[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.

thedeadzone1983c

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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