Category Archives: Thriller

Fall 2017 Movie Preview: Horror/Thriller

You’ve most likely already seen the decorations, costumes and candy littering the shelves of stores. While we are still weeks away from October, much less the end of October, Halloween is already right in our faces. Why? Because the overhead for these items is low and the profit margins are high. Not to mention that consumers buy it up by the truck load. The opportunity to pretend to be a celebrity, superhero, or ghoul is just too good to pass up and the lure of free candy keeps kids of all ages excited about the holiday.

In the same way, Horror films are usually pretty inexpensive and quick to make and there is always a desire for them. Whether you are an adrenaline junkie out with your friends to see who flinches last at all of the jump scares and blood-curdling screams or if you are a teenager looking for a dark room and a place to sneak your arm around that special someone as they hide themselves from the perceived danger.

I’m not a huge Horror fan, but I do appreciate the art of a good scare and the psychology that goes into it. When we find those films that defy the traditional plot devices and tropes to keep the audience riveted then I am fully on board. So what delicious horrors are in store in our coming attractions? We actually have a Friday the 13th during October this year so expect that to be the epicenter for horror flicks this fall.

September

IT – 9/8

When young children in the little town Derry of Maine starts to begin to be found dead a group of seven kids find out that the killer is not a man. The killer is the evil clown Pennywise who is actually a creature that can shapeshift into the thing you are most afraid of. The kids also known as the Losers Club decide to fight and kill It. But how can you fight something who knows all your biggest fears?

I hear that it is good to face your fears head on. That’s great. I have been stuck with this irrational fear of clowns ever since I read Stephen King’s IT back when I was 10-11 years old. At some point, I dug up a copy of the 1990 TV miniseries and I’ve never looked at Tim Curry the same way again. This one looks like it is going to be much more true to the source material and people that I trust have said that it is terrifying in all the right ways. So, lets band together my Loser’s Club and we’ll get rid of our coulrophobia once and for all.

Mother! – 9/15

A couple’s relationship is tested when uninvited guests arrive at their home, disrupting their tranquil existence.

Man it’s fun to just say the name of this film with that exclamation point, but we haven’t been given much to go on with this one and I for one am totally fine with that. The trailer is frenetic and creepy and with a cast featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, and Michelle Pfeiffer I have no doubt that the performances will be superb. Jennifer Lawrence said that she hyperventilated and dislocated a rib during filming so it’s going to be a wild ride. If you weren’t aware, this is coming from Darren Aronofsky, the same guy that gave us Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream. He is an amazing director and I’m ready to see what this is all about.

Flatliners – 9/29

Five medical students, obsessed by the mystery of what lies beyond the confines of life, embark on a daring and dangerous experiment: by stopping their hearts for short periods of time, each triggers a near-death experience – giving them a firsthand account of the afterlife. But as their experiments become increasingly dangerous, they are each haunted by the sins of their pasts, brought on by the paranormal consequences of trespassing to the other side.

I know what you’re thinking, “Another remake of a 90’s Horror property?” Yep, but don’t count this one out yet. That first movie with Kevin Bacon, Keifer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Oliver Platt, and Billy Baldwin is surprisingly good and I think this one has a chance as well. Ellen Page leads this cast with Diego Luna and Nina Dobrev, even Keifer Sutherland comes back for the fun. Hopefully the nostalgia gets people into the theaters and the story will take them the rest of the way. If it doesn’t, then maybe there are just some lines we’re not meant to cross.

October

Happy Death Day – 10/13

A college student (Jessica Rothe) relives the day of her murder with both its unexceptional details and terrifying end until she discovers her killer’s identity.

Imagine Groundhog Day with every day ending in your murder. It’s an interesting twist on this familiar plot device. It will be interesting to see it utilized for terrifying effects. There is no big name attached so it could either be a surprising hit or a big flop. I hope it’s good. The trailer looks solid.

The Snowman – 10/20

When an elite crime squad’s lead detective (Michael Fassbender) investigates the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter, he fears an elusive serial killer may be active again. With the help of a brilliant recruit (Rebecca Ferguson), the cop must connect decades-old cold cases to the brutal new one if he hopes to outwit this unthinkable evil before the next snowfall.

Based on the international best selling novel of the same name from Norwegian author Jo Nesbo, Michael Fassbender plays Harry Hole (what a horrible name for a character). I don’t know if they have struck the right tone in the trailer. It almost looks like a dark comedy with the childish drawings of snowmen. It has to be better than the only other snowman based horror film I can think of: Jack Frost. It’s rare to see the Fassbender in anything awful (except Assassin’s Creed).

November

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – 11/3

Steven, a charismatic surgeon, is forced to make an unthinkable sacrifice after his life starts to fall apart, when the behavior of a teenage boy he has taken under his wing turns sinister.

Yorgos Lanthimos is an enigmatic director who doesn’t like clean common sense plots. You might have heard of a couple of his previous films, Dogtooth and The Lobster. They are both very dark, very strange and full of a twisted masochistic humor. Lanthimos reunites with Colin Farrell who starred in The Lobster and adds Nicole Kidman and Alicia Silverstone as well as a crop of young actors with few roles under their belts. It appears to be his most accessible film to date. That doesn’t mean that he is adopting a standard narrative style. That’s not what this Greek director does. This will be a crippling psychological thriller that will not give us any clear answers and will stick with us for days.

December

Polaroid – 12/1

High school loner Bird Fitcher has no idea what dark secrets are tied to the mysterious Polaroid vintage camera she stumbles upon, but it doesn’t take long to discover that those who have their picture taken meet a tragic end.

This doesn’t look very impressive to me, but it is the only horror movie coming in the traditionally quiet month of December. It looks like a knock off of the Ring and Final Destination films.  With no a list star to get people into the theater and such competition from other films this one probably won’t do anything, but even if it only makes 20 million it will still be profitable and we might even see a sequel in coming years. That is the way horror franchises get started.

Others to Watch:

Friend Request coming on September 22nd. When a college student unfriends a mysterious girl online, she finds herself fighting a demonic presence that wants to make her lonely by killing her closest friends.

Til Death Do Us Part coming on September 29th. Michael and Madison Roland had planned to spend the rest of their lives together, until one day Michael’s controlling ways turned their perfect marriage. With the help of her best friend, Madison decides to get away. After adopting a new identity, she meets Alex Stone (Taye Diggs) and learns to love again. All is well, until Michael discovers Madison’s whereabouts, and recreates the nightmare she once lived all over again.

Leatherface coming on October 20th. A teenage Leatherface escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse and taking her on a road trip from hell while being pursued by an equally deranged lawman out for revenge. It’s the Leatherface origin story we never knew we needed.

Jigsaw coming on October 27th. Bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome demise. As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one man: John Kramer. But how can this be? The man known as Jigsaw has been dead for over a decade. The week after we get Leatherface’s origin story, we get a deeper dive into the Jigsaw killer from Saw. Two fictional serial killers that we don’t need to see any more.

Are you looking forward to any of these films? Which one would you go to if you were trying to sneak an arm around the girl you liked? Coming up next, we’ll take a look at the Comedy/Family movies coming this fall.

Click here for the other installments of the 2017 Fall Movie Preview:

The Neon Demon (2016) Review

The Neon Demon is an uncompromisingly divisive film. The 10th feature film for Nicolas Winding Refn who has made quite a name for himself with his unique style and controversial subject matter. His best known previous film was the extremely well received 2011 film, Drive, starring Ryan Gosling. After returning to the screen with Ryan Gosling in 2013’s Only God Forgives, Refn has now chosen to make a very female-centric film in The Neon Demon. In it there is a stirring commentary on the culture of beauty in our society today.

Refn said that this film was allowing him to be born into the body of a beautiful 16 year old girl. He didn’t know what it was like to be beautiful and with two daughters, the oldest of which is 13, he wanted to explore the idea of beauty and see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Some believe that Refn has gone too far and has slipped into the realm of smut in his latest film. I can see where they are coming from since there are some very extreme taboos that he plays with including cannibalism and necrophilia. However, while it certainly is not for everyone, The Neon Demon is a powerful film which has had me pondering its themes of beauty and death ever since I saw it last week.

Continue reading The Neon Demon (2016) Review

Weekend Outlook – June 10, 2016

With X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through The Looking Glass, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows tumbling their way down the top 10,  there’s more than enough room for a couple more sequels to make waves amid another weekend stuffed with multiple new wide releases. This weekend we will see a highly anticipated follow up to one of the best horror films of the last 10 years. Second, we have a not-so-highly anticipated sequel to a mediocre mystery drama about a troupe of magicians illusionists. Finally, we see a video-game adaption from a visionary director that has been doing amazingly well in China and Russia.

The Conjuring 2

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So far, 2016 has become a graveyard for high-profile sequels as Alice Through the Looking Glass, Zoolander 2, Allegiant, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, and The Huntsman: Winter’s War have all under-performed. However, both cinematic continuations hitting theaters Friday look like they will bring in respectable grosses. The Conjuring 2 will almost certainly take the #1 spot this weekend after the dazzling run of its predecessor in 2013. I won’t be watching it, because I don’t like having nightmares.

The Conjuring, based on the spooky real-life dealings of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, grossed $41.9 million in its opening weekend nearly three years ago. Its sequel, also directed by James Wan with Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson returning, is opening on approximately 3,200 screens this weekend, and will bring the series back to No. 1 at the weekend box office. For starters, strong critical reviews for a modern horror film are almost an anomaly, but The Conjuring 2 has them, as 64 percent of critics surveyed by Metacritic have given the film a positive review.

Warcraft

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While it is expected to disappoint in North America, Warcraft, however, could put up a worthy fight for the No. 2 slot. Traditionally, video game adaptations are awful, but if anyone call pull off the impossible, it is Duncan Jones the director of two of the most original and thrilling sci-fi movies of the last 20 years in Moon and Source Code. The film hits almost 3,400 North American screens this weekend with a robust international gross already under its belt. Based on the wildly popular Blizzard Entertainment video game series with millions of active subscriber accounts.

Warcraft brought in the biggest Thursday gross ever (around $45 million) in China following a huge estimated $46 million opening on Wednesday, upping its total in the country to more than $90 million and counting. Given its low critical reviews (32 percent on Metacritic) and lack of star power among the cast, the picture is seemingly selling itself on brand alone. However, with more than 1.7 million likes on its official Facebook page, Warcraft also seems to be making a decent impact with its target demographic via their go-to medium: the internet.

Now You See Me 2

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Now You See Me 2 has big shoes to fill. Its 2013 predecessor was arguably the most unexpected runaway hit of the year, grossing $351.7 million worldwide during its run. This film has a great following and has infused some new talent into it’s cast. As I watch, I’m going to be waiting for Harry Daniel Radcliffe to pull out his wand.

The only problem for Now You See Me 2, however, is that its legs are probably nowhere near as sturdy as its forerunner’s. Critics haven’t been as kind this time around (it currently sits at 48 percent on Metacritic), though audience anticipation is strong, I think we will see a fairly warm welcome from fans, but that passion will quickly die down and Now You See Me 2 will join the graveyard of 2016 sequels.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Two months ago, no one knew that 10 Cloverfield Lane existed, let alone was about to be wide released in theaters. One month ago, no one had any idea how, if at all, this film was related to the 2008 film Cloverfield except for the obvious title and the fact that J.J. Abrams’ name was tied to the project. Not sure how Abrams had time with Star Wars: The Force Awakens to hide this project from the world, but I’m glad he did.

One of the greatest things 10 Cloverfield Lane has to offer is that the audience really has no idea what to expect going into the film. Very much in the J.J Abrams way, the production for this film has been left completely under-wraps and the trailers have revealed next to nothing. That’s one of the best parts of the movie, so I’m not going to spoil or give anything away in my synopsis or the review. I won’t even tell you if this movie is indeed a Cloverfield sequel or if it’s something different altogether. You’ll have to find out for yourself. But I will say that it is worth checking out whether or not you have any knowledge of Cloverfield. It only cost a measly 15 million to make this film and it nearly doubled that on its opening night. It’s a good film all by itself. It won’t win any Oscars, but it was compelling and fun.

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A woman we know very little about named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is involved in a car crash in a breath taking opening credit sequence. She wakes up a few days later to find herself in an underground bunker with Howard (John Goodman), a large and crazy-eyed farmer standing above her. He tells her that she can’t leave, because some sort of disaster has happened and it’s not safe to go outside. Finding herself alone with Howard and another man named Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), and I’m stealing their tag line here because it’s a dang good tag line, they find out that monsters come in many forms.

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Obviously, I had no idea to expect when I saw 10 Cloverfield Lane. No one did. But within the first five minutes they set the tone so you know what kind of movie they are going for, and I found myself instantly engaged. For the rest of the film, I was floored with what was going on. In his directorial debut, Dan Trachtenberg takes the reigns on creating a film that will hit you with the unexpected, and leave you shocked.

10cloverfieldlane5

The best word I could think of to describe this film while I was watching it was claustrophobic. Trapped with Michelle inside the bunker, they create such an intense and nervous atmosphere that you feel yourself getting antsy along with the characters. Because for almost the whole film, we don’t really know what’s going on. We know what Howard is telling us and leading us to believe, but we have no idea if that’s reliable or not. We discover things along with the characters, which is why this film is such a good build up. When the conclusion to the film finally comes, you will leave more than satisfied. But don’t ruin it for yourself by looking up online spoilers to see if it is a Cloverfield sequel. See the movie. Find out for yourself. It’s worth it.

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The stand-out performance of the film is John Goodman. He is in so many films every year that we sometimes take him for granted and forget how good of an actor he can be when he’s not mailing it in, but rather commits whole heartedly to a role. That’s what happens here. He could have easily over-cooked his performance where it came of as cartoony or unrealistic, but he hit just the right level of disturbing and off-putting where you are crept out by the guy but you can’t be sure if he’s in the right or wrong. It’s a performance similar to Joel Edgerton’s in The Gift.

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At no point of 10 Cloverfield Lane does the film slow down or lose interest. It uses it’s hour and forty five minute runtime (a surprisingly long one for this type of film) to achieve the best possible effects. The film flies by and I found myself never wanting it to be over.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a movie you should see without being tainted by spoilers. Accept that you know nothing about it going in, and enjoy that experience. Because it’s something that doesn’t happen often and it’s a rare gift when it does. 10 Cloverfield Lane has a lot to offer despite the fact that it’s a very small film. So if it is still playing near you, go see it this weekend. Don’t look for other trailers or read other reviews. Just go, then come back here and tell me what you thought.

Alien (1979)

Ebert – Great Movies Review – 2003

Ebert – 30th Anniversary Review – 2009

Alien1In Alien we follow a seven man crew en-route to earth on board the huge space freighter “Nostromo”. The crew is in cryosleep, but the on board computer interrupts the journey when a foreign radio signal is picked up. It originates from an uninhabited planet and the crew lands to investigate. There they make contact with an alien life-form…

What makes Alien so great is the constant feel of uneasiness. Right from the beginning you have a feeling that something is wrong. The crew is not particularly friendly towards each other, and you truly feel all the in-group tension. The ship itself is a huge worn out industrial-style maze of halls and corridors, and it feels more like a prison than a place to live. It is as if not only the alien but also the ship itself is against the humans. The alien itself is the scariest monster in history because it is a ruthless, soul-less parasite completely devoid of any human or civilized traits. alien3The design of the monster is a stroke of genius. Sure it has a humanoid form, but it has no facial traits or anything else which could give away emotions or intentions. Its actions reveals no weaknesses nor civilized intelligence. The alien is more or less the opposite of everything human and civilized, plus the creature is more well-adapted to the inhumane interior of the ship than the humans who build it. To sum up, you then have a setting where the humans are caught in a web of in-group tensions, an inhospitable ship and the perfect killer which thrives in the ships intestines. You almost get the feel that the humans are the ones who are alienated to each other and to their own ship.

Ridley Scott tells the story with a perfectly synchronized blend of visuals and sounds. The actors do a superb job, portraying their characters in a subtle but very realistic way. The seven man crew is not a bunch of Hollywood heroes. They are ordinary people with strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. In this way they all seem so fragile when confronted with the enemy.

alien6As mentioned the ship is very claustrophobic and Ridley Scott adds to the eeriness by using camera movement, lights and shadows in an effective way. The living quarters are bright and should be comfortable to the crew, but there is something sterile about it all. The rest of the ship is basically a huge basement. The music by Jerry Goldsmith underlines the eeriness so well, and the movie wouldn’t have worked without his score. Combined with the sounds of the ship it all adds to the uneasiness.

alien4This is not a story about heroic people who boldly teams up against evil. It’s a story about ordinary people facing true fear, which is the fear without a face. The fear we can’t understand and can’t negotiate with, because its only goal is to survive on the expense of us. It’s a story where some people bravely fight back whilst others are destroyed by the terror. It’s a story where people are killed in a completely random way. There is no higher-order justice behind who gets to live and who dies. All seven characters are just part of a race where the fittest – not necessarily the most righteous – will prevail, and all seven characters start the race on an equal footing. None of them are true heroes, and none of them are true villains.

alien5All the above makes Alien so great as a horror movie. The terror isn’t just the Alien itself, it’s the entire atmosphere which gets so effectively under your skin, that you just can’t shrug it off after the end credits like you can with so many other Hollywood horror movies. The title “Alien” doesn’t just refer to the monster, it is the theme of the movie and it is the feeling you have during and after the movie.

Aliens (1986)

Almost 30 years ago, a nearly unknown filmmaker named James Cameron created a science fiction masterpiece that changed the genre forever and became a landmark film with long reaching influence. As a pure action movie, Aliens is as well constructed and paced as any in Hollywood history. Let’s take looks back at James Cameron’s Aliens, one of the greatest films of our generation.

aliens2Aliens is set 57 years after the events of the first film. It begins with Ripley being rescued & revived from hypersleep after drifting in space far longer than she ever expected. After hearing her account of what happened to her former crew on Nostromo, the panel board turns down her story, revokes her space-flight license & makes her aware of the colonisation of the planet LV-426, where the alien spaceship was found in the first film. Things set in motion when the contact with the colony on planet LV-426 is lost and Ripley is requested to join a group of space marines to investigate which she, after initially refusing, finally accepts in order to face & overcome her fears.

Given the task of following up Ridley Scott’s Alien, a lesser director would have simply provided more of the same. Another ship, and another crew to impregnate, stalk and terrorise by an apparently indestructible alien creature. It’s to James Cameron’s credit that, when he wrote and directed the sequel to Ridley Scott’s original, he chose to strike out on a different path, creating a film with its own tone, pace and themes while still adhering to various visual and narrative laws set up in the first film.

aliens4In Alien, we got to know the monster; how it grows to maturity inside an unwilling host, how it bleeds acid, and how difficult it is to kill once it’s loose. In that film, we watched a single one of these life forms tear an entire ship out from under its crew, and no matter what steps were taken to defeat it, the alien simply would not die. In Aliens, James Cameron shows us what an army of them is capable of, and by doing so transforms his movie into more than a mere sequel.

Where Alien was a comparatively slow horror thriller that prowled like a lion in undergrowth, Aliens was a war film that sped from one set piece to the next, slowly building up to a roller coaster of bombastic action. That Aliens is bigger and louder has led some to suggest that Cameron’s sequel is superior to Scott’s original, while others prefer the latter’s reliance on atmosphere and quiet suspense. But I’d suggest that, rather than either being superior, the two films complement one another in a way seldom seen in cinema.

aliens3Alien was metaphor for sex and encountering something traumatic that could barely be comprehended, a monster that violated as well as killed, that rendered its victims chillingly powerless. Aliens is about facing trauma head on, and gaining closure in the process. In Aliens, Cameron quickly establishes that the events of the first film had caused Ripley to lose everything. By returning to LV-426, the now terraformed planet of Alien, Ripley is able to confront the trauma of her past, and in the final battle with the alien queen, ultimately overcome it.

It’s also worth noting that, where Alien was cut off from any sense of society, Aliens gives a greater sense of social order. We even see the ant-like hierarchy of the aliens themselves, with soldier aliens protecting the egg-laying queen. We even learn that the aliens can, in a basic way, be bargained with, as Ripley threatens the queen’s eggs with a flamethrower. With a quiet nod from the queen, the soldier aliens back away.

As a pure action movie, Aliens is one of the best constructed and paced in Hollywood history. Its first hour methodically reintroduces Ripley and the outfit of cocky Colonial Marines who will accompany her to LV-426. Once the action starts however, the film peels back the layers to reveal a display of pure action and suspense.  Then there’s Cameron’s endlessly quotable script and broad, memorable characters. Wisecracking space marines have since become a cliché of cinema and video games. Cameron’s, headed up by Hicks, Hudson and Vasquez, are the original and still the best.  And let’s not forget about that creepy android (or Artificial Person) Bishop, or the slick company representative Carter Burke. We can trust them… or can we?’

As for this film’s technical achievements, Aliens’ art direction & set designs may not have surpassed the artistic levels set in the previous film but it certainly comes close. However, the one category where this film sets a new benchmark of its time is in its state-of-the-art visual & sound effects. Visual effects are absolutely groundbreaking and that’s one part which has since become a trademark in James Cameron’s films. Sound always plays a big role in combat & horror films and is impressive here as well, be it the sound of guns blazing, aliens shrieking or explosions. Cinematography successfully creates a more evolved atmosphere of what existed in the original film. Editing is cleverly done & it successfully manages to keep the viewers gripped to their seats for 2.5 hours which goes pretty unnoticed. And finally, the score perfectly balances the tone of the film and stays in sync with the film’s content. It’s loud, terrifying, suspenseful & also touching wherever & whenever it’s supposed to be. Splendid work by composer James Horner.

Cameron’s biggest achievement in Aliens was in creating a film that dovetails so perfectly with the original Alien. Watched back to back, Alien becomes the first act to Cameron’s lengthier story. Ripley encounters the xenomorph and all the horror that comes with it in the first film, and through a mixture of circumstance and bravery, is able to put those horrors to rest in the second. This gratifying sense of closure is one reason why the attempt to create a second sequel was always doomed to failure. With Aliens, Cameron had already created an arc for Ripley’s character that was both satisfying and logical, and demonstrated that the aliens themselves, apparently indestructible in Scott’s movie, could be killed after all.

Like Cameron’s later work, Terminator 2, what makes Aliens more than just a sci-fi action thriller is the underlying emotional connection between the characters, particularly between Ripley and Newt. There are also semi-romantic undertones between Ripley and Hicks, but they are wisely kept as undertones. A full-blown romantic subplot would have interrupted the movie’s lightning fast pace. By the climax, we’re not only on the edge of our seats because of the action and tension, but because Ripley, Newt, and Hicks have come to mean something to us. When Newt is taken by the aliens to their nest, necessitating Ripley’s climactic confrontation with the Queen, it ups the stakes even further in a climax that already approaches the harrowing urgency of Alien. And the climactic battle between Ripley and the Queen is not only human vs. alien, but two mothers pitted against each other in defense of their “children.”

Even though many fans will be divided over which is a better film between Ridley Scott’s Alien & James Cameron’s Aliens, there is no denying that both films are masterpieces & immortal for their contribution to horror, action & science-fiction genres. And looking back, Aliens is indeed a perfect follow-up to Alien, not just because it explores the elements of the original beautifully, but also because it places greater emphasis on staying true to the original by following it up with an equally mesmerizing story rather than something made just for financial gains, like most sequels of today. Highly entertaining, immensely satisfying & a spectacular roller-coaster ride of non-stop action, Aliens refuses to age even after three decades and continues to rank amongst the most intense & fulfilling pieces of action films, ever. Although Aliens is strong enough to be a standalone film, it still would be a wiser move to visit the original by Ridley Scott before moving on to this one. Despite their differences, Aliens feels very much of a piece with Alien, and in retrospect, this is where the series should have ended. Unfortunately, opportunities to continue milking a franchise for box office profits often supersede creative integrity, but the shortcomings of the following installments do not diminish what Ridley Scott and James Cameron achieved with Alien and Aliens.

Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo-0022Vertigo is a psychological thriller film directed by Alfred Hitchcock. The film stars Jimmy Stewart as a former police detective John “Scottie” Ferguson, who has been forced into early retirement due to his discovery of crippling acrophobia and vertigo. Scottie is hired as a private investigator to follow a woman, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) who is behaving peculiarly. The film received mixed reviews upon initial release, but has garnered acclaim since and is now often cited as one of the defining works of his career. It is currently listed at #65 on the IMDb Top 250, which I think is a travesty. It shows you what type of list the IMDb Top 250 is, to see this film and others, like Citizen Kane, outside of the top 50, but The Dark Knight currently holds the #4 place. But in the 2012 British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound critics’ poll, it replaced Citizen Kane as the best film of all time and has appeared repeatedly in best film polls by the American Film Institute.

I have to confess. This is one of those movies that you hear about and want to watch because others say it is so good. I’ve had it on my watch-list for years. This was one of the many Alfred Hitchcock films that my parents owned. But for some reason, unlike North by Northwest or The Birds or Psycho, I just never got around to watching this one. But I finally tackled this one on Saturday last year and have been digesting it ever since. This draft has literally been sitting in my project pile since March 2013 and if WordPress is correct in its count, I have made 67 different revisions in that time. Well, I finally watched it again tonight with the purpose of finishing what I started.

Ebert’s Great Movies Review from 1996

*** SPOILER ALERT *** Because of the nature of this film, I must warn anyone who reads further on that the rest of this review will contain spoilers. Please take the time to watch this classic before reading any more. *** SPOILER ALERT *** Continue reading Vertigo (1958)

Looper (2012)

Director Rian Johnson began his career with the language-muddling high school film noir Brick, before moving on to the con-man film The Brothers Bloom, yet his third film, arguably his best, is a science fiction time-travel action film called Looper. Creating an original, but familiar location of near-future Earth, Johnson is able to place interesting characters with a complex time travel story line and let the audience go along for the ride.

Roger Ebert’s original review from 2012.

In the year 2044 time travel has not yet been invented, but thirty years later it will have been. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, a man hired to assassinate troublesome enemies of criminal gangs in 2074. These men are transported back in time with silver attached to their backs, are killed by the loopers and disposed of. looper 1While it is a lucrative career, there is one downside, Loopers are expected to ‘close the loop’ by assassinating themselves. At this point they are given a huge payout and are effectively retired, left to enjoy the remaining 30 years of their life. When Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) appears before young Joe, he hesitates to kill him, allowing him to escape and forces the younger self to track down the older self and kill him before the leader of the loopers, Abe (Jeff Daniels) finds him. The chase leads the two men to a remote farm, the home to Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon), where they must finally sort out the ever-growing list of potential paradoxes.

Looper as a science fiction film is innovative but thoughtful. There are nods to previous classics in the genre, and while many have compared it to The Matrix, it is actually more akin to The Terminator. There is time travel, a seemingly convoluted plot to assassinate and defend and a potentially unstoppable killer at its core. Yet Willis/Gordon-Levitt are a better pair than Schwarzenegger/Biehn and the plot allows for a neat summary at the end, to avoid any potential sequel issues. It’s nice for a modern film not to immediately play for a sequel with a cliffhanger ending and Johnson’s script is almost wipe-clean in its conclusion.

looper-movie-screencaps.com-7782The cast are uniformly excellent and Emily Blunt and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (with a prosthetic nose which is very convincing in the close-up shots) are as good as you would imagine. It is however, Bruce Willis who is the stand-out. It’s been a long time since Willis has had to show any range, and while he gets to show-off his action chops in a series of scenes that will delight fans of Die Hard, it is in the more emotional scenes that he excels. In fact after the barmy opening act, Looper is strongest when engaging in the depth of character on display.

Looper doesn’t just rest on engaging characters and dialogue though and the action scenes walk the line between slick and cool gun fights and visceral horror gore and violence. In an early scene when another old looper avoids execution, the methods used to bring him to ‘justice’ are horrific and more at home in a slasher horror. It is this edge-of-your-seat, adrenaline-fueled mayhem that gives Looper it’s edge and allows the character development to ground it, while simultaneously allowing the plot not to stall. It’s a masterful balancing act by Johnson and his team.

Looper 3Looper is an exciting, original-yet-familiar science fiction action film that is likely to become more and more popular with age. The term ‘Cult Classic’ is often applied to low-budget films that were passed by on their original runs, but Looper has all the hallmarks of a film that will transcend this status and become a sleeper classic. While a lot of science fiction films are all flashy effects and no soul, Looper bucks the trend and delivers something slick, but with a heart of emotion. Just don’t ask about the time travel paradoxes or you’ll be stuck in a diner for hours, making charts out of straws.

John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)

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Any horror fan worth his salt has a deep respect for John Carpenter. Although most of his recent efforts have lacked originality and quality, we have to give him his due. His filmography is impressive to say the least. I know that my generation can credit Mr. Carpenter with a few soiled Fruit of the Looms because of the likes of Halloween, Christine, In the Mouth of Madness, They Live, and The Fog. But horror is not his only instrument. He also directed, Big Trouble in Little China, Starman, Escape from New York, and Escape from L.A.. However, I would count his 1982 classic, The Thing, as the film that encapsulates Carpenter’s style and ability above all his other works. This film, over 30 years old, still watches very well. The pulsing suspense and gory visuals are still effective even to my eyes which have now seen “superior” computer generated effects. It isn’t nearly as scary to me as it was when I first saw this film at 14 or 15 without my parents permission. In fact, I probably owe some of my dislike for dogs to this film, but it is a worthwhile film nonetheless.

This story of a small group of researchers braving an Antarctic winter at a remote research outpost is brilliant. After the seemingly deranged man with the rifle blows up his helicopter and shoots one of the researchers as he continues to hunt this seemingly innocuous canine, he is quickly taken out by a sharpshooter with a pistol. The men quickly put two and two together and determine that the men in the helicopter were part of a Norwegian research outpost some miles away. Radio communications are failing and even with a blizzard rolling in, MacReady and his team decides to go and investigate. They arrive to find a disturbing bloodbath.

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The corpses of the Norwegian outpost members are strewn across the site, and several of them are grotesquely (and inexplicably) deformed. Much of the outpost has been torched in Kerosene as well, leaving some of these “bodies” burned. The initial scope of the Norwegians investigation is not known because all of their research is in another language, however after a little more probing, it’s revealed that the Norwegians had discovered the site of an ancient Antarctic crash, and they managed to excavate some sort of extra-terrestrial relic.There’s really no other word to describe it. The plot is refreshingly simple: R.J. MacReady (played by Kurt Russell) and his colleagues are startled one afternoon as a dog comes running across the frozen wasteland that surrounds their station. What catches their attention about this particular situation, though, is that the aforementioned husky is being pursued by a helicopter. A man with a rifle is leaning from the open door of the helicopter, trying desperately to kill the dog. MacReady and company emerge as the helicopter lands, and they try to make sense of the situation.

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Carpenter has built some suspense as we see the damage that this creature could cause and we know that the Norwegian camp was destroyed. However no one knows what this alien relic might be and many of the team are skeptical about the existence of any alien life forms. Especially those which are able to kill and copy any organism they encounter. However, our thirst for gore is quickly satisfied after returning from the abandoned site. Some of the bodies were taken for examination and the sweet and friendly puppy which has been roaming all over the facility is put to bed with the other dogs in a kennel. We soon become privy to a disgusting transformation as this dog’s face blows off and begins splitting open, snarling, sprouting tentacles and devouring the other dogs in the kennel. The commotion is stopped as MacReady calls for a blowtorch and the freaky scene comes to a relatively peaceful end. However, this gives the scientist, played by my favorite diabetic Wilford Brimley, enough information to connect the dots and calculate with his impressive 80’s computer that there’s a 75% chance that one ore more of their party members is, in fact, the alien, and if this alien were to make it to the mainland all mankind would be infected in 3 years time.

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The remainder of the movie is admittedly a bit of a mess both literally and narratively. As many of the researchers are attacked and infected paranoia abounds as the group starts to become suspicious of one another. Carpenter does an absolutely flawless job of building the tension between each of the characters, and the audience is never really sure about who’s human and who isn’t For those seeking answers this can be frustrating and disappointing. However, the real “monsters,” in many ways, are the people themselves. Many of them are willing to resort to murder to ensure that they don’t become infected. The setting plays a great role here too, as a blizzard sets in that causes a massive whiteout. They characters are surrounded and trapped not only by the oppressing elements but also by uncertainty and terror. It makes for a chilling atmosphere that constantly keeps you on the edge of your seat.

In addition to all of that clever storytelling, The Thing boasts some of the best special effects I’ve ever seen. Again, this was filmed in 1982, and, in my opinion, everything looks more realistic than the CGI-splatter fests that we see in so many horror movies today. When the alien life-form is taking over something, it’s an extraordinarily gory process—it almost makes you want to puke. It’s one of those movies where you can tell that everyone involved was simultaneously taking it seriously and having fun with it. Despite it’s over the top nature, though, it feels necessary; we, as an audience, believe that the transformation would be a gruesome process. I’m certainly not going to post any clips from the film although there are plenty out there to showcase the gore even more than these pictures have. However without the rest of the film, it all seems to be simply pointless blood and death.

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It is surprising to me that this out of all of Carpenter’s films is the only one currently in the IMDb Top 250. However this could be due to the recent release of the prequel which isn’t even worth the pixels I might use to review it. The Thing was not well received when it was released. It debuted at 8th and never improved. It received praise for it’s technical achievements but overall lackluster reviews. It only lasted 4 weeks in the theater. Though, in it’s defense, it was competing against Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. And two other much more family friendly alien movies which were released two weeks prior: E.T.: Extra-Terrestrial and Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. John Carpenter considered The Thing one of his biggest failures saying, “I take every failure hard. The one I took the hardest was The Thing. My career would have been different if that had been a big hit…The movie was hated. Even by science-fiction fans. They thought that I had betrayed some kind of trust, and the piling on was insane.”

While I would not encourage everyone to see this film, if you are a fan of the horror genre or are just in the mood for a good cringe, The Thing, is well worth the few dollars it will cost you to snag the DVD. You can also check it out on Blu-Ray, but I would encourage you to have a vomit bag ready because I don’t know if you can handle all that high definition carnage. It will become a regular especially when Halloween, or that winter blizzard, comes around. Have you seen The Thing? What do you think about it? Want to praise Kurt Russell for rocking one of the silver screen’s best beards? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter or Facebook.