Toy Commercial Tuesday: Aliens

Originally I was going to start this post reminding everyone how much I love toy lines from the 80s and 90s based on R-rated films that kids couldn’t actually see, but what kind of BS is it making an Aliens line of toys and not making Ripley the star? I know the general consensus is that boys didn’t/don’t buy female action figures, but come on! We’re talking about one of the most bad ass ladies around!

Okay, having said that, how cool is that Atax figure with xenomorph costume? Super cool, right? Now think of how cool it’d be with Sigourney Weaver inside! The winged and water-spurting aliens are also pretty rad, but that alien-capturing ship is probably the coolest thing in this spot. Why didn’t they ever think of just trapping them in a giant jar? Probably because it would have ended the franchise really early…

Halloween Scene: Alien (1979)

alien poster The Alien franchise is pretty revered both amongst my circle and many of the people I know and respect. And yet, I have very little experience with the series. It’s not that I had anything against it, I just didn’t get around to it. I remember watching Aliens on VHS  in high school and thought I’d seen Alien, but while watching the Blu-ray version and writing this post, I now remember that I meant to get the first film, wound up with the second and just went with it. I’m sure I’d seen bits and pieces of Alien here and there, but much of it seemed new to me. And yet, when I saw the Alien Anthology Bluray box set go on sale for something like $22 last year, I asked my wife to pick it up for me for the holidays. It seemed like the kind of series I’d be into if I just sat down and watched it.

Even as a novice, I was familiar with the basic story of Ridley Scott’s Alien which finds the crew of a tow ship investigating a potentially alien transmission on a planetoid that just so happens to contain huge ruins and a particularly nasty brand of alien that makes its way onto their ship. While onboard, the menace makes short work of the crew — which consists of characters played by  Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt,Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto — before they go on the offensive and try to save their lives and at least part of the ship. It’s a taught, scary film that gives you enough time to get to know the characters and then doesn’t let up as it races towards the final.

I don’t think there’s any arguing that Alien is a classic film, expertly put together and acted. While reading about the movie, I discovered that one of my all-time favorite filmmakers, Walter Hill, had a hand in it. He not only produced, but also rewrote Dan O’Bannon’s script. We’ll probably never know exactly how much which people got through to the final film, but it shows Hill’s versatility and radness.

But there is one problem with Alien and it has nothing to do with the movie itself. By being such a successful film with a fairly simple plot (alien hunts down people in strange place) it’s been talked about, homaged, parodied and flat-out copied for decades. Even if you haven’t seen the chestburster scene, but are otherwise well versed in horror or film history, you’ve probably seen the scene on a countdown show of some kind. Heck, you probably also know going in that the cast’s reaction was real because they didn’t know exactly what was going to happen.

A few years back I watched the Shout Factory double feature of Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: The Terror Within / Dead Space. I don’t remember much about either movie aside from the fact that, even without being familiar with the source material, one or both of them were rip-offs of Alien. Sometimes, that can work out well, like in the case of Jason X, but usually it just feels old, tired and unoriginal.

So, what’s the solution to this problem? See Alien as soon as you can. It’s just one of those movies that’s so iconic and so influential that it’s best to get it in your system as early as possible so you’re comparing all of the copycats to the original instead of an idea of the original you’ve formed from being part of the pop culture landscape. I’m to far gone in that regard, but I figure a few more solid viewings in glorious Blu-ray will help to retroactively fix the problem.

Quick Movie Review: Holes (2003)

A few weekends back, the missus and I watched part of Holes on TV, but neither of us were very focused. We liked what we saw enough to move it to the top of the Netflix Queue. I assumed we’d just turn it on at the moment we stopped watching (probably 20-30 minutes before the end, maybe less) and just see how it ended. However, the missus wanted to watch from the beginning because she was in and out of the room the first time around. No big deal, I figured I’d read comics while it was on, but I actually found myself drawn back into the story.

The movie–based on a book I never heard of before the movie came out–stars Shia LaBeouf as a kid whose great great grandfather got cursed because of a pig and a girl way back in the day. That bad luck carries through to Shia as he gets unfairly sentenced to a work camp after a pair of stolen autographed shoes literally fall out of the sky and are found on his person by the cops. Said camp is run by the warden played by Sigourney Weaver and her underling Jon Voight. Shia and the other kids are made to dig holes five feet deep and five feet across one a day for as long as they’re there to build character. They’re continually told they’re digging for their own good, but if they find something, they’re supposed to tell one of the adults. Meanwhile, we get multiple flashbacks to Shia’s relatives getting cursed as well as the inhabitants of this area back when a lake was in the place of a desert.

I was really impressed with how well put together this movie is. You can pick up what’s going on and how the different stories relate to what Shia’s going through, but if not, they’re explained soon after. There were parts I caught on to pretty early on and others the missus explained to me right before the movie did. The whole thing plays out as a pretty interesting mystery, which makes sense considering you get the feeling there is a reason for them to be digging holes aside from, as the adults say, building character. It’s funny though, as Shia continues to dig the holes, he does wind up building character thanks to his growing friendship with the younger character Zero, a fellow “camper.” Anyway, the movie has a bit of a fantasy bent to it but more in the fairy tale sense. In fact, that’s what the story reminded me of the most a really well put together fairy tale complete with curse, witch, moral and most importantly kids throwing off the yokes of adult oppression and proving that they’re smart enough to get by.

I highly recommend the movie. I’m still thinking about it now and it inspired me to start eating sunflower seeds again (I literally saw Voight eating them on screen and ran out to buy some from the nearby gas station). It can be a nasty habit, but I love them.

Quick Movie Review: Galaxy Quest (1999)

Galaxy Quest is another one of those movies that seems like it would have been directly in my wheelehouse. It’s about a bunch of washed up actors from a Star Trek-like sci-fi show who get caught up in real alien hijinks. It stars Tim Allen and Alan Rickman, two stars I really like. And Sigourney Weaver looks hot. So, why didn’t I see it when I was 16? No idea. Could have been working, my friends might not have been interested in going or I just didn’t care because I kind of hated Star Trek at the time (ah to be young and foolish). So, it just never happened.

I had a great time watching this movie, but I think it’s better that I watched it now that I have a deeper understanding of sci-fi fandom and the Star Trek universe in general. Allen’s clearly playing an analog for William Shatner while Rickman could be seen as a much-fictionalized version of Leonard Nimoy with Weaver, Tony Shalloub and others playing caricatures of other cast members. I don’t know much about the Star Trek folks’ real life dealings, so I can’t speak to that, but I’ve been to enough comic book conventions to understand what a washed up loser trying to milk his 15 minutes of fame looks like.

Aside from the jabs at nerdom, I also liked the film as a sci-fi romp. The aliens think the reruns of Galaxy Quest they’ve seen are video histories which have inspired their entire race to, basically, do good and avoid evil (a credo my friend’s dad used to always leave me with whenever he dropped us off at school). When their emotionally primitive but technologically advanced society came under fire, they did the only thing they could think of: get the Galaxy Quest crew to help them against some big bad aliens. Fun stuff!

But it’s not just a comedy either, GC offers great alien effects thanks to Stan Winston. I’m a big fan of the evil alien’s being done practically, they’ve got a great look, and the hero aliens’ octopus-like true forms. How great is it when a sci-fi movie makes aliens look this good? Plus, the action is solid. Galaxy Quest is one of those rare genre movies that I could easily recommend to a wide audience, which means, I would recommend it to my parents. I know my dad would like it, but mom has pretty specific tastes (nothing too violent or dark). I think she’d get a kick out of the movie and you would too if you’re reading this blog and haven’t seen it in a while.

I’m In Like With Avatar

Yesterday, in an unexpected twist, the in-laws and Em decided they wanted to  go see Avatar. Em had been making fun of it for months and her mom kept saying she didn’t want to see a sci-fi movie. I mentioned I’d be down for Avatar or Sherlock Holmes and eventually we ended up at the theater wearing Buddy Holly glasses and watching crazy aliens run around on-screen. I had been cautiously optimistic about the movie. Not because I’m a great big James Cameron fan and not because I’m that big of a sci-fi fan myself, but because I wanted to see the next step in 3D and CGI and I hoped it would be good. We walked out of the theater with all three of them singing the movie’s praises and I just felt kind of eh. I liked it and the special effects were amazing, but the movie didn’t really suck me in. I only ever got really absorbed and lost myself in the movie towards the end in the gigantic final battle scene, which not only looked sick, but had me really wondering how they were going to get themselves out of this one.

Again, that doesn’t mean I didn’t like it or find it interesting. I actually found the idea of a planet where every living thing was connected basically by synapses to be fascinating and started catching on pretty early as our main character, Jake, was driving around his blue-skinned, genetically altered Avatar (a mix between human and the indigenous alien DNA) and their footprints were glowing. I also really liked how the CGI made the blue alien humanoids look real. There was only one brief moment where I felt like I was watching a Pixar movie instead of a live action one, but after that it felt “real” the whole way. The animals of the jungle and the plant life were all a lot of fun to look at too.

I guess what bugged me was the story. It felt a little been-there, done-that. Maybe it’s because I’ve read thousands of comics and seen hundreds of movies and cartoons, so the idea of humans on an alien planet trying to take what they want from the “savage” aboriginals isn’t all that new. I was also a little disappointed in the portrayal of the army-like dudes. I know they distinguished early on that these were not government military personnel, but hired guns working for a corporation, but they didn’t really nail it home enough in my opinion. Not that I want things completely laid out for me, but it seemed like a fairly big story point that I had to keep reminding myself of and I kept thinking that these Army guys were dicks. And they were, which is another problem. Everyone wearing camouflage with the exception of Michelle Rodriguez (who I generally hate, but liked enough in this) is a jerk. And not just a jerk, but a lame, one-liner spouting jerk. Had those dudes not been in the movie or at least better written, maybe I would have been more absorbed.

Overall, I guess it was the little things that kept popping me out of the story. I tried avoiding all the hype and press and did an okay enough job. Okay enough that I had no idea Uhuru played the main female alien. In fact, I couldn’t nail down exactly who she reminded me of, but it popped into my head at the very end. She looks just like Uma Thurman. It’s crazy. Anyway, I’m in like with the movie, not love and hope to give it another viewing. We did see it in 3D, which I would recommend, because it’s not really gimmicky (though it probably could have been in a few places early on), it just puts you into things a bit more, kind of like the visual equivalent of surround sound. In the end, I would recommend giving it a shot and in 3D whenever possible. Oh, plus, check out this cool YouTube video of the toys which use a new technology called augmented reality to add a bit of awesomeness in each package!

Six Movies I’ve Seen Recently

Even with all the Halloween Scene posts I’ve been doing this month, I still watch non blood and guys flicks, I just don’t necessarily have the time or energy to do lengthy posts about all of them. So let’s just jump right into it. Let’s just assume there are SPOILERS in all these reviews.

SPECIAL (2006)
I remember hearing about this Michael Rapaport movie about a guy who gains superhero-like powers a while back and thinking it sounded interesting. I dig superhero movies, even when they’re not about known characters and I like Rapaport. Movies like this can be an interesting take on elements of comics and superheros that norms might not have experienced before, but geeks like us have. Special does something like though. See, in Special, Rapaport is a comic book fan who takes part in a pharmaceutical study. He thinks it’s giving him super powers, when really it’s just messing with his mind. To be honest, I turned it off with about 20 minutes left because it was crazy-depressing. Rapaport is such a sad sack lunatic, that he’s hard to watch. For a while you’re not sure whether he really does have powers or not, but by the time I turned it off, after you’re convinced he’s just nuts, I’m not sure how things are supposed to make sense. For instance, when we see him in a chase scene, are we seeing the whole thing through his mind or not? Or the invisible fight? How did these work in real life? I don’t often go in for the “comic book readers as a community” thing, but I do feel like this movie doesn’t help paint comic book fans in any kind of positive light. Eh, moving on.

THE TV SET (2006)
After being disappointed with Special, I wanted to watch something I had heard good things about recently. When I was still at ToyFare, Justin, just told me he watched The TV Set and dug it. See, it’s written and directed by Jake Kasdan who was a director and producer on Freaks & Geeks and is about a producer trying to get his show off the ground only to find his vision being trampled on at every turn thanks to TV executives. David Duchovny is the producer while Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd) are the execs giving him trouble. There’s even a brief appearance from Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg (Howard). As a creative person who likes the idea of creating art and just letting it speak for itself, it was hard watching a man’s vision get picked apart and seeing him try to fight for his ideas, but ultimately losing. But unlike with Special, the downer tone didn’t bother me because it reads like a cautionary tale. Not necessarily one that says “don’t get into TV because THIS can happen,” but more along the lines of “hey, heads up, this friggin happens.” The TV Set should be required viewing for anyone looking to get into the TV business and also is kind of a perfect meta bookend for Freaks & Geeks fans.

breakout posterBREAKOUT (1975)
Sometimes I go through the Netflix Instant Watch movies and just look for a certain actor. One of those actors is Charles Bronson, because he’s a badass. One of those movies is Breakout, which gives us the story of a woman trying to get her husband (Robert Duvall) out of a Mexican jail with the help of Bronson and his right hand man Randy Quaid. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t paying a ton of attention so I missed a lot of the intricacies of the plot. See, Bronson cons a bunch of people in order to pull off this prison break, with all kinds of twists and turns that I didn’t get all of. I will say that Bronson is the man, no doubt about that and it was a lot of fun seeing such a young Quaid and I didn’t even recognize Duvall as I’ve probably never seen a movie where he was this young. Anyway, you can do a lot worse when going through movies from the the 70s starring badass mothers.

FAME (1980)
As I’ve talked about before, I’m a big Kevin Smith fan and love listening to his Smodcast podcast. And, Smith is a big fan of Fame, having talking about it on several occasions. That combined with the new movie coming out and the fact that I’ve been hogging the Netflix DVDs with horror junk, I thought it’d be nice to put Fame at the top of the list so we could watching something on Tuesdays when you don’t watch anything else. And man, what a weird movie this is. You’ve got the message of how hard the life of a performer can be (graduates as waiters instead of actors, photographers looking to take advantage of girls, alcohol) mixed with these over-the-top dance sequences that flow out into the streets of New York or completely take over a lunchroom. Now, I know that performing arts kids can be dramatic, I did musicals in high school and knew plenty of them in college too, but this is just nuts. Though, I do appreciate the fact that it’s a practical musical, one in which the singing and dancing can practically take place in real life. In the end I liked the movie and was glad I had heard Smith talk about it so I wasn’t so surprised by all the intense craziness so I was ready for it, but I did find it a little unfocused. I didn’t have a grasp of who our main characters were until the fourth year and I feel like some of the characters were dropped as it did zoom in on our few main characters. Ah well, good stuff. I’m guessing the remake isn’t as hardcore and the new version of the theme song sucks all the energy and life out of the original. Fail. Oh, also, Alan Parker, who directed Fame also directed Pink Floyd’s The Wall, weird right?

AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS (2001)
Remember how I said I hog the Netflix? I do, it’s a fact. But anytime Em and I try going through NetBox to find something to watch, it takes FOREVER. It’s not that our taste in movies is so wildly different, it’s just that the movies on Instant Watch tend more towards my weird tastes than hers. So, when we came across America’s Sweethearts starring John Cusack, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Julia Roberts and Billy Crystal. The idea is that John and Catherina are big time movie stars who break up and break down, essentially, but they still have a movie premiering that they need to do press for. Like The TV Set, Billy Crystal co-wrote the story based on his experiences in Hollywood, so it’s another kind of insider look and seems to gel with things I’ve read. Crystal plays John’s agent while Julia is Catherine’s sister/assistant. It boils down to a romantic comedy, but it was a good enough one to pass some time. Plus, as you know, I love me some John Cusack.

side out posterSIDE OUT (1990)
Are there any other sports movies about volleyball? It seems like the people behind Bring It On and Stick It should be working on one right now, though stay away from Ultimate Frisbee, I’ve got something in the works (ie, I want to eventually make something). Anyway, I had heard about Side Out before somewhere, saw it was available on the NetBox and just decided the hell with it, I’m doing this thing! And, it was just okay. I’d still rather watch Bring It On or Stick It. The story follows C. Thomas Howell as a guy working for a bank or something (I can’t even remember what the actual job is). He’s serving papers to a rad beach dude and ends up playing volleyball with another guy. They get their asses kicked, then train and get pretty good, but the other guy gets hurt and the rad beach dude takes his spot. You’ve absolutely seen this kind of movie before, but this time you get Howell and Courtney Thorne-Smith and even Kathy Ireland for a few seconds. Good enough for a few beers and a watch, but I’m not counting the days till I watch it again.