Movie Reviews

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, François Truffaut, Teri Garr, Melinda Dillon, Bob Balaban, Lance Henriksen
Review by Steven Loeb


Cableman Roy Neary is one of several people who experience a close encounter of the first kind, witnessing UFOs flying through the night sky. He is subsequently haunted by a mountainlike image in his head and becomes obsessed with discovering what it represents, putting severe strain on his marriage. Meanwhile, government agents around the world have a close encounter of the second kind, discovering physical evidence of otherworldly visitors in the form of military vehicles that went missing decades ago suddenly appearing in the middle of nowhere. Roy and the agents both follow the clues they have been given to reach a site where they will have a close encounter of the third kind: contact.


In the early days of science fiction movies, beings from other planets were often used as a symbol of fear and destruction. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, aliens were often used as a representation for the invasion of Communism. They came, they saw and they destroyed everything in their path. By the late 1970s, though the Cold War was still going strong, the Red Scare was long over, and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) had improved relations between the United States and Russia, leading to a reduction in the number of missiles that each country would be allowed to keep in their arsenals. It seemed that the two super-powers might be coming toward some kind of resolution to their decades-long war; of course this would not actually happen until more than ten years later. Nevertheless, if there is one film that shows a prevailing optimism in the direction that the Cold War, and the world in general, was taking at the time, it was Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the third film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind is the story of a small town electrician named Roy, played by Richard Dreyfuss, who experiences a seemingly random encounter with a UFO. After the experience, Roy becomes obsessed with aliens and UFOs. His behavior becomes extremely strange and erratic, including drawing the same mountain over and over. When he is unable to explain his behavior to his wife, she leaves him, and only then does he realize that he is drawing Devils Tower in Wyoming, the site where the UFOs are about to make contact with humans. As he races to get there, the government, having made a list of people who will be allowed to visit the aliens, apprehends him. After being questioned, Roy is added to the list, the aliens return the numerous people who had been abducted over the years, Roy and the others on the list enter the spaceship and are taken away to make contact with the friendly aliens.

Close Encounters was a film that Steven Spielberg had been working on for almost a decade by the time it was finally released. After shopping the film around, Spielberg was finally able to sell the script, and get creative control of the project, following the massive success of Jaws (1975). Based on a story he had written as a teenager, it is one of the few scripts for which Spielberg gets full writing credit, even though the script went through numerous changes and numerous other writers worked on different drafts of the story. Despite the contributions of other writers, in many ways, this is the first real Spielberg film, as this is where he began to incorporate themes that he would use in many of his later films, some of which reflect his own life and would come to define him as a director. This is the first of Spielberg’s films to depict an unhappy marriage; Spielberg’s own parents had divorced when he was a child and he often incorporates broken families, or single parent homes, in his films. Roy and his wife have a tempestuous relationship to begin with, and they see their marriage become even more strained as a result of Roy’s obsessions, ultimately leading to the collapse of their relationship. Spielberg would use this theme most famously in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982), a film about a lonely boy who finds friendship with a lost alien. Spielberg’s films also often incorporate the themes of wonder and child-like innocence, seen here as Roy enters the spaceship at the end of the film. Though he is unsure of what is going to happen, he is excited and awed instead of afraid. This motif was used again in the Indiana Jones movies and, perhaps most successfully, in Jurassic Park (1993).

Close Encounters was the second collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss, the first being Jaws two years earlier. Dreyfuss, who had first gained fame for his role in American Graffiti (1973), became a major movie star after Jaws. In 1978, he became the youngest actor ever to win the Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Goodbye Girl (1977), though this honor has since been surpassed by Adrian Brody.

Unfortunately for Dreyfuss, at the peak of his success, he developed a serious drug habit and, after crashing his car and being arrested for cocaine possession in 1982, he was forced to enter rehab. He was eventually able to resuscitate his career, going on to receive a nomination for Best Actor for Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995). After Close Encounters, Dreyfuss and Spielberg would work together one more time in Always (1989), a film that is widely considered to be one of Spielberg’s worst movies.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a huge success, both critically and at the box office. It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including a Supporting Actress nomination for Melina Dillion, playing the mother of an abducted child, and Spielberg’s first for Best Director; the film would walk away with two Oscars, for cinematography and sound editing.

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Movie Review: A CHRISTMAS STORY, 1983

Top Christmas Movie of All-Time

Movie Reviews

Directed by Bob Clark

Starring Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin and Zack Ward
Review by Andrew Kosarko


This vignette-laden, nostalgic view of Christmastime in 1940s Indiana follows nine-year-old Ralphie, who desperately wants a Red Ryder BB Gun for Christmas–and is waging an all-out campaign to convince his reluctant parents that the toy will be safe in his hands. By turns warped and winsome, the comedy follows Ralphie as he prepares for the big day with his rather idiosyncratic family. Based on the novel by humorist Jean Shepherd, who also narrates the film.


A Classic.” “The timeless story of Christmas” “Child hood Favorite” ….but to this reviewer? A tad bit overrated. Yes, that’s right I said it. I watched this film on December 5th, not the all day Christmas Eve marathon like many of you. And maybe the farther away I get from the holiday the more unbias I am to the flaws of the movie. Maybe as I grow into an adult or become more experienced as a film maker I lose touch with being part of the audience. Or maybe I’ve just seen this movie one too many times. Either way – the film is far from being technically perfect.

The Story: A “single” story from a collection of short stories that Jean Shepherd wrote for – get this; Playboy magazine. Who would have knew eh? Anyway, my problems from the structure come out of the fact that it’s pretty scatter brained. It’s episodic and tangential 99% of the time. Which may make it a horrible film, but it makes for great TV viewing – act breaks that really don’t matter and things happen that never really have anything to do with the overall story. It’s basically a short film’s plot littered with little “slices of life” to fill the cracks. And yes, there are some interesting characters that really ride the waves and keep us watching. For me, it’s really Ralphie and his father. Randy and the mother annoy the living Christmas out of me. All the other characters are pretty flat and one dimensioned. And the narrating is really the only thing pulling it all together.

Acting: You may not have noticed it, but I did. The narration not only holds the story together but it hides a lot of the bad acting as well. Whatever the actors can’t get across themselves is covered in VO. Not exactly strong film making to me, but I’ll live with it. It adds only to the “slice of life” of it all. Darren McGavin is the only actor to really fill his role in a way that I enjoy, and Zack Ward, aka Scott Farguson is the only actor to have moved on to a fulfilling career. Strange since he has the least amount of dialogue in the film.

Directing: Now, Bob Clark may have a story and some acting that I don’t connect with. However, he did hit the nail on the head in terms of the production value. I also give him credit for going from a film like Porky’s to a film like this. While I have problems with it, the film does have a lot of heart to it and I think that’s what rings true to everyone when they watch it.

Cinematography: This is one of the elements that really nails it’s column. The film was shot in the 80’s but set in the 40’s. It even has the grit and grain of the 40’s production value and look it all. This, combined with they 70’s overblown yellows adds a mood to the film that makes it instantly nostalgic. Even upon first viewing, you’re visually intrigued as to what your seeing.

Production Design: Same as above – this is another area that really draws you into the world. Christmas wasn’t as high tech as it is today. It was the kind of presents you really could believe that Santa could make and deliver on. Now he’d need a degree from MIT. The ancestry of the production design is the salt and pepper of the main feast of the cinematography. It really is part of what makes the movie work. And not only is it perfect, but it also did more for the novelty lamp industry than any movie in history.

Editing: Here’s a place I take issue with. The editing is part of the reason that the film is scatterbrained and episodic. Yes, I understand it all comes from the story and then most of all it’s about shooting for the edit in production, but something here is awry. Shots hold for entirely way to long and things happen in sequence that hold no connection to what we just saw a moment before. Every scene feels like a cut away that happens and ends up distracting us from the fact that most of the things we just saw remain unresolved. I guess it’s gets away with it because we just let it go since they didn’t mean much to us anyway.

Score: There’s Christmas music and also pieces from productions of Hamlet. I’d say that’s quite an ingenious combination myself. But the actual production of the Christmas music matches the time period of the film so once again, that nostalgia factor grabs at our heart strings.

Special Effects: Not applicable. At all. Unless sped up film counts. And if so, then it’s cheap.

In closing: There’s a reason most people watch this once a year on Christmas day. It’s because it pulls the nostalgia card a little too often and that’s the number one thing people are looking for on Christmas day. Mix in a bit of witty dialogue and one or two relatable characters in situations that have no plot meaning but are all too familiar and you have a classic. I’ll still watch the film on Christmas as I’m not special from that day and the love of this movie, but this isn’t a movie I can watch the day after thanksgiving and get all Christmasy because of it. I’ll save that for a few other films that were better achieved.



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