Growing up I must have seen this movie on TV several times, and always marvelled not only at the atmosphere and setting, but those incredible creature effects by makeup artist Rob Bottin. Over the years CGI has taken over considerably, the recent ‘prequel’ being a noteworthy example of CGI not able to replace decent practical effects, and so despite this being over thirty years old, how does it hold up compared to today’s offerings?
Kurt Russell leads a cast of characters which bare at least thematically a resemblance to the crew of Alien’s Nostromo. These guys, working at a remote research facility in the Antarctic are not marines, but simple blue-collar workers, not unlike what you’d find of an oil rig … who are about to get an unexpected and unwelcome visitor. Director John Carpenter took inspiration from 50s b-movie The Thing From Outer Space, but brings his own personality and considerable directing chops to deliver probably one of the stand out horror movies of the 80’s. Colourful characters bring a realism to the movie that works well and the cast all do a fine job with Russell proving a great lead. The setting is also claustrophobic and well filmed; combining a mix of traditional cinematography with hand-held camera work. Once the ‘thing’ starts imitating various characters, tension ramps up and it became pretty disturbing and scary, especially with how the characters convey their paranoia and fear for those they once called friends. However the star of the show is the creature itself and it’s transformations and gory appearances are stuff of cinematic legend by now – and all these years later still impress. The scenes with tentacles, spiders legs and all sorts of other things still sent shivers my way. Yet Carpenter sensibly chose to make this as much a character piece as a creature feature and for that reason it excels.Arrow Video once again deliver a stunning package with the movie’s latest treatment on Blu-ray, improving immeasurably over the previous Universal release which suffered from lip-sync problems. Here we get a 4K restoration boasting a clean, detailed image free of dust or damage and in fine shape, even if it’s not the most vibrant movie you’ll see. All those gory details certainly get showcased however. Add to this a choice of original 2.0 Stereo, 4.1 and also DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio, and along with Ennio Morricone’s ominous score and clear dialogue – this is impressive stuff. Now as usual Arrow don’t shirk on the special features and here we get two audio commentaries; firstly an archive Kurt Russell & John Carpenter one which feels like two old time buddies watching a movie together, complete with laugh-out-loud reactions to certain scenes. The other is a commentary by a trio of podcasters that’s well worth a listen for endless titbits and geeky knowledge. We also get several featurettes, some archive, some new that are well worth dipping into if you’re a fan (and let’s admit it, if you’re reading this you already are). The Blu-ray limited edition I picked up also comes with a fold out poster, art cards and a detailed booklet as well as fancy slip case packaging. Which makes this edition essential.
There’s no denying that Stephen King is a hell of a writer and has been responsible for not only countless acclaimed novels and short stories, but also that his work has made for some classic movies. This latest adaptation, based on the 1992 novel of the same name finds a married couple, Jessie and Gerald who travel to a woodland holiday home in hope of reigniting the fire in their already troubled marriage. Once there Gerald has the idea of a little kinky bondage and role play, of which Jessie is initially game, that is until Gerald has a heart attack, leaving Jessie to ponder a grim fate.
This intriguing concept plays out very cleverly, exploring Jessie’s horrible dilemma, whilst throwing in hallucinations and memories of long buried secrets linked to childhood trauma. It’s brilliantly acted, especially from Carla Gugino (Sin City) who’s plight I found utterly compelling. Add to this a tense, cleverly written and at times creepy as hell plot and this twisting and turning horror-thriller kept me equal parts guessing and gripped.
I felt reminded of that other, claustrophobic King adaption ‘Misery’, and to a larger extent Oscar magnet ‘127 Hours’, and even if where it finally goes is a little ‘oh of course’, I still was both entertained and particularly impressed by this little low budget thriller I’d pretty much stumbled on by accident. A simple idea done well it seems, is all that’s needed sometimes.
I was optimistic about this one. I was initially a little hyped when it hit theatres considering that director Ridley Scott not only created the Alien franchise, but also helmed last year’s (for me) ‘movie of the year’ Martian. So I was thinking, he’s back and bringing Alien back. Oh was I wrong…
The crew of the Covenant are transporting a colony of thousands in hyper sleep, in search of a new planet to call their home. After receiving a distress call from a near by planet, they choose to, albeit reluctantly investigate. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Sort of a direct sequel to the much hyped yet bewildering Prometheus, a film I came away disappointed by, this has returning character David, a synthetic android marooned on said planet who the crew of the space ship meet up with. Amongst their crew is also an identical synthetic called Walter (both are played by Michael Fassbender), who soon finds himself bonding with his look-a-like by way of a drawn out flute lesson (yes you read that right…a flute lesson).
This is a movie in search of an identity. It wants to be a survival horror typical Alien movie, and then like Prometheus it wants to be a philosophical origin story on both the creation of the Aliens and some mumbo-jumbo mythology involving mankind and bio-engineering. The problem is it’s very hard to get invested in much of any of it, what with tedious characterisation and a plodding pace. Fassbender tries his best but is let down by a poor script that is both over-complicated and boring. Unconvincing CGI for the Aliens doesn’t help either and when crew members start dying off and you’re not even entirely sure which ones they were – the movie has problems.
Alien never needed a deep mythology. It didn’t need a back story. The mystery, the foreboding eeriness of H R Giger’s designs was enough – once a director attempts to explain it all, it ultimately kills it … which Scott is very much going to do if he insists on making the franchise something it never needed to be.
Lockhart, a somewhat over-worked executive (Dane DeHaan) is given the task to travel to Switzerland to locate an illusive CEO of the company he works for, which is facing financial problems. However on arrival at a hospital where the wealthy go for ‘the cure’ Lockhart begins to suspect something dark and sinister is afoot.
It’s not hard to gleam Shutter Island vibes from this, what with the lead’s more than passing resemblance to a somewhat younger Leonardo DiCaprio and a setting of a creepy, isolated sanatorium with stories of a violent history. Add to this a lead doctor (Jason Isaacs) who may or may not be up to no good, and I was half expecting Lockhart’s dead wife to turn up. Gore Verbinski however is a good enough director to take such inspiration and lavish it with his own distinct style, albeit with a reliance on animal imagery he used so well in the Ring remake (yup, Deers and Cows are officially symbols of impending doom). Add to this often breath-taking cinematography and this is one eye-catching movie.
When the final twist reveals itself, it’s so blatantly sign-posted that it proves not all that surprising … but paves the way for a decidedly old-school, Hammer-horror inspired climax that works well. However I was left questioning a few things that are not explained.
Dane DeHaan may not be the most interesting leading man but his look and performance suit the eerie, freaky mood. It’s a tad over-long with a first act that drags and some of the more freaky moments confuse (the steam baths scene, the eels). However it nails the setting and has an intriguing mystery, making this still worth your time.
As an admirer of director David Fincher, this thriller from 1997 was one of those movies I’d forgotten he’d actually made. At the time still riding high after the success of Seven, this rather high-concept but somewhat under-the-radar effort proved an obvious follow up; throwing in all the traits we’d come to expect from the director – bags of style, a twisting narrative and an attention to detail that has him often compared to Stanley Kubrick.
Michael Douglas stars as wealthy businessman Nicholas Van Orton, a guy who seemingly has it all but is ultimately cold and miserable. That is until on the day of his birthday, his brother, played by Sean Penn gives him the gift of ‘the game’. Baffled and intrigued at the same time, Nicholas agrees to attend an interview at the organization responsible … and so sets into motion a unique thriller that clearly borrows from the likes of Hitchcock as Nicholas struggles to stay one step ahead of an increasingly bizarre series of events.
I’ve always liked Michael Douglas and he’s very good here, proving complex and likable for a character that is otherwise mean spirited and selfish. Penn hams it up a little bit but proves enjoyable and Deborah Kara Unger is also decent. The idea itself is great but ultimately isn’t fully realised and despite Fincher’s assured direction and best intentions … it could have gone further, been more elaborate but sticks rigidly to plausibility for the most part (despite throwing all that out the window for the final act). Not one of Fincher’s best but still worth a look or revisiting for the concept or if you’re a fan of either Douglas or Fincher.
The Blu-ray boasts a quality image despite the occasionally soft-looking exterior or wide angle shots. Close-up detail is good and dark scenes offer plenty of detail. The movie is delivered in DTS Master Audio 5.1 and is for the most part punchy and immersive, even if in certain scenes dialogue gets a little lost in the atmospherics. Extras consist of merely a couple of trailers – very poor, but perhaps not surprising for one of the director’s more over-looked movies.