Saturday, June 28, 2014


Movie Name: Aliens
Year of Release: 1986
Director: James Cameron
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, William Hope, Lance Henriksen, Al Matthews, Mark Rolston, Ricco Ross, Colette Hiller, Daniel Kash
Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

"Aliens" premiered in the Summer of 1986, the follow up to James Cameron's "The Terminator", which had premiered in 1984, to acclaim and commercial success. Coming from a somewhat difficult shoot (that saw the replacement of both the director of photography and the main male lead actor), the film was a huge hit and gathered 7 Academy Award nominations (winning two).
The film picks up after the events of "Alien". Ripley is found on the space ship she escaped on 57 years later. Much to her dismay, the planet with the alien creatures has now been colonized by her corporate employer. When communication with that colony ceases, Ripley alongside a team of marines, is charged with going back and investigating what has occurred in that planet. None of them is however quite prepared for what they encounter, which will test everyone's resilience.
James Cameron cemented his name as one of the most ingenious action film directors with "Aliens". Whereas Ridley Scott's "Alien" was about the atmosphere and the suggestion of menace, "Aliens" was deeply rooted in the more belligerent atmosphere of the 80s films. "Aliens" was truly a war movie in space. The film benefited from a fantastic script, that allowed for action set pieces, and for the story of Ripley to co-exist and complement each other. At the core of the film, it was a mother trying to protect her child from a menace that was unstoppable. The film benefited from a fantastic cast, particularly Sigourney Weaver, who carried the film with sheer charisma, displaying both a resourcefulness and emotion, something that hadn't been seen in lead characters in action films yet. To this day it remains as one the best and most vital displays of a fully rounded leading female character in Hollywood films. The visual effects from Stan Winston and his team were also phenomenal, as was the cinematography from Adrian Biddle. A classic always worth revisiting.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Movie Name: Alien
Year of Release: 1979
Director: Ridley Scott
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Yaphet Kotto, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm
Genre: Sci-Fi, Horror
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 10

The classic "Alien", came out in 1979, introducing the talent of director Ridley Scott, and of it's leading lady Sigourney Weaver to the public. The film came after the huge success of George Lucas' "Star Wars", and whereas this was a vision of good vs evil more anchored in a traditional western context (space western that is), "Alien" introduced a menace that was beyond redemption (or explanation).
The film follows the story of the crew from a commercial ship named Nostromo, who are awaken from their hyper sleep, to address an unknown help signal coming from an uncharted planet. Upon descending onto the planet, one of the crew members is attacked by an alien creature, that latches to that individual. Trying to save the crew member, the individual is brought with the alien creature onto the spaceship, which spawns a series of fatal events.
Ridley Scott, prior to directing "Alien", had done "The Duellists" (featuring Harvey Keitel), a period piece which was received with good reviews. "Alien" was his first feature for a large studio, in this case, Twentieth Century Fox (which had distributed "Star Wars" as well). Coming from a background of commercials, the director primed for his aesthetic and visual style, which married perfectly with the tight script from Dan O'Bannon and Ronald Shusett. The film manages to blend the claustrophobic atmosphere of being in space confined to a limited vessel, and the menace of a creature that stops at nothing to eliminate it's opponents. The director also smartly avoids showing much of the creature, building tension and suspense, instead of displaying gore and gratuitous violence. This is a film that lives from atmosphere, from suggestion and from the aesthetic that both Ridley Scott and Swiss designer H.R. Giger devised. The cast is uniformly great, from the always fantastic Sigourney Weaver (in her big screen debut), to Ian Holm, John Hurt and Veronica Cartwright. This film is a classic always worth watching!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

My Own Private Idaho

Movie Name: My Own Private Idaho
Year of Release: 1991
Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: River Phoenix, Keanu Reeves, James Russo, William Richert, Rodney Harvey, Chiara Caselli, Michael Parker, Jessie Thomas, Flea, Grace Zabriskie, Tom Troupe, Udo Kier, Mickey Cottrell
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 8

"My Own Private Idaho" was Gus Van Sant's third feature, right after the acclaimed "Drugstore Cowboy". The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, where it won River Phoenix a best actor award, the many that he collected for this film during that year and also in 1992.
The film follows the story of Mike Waters, a young street hustler, who suffers from narcolepsy, and who is desperately trying to find his long lost mother. He has the help of another hustler, Scott Favor, the son of the Mayor of Portland, who is rebelling against his upbringing, by joining Mike and other young street hustlers, who form a resemblance of a community, where all are accepted and helped (overseen by the father figure of Bob Pigeon). Mike and Scott, end up following a lead that Mike's mother is in Italy, where they eventually meet the lovely Carmella, who changes the dynamics between the two young men forever.
Gus Van Sant has built a career that is eclectic and filled with different subjects and matters - for every big mainstream feature he makes, such as "Finding Forrester", there's always a "Elephant" or "Last Days", where his universe and aesthetic are clearly more on display. His more personal films usually tend to veer towards young men, who are trying to find their way in the world, a path that is usually filled with obstacles and where their first instinct is to rebel against everything and everyone. "My Own Private Idaho" lives from that feeling - the disconnect that Mike feels, of not belonging anywhere, of being alone. Van Sant captures the lives of the young street hustlers, of their dreams and every day lives, with a raw quality, that feels authentic and almost documentary style. The film benefits from a fantastic central performance from River Phoenix, in a role that has remained iconic and forever linked to his brief screen life. A film always worth revisiting.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Edge of Tomorrow

Movie Name: Edge of Tomorrow
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Brendan Gleeson, Bill Paxton, Noah Taylor, Jonas Armstrong, Tony Way, Kick Gurry, Franz Drameh, Charlotte Riley, Terence Maynard, Lara Pulver
Genre: Action, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Director Doug Liman is back, following the excellent and little seen "Fair Game" (which featured a great performance by Naomi Watts). "Edge of Tomorrow" introduces us to a futuristic reality, one where aliens have invaded Earth and have almost destroyed the human race. The story focuses on Major William Cage, an officer who has never seen a day of combat, and who is thrown into that reality. Killed within minutes of being in the battle field, Cage however is immersed in the alien creatures DNA, which grants him the capability of reliving the same day over and over. Reliving this day consecutively, allows him to meet Rita Vrataski, an experienced and phenomenal officer, who had the same power as he does (who lost it in the meantime). Together they both try to devise a way to reach the hive that commands all the invading alien creatures.
Doug Liman is a resourceful director, one who excels in story lines where the central character is usually completely unaware of their own potential and strength (which was the case of "The Bourne Identity" for instance). In this case, William Cage is the unaware hero, who by force of circumstances is forced to overcome his fears, and make a sacrifice to save humanity. The action set pieces flow seamlessly, and though huge in scope and ambition, the film never feels saturated by its visual effects (they allow for the action to be simultaneously realistic and futuristic). The actors are uniformly excellent, from Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, to the underrated Noah Taylor and Bill Paxton. The cinematography from Dion Beebe is also one of the highlights of the feature. A very entertaining film worth watching!


Movie Name: Maleficent
Year of Release: 2014
Director: Robert Stromberg
Stars: Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, June Temple, Sam Riley, Brandon Thwaites, Kenneth Cranham, Hannah New, Isobelle Molloy, Michael Higgins
Genre: Action, Family, Adventure
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

"Maleficent" is the debut feature for Robert Stromberg, after a career in production design and special effects (he won Oscars for both Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" and James Cameron's "Avatar").
The film focuses on the story of a fairy named Maleficent. She lives in a kingdom of magical creatures, which is surrounded by a kingdom of humans, ruled by a greedy king who is adamant on taking over the magical surroundings. Upon seeing his army vanquished, he requests that one of his underlings vanquishes Maleficent and gains access to her kingdom. This request is taken by Stefan, an ambitious young man, whom Maleficent has loved since her young childhood. He takes advantage of her affections, and that drives her to a dark side and to seek revenge upon all the wrongs inflected on her and her kind.
Robert Stromberg is clearly a talented technician, with a gift to create universes that are rich and support the vision from other filmmakers and storytellers. However, in his debut feature, he does not benefit from a rich enough screenplay, to actually provide a canvas for his story telling and universe to be brought to life. The central character, Maleficent, though larger than life and rich enough to have a film focused on her, fails to have much to do throughout the film, thanks to a reductive screenplay, where the trifecta of her motivations are love/revenge/redemption. In the hands of a more experienced director, that would be enough for a richly layered film, however Robert Stromberg merely illustrates the story in a decorative way, giving a hint of a certain darkness, never probing much deeper into the character of Maleficent. Angelina Jolie does a fantastic job, as usual, investing the character with a depth that the film never matches, however the supporting actors have little to do with characters that are basic archetypes. A missed opportunity.