Director – James Cameron
Cast – Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henrikson, William Hope, Paul Reiser
– follows Alien
– followed by Alien 3
Ridley Scott’s Alien is regarded (rightly so, in my opinion), as one of the greatest science fiction and horror films. With a mix of suspense and scares, it successfully blended genres in a way not always succesful in other films. James Cameron, fresh off of the success of The Terminator, directed the sequel, Aliens, and he came up with quite a movie indeed.
While Alien went with the suspense angle, Aliens tells a similar story except in a more action/thriller vein. The “space truckers” from the first movie are here replaced with Marines, and where Ripley (played by Sigourney Weaver) in the first movie was forced to use her wits and whatever tools at hand to defeat a “zenomorph” alien, here she has a squad of men armed with flamethrowers, machine guns, and futuristic vehicles to fight a whole hive of them. Hijinks ensue.
Aliens is well paced, with each scene having a distinct purpose. It ticks along like clockwork, scarcely missing a beat. In fact, if I was to have any complaint, it is that it is, in fact too “clock-worky”. There isn’t as much time given for suspense as I would have liked, but this criticism treads dangerously close to the fallacy of comparing two films who were essentially of two different genres.
The main character of Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, is one tough cookie, and is often credited as pretty much the first female action hero. In fact Weaver herself referred to Ripley in this film as “Rambolina”. But Cameron takes care not to just whitewash her as another McClane or Rambo. She is given a heart and a personality. Note the way she reacts to being told her child is dead, the way she dislikes the gung-ho idiots among the Marines, the way she becomes a sort of surrogate mother to an abandoned child. We are fully convinced of her personality, which makes the “Get your hands off her, you bitch!” moments all the more thrilling to see.
It would be amiss to not mention the way Cameron treats the military in this movie though, and really, in all his movies. They are all either harsh and butch, or cocky and whiny, and either way they’re annoying as hell. It got to the point where I almost wanted to fast-forward through scenes where they were talking etc. From Aliens to The Abyss to Avatar, he may as well have copy and pasted his military characters. It is essentially a pre-teens fantasy of gun-toting he-men. I would have liked a more professional, grounded look at the men, but I guess I mustn’t quibble.
Aliens is an excellent action movie, that combines scares and thrills in a great way. The characters are well fleshed out (saving the army dudes), and Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is iconic. The movie will carry you on a ride which you won’t mind going on again and again. Highly recommended.
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Director – Pierre Morel
Cast – Liam Neesom, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, Xander Berkeley, Holly Valance, Katie Cassidy
Taken is a film by French action director Pierre Morel, and starring Liam Neesom as Bryan Mills. The plot is set in motion when Mills’ daughter is kidnapped in Paris. He is told that he has approximately 96 hours to find her before she will vanish into the world of international sex trafficking. Mills, an ex-spy (or ex-CIA/Special Forces, whatever, it’s never explicitly stated) goes on the hunt in a variety chase sequences and martial arts scraps that would almost look at home in a Bourne or Lethal Weapon movie.
This movie has an air of grim determination about it that serves the movie well, and can (at last while watching the movie) help to cover up the huge coincidences and somewhat ridiculous plot points that the movie covers. Afterwards, you may find yourself wondering how some of the events that happened were plausible, or even possible. If the movie had presented itself as a fun action movie with no real purpose it would have been different, but because Taken takes itself so seriously it is a bit harder to look past all the little clichés and coincidences.
However what Taken lacks in originality and realty, it certainly makes up for just by having Liam Neesom in the lead role. Neesom’s seriousness, his slight stoop (which certainly does not suggest an action star), and even his body of work all add up to the impression of a solid main character around which Morel can use all the usual action movie tropes. Unfortunately Neesom had to bring almost all of that to the table himself, because the script really has little characterization beyond “grieving kick-ass father”. Now, having said all this I must admit that there are a couple neat little touches in the beginning of the movie that I quite liked. Neesom is ex-(fill-in-the-blank) and we see him gathering with his friends at a BBQ, and then accepting a little job as security for a pop star at a concert. This makes sense, I thought. What else would retired(whatever-they-were) do for a part-time job?
Taken is quite a cookie-cutter of a movie, but it must be said that it does what it does fairly well. Liam Neesom is largely responsible for the better parts of the film, but the action scenes are executed decently and Bryan Mills’ hunt for his daughter can even be quite thrilling. If you are a fan of action movies you will like this. If you aren’t, well, there are worse ways to spend an hour and a half, but you may want to look elsewhere.
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Director – Bruce Marshall
Cast – Stephen McHattie, Lisa Houle, Georgina Reilly, Hrant Alianak
Having heard much buzz and critical acclaim about it, I recently watched Pontypool, a Canadian “zombie” horror film. Unfortunately I think it is one of those films that just isn’t as good as you want it to be. First, to the good stuff.
The lead actor (Stephen McHattie) has been singled out for his amazing performance, and rightly so. The writing crackles along with an energy not often seen, and McHattie delivers it perfectly. His character (a washed up, grumpy, and stubbornly erratic radio DJ)is one of those original creations who, despite his strangeness, still manages to ring true. Maybe because of it. We are all unique after all.
The two main female characters we meet (McHattie’s producer and audio technician) are both drawn from real life as well, and ring absolutely true. Their relationships and interactions with McHattie are utterly convincing.
The movie is set in a radio station, temporarily housed in a church basement, and it only moves outside of this setting for the opening shots. This creates a great sense of claustrophobia, and creates some real tension when we learn that people outside in the town are starting to go violently mad. The great thing about the movie’s conceit of being set in a radio station is that we hear reports of devastation and raving mad people, we hear some people being killed, etc., but we never see anything at all until late into the film. Hearing the situation but not seeing it allows us to build it up in our minds, it lets us use our imagination to conjure up what is happening. This is wonderful, and potentially much more scary than actually seeing the acts being committed. This was a brilliant move, and one that carries the movie through the first half (perhaps even longer) as a wonderfully tense ride.
Pontypool falters drastically in its last section however. It starts breaking its own rules and not keeping track of who knows what, how much they know, and how much the audience thinks the characters know. A character is introduced (fairly randomly, I must say), a doctor who is trying to figure out what is happening throughout the film. One of the problems is that we have already figured out that a virus is being spread through the town by means of the spoken word, and the characters have been given all the clues possible. The strange thing is that they seem to understand some things sometimes and not at others. Basically the third act is full of so many strange inconsistencies, back-paddling, and rule breaking that we become a bit lost. What do they know? What are the rules?
Pontypool is an exceptional movie that seems to have switched writers after the half-way mark. The characters, which were previously tautly drawn, and the rules of the movie, which previously seemed well-defined, tumble and fall in the third act, seriously damaging the rest of the movie. However there is no escaping its great first half, so I find myself recommending it, but with reservations.
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BONUS LINK: A Great Review of Pontypool by the great guys at…
Re: Forbes List Money Generating Stars
Forbes recently released their list of actors who brought in the most money for the studios compared to how much they earned for themselves. This got me thinking “Which actor on this list makes the best films in general?” I don’t mean in the year in which the list applies, but in their whole career.
Daniel gets it a bit easy, as most of his films are the highly popular Harry Potter series, but he tops it with a high score of 90% for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, with a low of 42% for December Boys.
Meryl Streep is widely recognized as one of the best actresses ever, but oddly her career features very few iconic films. Her highest score is 98% for Woody Allen’s Manhattan, and her lowest is 27%, for both Lions for Lambs and Evening.
Cate Blanchett, mainly known for her indie work, has a highest score for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers with 96%, and a low point of 31% for Charlotte Gray.
Coming close behind Blanchett is living legend Johnny Depp, whose highest rated movie was his debut, A Nightmare on Elm Street, with 95%. His lowest is for The Astronaut’s Wife, with 16%.
Shia Labeouf has had quite a rise to fame with the Transformer movies, but we shouldn’t let that cloud our judgement of his quality acting. His highest rated film is Warriors of the Wind, with 100%, and his lowest is Dumber and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, which has a rating of 10%.
Mr. Downey has the distinction of having the widest possible difference between highest score and lowest. His high point is Dear America: Letters Home from Vietnam (100%), and his lowest is Johnny be Good, with 0%.
The king of quirk has quite a range of scores as well. His highest is Red Rock West with 95%, and his lowest is Deadfall, with 0%.
8. Anne Hathaway – Avg. Score = 48.2
This young fan favorite hit her highest point with Brokeback Mountain (87%) and had a low of 12% with Bride Wars.
This “Friend” of TV has a decent-sized movie resume, spanning The Iron Giant with 97% to The Bounty Hunter and ‘Til There Was You with 7%.
10. Sarah Jessica Parker – Avg. Score = 45.9
The unofficial queen of New York doesn’t have a huge film resume, but it runs the gamut from L.A. Story with 94% to ‘Til There Was You (also with list-maker Jennifer Aniston) with 7%.
Nineteen Eighty-Four REVIEW
Director – Michael Radford
Cast – John Hurt, Richard Burton, Suzanna Hamilton, Gregor Fisher
1984 is an adaptation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel. Directed by English director Michael Radford, several scenes were famously shot on the actual day they were written to have occurred in the book.
The lead character, Winston Smith, is played with downtrodden perfection by noted English actor John Hurt. This film is his story, as he goes from a disquieted laborer under the oppressive regime of The Party, to a wannabe revolutionary. The antagonist, O’Brien, is played by Richard Burton (in his last film performance), and Smith’s “love interest” (though to use such a term is dangerous of giving the wrong impression) is played by Suzanne Hamilton. English character actor Gregor Fisher also appears as Smith’s neighbor.
The story of 1984 is famously dark and frankly quite depressing, and as such the tone is kept effectively bleak. The element of satire/warning keeps the movie from becoming totally dry, but it does struggle against this in the third act. The acting can be a bit dry as well, mainly with John Hurt. I think he would have been more at home in the classic British acting style rather than the more modern method-type, but his stillness and considered manner do fit with the character rather well, so we mustn’t nit pick.
The film unfortunately falls into the trap of assuming the audience knows the book. This results in some fairly key elements not being explained. What is Winston’s job? If we have read the book we know that he rewrites old newspaper reports, etc., so that they fit with the current views of the Party. However, here a first time viewer just sees Winston muttering away in some strange language while looking at pictures and then firing off little tubes down what looks like a garbage chute. While it is true that Winston rarely speaks too much in the book, there was so much in the book explaining about Double-Speak (the Party’s prefered way of talking, where the English language is paired down to its bare bones), explaining about the Party and its methods, etc., that is just not supplied here. We are shown events happening with no explanation, potentially leaving the viewer confused.
While the first two acts are fairly well-paced and feature some iconic images, the third act does dip in quality when Winston is captured by the Party and interrogated for his rebellious thoughts and actions. Unfortunately these scenes drag considerably, with much pointless repetition of shots and ideas. This bogs the movie down when it should really be moving to its quick and inevitable conclusion.
Nineteen Eighty-Four follows the book very well, perhaps too well. By leaving a lot of the dialogue intact and neglecting the explanation of the world we are shown, we don’t get the full impact of the story and Orwell’s point. The acting is excellent (especially Richard Burton and John Hurt), and the grimy world is perfect for this story, but a bit more clarity would certainly have helped. Sometimes it seems that things are left out so we’d have to read the book just to understand the film. Radford seems to mistake confusing his audience for narrative complexity, and that is a dangerous road to start travelling down (a path which hurt the recent Inception). I do recommend this, as the acting and tone rise to great heights, but because unclear story-telling drag the movie down quite far, I have to recommend it mainly to those who have read Orwell’s book.
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