Archive for Aliens

All Action

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2020 by dcairns

Ben Wheatley’s FREE FIRE (2016) and Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s LET THE CORPSES TAN (2017) could be lumped together as part of a stillborn European cinema movement — the all-action movie. Critics have often — inaccurately — complained that Hollywood action movies are just continuous violence uninterrupted by plot. They do strive to give that impression, but are more likely to be following the 80s Joel Silver/Simpson & Bruckheimer format of an action sequence every ten minutes, and the cause-and-effect narrative motivation is usually very strong. Part of the reason they often feel so simplistic in story terms is that they have a this-follows-that structure, like a treasure hunt, or a guys-on-a-mission thing, and use the three-act structure religiously.

So the idea of taking literally what critics complain about is kind of an interesting one. What would it feel like if everything was an action set-piece. In theory, very intense, but in theory also, you could still tells a complex story and have interesting characters — because as writer David Gerrold once attested, you CAN and SHOULD use action as a CONTINUATION of plot and character, not as a SUBSTITUTE.

Movies usually managed the PLOT part — I remember being struck by an elaborate chase/battle in the piece of crap AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, which left the characters and situation back where they started, so that the whole thing could have been removed without affecting the story one jot. The feeling was unfamiliar, because even the lamest action movies don’t usually make this elementary blunder. Even if the action sequence consists of Character A trying some stunt to resolve their difficulties, and the stunt doesn’t work, and they end up stuck with the same difficulties, some form of story progress will have been made, even if it’s only the discover of “Well, THAT stunt didn’t work.”

David Cronenberg, asked whether his CRASH was not just a series of sex scenes with no story or character, said he didn’t see why story and character couldn’t be developed by a series of sex scenes. The same should certainly be true of violent scenes.

Where most action movies do go wrong is in character development. Everybody becomes an unstoppable killing machine once the conflict kicks off. There is no plausible reason why Benny, the barroom piano player in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, should turn out to be such a skilled gunman (“able to kill four men with three bullets,” as Alex Cox may have put it — I don’t recall the exact figures) other than that Peckinpah is indulging in self-parody. Making different characters differently effective at violence is an obvious tool that’s underused — generally the leading lady is the only one allowed to be frightened or weak, leading Schwartzenegger to proclaim that women are kind of a drag in action cinema. But check out how ALIENS manages to characterize, at least in comic-book terms, a whole bunch of different characters in what is effectively a single protracted dramatic/action situation. And most of them are military folks, and they’re STILL varied.

So, LET THE CORPSES TAN is the one we watched, part of my exploration of Jean-Patrick Manchette. So far I’ve read one of his novels (Fatale), one set of comic-book adaptations (by Jacques Tardi) and seen two movies, the other being Yves Boisset’s FOLLE A TUER. He’s a writer whose work can best be described as “propulsive” and he seems like a good match for this approach.

The film isn’t actually all shooty-gun stuff, but it manages to feel like a single runaway panic attack of mayhem, hallucinations and virtuoso set-pieces. It would be fair to say it never lets up. Fiona, feeling a bit sleepy, disengaged from the “plot” entirely and just let it flow over her — maybe enjoying it more as a result. I was impressed by the style, then let down by the ending. It might seem axiomatic that if your movie is all climax, when it finally stops it will feel anticlimactic, inconclusive, but I could imagine all sorts of solutions that would have made it more satisfactory, chief among them the classic Hollywood trick of setting up a puzzle piece, letting the audience get distracted into forgetting it, and then paying it off at the end when they’re not expecting it. That doesn’t happen here.

The filmmakers have colossal panache and there are techniques here which border on the unique (every filmmaker should see it), and the whole thing looks terrific. But it seems that even with a book to base it on, they’re not great at story. It’s hard to care about anything in this psychedelic charnel-house. It’s good to see Elina Lowensohn again, and her character’s indifference to the chaos around her is intriguing, but we wait in vain for her attitude to change — since change of attitude is a defining trait of characterisation in stories. (Hollywood, with its redemption narratives, insists of wholesale character reform, but I think the minimum of development we’re entitled to is a change of APPROACH by each character.)

The danger of a movie that’s continuous movement is that it could all become paradoxically static. LET THE CORPSES TAN slams into that obstacle at 100mph, and the fact that the impact doesn’t slow it down is part of the problem.

The Truth About Aliens

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on June 11, 2016 by dcairns

aliens-1986-de-james-cameron

“Well, that took a lot of sorting out.”

My late brother-in-law Roddy’s hilarious, one-line encapsulation of ALIENS, delivered immediately the credits started to rise, strikes me as a perfect summary of not only the movie but James Cameron’s entire oeuvre, and those of most other filmmakers to boot. Maybe it’s the ultimate statement on all human existence.

Be that as it may, expect light posting here until the film fest kicks off. Then I should have plenty to say, although I’ll be saying some of it in person as I introduce the films in our POW!!! retrospective.

 

 

Children of a Messier God

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2012 by dcairns

It’s Prometheus! Hello, Prometheus! (From MACISTE IN HELL)

I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as possible while discussing PROMETHEUS, but if you want to see the film with totally fresh eyes, you’re better off not reading anything about it until afterwards, aren’t you?

Although, once you’ve seen it, you’ll be struck by how it’s largely a remake of the original ALIEN — the same story beats, but with interesting / horrific variations. The whole thing is put over with great style, and is very exciting and icky and everything you’d want it to be. Really, it not only acts as if the last two ALIENS films didn’t happen, it mainly ignores James Cameron’s highly-regarded sequel also, and certainly there’s no loose talk of the PREDATOR crossovers. This is, essentially, a prequel/replay of Scott’s original monster movie.

I like Marc Steitenfeld’s music, which continues the fine tradition of terror honking exemplified by SHUTTER ISLAND, but does so much more — including presenting a nice sombre religious grandeur theme, which plays in all sorts of unexpected scenarios.

The best way to talk about it, giving teasers rather than spoilers — might be in the form of a broken radio transmission —

KRRZZZT!

— Begins in Scotland! (where BATTLESHIP ends!) —

— very ALIENS-like spacecraft design —

— very 2001 interiors, continuing the ALIEN series’ odd conceit that as we get further into the future, everything gets danker and rattier —

— “Weyland” — mythic reference, but can’t work out signif —

— Skull Island sphinx statue —

— for once, Fassbender’s penis not largest serpentine organ on view —

— not only watching LAWRENCE OF ARABIA in 3D, but dying his hair to look like O’Toole —

— in old age make-up FOR NO REASON —

— BRRZT! —

— guy getting all Crocodile Hunter with newly discovered alien species. Not smart —

— actors hitting their character’s single dimensions as HARD as they can: “Stupidity with confidence” —

–can’t believed they showed this IN THE TRAILER —

— kzzt!

One of the film’s strangest pleasures for me was the appearance of Kate Dickie, a Scots actress of some standing, who seems rather out of place — not because we can’t accept Scots on a spaceship — there’s Scottie, after all — but because I think she’s struggling with the American dialogue, which is very clipped and snappy, while her delivery is very emphatic and precise (while still in a very broad accent) — this might not be an issue for non-Scots, but I can assure you I’ve never heard anybody talk like this, ever. I suspect the idea was to keep the authentic accent but ensure clarity by stressing everything quite hard and leaving clear spaces between each word — whereas everybody knows that Scots communicate in a succession of continuous vowels. This is like a cross between Scots and morse code.

There’s also the fact that Noomi Rapace is delightfully Swedish, but in a dream-flashback she has an English accent as a child, which fits her character name, Elizabeth Shaw (deep space chocolatier!) but is a little puzzling. Couldn’t they have changed the character name and hired a Swedish child?

This is obviously Erich Von Daniken year — the comparative mythology Was God an Astronaut? stuff here (which serves the same role as the distress signal/warning in ALIEN) also turns up in JOHN CARTER — and would’ve been central to Del Toro’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS if that had happened.

What might frustrate some fans is the fact that the film doesn’t really set out to provide answers to the new questions it poses, though it does give information about the nature of the “Space Jockey” species found dead in ALIEN, and the origins of the titular creature itself. Those are questions that nobody really needed answers to, so the new mysteries we’re left with are much more intriguing. And I kind of hope they remain unanswered, but I guess there’s little chance of that — there’ll be a 2010-style sequel along sooner or later to explain everything to death.

We went with our friends Kim and Egg, and Egg was freaked to see that the geologist character looks exactly like the first geologist he ever met (and it’s quite a distinctive look: shaved ginger tattooed head and goatee). Do all geologists look like this?

King Lear in space” was how Fiona described one set of characters, who introduce a theme of age and succession. “Rupert Murdoch in space,” was how I described it. I can’t think why else they cast an Australian and then covered him in old age makeup. Given that this is a Fox film, it does suggest that old Rupert is losing touch with his empire…

I enjoyed this movie and may write more on it when there’s less fear of spoilers.

Hopefully that wasn’t too spoilery, but I make no promises about the comments section. Though it’d be nice if folks keep it misty re major plot points.