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Wag the Dog

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Matinee Price with your brain and some popcorn

Wag the Dog is an interesting, wry, Bob Robertsian commentary on the power of the media and politics. It is not a rollicking comedy, as the previews would lead you to believe, but a thoughtful one, and it is not a Robert De Niro ego party. It is a bit of a Dustin Hoffman ego party (what isn’t?) but it works for his Hollywood producer character. Anne Heche is not given much to do, sadly, but Denis Leary comes through with some really dead on bits as the Fad King. Also: Adriene Martin, Woody Harrelson, Kirsten Dunst, William H. Macy, and Craig T. Nelson. And Willie!

The camera work was weird, pseudodocumentarian quick cuts and zooms, kind of NYPD Blue meets NOVA, but it was not staged as a documentary. It’s a shame, because if it had been, we the audience would have felt in on the conspiracy and more involved in the story. As it was, these people are so good at their job that for a goodly portion of the movie, they encounter no real obstacles, and we just sit back and watch the superlinear story unfold. It is much colder than a comedy should be because of all this distance, but it is still very interesting and clever and quite a commentary on our society as a whole. Also a neat pastiche of pop culture/media infiltration imagery.

To sum up: The president is accused of a sexual indiscretion 2 weeks before the election and his crack team of spin doctors concoct a little skirmish to distract and inspire the people to vote for the incumbent instead of his blatantly mudslinging opponent.
References are made to how Desert Storm was presented to the public and how this strategy for this president compares. I would be very interested in speaking to any Desert Storm vets (the one I know won’t return my calls!) to see how they felt about this analogy being drawn. I admit freely that my 21 year old self perceived the 5 week conflict to be akin to a big football game – lots of lights and logos and not a lot of coverage or even actual motivation for the fighting, and suddenly over. I know that is not the whole story, but that is the media distillation as experienced by me. In Wag the Dog, the war they concoct is entirely fictional, but the whole US mobilized behind it.

Bonus touches: The pop song inspirational anthems, the hero’s rescue mission and the falsification of a 1930’s blues hit ( I have said too much but it’s so perfect!), the whole weird crazy people getting hopped up about an enemy they can’t even find on a map and never worried about. It’s a fascinating and amusing satire but don’t expect to chortle your guts out. Just feel proud that you Get It and that you are so metafictionally aware that you would never fall for such a cheap ruse.

MPAA Rating R for language
Release date 1/9/98
Time in minutes 97
Director Barry Levinson
Studio New Line

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Tomorrow Never Dies

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OK, I love Pierce Brosnan as much if not more than the next person, and I think he makes one smooth sexy debonair Bond….but these films MUST be getting sillier because my expectations are NOTHING and still they manage to bore me. The uninviting opening song by Sheryl Crow (they make up for it with k.d. lang at the end), the goofy cybermedia terrorist plot and tepid sexual chemistry between Brosnan and Teri Hatcher – fine, whatever, that would make it a matinee feature.

BUT to cast the inestimable Michelle Yeoh, not even bring her in until an hour into the loooong movie, and then not even to use her kick ass abilities for more than a little piddly scene an hour and forty minutes into the film- THAT is inexcusable. Why even cast her? Hell, Julia Roberts could have pulled it off. Michelle Yeoh can hold her buttkickin’ own with Jackie Chan and you relegate her to being cuffed to 007, watching him as he saves the day?

The stealth boat is ridiculous. The idea that Jonathan Pryce (oh, he was soo wonderful once) can get on international TV and announce to the world his intention of taking over everything and not get called on it…the idea that he can make up headlines before the events occur and NO ONE NOTICES is ludicrous. A helicopter chasing people through crowded streets trying to chop them up with the blades is….not all that suspenseful.

Plus there is too much bang bang boring gun stuff. It’s tired and it’s not even like, sexy Bond shooting and then sipping his martini. The car chase is kind of funny and kind of exciting too. His car is cool in general. The terrible sea-drill (really bad for the manatees!) is kind of cool but not really cool. The house music score is kind of…obnoxious and not all that “updating.”

It’s difficult to be objective about such a long-lived and tradition-stuffed franchise as James Bond. I have been relieved by the relative sexism-free Bonds of recent years, but the goofy unsubtle puns and quips are really starting to show their whiskers. If this helps: The director is Roger Spottiswoode, he of “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,” a man tuned in to the aesthetics of his waiting audience if there ever was one.

I’d recommend seeing it on HBO just to see Pierce with a lot of his upper chest showing.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 1/2/1998
Time in minutes 119
Director Roger Spottiswoode
Studio MGM

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Jackie Brown

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I know, I know, it’s heresy to condemn a Tarantino film. For the record, I find him mostly technique rather than real auteur man, but I have enjoyed his sense of humor, yadda yadda yadda.

Pam Grier is a big blaxploitation goddess who is clearly worshipped by Tarantino and Guillermo (the DP) – every shot of her is lit and shot like she is a sacred artifact. I am not familiar with the oeuvre of Ms Grier (besides her small part in Mars Attacks) so I found myself impatiently waiting for the walking (sometimes not even cool, with a purpose walking like say Reservoir Dogs) shots and the thinking shots to be over with and get on with the story. The camera loves her, but the script couldn’t be bothered, somehow. I found myself wondering if she wishes she could be in one movie in her life where the soundtrack is not from the 70’s – even Mars Attacks couldn’t be that movie.

Jackie Brown is very linear for QT, which in a way was disappointing. I like his unique takes on situations, and outside one pivotal scene shot from multiple character’s perspectives, it didn’t feel very exciting. The story is interesting, if slow to get there, and Grier is good at what she does, don’t get me wrong. I just don’t think she was given much to do. I suppose I was expecting some Harlem Wonder Woman in flares with a .38 kicking some ass, and instead I got a woman drawn into an ugly situation smoking and being worried, and basically talking her way out.

Samuel L. Jackson is really great as a smoothly rotten professional criminal – this is his movie, scriptwise, or else he just takes control of it. Robert DeNiro (one with whom I often have an intolerance) was surprisingly restrained and tic-free. He was interesting, because I could finally see past his mobster mannerisms and “you talkin’ to me” ‘tude and see the actor within.

I felt I came away from the movie with unanswered questions, along the lines of “what was the deal with..?” and “why did he…?” and I felt the loose ends were so unimportant that I didn’t understand why they were introduced at all. Additionally, the movie was slow enough that it didn’t grab me until it was almost over, and by then I was getting pretty impatient. It’s a tad forgettable but not bad by any means. I know it sounds like that, but it’s not. I just was expecting something different.

MPAA Rating R for strong language, violence, drug use, sexuality
Release date 12/25/97
Time in minutes 160
Director Quentin Tarantino
Studio Miramax Films

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The Postman

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Ill Postino

I pay full price so you don’t have to!!!!
OK. I have to say this. The Postman was nowhere near as bad as I had been set up to believe. I’m not saying go buy the Criterion Collection laser disc, I was just so set up to create a new rating, underneath “Avoid at All Costs,” which would have been “No no no no no no no.”

For those who don’t know, Costner plays a guy in a vague post-disaster 2013 wilderness formerly known as America who masquerades as a Postman and somehow brings not only mail, but hope, peace, children, and general good stuff to the world.
Yes, Kevin Costner is totally full of himself and must be shot.
Yes, the movie is way too long and for way too little gain.

But also, Larenz Tate could have saved that movie single handedly. He plays a kid in one of the towns who is suckered in by Costner’s clever little ruse, who is actually responsible for the creation of the cult figure THE POSTMAN. The worst part about the Postman is not that it is stupid in and of itself – the idea is intriguing that a guy just trying to mooch a little soup could somehow accidentally, unwittingly, plant the seed for reorganization in chaos.
What should have happened: The first hour of the movie, in which we establish the bad guy, is shortened to 20 minutes. Costner meets Larenz Tate, does not prove what an amazing, heart wrenching lover he is with that pretty girl whozits, gives Tate the idea of starting lines of communication for real while also giving people hope that others have survived, then takes off. A year later, he should pop by and see what Tate did with this germ, and then GO AWAY and let Tate be the hero of this movie. Tate’s character, Ford, really cares about the good he is doing, gets everything organized, and is simultaneously acting his lovejones off getting us to believe too. Costner whines at the false authority he did not have to assume, he has a retarded pissing contest with the bad guy WHO DOESN’T EVEN REMEMBER WHO HE IS (more on that in a bit), and he is somehow credited with everything, when he’s just a huge dork.

OK, the director of photography, Stephen Windon, should also be noticed because he had some cool stuff going on. One screenwriter contributed to the agonizingly overrated and conservative Forrest Gump, the other the delicious LA Confidential. I just hope the Academy remembers the Postman when they are thinking about crowning LA Confidential.
Anyway! I enjoyed some little cinematic tricks, and some bits here and there. Some sets were cool and plenty of stuff was dumb and unexplained. 30 minutes into the film I wrote: “Not offensive yet.” One hour and 13 minutes in I marveled at Ford’s commitment to the Postman and started spying holes in the story. 90 minutes in I wrote: “ACK. Suddenly it turns stupid.” This is where Costner should have wandered off in search of a free meal and we could run with the interesting concept.

I took a LOT of notes and I considered just transcribing them for you all. Like, “A whole horse = one bowl of soup?” “I’d say appallingly mediocre at the 2 hr point….officially dumb.” Maybe I will post them at www.hsbr.org for fun.

“He’s only the greatest man who ever lived!…He lives! It’s Easter! But they don’t deliver mail on Easter!”

Yes, I write all this WHILE I watch a movie. My film companion kept tugging at my notebook, but I was transfixed. Most of the flaws (outside ego-related ones) are minor but there are so many! He casts Will Patton, a most uncharismatic, unthreatening to The Kevin stand-in for a bad guy nemesis, has him spout stupid lines of dialogue that only serve to empower his character, and then forgets to give them a relationship to make all this hatred make any sense. Oh woe! 13 minutes before the end of the film, plot occurs. Plus he sings over the credits with Amy Grant.

If it weren’t so long, I would love to see Mystery Science Theatre kick this one around. Poor Larenz – he was truly great.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/25/97
Time in minutes 180
Director Kevin Costner
Studio Warner Brothers

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As Good As It Gets

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By now you are probably sick of hearing about how good this movie is, and I have to agree that I am sick as well of the hype. But my reviews struggle (sometimes fruitlessly) against the hype!

I have found, in recent years, two truths in the cinema: 1. Jack Nicholson has never recovered from the way-over-the-top role of The Joker and has become increasingly difficult to watch and 2. Greg Kinnear is a shallow bit of fluff.

BOTH those truths were out the door with this movie. Jack has finally met his match with a complicated role which I am convinced few besides him could manage. Melvin is loathsome, tactless, fussy, weird, and yet totally understandable, layered, and interesting, even sympathetic.

As for Kinnear, well, I saw Dear God, and I have to say that this, my friends, is the acting he was supposed to have been doing. Helen Hunt is great too – I know many will argue with me, but I found her pragmatic yet idiosyncratic Jamie Buchman all over her character. Not that I minded, OK, I just want you guys to know that I actually thought she stretched more to be less like herself in Twister. Her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes was very…her.
This is not criticism per se, just facts. I found the situations and dialogue interesting, and the whole development of irritating loony as emotional center to the film to be fascinating.

Plus it’s funny and entertaining and witty and pretty to look at to boot. It’s a tad outlandish, but one would expect the life and lives surrounding the life of a man like Melvin to be unusual.

One complaint – many of the best lines in the movie were featured in the preview, and that fact actually robs them of their emotional impact when they occur in the movie. Going to as many movies as I do, I saw the preview easily 20-30 times. Maybe for the more normal the moments won’t be as ruined – or, since the movie has been out since forever (I won’t tell you when I *actually* saw it but rest assured it was not in the past 3 weeks), you have forgotten the preview.

I recommend it. It may not ring as hard core reality to you, but it does contain many truths about people.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/23/97
Time in minutes 138
Director James L. Brooks
Studio TriStar Pictures

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Titanic

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Full Freakin Price with Popcorn – NO DRINK!

I know full well that by now, you have probably been inundated by folks creaming over this movie. They are correct to do so. It has everything you could possibly want in a movie, squeezed into a bladder-bursting 3hrs and 20 minutes. There is talk of “it’s a real classic” and “Jim Cameron had better get the Oscar this year” – perhaps, perhaps…it would be unfair to the many great movies that have come out this year to dismiss them in the face of this expensive monstrosity, but BY GOD this is one fabulous movie. In fact, I was often so absorbed in just taking it all in, that I missed gobs of key dialogue.

You may know that it cost $200 million plus. You may not realize how much of that money was NOT spent on computer effects. In fact, the ONLY disappointment I felt watching this film was with the computer generated effects. Some long, lovely, sweeping shots of the boat deck as it sails are positively Myst-like. It’s a shame, too. Every CGI house in the world is listed in the credits it seems, and one of them did the cold-air breath on all the actors. *That* looks fabulous.

NOW. The real effects (i.e. the things they did with 3 dimensional real world objects) are absolutely mind boggling. Hair raising. Heart-stopping. Gorgeous reproductions of Titanic debris as it was when it was new. Most footage of sea-crusty Titanic debris underwater is REAL. Cameron developed the submarine crawlers and probes that took better actual live footage of the wreck than has ever been taken before. Titanic does have the best art department in the world and they will work for the rest of their lives with this on their resume, but the wreckage and the undersea footage is THE REAL FREAKIN TITANIC.

A wonderful shot, taken by the probe, pilots us through a ruined corridor, familiar from watching the action of the film, past a fireplace and a doorway we recognize from the Movie part, and then it seamlessly fades into how it looked back then. Stunning. Wonderful. As we drift through the silent, multi-ton/psi world that is the Titanic’s home, a faint faint echo of the music of the Titanic wafts through the soundtrack. I was literally breathless.

THEN we have this great story with a smart, independent rich girl (Kate Winslet, perfect) who fears wasting away in her shallow life (Billy Zane, wicked and handsome) falling in love with a sweet boy from steerage (Leonardo DiCaprio, bringing nothing new but nothing unwelcome)- oh, yes, and then the ship sinks. We are completely involved with their story, and their plot line is strong enough to be its own film; then, because we are so With them, when the ship is going down, we are totally emotionally caught up in the terror and the surreal fear. Oh and if you are a kook like me, you will have eyes all a-bug at the incredible spectacle of a REAL GIGANTIC 90% scale version of the Titanic sinking in real water with hundreds of real people screaming and clinging and slipping and OH my god the humanity!

On TOP of this we have a lyrical performance by Gloria Stuart, as the grownup Kate Winslet, and Gloria made me cry in the first 30 minutes of the movie. She is simply divine on camera. By the end, and I am NOT making this up, a large grown man 2 rows back was SOBBING UNCONTROLLABLY. Oh and then we have a half-developed plot about uncovering a lost diamond and some incredible hats and gowns and music and equipment and wonderful sound design and WOW. At points, my jaded, multiplex self would prepare to snort at anything maudlin, and then Cameron would just slip in and NOT manipulate me and not patronize me and it was wonderful.

Towards the end (am I giving anything away by saying the ship goes down and..er…some people die?), a nameless pair of extras, an old couple, await their death in their stateroom, and thinking about it now makes me cry. We never saw them before (or since!) but it was a beautiful moment. The characters are well drawn overall (not so much in the present day framing story) and the disaster, the fear, the BOOM of the whole thing was just so vivid. Showing a computer reproduction of the disaster in the present day segment helped us comprehend the terrible truth of the 1912 segments.

Industry types: Russell Carter, director of photography. Hire him. Deborah Scott – costumes. Hire her. Writer/director/producer/editor – James Cameron. This is a symphony. Cameron is known for being a tyrant on the set and pushing the budget envelope way past all semblance of reality, and the results are all up here. Two studios had to finance this to make it happen, and I don’t think Fox or Paramount are going to regret it. So flee the theatre before Celine Dion (UGH!) ruins the mood but be sure to clap for the art department and the stunt people (crew list roughly equivalent to the population of Rhode Island). It’s truly marvelous. Do NOT get a drink before you go in there, but the time flies by.

MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 12/23/1997
Time in minutes 194
Director James Cameron
Studio Fox/Paramount

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Amistad

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Loath as I am to admit this, I was massively underwhelmed by Amistad. Maybe it was the fallout from seeing Titanic first, maybe it was my jaded sigh of resignation upon seeing the Dreamworks logo and the woefully overrated Matthew McConaughey.

Most of the clever points I have to make in this review I have to attribute to my moviegoing companion, because he was better able to put his finger on what was wrong with Amistad. The story, while an interesting one and a historical one, was not humanized as it should have been for maximum audience empathy; nor was it, historically speaking, a very glamorous means to an end. A group of slaves, kidnapped from Sierra Leone, rise against their captors but then are captured as “salvage” by the US. A dry property dispute ensues, tempered little by the human side of the issue.

The movie has fine moments, however. Djimon Hounsou, who plays Cinque, the leader of the group of Africans, is evocative and powerful on screen. His recounting of how he got to the US is horrific and stirring. Anthony Hopkins, as John Quincy Adams, orates a long and moving speech which hints at the human side of the drama, but mostly appeals to legal technicalities.

The story of the revolt on board La Amistad is an interesting one, but the sad thing is, the whole legal leg it stands on is a boring one. Defining the men’s status as property, and whose property, is a sad way for one to win one’s freedom, even though the freedom is the point. This year for Spielberg was a faint echo of 1993; whiz bang dinosaur movie followed by Very Important Film. Unfortunately, this duo was not as magical as the first. I was surprised to note that 30 minutes of film passed by with not a word of English – and not all was subtitled.

Morgan Freeman has a role ripe for a little dramatic license – a freedman involved in the case of the Africans’ plight. It would have been interesting to explore Cinque’s feelings and Freeman’s feelings related to the issues of black men as property and strength and courage and whatnot, but instead the courtroom drama prattles on about treaty jurisdiction and receipts and manifests.

Amistad is worth seeing for the performances and to get to know the story if you aren’t familiar with it. It’s chock full of stars and Very Important Music (courtesy of John Williams, who just might not get to finish that Academy Award chess set this year) and I wasn’t as hugely annoyed with McConaughey as I usually am.

I don’t think Spielberg is going to get as much guff about being a white man telling a black man’s tale as he received for The Color Purple, nor can I fault him for the Christian virtues as alien concepts thread running through the story. I think the whole historical untouchability of a Very Important Film and the incredibly dry nature of the actual facts was what made this production a lose-lose proposition for Spielberg. He can’t add to history without being faulted, even if it makes the film more real for the viewer, and he can’t push the slant of the story too far out of what would be acceptable for him to narrate.

What am I saying? I think it should be seen (before you see Titanic) but don’t pay too much.

MPAA Rating R -strong brutal violence and some nudity.
Release date 12/23/97
Time in minutes
Director Steven Spielberg
Studio Dreamworks

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Mouse Hunt

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I know! I wouldn’t have thought so! Actually, maybe it’s Matinee with lots of snacks. I went to this movie at a matinee when I was unexpectedly released from work early, so I was in a great mood. I went with a very cynical friend so I figured we would have a good chuckle and make fun of it. Instead, I literally found myself laughing at stuff (including preview scenes) and saying, “I shouldn’t be laughing at this but it’s so dang funny!”

Lee Evans and Nathan Lane play brothers who inherit this house, which has a very cute and really impressive little mouse in it. Mayhem ensues. It’s cartoon violence but it’s really funny! Some of these gags are the oldest imaginable and yet somehow, Mousehunt pulls them off! Watch Evans in a string factory – it was surprisingly funny!

Alan Silvestri did the music, and I bet that had something to do with keeping my mood up – it was merry and light and the whole movie was a gas – I wanted to see it again right away! Really!

This is no high art here, people, this is two grown men flummoxed by some great mouse effects (I could never tell when the mouse was real or animatronic and I bet you won’t be able to either – that little bugger is great!). At one point, I didn’t even remember who I was supposed to be rooting for – and that’s OK!

Just when you think you’ve seen enough men snapped by mousetraps, enter Christopher Walken. Yes, THAT Christopher Walken. He’s great. You should see the movie just for his scene. Ironically, he played a singing and dancing Puss in Boots for cable. Yes, THAT Christopher Walken. And not all that long a time ago.

The mousecam is incredible, all the visuals are great, it’s everything 101 Dalmations wished it was but was not. Don’t take the kids – it’s actually pretty dark. Like, quite dark. Junior high and up, maybe. The pound scene upset me. It was generally unexpectedly grownup, but still gleefully cartoonish – the perfect movie for us Xers who loved the coyote and the roadrunner, but crave special effects and funny bits. Kudos to Stan Winston, Boone’s Animals for Hollywood, and Rhythm and Hues – that freakin’ mouse was awesome!

Mousehunt is also set in that neat new Hollywood timeless cross between the 1940’s and the present, with groovy big cars and men in hats and Hudsucker Proxyesque factory machinery. I took almost no notes because I was really having a great time. You should see it.

DVD Note: Check out the crazy German-style techno preview they never showed in the theaters!

MPAA Rating PG
Release date 12/19/97
Time in minutes 98
Director Gore Verbinski
Studio DreamWorks

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Scream 2

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OK, when asked, I can only reply, “Ass-kickin!”

I realize that that is not a very useful review, so I will attempt to give you a bit more – but always remember the phrase “ass kickin” in the back of your mind.

If you don’t like horror movies and/or you didn’t like Scream, you will not like this movie. Otherwise, start pumping out the money, like everyone else is – it made $40 million opening weekend, double what Beavis and Butthead made last December and breaking December opening box office records.

SO? I am willing to bet that it was huge groups (like ours) filling the seats and repeat viewers (like I want to be) filling the lines. So, just like the preview suggests, there is a larger body count, more elaborate death scenes, and tons of suspects as to who the killer is. But so much more! Scream 1 was chock full of in-jokes about horror movies and following the rules of the genre, it was smartly written, and full of great booga booga slasher wackiness. Scream 2 is just as smartly written, if not more so, and takes the metafictional aspect of the Scream series one step further – I predict by Scream 5 we will be on live video watching ourselves watch the movie!

S2 discusses and obeys the rules of a sequel a la Scream 1, but it also pokes fun at the idea of “based on a true story” always being a lesser work than the true story itself, and it makes fun of capitalizing on an event…it really twists around on itself in a dozen clever ways, and to give a good example would be to ruin the surprise.

So, Scream 2 includes the premiere of the movie Stab which is based on the book that Courtney Cox’s character wrote about the events that occurred in Scream. So, Stab is Scream, and Scream 2 is indirectly about the fallout for Stab, while also picking up where Scream left off. It’s great.

Stab is great, too, because the footage we see is shot by shot a mimicry of Scream, but with different actors, who are not as good (on purpose) as who they are playing. Heather Graham a.k.a. Rollergirl plays Drew Barrymore’s part from the opener of Scream, etc. Very funny! You have to see it to get the full effect. Oh, and what a horrible horrible way to die! Oops! Did I give anything away?

The movie occasionally found me saying, “hey, what’s with all this plot? Let’s kill somebody already!” But then, action would resume, and really, the plot parts were never boring. I got to know a bunch of the characters so I cared when they died, and even having forgotten huge chunks of Scream I easily followed the sequel parts. Deputy Dewey (David Arquette) is back, with his Broken Arrow soundtrack and full Bruce Campbell hamming style, as well as the Tarantino video guy Jamie Kennedy, Neve Campbell, Liev Schreiber, and Courtney Cox. Oh, and that ghoulish black and white mask. A bunch of Neve’s new friends get killed too.

It was scary, more suspenseful than the last one I think, with excruciatingly tense scenes where your whole body is screaming GET OUT OF THERE! The guy behind me who was with us was saying in a very matter of fact voice at one point, “This is so scary. My god, this is really scary! Man, I am so scared!” He was serious, but it was hysterical. Myself, I was at that point pulling my hair (literally – I’m told it was rather adorable) and sitting on my feet and chewing on my coat making a high pitched GGGHHH! noise. I’m not talking about “ew!” and covering my eyes, people, I mean like eyes bugging out, sweaty armpits, rictus of grinning terror on my face, hopping up and down. My whole group was pleased with the film and he who plays the Hollywood Stock Exchange had giant glittery $$$ in his eyes.

I don’t want to give anything away but all the self-referential stuff is great, the ending is a surprise, and the scene with the car (that’s all I’ll say) is a bed wetter! Get a bunch of your favorite people, a few gallons of popcorn, and prepare to be scared. The nice part is there was no lingering paranoia walking back to the car, just Yahhooo!

So go see it already!

MPAA Rating R for language and strong bloody violence.
Release date 12/15/1997
Time in minutes 96
Director Wes Craven
Studio Dimension Films

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Alien: Resurrection

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During the actual experience of watching Alien: Resurrection I was so caught up in Sigourney Weaver’s quest for her identity and her interesting personal dilemmas, while being surrounded by the fascinating and cool looking visuals that are the calling card of director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, that I didn’t realize until later how stupid the whole thing was. Chalk up one more for Sigourney’s acting and chalk up one more reason to stop with sequels already.

I enjoyed myself more than I did during Alien3 (directed by David Fincher, of Seven and The Game fame, so maybe I should see that one again), but Alien:R was not packed with powerhouse actors, save Ms. Weaver. It made me realize again how truly elegant Aliens (the 2nd one) is. Like Michael Biehn’s Hicks in Aliens and Charles S. Dutton’s character in Alien3, thinly drawn characters can take on all 3 dimensions with the proper actor. But with the exception of Dan Hedaya as the general, Alien Resurrection’s secondary characters were FAR less interesting than the machinery they used.

Jeunet and his D.P. Darius Khondji (Evita, Seven) definitely have a trademark look, best seen in The City of Lost Children, which, I’m sorry to say, I HATED. One more reason to give Fincher’s stab at the Alien series a second look. Resurrection added nothing to the mythology of this fabulous species, it dropped a nuke on earth and bent science far past the pardonable levels, and it wasn’t even all that exciting. It was sensual and weird – if only it had had a decent story!

I felt as though the underappreciated art department killed themselves just barely making deadlines, made all this great stuff, and Jeunet saw it for the first time the day of shooting, so he drags the camera over it lovingly, destroying the pace and even some of the illusion of the great sets and props. Sure, we get a looooong look at some very good work, but aren’t we supposed to have our hearts pumping in terror right about now? Oh well!

I was very wrapped up in Sigourney’s inner journey and her trying to come to terms with being a resurrected clone with only partial memories and all kinds of new and exciting abilities. They cloned her from some goo left over from her body in Alien3, wherein she was the host to an alien queen pupa. All well and good, except writer Joss Whedon forgets that parasites don’t genetically fuse with their hosts, making the whole blended biology thing kind of retarded. I have liked some of Whedon’s work (Toy Story, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in the past so I am going to assume that for this film someone told him what to write.

Goofiness ensues involving lots of unpleasant people we never really get to know, some bitchin’ underwater CGI shots, and the execrable Winona Ryder obviously miscast and miswritten and just awful. Why they felt the need to have on-land aliens computer generated when 12 years ago they had perfectly gorgeous puppets is beyond me.

I started to care as they swam for their lives out of the frying pan and into the egg-infested fire, but then Winona shows up, mumbling valley girl android dialogue and saving the day, sort of, in a very stupid and unheroic way, and well, I stopped caring altogether. Don’t even ask about the mammalian hybrid nonsense at the end. Despite the science snafus and all that, are not these aliens kick-ass enough, that you have to make something new and less scary? Oh and did I mention that Winona Ryder, once deeply revered by myself after Heathers, was horrible?

I can’t even say it was all because of the material (some of it was). But damn the alien containment apparatus and the cryo chambers and wheelchairs and all that stuff was cool looking! And I really felt Sigourney’s pain. Maybe it came from watching a superawesome series crash and burn like…like…the Batman series. And still we are left with an opening for yet another sequel. Please, Jim Cameron, Tim Burton, someone we trust, please take the reins and put this alien baby to sleep.

*Note: The film was orginally rated “Dollar Movie;” that price availability has since gone the way of the dodo.

MPAA Rating R -sci-fi violence & gore, and for language.
Release date 12/8/97
Time in minutes 108
Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Studio 20th Century Fox