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Archive for the ‘Groovers Video Vault’ Category

Groovers Video VaultFor the first time in over a year I return to my VHS shelf for and entry in my occasional series.

We often talk of how films ages, but what does this mean?  We may enjoy a film more or less depending on the context, but unless it is restored or re-cut it remains set in stone as much as a Michelangelo sculpture. So it is clearly us the viewer that changes not the art.  I am sure there was a time people enjoyed the artistry of The Birth of a Nation without noticing the horrendous racism of the plot.  So what has prompted these thoughts of context?  The English Patient. Ralph Fiennes the english patient

I first saw the film on its original release in 1997. And that is the notable context of these ramblings.  In 1997 I was a typically 21 year old film student with the arrogance and stupidity to believe I understood life and knew all that is worth knowing about film.  In the near twenty years that have followed I have lived life and watched many more films than I had in the first twenty years of my existence.  When I first saw the film I truly loved it.  As a student of film I loved the old fashioned idea of the film reminiscent of Casablanca.  I was in awe of the stunning cinematography by John Seale.  Impressed by perfect structure that easily blends the two time periods.  On a more base level, like any self respecting red blooded male film geek I was desperately in love with Juliette Binoche and Kristin Scott Thomas having seen them in Three Colours: Blue and Four Weddings and a Funeral respectively.the english patient Kristin Scott Thomas

Just weeks after raving about the film it picked up nine Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director (Anthony Minghella), Best Cinematography (John Seale), Best Supporting Actress (Juliette Binoche).  Empowered by the critical success of the film I purchased the video (VHS) on the day of its release.  I immediately watched the film again but forgot it over time. Then last year I watched it again for the first time in over ten years.  Since that time, the video along with a few others has stood on the floor next to my TV and I have watched it three or four times.the english patient Colin Firth

Like Almásy’s (Ralph Fiennes) directions to Kip (Naveen Andrews) for reading Kipling the film has to be appreciated for what it is.  A film rooted in the golden age of cinema with the luxury of embracing aspects of the previous fifty years while ignoring others.  The themes of the film probably couldn’t have been expressed had it being made any earlier.   With the freedom of distance we are able to explore understand a measured view.   The brilliance of the filmmaking is the way all the questions of the source novel are explained without ever telling us that they are the questions.  The film is so much more than this.  There is a central plot and mystery that unfolds in the final act but you will get swept up in the film and forget that there is ever any mystery to uncover.the english patient Willem Dafoe

The thing that really made my write this article is Empire magazine.  Out of curiosity I looked the movie up in the hope of understanding what others thought of it.  Empireonline contains a rather sniffy postmodern four star review that doesn’t sit well as a representation of the film.  I decided to pull out an old copy of the magazine from my loft (issue 94 from April 1997), there if found a more glowing five star review.  There is no indication of when the online review is from but it clearly shows a cooling towards the film from the original glowing review.  Is it because in a post 9-11 lines on a map have become more important in the way they were a generation ago and the ideas of the film are less acceptable, or is it just because the film has fallen out of fashion? The beauty of the film goes beyond the aesthetic and the humanity and into the poetry of the direction.  Anthony Minghella in what is truly his finest hour balances a triumphant defiance hope with crippling Melancholia with true artistry.  From the opening brushstrokes over the desert to their final mirror of  Hana’s squinting vision of sunlight through the trees the film has a beauty underlined by  Gabriel Yared’s haunting Oscar winning score.the english patient Juliette Binoche

I have got this far without mentioning Ralph Fiennes and Colin Firth. Both relatively early in their career, they are both perfectly cast is Willem Dafoe and the two female leads.  On the subject of perfect casting: Having clearly read the novel, Kristin Scott Thomas wrote to director Anthony Minghella “I am ‘K’ in your film”.  Minghella and producer Saul Zaentz resisted attempts from the studio to cast bigger names including  Demi Moore.  This ultimately caused them to lose their studio funding until Miramax stepped in.  This goes beyond attention to detail, it is a passion to make the film as good as it could be, it really shows on the screen.the english patient Naveen Andrews

The stunning vistas do lose a little on the small screen other than that the film holds up as the masterpiece I remember watching at the cinema. 

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Groovers Video VaultWith Star Trek Into Darkness, the sequel to the surprisingly good reboot opening this weekend it seemed like a good time to look back at an older Star Trek movie. And as I own the movie on VHS it is also joins my ongoing video vault feature. It is often argued that The Wrath Of Khan is the best of the original movies, it probably is but I cant help enjoying The Undisclosed Country.Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

The Enterprise is no longer the gleaming new flagship of the federation, like its crew, it is old and ready to be superseded. The Next Generation TV show had already been running for four years by this time. Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise are sent on a peace mission to escort the Klingon Chancellor to negotiations on Earth. When the Chancellor is murdered Kirk and McCoy are arrested and put on trial. They have to escape, find the real killers and prevent the new president of the Federation from being assassinated at the conference. Put simply all in a days work for Kirk, Spock and the rest of the old regulars.Kim Cattrall Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

Filled with comedy moments and references to the previous movie and TV show, it is a fitting final mission for the Enterprise’s original crew. The real appeal of the movie is a simple but effective conspiracy plot making the movie a perfect blend of whodunit and action adventure. The story is credited to Leonard Nimoy who also executive produces and reprises his role as Spock. After the dreadful Star Trek V: The Final Frontier directing duties are taken away from William Shatner in favour of Nicholas Meyer whose previous credits include Wrath Of Khan. The plot feels very much of the time, made in the late 80’s / early 90’s with an ecological disaster providing the catalyst for the plot and the Klingons empire in crisis shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is also full of timeless ideals and themes as you would expect for anything carrying Gene Roddenberry’s name. All the familiar old faces return and are joined by some new ones. Look out for a supporting performances from Kim Cattrall, Iman and Michael Dorn (Worf in The Next Generation) as well as a cameo from Star Trek fan Christian Slater (his mother, Mary Jo Slater was the movies Casting Director).Christopher Plummer Star Trek VI The Undiscovered Country

As the final outing for the original crew, The Undiscovered Country is an apt title. As explained in the movie dialogue is a reference to the future from the “To be, or not to be” speech from Hamlet (translated from the original Klingon. We aren’t just looking back at the history of the franchise but forwards to its future and the message of the movie is very much about putting aside differences to help make the best future possible. As mentioned this is a movie made at the beginning of the final decade of the 20th century. A centenary that saw two world wars and humanity found many new ways of destroying itself. The literary references don’t end there with Shakespeare, there are also mentions for Milton and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (an ancestor of Spock). A lot of the Shakespeare quotes come from Christopher Plummer who is clearly having a great time a superbly villainous Klingon, but they are at their most poignant when spoken by Kirk who actual has a small character arc within the movie as he finds a little humility. Possibly not the best Star Trek movie, but it is up there with the best and it is certainly one of the most fun.

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Groovers Video Vault
Arizona, noon, on the seventh of June when they highballed over the pass,
Bulldog Mac with a can on back, and a Jaguar hauling ass.
He’s ten on the floor strokin’ bore, seat cover startin’ to gain,
Now beaver you a truckin with the Rubber Duck and I’m about to pull the plug on your drain.

Bulldog Mac with a can on back and a Jaguar hauling assFrom the moment Kris Kristofferson says “there ain’t many of us left” we know this is going to be a movie about changing times and a end of a era, but what should we expect, it is a Sam Peckinpah movie. John Ford was a pioneer, a pioneer in spirit and at heart and a pioneer of movies. This ideal is reflected in his movies, whatever the story, the subtext of his great westerns involved the settlement and taming of the west. Sam Peckinpah came along at a different time an era of despair and an era and a loss of innocence. While Ford’s work is a metaphor for the birth of a new nation, Peckinpah represents an established nation facing a crisis of fair and a loss of direction. It is therefore fitting that he should make a film like Convoy, a contemporary film that explore all the ideas of his westerns, in a lot of ways it is a western. It is also fitting that it should be his last significant film, and incidentally his most profitable.Convoy_film_poster

Three truckers: Martin Penwald aka Rubber Duck known as “The Duck” (Kris Kristofferson), Spider Mike (Franklyn Ajaye), Bobby aka Love Machine’ aka Pig Pen (Burt Young) Are lured into a speed trap by Sheriff Lyle Wallace (Ernest Borgnine) who gave them a false “Smokey report” using the CB handle ‘Cottonmouth’. Lyle considers himself independent (in other words corrupt) takes a bribe to let them off the speeding charge using the threat of locking them up awaiting trial and thus taking away their livelihood. After paying the fine the trio stop at a truck stop where Lyle tries to arrest Mike on a vagrancy charges (knowing that he has already extorted his remaining cash) . A fight breaks out between Lyle, two other cops and all the truckers in the place. Fleeing the scene along with Melissa (Ali MacGraw), a photographer looking for a lift after her car breaks down, the group head for the state line. By the time they cross the border into New Mexico the convoy has increased to fifty trucks. Before long a mile long Convoy is heading for Mexico, picking up support and attracting the attention of the police and the state governor.convoy Ali MacGraw Franklyn Ajaye Burt Young Ernest Borgnine

There have reports suggesting EMI who own had purchased the rights to the song that inspired the movie intended to make a light, comic action chase movie like Smokey and the Bandit that had just grossed over $60million. Although elements of this remained Sam Peckinpah had other ideas and crafted something more substantial, political and most importantly similar in style and substance to his westerns. It is true that the movie looses its way from time to time but on the whole it is a solid movie that is misunderstood and unfairly criticised. Made at time before internet it is a film surrounded by myth. One constantly mentioned point is that it is based on a song. That isn’t entirely true. The original version of the song does not include the plot or the characters from the film. A new version was written based on the screenplay, this is the one used in the film and played on the radio. It is true that actor and friend of the director James Coburn worked as second-unit director, it has been suggested this was favour to help him get his directors union card, however he didn’t actually direct anything after Convoy. It also isn’t clear how much of the film he actually directed when Peckinpah was “unwell” (unwell being a euphemism for his much publicised problems of the time).Convoy (USA 1978) Kris Kristofferson/ LKW, Truck, Trucker

Set at a time of rising fuel prices and the introduction of the 55mph speed limit, shortly after the Watergate scandal and the end of the Vietnam war, the film and the truckers in it represent the last bastion of American individuality and freedom in a increasingly state controlled country (and world). This is made clear in certain key scenes but is only suggested not resolved. This give viewers the opportunity to draw their own conclusions. Most people will take different things from the themes depending on what they bring to it. WARNING PLOT SPOILER COMING UP: For many The Duck’s apparent death and his ultimate survival/resurrection could just be a cop out by a filmmaker wanting a happy ending or afraid to kill his hero character. I see it more as glimmer of hope in a troubled time for the characters and what they represent. A message of hope for a nation and for the world as a whole, how far have we come from the despair of Vanishing Point (1971)? The cowboy spirit of the truck drivers has not been lost or broken, despite the hardship that the Duck and other drivers face in changing times. Furthermore the Duck’ survives because of his moral code and by surviving he defeats Lyle’s amoral code. The cowboy/truck driver being the hero and the corrupt authority figure reflects its own problems in society, but as already mentioned it was only a handful of years after the Watergate Scandal.Convoy

Beyond any meaning or subtext that may or not be there, there are two things that make the film really work. The cast and the trucks. The cast is headed by Kris Kristofferson as Rubber Duck, he was at the height of his fame as an actor having made some great films: Cisco Pike and Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (also with Sam Peckinpah) Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (directed by Martin Scorseese) as well as the rubbish but popular A Star is Born. Ali MacGraw had not made a film since The Getaway (also directed by Pecckinpah) six years earlier (following her divorce from Robert Evans and marriage to Steve McQueen) but was still a bankable star. Burt Young was recognisable after the success of Rocky. The film stealing performance comes from Ernest Borgnine as Lyle Wallace, the corrupt sheriff and The Ducks nemesis. The other stars, the trucks led by the Duck’s 1977 Mack RS-712 LST (Bulldog Mack with a can on back) are a representation of the pioneer spirit “From the covered wagons and trains to the 18-wheelers that keep this country alive”. They cut there way through the landscape the way the cavalry did in John Ford westerns creating emotive imagery, and they look cool!

We could tell by the smell it was trucker’s hell And the devil was Dirty Lyle

A few final thoughts on the movie: Re-watching the movie for my Video Vault series brings back a lot of memories. I first saw the film when I was about six years old and watched it constantly as a kid, possibly more that any other movie (until I came across The Terminator and Alien at the age of twelve, but that’s another story). Growing up in England it is this movie as much as Fandango (the movie that lends it name to my blog) that made encouraged me undertake a road trip around Americas south-west. I may not watch the movie as often as I did before, but I still love it. You can’t talk about Convoy without mentioning Sam Peckinpah’s other movies. It isn’t as hard hitting as Straw Dogs (1971) or as sublime as The Wild Bunch (1969) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) but just like Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) and The Getaway (1972) it shouldn’t be dismissed. Many people reading this may have seen the movie and forgotten it, others will not have seen it. I recommend regardless of your relationship or preconceptions you give it a chance and watch it.

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Groovers Video VaultFor the first time in what seems like ages I have had time to sit down and watch a movie at home. I thought I would combine it with a long overdue entry into my “Groovers Video Vault” series. If you scroll down you will see my last article where I suggested Kathryn Bigelow should direct the next Bond movie, and furthermore she should make it a dumb action movie. One of the commenter’s suggested “Bigelow just doesn’t work well in that area. She’s tried it several times before and ultimately failed with most of it” he goes on to suggest that the closest she came was Point Break but suggested that it was “just decent, nothing great”. I’m glad to report that I stand by my original assessment that not only does Bigelow do dumb action, but she does the best dumb action. Point Break, is dumb but it the best made and most fun dumb ever, in other words, it is great.point break

On his first day in the LA field office, rookie FBI Agent and former star college quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is partnered with veteran maverick agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). The pair are hunting a gang of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents (they were masks of former Presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon and Johnson during robberies) who have robbed thirty banks in three years without the authorities coming close to catching them. Following Pappas’ theory that the Ex-Presidents are surfers Utah goes undercover finding a way in through troubled surfer girl Tyler (Lori Petty).

Point break utah and tyler

 

There is a moment that comes to all surfers when they wipe-out and as they surface a big wave crashes down on them with such ferocity that they are pushed back under water. The power of the wave counters the bodies natural buoyancy and they don’t know witch way is up. I’m glad to report when this happened to me, I worked it out and came found my way to the surface before running out of air. This is the situation Utah finds himself in and it is this central relationship between his character and Bodie (Patrick Swayze) the leader of the Ex-Presidents that forms the heart of Point Break. This relationship is far more important than his interactions with Pappas and Tyler or even the relationships between the members of the Ex-Presidents. The overriding theme of the movie is Utah getting too deep and too close to Bodie to be blinded to his guilt, but look deeper and you will see from early on that it is Bodhi that sees something in Utah that he is attracted to something in his character. The only character who sees this is Tyler. Point-Break Utah and Bodhi

As you would expect of a Kathryn Bigelow it has a Visual Style that sets it apart from other movies of the genre. This is helped by the locations used, forgoing recognisable LA imagery and sticking with coastal  towns making it that little bit different to the norm. Littered with quotable lines and fun references it actually has a far better script than it is ever given credit for. The casting is perfected Matthew Broderick, Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer and Charlie Sheen were all considered for Johnny Utah, but Keanu Reeves totally nails it, as Ben Harp (John C. McGinley) describes the character as “a real blue flame special – Young, dumb and full of come” as much as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it is the movie that galvanised Reeves’ image. As an action star famed for doing his own stunts Patrick Swayze was the perfect choice for Bodhi. He takes it a stage further giving depth to the character and having the crazed look in his eyes that few actors (Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson?) can pull off. Gary Busey, himself the star of one of the greatest surf movies ever, manages to provide both gravitas and comic reliefpoint break gary busey

But all this is secondary, it’s the action that the movie is all about. The surf photography is good as is the skydiving. The best scene, and one that has been imitated may times happens back on terra firma. The foot chase through back streets (and peoples houses) is perfectly executed and comes as a surprise when you are expecting a car chase. Equally well handled is the raid on the other gangs house and the bank robberies. It is also worth remembering that all the action is integral to the plot of the movie, this gives it a stable grounding that helps us invest in the action the same way we do in the characters.point break the Ex Presidents

As fun now as it was when I saw it two decades ago, action movies don’t come much better than this. For those that see Point Break as a guilty pleasure, come out and declare your love for it, you may just find you are not alone. Those who haven’t seen it, take a look, it is a true classic of the genre.

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As we anticipate the release of Skyfall in less than two weeks I thought I would take a look at some of my older James Bond Movies for my ongoing Groovers Video Vault series. I’m not sure why I started with Licence to Kill but I am glad I did.

On route to his wedding Felix Leiter (David Hedison) gets word that south American drug lord Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi) has left the safety of the (fictional central American state) Republic of Isthmus to retrieve his runaway girlfriend (Talisa Soto). Leiter along and his best man James Bond (Timothy Dalton) capture Sanchez before arriving fashionably late for the wedding. Sanchez promptly escapes and takes revenge on Leiter and his new bride. Refusing the order from M (Robert Brown) to fly to Istanbul on a mission, Bond escapes and recruits pilot and friend of Leiter, Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) to seek help him seek revenge.

Having directed Roger Moore’s last three Bond movies that were frankly rubbish, John Glen was a brave choice to take Bond in a new direction with a new leading man.  But, he did a good job with The Living Daylights, so bringing him back for a fifth and final time made a lot of sense.  Continuing from Timothy Dalton’s first outing as Bond in The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill dispenses with the increasingly silly character portrayed by Roger Moore and returns Bond closer to the character from Ian Fleming’s novels. This however is no step back in time to the in time to Sean Connery’s Bond this is a modern (for the late 80’s when it was made) Bond who finds himself not saving the world from preposterous criminal organisation but in the middle of Reagan’s “War on Drugs”. This was the obvious but ultimately the right choice for a cold war character in a new post cold war era. This Bond isn’t a mischievous charmer with a glint in his eye, he is a cold hard cynical killer, still carrying the emotional scars of the past.

The opening sequence features a mid air stunt where Bond hooks a cable around a the tail of a light aircraft attached to a Coast Guard helicopter. Clearly an inspiration for Bond fan Christopher Nolan who copied the scene on a larger scale for his opening scene to The Dark Knight Rises. Sanchez makes a public offer to anyone listening to anyone who springs him from custody, something that was copies in the recent version of the movie S.W.A.T. (2003). The real credit to the film isn’t just the influence it had on other films, but the impression that they got it right. Reviews from the time were mixed but Dalton and his Bond is beginning to receive the respect he deserves. Delays from a legal dispute ultimately cost Dalton his place as Bond, when the franchise did return with GoldenEye in 1995 he was replaced by Pierce Brosnan. While Goldeneye was a solid film, it did return to an extravagant world domination plot. This continued in the downward spiral that led to the invisible car, ice palace and Madonna of Die Another Day (2002). Were the movies just a product of there time or was the Dalton direction the one they should have continued on? We will never know but Daniel Craig’s Bond of Casino Royale (2006) and Quantum of Solace (2008) is closer to Dalton’s interoperation than any of his other predecessors suggesting to me that in the Dalton movies they got it right!

The first Bond film with an original title and not one taken from a Fleming story, it does have references to the books as well as the movies that went before it. David Hedison reprised his role of Felix Leiter having played the part in Roger Moore’s first Bond film Live and Let Die. The story of Leiter being fed to the sharks and the line “He disagreed with something that ate him” came from the Book of Live and Let Die but had not been used in the film. The character Milton Krest is lifted from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity as is his boat the Wavekrest, but a lot of his character attributes including physical abuse of his wife are transferred to the character Franz Sanchez. Although lacking the grandeur and extravagance of The Spy Who Loved Me or Thunderball the underwater scenes have become a classic and iconic part of Bond movies and are used sparingly but handled well here. Q (Desmond Llewelyn) pops up with his usual array of useful gadgets but not very far fetched by Bond standards. This really is a grounded Bond movie in comparison to what followed.

As has become the tradition since Golfinger there are two Bong Girls. The movie benefits from them being very different both in personality and look. Although more common now, Ex-Army pilot and CIA informant Pam Bouvier (Carey Lowell) was the first Bond girl since Major Anya Amasova aka Agent XXX (Barbara Bach) in The Spy Who Loved Me who could hold her own alongside Bond. The modernisation of the Bond girl is sometimes an awkward one, with her short hair she is often portrayed as a tomboy and as useful as she is to Bond she nags and begs him to let her come along rather than him seeing that he needs her. Lupe Lamora (Talisa Soto) is more conventional, the villains woman who wants to get away and falls for Bond in the process. She is the catalyst for the story and was clearly chosen for her looks and not her acting ability. That leads onto the main villain/antagonist; Latin America drug lord Franz Sanchez played with cold perfection by Robert Davi. A perfect opponent for this more modern Bond, a ruthless businessman who is ultimately defeated by his by his own character flaws. His main henchman is played with relish by a young (22) Benicio Del Toro.

As mentioned on its release the movie received mixed reviews, Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times being one of the few major critics to give a positive review. I think what Ebert saw and others missed was that Licence to Kill is a solid movie as they were so fixated on how it compared to what went before it. As Pierce Brosnan took us back to the bad old days of Roger Moore Dalton’s Bond looked increasingly out of place but now as a companion pierce to the Daniel Craig movies it may just find its place in Bond history.

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When I was in my early teens I loved The Running Man (1987), it was my second favourite Arnold Schwarzenegger movie after The Terminator (1984) that at the time was one of my favourite movies (Total Recall (1990) and Terminator 2 (1992) were yet to be made and I didn’t appreciate Predator (1987) until I saw it again a few years later). I had avoided watching The Running Man for the last ten years through fear of been disappointed at the way it had aged. Should I have been worried? Well, yes and no. It is dated but it gets away with it surprisingly well. It is only dated in as much as you would expect any twenty-five year old sci-fi movie to be (even Alien looks dated today), but it still has its charms and its thrills. The costumes and the sets are very 80’s, but you would expect them to be. The acting is as good as you can expect from an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. The action is plentiful, but not as bold, bloody or as violent as I remember.

Set in a future totalitarian/dystopian society, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is framed for a massacre he tried to prevent and sent to prison. He escapes but is recaptured and coerced into taking part in a bloodthirsty reality TV show, The Running Man.

Directed by Paul Michael Glazeer (best known as Starskey in the TV show Starsky and Hutch) it is by far the best of his handful of movies. Loosely based on a short story by Stephen King under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. Legend has it that the filmmakers didn’t realise at the time they made the film that Richard Bachman was Stephen King. The dystopia is set in the aftermath of a failed world economy result in the world (or a small corner of southern California at least) having a wide gulf between rich and poor. The story is very different but a lot of the ideas and themes remain. There is an underlying ideal in the movie of truth, justice and overcoming oppression.

The sets and costumes look very dated as you would expect of a futuristic movie from the 80’s but if you look beyond that, the story is strangely prophetic with the ailing world economy and the obsession with reality TV. We also see the producers of the show misrepresenting the facts to the audience, something else that has been in the news recently with various TV scandals. There are lulls between the action scenes and Schwarzenegger’s woefully delivered one-liners, but again it gets away with it. The action scenes benefit from being real and not CGI, but they are also limited by this, leaving the feeling the battles should have been more epic. There is a knowing glint in Schwarzenegger’s eye as his reluctant hero of the revolution tells us: “I’m not into politics, I’m into survival.” By 1987 the future (now former) Governor of California had already expressed an interest in politics. Is this like the movie itself a lucky coincidence coupled with rose-tinted hindsight? I’m note sure but whether intention or not, the movie is far more satirical than I remember, although too light-hearted to be truly cutting or cynical.

It is very much Schwarzenegger’s movie, María Conchita Alonso is on hand as a bickering sidekick/love interest, but is given little to do beyond pouting and has no chemistry with Schwarzenegger. Real life game show host Richard Dawson has fun as Damon Killian, the Running Man TV show slimy producer/host. The “stalkers” who are sent out to hunt and kill the contestants include former NFL star Jim Brown and former professional wrestlers Charles Kalani, Jr. and Jesse Ventura.

Following The Hunger Games earlier this year other similar themed movies like this are been dusted off, while it isn’t in the same league as Battle Royale (2000) it is still worth checking out. I’m not sure how much new audiences will take from the move, but anyone who enjoyed it in the 80’s will probably be pleasantly surprised.

A note for those who haven’t noticed, Harold Weiss is played by Marvin J. McIntyre, better known as Truman Sparks in Fandango.

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“In space no-one can hear you scream.”

In preparation/anticipation of the release of Prometheus a few weeks ago I watched the first two Alien movies again. I have the directors cut of Aliens, the first sequel directed by James Cameron on DVD however I only have an old VHS copy of Ridley Scott’s original film.

Commercial towing spaceship Nostromo is on route from Thedus to Earth with a cargo of twenty million tons of mineral ore and a refinery. Its crew of seven are in stasis until they are awoken when they pick up what they believe to be a distress beacon.

Looking back at Alien, aside from the grainy image of my old VHS copy, the most notable thing about the movie after all this time is not the suspense or the horror, it’s the characters. They are different characters with their own ideas, personality, prospective and their own agenda as you would expect of a the crew of a ship (in space or a regular ship in the real world). In many ways the most significant of these are Parker (Yaphet Kotto) and Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) who give the movie a more relevant and political edge. Kane (John Hurt) has one of the most memorable scenes in film history but within the plot it is the only important thing he does. Ash (Ian Holm) comes to represent “the corporation” this is a defining element of the movie and one that has continued through all the sequels spiff offs and the new prequel Prometheus, it is also like Parker and Brett the thing that gives the movie edge and relevance beyond the genre. As captain Dallas (Tom Skerritt) is an interesting character, he is more a company man than the rest of the crew but is still his own man never forgetting how far from home he is. Lambert (Veronica Cartwright) could have been there to just make up the numbers, but she does more than that, she helps give the movie balance and prospective. And finally the star, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). It seems hard to believe now but aside from a couple of bit parts Alien was her first movie. The casting was perfect, not only did it define her future career, but it helped elevate the movie beyond its genre origins.

On the surface it is a sci-fi movie but owing far more to the horror and thriller genres. Contemporary space movies of the day like Star Wars (1977) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) have a bright an hopeful outlook, Alien has more in common with John Carpenter movies Halloween (1978) and Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). The basic concept owes a debt to Agatha Christie’s 1939 novel “And Then There Were None” (originally published with a less politically correct title), itself being inspired by the nursery rhyme, Ten Little Indians. In comparison to the later films (including the Predator crossovers and the prequel Prometheus) it has a much smaller story and scope, this far from being a problem, it is actually a benefit. Its not that we don’t care where the “space jockey” or the Alien come from, it is that they are not relevant to the survival of the crew. We are focussed in on a very small part of a larger greater universe and know no more, or less than the characters in the film. It is this simplicity and intimacy that helps create a bond between character and viewer making us care what happens to them.

The effects should stand out in a film that is more than thirty years old, but they don’t. The models used to recreate the exteriors and the H.R. Giger designed “space jockey” are fantastic and a relief in this over CGI age. The interiors of the Nostromo look dated just like they do in Discovery One in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and many Star Trek movies. The important thing though is the Alien also designed by Gieger, I have heard “man in rubber suit criticism”. This really isn’t fair, sticking with the first rule of monster movies, the alien spends most of its time in the shadows, when we do see it, it really stands up. The planet is a dark rain soaked inhospitable place that exists largely in shadow and half-light, the Nostromo is made up of dim corridors, this lends itself perfectly to the movie. The style of the lighter brighter Prometheus would not work in Alien.

Like no other sci-fi or horror movie before Alien redefined two genres and possibly invented there own genre. It has aged surprisingly well and could teach the makers of a few flabby overcomplicated movies a thing or two about suspense and atmosphere. The grainy VHS version seems somehow appropriate for a movie that I first saw on late night television in the 1980’s.

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