Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Capsule Review: The Fly (1986)

The director of Shivers and Rabid might be the last person you would expect to direct a big-budget special-effects filled science fiction remake of 1958's The Fly, but following his success with the Stephen King adaptation The Dead Zone, David Cronenberg was put in the unlikely driver's seat of a blockbuster. Not only did he deliver a genuinely chilling piece of science fiction/horror, he did it while maintaining - and evolving - his usual themes of melded flesh and body horror. Perhaps his most brilliant move was casting the otherworldly Jeff Goldblum in the lead, who gives an Oscar caliber performance as scientist Seth Brundle. He finds himself rapidly morphing into a half-man/half-fly after the creature gets mixed up into his teleportation experiments. Chris Walas' make-up effects are incredible, while Howard Shore provides one of his most effective scores. A huge critical and financial success, it was followed by the embarrassing The Fly II, starring Eric Stoltz.

Capsule Review: Aliens (1986)

Despite his reputation for being difficult, James Cameron is a man who has spent nearly his entire career bucking the odds. Following up the massive international success of The Terminator with a sequel to Ridley Scott's beloved science-fiction/horror film was a huge gamble, but somehow Cameron created a film that massively upped the ante; introducing heavy weaponry, a much wider scope and dozens of the titular xenomorphs into a story which brings back Sigourney Weaver as Ripley - woken up after 57 years in stasis. While focusing much more heavily on action, the director manages to create a story that sensibly evolves from the first movie, while introducing plenty of new memorable characters - Michael Biehn as Hicks, Lance Henriksen as the android Bishop, Bill Paxton as the whiny Hudson and - memorably - Paul Reiser as the impossibly scummy Carter Burke. It hasn't all aged well, but the spot-on pacing and high octane action puts the sequels that followed to shame, and the amazing climactic scene is one for the ages. A near-perfect piece of sci-fi action.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Capsule Review: Alien (1979)

It really shouldn't have worked. A big budget riff on 50s monster-movie science fiction, featuring state-of-the-art special effects and production design by H.R. Giger, Alien works because it plays the material entirely straight, with its rare early moments of levity eventually giving way to a completely nightmarish final quarter. While influenced by rubber monster fare like It! The Terror from Beyond Space, director Ridley Scott ramps up the claustrophobia and dread of the deep space setting (where "no one can hear you scream"), while delivering a top-notch ensemble cast whose easy chemistry makes their eventual fates all the more horrific.  The astounding production design is a treat for the eyes, while Sigourney Weaver became an instant star for her tough, independent portrayal of (Warrant Officer) Ripley. Of course there are also moments of surprising violence, and the alien itself - with its retracting "tongue" and acidic blood - makes for an unforgettable foe. Followed by the James Cameron helmed Aliens, as well as a series of sequels with diminishing returns, eventually crossing over with the Predator franchise. In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the setting of the film with Prometheus.