Tag Archives: Tom Skerritt


MASH (1970) 3.86/5 (2)


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Rating: The Good – 87.4
Genre: Satire, War
Duration: 116 mins
Director: Robert Altman
Stars: Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Tom Skerritt

Robert Altman unfolds his broad interpersonal canvas to stunning effect in this classic piece of American cinema. Bold, hilarious, touching, and heartbreaking, there are few statements on war as focused as what he serves up here. Donald Sutherland, Tom Skerrit, and Elliot Gould are at their unorthodox best as the ragtag bunch of draftee surgeons working three miles from the front line of the Korean War to keep their spirits high and the endless wounded alive. Sally Kellerman and Robert Duvall are a hoot as the stiff career officers whom they pester unmercifully both intentionally and unintentionally. As with most of Altman’s films, the plot isn’t what drives M.A.S.H but rather the satirical vignettes which loosely coalesce around the personal conflicts. Whether it’s Hot Lips and Major Burns’ infamous broadcast or the gleeful irreverence of that “Last Supper”, Altman’s dry script and impeccable distance, not to mention the immense craft of his actors ensured they became immortal moments of humour. The result is an iconic piece of film making and one of the few movies that helps to definitively mark a moment in time and culture without ever feeling dated. “Hot Lips you incredible nincompoop, it’s the end of the quarter!”

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Contact (1997) 2.79/5 (2)


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Rating: The Bad – 54.5
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Duration: 150 mins
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Stars: Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Skerritt

Robert Zemeckis’ big budget adaptation of Carl Sagan’s story stars Jodie Foster as the prodigious astronomer whose obsession with discovering evidence of extra terrestrial life pays off when she receives a deep space signal. Things get even more astonishing when she discovers that the signal contains a cyphered message with instructions on building an interstellar craft that promises to unite the two communicating civilisations. As the world scrambles to catch up with the implications of this message, she and a team of meddlesome government officials led by a nasty Tom Skerritt prepare to build and launch the machine.

As you’d expect from a Robert Zemeckis science fiction epic, Contact is punctuated by some fantastic visual effects and thrilling drama. In particular, he comes into his own during the central contact sequence serving up a feast of pin point editing, sound mixing and dialogue, a feat which reminds us all of exactly what his strengths are. Alas, Contact is flush with his other trademarks too such as the impulse to inflate the basic idea with lofty aspirations. The result is a reckless twisting and deformation of the plot until all sense is wrung out of it.

The major problems with Contact are in the writing. Unforgivable contrivances or outright plot holes litter the script to justify speeding our heroine through a maze of painfully earnest emotional crucibles. But worse still is the Fisher-Price philosophy that runs through them in order to paint the story with the illusion of profundity. Mathew McConaughey is shoehorned into the proceedings as a nondescript religious leader and with him some frustratingly superficial religious considerations. These would have amounted to nothing more than gestures if they didn’t arise so persistently throughout the film and then culminate in an ostensibly mind blowing (but in reality mind numbing) coalescence with the story’s more scientific themes. Clearly there was an underdeveloped desire to draw bigger ideas into the central story of alien contact but not nearly enough intelligence or delicacy to give them shape. Ultimately, the story bounces awkwardly along in much the same manner of Alan Silvestri’s big boring score. Constantly trying to build towards big emotions but delivering nothing but hot air.

Jodie Foster has been given an awful lot of slack over the years and while she’s more than competent with a tight script to work with, she flounders within this sloppy nonsense signing off with a denouement (wherein she explains the wonders of the universe to a bunch of school kids) that comes off a little manic and uncomfortably ludicrous. Skerritt does the best with what he’s given but his character couldn’t be have been made more poisonous if he wore horns and a tail. McConaughey suffers similarly under the weight of his character’s smarmy silliness.

Contact was a bold undertaking and was much anticipated due to the calibre of talent behind and in front of the camera. Unfortunately, rather than playing to its strengths, it flounders in those ambitions and becomes another example of Hollywood missing the mark.

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Alien (1979) 4.9/5 (7)


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Rating: The Good – 93.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Duration: 117  mins
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton

Ridley Scott’s seminal film is a classic of both the sci-fi and horror genres. It tells the story of the mining ship Nostromo and its crew who are asked to land on an uncharted planet to investigate a crashed spacecraft. Things take a turn for the horrific when one of the crew comes back with a creature attached to his face. Made with a level of discipline and patience not often demonstrated in Hollywood films, this genuinely terrifying film slowly reels you into its futuristic world by gently introducing you to the ship, the crew, the technology, and finally the hostile planet they have landed on. The symmetry of the interior shots on board the Nostromo is clearly influenced by Kubrick’s 2001 but Scott’s vision is somewhat darker. Unlike the clean spartan spacecrafts of 2001 we have a grimy and cluttered industrial ship, an idea that took root and defined almost every space-based sci-fi flick ever since. The action doesn’t get going until about midway through but the wait only serves to heighten the tension of the later scenes and the sense of alien intrusion. And once the alien does appear, H.R. Giger’s design of the creature (in its different stages of maturation) combined with Scott’s notion for how it should behave are so deeply primal and bone-chilling that they seemingly tap into the deepest reaches of our psyche.

The cast, replete with serious heavy hitters, is uniformly superb and their freedom to improvise their lines paid off in spades as the authenticity that Scott’s vision generates so well is only compounded. John Hurt, Ian Holm, and of course Sigourney Weaver as Ripley deliver truly masterful performances but the rest aren’t too far behind them. Alien is what happens when every piece of the film-making puzzle comes together in mutually inspiring fashion. Scott’s direction was commanding, the cast’s acting was perfectly in sync, Jerry Goldsmith’s haunting score was revolutionary, Dan O’Bannon’s story & screenplay was as imaginative and as disciplined as they come, while Giger’s creature design and Michael Seymour’s production design were on a different level to anything the science fiction genre had offered up before. Yes, Alien is truly a case of cinematic perfection.

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