Heath flavored because they were in fact out of Chocolate Cherry Blast. I got off with a warning is the point of the story, and I never went to jail. Not like Andy Dufraine, or Red, or Boggs, or the librarian with the crow. They are all characters in the 1994 classic, Shawshank Redemption.

Shawshank Redemption is a movie about a guy, named Andy Dufrayn, played by Tim Robbins, who goes to jail for killing his wife. He has a hard time, but then plans an escape thanks to getting a miniature pick-ax from Morgan Freeman, which he hides behind a poster of some scantily clad ladies. I should warn you guys, this is a prison movie so it is a bit violent. There is a scene in which he gets raped by some other people in prison. They are real bullies. But the rape is not shown and is really tastefully done. The film focuses on the whole gamut of prison life, from the rape, to the doing of income tax, to the playing of opera music on the loudspeaker. Eventually, Andy escapes prison and builds a boat and Red comes and visits him. And I know this movie doesn’t sound very good, but trust me, it really is. There is also a sad part in which the librarian with a crow gets sad about not being a librarian in prison, so he hangs himself. That really added some weight to the film.

All in all, this is a warm hearted prison movie that says that even if you are convicted of killing your wife and her lover, you can still have good times and do taxes for your buddies and even build a boat in Mexico when you get out. It is a movie about redemption and it is a movie about the prison life, but I forget the name of the prison. Close your eyes during the rape and violence, but otherwise this is a great family romp and a really good Netflix movie.
Cathy Gives It: I give it 10 out of 10 smuggled miniature pick-axes for making prison chess.

A Recap of Thrones: S06 E09 – ‘Battle of the Bastards’

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A Recap of Thrones: Season Six, Episode Nine: Battle of the Bastards

By Holly Hill (@hollishillis)

SO MANY THINGS. I feel like a million epic events happened tonight. Events we have been Owaiting for since the end of Season one. In Lord of the Rings style epicnesss, we’ve got dragons, we’ve got revenge, and we’ve got TWO battles. On a directorial note, the cinematography of this episode was some of the best I’ve seen on TV, perhaps ever. I hear an Emmy calling.  

In Mereen, Dany is back, and instead of scolding Tyrion for prolonging the inevitable, she’s ready to get to work and figure out how to stop the take over. It’s super satisfying to see her trusting Tyrion, and really looking to him for advice and counsel. Dany wants to run in and kill everyone, burning the cities to the ground. Tyrion reminds her that she sounds like her crazy old dad, and he also manages to make mention of all that Wildfyre her father planted around Kings Landing (foreshadowing for the finale, anyone?), and Dany quickly takes back her statement.

The old masters try to get Dany to surrender which she predictably refuses. The other dragons are released, and don’t seem too pissed off at having been chained in a dungeon for several seasons. Dany sets dragon fire to the ships, and makes it pretty fucking clear there will be no more slavery. In a move that makes the world of Essos and Westeros look like it’s the distance from Florida to New York, Yara and Theon show up in Mereen and offer their ships. There is some very epic flirting between Yara and Dany, which I fully support, and now officially ship. Dany accepts their ships, and their offer, and it’s the start of a beautiful friendship.

Ramsey, Sansa, and Jon all meet up before the battle to exchange words. Jon offers hand to hand combat with Ramsey so no one has to die, except one of them. Ramsey obviously refuses, and so battle is declared. Davos finds Shireen’s burn site, and the daggers in his eyes confirms we haven’t heard the end of it.

At the start of the battle, Ramsey releases Rickon. He shoots arrows at the kid, letting him run back to Jon. Rickon runs in a straight line to get back to his rightful side. WHY IN THE WORLD DID HE NOT RUN IN A ZIG-ZAG FORMATION?! I know NOTHING about battle tactics or how to outrun an arrow, but it seems entirely obvious that his go to would have been zig-zagging as to not get hit. At the last moment one finds him right in the chest. It’s sad to see, but I think we all agree that if we had to pick any Stark to die tonight, it was going to be Rickon.

The battle starts and I can’t help thinking, where was Ghost? I’m guessing with the dragons, the giant, and the dogs at the end, the CGI budget was completely tapped out at the end of this episode. The battle is some of the best shit I’ve seen on TV in a long time. It was chaotic and grimy, and the tactics medieval in nature. It was one of the best scenes of this entire series. There’s a terrible moment when it looks like Jon might die of asphyxiation from being crushed to death by the weight of dead bodies. For some reason my mind blanked on Sansa writing that letter to ‘someone’ which we all guessed was Petyr Baelish but it was never confirmed. So just as it seems all hope is lost the Knights of the Vale show up, and with some relief, Jon, Wun-Wun, and Tormund charge for the gates of Winterfell. It’s a tough gate to crack, but I guess when you have a giant, it seems like childs play.

When Ramsey and Jon lock eyes again, Ramsey tries to bargain with a one-on-one fight. Jon has had enough of this little shit, and charges him nearly beating his face in to death, but stopping just in time as he sees Sansa. The look in her eyes says, “Please let me decide how this fucker goes.” And so Ramsey wakes up in a holding cell where his man-eating dogs surround him, having not fed them for seven days. In a beautiful form of revenge, the dogs eat Ramsey alive, and I can’t really think of a better way for that death to go.

Stark banners fall on the walls of Winterfell once more (new intro next week?), and we end the episode with a beautiful ghost of a smile on Sansa’s face as she listens to the dogs rip Ramsey’s face apart.

Things that still need to be wrapped up:

  • Where is Arya headed and when will she get there? With this new teleportation system the show has going on, hopefully she can reunite with her siblings in Winterfell soon.
  • What’s Bran up to? Where is he going, what is his new purpose, and will he see his family again?
  • What will be the fate of the Lannisters? Jamie is breaking bread with the Freys (despicable), while Cersei awaits trial with Loras. Will she take King’s Landing down with her? How much longer does Tommen even have on the throne? Where is Ser Pounce?
  • Why is the Hound back? What will be his purpose? An epic showdown with this zombie brother?
  • Will Brienne and Pod make it back to Winterfell?
  • When will Dany set sail for Westeros?
  • Will Davos out the Red Lady for killing Shrieen?
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Best quotes this week:

– “My hounds will never harm me.” – Ramsey Bolton

– “Our father’s were evil men. All of us here. They left the world worse than they found it. We aren’t going to do that. We are going to leave the world better than we found it.” – Dany

– “Happy shitting.” – Tormund Giantsbane

– “Bury my brother in the crypt. Next to my father.” – Jon Snow

– “His big cock. I think he said. Yuron’s offer is also an offer of marriage, you see you won’t get one without the other.” -Yara

“And your offer is free of any marriage demands?” – Dany

“I never demand, but I’m up for anything really.” –Yara

The Highterion Collection: ‘Jubilee’

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Review by Dino Larino

Jubilee (1978) – Drama | Fantasy

Directed by: Derek Jarman

Starring: Jenny Runacre and  Jordan

How I Watched: Hulu Plus

My name is Dino Larino (not my real name. I have a job). I like getting stoned. I also like watching artsy fartsy films. Some films are better to watch blitzed than others. So, I am going to try to watch every Criterion Collection film ever distributed while I smoke herb and decide whether it belongs in the Highterion Collection.

For a film to enter the Highterion Collection, it just has to be awesome to watch while stoned. That’s the criteria. Even if it is objectively the dopest flick to be devoted to film, if it sucks whilst exuberantly exuberant, it will remain in the Criterion Collection. Sorry.

Full disclosure: While I have seen many Criterion films, I haven’t seen a lot while high. Maybe the thing that makes them Criterion Collection films is that they are amazing under the influence. I don’t know. Let’s find out together.

Also, if you have any suggestions for upcoming Highterion films I need to see, definitely leave them in the comments.

And so you can play along, I will tell you the next film up for consideration.

Jubilee (1978). I picked it on a lark. I know nothing about it other than it is a punk film.

Stay faithful my friends and enjoy the magic carpet ride.

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To start off this film review column, I wanted to begin with a film that had a batshit insane plot synopsis. This one has just that. It is basically about how Elizabeth I uses the powers of some dude and his creepy leotarded buddy to travel to the future of England and see what’s happening. I guess she was just curious. The story from there focuses on a punk gang of women as they create havoc and philosophize about the current state of the UK. So, right away, this is right up my alley.

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I am going to be completely honest (cause honesty is key to every relationship), for much of this film – like the first third – I had no fucking clue what was going on. I didn’t even realize two characters were played by the same actress. There was a lot of yelling by this character named Mad, which I guess makes sense. Mad was this ultra-violent nihilist played by punk rocker Toyah Wilcox who has the most beautifully vibrant orange buzzcut and an amazing affectation that makes everything she says seem like it is the secret of the universe. For her performance alone, the film is worth seeing.

The plot, once I could really grasp it, revolved around this gang just enjoying life and youthful anarchy, while trying to get a record deal from this super-crazy media magnate played to creepy perfection by Jack Birkett. At some point, some cops kill two incestuous brothers that were members of the gang, so Mad and Bod, a non-descript blond, but centerpiece of the gang, seek revenge, disemboweling a street cop in broad daylight. This causes Mad to break down and begin crying, but I can’t really tell why she starts crying. Maybe the anger and violence was all a facade and even Mad can’t take it. That’s probably it. The film ends with the remaining members of the gang hanging out with the magnate at his summer home in the countryside, after getting a record deal. Elizabeth I comes to some conclusion or some shit and the film ends.

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Ultimately, like the best Criterion flicks, the plot felt like second fiddle. Instead, there were these amazing set piece scenes that were worth watching. The character Amyl Nitrate, which is such a great fucking name for a character, sings this wonderfully grandiose performance of “Rule Britannia” that you should YouTube this instant. As well as an impeccable performance by Lounge Lizard, played by transgender punk star, Wayne County, that culminates in her death at the hands of our “heroic” gang. The director, Derek Jarman, utilizes many shots that manage to keep the entire gang into frame without feeling crowded.

When talking to others about this film, though (like I said, I really did not fully understand what was happening), I described it as a Rocky Horror-esque non-musical directed by David Lynch through the lens of 1970’s punk rock. I still stand by that assessment. While the subject matter and characters are disjointed and chaotic, the scene composition is anything but, with dazzling work made of pulling every piece into a mosaic contrast of the whole.

It is absolutely fantastic and I haven’t even gotten to the main selling point. The soundtrack is filled to the brim with kickass fucking music, with cameos from Siouxsie and the Banshees as well as major scenes with Adam Ant. The film is also scored by Brian Eno, which speaks for itself in its lulling, gorgeous punk sensibility.

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Again, while advertised as a punk flick, expressing punk ideals with punk visuals, the film is really a foray into feminist anarchy. Anyone with anything interesting to say is female. All action is done by females. Men are possessions, often violently disposed of post-coitus. Adam Ant spends most of his time watching TV while females philosophize around him. In fact, the only male characters of action are the police, symbols of the male patriarchal establishment. The film is an ode to what punk and the future could behold and it isn’t necessarily pretty.

All in all, the film has everything I’d hope for in a first addition to the Highterion Collection. Every scene buzzes and fizzles with animated characters and interesting visuals. The music delights and rocks. Toyah is fucking awesome and deserves to be everyone’s spirit animal cause she don’t give any fucks, except for when she disembowels a cop, but we got you, Mad. We got you.
HIGHTERION CERTIFIED!!

Cathy’s Take on ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’

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E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) – Fun Family Romp | Total Science Fiction

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Dee Wallace and E.T. The Extraterrestrial

How I Watched: The Drive Thru

If you would have told me 30 years ago that a Reeses-Pieces loving alien that looks like a penis would become a cultural sensation, I would have told you, “That sounds like E.T. The Extraterrestrial, and it did become a cultural sensation 4 years ago.” If you were to ask everyone in my apartment building the greatest movie of all time, most of them would say, “Oh yeah, that one’s pretty good,” after you mentioned E.T. The Extraterrestrial. There is perhaps not another movie more emblematic of the 1980s than the tale of a young boy and his non-earthling friend. I watched it originally in the drive thru when it came out and was instantly mesmerized by its love and friendship. It is currently on Netflix and is this week’s must see.

E.T. The Extraterrestrial is about a young boy named Elliott who discovers an alien in his backyard while taking out pizza scraps after getting in trouble by his mom (played by Dee Wallace) for cussing at his brother. He then traps the alien and they become friends. A young Drew Barrymore plays Elliott’s little sister and they have a big brother, though I don’t know his name. There is some weird stuff that happens like when E.T. The Extraterrestrial is watching The Quiet Man at home, Elliott starts sexually assaulting one of his classmates because all the frogs escape. Later on, they dress E.T. The Extraterrestrial up like a ghost and take him trick-or-treating. Then people in space suits find out that E.T. The Extraterrestrial is hiding with Elliott and they kidnap the whole family and put them into a bubble where Elliott and E.T. The Extraterrestrial almost die for some reason, but they escape and E.T. The Extraterrestrial gets picked up by his alien friends and presumably flies home.

Upon rewatching and relaying the action of E.T. The Extraterrestrial, I realize I don’t really understand what happened in that movie. But I really love the film and hope you choose to see it, if you haven’t. It is a fun family romp and deserves to be seen by all lovers of alien movies, especially the ones in which they aren’t trying to kill everyone. It has everything you would want in a science fiction movie; bicycle chases, Peter Coyote, aliens in women’s clothing, and little children flying through the air.

 
Cathy Gives It: I give this movie 10/10 phones home.