The Top Films of 2012 (Take 3)

The Night of the Living Oscars is almost upon us, which means it’s time for film buffs everywhere to make lists and make desperate attempts to compare apples to oranges in order to decide which one goes where. My attempts are as follows:

The Top 10 Films of 2012:

10. The Raid: Redemption
This is the Tony Jaa film with no Tony Jaa, and I wish that Ong Bak 2 & 3 had been anywhere near as good as The Raid. With a similar setup to Dredd, involving a multi-storied building on lockdown while hordes of tenants fight our protagonists, The Raid has excellent fight choreography that is creative, rapid-paced, and as is essential for a martial-arts action film, in plentiful supply. The Raid doesn’t bog itself down trying to make the story any more than it needs to be; it doesn’t feel tacked on but it doesn’t overburden the rest of the film and take away from the action either. A solid piece of adrenaline-laced action filmmaking.

9. The Grey
A sobering story about a man who has nothing to live for fighting to survive in the harsh Alaskan wilderness, The Grey isn’t just a film about the struggle against the natural world, but a personal look at a man’s conviction in the face of death, despite the pain and sadness in his past. Liam Neeson shows some real acting chops here, and seems to really delve into the role instead of going through the motions. What could have been a by-the-numbers survival story digs a little deeper and the result is powerful.

8. God Bless America
Perhaps it’s the cynical asshole in me, but throughout almost all of God Bless America I had a smile plastered across my face. With his death looming over his day-to-day suffering, Frank (Joel Murray) decides to cleanse the world of modern society’s shortcomings. Watching Joel Murray do what we have thought about once or twice in our darker moments is almost cathartic, and the entire film has a biting wit to go with the carnage that it portrays. Dark comedies, such as the work of Todd Solondz, never seem to get much exposure; perhaps because they sometimes strike a little too close to home. God Bless America fits the genre perfectly by making you want to laugh and despair at the same time.

7. Cloud Atlas
The Wachowski’s & Tom Tykwer’s brazenly ambitious Cloud Atlas is a film I kept thinking about for days. At first it was almost difficult to keep up with the many stories running concurrently, but the film quickly settles into a rhythm, and it’s an impressive sight to behold. Each arc goes through the build up and climax of their story simultaneously, with actors playing multiple characters at different points in time, all the while different key elements of one story will have an effect on another that takes place later in time. Some elements aren’t even central to the plot, but when you notice that the buttons stolen by one character are now a necklace worn by his descendant in the far-flung future, it’s a nice touch. Cloud Atlas is a multilayered epic that deserves multiple viewings.

6. Prometheus
As a long-time fan of the Alien franchise, this was easily my most-anticipated film of 2012. The original director my personal favorite, Alien (1979), returning to create a prequel that delves into the origins of the Xenomorphs? Yes, please and thank you. Prometheus, however, is quite the tease. While we get fantastic special effects, some great sci-fi storytelling and a healthy dose of horror and action, we also get plenty of questions that don’t get answered. While some may feel this detracts from the film, with a Prometheus 2 allegedly in the works, those questions may yet be resolved, and really, Prometheus stands just fine without having everything explained. Didn’t the original Alien? With that in mind, there’s plenty to love here, and Fassbender’s excellent performance as David deserves a little more attention. For Wes’s review of Prometheus, go here.

5. Frankenweenie
Frankenweenie, Tim Burton’s love letter to the films of his youth, proves that Burton still has that charm that makes his older films so enthralling. It’s a shame that this and ParaNorman did somewhat poorly at the box-office, especially since stop-motion is one of my favorite methods of filmmaking; we may be seeing some of the last big-budget stop-motion films for quite some time. For a more in-depth look at Frankenweenie, check out my original review here.

4. Life of Pi
Not having read the book, I wasn’t sure what to expect with Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. From the trailers I had no doubt the film would be a visual feast (and it is), but all the visuals in the world mean nothing if there isn’t a solid core story. Fortunately, Life of Pi is a colorful and vibrant story about a young man who survives a shipwreck told in flashback, and somewhat like 2003’s Big Fish shows that the perception of a story may in fact be more honest than the basic truth. Simply put, Life of Pi is a fantastical tale that blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

3. Cabin in the Woods
As much as I love horror films, I’ll be the first to admit that the bulk of the genre is plagued by almost anything that can be bad in a film. Perhaps one of the worst is the overuse of clichéd plots that we’ve all seen a billion times over. And surprisingly, that is what makes Cabin in the Woods such a stellar film. I had expected a decent movie, I wasn’t expecting a film that poked fun at tired horror conventions while using them to construct an enthralling look at the horror movie itself. Even those who aren’t horror fans should give Cabin in the Woods a look, if only to see the jaw-dropping turns the story takes. For David’s review of Cabin in the Woods, go here.

2. Moonrise Kingdom
Wes Anderson continually impresses with his work, Moonrise Kingdom is likely one of his best efforts. Between the amazing cast all turning in excellent performances, the camerawork so good each shot could be a piece of art, and a compelling story that captures youthful love and rebellion, it’s hard to find anything that hasn’t been carefully tuned to perfection by Mr. Anderson. This editor hopes that we can look forward to more of the same. For David’s review of Moonrise Kingdom, go here.

1. Django Unchained
While Quentin Tarantino had used elements of the Western genre in nearly every one of his films, he’d never simply made a Western. Django Unchained is that Western, and it succeeds admirably. A revenge/rescue story set in the pre-Civil War south, the oftentimes cartoonishly violent and racially charged plot sees Django (Jamie Foxx) becoming a bounty hunter as he attempts to rescue his wife. Where Tarantino’s films really shine is with character performances, enhanced with great dialogue for those performances, and Django Unchained does so through superb performances by the always-impressive Christoph Waltz and a knockout performance by DiCaprio as the villainous Calvin Candy. With yet another of Tarantino’s carefully picked soundtracks backing it, Django Unchained is a fine addition to the director’s lexicon.

Honorable Mentions:
Stuff that didn’t make the cut, but is still worth talking about.

7 Psychopaths – Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008) was easily one of my favorite films of that year, and his latest offering is nothing to sneeze at either. With some excellent performances (Sam Rockwell, Christopher Walken, and Tom Waits are all great) and repeated “I didn’t expect that at all” moments, 7 Psycopaths was just shy of making the list.

Argo – Ben Affleck’s film about the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis is a competent film, and while I’m not sure that I’m as impressed as some are by it, there’s certainly nothing overtly wrong with it, and it’s a solid, engaging piece of work.

The Avengers – I doubt there’s anyone who hasn’t seen this film, but I’m including it here simply because when it was being made I thought that I was going to hate it. There was no way that anyone could make a superhero league film that wasn’t all over the place. But Joss Whedon managed to make a decent film that, though not flawless by any means, surprised me. Kudos to you, Mr. Whedon. Wes’s review can be found here.

The Dark Knight Rises – After The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises had some big shoes to fill. Too big, perhaps. While I still maintain that it is a good film, I can’t get past some of the suspension of disbelief that is required. It’s a shame that it doesn’t live up to its predecessor, but there’s still plenty of cinematography, great acting, an impressive score and intense action sequences that make it better than just average.

Dredd – Though Stallone’s Judge Dredd (1995) does the comic book character no justice, 2012’s take on the character was much more in-line with the tone of the comics. A gritty, brutal action movie that was a pleasant surprise, especially given that didn’t expect anything from it.

Looper – While Looper might have some major plot holes, the film is done with such style and conviction that they can be set aside. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a notable performance as a young Bruce Willis, and the subtle make-up only enhances the effect. The psychic-powerhouse bit is cool too. Wes’s review can be found here.

ParaNormanParaNorman is a stop-motion film about a boy who can see the dead and must save his town from a witch’s curse. Like the aforementioned Frankenweenie, ParaNorman is visually impressive, and though the story drags sometimes, it’s worth noting for the amount of craft the Laika team put into it.

The Pirates!: Band of Misfits  – Yet another stop-motion film worth mentioning, from the amazing team at Aardman (Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run). It gets a bit too juvenile for my tastes at times, but the entire film is a visual treat, and genuinely funny at times.

Sinister – Though there are issues with Sinister, it still is one of the better horror films to come out in 2012. There are moments that are truly creepy, and moments that are truly disturbing. Something about the home camera aspect makes the entire movie have an unsettling vibe, the atmosphere (aided by some great use of the band Boards of Canada) will stick with you, and that alone makes this film worth mentioning.

Skyfall – A noticeable improvement over Quantum of Solace (2008), the newest Bond film serves up some great sequences and top-notch cinematography, and one of the better Bond songs. Craig continues to impress as a no-nonsense take on the 007 character, and more of these to come is good news.

Wreck-It RalphWreck-It Ralph was a strong contender for my Top 10, but Sarah Silverman’s character too often tread into annoying instead of charming. That aside, it’s a great movie that is considerably improved by the plethora of videogame character cameos. If you consider yourself an avid gamer (not you, CoD players), you’ll get a kick out of simply spotting all the references.

Worst 10 Movies of 2012
Though I wish I had descriptions for each of these films, I’m finding it hard to muster up the desire to expend any more time on them than I already have. They already stole several hours of my life, so this simple list will hopefully represent the last of such theft.

10. Step Up Revolution
9. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
8. The Cold Light of Day
7. Resident Evil: Retribution
6. Mirror Mirror
5. Journey 2: The Mysterious Island
4. The Devil Inside
3. That’s My Boy
2. One for the Money
1. 3 Stooges

Disappointments:
The stuff that should have been great, but wasn’t. YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!

The Man with the Iron Fists
Despite David’s review, I still had this one on my watchlist because the trailer had looked promising. While The Man with the Iron Fists does many things well, such as the multitude of eccentric characters, it just isn’t quite what it could (and should) be. The camerawork leaves something to be desired, the CG blood / special effects look terrible and take you right out of the film, and the ending could have really used some extended fight scenes. Hopefully RZA can fix these kind of grievances and give us the 70’s kung-fu film that will do the genre justice.

Iron Sky
Unlike Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Iron Sky seemed to have tongue planted firmly in cheek from the outset. Nazis on the dark side of the moon is a delightfully ridiculous premise, and the trailer had me excited for something that played up the cheese while being thoroughly creative with that license. While Iron Sky attempts to reach this goal, it bogs itself down by going in the completely wrong direction, and while there are laughs to be had here and there, too much of what we get consists of a boring subplot and wasted potential.

Brave
Now, let’s be clear that I don’t consider Brave a bad film by any means. It’s a visually impressive movie that doesn’t have any major flaws. But Pixar has a fairly impressive track record (barring the Cars films, in this editor’s opinion), so I had very lofty expectations after seeing the first trailers. Brave’s story, however, is simply lacking that special touch that would make it stand with the other Pixar greats. In other words, Brave is a good, not great film. And that is disappointing.

Missed:
Films that weren’t seen in time to make (or not make) this list.

Amour
The Imposter
Lincoln
The Master
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Robot & Frank
The Secret World of Arrietty
Silver Linings Playbook
Shame

-Adam

Advertisements

The Thing (1982)

In the film nerd world, the best year in film history is a hotly debated topic that has no clear-cut answer. Some of us prefer 1939. Others prefer 1999. Myself? I prefer to stick with 1974, a year that championed the auteur theory as legendary directors (both foreign and domestic) released one film after another, all of them with their cinematic voice in peak form. It was also a wonderful year for movies that sought only to entertain via suspense and action and several boundary-pushing comedies made the audience laugh to beat the band. Since I happen to love lists, here is a quick sampling of 1974 films that have stood the test of time:

  • The Parallax View
  • Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore
  • Blazing Saddles
  • Young Frankenstein
  • The Godfather Part 2
  • The Conversation
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
  • A Woman Under the Influence
  • Chinatown
  • Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
  • Amarcord
  • The Phantom of Liberty
  • The Enigma of Kasper Hauser
  • Lenny
  • The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  • The Towering Inferno

While 1974 is the entire year I tend to rep in this particular conversation, I back 1982—the popular opinion, I know, but sometimes the popular opinion is correct—as the best summer of all time. This is partially due to me being a child of the ’80s, but since the Alamo Drafthouse programmed an event to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the movies released that particular summer—continuing to show why they alone are the go-to theater chain in the States, consistently making me wish I lived in Austin—I will assume I’m correct. In fact Alamo takes movies so seriously that they actually enforce movie theater rules and regulations, like no talking or texting, which led to this little incident that, in a perfect world, should have increased their stock by 231.7%:

But back to 1982 and another list (yeah, lists!) to help illustrate why a plethora of fans are on record as backing this summer as the best ever:

  • Poltergeist
  • The Road Warrior
  • Rocky III
  • E.T.
  • Conan the Barbarian
  • Tron
  • The Wall
  • Class of 1984
  • Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn
  • Fast Times at Ridgemont High
  • Blade Runner
  • The Secret of Nimh
  • The Thing

Between the trailer, poster, and title of this post, I’m sure you are able to deduce that I’m going to talk about John Carpenter’s The Thing, and since I’ve burnt through roughly 400 words and 2 lists without even mentioning the genius of the film, I suppose at this point we should get right to it.

When it was announced that Carpenter, a life-long fan of Howard Hawks and his production of The Thing from Another Planet, intended to remake the film that had become a staple for monster-movie enthusiasts of his generation, the reaction was akin to anger. How the director of Dark Star and Escape from New York could presume a remake was needed in the first place was sacrilege, ignoring the fact that Carpenter’s decision wasn’t exactly surprising. He habitually mentioned Hawks’s work as a template, one that would shape and inform the now prodigious director’s career: Assault of Precinct 13 was a loving riff on Rio Bravo, and for one segment in Halloween, Carpenter would use a scene from the original Thing on Laurie Strode’s television set. Initially, fans of the classic got the last laugh as Carpenter’s film bombed at the box office. It seemed that audiences weren’t quite prepared for a film as bleak as this, especially two weeks after the release of E.T., a film that was much more optimistic about visiting extraterrestrial life, featuring none of the gore effects, disturbing imagery, and paranoia and distrust that made The Thing such as powerful cinematic concoction, a true masterpiece of suspense and horror.

Wisely, Carpenter elected to go back to source material, John W. Campbell Jr.’s Who Goes There?, the novella the original was based upon, and by extension, made the smart decision of ditching the Frankenstein’s Monster from space special effects, turning the alien back into a shape-shifting body snatcher that can imitate and replace any living organism it encounters and consumes. When the being is unearthed at the ass end of the earth, it encounters a group of men—each one as mysterious to the audience as the alien—allowing the director to explore their relationships in an understated fashion that also serves to ratchet up the suspense to, at times, seemingly unbearable levels. In this manner, Bill Lancaster’s script (son of Burt, who also penned the original Bad News Bears) is a masterwork, giving the audience lots of thoughts and ideas to chew on if they choose to look closely enough. Lancaster makes the correct decision to not flush out the backstory of a single character, dispensing with the common need of having to describe their motivation at every turn, making the movie stronger. The only common thread of the men’s past lives is that they are distrustful of people. You don’t end up in an Antarctic research station unless you are at the bottom of the company totem pole or unless you severely pissed off enough people in your line of work that they decided to send you there, ridding themselves of your existence.

Even the hero of the story, R. J. “Mac” MacReady (Kurt Russell in a signature performance) is fairly unlikable and, from the first time we meet him, it becomes readily apparent that he has no good will stored up toward the human race. The one thing that this helicopter pilot and loner seems to hate more than people is losing, establishing early on that he has no problem with ripping things down to their foundations in an effort to level the playing field when he pours a glass of liquor into the hard drive of a computer after it “cheats” to win in a chess match. Soon enough, he will be engaged in his own chess match with The Thing, and you can be damn sure he won’t let it win on its own terms, just like the unfortunate chess program finds out in the character’s introduction.

Stationed along with Mac, who becomes their de facto leader in the remote station, is a motley crew of individuals: Blair (Wilford Brimley), the first to detect the grave threat to the camp; Childs (Keith David, never better), one mean fucker who I would imagine pushed too many of the wrong buttons back in the real world, making this the only job he could procure, and as a result having to suffer around all these stupid-ass white folks; Palmer (David Clennon), the pot-head mechanic and chronic whiner; Clark (Richard Masur), a loner who feels more at home around animals than people; and Garry (Donald Moffat), the dependable but in-over-his-head security chief. Without the normal amount of exposition, Lancaster’s script opts for telling bits of action to let the audience in on who these people are, in turn allowing the actors to open it up a bit and bring their own sensibilities to the roles. When coupled with the lean script, the acting choices ensure that the audience has to pay attention to keep up—every mystery isn’t explained away, which some viewers seem to have a problem with. I happen to adore these traits, as they make repeat viewings a must, as there is always something new and interesting to discover, be it a turn of phrase or minor character beat. I’ve seen this movie upward of 20 times and I still have no idea “who gets to the blood” or when the monster gets to Blair or Norris, infecting them. For these reasons, The Thing becomes a film that one takes home with them, allowing the viewer to continue to play with the events of the movie in his or her head or leading to a group of friends sitting down with each other to discuss how they think events really went down.

This helps to ratchet up that aforementioned tension and paranoia, prominently displayed in the first of the film’s two signature scenes. MacReady comes up with an “identity test” designed to find out which of them has been infected. The test itself is simple enough, a blood sample is taken from each remaining member of the camp, and then a hot wire is pulled through it, burning the cells. Since it was deduced earlier that each cell of the organism is capable of acting dependently, if any of the samples truly contains the blood of “The Thing,” it will try and save itself and reveal who isn’t who they seem to be. It’s an incredibly effective scene, soaked in dread as each man waits his turn to be cleared.

If you’ve seen the film, you know the second signature scene is the last one, and it’s also the one that lifts the film into classic territory. Having dispatched the monster and set the compound on fire, MacReady sits down in the harsh storm that is currently pounding the Antarctic. Resigned to his fate, he suddenly notices Childs walking up out of the storm, seemingly the only other survivor. They sit together watching each other closely, full of mistrust and doubt, knowing that as the temperature drops, they will, without fail, freeze to death. The ending is one that has been dissected and speculated on ad nauseam, and due to the ambiguity in which it is shot, the main question on everyone’s mind will forever remain:

Is Childs a Thing?

Not in my opinion, no, he’s human. And instead of deciding to slowly freeze, MacReady and Childs could do something to save themselves or the people who will come to the research site, looking for answers as to what happened there. Only their mistrust and suspicion of one another hold them back, making a partnership impossible. It’s a nihilistic ending, one that fits the tone of the film perfectly as The Thing is chock full of characters whose Achilles heel is the fact that they can’t trust one another, which, fortunately for the alien, is exactly what it needs to not only survive but thrive in its new surroundings. In the end, the humans bring themselves down, stare destruction in the face, and lose. The real horror of Carpenter’s masterwork is not the monster, capable of mimicry so real it becomes nigh impossible to tell who’s real anymore, but in humanity’s failure to relate and trust in one another. The Thing’s screenwriter and director don’t seem to be too optimistic about our chances, but its message remains clear: as humans, we need each other to survive. A simple message we as a society still need to take to heart 30 years later, spun into a landmark creature feature by a master of the medium.

-David

Alien (1979)

Ah yes, the “favorite” film. A hallowed position in any film buff’s mind, defining one’s favorite film is difficult, and somewhat impossible. No film is perfect, it’s a simple fact. But when one rates a film on any sort of scale, we have to forgive certain flaws and take the movie as a whole into consideration, and when choosing a favorite, it becomes more complicated than that. For many, their favorite movie is one that affected them and how they view films on a deeper-than-surface level, oftentimes a film seen when you were younger and just beginning to explore film in general is when we stumble across one that really hits all the right notes for us. Though many films are among my favorites, and picking one to raise above the rest is nigh-impossible, I’ve always held Ridley Scott’s Alien in the highest regard as a film that really pushed some boundaries for me personally. I came really close to picking Ghostbusters (1984) or Nausicaä (1984), and truth be told I could probably easily jump ship to either one of those films as the favorite of favorites, but I feel that Alien speaks slightly stronger and more subtly than the other two. A hard call, to be sure, but there it is.

When I was younger, Kenner came out with a line of Aliens (1986) action figures, namely marines and various made-up xenomorphs (that’s the name of the titular alien species in the movies, for those who may not be familiar) that never existed in any of the films, but made neat action figures. Naturally, I didn’t much care for the marines, who were there in my opinion only to be devoured by aliens, who were far cooler. Having never seen any of the films at this point, I decided that I wanted to see where these awesome things came from, and watched the original Alien on VHS. Now, I was young enough to still be playing with action figures (playing, mind you, I still collect the damn things), but I suppose my parents figured I was old enough to handle Alien in all its R-rated glory.

Even though Alien is a fairly slow movie (especially the first third or so of the movie), having grown up on Star Wars (1977) I was all about spaceships and mysterious planets. The opening, with its crawling introduction of the title put off some friends of mine when I tried to show it to them several years later, but the long, exploratory shots of empty space, the exterior and interior of the ship, and the almost silent awakening of the crew from their hibernation are all an amazing way to build a quiet, calm atmosphere that is shattered later. The crew itself is fairly likeable group of people just trying to get by, and, upon waking to discover that their ship has gone on a lengthy detour to investigate a signal from a strange planet, they grudgingly follow procedure and check it out; after all, they need their paycheck. It’s worth noting that at this point in the film, I (and others, I’m sure) simply assume that the protagonist is likely the captain, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), but as it turns out the film shifts focus to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), namely because the xenomorph has a nasty habit of doing horrible things to its victims and then making them disappear, but I’ll get to that later.

A rather difficult landing places them on the planet designated “LV-426,” and after finding a bizarre ship and crawling around inside it, happen upon a large batch of eggs. At this point, Kane (John Hurt) decides to examine one of them, and summarily ends up with a spider-like facehugger attached to him. The build-up to this point is fantastic, as this slow exploration suddenly ends in a violent outburst. Despite Ripley’s protests, Kane is brought onto the ship and into the medical bay, where all attempts to remove the facehugger end in failure due to it’s acidic blood that threatens to eat through the hull of the ship. After a few hours, Kane wakes up and everyone assumes he’s fine, and they all sit down to a nice post-planetary-exploration dinner. The following scene happens.

Though I knew of facehuggers and chestbusters (their names are rather self-explanatory), I had yet to see a realistic depiction of the proceedings. Watching John Hurt writhe about as his ribs crack and a blood-splattered alien fetus works its way out is a bit removed from plastic toys (Incidentally, the actors didn’t know exactly what was going to happen in that scene, so when Veronica Cartwright freaks out, she’s really freaking out. This is also the scene that, during screenings, people were physically ill and some left the auditorium they were so shaken. That, my friends, is a horror movie.) The remaining crew set out to find the missing creature, armed with what they think is an appropriate arsenal for a creature roughly the size of a cat. They are proven terribly wrong when Brett (Harry Dean Stanton), while looking for the ship’s cat Jones, finds said creature, and can only stare in shock as it does what it was made to do.

With the threat of the ship’s eighth passenger fully realized, Dallas sets out with flamethrower in hand to try and finally put an end to the xenomorph. As he crawls through the ship’s ducts, in almost complete darkness, the crew attempts to relay it’s location to him over his headset, in what is still my favorite scene in the movie, because it scared the crap out of me the first time I saw it. I want it to scare the crap out of you, too, so here it is.

This is what makes this film so effective at its scares, is the tension prior to a sudden action. The terror of the crew is the terror of the unknown, they have no idea what they’re facing, and as H.P. Lovecraft once said, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” From this point on, the film kicks into a sort of fearful escape mode, and I’m going to avoid running you through the last chunk of the film or so and just say that this is where it picks up and doesn’t really slow down again until the last scene of the film, where it returns once more to a slow boil. Even in scenes that don’t necessarily involve the typical tropes of panicked people running for their lives, Ridley Scott manages to keep the pressure going through some creative plot devices that help the film keep its teeth through to the end.

Alien is, despite its science fiction setting, a horror movie through and through. In addition to the obvious surface horror of having a monstrous being chasing you through a ship’s corridors, it’s also hard to ignore the presence of what is often called “body horror,” that is, horror that involves something foreign taking over and somehow violating or destroying the body. David Cronenberg is especially know for this with films like The Fly (1986) and Videodrome (1983) being prime examples, and plenty of newer films by other directors use this to great effect such as Cabin Fever (2002) and Slither (2006). The idea that something is inside you that is malevolent appeals to a sort of primal fear. There are also, of course, obvious parallels to pregnancy in the violent birth of the chestburster, and there are plenty of sexual references in the design of the Alien creatures as well, which makes them all the more disturbing.

This is not surprising given the designs are from the infamous artist H.R. Giger, and if you’ve ever looked through the man’s work, it’s chock full of imagery that is sexual in nature but at the same time horrific in its unnaturalness. I would be inclined to say that a great deal of the effectiveness of the Alien franchise in general owes itself to the designs of Giger, if only because his work gave the film the “otherworldliness” that makes it work so well.

More than anything, Alien a masterful display of tension and pacing, so much so that certain scenes that revealed much about the xenomorph life-cycle were chopped for pacing, a decision that more or less works out in the series favor as they wouldn’t have meshed with James Cameron’s later, more action-oriented sequel Aliens (1986). Rather than simply leaving the film to what could be a cheesy “monster movie”, Ridley Scott pushes it above that with a carefully crafted cadence that is supported by some excellent performances from the cast, especially Ian Holm and Sigourney Weaver. If you haven’t seen it already, then you should post-haste, and if you haven’t, I recommend an always-warranted re-watch, especially if you can get your hands on the amazing Blu-Ray HD transfer, which really makes the film look better than it ever has.

Alien was one of the few films that first scared me, and really gave me a taste for horror that I still enjoy today. Though now horror films rarely give me a fright anymore, probably because I’m older and jaded now, and Alien doesn’t make me frightened of a darkened hallway like it did when I first saw it as a child, it still retains a formidable presence in my mind, and set a bar for what a horror movie could be, and what film should aspire to be; that is to say, unforgettable.

-Adam

Prometheus (2012)

I will do my best to avoid any spoilers in this post, out of respect for anyone who has not seen this film.

When I first heard about Ridley Scott possibly returning to the Alien universe for a prequel, my interest was obviously peaked. Scott had redefined the science fiction genre with the landmark horror film Alien in 1979. Scott raised the bar again three years later with the mind bending Blade Runner, adapted from Philip Dick’s “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?”. Yet after creating these two cinematic masterpieces, Mr. Scott left science fiction behind for 30 years, until now. The release of Prometheus marks the triumphant return of a master filmmaker to his old stomping grounds. Does Prometheus live up to the incredible hype driving its release? The answer to that is just as complex and muddled as the film itself.

Prometheus takes place in the year 2085, around 35 years before the first Alien film. Two scientists on Earth, Elizabeth Shaw & Charlie Holloway (Noomi Rapace & Logan Marshall-Green) have discovered ancient cave drawings all over the world from different time periods, all depicting men worshiping large beings pointing to a formation of spheres in the sky. This find got the attention of Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, who does his best Benjamin Button impersonation), founder of Weyland Industries, who is obsessed with interplanetary exploration and colonization. Just picture James Cameron in 20 years after he gets bored of raping the ocean. Weyland funds the expedition to supposed home planet of these beings, and after 2+ years of cryosleep the scientists and their team arrive at their destination.

I saw this film at a packed midnight IMAX 3D screening. The management attempted to get the crowd to cheer by doing one of those lame “Who’s excited to see this movie?” speels that only works on the Twilight/Harry Potter/Hunger Games crowds. Know the audience. Did I mention she was wearing a rainbow afro wig from Madagascar 3? Know the audience…..just get the fuck out of my face and go start the movie, clown.

Prometheus is a gorgeous film to behold, and should without a doubt be seen on the biggest screen possible, though I can do without 3D. The opening titles sequences of vast, empty natural landscapes is awe-inspiring. The entire film is beautifully shot, featuring some truly epic action sequences. It’s very sad that the script does not live up to the visuals. With the script coming from Damon Lindelof, one of the creators of the TV show Lost, I should have known that this film would be full of vague explanations that leave the audience with more questions than answers. The film is intriguing, but certain characters make decisions that are terribly flawed or seem to react minimally to horrifying events. Its appears that upon first glance that most character development was horribly chopped out of the film. Nearly all the characters seem one dimensional. An extra 20 minutes could have done wonders for the plot and side characters like Capt. Janek (Idris Elba). The most interesting and dynamic character, ironically enough, is the android David (Michael Fassbender). It’s easy to draw comparisons to other androids in the Alien saga, but Fassbender’s David is the most complex. His introduction in the film happens when the rest of the crew is in cryosleep. He’s watching his favorite movie, Lawrence Of Arabia. He even styles his hair after Peter O’Toole in that film. He quotes the movie throughout Prometheus. People may forget that David’s creator, Peter Weyland also draws inspiration from the same source which can be seen on the viral video here. We are told right from the beginning that he is an android, and yet it is easy to let David’s slick tricks fool you into forgetting that he isn’t human. Feigning admiration of humans must be in his programming as well.

Scott does a great job creating a new film that both pleases and infuriates fans of the Alien films. But he actually includes bits from all Alien films and mashes them all together. The obligatory inclusion of someone/something getting incinerated by a flamethrower. Heavy in the script is the age old argument of creationism vs Darwinism, very reminiscent of the religious undertones of Alien3. There’s even a basketball scene, which was very memorable in Resurrection. All of these create a link to the franchise in the viewer’s mind and will bring a smile to most any fan’s face, but Prometheus is wholly its own film. As in each of the other Alien films, it has its own look and it’s own sense of dread and horror. Some of the creatures in Prometheus look less like H.R. Giger creations and more like cosmic entities from the imagination of H.P. Lovecraft. I want to be clear that this is NOT a bad thing. Prometheus is probably even more enjoyable if you have never seen an Alien film, but most moviegoers have and this is where I believe most people have a huge gripe with the film. Prometheus actually seems like a rehash because of all the familiarity, so people are feeling ripped off. The hype was huge on this film, and with anything but unanimous glowing reviews you will see a slew of negativity online. Just check out any forum on Prometheus and you will run into haters everywhere. The bottom line is despite it’s flaws, Prometheus is a solid film and a worthy addition to the Alien universe, even if Sigourney Weaver is nowhere to be found.

-Wes Kelly