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Good Movies

About once a month or so I get an email, usually from a kid, asking why I hate movies.

I still am taken aback by this question. Me?, I think. Hate movies? That's silly. I love movies! I watch movies all the time. I don't know how many movies I saw in college when my friend Sandy, who worked at the local theater, used to let all her friends sneak in. In grad school we had cable, and my wife still wonders how I ever got my degree. I saw "Taking Care of Business" about a hundred times, going into the office late half the time because it started at 8:30 a.m.

Of course, people who read my site don't know that about me. They just see my reviews. But still, drawing the conclusion that I hate movies, just because I hated "Armageddon", "Signs", "Men in Black 2", "The Mummy Returns", "Mission to Mars"...

Hmmmph. Okay, I can see why people might think I'm a curmudgeon. But I'm not. Really. I do love movies, and I think it's about time I defended myself here. I am a big movie fan, especially science fiction movies. Now, you might think that can't be true, since I savage so many movies on my site. But remember, I tend to review movies here that are Bad, so you're seeing a biased sample. I am not likely to review a movie for errors if the movie was good.

So this page is a self-indulgent look at my favorite flicks. Not all of them are science-fiction, or even sciencey at all. Some of the movies on the list might even surprise you. But they're the ones I love, and this way, when someone emails me accusing me of being too stuffy, I can point them here and ask, "Stuffy? 'Peewee's Big Adventure' is my favorite comedy of all time!"

The Thing

John Carpenter's remake of the 1950's classic "The Thing from Another World" is an amazing movie of suspense and terror. More closely following the original short story ("Who Goes There?" by John Campbell), the movie watches as a group of men wintering over at a base near the South Pole disintegrate as an alien life form takes them over one-by-one. The movie is beautifully crafted from when John Carpenter was at the height of his career; his direction is a masterpiece of tension. The physical process of the alien consuming the men is horrifying and compelling, but it's the mental breakdown of the group that takes the movie into the realm of cinematic genius. I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. Fair warning: the special effects are extremely graphic. Very very extremely graphic. And pretty cool.

IMDB listing for The Thing

Big Trouble in Little China

Another John Carpenter movie, "Big Trouble..." is hard to classify. It's an adventure/martial arts/comedy/romance/farce, and probably a couple of other adjectives too. It's perhaps the most complicated movie ever made. I first watched it with my brother. About halfway through, I realized I had no idea how the plot got to where it was. I turned to my brother and asked him. He got a puzzled look on his face and said, "I have no idea either". In the ten seconds it took for that exchange, the movie had moved on to another plot thread. It's a bizarre movie, and extremely funny. Kurt Russell is one of my heroes (he's in "The Thing" too), and his portrayal of loud-mouth hero Jack Burton is priceless.

IMDB listing for Big Trouble in Little China

The Big Picture

I never really cared for Kevin Bacon until I saw this film noire comedy about Hollywood poking fun at itself. He plays a nice guy who wants to write and direct a movie, and Tinseltown sweeps him up into its machine. It's another really funny movie with an amazing number of great star cameos. It's what "The Player" tried to be and failed. My wife doesn't understand why I love this movie so much. One reason is that, when my friends and were watching zillions of movies during grad school instead of doing astronomical research, we discovered that lines from movies were actually applicable in real life (as real as grad school life can get). We had "bits" we could use for almost any occasion, and it got to the point where no one would play party games when my friend Bill and I were on the same team. We could use movies bits as code, and always win the games. It was almost a form of telepathy. "The Big Picture" has tons of these lines, and it's one of the reasons I hold this flick dear.

IMDB listing for The Big Picture

Peewee's Big Adventure

Bar none, this is the funniest movie of all time, and I will defend that statement with my last breath. When it came out, I had just spent the summer in Texas with my brothers, and the scenes in the flick that take place in Texas were dead accurate. The scene with Large Marge nearly killed me; I think that, to this day, it's the hardest I have ever laughed in my life. And if you think I'm nuts (I know you are, but what am I), then let me just say that Chris Rock loves this movie too, calling it "perfection". As far as I know, it's the only movie that asks the eternal question, "Oh really? Where're they hosing him down?"

IMDB listing for Peewee's Big Adventure


Pbbbt. I won't even bother defending this one. This movie rocks. If it's on TV, I am compelled to watch it. The speech by Quint about the U.S.S. Indianapolis is one of the most chilling ever filmed.

IMDB listing for Jaws

Raiders of the Lost Ark

Again, no defense needed here. Awesome.

IMDB listing for Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Hunt for Red October

You know why I love this movie? It's a smart movie. It doesn't hold your hand, explaining things as you go along. You are almost forced to watch it many times just to see how they get from problem to solution. Another reason I love it, is that it has smart people in it who are very good at their jobs. They aren't superhuman, just the cream of the crop at the top of their games. I particularly love the part where Jack Ryan figures out how Ramius will get his crew off the sub. A beautifully crafted series of scenes.

IMDB listing for The Hunt for Red Octoboer

Independence Day

I know what you're thinking. "He's got to be kidding" Nope. I love this movie. It's hysterial. It's everything that putrid piece of junk "Armageddon" wanted to be, but completely missed. ID4 is funny, paced well, silly when it needs to be, stirring when it needs to be, and face it, has awesome special effects. Also, it has what "Red October" had: people who are good at what they do. There are very few dumb foils in the movie. The Secretary of Defense is the only one who comes to mind. I especially like the part where the President decides to listen to Jeff Goldblum's idea about the signal from the aliens; in most movies the writers would have the President ignore the hero's (correct) conclusion so that they can tack on drama later. In this case, the President, an intelligent man, knows that Goldblum's character is also intelligent, and gives him a chance depsite personal differences. That's good writing, folks. Sure, the science is ridiculous in the movie, but guess what? I don't judge movies solely on that (I guess I grade them on a curve).

IMDB listing for Independence Day

The Matrix

Dumb science (using humans as batteries is pretty silly), but extremely cool flick. 'nuff said.

IMDB listing for The Matrix

Raising Arizona

The cinematography in this movies cracks me up, and it's one of John Goodman's finest roles (his best is in "Always"). You haven't lived until you've heard Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" played on a banjo.

IMDB listing for Raising Arizona

Quick Change

This is the funniest movie you have never heard of. The Cast! Bill Murray, Geena Davis, Randy Quaid (in without doubt his funniest role; he was brilliant in this flick). Bill Murray plays a bank robber who successfully robs a New York bank with a brilliant plan, but has everything fall apart as he and his friends try to escape. The whole movie is essentially them trying to get out of the city, and getting into increasingly bizzare circumstances. Watch for the scene with the jousting bikes; Randy Quaid is hysterical.

IMDB listing for Quick Change

When Harry Met Sally

The movie that dares to tell the truth about relationships. "Mr. Zero knew before you did?"

IMDB listing for When Harry Met Sally

Five Million Years to Earth

You've almost certainly never heard of this movie. It came out in the 1960s. At that time, there was a British TV show about a super-intelligent but cranky scientific genius named Quatermass, and the shows were very popular (think terrestrial Dr. Who, if that helps). The movie was based on the TV story "Quatermass and the Pit", and was released in the UK under that title. The basic plot is that a spaceship is found buried in the mud under London, and is ancient, millions of years old. It's from Mars, back when Mars was able to support life. The martians (insect-like giant grasshopper-thingies) were colonizing Earth back then, and things went wrong... but not as wrong as they're about to get when the spaceship comes alive again.

This movie has it all: aliens, spaceships, ghosts, cavemen, telepathy, telekinesis, weird science gadgets, the devil (yes, the Devil). My wife hates it. She thinks it's too slow, and I have tried to explain to her that the movie simply takes its time building up the plot. I absolutely love the ending to this flick, and I mean the very end, even while the credits are rolling. If you're looking for happy ending with everything neatly tied up, try a different movie. It's a dark victory for mankind in this one.

IMDB listing for Five Million Years to Earth

The Day The Earth Stood Still

Another 1950s movie I need not defend. Simply one of the best science fiction morality stories on film. The ending is particularly amazing, given that most movies at that time had happy endings, with the aliens being vanquished in some way. Not this time; Klaatu's final warning to humanity is pretty grim. I'll add that there are layers of subtlety to the movie that were very rare for scifi flicks of that era. If you haven't seen this movie, then you aren't a real science fiction fan.

IMDB listing for The Day The Earth Stood Still, and a great fan site for the movie, too.

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