Posts Tagged ‘Aliens’

MOVIE: The Thing (2011)

October 29, 2011

As a huge fan of the Kurt Russell version of The Thing, I was both excited and trepidatious about seeing this “prequel.”  Obviously, having seen Russell’s version about 86 bazillion times (and counting), I knew how this film was both going to go AND going to end, and having also seen a hefty number of modern remakes of other horror classics in the last decade (I consider this a remake, by the way, even though it would rather I consider it a prequel), I knew better than to expect it to have a decent story-to-CGI ratio.  But at the same time, it was going to be about Norwegians (which: I am one), set in the snowy nowhere (which: I love movies set there), and feature a strong female lead (which: she better not fall in love with anyone).  So, as soon as I had a free afternoon, I hit the theater.

As predicted, this film is way too heavy on the special effects, and not nearly heavy enough on character development or well-written dialogue.  But honestly, that’s expecting way too much these days from a big picture, and I know it.  I did find the gory monster effects obnoxiously over the top, especially at first — will we never learn that less is more scary than more? — but I will say there was one creature toward the end that I thought was fantastically designed (for those who have seen it, I’m talking about the double-headed, crawling-upside-down dude(s)).  So, points for grody creativity, at least.

The story you know already if you’re at all familiar with the original film(s) — a team of Norwegian scientists at the South Pole come across a distress signal and dig down to discover a buried space ship and an alien frozen solid in a block of ice.  Not sure what to do about it, they get a Norwegian anthropology expert (Dr. Halvorson) to put together a team, including a young American woman (Dr. Kate Lloyd) who specializes in frozen-intact extinct beings, and come down to the station, extract the creature, and study it.

Obviously, this plan doesn’t go quite as intended, and instead of being dead inside the ice, as expected (by them, not by us), as soon as nobody’s lookin’ and the creature’s had a little time to thaw, it comes to life and begins to kill the Vikings off one by one.  If you’ve seen the Russell version of The Thing, you already know ain’t nobody surviving this — that version begins with the last two Norwegians in a helicopter chasing a dog across the snow, trying to shoot it before it gets to the American base and crashing before they can nail it.  But who makes it out (however temporarily) and how is what you await discovery of from the edge of your seat.

Overall, it’s not a bad movie.  It’s overdone and it’s predictable (not just the story, but also the personality clashes between Dr. H (brash, bossy — he’s essentially the Mayor of Amity with a PhD) and Dr. L (smarter, more cautious, luciously-lipped)), but I liked the characters in general (especially the beefy, bearded, flannel-wearing Norwegians, hubba hubba), and the film is made well in terms of visuals too.  I was definitely entertained, and at times I was even in an anxious state of mechanical popcorn-eating (a good state to be in when seeing a scary movie, though more satisfying for the brain than the belly, I must confess).

Also:  no stupid kissing scenes, no stupid running-with-big-boobs-and-no-bra scenes, no stupid naked-in-the-shower scenes, and noooooo Wilford Brimley (although, on that latter one: alas).

If you’ve been wary of seeing this because you’re a fan of either of its two predecessors (I confess I’ve never seen the original and really, really want to now), I think you should probably give it a shot.  But if you have no strong feelings about this tale one way or another, and certainly if you’ve never seen the Russell version, this is one to skip.  At least until it’s out on DVD.

[Prequeue it at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Aliens
Cast:  Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Eric Christian Olsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen, Jonathan Walker

MOVIE: Monsters (2010)

October 28, 2010

I was home sick for a couple of days last week, and by the second day, was completely bored out of my skull, as usual.  Figured that called for a splurge, so I headed over to Amazon.com to see if they had any pre-theatrical release flicks to rent (I have a Roku box, which means I can stream movies to my TV set not only from Netflix, but also from Amazon — you need one of these, trust me).

I don’t do the pre-theatrical thing too often, and never for a movie I really, really want to see (why watch it on my little TV when I can just wait and big-screen it?).  But a small-budget alien flick like this one, being favorably compared to District 9 by a bunch of film reviewers?  That sounded pretty perfect for a sick day.

As it turns out, this movie is really nothing at all like District 9, which is both good and bad.

The good:  Monsters dares to strike out and break a little new ground by being an alien movie that isn’t really about the aliens.   Sure, there are aliens in the story, but the movie mainly focuses on the two main characters, reporter Andrew Kaulder and Samantha Wynden, the daughter of his boss, who Andrew’s been ordered to find and bring home after an alien attack took out the South American hotel she’d been staying in.

The bad:  the special effects, while admirable considering the tiny budget and the fact the director did them all himself on his laptop, were, in my opinion, vastly overused.  By which I mean:  used at all. If you can’t afford really good effects, why not simply avoid using effects in the first place?  Sure, they were a key player in District 9 — unavoidable.  But here, with the focus more on the people instead of the monsters?  Just not needed, and frankly, it would’ve been a strong film — not to mention a scarier one —  had it merely threatened to show us the aliens instead of actually going ahead and doing it.  Especially since:  silly spider/octopus War of the Worlds rip-off alien beings and glowing tree fungus are. . . yawn.)

Even more unfortunate than the special effects, though, was the fact there was absolutely no chemistry between the two stars at all, which meant the human part of the story fell about as flat for me as the alien part.   After Andrew finds Sam, he spends the first day sullenly ordering her around, bitter he’s been pulled off a far more exciting assignment to babysit the boss’s daughter.  But as they struggle to find a way to get back to the U.S. together, through stress and danger, they gradually begin to fall in love.  Eventually, everything goes completely awry (lost passports, time running out, etc.) and they discover the only way they can get back to the U.S. is to walk there, right through the infected zone (where the monsters live!).

Cue many, many scenes of them traipsing through the jungle, hearing the ominous sounds of evil aliens in the trees all around them, clinging to each other for safety, sometimes alllllmost smooching.  But not quite!  Not quite!  Sexual tension here!  We got your sexual tension here!

Fine in theory, but in practice, I found Andrew completely boring.  When he talks at all, it’s in a monotonous, sleepy, whining sort of way.  And Sam?  Well,  Sam is pretty  kick-ass by comparison, and I didn’t believe for a minute she was falling in love with that snoozer.  Even when the story featured a really heavy-handed romantic moment, it just fell completely flat.  The actor playing Andrew  did absolutely nothing for me — he was primarily just getting in Sam’s way.

That said, obviously I watched the whole thing, which means I found it at least sufficiently entertaining, if heavily flawed.  And for what it is, it’s not that bad.  It’s watchable and some of the alien stuff was intriguing, if undeveloped (they have predictable migratory patterns?  that have suddenly changed this year?).

Had writer/director Gareth Edwards done a better job with casting and let go of his desire to monkey around with his Macbook, this would’ve been a much stronger film, and one that was unique enough in the genre to really stand out.

As it is, it’s not a bad time, but it’s probably not worth the ten bucks I spent on it.  Save it for a post-theatrical release DVD rental instead.  Is my suggestion.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer | Rent at Amazon.com]

Genre:  Science Fiction, Aliens
Cast:  Whitney Able, Scoot McNairy

MOVIE: Predators (2010)

July 17, 2010

Hey, guess what!  This movie doesn’t totally suck!  Will wonders never cease?  Oh, world of wonders, you amaze me so.

I’m not sure exactly what made me want to go see this film.  I’ve seen the original Predator, of course, and while I thought it was a pretty good sci-fi flick, it’s not one I’ve ever sought out again.  But something about the trailer for this one intrigued me.  I’m not sure just what it was, though.  Let me think.  What could it have been?  The special effects?  No. . .  The jungle setting?  Eh, not really. . . The. . . OH WAIT.  I KNOW.

The Adrien Brody!  Humina humina humina.  Despite his ridiculous nose (or possibly because of it — I’m still trying to figure that out), I find Brody insanely sexy, and the rest of the cast piqued my curiosity as well.  It’s a bunch of serious bad-asses (Laurence Fishburn, Danny Trejo, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov) plus. . . Topher Grace?  What the hell is Topher Grace doing in there?

Let’s find out, I said to myself this afternoon when I suddenly found myself downtown with two hours of free time and a twenty-dollar bill burning a hole in my pocket.

The plot of Predators reminded me right away of the sci-fi thriller The Cube, in that it’s about a random group of people with varying skill sets thrown into a dangerous situation and forced to work together to get out alive.  The bulk of the group here is made up of mercenaries and militaries — a soldier from Sierra Leone, one from Chechnya, a member of the Japanese mafia — but they all have different fighting skills.  And then there’s Grace, clearly the odd-man-out — a doctor, and not someone who seems particularly suited for jungle war.

As the group starts exploring the jungle, and themselves, they begin to realize what’s happened.  They’ve all been snatched and then dropped onto a distant planet to serve as entertainment for the aliens I’m just going to call the “Predators,” even though in this movie, that’s a term you could use to describe either team in the game.

As it turns out, the Predators have been capturing creatures from a variety of different worlds (though it seems to be predominantly humans) so they can hunt them for fun.  It’s The Most Dangerous Game, except that the predator this time is a Predator instead of just an advantaged member of the prey.

For the most part, I found this movie pretty successful.  It was the perfect flick for a lazy summer afternoon.  I was entertained, I laughed (not always on purpose, mind you — everything Brody says is hilariously cliché and his delivery is also sort of unintentionally comical as well.  Despite my affection for his various angles, I have to confess he’s not really much of an actor), and I had a good time watching it.  Is it a brilliant film?  Hell no.  Don’t be ridiculous.  And whatever you do, don’t get me started on the gravity issue (fine, you can have your alien planet with its breathable air and identical-to-Earth plants, but really?  You also want me to believe your alien planet has the same mass as Earth?  Stop it.).

But you know what?  Nevermind all that.  If you’re looking for a good summer popcorn flick and you like these sorts of explosiony, bloody, sci-fi monster things, you’ll have a pretty good time at this one, I think.  The aliens are cool AND the director’s first name is NIMROD, which means you get to start out with a laugh before the opening credits have even ended (sorry, Nimrod, but it can’t be helped, sir).  That’s always a plus too.

Recommended for anybody who likes dumb alien movies and/or Adrien Brody’s schnoz.

[Netflix it | View trailer]

Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Cast:  Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga, Walton Goggins, Oleg Taktarov, Laurence Fishburne, Danny Trejo

MOVIE: District 9 (2009)

August 25, 2009

When I first saw the previews for this movie a couple of months ago, I was instantly excited about it.  It feels like it’s been forever since we got a truly thoughtful and original science fiction film (not counting Star Trek, or whatever else it is you’re about to tell me I’m forgetting), and this one looked like it was going to be both those things, wrapped up in a tidy bundle with some wicked special effects sprinkled on top to boot.  Then a few weeks ago, the reviews started to roll in, most of them so madly in love with District 9 they were practically making out with the thing right there in print.  Jeebus, get a room, Schwarzbaum.

By the time the film opened in theaters two weekends ago, I could barely contain my anticipation.  I went into the theater last week all abounce with glee, waiting to be completely blown away by its originality, intelligence, poignancy, political relevance, visuals, etc. etc. etc. ad infinitum (but never nauseum).

As it turns out, this movie IS pretty intelligent, poignant, and politically relevant.  It’s also as visually stunning as the previews made me think it would be.  But it didn’t blow me away, I have to confess, and if you’ve been paying attention, you already know why.  The descriptive noun that didn’t make it into my list at the start of this paragraph?  “Originality.”  More on that in a moment, though.

The story opens with a back-story — in 1989, a spaceship appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa, and just sat there, not moving, not beeping, not flashing lights, not playing the theme from Close Encounters, nada.  After watching it do nothing for a couple of months, the South Africans got bored and decided to fly up to it, chop a hole in the side, and take a look.  Inside, they were startled to discover thousands of aliens huddled together, starving to death.  They “rescued” the alien creatures, nicknamed “Prawns” because of their crustacean appearance (and because that’s a derogatory term in South Africa), and brought them down to a slummy township referred to as District 9.

At first, township life was primarily a muddled scramble aimed at getting the Prawns healthy and situated, but as time passed (and reproduction kept building the population), District 9 rapidly began to fill up and then overflow with aliens.  Not wanting them to scatter to the far corners of the country (for their own safety, they said, with a wink and a  nudge), the South African government built a fence around District 9 and began to patrol it with the military.  But overcrowded slums lead to hunger and desperation, which almost always lead to crime.   Crime in turn leads to violence.  Violence then to fear.  And fear then to hate.  And by the time we’ve entered the present day, the Prawns are universally loathed by most of the South Africans who live around them.

As the film opens, we meet our protagonist, a bumbling government employee named Wikus (Sharlton Copley) who has been “promoted” to the job of relocating the Prawns from District 9 to a new “improved” (wink, nudge) township further away from civilization, District 10.   As part of the relocation, every Prawn must read and sign an agreement that hands over their homes, such as they are, to the government, because what are governments for if not extraneous paperwork and the addition of insult to injury?

Wikus and a film crew enter District 9 with the stack of forms, and as he progresses from infuriated Prawn to infuriated Prawn, the vapid Wikus (say it fast, it’s fun!) smiles and grins as he casually points out dissenting Prawns  being beaten or shot and then cheerfully helps engineer the destruction of an enormous stack of Prawn eggs (babies!), like they’re nothing at all.

As Wikus goes through the slum, he’s also on the lookout for Prawn technology.  The Prawns came to Earth with tons of weaponry genetically developed to work only if a Prawn is firing it, and the humans have been trying to find and re-engineer any and all Prawn technology they can get their hands on.  Discovery of a big cache of weapons or other cool stuff would be a huge boon for Wikus’s career, so when he stumbles across a mysterious object in one of the shacks, he picks it up to examine it more closely.  Gee, what is this mysterious object?  Let me put my face right up close to it and see what it. . . gah!  The object promptly sprays Wikus in the face with some kind of nasty brown fluid.  A nasty brown fluid we later learn not only can be used to power the space ship, but also has the unfortunate side effect of turning exposed humans into aliens.  Think The Fly, only grosser, believe it or not.

Unfortunately, from this point forward in the film, every single plot element progresses exactly as you’d expect it to, with almost nothing in the way of surprises.  Anybody who watches science fiction movies in which alien beings interact with humans could’ve written this script with one hand tied behind their backs, frankly (a couple I thought of while watching:  Enemy Mine, Alien Nation, the 80’s miniseries V, etc.).  I mean, of course the brown fluid makes Wikus start turning into the very creatures he so detests.  Of course he ends up having to go back to District 9, this time for help instead of for destruction.  Of course his own people turn on him when they see what he’s become.  Of course he learns a lesson about judging a biological entity by its exoskeleton.  Everything you think is going to happen, does, and that includes Wikus’s ultimate conversion from predator to prey.  The way the humans interact with the aliens is as predictably obtuse, paternalistic, and cruel as you’d expect.  The way the Prawns respond is as predictably sympathy-inducing, right down to their cute little kids and the way they dote on them, awww.  The actual plot develops exactly how you expect it to, and there are no twists you won’t see coming from a mile away.

THAT SAID, as much a disappointment as it always is when I see a movie that I thought was going to be unique and original and instead turns out to be this derivative, there were a lot of things I truly liked about this film, and it should be noted that I had a really good time watching it too.

For one thing, though the first ten minutes or so of the movie orient you immediately to the film’s  “message,” it’s not nearly as heavy-handed as I feared it might be.  The fact the story is set in South Africa, home of apartheid, is certainly no coincidence (nor is the fact it’s named District 9, which is just like District 6, historic home of the “Cape Coloureds,” but turned upside-down), but its relevance expands to include the situations of refugees and displaced persons all over the world.  Watching the government guards taunt and beat the refugees for kicks, watching them humiliate and offend with glee, seeing the desperation of the hungry, the pleading in the black market lines, etc. — this is something happening right now to people in cultures all around the world.  It even made me think of the Iraqi citizens we’ve arrested and held in prison camps indefinitely — the way we abuse them, humiliate them, treat them like they are animals, etc.

I also appreciated that Wikus didn’t immediately have a change of heart the moment he began to realize he needed the Prawns’ help in order to save himself.   In fact, it’s not really until the final moments of the movie that you begin to see a change in his personality.  That was kind of unexpected, I will confess (I was waiting for the cheesy epiphany), and I really appreciated the authenticity of that delay.

Also, the acting in this film is wonderful — this was Sharlto Copley’s first feature film role and I was completely blown away by him.  The movie is darkly comic as well, which I didn’t expect (for example, half the theater laughed out loud when we discovered the resident scam artists were Nigerians).   Though I wasn’t that impressed by the look of the aliens themselves (they’re people with shells, essentially), the other special effects in the movie were pretty good.

Overall, I enjoyed District 9, but am a bit boggled as to why all the science fiction lovers I know are so madly in love with it.  I got incredibly impatient in the final act and wish the movie had been about 20 minutes shorter than it was, with fewer shoot-outs and standard action shots.  It’s politically relevant and thought-provoking, but ultimately, that part of it was overshadowed for me by the disappointment I felt when I realized the actual progression of the story was going to be so cliché.  The film ends with a scene clearly intended to signal a sequel — but while I’ll definitely be planning to see that sequel (District 10, perhaps?), I’ll probably wait for DVD.

[Prequeue at Netflix | View trailer]

Genre:  Science Fiction
Cast:  Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike, William Allen Young