My thoughts on the big screen


This review is going to be hard. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t. [As always: POSSIBLE SPOILERS.]

The film was a train wreck.

But before you react, let’s keep in mind a few things and then talk about others. Keep in mind, I’m a big fan of Alien and Ridley Scott. Also, I did not go into this with huge expectations. I really just wanted Scott to surprise me (he’s been away from the sci-fi genre since Bladerunner.)

Now let’s talk. What did it have going for it?

The acting was very well done. Noomi Rapace makes an interesting heroine. She’s not the traditional type that you would see cast in this role (I think I read somewhere that original Theron had this role but couldn’t do it because of conflicts, when they opened up she came back in as Vickers). But one thing Rapace is is good. I loved her in the original Millenium trilogy. Here she’s equally as effective and clearly a wonderful actress as the two roles are nothing like each other. I’m not really a Michael Fassbender fan but he was very good in this. He gave David a genuine curiosity that made you want to love him but at the same time created a diabolical undercurrent that made your skin crawl. The previously mentioned Theron was much better in this than Snow White.  There were several moments that ‘cracked’ Vicker’s tough demeanor that you actually found yourself feeling sorry for her. The rest of the cast had their moments to shine and generally did so very nicely. I particularly wanted to call attention to Kate Dickie as Ford who was terrific.

The direction was good and had moments of greatness. This film had a different feel from it’s ‘sequel/predecessor’ Alien and that was actually very nice. It starts with a really strong sense of wonder. Even the crustiness of some of the personalities can’t take away from this and it builds nicely. When things start to turn dark, and we all know it’s gotta come, the twists are subtle which Scott handles very well. Then just as we realize there is a knife in us, he starts to twist and rip. Occasionally there are moments that conjure up several scenes from Alien but Scott stays away from going down that already traveled path. It makes for a film that while it pays homage to the ‘original’ it doesn’t repeat itself (many sequels lack this.)

The scenic production and other creative elements (save one) are visceral and very evocative of the tone and mood that Scott sets. I’m not sure why but I found the atmospheric suits really cool. I also particularly liked elements of the soundscape. I will say that they nicked the ‘pups’ from Stargate (and some scifi junkie will say Stargate stole it from something else, it’s cool) but they were still neat to watch.

And now for the train wreck. Wow, not sure where to begin with this really. The script was so unbelievably bad I felt like I was watching ten pieces of a jigsaw to make a picture but the ten pieces were from ten different puzzles. Now there is a possibility that some of these issues may be a result of editing and we’ll see more in the DVD release. But, while that may be true it’s still sloppy filmmaking. For instance (and seriously stop reading if you haven’t seen it) there is a sequence where we learn David has effectively made Shaw pregnant with an organic element that is on the planet they came to. Okay, no prob, borrows a little bit from Alien Resurrection (which is so unbelievably bad that requires an entire series of posts – and Besson is a big favorite of mine – only time I felt he went wrong) but it’s still okay. So he’s going to try and put her in stasis because the fetus will come to term in a matter of hours. He gives her to two of the other shipmates (and I don’t know what he told them but they do what he said – though he’s subservient.) While they drag her into the sleep bay she hijacks them (they’re trained, she’s an anthropologist) and appears to knock them unconscious though it was never quite clear.  Then she runs to device they have on board that is like an automated surgeon and to make a story short she has a c-section to yank out this horrifying looking octopus like thing. Then she runs back into the main section of the ship, covered in blood and viscera, and manages to stumble into a door that is wide open where David and his master, Weyland (played by Guy Pearce in very bad makeup) happen to be. Then they have this nice little metaphysical conversation about what it means to die or live forever.

Red flags here: 1) Nobody knows that she’s escaped, so while it was important for David to get the fetus in her, apparently he’s not worried whether his orders are carried out. 2) This was about two thirds of the way into the movie, the rest of it takes place over about six hours of ‘movie’ time. She had a major c-section operation. She has staples in her stomach. Watch the last part of the movie to see all of the acrobatics she does. 3) They talk about  life and death and who are ‘creators’ are. The women is covered in blood and other juices and no one, not even David, says, “what’s up?” 4) Oh, yeah, forgot to mention, Weyland is thought to actually be dead back on Earth, so when he turns up here it’s a BIG surprise. And given how many people actually come in over the next five minutes (Vicker’s shows up as well and I think one more but I can’t remember) nobody reacts to this – nor is the door or area remotely secured.

I’m sure someone can help point out that I’m not thinking clear enough and that is fine. But it’s still not good if you come a way from a film of this magnitude with the feeling that somehow everything just doesn’t fit.

There are also a number of other issues as well, suicidal pilots, big giant white guy, and a cameo appearance by an obvious predecessor to the xenomorph from the original, but it’s too long to go into.

I also have no problems with unanswered questions. But I’m not talking about questions. I’m talking about story telling. And to me this film felt like five different editors worked on this film but they were each given access to certain sections on each roll. You might say don’t blame Scott for that. Yes, I can, his name has a great deal of clout and I’m willing to bet he’s got final edit approval.

By all means go see it, especially for the good elements like Rapace’s portrayal of Shaw (there is a particularly powerful moment as she watches her loved one die) but if you don’t want to be both infuriated and frustrated you might just want to wait for the DVD.

snowwhiteWARNING: Possible Spoilers.

I chose the image included here for a very specific reason so keep reading.

This past weekend I attended a viewing of Snow White and the Huntsman. It was an enjoyable, exquisitely visual – to a fault, film.  Overall the story was fairly simple. I had expected some great re-imaginging because that seems to be the craze right now (don’t laugh, an ‘update’ of daVinci – not the Code – is in the works.) But this Snow White was actually quite straight-forward. Like many films made in this era there is often a need to give ‘evil’ some sort of backstory to empathize or explain the ‘evilness.’ I think this movie would have fared much better had Charlize Theron’s evil queen been left to her own devices. It makes it much more unbearable that she is this evil. Speaking of Theron, she’s quite good, only occasionally delving into melodrama. This melodrama I don’t think was entirely her fault. The film itself often got very close to being melodramatic many times. At times it was able to restrain; others it tipped into it and induced eye rolls. Chris Houldsworth (who does a mean impersonation of Chris Hemsworth or so Marianne tells me) was good, though he doesn’t really have a great deal of depth to provide in this movie. There’s a touching story about how he lost his wife. There is also a segment where he and Snow White meet this tribe of women who have scarred themselves as to be useless to the Queen. There is a terrific moment between he and the ‘leader’ of the tribe. It was such a touching scene I thought they were going to develop this into something that would allow him to move beyond the memory of his wife. Unfortunately the story didn’t go in that direction. Of all the characters the dwarves were the most disposable. They provide some comic relief but they didn’t really propel the story forward. They could easily have been replaced with a band of rogues. They just weren’t indispensable to the story.

The visuals are dynamite. In fact, at times they were so good it was actually distracting because I completely forget about any dialogue or story going on. I love technology and advances in what can be made to look real on screen is incredible but if you throw so much in that it draws attention to itself then you’re not serving the story. Director Rupert Sanders actually handles much of the film very well. Strong direction to the actors (more on this below) and the action sequences and more intimate moments were very nicely done.

And now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for. The picture. Kristen Stewart.

Up until now I have never seen her in anything except this. I haven’t seen any of ‘the vampire’ movies and I missed Runaways. And Panic Room is the only Fincher film I’ve never got around to watching (well that’s not entirely true, I skipped the Social Network on purpose.) I did see her on two late night talk shows and I was floored by how un-charismatic she was. Her interview was boring and she didn’t seem remotely interested in it. She was listless and just, well, banal.

But now I get it.

The reason why I choose the above image is because this is the first time we see the grown Snow White’s face completely. And from that moment, I could not take my eyes off her. It didn’t matter what was happening. It didn’t matter who she was with. If she was on the screen I was mesmerized. It wasn’t that she was ‘amazingly’ beautiful (Theron is certainly more gorgeous) but she has something about her, something that A) The camera adores, B) The director knew how to manipulate, C) Stewart herself taps into, and finally D) the production team rallied around. Rallied around not unlike the forces of good rally to Snow White in the film.

Ridicule me or not, Stewart took me by surprise just as she also took my breath away. I will be watching for her next film (well, the next one AFTER the vampire movie because nothing is getting me near that story.)

Stewart steals the movie. Plain and simple. She probably has about 10% of the dialogue that the Queen has. But she steps into that light, in the dark tower and the world becomes a place that you believe in. A place where good can be a virtue. Where purity, honesty and caring can break free from the sludge of things most foul.

She had me at that moment.

First let me start by defining horror. Horror to me is a combination of suspense and terror. It’s the thing (no pun intended) that crawls up the back of your neck and when you reach for it, terrified to find out what it is, it turns out to be far worse than you could have imagined. Terror and horror to me are not gore fests. Movies like Friday the 13th, Saw, Hostel, Black Christmas and a reign of other knock off movies are laughable at best, mostly maudlin, and at worst so terrible that you can even get a good Mystery Science 3000 night out of them.

Movies like The Exorcist or Alien are truly terrifying. They don’t rely on their gore to be horrific. They are horrific because of everything they don’t show, of placing the human element in a world so foreign that the very question of humanity is turned upside down.

That said, after recently re-watching ‘a favorite’ of mine I have now decided that it is the most horrifying movie of all time. John Carpenter’s The Thing.

Why do I rank it as the best horror film?

Simply put, the movie has very little gore in it. Admittedly what is in there is quite repulsive and shocking but what makes this movie so frightening is to watch these intelligent, bright and civil men inhabiting Antarctica Outpost #4 (3?) dissolve into a paranoid, cut-throat, and self-surviving shadow of humanity. Carpenter shows an uncanny ability to add one extra character to this movie. No, it’s not the Thing itself, it’s claustrophobia. It’s paranoia. Whatever it is, it becomes an actual character in the film. It’s astounding how pervasive this becomes. While watching the movie it gives one the urge to glance to your left at your fellow movie watcher and make sure they aren’t getting ready to stab you in the back.

It doesn’t hurt that Carpenter has a stellar cast to help him with this monumental (yet strangely effortless) task. And it also doesn’t hurt that the special effects, even in the overly done CGI world of today, hold on their own.

This movie is a nightmare. It’s a haunting that won’t go away any time soon. It’s the type of movie that on a cold night, when the snow is deep and you look out the window knowing you are somewhere safe deep inside civilization, you still can’t shake this feeling that something is inside with you. Something that shouldn’t be there. Something that nothing seems to be able to stop.

“I know I’m human. And if you were all these things then you’d just jump me and be done with it, so I know some of you are human.”

Yes. But who is a Thing and who is human.

Don’t turn your back. And if someone comes in by themselves, take another quote to heart. “Burn them.”