Aliens (#110 of 12)

Like Father Like Son Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

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Like Father Like Son: Joe Hill’s NOS4A2
Like Father Like Son: Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

For years, I had a short story gestating in my head about a ghost who haunts movie theaters, bearing witness to decades of cinema history. Imagine my chagrin when, in 2008, blazing my way through Joe Hill’s compulsively readable anthology 20th Century Ghosts, I came across a story that read like it was plucked out of my skull, concerning a moviegoer who died during The Wizard of Oz and just kept on watching movies. I have no illusions that my version—throttled in the womb though it was—would have matched or even approached the quality of Hill’s execution. But it wasn’t until my reading of his new novel, NOS4A2, that I gleaned some idea of how he managed to map out in such uncanny detail my mental conception of Americana. It’s because a foundational stone of who I am as a genre fiction reader (and, consequently, wannabe writer) and who Hill is as a bona fide professional storyteller is the literary oeuvre of one man: Stephen King.

It’s unfair to insert the accomplished parent into a review of the equally accomplished progeny and even more unfair to up and practically credit the latter’s work to the former as I just did in unforgivably reductionist fashion. I was, of course, overstating for effect. But just like you can’t quite help thinking about father David when Brandon Cronenberg does body horror, it’s difficult to begin one’s thoughts on NOS4A2 in particular without considering King. It’s not just the winking references (exclamations of “my life for you” and “hiyo Silver”) or superficial similarities like the rhyming psychopaths, supernaturally charged cars, and ubiquitous children’s songs. It’s the fact that NOS4A2—a relentless, profoundly disturbing monster of a book—reads at every level like King’s work at its prime, a discomfiting mix of the otherworldly and quotidian, seeded with buried psychic traumas and iconic representations of pure evil.

Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

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Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies
Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

With the arrival of the 20th anniversary, 3D re-release of Jurassic Park, what I’d like to convince you of is that the film watered down, significantly, the soul of the novel from which it was based (and we’re talking about a Michael Crichton page-turner for Christ’s sake). Instead of being the kind of decadent, lost-in-the-jungle, labyrinthine cinematic fever dream it could’ve been—one in which the production of the film would’ve eerily re-enacted and factually re-performed the hallucinatory chaos of what it was trying to fictionally record (a la Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, and their respective making-of docs, Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams), Spielberg’s Jurassic Park instead played it safe, and did so in a way that was slick, corporate, and patronizing to its audience. And one of the ways it punted artistically was to almost entirely purge from Crichton’s novel its heavy theorizing about chaos theory and fractals, which, in those days (the late ’80s/early ’90s), had just made its way into the intellectual mainstream. I’d like to briefly make the point that this was a grievous mistake (for the movie), because chaos theory and fractals have everything to do with scary movies, and horror and terror and the kind of man-eating monstrosities Spielberg and his team put so much goddamned time and money into making look realistic.

Sinful Cinema Fair Game

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Sinful Cinema: Fair Game
Sinful Cinema: Fair Game

“You wanna watch headline news with me? No? It’s not gonna kill ya.” This is what Miami attorney Kate McQuean (Cindy Crawford) says to her cat just before clicking on the the television, detonating a bomb that leaves pussy and apartment incinerated, and sends Kate soaring over her balcony and into a boat-filled inlet. It’s one of countless bullet-to-the-brain lines in 1995’s Fair Game, a damsel-in-distress disasterpiece that marked Crawford’s big screen debut. Not to be confused with Naomi Watt’s 2010 C.I.A. vehicle, which, by comparison, looks like some kind of espionage classic, this second adaptation of Paula Gosling’s novel (the first being the 1986 Stallone dud Cobra) is the sort of movie that shocks viewers as they learn it’s in no way aiming for camp. When I recently rewatched it at home (yes, I own it), and got to the scene in which Kate seduces a computer store employee who’s “fiddling with his joystick,” my partner did a whip-around from the next room, demanding to know if this movie was for real. “Just wait,” I replied. Kate goes on to tell Adam, the dumbfounded nerd in this technologically ancient flick, that she’s not interested in software, but “hardware,” and that she “was hoping to demo [his] unit.” Granted, this is one of few scenes in the film that, however puerile, is intentionally ironic, but it’s also one of many to highlight Crawford’s outright horrendous acting, which is defined by line readings that seem punctuated by periods. “I’m. out. I’m. gone. I’m. just. going. to. get. away. from. all. of. this!” Kate barks in monotone to Det. Max Kirkpatrick (William Baldwin), the cop who winds up protecting her from a team of Russian assassins. That’s right: Crawford, it turns out, had the jump on the meme generation in regard to “Best. _____. Ever.” accentuation.

If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

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If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time
If I Had a Sight & Sound Film Ballot: R. Kurt Osenlund’s Top 10 Films of All Time

The highly subjective task of compiling a list of the 10 best films of all time is nearly as daunting as the thought that plagues every film completist: How on earth will I ever catch up with more than a century’s worth of cinema? The answer, of course, is that nobody really can, and in a sense, surrendering to that truth offers a kind of liberation. We all want to devour as many great movies as possible, but there comes a time when we have to accept a certain morsel of defeat. Which is basically my disclaiming way of saying that I came at this project with a highly personal and minimally authoritative approach, selecting a group of favorites instead of stamping my feet and declaring history’s 10 best films. Contributors were encouraged to tackle their lists however they saw fit, and some have certainly delivered what they regard as the definitive cream of the crop. More power to those folks, and to those whose picks are far less populist and more Sight & Sound-friendly than mine. Ultimately, while I gave much consideration to artistic influence and chronological diversity (and winced at the snubbing of films like The Red Shoes, Pulp Fiction, My Own Private Idaho, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul), there were really only 10 titles I ever could have chosen. Quite simply, these movies changed my life.

Critical Distance: The Avengers

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Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>
Critical Distance: <em>The Avengers</em>

For 10 years, comic-book superheroes have permeated popular movies. After the mega-success of Spider-Man in 2002, costumed white fellas saving the world became multiplex staples. Once all the iconic heroes were accounted for, studios found continued success with second-tier characters, from the previously obscure (Iron Man) to the uncomfortably jingoistic (Captain America: The First Avenger). The circuit escalated into the late 2000s, spawning remakes, reboots, sequels, and prequels with a frequency that only the most ardent fans could keep up with. A few X-Men spinoffs, a Superman hybrid, and two Hulk films later, we now arrive at a moment of superhero saturation, wherein each new release affirms the general consensus that these films represent a creatively dry enterprise.

15 Famous Fights to the Death

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15 Famous Fights to the Death
15 Famous Fights to the Death

Nearly two dozen teens bite the big one in The Hunger Games, sure to be cinema’s most popular source of adolescent bloodshed. There’s no darker vicarious thrill than watching someone perish on screen, as many an action junkie will certainly tell you. In light of Jennifer Lawrence’s blockbuster standoff against her oppressed peers, we’ve got 15 Famous Fights to the Death, which, together, should sate even the bloodthirstiest film fans.

Summer of ‘86: Aliens

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Summer of ‘86: <em>Aliens</em>
Summer of ‘86: <em>Aliens</em>

In Scream 2, the question of whether a sequel can be better than the original film becomes a running gag, with participants intermittently suggesting examples. For Wes Craven, it’s just another of the many self-referential gestures in his Scream films and elsewhere. But for film lovers, it’s a game worth playing. Enthusiasts differ on whether The Empire Strikes Back really is better than Star Wars (now A New Hope), or should be disqualified as the middle part of a trilogy; and whether Superman II outshines Superman: The Movie. Probably the one sequel that no one denies is superior to its original is The Road Warrior. But in the Summer of ’86, James Cameron’s Aliens outdid Ridley Scott’s Alien in every way imaginable.

A sequel has to be both the same film and different, and this is a challenge for anyone undertaking to direct a follow-up. How to make the film your own, turn it into something that stands up in its own right, while still repeating enough of the successes of the original to justify its coattail riding at the box office? Cameron had announced himself with The Terminator a couple of years earlier, and now faced the challenge of reinventing one of the most popular and successful fantasy-genre films of all time. The 1979 film had married science fiction with horror in a way unseen since the ’50s, reviving the monster genre, which had, for the most part, died out in the wake of Psycho’s ushering in of an era of more personal, intimate, human horror.

Music Video: Broken Bells’s "The Ghost Inside"

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Music Video: Broken Bells’s “The Ghost Inside”
Music Video: Broken Bells’s “The Ghost Inside”

I’ve spent much time elsewhere prattling on about my distaste for robots and my fear of the Robot Apocalypse, but when I heard that the new music video for Broken Bells’s “The Ghost Inside” (directed by Jacob Gentry) was to star Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks (I love her) as a robot, naturally I had high hopes that, for once, I could lay off the robo-haterade because the Robot Apocalypse would be led by Hedricks, which means the Robot Apocalypse demands glamour. Fabulous, glorious, poolside-cocktails-and-retro-sunglasses glamour:

Then again, this is the Robot Apocalypse, after all: a lonely, post-apocalyptic landscape—or in this case, space-scape—where things grow increasingly bleak, which is exactly what happens in this music video. “Even for robots?” you ask.