[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 23 – [Happy 40th Birthday!] Galaxy of Terror (1981)

Director: Bruce D. Clark
Cast: Edward Albert, Erin Moran, Ray Walston, Taafe O’Connell, Robert Englund
Screenplay: Marc Siegler, Bruce D. Clark
81 mins. Rated R.

Okay, so I didn’t intend to cover two different Alien ripoffs this month, but here we are. Unlike Luigi Cozzi’s Contamination, the film we’re talking about today was actually quite important to the legacy of the Alien franchise. Galaxy of Terror had an up-and-coming filmmaker, James Cameron, as its Art Director. Not only that, Cameron hired his pal, Bill Paxton, to work as set dresser for the film. Cameron saw an opportunity for himself on the film and wiggled his way into being second-unit director, and it was his work on this film that got him his first directing gig on Piranha II: The Spawning. A few years later, Cameron would be directing the sequel to Alien, Aliens, with his pal Bill Paxton performing in it. Sometimes ripoffs can be very important, see?

Galaxy of Terror is the story of the spaceship Quest and its crew as they arrive at the planet Morganthus. Their mission is to discover the whereabouts of another ship that disappeared on the surface of the planet some time ago. They quickly discover that Morganthus is not without life, and something horrible is stalking them as they search for answers, picking them off one-by-one.

Galaxy of Terror is the kind of movie that could work. As I mentioned, for a low-budget endeavor, the art direction from Cameron is quite good. There’s an influence from Alien, for certain, but there’s a more colorful and vibrant feeling to this movie that serves its campy tone quite well. The costume design and set work is admirable, and they stretch that thin budget as far as they can.

A few select performances work quite well here. I liked Edward Albert (Butterflies Are Free, Midway) as our main protagonist Cabren, a veteran of space travel who keeps a cool head amidst the teror of the ission. I’m also a fan of Ray Walston (Popeye, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), especially when he appears in genre work, and he’s great as Kore, who carries a very similar arc to an Alien character but comes at it in a different way. Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Nightworld: Door of Hell) also outperformed my expectations, as I was expecting him to not have much to do, but he is enthusiastically enjoyably throughout.

The problem with thos performances is that, even with the cast and crew trying hard, this script is flimsy at the best of times and director Bruce D. Clark (Naked Angels, Hammer) doesn’t do much to spice up the narrative with his uninspired direction. Even at 81 minutes, Galaxy of Terror feels overly long because, trying as hard as they are, these performers can’t do much with this weak material. Albert’s Cabren would’ve worked if he had anything to do as a lead. Walston is putting everything into his performance, but it seems that Kore, as one of the most interesting characters, is forgotten for large swaths of the narrative, and Englund’s Ranger could’ve really excelled if given better than a paper-thin character dynamic to work with. There’s a lot of people raising the material, but the script and direction doom this movie.

What’s even more frustrating is how close they come to workable, but then Clark and producer Roger Corman elect to force unneeded schlock back into it. The infamous “worm rape” scene is a prime example of this. There’s a way to have a schlocky bit of excitement terror and still use your tools to create suspense and mood. Instead, Corman directed this scene in a neanderthalic way, choosing “boob boob alien sex make fun fun money.” Perhaps I’m being harsh, but when you compare this sequence to another infamous horror scene, the “tree rape” scene from The Evil Dead, you can see a clear separation in purpose. Raimi’s film uses the scene to build upon the horror and tone and mood and also to disturb. Corman, stepping in to direct the scene in Galaxy of Terror, uses it like a kid who discovered his dad’s porno mags and wants to show them to you. I love Roger Corman but this just didn’t work.

Galaxy of Terror has perhaps more promise than one would expect, but it still comes up short. There are bits and pieces of this film that show a better work beneath the surface, but much like the spaceship Quest at the start of this film, Galaxy of Terror comes in for a crash landing.

2/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 20 – Contamination (1980)

Director: Luigi Cozzi
Cast: Ian McCulloch, Louise Marleau, Marino Masé, Siegfried Rauch, Gisela Hahn
Screenplay: Luigi Cozzi, Erich Tomek
95 mins. Rated R.

I just saw my first Luigi Cozzi (Hercules, La battaglia di Roma 1849) film today. It’s always interesting to see a movie by a director you have not yet watched. I actually wasn’t even aware that I owned any movies from Cozzi, as my copy of today’s movie is listed as Alien Contamination, one of the many titles that this film got upon release. Today, let’s take a stroll down schlock lane with Luigi Cozzi’s famous ripoff of Alien…with Contamination.

When a mysterious ship arrives at the New York Harbor with no souls on board, the police discover that the ship is packed with unusual green eggs larger than footballs. As a research team attempts to discover the origin of the eggs, they learn that these dangerous biohazards are linked to an expedition to Mars.

It’s clear from early on that Contamination is a blatant ripoff of Alien in a number of different ways. After completing Starcrash, Cozzi wanted to stay in the science fiction realm, and he was tasked with making a film similar to Ridley Scott’s recent success in America. Sadly, studio interference happens around the world, and Cozzi was forced to sacrifice a number of elements pertaining to his vision for the film, including adding a bunch of secret agent elements to give the film a “James Bond” feeling. He also had to use animatronic effects instead of his planned stop motion effects. Producer Claudio Mancini had a hand in forcing Cozzi’s hand on a number of these issues, and unfortunately, these are the areas where the film suffers most.

The opening of this film is incredible and shocking and (apart from being unable to hear what the characters are saying in their hazmat suits) total exploitation carnage. When the film sticks to its alien story, it’s phenomenally entertaining, albeit quite silly and cheesy. When the film enters into its obvious 007 secret mission subplots, it loses a lot of its forward momentum.

Along with that, in classic low-budget Italian horror fashion, the acting isn’t all that good, and the writing is pretty cheesy, and the plot is sheer lunacy (seriously, does an NYPD Lieutenant have jurisdiction in South America?), but no one can discount the score from Goblin. This isn’t part of the upper-tier Goblin work, but even their worst is still better than most other scores. Goblin are the composers of a lost time period, and we need that time back. Their rock score keeps the excitement level higher during even its worst sequences.

Outside of the score, there isn’t much anything of actual value in the movie, but this is also the type of film you go into knowing what you are getting. Cozzi was never going to be the type to have an Oscar-winning Best Picture, but he schlocks with the best of them. Cozzi’s films are most seen through the lens of Mystery Science Theater 3000 or Rifftrax, and you just have to figure out if they work for you.

The acting is poor, the writing is silly, and the direction is uninspired, but I enjoyed Contamination. Among all of its problems (and it has a lot of problems), Cozzi infuses a lot of heart into his movie, and you can see it all over the finished product. This is a bad movie, but it is oh-so-much fun to watch, for a certain sect of viewers, at least. I had fun with this Video Nasty, and I think there’s a chance you could to.

3/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

[31 Days of Horror Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan] Day 2 – Jason Goes to Hell (1993)

Director: Adam Marcus
Cast: John D. LeMay, Kari Keegan, Erin Gray, Allison Smith, Steven Culp, Steven Williams, Kane Hodder, Billy Green Bush
Screenplay: Jay Huguely, Dean Lorey
87 mins. Rated R for strong violence and gore, and for sexuality and language.

It’s October once again, so let’s dip back into the world of Jason Voorhees and discuss the most mind-boggling installment of the entire franchise (and no, we aren’t even talking about the space one). Imagine, for a moment, you are an executive at New Line Cinema in the early 1990s. Your studio has just acquired Jason Voorhees as an Intellectual Property, and you have to find the right franchise move to make to get maximum results from a box office and fan perspective. Why is it that the first movie that New Line puts out literally has “The Final Friday” in the title? We all know, of course, that the “Final” installment is rarely the actual finale to a series, especially in horror. In fact, Jason already had a “Final” installment in Part 4, Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter. He’s not the only one to have gone past the finale. Other franchises that have done this include:

All of this is a point to say that we, as horror fans, do not expect a final chapter to be a final chapter, but why would you aim for that with your first installment as a new owner of the property? Oh, we haven’t even started this review yet…

Some time after the events of Jason Takes Manhattan, the notorious Crystal Lake killer has returned home. There, he is beset upon by a trained government tactical team who kill him once and for all, or have they? Little do they know, Jason’s body is just a vessel, and his soul can transfer from person to person. Now, Jason (Kane Hodder, Daredevil, Room 9) could be anywhere as he searches for a way to return to his original form and continue his reign of terror once again.

There were a lot of ways you could continue the Friday the 13th franchise, and were I to guess the eventual direction, I would’ve guessed wrong. I don’t quite get how this idea got past the approval stage, but here we are, and hindsight is 20/20, so we can only really discuss the finished product, and I’m confused as to why this movie exists. From a story perspective, I don’t quite understand the need to add such an extravagant amount of mythology and exposition to the ninth installment of a franchise. Did we need an explanation for Jason’s survival from drowning or how he went from the boy who pulled Alice into the lake in Part I and grew to be gigantic by Part II? There’s a simpler way to deal with the plot holes of this franchise than devoting an entire movie to this ludicrous (even by this franchise’s standards) plot device of having Jason jumping from body to body.

How did Jason return after drowning? Any number of simple reasons ranging from washing ashore and living in the forest all these years to being brought back to life by his mother’s love. All of these reasons vary from okay to stupid, but we as fans have accepted that we don’t have that answer at this point and trying to shoehorn in mythology at this point to fix the error is unneeded. In fact, Freddy vs. Jason later explained Jason’s powers in a single line that fill in practically every one of the killer’s plot hole issues: he regenerates. Okay, good, moving on, right? It’s also interesting that this installment is working so hard to make sense of Jason throughout the entire franchise, and yet, there’s no explanation for how he’s back in Crystal Lake after the boat trip to Manhattan, and we don’t really need an explanation, and we, as fans, move on, so why can’t the team behind this movie?

What’s more frustrating is that this Jason, played by Kane Hodder in his third outing, is maybe my favorite Jason. I love the way Hodder plays Jason with this Jaws shark attitude of hunting his prey. It certainly would’ve matched Creighton Duke (Steven Williams, The Blues Brothers, Birds of Prey) and his very obvious Quint homage. Not only that, but this look of Jason is so disturbing to me that I wish we could’ve gotten him more in this movie. The idea that the mask has been on him for so long that it’s melded into his head, with Jason’s regenerative skin growing back around it, is sickening and grotesque, and I love it. I just wish he were in this movie more. Jason is Jason, and the body hopping just didn’t work because none of those actors felt like Jason.

Okay, so let’s actually talk about the movie, because I feel like I’ve been bashing the hell out of this thing, and it isn’t all terrible, so I would hate to spend all my time just beating a dead horse on the many problems of the movie because, if you’re reading this, you’re probably well aware at this point. Truth be told, though this is easily the worst Friday the 13th movie, I would still rather watch this one over Freddy’s Dead, Halloween: Resurrection, or Seed of Chucky. It’s bad, but like all car crashes, you can’t look away.

As a lead, John D. LeMay (Totally Blonde, Without a Map) is not bad as Steven Freeman, if you don’t include the really odd martial arts jump he performs about midway through the movie. A flawed protagonist with a bit of an edge, Steven is likable enough to lead and interesting enough for me to follow. I would have liked to see more of the dynamic between him and Jessica (Kari Keegan, Mind Games, The Prince of Pennsylvania). I like his dedication to making things right and course-correcting his fractured path in life. I like that he’s presented with an option to be a douchebag and chase some younger tail instead of making good on his promises, and he is rewarded for that (he isn’t horribly slaughtered like the random teens sneaking off to Camp Crystal Lake).

I also like the idea of Creighton Duke, especially with the charismatic and unusual performance from Steven Williams. I think Williams is doing the best he can, and again, I would have liked to see this character mean more in the finished narrative. In a lot of ways, the finished product of Creighton Duke bares little difference with Crazy Ralph. He warns of the death curse, brings the ambiance, and doesn’t stand of the way of Jason at all. Duke, like so much in this film, has the potential but not the deft hands behind the camera to put it all together. Duke’s inclusion is like the Necronomicon’s cameo in the film (can a book have a cameo, or is it a bookeo?). It’s a cool little wink that was apparently supposed to mean so much more, but it doesn’t really mean anything because there’s a disconnect between the creatives and the material, and a fundamental misunderstanding of mythology and story-building.

And that’s perhaps the ultimate sin of Jason Goes to Hell. I get the feeling, from the finished project, like Adam Marcus (Secret Santa, Conspiracy) just didn’t give a shit. Maybe he did, but looking at the movie and researching some of the more bonkers choices made gave me the sense that he wasn’t making a movie to satisfy an audience, and he didn’t understand his audience for this movie. There’s always an appreciation on my part for ambitious ideas in your storytelling, even if they don’t always work, but so much of the “ambitious” ideas in Jason Goes to Hell came about as throwaways. I’ll give another example. The ending stinger [SPOILER ALERT] that this film was most well-known for in the late 90s is that moment when all is good, Jason has gone to Hell, our heroes are walking off into the sunset, and we zoom in that Jason’s mask resting peacefully on the sand, and a very well known knife hand of Freddy Krueger comes flying out of the ground, grabs the Jason mask, and pulls it into the ground, telling us as viewers that Jason may return again (it’s also worth noting that Kane Hodder plays the Freddy hand in that scene, making him the only actor to play Freddy and Jason in the history of horror). That ending stinger seems to be setting up Freddy vs. Jason, an idea New Line had been playing with after finally getting their hands on the Jason character after years of stalled negotiations with Paramount for a crossover to please the audience hunger for it, but here’s the thing: there are multiple interviews where productions members have said that it was more of a fun little joke than anything being set up. Inside jokes like that work in films like Predator 2 (with the Alien Xenomorph skull on the ship), and in that case it actually led to a cinematic crossover, but having that be your ending stinger just because it’s neat is really poor execution as a storyteller.

Sure, part of that falls on the precarious situation that New Line was in with this movie. They couldn’t use the title Friday the 13th, so they had to come up with something catchy. They also couldn’t use Tommy Jarvis, the original lead of the film, because that character was still owned by Paramount Pictures. They had an ambitious 130-minute cut of the film that they felt needed to be trimmed into a more swiftly-moving narrative (an idea that, had Jason Goes to Hell been made today, would not have been as necessary). They also had a cut that was high on gore and needed to skirt the MPAA’s cutting hands. That’s why the Unrated cut of this movie is still the preferred cut here, if only slightly.

There’s a lot of stuff in Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday that, ultimately, could have worked, but the finished product is an absolute mess of a film that feels sloggish even in its leaner run time. It’s a movie that mishandles Jason in an effort to give a much-unneeded booster shot to his mythology and narrative, and it fails to do so. There’s a way to examine and challenge established mythology in this franchise (show me Elias Voorhees!), but this isn’t how you do it. The movie’s got a worthy approach to its gore and mayhem, and I respect the more fair display of nudity and focus on returning to morals in slasher films in an updated way for the 90s (they got killed because they didn’t use a condom, get it?) but overall this is the toughest watch of the Friday the 13th series, which makes it all the more disappointing when you see the potential of these ideas had they been more polished.

1.5/5
-Kyle A. Goethe

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.
For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.
For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.
For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.
For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.
For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.
For my review of Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, click here.
For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.
For my review of Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, click here.
For my review of John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, click here.
For my review of Stephen Hopkins’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, click here.
For my review of Rob Hedden’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, click here.
For my review of Rachel Talalay’s Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, click here.

[Oscar Madness Monday] Alien (1979)

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto

Screenplay: Dan O’Bannon

117 mins. Rated R.

  • Academy Award Winner: Best Effects, Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration

IMDb Top 250: #53 (as of 4/29/2020)

 

Recently, in April, Alien fans everywhere celebrated Alien Day on 4/26 (as in LV-426, the moon where the Facehugger Eggs are first discovered in the original film), and it seems like a great time to revisit that very important film, one that changed many minds about the strength of horror films and sci-fi films.

The commercial transport ship Nostromo is returning to Earth with Captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt, Contact, Lucky) and the other six members of the crew in stasis sleep. They are awoken by the ship’s computer it detects a transmission coming from a nearby moon. The crew sends a team down to discover the origins of the transmission, and what they uncover on the planet is more horrifying than any of them have ever known.

This comparison has been made many a time, but Alien shares a lot with Jaws. Now, everyone is going to say that the less-is-more comparison is obvious, but I’m looking at it from a different angle. The use of darkness and perspective in particular highlights all of the strengths of the film, particularly in their central monster. Director Ridley Scott (The Martian, All the Money in the World) understands what will work and what won’t, and he utilizes his tools well. Looking at some of the behind-the-scenes photos of the film, and particularly the xenomorph (played by Bolaji Badejo) showcase that this movie could’ve looked damn goofy, but the way it was shot and the way it was lit helps to focus the mood of the film, and it still, to this day, looks gorgeous as much as it looks gruesome.

Actor John Hurt on the set of “Alien”. (Photo by Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images)

The cast is fantastic, with specific emphasis thrown toward Sigourney Weaver (Avatar, Ghostbusters II) as Ripley, the warrant officer, and Ian Holm (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, 1066: The Battle for Middle Earth) as Ash, the science officer. Everyone gets at least one great moment in the film.

The script is very strong and runs along very smoothly. This movie just cruises along, with no extra fat. Looking at Alien as a screenplay, it could very simply boil down into a slasher film as the xenomorph moves through the ship trying to pick off the crew one-by-one, but thankfully, the Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, The Return of the Living Dead) screenplay is stacked with flavor and atmosphere that Scott was able to play off of.

Ridley Scott’s strong directing and Dan O’Bannon’s screenplay combined to make a truly excellent atmospheric horror film. This is one that has aged like a fine wine, and it features some incredible set pieces, including the dinner scene with John Hurt’s (1984, The Elephant Man) intense performance is still one of the most shocking movie moments of all time. This is a movie that shows that not everything needs explaining and that, in fact, some films are stronger without all the answers. Stick with the Theatrical Cut as Scott’s Director’s Cut no longer makes full canonical sense within the confines of the xenomorph’s life cycle, but both versions of Alien are well-worth your time.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ridley Scott’s The Martian, click here.

For my review of Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World, click here.

[Early Review] Life (2017)

Director: Daniel Espinosa

Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, Olga Dihovichnaya

Screenplay: Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick

103 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and horror.

 

Yeah, I’ve seen Life. I saw it last night, and I really want to talk about it, but don’t worry, I’m not going to spoil it, and count yourself lucky for that.

Life has a similar premise to many before it. A group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station come across irrefutable proof of existence beyond Earth when they discover a microscopic being on a Mars probe. The crew mistakes the lifeform of being friendly when they soon discover it will do anything to survive and grow.

Let’s talk about all the good in this movie because the good outweighs the bad. First of all, hats off to the marketing department for not ruining all the exciting twists and turns of the film in the marketing and trailers. I still saw some of it coming a mile away, but it helped to not have it flat-out ruined for me.

Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko, Nocturnal Animals) and Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, Criminal) absolutely steal the show in this ensemble piece but all the performances are above par here. I particularly found myself intrigued by Ariyon Bakare (TV’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) as Hugh, a paraplegic charged with studying the lifeform, coyly nicknamed Calvin.

Props to director Daniel Espinosa (Safe House, Child 44) for the pacing and getting as much as possible from the premise and the set. He allows the confined set to breathe and flourish. There’s some gorgeous camerawork similar to 2013’s Gravity, but it is impressive nonetheless.

And I would be disappointed in myself for not recognizing the excellent score from Jon Ekstrand. His music jumps between grandiose space epic and claustrophobic horror film, and it works really well.

Okay, so let’s talk negatives, because there are two. The biggest, and most disappointing, is the screenplay. I can’t even believe I’m saying this, because I love the writing of Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (Zombieland, G.I. Joe: Retaliation), but the screenplay hopped between exciting and completely stupid. There are things that characters, and we’re talking NASA-trained astronauts, do in this film that are so shockingly stupid that it’s hard to ignore. Then, there are moments that are meant to come across as genuine and heartfelt that would be difficult for anyone to glean. For example, Gyllenhaal’s David Jordan reads from Goodnight Moon, and it doesn’t work at all. I can’t blame for Gyllenhaal for trying, because the scene just doesn’t work. And the ending. The ending is just plain wrong. A big copout poorly written that comes off as expected and uninteresting.

The other issue with the film is the release date. This film is coming out too close to Alien: Covenant in a world where we’ve already seen Prometheus and Gravity, and Life comes off as a carbon copy because of it. Simple mistakes like the way the title is displayed hearken back to Alien, and it makes Life look bad by comparison. It’s just bad timing.

Life has more wins than losses, but it just doesn’t excel where better films have. Still, 2017 hasn’t had the best start, so it’s one of the better films I’ve seen this year. This movie is worth checking out in theaters, preferably as soon as possible to avoid spoilers for the most shocking moments.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

Have you seen Life? What did you think? And what’s your favorite first contact moment from film? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

[#2016oscardeathrace] The Martian (2015)

 

Director: Ridley Scott

Cast: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Kristen Wiig, Jeff Daniels, Michael Pena, Kate Mara, Sean Bean, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, Chiwetel Ejiofor

Screenplay: Drew Goddard

144 mins. Rated PG-13 for some strong language, injury images, and brief nudity.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Motion Picture of the Year
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role [Matt Damon]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Sound Editing
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Production Design

IMDb Top 250: #208 (as of 2/23/2016)

 

The Oscars have been pretty good to science fiction in the last few years. We had 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, and this year with The Martian, Ex Machina, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (yes, I know the last one is more fantasy). Today, though, we will focus on the one nominated for Best Picture this year (that’s The Martian).

Mark Watney (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity, Interstellar) is dead. There was a storm on the surface of Mars and his crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, Zero Dark Thirty, Crimson Peak), barely managed to escape. With one casualty, the crew is on the long journey back home, their collective hearts and minds in grief over the loss of Mark. There’s really only one major problem: Mark Watney is actually alive. Having survived the storm, he is now stranded on the desolate planet by himself and no way of getting home. But then he starts to think he may not be so doomed, and Mark probably says it best: “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this.”

I found The Martian to be a rather thrilling and enjoyable ride. I know many have come to doubt director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Exodus: Gods and Kings) and his abilities as a filmmaker in recent years, and I have to admit he has had some real flubs in his previous projects, but he still interests me with his unique films, all carrying a very-Ridley-Scott flavor to them. The screenplay for The Martian, by Drew Goddard (TV’s Daredevil, World War Z) is fabulous and, other than genre, very much a diversion for Scott, especially considering its comedic tones, which I did not expect, but the director handles it very well, proving his versatility behind the lens.

Matt Damon kills it as Watney, making it look easy to essentially carry a film. Now, that isn’t to say he doesn’t have a terrific supporting cast. Chastain does great work, but it is Jeff Daniels (Dumb & Dumber, Steve Jobs) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Triple 9) who really shine here. There are others involved here who really bring it to the table, but I would be deeply disappointed in myself if I didn’t mention Donald Glover who has a pretty small role but creates a very memorable performance from it.

The cinematography is beautiful and blends very nicely with the visual effects to create a stunningly real representation of Mars. The production design is another win here, though its nomination is a little laughable for a film with so few actual sets.

There are plenty of moments in The Martian that harken back to Scott’s original sci-fi masterpiece Alien without absolutely saying “I MADE ALIEN TOO!” and they help to remind us of how this masterful filmmaker has created so many worlds. The Martian is another incredible piece to add to Ridley’s impressive resume. Now, the film runs on a little too long and occasionally bogs itself down in explain Mark’s plight, but these are small problems that fail to dramatically affect my enjoyment.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

31 Days of Horror Part II: Day 4 – The Dead Zone (1983)

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Director: David Cronenberg

Cast: Christopher Walken, Brooke Adams, Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom, Anthony Zerbe, Colleen Dewhurst, Martin Sheen

Screenplay: Jeffrey Boam

103 mins. Rated R.

 

Hey folks, just popping on tonight to talk about David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Dead Zone. Sorry, this is coming in pretty late, but I’ve been packed away in preproduction meetings for most of the evening.

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Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken, Catch Me If You Can, Joe Dirt 2: Beautiful Loser) is an everyman, an English teacher with aspirations of the perfect life. All that is stolen from him when a fateful car accident puts him in a coma for five long years, during which time the love of his life Sarah (Brooke Adams, Days of Heaven, The Accidental Husband) has moved on, a killer stalks the streets of Castle Rock, and a man named Greg Stillson (Martin Sheen, TV’s Grace and Frankie, Apocalypse Now) has risen up in the state government. As Johnny awakens and deals with his unevolved state in an evolved world, he has discovered a gift to see into other people’s pasts, presents, and futures and pull out their deepest fear and most horrifying secrets. Johnny must learn that with this new power comes more loneliness and fear than he has ever known, and he must make the hard decisions on how to deal with the information he uncovers about everyone around him.

Christopher Walken plays a unique and powerful Johnny Smith, effectively putting a haunting edge to the character that director David Cronenberg (The Fly, Maps to the Stars) once believed to be too general. He commands the screen with his presence and pain through most scenes, except the ones with Brooke Adams. I like Brooke Adams, but I do not like her in this film. Here, she plays a removed Sarah Bracknell, in which she has no connection to Walken’s character and therefore loses footing on every encounter.

We get some great supporting turns from Tom Skerritt (Alien, Ted) as Castle Rock Sherriff Bannerman running cold on the trail of the Castle Rock Killer who turns to Johnny for guidance, Anthony Zerbe (American Hustle, The Matrix Reloaded) as Roger Stuart, a man removed from the relationship with his son who Johnny finds comfort in helping without the use of his abilities, and Martin Sheen as the shady Greg Stillson, who just might have more demons in his closet than anyone Johnny has encountered. The three absolutely knock it out of the park without playing too high to camp.

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Now the finished film is missing some key scenes from the novel that would have elevated the storytelling much more, creating a more unique tale, but Cronenberg shows a beautiful sense of the New England landscape and character-driven story to the piece that remain from King’s source material. There isn’t a whole lot that doesn’t feel aged here, but that isn’t always  a bad thing.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of David Cronenberg’s The Fly, click here.

March 2015 Preview

 

I hope you all enjoyed the Academy Awards. Now we are deep into 2015 and away we go!

As I say every month, these are my predictions based on buzz, trailers, and my abilities at reading into these things.

Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.

 

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Chappie

Director Neill Blomkamp, fresh off the news that he will next be helming a new Alien film with Sigourney Weaver, returns to creating culturally significant science fiction with Chappie. Chappie is an artificially intelligent robot created help mankind. Chappie must defend himself from enemies of robot life. I love Blomkamp’s work from District 9 and from the early trailers, I am absolutely stoked for Chappie. Definite good buzz.

 

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Faults

Faults is a cult that has taken Claire into its commune. Claire’s parents hire an expert on mind control to successfully free her from the cult’s clutches. Faults comes from the producers of You’re Next and The Guest, and I certainly enjoyed those films, so I am leaning towards the better side of Faults.

 

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Unfinished Business

Vince Vaughn plays a small-business owner who has traveled to Europe with his associates to close a major deal. On the way, their trip becomes unrailed by sex fetish event and a global summit. Vince Vaughn’s recent work has been a major disappointment but he does have the added abilities of Tom Wilkinson and Dave Franco, who could pull this film in the right direction. Still up in the air.

 

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Cinderella

Director Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella reimage follows the standard story of a young girl and her abusive stepmother. When the prince throws a ball inviting every unmarried young woman, Cinderella desperately wants to go, and with the help of a Fairy Godmother, may just get it. I like Branagh’s directing style but I was disappointed by Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. I also don’t like the recent attempts by Disney to make remakes of their classic animated films. Maleficent was one of the better ones (for its alternate take) but I’m still not feeling this one.

 

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Run All Night

Liam Neeson stars as Jimmy Conlon, The Gravedigger, a high-profile hitman working for the mob, until his son, Michael, has a hit put on him. Now Jimmy and Michael has to survive the night filled with mob bosses, gunfire, and lots of explosions. I have found that Neeson’s low-budget action flicks are pretty hit and miss. I’m inclined to enjoy his engagements with Ed Harris. The higher part of the bubble here.

 

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Do You Believe?

This is essentially Valentine’s Day with religious intersections. Not going to be good. And don’t get me that whole thing about religion. I’ll point out, I’m a fairly religious guy, but these kinds of movies mostly fall flat by bad production and poor abilities from the crew. Skip.

 

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The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Insurgent follows the further adventures of Beatrice Prior after she escapes from the city with Four and the other lawbreakers. I was a tremendous hater of Divergent. I thought it was boring and unoriginal and riddled with plotholes. I’m willing to give Insurgent the benefit of the doubt but I’m still not recommending it yet.

 

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The Gunman

Equal parts Taken and an attempt to make American Sniper, The Gunman stars Sean Penn as a Special Forces member with PTSD who must save the woman he loves. Sorry, but I’ve seen Taken already.

 

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Get Hard

Will Ferrell returns to raunchy comedy with Get Hard, where he plays James King, a millionaire who is going to prison for fraud. He enlists Darnell Lewis to train him for jail. I think it looks kind of funny but Kevin Hart, while hilarious, is usually a movie-killer. I’m thinking better, though.

 

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Home

Home is essentially an animated version of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, and while I love Jim Parsons, I do not love Rihanna, and I’m not feeling this one.

 

And here we are at the end. Final tally:

Best Bets: Chappie

On the Bubble: Faults, Unfinished Business, Run All Night, The Divergent Series: Insurgent, Get Hard

Likely Misses: Cinderella, Do You Believe?, The Gunman, Home

 

Enjoy yourself at the movies this month. See Chappie, and maybe take a bit to catch up on the Oscar films as it is pretty sparse this month. See you in April.

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

No Xenomorphs in Prometheus 2? What has this all been for?

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Now, viewers, I truly enjoyed Prometheus for the reasons a lot of people didn’t. I liked that it was creating new mythology out of old mythology and creating a richer and more fantastic experience for viewers of any film in the Alien franchise. I’m not saying it was a perfect film; it has, since its release, dropped a bit from grace, but I do believe that it was a beautifully visual and sometimes visceral experience.

Ridley Scott has been pretty open as of late in his discussion of sequels to both Prometheus and one of his other high-end properties from the 80s: Blade Runner. Since both films have obvious connections with their visions of the future and replicant/android focus, it is a nice time to see some more, if done right.

The only complaint that I have always had for Prometheus is its lack of Xenomorphs, also known as the Alien from the Alien series. There is only a slight tease in all that plot and philosophical musing near the end, and it isn’t even all that fleshed out, a cameo merely. Fans of Prometheus will claim that they still want to see the evolution of the Xenomorph species, because we’re nerds. We are, let’s not beat around that bush.

Scott recently laid claim in an interview to his wanting for less Xenomorph in Prometheus 2 and more Engineer. I don’t mind more Engineer, but I feel like that would be a cop-out to not even include some of the original plan for Prometheus (an Alien prequel).

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So, no Xenomorphs in Prometheus 2: Electric Boogaloo. What do you think, fandom? Is that all cool or are you now cooled on the idea?

Prometheus 2 chest-bursts onto big screens (or doesn’t) on March 4, 2016.

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