Tag Archives: Alien

30 Days of Madness, Day 13 — Xtro (1982)

by Tom Kapr

Wherein I attempt to watch one new-to-me horror film every day of October till Halloween and write a quick review. I will end my review with a letter grade like we do on our podcast (A, B, C, D, or F–pluses and minuses are for the non-committal!) and with the movie’s rank on my Flickchart.

xtro

I took several screencaps. I decided this one was the least likely to give anyone nightmares.

Directed, co-written, and scored by Harry Bromley Davenport, who has maybe the most British name of any horror director.

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

I remember reading about this film when I was a teenager, in an encyclopedia of movie monsters, if I remember right. I was both intrigued and horrified, and so has this film remained in my mind, a film I’ve long wanted to see yet felt hesitant about seeing. All of a sudden it was not only in the discussion for my horror viewing this month, but free for the viewing on YouTube.

Davenport must have fancied himself something of a John Carpenter. And if so, he’s done Carpenter proud as far as this film’s atmosphere and visual effects go. The effects are astounding–gruesome and bizarre as imagination will allow, but astounding. Scenes are blocked and edited extremely well, and I have to give credit to Davenport, cinematographer John Metcalfe, and editor Nicolas Gaster. They’ve crafted a hell of an alien horror flick.

Unfortunately Davenport’s Carpenter-esque synth-laden musical score is one of the worst I think that I’ve ever heard (the opening riffs sound like something from a Super Mario Bros. game but less nuanced), and the acting is often sub-par. The effects are right up there with Ridley Scott’s Alien of 1979 and Carpenter’s The Thing, released just months prior in 1982, but the story isn’t. In fact, I’m still not sure what the story is. A man disappears into a strange light and reappears three years later (and by reappears, I mean, crashes to earth, kills some people, impregnates a woman with a sort of ovipositor, and is then moments later born from that same woman as a full grown man–and yes, it is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever seen in a horror flick).

The man finds his wife and son, who take him into their house against the better judgment of the boy’s surrogate father, who is a tool, of course, despite the fact that his misgivings are more than well-founded. Son catches dad eating his pet snake’s eggs and runs away. Dad chases him and injects something into him with his mouth. And that’s when things start to get weird.

About 45 minutes into this, which was already one of the stranger movies I’d seen, things took a really bizarre turn and just kept getting weirder. But this is where my spoilers end.

It can be fascinating to trace a film’s lineage, so to speak. Xtro was so clearly inspired by Alien, yet if you look at the design of that creature in the screencap above, you can see almost a prototype of Ripley’s “baby” from 1997′s Alien: Resurrection. I would not be surprised if Jean-Pierre Jeunet was inspired by Xtro when crafting the third sequel to the movie that inspired Xtro.  And so we are all connected in the great circle of cinema.

Final grade: C

My Flickchart ranking: #1894 (out of 3259, a relative 42/100)

Our Favorite Films of 2012 — Prometheus

By Steve Hawco

 

 

I’m not going to bother making the case for Prometheus as the best film of the year, but it sure was my favorite. Ridley Scott’s officially unofficial prequel to his masterful Alien, Prometheus lacks the Hollywood glamour of Les Misérables and the real-world poignancy of Zero Dark Thirty, but it makes up for it with genuine chills and the best production design seen this year.

Scott works from a relatively anemic script by Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) and Jon Spaihts (The Darkest Hour), telling a sci-fi tale of archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, Devil). Exploring caves in 2089 Scotland, the ambitious couple discover evidence of extraterrestrial visitation to Earth. The star maps scratched onto the walls lead Shaw and Holloway and their team to a distant moon, dubbed LV-223, aboard a Weyland Corporation vessel, the Prometheus.

The explorers find structures on LV-223 that are clearly the result of intelligent design, and Shaw aggressively pursues her search for the origin of life on Earth, despite the dangers posed by the harsh environment and a mysterious organism. From here, the script leaves a lot to be desired, as our intelligent protagonists make idiotic, damning decisions and most of our questions are left unanswered. The biggest criticism leveled against Prometheus, understandably, has been the script, and the sins of Lindelof on one of the most ravenously devoured TV shows of all time haunt a movie that he didn’t even begin the writing for in the first place.

Hiring Lindelof may have been a glaring mistake, but thankfully it was Scott’s only one. The movie is a stunning example of art direction and special effects (a large percentage of which are practical effects rather than computer-generated), and the 3D cinematography by Dariusz Wolski (Pirates of the Caribbean) shows off the slick costumes and props throughout. The set pieces are amazing, featuring a race by two of the characters across alien terrain while a huge spaceship crashes into the dirt at their heels, and an unholy birthing scene that makes a case for “scene of the year.”

 

 

Prometheus looked stunning in 3D, with amazing depth throughout, the highlight being the whole-room smartphone apps of the future which makes three-dimensional holograms all around the characters. I am happy to report that the 3D Blu-ray looks almost as good as the RealD theater presentation.

Top it off with a wonderful performance by the red-hot Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class) as the android David, and you have one great movie in the sci-fi/horror genre. Just don’t ask for a satisfying conclusion to any question apart from, “How high will the body count get?”

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

The Old Toy Chest — Captain EO

By Tom Kapr

The Old Toy Chest: In this series, I review movies I loved when I was a kid but have not watched since childhood–sort of like digging out my old toys that I haven’t played with in a while. (Unburying them, so to speak, in keeping with prevailing themes on this site.) These movies are generally from the 80s and early 90s (the era of my childhood), and they generally are films with which current audiences (i.e., current kids) are not familiar. I will be critiquing them through both the nostalgic eyes of the child within and the lens of the mature *snicker* film critic into which I’ve grown. I hope many of you will remember these films with fondness from your own childhoods.

Having been born in the early 1980s, I simply can’t remember a time when Michael Jackson’s presence wasn’t everywhere (except for these past two years, of course). I wasn’t a fan; in fact, I wasn’t even allowed to listen to his music when I was a kid. My mother found him disgusting, what with all the crotch-grabbing and whatnot, but since we had a TV in the house (yep, just one), being influenced by the man and his music was inescapable even for a sheltered kid like me.

As an adult, I’ve developed an appreciation for Jackson’s work. I’m still not what you’d call a fan, but I love certain songs of his, like “Billie Jean,” “Rock with You,” and “Smooth Criminal.” I have Thriller in my library, and I appreciate that Jackson pioneered the long-form music video with the title track of that album. But to this day, I’ve always kind of thought of him as Captain EO.

That's not a special effect on Michael's shoulder. That's the idea fairy that would whisper into his ear and drive him to do things.

Captain EO was probably the only Michael Jackson product I was allowed by my parents (begrudgingly, I’m sure) to embrace as a child; after all, it was the cool new thing at Disney World’s EPCOT Center, and we were on vacation. Various Disney parks were the only places you could see the 17-minute short film — in the first example of “4D” (innovated by the film’s writer/producer Rusty Lemorande), in which the film is shot and exhibited in 3D and supplemented with in-theater effects to amplify the experience. Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas, with a score by James Horner and two new songs by Jackson, and featuring Anjelica Huston as the villainous Supreme Leader (though it’s never explained why the “leader” of the good guys is the villain), the film has a lot of pedigree.

I recently re-watched Captain EO, having seen it before only once in the 80′s. And I have to say… pedigree ain’t everything.

The film opens on a shot of a meteor spinning slowly through outer space toward the camera… IN 3D!!! Suddenly a laser blast reduces it to astro-dust and a quaint-looking spaceship flies into view. Once inside the ship, we find that it’s populated by various Muppet rejects. (This would have been a perfect venue for Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. However, the Jim Henson Company had nothing to do with the production. Captain EO was released as a Disney parks attraction in 1986; the Walt Disney Company did not acquire the Muppets until 1989. Two years later, they unveiled Muppet*Vision 3D at Disney-MGM Studios, which itself was only two years old. It was another example of the Disney Imagineers’ pioneering “4D” technology, and is overall a much better film experience than our current subject.)

These pseudo-Muppets make a lot of noise until they are silenced by the entrance of our hero — Captain EO himself. How this captain came to have such a strange crew of small aliens and robots is anyone’s guess. Captain EO immediate commands the room with his boyish, almost whining, “Listen!”

Clearly inspired by H.R. Giger's Alien design. Later inspired the design of the Borg Queen. And so we are all connected in the great circle of sci-fi.

Michael Jackson really looks like he’s trying hard to act, like he’s aware every second that he’s in a movie. Actually, it’s more like he looks like he’s constantly thinking, “Woohoo, I’m in a cool science fiction movie! The Star Wars guy is sitting right over there! Eee-heee!” then does a twirl, and throws his jacket off his shoulders and then flips it back on again — only, you know, in his head. In the meantime, he’s squeakily commanding his crew. The arrival of enemy craft trying to shoot them down only makes his voice squeakier. Michael Jackson’s squeak-singing always annoyed me, though he was a great singer underneath it all. His line-readings, however…

Commander Bog shows up on some sort of holographic intercom, and the actor playing him, Dick Shawn (himself known more as a singer), manages to ham it up with just his face more than Pauly Shore ever could with his entire body. Bog commands the crew to complete their mission: to locate some homing beacon, find the Supreme Leader (again, why they need to find their own leader is never explained), and give her some mysterious “gift.”

There’s some blatant Star Wars rip-off scenes (Lucas is one of the few who can rip off his own movies) as EO’s ship somehow manages to out-fly all the enemy ships and literally land on the homing beacon. To make a 17-minute story short, the crew is kidnapped by a bunch of stormtroopers in a junkyard and taken to the Supreme Leader, who lives in a dark industrial complex of some sort and turns out to be a spider-like woman who drops out of the ceiling like one of the Alien aliens and sentences EO to 100 years of torture and his crew to death.

EO finally unveils his “gift” — and it turns out his “gift” is an on-the-spot music video for “We Are Here to Change the World.” Michael Jackson’s — uh, I mean, Captain EO’s — sheer awesomeness is enough to turn the Supreme Leader’s troops into groovy background dancers. After some poorly choreographed tussles with some tougher bad guys, EO goes back to dancing and finally uses the power of song to turn the Supreme Leader into Anjelica Huston. The ugly industrial setting melts into a bland paradise not unlike the Mount Olympus of the old Clash of the Titans.

Michael's "gift" to the Supreme Leader -- and, as we are meant to believe, to the world.

And EO and his crew dance off into the sunset.

I imagine a lot of this was more impressive on a big screen with 3D glasses on and special effects literally moving through the theater, but just as a film, it’s really cheesy. It’s a glorified music video, and not one of Jackson’s better, which is a pity considering it’s directed by the man who gave us The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. And it has some of the trippiest imagery this side of a David Lynch film.

My recollection of seeing Captain EO as a little boy is a mix of wonder and embarrassment — leaning much more heavily toward the embarrassment, mostly as a result of all the lascivious dancing and my mother sitting right there disapproving. Plus, I have a vague memory of being a little uneasy over the appearance and tone of the Supreme Leader. I remember the whole thing being very dark in tone, but of course at the time I liked the annoying little not-Muppets. What can I say, I was a kid in the 80s — I thought neon-colored baggy pants and slap bracelets were awesome.

Captain EO may not be a good film, but it does deserve to be remembered as a unique pop culture artifact. It’s definitely representative of its time and place, for better or worse. And though it is not currently available in any official capacity for home viewing, you can watch it in its entirety (albeit in boring old 2D) here.

Still hard to believe these three ever sat in a room together.

(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #2: “I can’t lie to you about your chances, but… you have my sympathies.”

By Tom Kapr

You’re investigating a shipwreck. You find a strange egg. As you’re examining the egg, it begins to hatch. Suddenly, a crablike creature jumps out and latches itself to your face. It sticks an ovipositor down your throat.

You’re in a coma. You wake up. The creature that had attached to your face has fallen off. It appears dead. Aside from a sore throat, you feel remarkably fine.

Until dinner, when you start to feel a strange feeling in your chest. It begins to hurt. It hurts a lot. The pain is unbearable. You feel like your being stabbed from the inside. Finally, your ribcage bursts and the young creature that has been lain inside you for gestation erupts.

You’re the first victim. The rest will meet their deaths at the jaws, claws, and deadly acidic blood of the full-grown beast.

It is no wonder that H.R. Giger’s xenomorph from Alien is the single most terrifying extraterrestrial being ever put on film. Nor is it a wonder that screenwriter Dan O’Bannen and director Ridley Scott’s 1979 outer-space horror flick is the single greatest haunted house movie ever, and is consistently at the top of the list when discussing alien horror.

One would be remiss not to include in the same discussion James Cameron’s action-packed 1986 sequel Aliens, which pitted sole human survivor of the first film Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and a platoon of Marines against an entire colony of the vicious xenomorphic parasites (meaning they take on certain morphological characteristics of the living creatures in which they are impregnated). It also introduced the aliens’ mommy, in one of the most effective third-act reveals ever. And of course, it ends with the iconic mano a mano battle between one very pissed-off Ripley and one very pissed-off alien queen.

Later incarnations of the Alien xenomorphs are equally terrifying, though the films they inhabit are less iconic and of lesser quality (though writer Joss Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is underrated, for its style, its story, and the direction in which it takes the concept of the xenomorphs).

So what is the #1 scariest movie alien of all time?….

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #6: “She says the jungle… it came alive and took him.”

By Tom Kapr

A long time ago, in a federated state far, far away, I began a countdown of the ten scariest movie aliens ever. Then my world turned a little bit sideways, and two months and two thousand miles later, I landed in Colorado. Now life has calmed some, so it’s time to turn back to the wonderful horrors of the silver screen with a film that caused one of the most heated debates ever on the Buried Cinema podcast. And though it still loses my Flickchart vote to Shaun of the Dead, here is number six on the countdown…. (You can read the list from the beginning here.)

Predator is a paradox. Written by brothers Jim and John Thomas (who went on to write a handful of other, poor-to-middling thrillers) and directed by John “Die Hard” McTiernan, Predator is one of those big, dumb, loud, vulgar, testosterone-fueled action flicks for which the late 80s are known. Machismo runs rampant and cheesy dialogue seeps from every seam, not least of which is that immortal line uttered by Jesse “The Body” Ventura, “I ain’t got time to bleed.” However, what makes Predator such a paradox is that it is also one of the coolest and most brilliant science fiction films ever. And it gave us one of cinema’s all-time great antagonists: the Predator himself (played by the seven-foot-two Kevin Peter Hall).

Other Predator aliens have gone on to battle everyone in film from Danny Glover to Adrien Brody to the xenomorphs from the Alien films–even Batman. But when it all began, it was one terrifying, unseen presence lurking in the Central American jungle, picking off platoon commandos one by one as easy as if it were swatting butterflies. As the line from the movie suggests, it was as if the jungle itself had become a sentient, hostile force. Eventually it came to one of the great climactic showdowns in cinema: Predator vs. Schwarzenegger. And when Schwarzenegger finally got the upper hand and saw the Predator up-close, personal, uncloaked, and unmasked, it turned out to be one of the most fearsome alien beings ever conceived–and one of the ugliest (though I’m sure he was very handsome to the ladies back on his home planet).

It’s true what they say, that a picture is worth a thousand words:

[Editor's note: I forgot to mention Stan Winston, who is responsible for the awesome design of the Predators and the special effects in the first two films, as well as many other memorable creatures in some of the greatest science fiction films ever made. Stan Winston, the world of the movies will never be the same without you.]

Next on the countdown: “Across the gulf of space, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic regarded our planet with envious eyes and slowly, and surely, drew their plans against us….”

Scary Movie Alien Countdown #8: “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

By Tom Kapr

This month I’m looking at the best and worst that alien sci-fi cinema has to offer, beginning with my countdown of ten great scary movie aliens.

#8. “I am the beginning. The end. The one who is many….”

… I am the Borg.”

A weirdly handsome couple: Brent Spiner as Data & Alice Krige as the Borg Queen

It may seem strange to have a Star Trek film on this list, but the Borg are possibly the scariest intelligent force the crew of the USS Enterprise ever had to deal with. Not because they will kill you. There are thousands of things that can kill you. The Borg, though, hold no ill will. They are not malicious. They are here to assimilate you and your entire culture, to remove anything that made you or it unique or beautiful and to retain for themselves only your cold unfeeling technology. They are here to fuse you with that technology, to pull your flesh apart and fit you with circuits and steel. They are here to take away your humanity. And resistance is futile.

Star Trek: First Contact–the eighth Star Trek film (second to feature Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard and rest of the Next Generation crew) and widely regarded as one of the best, even by some as second perhaps only to the iconic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan–is one of the most intellectually fascinating entries in the franchise yet still one of the most accessible to non-fans. Part of the reason for that (besides generally better writing and directing–props to regulars Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, and director/star Jonathan Frakes) may be because it is deals with that classic sci-fi/horror theme of having our identity and humanity stripped away from us by beings who see themselves as superior because of their lack of feeling, their lack of humanity, their lack of pain or sorrow or anger, but who also lack joy and passion and love. (See Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Matrix, even A Clockwork Orange, or any number of classic stories.) First Contact is even structured like a horror film.

Shouldn't have picked at it. (Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard)

This is not the first appearance by the Borg in the Star Trek universe. They had appeared several times on Star Trek: The Next Generation, perhaps most memorably in the third season cliffhanger finale ”The Best of Both Worlds” and the fifth season classic “I, Borg.” But, much like the way in which the film Aliens builds upon its predecessor, First Contact introduces the Borg Queen. Also similar to Aliens, this queen has a definite, intelligent, unique identity as opposed to her hundreds of drones. But unlike Aliens, this Borg Queen is less an instinct-driven monster and more a calculatingly logical and powerfully sensual humanoid, played wonderfully by Alice Krige. The viewer is drawn to her and repelled by her at the same time. Her individuality, her sensuality, and her relationship with the android and Next Generation regular Data (Brent Spiner) add a fascinating new layer to the Borg mythology that gives new meaning to the phrase “resistance is futile.”

(Special mention of the Oscar-nominated makeup team for their insanely good job on this film and on the Borg Queen in particular. Can you believe they lost to The Nutty Professor? That Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences sure loves a fat-suit.)

Next on the countdown: “There will be no bargain…. I shall enjoy watching you die.”

30 Days of Madness, Day 20: Planet of the Vampires

Planet of the Vampires (1965) Directed by Mario Bava.

Planet of the Vampires is my second Mario Bava film this month, and just as Black Sabbath had nothing to do with the Sabbath, or particularly with the color black either, Planet of the Vampires has nothing to do with vampires. (It does, however, take place on a planet, so at least this time half the title is germane to the plot.) It’s closer to the definition of a zombie film, a pre-Romero zombie film (my second this month after White Zombie), in which the zombies are not mindlessly autonomous undead cannibals but undead bodies controlled by an external force. The twist on the zombie formula here is that there is an alien force involved.

Here are some of my notes on Planet of the Vampires:

–Hey, they’re wearing X-Men suits!

–The usual Italian-director habit of hiring non-English-speaking actors to mouth English dialogue then looping English actors’ voices in later, thus causing the dialogue to be mismatched to mouth movements. (This is true even of great films like the spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone.)

–The usual 60s-era sci-fi ridiculousness: the meaningless technobabble, the ostentatious brightly-colored props, the goofy sound effects, the women wearing lots of makeup and bouffants that can’t possibly allow them to wear their helmets.

–I’d swear that they’re making up this technobabble as they go.

–The planet’s gravity is irresistibly pulling the ship toward it, and this is causing everyone to be pulled irresistibly toward the floor of the ship?

"I feel like a villain in an opera wearing this ridiculous outfit."

–Typical 1960s-era Star Trek-level acting.

–Holy crap, could this scene be moving an slower?

–They can’t even turn their heads in those uniforms–one of many examples of the usual 60s-era (and especially Italian) habit of style over practicality.

–They don’t have spacesuits–they just put on helmets if they need to leave the ship on some strange planet.

–Again, typical for 60s-era sci-fi, the planet looks like a soundstage and the weapons look like plastic toys.

–Seriously, how did she get that hair in that helmet?

–When they’re not technobabbling, the script is actually pretty good.

–Nope, spoke too soon on the script. They’re looking for their disappeared shipmate, and the captain’s orders are “If anything moves, shoot first, ask questions later”? WTF?

–Well, that’s what happens when you leave a woman on guard duty. First sign of danger, they go to pieces.

–The ladies take off their helmets and their typical 60s hairdos are suddenly back to their perfect, ridiculously huge shapes.

–All this silliness aside, I can definitely see how this film could have influenced later sci-fi like Alien and such.

–Where are they getting these huge metal grave markers from? Do they keep a supply on the ship? If so, why would they do that?

–I have to admit at this point that the plot is intriguing, even if there’s a lot of silliness along the way.

Our zombies come plastic-wrapped for freshness.

–These giant alien corpses don’t match up with the size of their derelict spacecraft in which they were found. There is no way they’d be able to properly fit through the doors or sit at the tables.

–Women get hysterical so easily–why even bother to bring them along on these potentially dangerous expeditions? (All I can say is, thank God for Ellen Ripley or we might still have nothing but useless female characters in fantasy cinema.)

–Nobody trusts these two that were thought to be dead but suddenly showed up–yet nobody is set to guard them? Captain really is failing at this point.

–Why oh why do these monumentally influential sci-fi films of the 50s and 60s have to be so monumentally stupid so much of the time? They are almost always a mixed bag of really cool stuff and really, really stupid stuff. This one is a prime example.

–The End. That was a very frustrating film because of how much potential it had to be great if only it exhibited more intelligent characters, and more intelligence in the script and the way things happen. It really does have an interesting and unique plot, and I’d say it’s worth watching, even a must-see for sci-fi cinema enthusiasts, but gosh, there is just so much ludicrous stuff happening along the way.

My Netflix rating: 3 stars (out of 5) — due to its originality and the way it influenced science fiction cinema, otherwise I’d have given it 2.

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 17: Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) Screenplay by W.D. Richter. Directed by Philip Kaufman. Starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright, Leonard Nimoy.

Kevin McCarthy looking a wee bit crazed.

Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers, which started as a serial in Collier’s Weekly in 1954, has been adapted to film four times: first in 1956 with Invasion of the Body Snatchers; second, in this 1978 version by screenwriter W.D. Richter and director Philip Kaufman; third, in director Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers in 1993; and most recently, in The Invasion starring Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig.

I have not seen the 1993 or 2007 adaptations, but the classic 1956 film is an all-time favorite. Written by Daniel Mainwaring, who also wrote the 1947 film noir classic Out of the Past, and directed by Don Siegel, who also directed Clint Eastwood’s iconic crime thriller Dirty Harry and John Wayne’s 1976 swan song The Shootist, Invasion of the Body Snatchers starred Dana Wynter and the recently departed Kevin McCarthy. It was a brilliant exercise in McCarthy-era paranoia (Joseph, not Kevin).

So, that happened....

The 1978 version is just as brilliant a horror film but with a less optimistic outlook on the future of the human race, replacing McCarthy-era paranoia with post-Watergate paranoia and adding a healthy dose of public health-focused parallelism. While I still prefer the 1956 version, the two are very close in quality. The 1978 version has the bonus of some absolutely astounding practical visual effects that still hold up against anything released today. Props must also be given to Michael Chapman’s cinematography, and to Denny Zeitlin for this, his one and only film score.

Poor, poor Veronica Cartwright.

The cast is great as well. I become more of a fan of Donald Sutherland with each film I watch. I love Veronica Cartwright, who, between this and the chest-bursting scene from Alien, must have become paranoid of horror directors for the methods with which they elicited reactions from her–by not telling her ahead of time about the insanely horrific things that would happen in her scenes. (Cartwright also has a cameo in the 2007 version.) This is my second film this month for both Brooke Adams (Sometimes They Come Back) and the always-wonderful Jeff “Brundlefly” Goldblum. Having Leonard “Not Spock” Nimoy in the cast is a bonus. And for added fun, Don Siegel, Kevin McCarthy, and, randomly, Robert Duvall, all appear in cameos.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers contains some of the creepiest images ever created, and possibly the single most terrifying final scene in movie history. Watch it if you dare. But don’t fall asleep….

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

30 Days of Madness, Day 7: Pandorum

Pandorum (2009) Written by Travis Milloy. Directed by Christian Alvart. Starring Dennis Quaid, Ben Foster, and an international cast. (Also, this is, by far, the best thing producer Paul W.S. Anderson has ever had his name attached to.)

Dennis Quaid & Cam Gigandet sharing a tender momet.

The plot begins like this: Ben Foster’s character wakes up from hypersleep. Something is not quite right with the ship. And that’s all I’m saying. The less you know about this film before viewing it, the better. I, for one, am happy I knew very little about the plot besides the snippets I remembered from the trailers when it first came out. I was pleasantly surprised many times along the way.

Nadia (Antje Traue) is my kind of woman.


How is it possible this movie was panned by critics? According to RottenTomatoes.com, it’s because of a “bloated, derivative plot.” Derivative? Yes, it reminded me of many other movies along the way–among them Alien (the most obvious one), Pitch Black, The Descent, and, almost all the way throughout, Joss Whedon’s Firefly–but the pieces were so well put together that I didn’t care. And bloated? I was totally engaged in this film from its mysterious beginning to its thrilling finale. I can’t think of a single scene that didn’t fit.

This is why you shouldn't pick at it.

There is one major plot point that I’m not sure holds up under scrutiny, which I will refrain from going into because I’m avoiding spoilers. I also have other questions, but my questions only make me want to watch it again, in the way any good thriller makes you want to watch it a second time–to understand the things you didn’t quite grasp the first time.

Cung Le, Ben Foster, and... seriously, how can a woman look that good covered in blood and grime?

This movie has beautiful art direction; great makeup and visuals that strike a perfect balance between digital and practical effects; a restrained sense of direction and pacing lacking in most sci-fi thrillers; and a decent cast of international actors ably led by a veteran (Quaid) and one of my favorite up-and-comers of the last few years (Foster).

If you like good sci-fi, see this movie.

If this doesn't convince you to see the movie, I don't know what will.

My Netflix rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

–Tom Kapr

James Cameron, Part I: An Overview of the Career of a Visual Effects Auteur

By Nathanael Griffis

With the re-release of Avatar into theaters this past summer, to the simultaneous groans and cheers of fans and critics alike, I found myself thinking about James Cameron. Perhaps he forces me to think about him by loftily describing his personal achievements as world-shaking. The hubris of the artist, though, is not enough to retract my fascination. To some this might feel too late, Avatar was last Christmas, but I believe distance from the film will lend itself to more honest criticism. And so, I want to take a look Cameron’s influence on visual effects throughout his earlier work and implications of such on the resurgence of 3D technology in film.

James Cameron is not exactly a prolific filmmaker–although not as slow as, say, Terrence Malick. Still, Cameron’s films wield such influence that it is worth one’s time to look at each. It all started with The Terminator, about as good a debut as one can have. Utilizing Harryhausen-esque stop-motion, makeup courtesy of Stan Winston, and a perfect combination of models and stuntwork to create the final robot, Cameron delivered chilling action scenes. (Luckily for him, a robot jostling forward in stop-motion looks natural.)

With Aliens, which some content is an improvement over Ridley Scott’s original Alien, Cameron showed a mastery of physical effects. He did simple things, like turning the camera upside-down to make the aliens appear to climb across the ceiling. Actual weather was used on massive, detailed models. Add all that to the magnum opus of expert puppeteer work and foreground miniatures in the final battle with the alien queen. These amazing special effects are perfectly combined with beam- and film-splitting and rear projection.

Cameron’s early work demonstrated a penchant for action choreography that arguably will never be matched, especially in Terminator 2. But before we reach that monumental film, let us not forget The Abyss. Cameron showed us the wonder of the world around us and the mysteries it could hold in this tense underwater thriller. The film developed new facial recognition techniques for the pseudopod sequence that revolutionized CGI (computer graphics imaging) and paved the way for future effects auteurs, especially Peter Jackson and his Gollum. The film also showed that Cameron hadn’t yet abandoned practical effects. He built an entire underwater set in an unused nuclear reactor and accomplished underwater shots that have never been re-attempted in over 20 years.

Terminator 2 was next and and provided a visual feast for the eyes both in terms of physical stuntwork and CGI effects. The film’s numerous chase and fight scenes flawlessly blended Arnold Schwarzenegger’s performance with a CGI liquid terminator, countless explosions (actually, you could probably count them), and excellent makeup from Stan Winston. The film still stands as one of the best uses of CGI and doesn’t merely rival modern techniques but in many cases shames them.

Titanic is a similar example of physical and CGI effects perfectly combined. The sinking cruise ship is amazing to watch, as CGI people tumble off and plummet into the sea below. It is equally engaging as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet race through the sinking ship with hundreds of gallons of water bursting through elevators and unsealed shafts.

On the whole, Cameron has most assuredly changed the landscape of film and visual effects. He’s shown a talent for taking action-thrillers and elevating them to a finer level of art through a meticulous concern for the visual. His films have not been overtly resonant thematically, with the exception of Titanic, but they resonate on some other level inside us. It’s good entertainment; it’s intrinsic quality; it’s viewing an exciting, beautiful image; it’s a dedication to accomplishing the impossible. In these, Cameron is a master.

The question remains, though: Does Avatar improve or impair an already amazing filmography?

–Nathanael Griffis