No one wins at the crying game

I missed a lot of movies in the 90s on account of being young at the time, and I’ve been making a halfhearted attempt at going back and watching some of them. The Crying Game popped up on Netflix one late night, and, knowing nothing about it except for the infamous reveal, and also being impressed by the cast, I decided to give it a shot.

I wasn’t disappointed at all (except for Miranda Richardson, who seems like she’s always miscast), and in fact, was surprised. In fact, I believe The Crying Game is among the best films of the 90s. It’s a remarkably progressive film for its time, beginning a conversation about human sexuality and the complexity of a constantly more liberalized social scene – a conversation we’re still having today, albeit with more specific terms.

If you’ve never seen The Crying Game, you may want to stop reading about now. I feel this movie is beyond the statute of limitations for spoilers, and you can expect spoilers to appear below.

It all begins when misguided Fergus (Stephen Rea, who looks younger, but never quite looked young) gets caught up in an IRA plot to intercept a military transport and hold some British soldiers hostage. They’re sending a message. Fergus is put in charge of monitoring young Jody (Forest Whitaker) while the masterminds of this scheme (Richardson’s IRA mistress Jude, which she is wholly unconvincing at portraying) do their thing. Tied and bound, Jody tries to strike up a conversation. Fergus recognizes this for what it is – an attempt by Jody to humanize himself with his captor, making it a more difficult moral problem for Fergus when it comes time to pull the trigger.

He strikes a few times, but they eventually hit it off. Jody talks of his life, his lover named Dil; he asks about Fergus’s life. In the intervening hours, they learn a lot about each other. When the British Army rolls in on a rescue mission, Fergus can’t bring himself to kill Jody.

Jody does die, though. He gets hit by a tank as Fergus watches. Fergus takes an opportunity to snatch up some of Jody’s personal effects and escape undetected, determined to track down Dil.

He finds Dil easily enough, although Fergus travels incognito as “Jimmy” to distance himself from his past with the IRA. Dil is a hairdresser who sings karaoke at a nearby bar, The Metro. The two are introduced by the bartender, Col, played by Jim Broadbent, who makes me want to spend every night of my life at a bar tended by Jim Broadbent.

“Jimmy” ends up falling for Dil. She’s mysterious, attractive, unique, and has a dark air about her. It’s easy to see Jody’s attraction to her. They grow very close, and when they grow intimate, Dil drops her robe revealing that she is really a he. The writer/director, Neil Jordan (who, I discovered, also directed the tremendous The Brave One with Jodie Foster), takes his time showing you this in a slow, vertical panning shot that forces the audience to address Dil’s reality in the same way that Fergus must.

Fergus tries to come to grips with the fact of his intimacy with another man posing as a woman. His reasoning, again, is much like ours. We should have seen this coming (Dil is played by a man, after all, Jaye Davidson, probably better known as the sun god Ra in Roland Emmerich‘s disasterpiece Stargate). All the pieces fall into place – The Metro is a drag bar, and virtually everyone there except the bartender is masquerading!

But so is Fergus. He still hasn’t revealed his true identity to Dil. His past life soon comes back to haunt him, as past lives tend to do, and he must make a choice to shed himself of his history with the IRA and his misguided self of yore, which puts Dil – the unanticipated object of his affection – in danger.

The Crying Game, in 1992, presents a topic that is rarely confronted honestly in cinema, and it handles that with grace and humanity. In a way, it’s still difficult to have a conversation about this kind of thing. How do you discuss this with someone? Is Dil transgender? A cross-dresser? A drag queen? Are those terms offensive? Jordon presents this all to us without monikers, which is really the best approach to a story like this.

These characters approach us in disguise. We don’t know whether to say Dil is one of those things. Dil presents herself as a woman, even if she thinks it’s obvious that she’s not exactly that. Is it safe to call Jody gay? He isn’t presented here as a stereotype – he isn’t flamboyant, and in his brief time in the film, he never gives us any indication that he might be gay. Even Fergus must covertly insert himself into Jody’s life to determine that. And how are we to describe Fergus’s sexuality? He’s initially disgusted by his own attraction to Dil once he realizes that Dil’s not been entirely truthful, but he knows and comes to terms with the fact that he’s not been truthful either.

All we know is that these characters are human, and they’re all having to deal with situations and emotions they aren’t expecting.

When Jody is under Fergus’s watch at the beginning of the film, he tells Fergus a parable, which “Jimmy” later recounts to Dil.

Well… there’s this scorpion, you see, and he wants to go across a river. Well, he can’t swim so he goes to this frog, who naturally enough can swim. And he says, “Excuse me, Mr. Froggy. I want to go across the river.” So the frog accepts the idea. The scorpion hops on the frog’s back. Suddenly, the frog: “Aah!” He feels this sting! “You stung me! Why did you go and do that?” The scorpion looks at him and says, “I can’t help it, it’s in my nature”.

That’s the point of The Crying Game. It doesn’t matter what label you apply to these things. The truth is that the complex emotions that guide our decisions are all part of human nature, like it or not. That’s the crying game, and it often ends up without a winner.

It’s rare to see a movie treat human sexuality this frankly. Only Transamerica and Shortbus come to mind at the moment. Maybe it takes a British film from the 90s to see that even in an age where the acceptance of non-cisgender orientations is only spreading wider, Hollywood is afraid of talking about sex. Recall that John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus had to be made outside the studio system and wasn’t able to receive a wide theatrical release on account of how explicitly it depicts the sex acts of its characters, who are real people before they are actors. Even Transamerica was dishonest in its execution; the pre-op m2f transgender protagonist was actually played by Felicity Huffman, not a physical male. If The Crying Game has a peer, I’ve never heard of it.



There’s no evil in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil


The premise behind Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is one that is appealing enough for the film’s poor execution to be really disappointing. It’s what the late Roger Ebert would have called a Dead Teenager Flick, where a group of teens takes a trip to the woods and are tormented by psychotic hillbillies. The twist here is that the psychotic hillbillies are neither psychotic nor hillbillies.

They’re only blue collar everymen Tucker and Dale, who want to have as little to do with these kids as possible. They want to drink beer, go fishing, and clean up Tucker’s newly acquired vacation home (which, to comedic effect, looks like it has the Necronomicon in the basement). After a skinnydipping accident (involving several swimmers but not a single skinnydipper), the teenagers get it into their heads that they’re under attack by the protagonists, and, mostly out of a false sense of survival, wind up hurting themselves. Each failed attempt at stopping the hillbilly threat only strengthens their convictions, leading to gorier mishaps.

This is a really cool premise – a horror-comedy of errors – and it garners some good laughs. I had fun for the most part, but wish the movie had taken the premise a bit farther.

The film suffers from a lack of motivation, though, and the whole premise is built on top of that failure. One of the teen characters goes ballistic, and they make up some stupid backstory to explain that. Problem is it’s hardly believable. Yes, I know, it’s a dumb slasher/comedy and doesn’t really need to make sense, but honestly, there are a dozen other ways they could have done it that would have been more plausible. If the whole movie is going to be predicated on something, it needs to at least be believable within the context of the story. I’d have been fine if they didn’t even address it, honestly.

I easily overlooked that detail in the interest of enjoying the romp. Most of what I didn’t like about the movie is just a bunch of gags that weren’t quite funny.

T&DvE informs us that people’s appearances aren’t as telling as we’d like them to be. Underlying that is the implication that suburbanites are afraid of people from a simpler life, social commentary that they could have done more with, especially in light of recent conversations about wealth inequality. This is an unintended consequence of an often lazy and mostly forgettable script that mocks the slasher genre without really understanding it. There’s a point about two-thirds of the way through the flick where I thought that maybe the movie was self-aware enough to comment on dead teenager flicks, but I was quickly disappointed. I like camp, and this wasn’t very campy.

The title of the movie is (probably) misleading. The pair aren’t really matched up against anything evil, just a bunch of dumb, dying teenagers. So either the title is inaccurate, or the “evil” is something metaphorical like the oppressive forces of the upper class or something. Since nothing about this movie seems like it’s trying for anything more than a silly romp, I’m guessing it’s just a cool-sounding title.

Alan Tudyk is worth watching, as always, and there’s enough to laugh at to take you through the movie, which, thankfully, clocks in at under ninety minutes. If you’re in the mood for something bloody and funny, you could watch a lot worse movies. Watch this only if you haven’t seen the far superior The Cabin in the Woods (which is also streaming on Netflix) already.


The Best and Worst Sci-Fi Movies of 2012

For Your Consideration

It’s been a while since I posted here, but I have seen two recentish movies over the past couple of months, demonstrating how “hip” and “with it” I can be. One of these movies is the best science fiction film released this year. The other is the worst. I say this having seen only a couple of the sci-fi movies this year has brought us.

I saw The Hunger Games and Prometheus. As much good as I saw in The Hunger Games, it just wasn’t executed well enough for me to say it was as good as Prometheus, which I more or less hated. I missed out on the 3D re-release of Phantom Menace and the third Men In Black movie, but I’m sure no one will remember seeing them twenty years from now. I missed Dredd, which I’ve heard was a lot of fun. I missed the unnecessary Total Recall remake. And what the hell was John Carter? It flopped, and I don’t know anybody who saw it.

Given what I’ve seen and my expectations of what I haven’t, the movie I think is the best sci-fi flick of 2012, in case you couldn’t tell by that banner image, is


Rarely does Hollywood really nail sci-fi. Sorry, nerds, but when a Hollywood exec looks at the genre that is science fiction, he wants to know how much shit is going to dazzle your eye because John Q. American doesn’t care about what science fiction is about. John doesn’t care about projecting our minds into the future to examine the long-term effects of today’s decisions. John doesn’t care about how our technology affects our culture. John doesn’t care to ask the question, “What if?” and respond to it in a creative, but not entirely unrealistic fashion. John wants to see spaceships explode. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see any major Hollywood film treatments of Cory Doctorow novels any time soon. In a way, it’s really nice that _Looper_ didn’t have any kind of source material like that. It stands well on its own as an original story.

Great science fiction movies are often brought forth from small-time writer-directors because they’re passionate about what they’re doing. The instant you throw 200 million bucks at it, it goes to shit. Mad Max shows us the horrors of a world without compassion. The Road Warrior is an analogue for oil wars. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome is a flashy, star-studded waste that betrays the harsh sincerity of its predecessors. Beyond Thunderdome had more than twice the budget of the first two films combined, and it’s the worst of them all. When producers are willing to drop a whole bunch of money on good sci-fi source material, you wind up with Johnny Pneumonic.

Looper was made on twice Thunderdome‘s budget, but a third of The Fifth Element‘s, and the best thing about it is that all those cool sci-fi elements that money bought are the least important things about the movie. Looper is about an unfortunate future United States where the economy has collapsed completely, leaving room for more organized crime. In the future, time travel will be made possible and illegal, leaving all time travel in the hands of criminals. Gangland-esque bosses strike up deals with down-on-their-luck, young guys: do our dirty work today, and you’ll be very well taken care of; then a few decades from now, we’ll send you back in time to be disposed of by yourself, thereby “closing the loop” of your mob job.

When Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt in some pretty astounding Bruce Willis makeup) meets his future self (Bruce Willis looking like Bruce Willis), he fails to kill him, and Old Joe escapes, beginning a series of events involving Joe’s boss Abe searching down both Joes. Joe hides out with a single mother among the Kansas cornfields, and begins to bond with her son. And that’s where I’m going to stop relaying this plot because we’re getting really quickly into spoiler territory, and this is one movie I don’t want to spoil for anyone.

My point, though, is that even though the movie has some big booms, some car chases, shootouts, hoverbikes, telekinetics, and a future Kansas City that’s as gorgeous as it is terrifying, the movie is about something that isn’t time travel. I don’t care to dissect the movie so fully today, but I think it’s about cycles of abuse, with one generation of it ensuring its presence in future generations. There may even be a subtle argument against gun control in there. Whatever it is, the director (Rian Johnson, who gave us the phenomenal Brick back in 2005 and the passable The Brothers Bloom in 2009) appears to be in full command of it. In a clever scene, Johnson breaks the fourth wall by having Old Joe explain something to his past self:

I don’t want to talk about time travel shit. Cause if we start talking about it, then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws. It doesn’t matter.

He’s right, of course. It doesn’t matter if these time travel rules are Back to the Future rules or Terminator rules or Primer rules (and if you haven’t seen Primer, go watch it twice). It’s not important. What’s important about it is that it’s necessary to tell this story, which is about something so much better than some convoluted time travel plot. Just revel in the creepiness that is a man trying to walk down the street, but falling to pieces like a leper because someone out there is dismembering his past self, and pay attention to what this movie has to say.

The Worst Sci-Fi Movie of the Year

It’s Pitch Perfect. Hear me out.

From Tha Streetz

Pitch Perfect is Bring It On for the Glee crowd. Substitute a capella singing groups for cheerleading. Modernize it a little bit by making the main character’s ultimate goal in life to be a DJ. Give her a Mac and some headphones and she’s Skrillex a la Tina Fey. Nothing to see here. Move along.

But it takes place in an alternate universe. No, this isn’t something the movie comes right out about, but all the clues are there. Nowhere in our universe is there a college with multiple a capella-centric fraternities and sororities. And nowhere in our universe has anybody in our entire history had an impromtu a capella street battle. See, in the universe of Pitch Perfect, there are these things that look a lot like rap battles, except instead of taking place in run-down, inner-city nightclubs, they go down on nearly whitewashed college campuses. And there are rules that contestants have to obey. Who knew barber shop quartets and Broadway tunes could be so street?!

It seems to me that most of the movie’s budget was blown on licensing songs they could cover (like Ace of Base’s song you wish could have just died with its era, “The Sign”; holy shit, did they play that one out here!), and that left no money to use on shooting even moderately interesting performance scenes. There’s hardly any choreography to speak of, but that’s okay since Pitch Perfect, like so many other things Hollywood’s been vomiting up lately, has a built-in audience, and whether the audience likes it or not is completely secondary to the fact that every ticket this movie sold was sold when they aired the trailer between segments of Glee.

I don’t have to tell you whether you’ll like this movie or not. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know. If you’re into Glee or the baker’s dozen of karaoke-themed competition shows currently airing, you’ll probably think it’s pretty good. The chicks can sing. They can be surprisingly homophobic at times, which is sorta strange to me, considering half the movie’s target market is probably gay.

Anyway, if you only have time to watch one of these movies, make it Looper. If what we pay for as an audience affects what kind of movies we get to see in wide release, let’s tell them we want more genre-transcending sci-fi.

Alien: Resurrection: Fuck


“Alien: Resurrection” doesn’t refer to the resurrection of the aliens, but the resurrection of a franchise. And just as you might suspect such necromancy to work, it came back braindead and retarded.

Ripley died in Alien 3, but they clone her from DNA in a medical research facility floating in space because that’s the best place for medical research facilities, and you can’t have an Alien sequel without Ripley. This facility is using cloned human hosts to breed xenomorphs and try to weaponize them through Pavlovian behavioral training and splicing DNA between humans and ‘morphs to create the orcs from Lord of the Rings and apparently to clone super-Ripleys with incredible strength and hand-eye coordination. Knowing what “the company” knows about xenomorphs, you’d think they’d realize what a stupid idea this is. Dude and xenomorph DNA just don’t splice.

It really is stupid, and the aliens break free (one kills another and escapes through the hole his acid blood makes in the floor) and go on a killing spree. Resurrection is every bit as much an action flick as Aliens, but it’s better executed. Not by much, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it a little bit.

Ordinarily, over the top action flicks are right up my alley. Transporter 2 is a dirty, guilty pleasure of mine. It’s hilarious. But A:R takes itself far too seriously to appreciate that way. Ridiculous things happen (MegaRipley throws a basketball from half-court over her shoulder without looking and nothin’ but net) and everyone plays it dramatically. In one scene, Ripley discovers a room full of human/xenomorph abominations. One disfigured and contorted woman (I couldn’t tell for sure if this was meant to be another Ripley clone of sorts due to makeup) mumbles, “Kill me” a few times, and Ripley loses it. She flamethrowers the entire room in slow motion. Glass tubes full of various deformed experiments gone wrong shatter and spill everywhere, in slow motion. Music swells. Her posse looks on in pained disbelief. Ugh.

Winona Ryder is the worst. She’s horribly miscast as an actress who gets people to spend money on movies. I mean she’s an android.

The action sequences are generally well put together. They’re exciting and there are explosions and stuff. They get kinda ridiculous sometimes, as I think I’ve mentioned, and there’s some cliche action movie stuff going on. At one point, the crew ascends a ladder out of some water and are chased up the ladder, and the entire clip plays out like Indy being chased by that scimitar dude in Temple of Doom.

Some of it’s kinda cool, like the part where the aliens escape. Most of it looks good, considering there’s a lot of CG from 1997 in it. The aliens don’t look like muppets or pokemon or anything.

Mostly, it’s the writing that brings it down. It seems like it’s written by a teenager. Ripley, while relearning speech, picks up a fork, looks at it, and calls it a “fuck”. HAHAHAH! This kind of stuff is persistent throughout the movie.

There’s really not much that could have been done to make Resurrection better. It could have had better writing, better acting, better plot events… But the movie is just unnecessary to begin with. It was good enough for the story that Ripley died in Alien 3. It just wan’t good enough for the studio.


Just good enough to make you wish it was better



The lights go out and I’m ready to watch David Fincher’s early studio piece, Alien 3. I briefly ponder how, as Phil so eloquently worded it, “directing a movie is as much about personal growth as it is about artistic expression.

Certainly, David Fincher has brought us some modern classics. Some that come to mind: Seven. Fight Club. He’s made some excellent movies that haven’t seemed to reach popular acceptance: Zodiac, for example. The Social Network. He’s made some bad movies, as well: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which I couldn’t sit through. Panic Room. Alien 3.

But if we’re to consider Fincher’s third installment (and really, final, since Resurrection is a bullshit back-from-the-dead-for-one-last-55-million-dollars popcorn flick) in the context of the rest of his productions, Alien 3 shows a young, somewhat inexperienced, but extremely talented director showcasing some of his long-time apparent talents.

Those talents are put on display immediately in the opening credits sequence. An ominous score plays over credits, the vacant depths of space, and an escape pod silently floating through them. Inside, the small leftover crew (Ripley, Newt, and Bishop) sleep in preservation chambers.

Until a stowaway facehugger destroys some equipment and breaks through a few of those chambers. The damaged equipment causes fires and explosions, and the pod is sent spiraling through the universe, eventually crashing into a large body of water on a work/prison planet near an installation of such.

This sequence is edited with precision. The facehugger never looked so menacing as it does here, close up, all gloss and skeleton, and clawing its way to the top of Newt’s bed. That this sequence (a) is amazing, (b) gets you through the opening credits, and (c) serves as an exciting, entire first act to the movie shows some directorial talent.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film does not hold up to the opening sequence, except for a few fleeting moments that don’t make up for the other two and half hours of dreadful boredom. What makes the boredom so unbearable is that much of it is unnecessary. One example —

Clemens is the prison colony’s medical consult. He makes for a somewhat interesting character since he chooses to side with Ripley against the prison warden in the interests of science, even though he doesn’t seem to like what Ripley’s up to at the time. That establishes a good dynamic between those three characters. An hour of the movie goes by and you realize you’ve seen a couple of xenomorph birth scenes that lasted maybe a couple of minutes intercut with a full hour of people talking about prison politics. When the alien finally starts killing people (what you came here to see), it kills Clemens long before it even approaches the obnoxious token black preacher guy, leaving the good character triangle in shambles, the token black preacher guy annoying you with scripture-fueled rally speeches, a crazy dude doing infuriatingly stupid shit, and Pete Postlethwaite depositing an easy paycheck for the next ninety minutes.

The movie is apparently supposed to be a character study. Ripley’s been through a lot of shit. She isn’t very afraid of the rape-minded inmates because in a sense, life has already raped her. Twice, actually. So what’s one more time? And now she’s facing certain death – she’s host to xenomorph kin. Sigourney plays it well because she’s a talented actress who was handed some decent writing. She delivers the worst of her lines (“Your ass is already on the line. The only question is… What are you gonna do about it?”) with something less than gusto that lets you know she knows the lines are rubbish. This makes even the worst of her dialog at least bearable (unlike the forced action star one-liners she was handed in Aliens).

But Alien 3 is so goddamn boring that I completely lost interest in even Ripley’s character. I found myself browsing the net and keeping the volume up on the TV loud enough to follow whatever useless conversation was going on at the time.

Useless because it doesn’t take that much walking and talking to explain what we need to know here. The plot of Alien 3, taken in summary, is actually quite good. Ripley crash lands, and fears the deaths of her crewmates were at the hands of aliens. She demands an autopsy, which yields evidence against her hypothesis. But despite the available science, she recognizes a sort of bond between her and the xenomorph, which totally creeps her out. This is shown to us in a tense scene where the xenomom could easily murder Ripley, but opts not to, and proven later with a body scan, but the audience is clued in early thanks to one of those intercut birthing scenes. She knows in order to solve the alien problem, she must kill herself before the one inside her ruptures through her chest. The rest of the movie becomes a series of events trying to destroy the beast.

It’s a good basic plot structure, a natural next phase for our heroine, but it can be told to us in about 45 fewer minutes than Fincher takes to tell it.

Pacing issues aside, the one thing the film has going for it almost throughout is the cinematography. There is an incredible focus in this movie on composition. Each shot is visually tickling in some way. Despite the dreary, industrial interior of the prison facility, each frame is somehow pleasing to the eye. Only a few spots stand out as being particularly bad, and every last one of them involves computer graphics from the early 90s (a symptom of Cameronitis; see Terminator 2: Judgment Day).

When the aliens are puppets and we get to see them up close, they’re horrifying. When they’re CG, they look like a two-mouthed breed of Pokemon. This was infrequent, though, and only a few seconds at a stretch in most cases. Ripley falling into the incinerator looked absolutely terrible.

There’s really a lot to like about Alien 3. The score is even quite good, except for a couple of spots where it really overpowers the tone of the film and seems out of place. There’s enough to like about it to earn maybe 5/10 points from me. It’s just so damn long and boring. If you trim this movie down, it may be closer to a 7 or 8. But I can’t justify watching this entire movie again for a very long time just to see a few cool parts and some pretty pictures.

Often accompanied by a sore throat and a bad taste in your mouth


For the record, Jenny ended up reading an Eve Dallas book while Aliens played in the background, and I don’t blame her at all. She endured the oral onslaught, though, and toughed out a headache in the process. (For what it’s worth, I woke up with a headache this morning, therefore all James Cameron movies cause headaches.) And Phil, a movie’s value in personal growth to the director only counts when the director eventually makes a good movie.

As Phil mentioned over here, I realized that although I talk shit about Aliens whenever the subject arises, it had been maybe a decade since I’d seen it. How could my opinion on the movie be considered valid when I last watched it so long ago? I decided I needed to take it in again.

I’m glad I did. Because if I had written this review without revisiting it, I might have talked some shit about it. Now, having it fresh in my mind, I am going to talk veritable manure yards of shit about it.

Oh, where do I begin? How about with how poorly Aliens has aged.

In space, no one can see your perm

Now, don’t get me wrong. In no way do I hold bad 80’s haircuts against a movie. Any film is a product of its time, and sometimes, even the best of movies suffer from Outdated Hairstyle Syndrome. The Silence of the Lambs is a perfect example of a great movie where everyone has 90’s hair and the women wear shoulderpads, and the cops burst into rooms and immediately pose in the doorway like Charlie’s Angels. Most movies (except period pieces and movies that seem to truly define an era or culture) are only mildly hurt by this, and I usually get over it in fifteen minutes or so and manage to get into the movie.

However, Aliens has more dating it than a seargent with a bad moustache. I think the problem is best titled James Cameronitis. Half of the shots in the movie scream, “This was made with 1985’s best computer technology,” and the real problem with that is that it didn’t have to be that way. Alien made do on less and has only a couple of seconds of film that make me suddenly realize I’ve been watching a movie this whole time. But probably about half of its sequel made me see the fourth wall unintentionally. Shots which come to mind…

  • The military spacecraft is approaching the planet LV-426. As it passes through the cloud layer, the ship is clearly a model on strings, wobbling against a blue screen while B-roll from an airplane cockpit sends clouds shooting at the camera.
  • They land and wander around a bit. The entire exterior looks like the set of an Ed Wood movie. Shots of this nature are persistent throughout the entire film.
  • A wall of industrial piping explodes. The pipes are very obviously computer generated, and are of the same quality as the Windows XP Pipes screensaver. The explosions are blue screened on top.

Now, my complaint here isn’t that the movie is old. It’s that it looks like shit even though it didn’t have to. James Cameronitis is the condition of a movie being swollen with special effects that are guaranteed to cement a movie to a specific time period without providing anything of value to otherwise engage an audience. Other symptoms of James Cameronitis include bad performances from good actors; characters that might as well be Dick Tracy villains; plots so predictable you don’t need to see the movie; and rabid, mostly undeserved fanboyism by people who act like characters on Big Bang Theory. If you experience any of these symptoms, ask your doctor if Good Cinema is right for you.

James Cameronitis is often caused by an urge to make movies with the latest and greatest technology the year has to offer. While that’s admirable in a “why not?” sort of way, it’s problematic because technology isn’t a big enough leg to stand on when filmmaking. I’m sure that in 1986, Aliens was an amazing looking movie, and the adolescent boner that is Ripley appearing in a mechanized cargo loader behind sliding doors, foggily illuminated from a light that has no business being where it is was probably super radical.

But not anymore. All the shimmer and sparkle of a movie like Aliens is doomed to fade in time, revealing the core that lies beneath. Unfortunately, there isn’t much underneath what used to be a glossy, attractive exterior. Turns out, Aliens is the film equivalent of an eight-track tape. Hey, cool! An old doohickey! But it’s totally useless.

Are you there, 20th Century Fox? It’s me, James Cameron.

One of the major themes of this film’s predecessor (which I didn’t go into much detail on in my Alien review) and other Ridley Scott films is the blatant disregard shown by corporations for human life. This theme is continued in Cameron’s thingamajig. Burke, the upper management goon from “The Company” is revealed to know more than he has let on, which puts the entire crew in danger. Just like in the first one when Ash is revealed to be an android who knows more than he has let on, which puts the entire crew in danger.

My point, of course, is that everything about Aliens is designed to sell admission tickets. It’s not even meant to be a good movie, just a marketable one. It doesn’t exist to inform us of some nuanced part of the human experience. It is not literature. If anything, it’s a textbook example of how to put butts in theater seats without making anything good.

James Cameron has always been a studio director, and he probably always will be, just like Burke was always a company man, and would have likely remained so had he not met his fate on planet LV-426. If Aliens is meant to warn us that a company might try to convince people they’re safe when they’re not in the interest of profit, then James Cameron is meant to warn us that a movie studio might try to convince us that we’re not watching the same old crappy story made up of the same old crappy characters in the interest of profit. There’s a reason James Cameron movie trailers don’t say, “From the director of Piranha Part Two: The Spawning“, and it’s because Piranha Part Two: The Spawning doesn’t sell tickets to Avatar.

I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the characters, because frankly, the writers didn’t even spend a lot of time on the characters. The cast is a gallery of boy band members – the quiet one, the tough one, the funny one… The characters suck. That’s kind of okay, though. This is an action flick, not a character study, and they get us through the plot alright.

They’re boring, though, unlike, say, Corbin Dallas. And unlike in The Fifth Element, their interactions with each other play out like a pissing contest instead of like people motivated to acheive a goal and facing adversity in doing so. Most of the characters are pretty useless, and the aliens continue to outsmart them and pick them off one at a time like the killer in a slasher flick. It’s hard for me to buy into the supposed intelligence of the xenomorphs when they are only ever shown outsmarting the most doltish team of marines in cinema history.

Ellen Ripley is a big, fat liar

Let’s go back to Alien for a minute. Remember that pivotal scene where, while trying to surgically remove a facehugger from Kane’s mug, the alien blood spurts out and begins devouring a hole in the floor. The crew of the Nostromo follows it down through several floors of solid, industrial metal flooring before the acid finally neutralizes. It’s incredibly destructive, and for the first time in the movie, they realize that this isn’t just some weird alien – it’s dangerous.

In Aliens, when Ripley meets with the company’s board about her actions on the Nostromo, she defends herself by explaining in a loud and frustrated and harsh tone that THESE THINGS HAVE HIGHLY CONCENTRATED ACIDIC BLOOD! Half an hour later in the movie, Alien blood starts literally splashing all over everything. There are explosions and gunfire and alien heads blasting open all over tanks and equipment. And yet nothing begins to disintegrate. There is no steam, no smoke, no acidic blood whatsoever. At one point, Vasquez grabs an alien and fires several shots from a pistol directly into the bug’s elongated head. Yellow-brown alien blood splashes all over her face, her hands, her body… she’s basically drowning in the stuff. And she doesn’t even blink. She doesn’t appear to be in any pain whatsoever.

So is xenomorph blood acidic or not?

Wheel of Overplayed Tropes!

Ripley is resting in a recovery room after waking up from her hibernation when Burke walks into the room. They begin to talk about how the world has changed, but Ripley soon becomes physically uncomfortable. It’s not long before she realizes that something’s wrong. Suddenly, she’s convulsing, her abdomen rising and falling in quick jerks, almost as though a chestburster were about to break through! In her wild convulsions, her hand hits a glass of water (a literal glass, not a plastic tumbler or disposable cup) and… guess what? You’ll never guess. It shatters on the floor in slow motion.

Soon it becomes clear that there is a chestburster pressing its face through her skin. It pushes up, up, up, and you can see its features defined in the elasticity of her belly. But then, just as it’s about to break through…. guess what? You’ll never guess. She wakes up, and it was all just a dream.

Later, they’ve finally arrived on the planet LV-426. While all the marines are unloading supplies with cargo loader mech suits, Ripley’s standing around, twiddling her thumbs. But she’s anxious. She’s not the prissy little princess the guys all like to imagine her as, and she asks what she can do to help. Seargent Apone tilts his head at her, opens his eyes behind curls of cigar smoke. He doesn’t believe her. So… guess what? You’ll never guess. He makes her prove it!

So Ripley gets into a suit, makes some mech porn for the high school boys in the theater audience, and… guess what? You’ll never guess. She kicks ass in a loader.

And so on and so forth. I don’t have to cite these things. If you watch the movie, you’ll find them throughout. I’ve seen these exact shots a thousand times, and I’m tired of seeing them. James Cameron didn’t exactly pioneer them, either.

The two

I’ve said a lot of bad shit about Aliens today, and I feel I should explain why it isn’t all bad.

Believe it or not, this is what it looks like when James Cameron shows restraint. When the just-a-dream chestburster pushes his head through, Cameron could have easily thrown some money at a big gore sequence before the inevitable just-a-dream wake-up.

A scene later on has one man running out of ammo against an army of xenomorphs. At the control panel, Ripley and the Seargent watch a display counting down the bullet reserves. Cameron shows us only the looks on their faces and the countdown. He could have shown us the aliens devour the straggler as his barrels ran dry. I can think of a few action flick directors who could take a page out of Cameron’s book, and so can you.

Restraint is somewhat valuable in filmmaking. In fact, I’d say it’s worth about two points. Or, if you prefer to think of this way, that’s one point for every good line of dialog.

The Story So Far

Phil and I made an attempt at blogging over at Blogger and it sucked. People had trouble commenting, and eventually the platform deleted the entire contents of our post. Our post which we couldn’t seem to format in a legible manner.

So I think we’re going to try this WordPress thing for a while and see how it goes. Expect some theming customization in the coming days.

Additionally, neither of us had that first post backed up, so we’re going to have to try to recreate it here. Let’s start fresh.

This blog is the result of watching Prometheus in a group and every last one of us coming away from it with a bad taste in our mouths. But we had a long discussion of it, and thought it was still worth it to talk about it.

So Phil and I decided we would begin the discussion on the topic of the entire Alien franchise, and start by just listing the movies and how we would rate those movies on a 0-10 scale. Here are mine:

Alien - 9 
Aliens - 2 
Alien 3 - 6 
Alien: Resurrection - 4 
Prometheus - 5 

We’ll get to these movies in turn and explain our ratings and hopefully incite a little discussion.

So that was Ryan, this is Phil.  Howdy, everyone.

Ryan and I have had a longstanding difference of opinion on the movie Aliens, though we have always agreed that Alien was one of the great horror/sci-fi films.  This franchise now appears to be quite polarizing in our group, so what better place to start our discussions, yeah?  My overall ratings:

Alien - 9 
Aliens - 7 
Alien 3 - 6 
Alien: Resurrection - 4 
Prometheus - 5 

Hey, what do you know.  After double checking my IMDB account to confirm how I’ve rated these movies previously, we match up perfectly except for the hotly-contested second installment.

I guarantee this won’t  mean we like things for the same reason, but what the hey… let’s look to the next post for the beginning of our Alien Franchise Film-By-Film Discussion.