Monday 26 October 2009

Road To Halloween: Alien (1979)

"As opposed to yelling his drunken opinions of what horror films he's like people to watch, Byron asked his friends on facebook and twitter, what their favorite 3 favorite horror films were. He added up the totals and watched and blogged the one that got the most mentions."

I remember walking home pissed as a fart arguing with a friend about what genre Alien is. I sided with sci-fi, while my friend was sure that it was a horror film. I compromised and considered it a hybrid of both genres and that's how the argument stayed for ages. In re watching the film, asking my friends about their favorite horror films and doing a bit of reading (well, re-reading) on the film, I now really coincide with my friend. Yes Jamie Mitton you hobbit faced bastard I now believe is more a horror film than a sci-fi. Although Cameron's Aliens is a WHOLE different matter.

It was great to revisit the film again because it's a film that really plays with the imagination more than you think. Despite it's slow burn build up (and being a Ridley Scott film), it's still shorter than you think (Even the directors cut!)n. There's six fatalities but you see the alien less than you remember. It's a testament to Scott's direction that a film which is now 30 years old still remains so fresh and timeless with many viewers.

It's about 40 minutes in before the still refreshingly face hugger rears it's ugly, eyeless head. It's another 5-6 minutes before John Hurt's Kane has an alien entry burst out of his chest. Could you imagine any producers these days, allowing an audience to wait that long for a horrific moment? Can you believe it was the series canceling, always-meddling studio that was Fox that allowed it? No, unbelievable isn't it?

The infamous chest-buster scene remains unpredictable mostly because of the unconventional rhythm of the film. Scott's build up of character and setting is not only something that could never be done now but is one built by the characters based on HOW they say things, not WHAT they say. The first act of the screenplay is so down to earth, so commonplace that it brings about a naturalness before the unnatural creeps in. When the macabre events eventually appear, the characters react not only truthfully to their characters but to real humans. Characters don't act like idiots (even when they go looking for that cat, there is good reason considering what happened to Kane) they act and react to reason and it doesn't feel like a screenplay has told them to do it.

But it's not just the screenplay, so much of the films aesthetic is unbelievably basic but devastatingly effective. For instance despite the films layered subtexts (fear of birth, technology and the abject other) Alien is incredibly sparse. From it's minimal futuristic surroundings to it's beautiful score work by the late Jerry Goldsmith, However, Alien works best when it's elements are stripped down even more. The most memorable sequence for me is the demise of Harry Dean Stanton's Brett which takes away Goldsmith's music and leaves us with dripping water, hanging chains and nothing else, reminding us that some of the best horror is still impressive without the need of intruding tunes.

Another unnerving thing about the film is it's use of body horror. The idea of having no control over your body being internally broken down beyond your will is something incredibly primal. The pivotal scenes of Alien "impregnation " and of course the chest-buster sequence has been considered by many critics as "male rape" or an elemental fear of childbirth. H R Giger's creature designs enforce this and help push forth the imagery, it should be no surprise to anyone that his designs were altered various times for being "too blatantly sexual". Later sequels force the issue to the forefront but it's Scott's subtle vision that keeps this idea at it's creepiest.

It's odd that not much is said about the other alien that is in the film. One of Aliens last surprises s of course the fact that one of the ships crew, Ash is of course an android, whose job was to contain the creature until safe arrival home. The robot (wonderfully underplayed for the most part by Brit Ian Holm) not only bring about a fear of technology that follows throughout the series (ending with Alien Resurrection warning us about the evils of cloning). Robots aren't aliens! cries a reader. But consider not only Ash's peculiar behaviour but the fact that he shares no emotional feeling within the film. It's this consideration and the paranoid feelings that someone is not "one of us" that brings me to that conclusion. Alien does not have to mean Extra-Terrestrial.

Alien is also a film that is in love with the genres it stemmed from. Although the film lends more t towards horror (Scott wished the film to be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in space), Alien's insolent Android's riffs on the paranoid Watergate feelings laid bare by Phillip Kuffman's 1978 exceptional remake of Invasion of the body snatchers (note Veronica Cartwright roles in both films). The film also delightfully apes (and helps solidify) conventions brought about by John Carpenters Halloween (1978) a year before it. In fact Ash's explanation of his admiration of the "star beast" clearly leads itself to Dr Loomis's belief's on one Micheal Myers.

However when it all boils down to it, the alien monster for me remains more effective than Myers simply due to motive. Myers is human and will forever be questioned and have theory implemented (especially after the series sequels and remakes). Alien has always been more base than that and we do not question it's intentions because quite simply...cannot.

Leo DiCaprio + Tobey Maguire = The Third man Remake?

The awesome film website CHUD has made light of what at the moment is a dubious rumor. It seems that Leo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire could be starring in a remake of The Third Man

The news article is here.

If you think the third man is Ashley Cole or something similar then your wrong. The Third man is an excellent 1949 film by director Carol Reed. It's a superb film with a sublime turn from Orson Welles, it is also a film of it's time and difficult for me to realize as a remake.

It could be fun to see DiCaprio in a role LIKE the memorable one from Welles, however the films subject matter and execution is one that might not translate well at all for modern audiences. In a world where spoilers are given from the off (look at so many trailers for instance) could you imagine a young audience interested in a film in which the films main character is hardly in it until MUCH later in the film. It's a iconic moment but one that would be lost on a MTV viewing
audience that appears to want everything explained to them. I doubt they'd want to watch a film that deals with stolen penicillin anyway.

Tobey Maguire is an interesting choice for the Joesph Cotton role, but there's just one thing, he ain't Joesph Cotton. But then one of the issues with remakes is that the original performances stain the memory so well that when someone else tries to place themselves in the same position, they're appear more uncomfortable than ill fitting work shoes.

But with Steven Knight as proposed writer of the screenplay, then the flick might be worth a watch. But will he be able to write anything like the Cuckoo Clock speech?

Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans

Year: 2009
Director: Werner Herzog
Screenplay: William M. Finkelstein
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Val Kilmar, Brad Dourif, Eva Mendes,

Plot Synopsis is here

Its been about three days since I watched Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and while I usually write (or at least start) my reviews the day I watch the movie, I've been so busy (London Expo and drinking but mostly the expo) that I haven't been able to sit down with my laptop and spew my opinion on the net. With this said however, it allowed me to gather my thoughts a little bit and that my fellow readers is a good thing.

There's been a lot of talk about this remake on the tinterwebz, and while not all of it's been bad, it was hard to read anything good. The originals director Ferrara has been particularly vicious, being quoted that he wishes all people making remakes should die in the same streetcar. A little harsh but considering the amount of limp retreads out there, I can see why he's angry.

Fortunately in my opinion, Port of Call New Orleans is no limp retread. Despite drawing on aspects of the original film Herzog has truly made it his own. Turning the film from a gritty and grimy police thriller to a riotously funny parody of televised cop drama. The German director toys with material that we've grown extremely accustomed to. The films story is nothing that The Shield or similar series couldn't knock out in 15 minutes, however, Herzog decides to fuel the movie with such outlandish humor and hallucinogenic imagery the film becomes hypnotic. It also help that the film features the best Nic Cage performance since 2002's Adaptation. His portrayal of corrupt cop Terence is a wild, strung out one full of visual tics and OTT madness that brings about his earlier roles that made him so watchable in the first place.

But this energy extends though all the cast in the film. Val Kilmar has limited screen time but reminds us that he still a criminally underused actor. Brad Dourif makes up for H2 sins with a great turn as Terrence's bookie. Jennifer Coolidge is allowed to show her range as a drunken step-mother, while Fairuza Balk reminds us that she can make trashy feel incredibly sexy in two short scenes. One of the films casting revelations however is that of Xzibit who plays high end gangster Big Fate. While I usually find many rappers in roles a chore to sit through Xzibit shows he may have potential after the music stops. There's even a passable performance from Eva Mendes!

But this is what working with a man like Herzog does, and the film pops with a driven dynamism that many cop dramas have been missing. It stands shoulders above other drab offerings with it's colourful offbeat tone and darkly comic insight into common Herzog themes. As the weight of the case and issues begin to stack on the films lead character, the film only becomes more engaging as Herzog love for the obsessive becomes more clear and apparent. It's a shame that the films ending falters slightly with the film going on a tad too long for it's own good. However, it's circular conclusion and lack of a clear Hollywood style redemption is not only welcoming change but a neat comment on the idea on the gray area between good and bad.

Port of Call: New Orleans' break-dancing souls and singing iguanas may not impress everyone, but it's offbeat tone and subverted insight into an overworked genre could make this a cult classic for years to come.

Hear more talk about this movie at geekplanetonline