READY PLAYER ONE (2018) – Cinematic References Best Part of this Fantasy Tale

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I’m not a gamer. I don’t play video games, and I haven’t read the book  Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, and so my interest in seeing READY PLAYER ONE (2018) the new fantasy adventure by director Steven Spielberg, was purely for cinematic reasons.  That’s right. I saw this one simply because I wanted to see the movie.

So, as a movie, how does READY PLAYER ONE size up? Not bad.  For the most part, it’s a fairly entertaining two-plus hours at the movies, even if it’s telling a story that is about as compelling as a game of Donkey Kong.

The best part of READY PLAYER ONE is all the cultural cinematic references. After all, where else can you find King Kong, MechaGodzilla, and the Iron Giant all in the same movie?  Where else can you have your characters enter a world based on Kubrick’s THE SHINING (1980)?  The answer is READY PLAYER ONE! These and other references and nods [including to ALIEN (1979) and LOST IN SPACE (1965-68)]  are what kept me most interested in this movie, long after I lost interest in its story.

Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) lives in 2045, a time when life is so hard people need to escape from reality, and they do so by entering the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by the brilliant James Halliday (Mark Rylance) where pretty much anything can happen. You can be whoever you want to be and do whatever it is you want to do. So, Wade plays in this video game world as a handsomer version of himself known as Parzival.

Halliday has since died, but he’s left a challenge to all the players in the OASIS: he has left three keys inside his virtual reality world, and the player who finds all three keys will unlock the game’s secret and become controller of the entire OASIS.  Wade and his friends make it their goal to do just that, but they’d better hurry because an evil company led by a man named Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) has other ideas.

And that’s the story.  This one’s certainly not going to win any awards for Best Screenplay, that’s for sure.

Visually READY PLAYER ONE is a lot of fun, and Spielberg keeps the action fast, bright, and playful.  I have no problem with this part of the movie.

The cast is okay, even though they don’t have a whole lot to work with. Tye Sheridan is decent enough in the lead role as Wade/Parzival, but the character as written in this movie is rather dull, and Sheridan doesn’t really bring this young man to life.  Both his parents have died, yet this grief barely resonates in the story.

Olivia Cooke fares better as Samantha, who becomes Wade’s best friend and eventual love interest.  Samantha is also a kick-ass character who is much more interesting than Wade.  I like Cooke a lot and have been a fan since I first saw her on the TV series BATES MOTEL (2013-17) and also in the Hammer horror movie THE QUIET ONES (2014).

Ben Mendelsohn plays the cardboard villain Sorrento who acts like he walked out of an old Scooby Doo cartoon.  Mendelsohn played a much more effective villain, Orson Krennic, in ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016).

I did enjoy T.J. Miller as Sorrento’s henchman I-ROk, as he provides the film’s best bits of comic relief.  Miller was recently in DEADPOOL ((2016), but I always remember him as Hud, the frightened yet frequently hilarious guy behind the camera in CLOVERFIELD (2008).

Mark Rylance, either hidden under lots of hair or CGI effects in the OASIS, is quiet and unassuming as the gaming genius Halliday, but Simon Pegg as Halliday’s business partner Ogden Morrow is little more than an afterthought.  These two fine actors really don’t get a whole lot of chances to do much in this movie.

The screenplay by Zak Penn and Ernest Cline, who wrote the novel, is straightforward and pretty much tells a by-the-numbers plot.  Teens have to save the world from an evil meddling company while learning about the man who created their favorite game and about themselves as well.

At times, the film feels like a cross between TRON (1982) and WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971). In fact, it’s been reported that Spielberg had approached Gene Wilder to play Halliday, before the iconic comedic actor passed away.  Its nonstop video game landscape is mixed with a syrupy sweet nostalgia tale that makes for lightweight fare, as opposed to a hard-hitting fantasy adventure.

There’s not a lot of memorable dialogue either. And the action scenes, while visually stunning, were pretty tame.

READY PLAYER ONE is chock-full of fun cinematic, video game, and cultural references, especially from the 1980s, and it’s a treat for the eyes, as it’s full of colorful alternate reality landscapes, but its story is meh and often falls flat.  For example, for nearly its entire 140 minute run time, we are immersed inside its virtual reality world, yet at the end, we are treated to a message that says the real world is still more important and interesting, which after all that came before it simply sounds hollow and forced.

READY PLAYER ONE is a colorful diversion if you have 140 minutes to spare.  If not, feel free to spend some time outside instead.  In the real world.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

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ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) – Straightforward Thrill Ride

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As a sequel to PROMETHEUS (2012), ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) works rather well.  But as part of the ALIEN universe, not so much.

ALIEN: COVENANT takes place ten years after the events of PROMETHEUS.  In an opening that is all too reminiscent of the recent— and inferior— science fiction movie PASSENGERS (2016), the spaceship Covenant is on its way to colonize a new planet, filled to the brim with sleeping human beings and embryos traveling to their new home.  But catastrophe strikes, the ship is damaged, and the crew awakes to save the day.

But the captain is killed, leaving the second in command Oram (Billy Crudup) to secure the ship and have it ready to continue the voyage.  But before he can do so, the crew receives a garbled message which they recognize as human, and when they trace the source to a habitable planet that is much closer than their original destination, they decide to investigate.

Of course, awaiting them there are both mystery and danger, courtesy of the events of the previous film in the series, PROMETHEUS.  Director Ridley Scott, the director of the original ALIEN (1979) has planned a prequel trilogy to his original science fiction shocker.  ALIEN: COVENANT is the second film in this trilogy, and so we are crawling closer to the events of ALIEN, and the Alien creatures themselves are evolving towards those familiar monsters we know so well.

I enjoyed ALIEN: COVENANT well enough, mostly because it was a well-paced thriller that kept me interested throughout, at least until the end, as at that point it had become rather predictable.  But I liked it better than PROMETHEUS, which attempted to be high brow science fiction but didn’t quite achieve its goal.  I liked the ideas which PROMETHEUS put forth, but not the way they were executed.

ALIEN: COVENANT is a far less ambitious movie than PROMETHEUS, but it works because it doesn’t try to be something it’s not.  It seems satisfied to be a straightforward science fiction thriller.

Still, director Ridley Scott and his team of writers, John Logan and Dante Harper, continue to flirt with the deeper theme of the origins of life.  As android David (Michael Fassbender) says to his human creator at the beginning of the movie, “If you created me, who created you?”  That’s the million dollar question being put forth in both PROMETHEUS and ALIEN: COVENANT.  It’s a thought-provoking question, but a part of me has to laugh when I think that somewhere down the line the vicious alien creatures from these movies are going to be somehow tied into the origins of humanity.

This is Harper’s first screenplay, but John Logan has a list of very impressive writing credits, having worked on the screenplays to such films as GLADIATOR (2000), STAR TREK: NEMESIS (2002), and SKYFALL (2012).

But again, ALIEN: COVENANT works best as a thriller, and director Ridley Scott does a nice job at the helm and creates some decent suspenseful scenes.  The sequence where two crew members first become infected, and then are raced back to the ship for medical attention where it proves far too late to save them is one of the more riveting sequences in the film.  And what would an ALIEN movie be without an alien bursting from someone’s chest?  Yup, there’s one of those scenes here as well.

Michael Fassbender plays the dual lead role of “brother” androids,  David, who we met in PROMETHEUS and as we find out in this movie was the only survivor, and Walter, a member of the crew of the Covenant.  Fassbender is very good, as always.

Billy Crudup plays the ineffective Oram, a man forced into the captain’s seat obviously before he was ready.  Katherine Waterston plays the Sigourney Weaver-type role, Daniels, the woman who pretty much becomes the leader of the group.  Danny McBride plays Tennessee, and I guess the ALIEN films like southern geographical character names, since Tom Skerritt’s character’s name in ALIEN was Dallas.  Here we have Tennessee.

None of the other characters are really developed all that well, and no one else in the cast really stood out.   They were all pretty much cardboard characters.

But I didn’t mind that all that much here, since I enjoyed the mystery and the thrills.  The alien scenes here are quite good, although they pale in comparison to the original and its sequel, ALIENS (1986).  I was intrigued for a while, as I was happy to go along for the ride with these folks as they searched for answers about the planet they had landed on and were hoping to call home.  Likewise, I enjoyed the alien scenes.

But about two-thirds of the way in things began to grow predictable and I pretty much knew exactly where this film was going.  I hoped that I would be wrong, and that I would be surprised instead, but that wasn’t the case.    In terms of plot, especially if you’ve seen other ALIEN movies, you can figure out the ending long before it occurs.

Even so, ALIEN: COVENANT was an enjoyable thrill ride for me, and in spite of not absolutely loving this one, I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of this reborn ALIEN franchise.

—END—

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ALIEN 3

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the underwhelming third film in the ALIEN franchise, ALIEN 3 (1992):

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

I’ve always wanted to like ALIEN 3 (1992).

In fact, every few years, I say to myself,  “It’s time to give ALIEN 3 another chance.  It really can’t be that bad.  Heck, it’s directed by David Fincher!  Sigourney Weaver is back, and it takes place inside a creepy prison, what’s not to like?  It’s gotta be better than you remember, right?”

I keep thinking that perhaps it’s gotten better with time.

And then I watch it, and I’m reminded of all the reasons why this just isn’t true.  It hasn’t improved with time.  It may never.

It’s difficult to believe that a movie with as much talent behind it as ALIEN 3 is as flawed as it is, but it’s true.  Which is sad because, I mean, you have ALIEN (1979), one of the best science fiction horror movies ever, and then ALIENS (1986), a non-stop thrilling sequel directed by James Cameron, two of the top films of their kind in horror film history.  ALIEN3 has just got to keep things rolling, right?  Wrong.

ALIEN 3 gets off to a bad start right from the get-go. When the escape pod carrying Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) crash lands on the prison planet Fiorina Fury 161, we find out immediately that her fellow passengers and characters from the previous movie ALIENS, Hicks and the young girl Newt, have died.  Likewise, the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen) has been damaged beyond repair.  These were three central characters from ALIENS and to kill them off without any fanfare— especially the child Newt, who  Ripley was extremely close to and  went to great lengths to keep alive— – simply leaves a foul taste in one’s mouth.  Not good storytelling at all.

That being said, it’s certainly not a deal-breaker.  While I’ve never liked this plot point, it certainly doesn’t ruin the movie for me.  It’s simply the first strike.

Ripley regains consciousness and learns from the prison doctor, Dr. Clemens (Charles Dance), that she is now on a prison planet and that Hicks and Newt have died.  The prison contains only the most hardened and dangerous criminals, murderers and rapists.  These early scenes where Ripley becomes acclimated to her new environment are some of the better scenes in the movie, as the prison setting is both cool and creepy, the perfect setting for another Alien thriller.

And it is another Alien thriller because there was an Alien on board Ripley’s ship and it’s now in the prison.  Which means that before you can shout “Great Ridley Scott!” the creature is slinking around the prison killing every inmate in its path.

Which brings me to the number one reason I never seem to be able to enjoy this movie:  the Alien scenes.  Go figure!  Somehow, almost unbelievably so, the Alien scenes are lousy.  They’re not stylish, they’re not memorable, and they’re not scary.  Director David Fincher would go on to make some excellent movies, but you wouldn’t know it from watching this one.

True, the bigger story here is behind-the-scenes there were supposedly all kinds of problems on the set, things like producers meddling, multiple re-writes, and it sounds like it was a huge mess.  The final product certainly plays like one.

Every time I watch ALEIN 3 I’m amazed at how ineffective the Alien scenes are in this movie.  I’m not sure what Fincher was thinking when he shot these scenes, but scaring people didn’t seem to be on his mind.

Also, the Alien simply doesn’t look as good in this third film in the series.  While the special effects team does not employ the inferior CGI effects used in the next film in the series, ALIEN RESURRECTION 1997), the Aien in ALIEN 3 nonetheless looks more puppet-like and nowhere near as menacing as the creature in the first two films.

As much as I enjoy Sigourney Weaver, her performance in this third movie seems a bit tired.  She doesn’t seem to have the same intensity she had in the first two movies.

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Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in ALIEN 3 (1992)

I like Charles Dance a lot as Dr. Clemens.  He’s one of my favorite characters in this one.  Unfortunately, he gets killed off early on.  At times, it seems as if director Fincher and the screenwriters were trying too hard to make this film stand out from the first two movies, and many of the choices made here in the interest of shaking things up just don’t really work, like killing off Clemens.

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Charles Dance as Dr. Clemens in ALIEN 3 (1992).

Charles S. Dutton is also very good as head prisoner Dillon.  He’s the moral leader of the prisoners and eventually teams with Ripley to lead the charge against the Alien.  Brian Glover also makes his mark as the head of the prison, Andrews.  I always remember Glover from his role as the outspoken chess player in the tavern in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981).

That being said, none of these guys really make for memorable characters.  You’d think that a prison full of hardened criminals would be ripe with cinematic characters, but that’s simply not the case.

The screenplay by David Giler, Walter Hill, and Larry Ferguson is muddled and flawed.  It gives us an atmospheric setting, the prison planet, but never manages to take full advantage of it.  It also never fleshes out the characters to any degree of satisfaction.

ALIEN 3 was a major step backward for the ALIEN franchise, a slide that continued with the next film in the series ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997), and didn’t improve all that much with the two ALIEN VS. PREDATOR movies.  And while Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel PROMETHEUS (2012) had its flaws, it’s still the best “Alien” film since the second one, ALIENS (1986).

ALIEN 3 has potential written all over it, but no matter how many times I view it, it remains  an underwhelming chapter in the ALIEN franchise, a blip on the Nostromo radar screen, a footnote in the Alien canon, fodder for Alien face huggers, and a sad photo-op for Sigourney Weaver in a crew cut.

I wish I could say I like ALIEN 3, that it’s three times the fun.  But it’s not.  If anything, it’s three times less fun.

Maybe it should have been called ALIEN 1/3.

—END—

THE HORROR JAR: Music by Jerry Goldsmith, Part 1

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Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists about movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at genre movies scored by Jerry Goldsmith, and there are a lot of them.

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Jerry Goldsmith

Looking back at Jerry Goldsmith’s career, it’s amazing to see just how many horror and science fiction films he wrote the music for, and how memorable these scores are.  There are so many, in fact, that I’ve divided this column into two parts.

Here’s a partial look at his prolific career, concentrating mostly on his genre credits:

BLACK PATCH (1957) –  Jerry  Goldsmith’s first film score, a western written by tough guy actor Leo Gordon.

SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964) – provided the music for this taut nuclear war thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, and Fredric March.  It’s DR. STRANGELOVE without the laughs.

THE SATAN BUG (1965)- Goldsmith’s first genre credit, the science fiction thriller about germ warfare

PLANET OF THE APES (1968) – This Jerry Goldsmith score remains one of my favorites.  The unusual music here really captures the feel of the Ape world and adds to the “madhouse!” emotions which Charlton Heston’s Taylor has to endure at the hands of his captors.  Classic.

THE ILLUSTRATED MAN (1969) – Science fiction film based on the short story collection of the same name by Ray Bradbury and starring Rod Steiger.

THE MEPHISTO WALTZ (1971) – Obscure horror film with Alan Alda as a pianist who finds his soul in the hands of a scheming satanist.

ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES (1971)-  Goldsmith goes ape again as he scores the third film in the series, a creative flick in which apes Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) travel back in time to present day Los Angeles.

THE OTHER (1972) – classic 1970s horror movie scripted by Tom Tryon.

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD – (1975) – 1970s horror flick starring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neil, and Margot Kidder.

THE OMEN (1976)- the big one, probaly Goldsmith’s most powerful score, and the only one for which he won an Oscar.  Still a very scary movie today, and Goldsmith’s music is a major reason why.

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LOGAN’S RUN (1976) – classic science fiction film from the 1970s starring Michael York and Farrah Fawcett.

DAMNATION ALLEY (1977) – Much-hyped science fiction movie about survivors in a post-apocalyptic world starring George Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent was a major flop upon its release, as it was completely overshadowed by another science fiction release that same year, a little film called STAR WARS (1977).

COMA (1978) – Horror thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton about sinister goings-on starring Genevieve Bujold and Michael Douglas.

CAPRICORN ONE (1978) – another major flop from the 1970s, this thriller about a fake space mission to Mars featured a strong cast which included Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Brenda Vaccaro, Sam Waterston, O.J. Simpson (remember when he was that likable former football star who went on to make movies?), Hal Holbrook, Karen Black, and Telly Savalas.

DAMIEN:  OMEN II (1978) – Goldsmith’s back at it again, composing yet another horrific score in this OMEN sequel that, while nowhere near as good as the original, remains highly entertaining today.  Starring William Holden and Lee Grant.

THE SWARM (1978)- One of the worst movies of the decade and certainly one of the worst “disaster” movies ever made.  This tale of a swarm of killer bees attacking the United States was directed by Irwin Allen who must have been punch drunk over the success of his previous hits THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE (1972) and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) when he made this turkey.  With an “all-star” cast which included Michael Caine, Katharine Ross, and Richard Chamberlain, and many many unforturnate more.  It’s hard to believe that this storyline– deadly killer bees– used to be considered real and scary.  I can’t believe I actually saw this one at the movies!

THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL (1978) – Excellent thriller about a Nazi hunter (Laurence Olivier) on the trail of a fanatical Nazi (Gregory Peck) with plans to resurrect the Third Reich.

MAGIC (1978)- The Anthony Hopkins horror classic about a ventriliouost and his evil dummy.  1978 was a busy year for Jerry Goldsmith, as MAGIC was the sixth film he scored that year!

THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1979) – Period piece fun with Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland robbing a train in Victorian England.  An underrated gem by writer/director Michael Crichton.

ALIEN (1979)- Goldsmith just keeps on rolling here with his chillingly effective score for this science fiction classic which launched the career of Sigourney Weaver.

STAR TREK:  THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) – Goldsmith’s score for the first STAR TREK movie is my personal favorite.  Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) and the rest of the Enterprise crew hit the big screen for the first time with mixed results.  It’s highbrow science fiction to be sure, but it’s all so slow paced.  This one continues to grow on me over the years, but I loved Goldsmith’s music from the get-go.  Sure, his iconic new theme went on to become the main theme for STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, but that’s not what I love about this score.  It’s all rather dark and ominous, a powerful score that remains the finest music score in the STAR TREK universe.

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THE FINAL CONFLICT (1981)- the final film in the OMEN trilogy, and by far the weakest, even with a young Sam Neill cast as the adult Damien.

OUTLAND (1981) – Interesting science fiction movie with Sean Connery playing a Marshall on a mining colony on Jupiter’s moon tangling with some baddies without help from its inhabitants.  It’s HIGH NOON (1951) in space.

POLTERGEIST (1982) – A big hit in 1982, I’ve never liked this horror vehicle by Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper.

FIRST BLOOD (1982) – provides the music for Sylvester Stallone’s first foray as Rambo.

PSYCHO II (1983) – provides yet another very effective music score in this long awaited sequel to the Alfred Hitchcock classic, once again starring Anthony Perkins as the twisted tormened Norman Bates.  It’s certainly not PSYCHO (1960) but this thriller by director Richard Franklin really isn’t all that bad.  Vera Miles also reprises her role from the original.

TWILIGHT ZONE:  THE MOVIE (1983) – Muddled big screen treatment of classic Rod Serling TV series, a real head-scratcher when you consider the talent involved – Joe Dante, John Landis, George Miller, and Steven Spielberg each directed a segment and yet this film still is a clunker.

And that’s all the time we have.  Tune in for Part 2 of THE HORROR JAR:  Jerry Goldsmith when we look at the second half of Goldsmith’s career.  Coming soon!

To be continued—.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AFTER MOVIES – LIST SOME TV SHOWS HE SCORED

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) Is NOT the Sequel CLOVERFIELD Fans Have Been Waiting For

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Let’s get this out of the way right now:  10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) is not a sequel to CLOVERFIELD (2008), arguably one of the best giant monster movies ever made.  For this reason alone, this well-written, acted, and directed thriller is flawed.

It’s flawed because producer J.J. Abrams resurrected the CLOVERFIELD name, resurrected the anticipation and excitement of fans the world over of the original movie, only to put out a film with as much in common with CLOVERFIELD as THE MARTIAN (2015) has with GODZILLA.  Yeah, but if you pay close attention, you’ll see that the astronaut in THE MARTIAN had a cousin who worked for the company responsible for resurrecting Godzilla.  Isn’t that cool?  Isn’t that a wild connection?

No, it’s not.

It’s geeky and annoying.  Now, obviously, there is no connection between GODZILLA and THE MARTIAN, but the example shows the level of connection we’re talking about between CLOVERFIELD and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.  It’s minuscule.

It’s also embarrassingly clear that J.J. Abrams threw in the Cloverfield name simply as a marketing ploy to attract viewers.  Shame on him.  Sure, you can argue otherwise, but you might just sound like Donald Trump doing it.

Other than this though, 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a pretty nifty thriller.

Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is leaving her boyfriend.  He calls her (that’s Bradley Cooper’s voice on the phone.) asking her to come back, but she’s not interested.  She no sooner turns off her cell when she’s involved in a nasty car accident which leaves her unconscious.

When she awakes, she finds herself imprisoned in an underground bunker, and she assumes she’s been kidnapped.  When the peculiar Howard (John Goodman) shows up and tells her that he hasn’t abducted her but rather has saved her life after the car accident, she doesn’t believe him; and when he tells her she can’t leave because outside the bunker the world she once knew doesn’t exist anymore as some unknown apocalyptic event has poisoned the air killing everyone on the surface, she thinks he’s crazy.

Even when she meets the third tenant in the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who confirms Howard’s story, she’s still not convinced.  But later, when Michelle tries to escape and sees a woman outside the door whose skin seems to be peeling from her face and acting crazy, it appears as if Howard has been telling the truth.

The three then set their sights on surviving, and life is good, until certain things come to light that confirm Michelle’s worst fears.

The story told in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is tight and well-written.  It’s an excellent screenplay by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stuecken, and Damien Chazelle.  There’s an uncomfortable feeling permeating throughout this film, as you’re never quite able to feel at ease around John Goodman’s Howard.

John Goodman delivers a phenomenal performance as Howard.  He’s the best part of 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.  Goodman is almost always good, but his performance here in this movie is extra special.  He’s just “off” enough where you’re pretty sure you don’t trust him but you’re not quite convinced because the crazy things he says all seem to be true.    He’s a difficult character to read, which is one of the reasons the story works so well. Should Michelle trust him?  Or should she try to kill him?

Mary Elizabeth Winstead is equally as good as Michelle.  She is not a helpless victim at all. At first, she’s constantly trying to escape, and even later, when she more or less believes Howard, she still keeps her eyes wide open.  No one is going to pull  a fast one on her.

And John Gallagher, Jr. rounds out the phenomenal trio with a decent performance of his own as Emmett.  At first, you’re not sure how much Emmett knows or what his intentions are, but as the story goes on, he becomes Michelle’s biggest ally.

Director Dan Trachtenberg, in his feature film directorial debut, does a nice job at the helm.  He gives this film a claustrophobic feel as he puts the audience right in the middle of the action with the characters in the underground bunker.

There are plenty of suspenseful scenes as well.  There’s one scene in particular where they are playing a game, and it goes from funny, to suspenseful, to back to funny again all in a matter of seconds.

Strangely, the weakest part of this movie is its ending, and it’s strange because it should have been the best part.  This is where the film should have tied in with the original CLOVERFIELD, but alas, that’s not how things play out.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a tight little thriller, a stand-alone movie that would work on its own merits even without the CLOVERFIELD name in the title.  Unfortunately, however, the name is in the title and the fact that is so loosely connected is a shame.  It’s pretty much not connected to the earlier movie at all.  Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS (2012) was more connected to the ALIEN series.

Why does this matter?  Let me use another movie to make my point.  Take JAWS (1975) for example.  And let’s say instead of JAWS 2 (1978) the next movie in the series was called 10 JAWS LANE, and in this movie, there’s no shark, there’s no Brody, no Matt Hooper, it doesn’t take place on Amity Island, and heck it’s not even about a shark!  It’s about an unknown threat that may or may not be lurking in the ocean while our characters are holed up in an underground bunker.  It’s a well-made movie, but without even one reference to the events in the previous film, I think audiences would have been miffed, and they probably would have felt cheated.  That’s how I felt towards 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE.

All this being said, I still enjoyed 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, although it’s nowhere near as good a movie as CLOVERFIELD.

It is suspenseful, though, as it plays more like an Alfred Hitchcock movie than a horror movie.  Is this bad?  Not at all, but again, it works against the expectations generated by the CLOVERFIELD name.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE is a decent thriller, but it’s not CLOVERFIELD, nor is it related to it in any way shape or form.  And when your namesake is one of the finest giant monster movies ever made, the fact that you share no connection to it, is definitely not something worth celebrating.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)

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This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) originally appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in March 2008.  It’s being reprinted this month in the March 2016 edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

Enjoy!

—Michael

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In the tradition of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), we have ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004).

I hate to admit it, but I like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  Here’s why.

The number one reason? It’s the monsters, stupid.  For those of us who love our movie monsters, it’s hard not to like a film like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  That’s not to say the film doesn’t have flaws.  It does.

The story is simple.  A group of experts make an expedition to the Antarctic in search of a strange underground pyramid.  While there,  they discover a breeding ground and learn that the predators are breeding the aliens for hunting practice.  Of course, to breed the aliens, the predators need humans to serve as hosts.  Nice vacation spot.

By far, this plot point of the relationship between the predators and the aliens is the worst part of the movie.  The first time these creatures meet it should have been something special.  We the audience should have been privy to it, but we’re not.  Imagine if in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963) the filmmakers revealed that these two behemoths had already met, frequently, and that Godzilla uses King Kong for target practice on a regular basis.  Would you still want to watch the movie?  It just wouldn’t be the same.

It’s a major blemish on the screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson, who also directed.

Still, it doesn’t ruin the entire movie, and to his credit, director Anderson does craft a neat first meeting between a predator and an alien in this movie.  It’s just that we know through the story that these creatures have met before, and so, much of the zing of what is to follow is lost.

Even so, the battle sequences are still entertaining, but oh what could have been.  Director Paul W.S. Anderson does a good job for the most part helming these cinematic monster battles, which at the very least are not boring.

And the film looks good.  The shots in the icy Antarctic bring to mind John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), and the special effects aren’t that bad either.

Absent from the film however is the gripping suspense from the earlier ALIEN movies, though this isn’t a complete surprise because the suspense was also absent from the previous two ALIEN installments, ALIEN 3 (1992) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997).

The cast is pretty good though.  I enjoyed the lead character (Sanaa Lathan).  Nathan turns in a strong performance, in keeping with the ALIEN tradition of having a strong female lead, taking over the job from Sigourney Weaver.  She gets to say such tough gal lines as “When I lead my team, I don’t ever leave my team,” and “We’re in the middle of a war.  It’s time to pick a side.”  And did I mention she looks good?

The rest of the cast is OK, even though Lance Henriksen, a fine actor who appeared in ALIENS (1986) and ALIEN 3 (1992) is somewhat of a disappointment.  Compare Henriksen’s performance in this film to his performance in ALIENS as the android Bishop, and you’ll find that Henriksen showed more range as the android than as a human.

But who are we kidding?  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is about the monsters, not the people, and there are plenty of monsters in this movie.  For this reason alone, it’s fun.

All in all, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a well-produced and well-acted film that in spite of its flaws, satisfies that hunger which those of us  who love movie monsters all share, a hunger for monsters.

—END—

And remember, if you enjoyed this column, you can read 150 of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in my book, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  It’s available as an Ebook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and if you’d like a print edition, just visit the “About” section of this blog for ordering details.

Thanks!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIVE! FROM THE OSCARS!

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ellen-degeneres-to-hos-86th-annual-academy-awardsLive!  From the Oscars!

 

By

Michael Arruda

No, I’m not live at the Oscars, but I am writing this while I sit at home and watch the Oscars on TV, so it’s the next best thing!

Okay, here we go.  Here’s my coverage of the 86th Academy Awards hosted by Ellen DeGeneres on March 2, 2014.  So, if you missed it and would like to know how it all went down, or if you watched it and perhaps missed something, well, read on!

Let’s get started.

Okay, Ellen’s opening monologue, not bad.  She was entertaining and funny, as always.   However, as opening monologues go, it was low key and wasn’t anything memorable.

She did inform us that the theme of tonight’s Awards ceremony is heroes.  Hmm.  I wonder if Marvel’s The Avengers will show up?

Let’s get right to the Awards.  Anne Hathaway presents the Nominees for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and the winner is:  Jared Leto, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  Leto just gave a terrific speech, one of the best Oscar speeches I’ve ever heard.  Seriously!  Very impressed.

Next up, Jim Carrey calls out Bruce Dern in the audience, since Dern’s up for an Oscar, and Carrey does a nice Bruce Dern impersonation, sufficiently intense and scary, bringing back memories of Dern’s early years.  Carrey next introduces a montage on animated movies showcasing animated heroes.  Nothing amazing.  Most of the film clips are from recent animated films.

The song “Happy” from DESPICABLE ME 2 is performed.

Catherine Martin wins for Best Costume Design for THE GREAT GATSBY.  This comes as no surprise, as GATSBY showcased some great costumes.  Martin is the wife of director Baz Luhrmann.  Who knew?

Make-up & Hair Styling- DALLAS BUYERS CLUB wins for Best Make-up & Hair Styling.

I hear Indiana Jones music.  Hey, look!  Here comes Harrison Ford.  Ford is on stage to introduce the first three nominees for Best Picture:  AMERICAN HUSTLE, DALLAS BUYERS CLUB and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET.

Wow, Ford looks exhausted.  He can barely read the cue cards.  It looks like he started partying early.

Channing Tatum introduces Awards that were awarded earlier.

Next up, it’s Matthew McConaughey and— Kim Novak?  Wow.  I haven’t seen Novak in a while.  Not since VERTIGO (1958).  Just kidding, of course, but really, it’s been a while.  McConaughey and Novak are presenting the Animation Awards.  Hate to say it, but Novak looks like she was animated in a Pixar movie.  Way too much plastic surgery. Very sad.  That’s how it looks, anyway.

Best Animated Short Film goes to MR. HUBLOT, and Best Animated Feature Film goes to Disney’s FROZEN, no doubt sending children who are still awake into an enthusiastic frenzy.  From what I hear, the kiddos are nuts about this movie.

Hey look!  There’s Bill Murray in the audience.  Good to see him.

Sally Field’s on stage paying tribute to everyday heroes.  Here comes a film montage.  Seriously, it’s a nice montage, featuring a lot of good movies, including 42 and THE UNTOUCHABLES.

Emma Watson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are on stage to present the Award for Best Visual Effects, and the Winner is: GRAVITY.  I definitely agree with this choice.  GRAVITY had phenomenal special effects.  It looked like it was shot on location- in space.

Time for a performance of “The Moon Song” from HER, one of the nominees for Best Original Song.

Okay, it’s 9:30.  We’re 60 minutes into the program, and so far, it’s been a rather plain uneventful show.

Kate Hudson and Jason Sudekis present the nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, and the winner is:  HELIUM.

THE LADY IN NUMBER 6: MUSIC SAVED MY LIFE wins Best Documentary Short.

Bradley Cooper presents the nominees for BEST DOCUMENTARY.  The winner is 20 FEET FROM STARDOM.

 

I’m yawning at this point and regretting my choice not to watch THE WALKING DEAD tonight.

Speaking of amazing TV shows, Kevin Spacey is in character as he makes some references to his Netflix TV show HOUSE OF CARDS before he presents the Governor’s Awards, which were already presented earlier.  Angela Lansbury, at 88 years old and returning to London Stage won one of the awards, Steve Martin won another, and Piero Tosi won for his costume designs.  The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award went to Angelina Jolie.

Best Foreign Language Film goes to Italy’s THE GREAT BEAUTY.

Tyler Perry introduces the next three Best Picture nominees, NEBRASKA, HER, and GRAVITY.

Brad Pitt introduces U2, as they’re on stage to perform “Ordinary Love” from MANDELA: LONG WALK TO FREEDOM.  Wow.  A really riveting performance.  They got the crowd up on their feet and received a nice standing ovation.

Ellen – oh yeah!  I almost forgot she was hosting this thing— goofs around and takes a star-studded group photo for Twitter.  She wants to record the highest viewed tweet ever.  A pretty funny and playful bit.

Next up, it’s the Scientific and Technical awards.  Quick!  Time for a bathroom break!

Chris Hemsworth and Charlize Theron, looking absolutely gorgeous in an amazing dress, present the nominees for Best Sound Mixing, and the winner is:  GRAVITY.  Another well-deserved win for GRAVITY.  The film had crisp sharp sound, and it also boasted an effective lack of sound, as it truly captured the silence in space.

Best Sound Editing goes to:  GRAVITY.  Hmm.  GRAVITY is starting to accumulate the awards.

Christoph Waltz presents the nominees for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, and the winner is:  Lupita Nyong’o for 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Nice win for Nyong’o, and a nice speech as well.

Ellen’s goofing around again, as she asks her audience if they’re hungry, and when they say yes, she says she’s going to order pizza.  She then adds that “I don’t have any money.”   A funny gag.

Time to return to seriousness, as Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the first African American president of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, steps onto the stage for a serious speech about seriousness.  Seriously, the obligatory speech by the Academy president is no laughing matter.

Back to the awards.  GRAVITY wins Best Cinematography.  GRAVITY wins Best Film Editing.  GRAVITY continues to win big tonight.

Whoopi Goldberg takes the stage, and she’s there to honor THE WIZARD OF OZ, as back in 1939 Judy Garland won an Honorary Juvenile Oscar, and to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the award, we get to see a nice montage honoring THE WIZARD OF OZ as well as recognizing her three children, who are in the audience, including Liza Minelli.

Time for a commercial break.  Hey, there’s a really cool Godzilla – Snickers commercial.  It’s actually quite humorous, and even better, it includes quick plug for new GODZILLA movie coming out in May.

We return to the Awards to find Ellen DeGeneres dressed as Glenda the Good Witch from THE WIZARD OF OZ, which gets a good laugh from the audience.

Jennifer Gardner and Benedict Cumberbatch present the award for Best Production Design, and the winner is:  THE GREAT GATSBY.  Wow, GRAVITY didn’t win an award.  Glad GATSBY won, as it’s an incredibly visual movie.

Chris Evans – Captain America himself – introduces a montage of movie heroes.  A fun montage, full of popular movie heroes, including John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator (remember when he was a villain?), Sylvester Stallone as Rocky, to name a few, and plenty of superheroes, including Iron Man, Captain America, and the rest of the Avengers, and Superman from MAN OF STEEL, although I was disappointed that there were no clips of Christopher Reeve as Superman.

James Bond made it in twice, with the famous “I expect you to die!” scene from GOLDFINGER, featuring Sean Connery as Bond, and also a clip of the current James Bond, Daniel Craig.

A couple of horror movie heroes made it into the sequence, Roy Scheider from JAWS and Sigourney Weaver from ALIEN.

Glenn Close introduces the famous “In memoriam” montage, where the Academy remembers the artists who passed away in 2014.  Here is a partial list:  Karen Black, James Gandolfini, Paul Walker, Annette Funicello, Peter O’Toole, Ray Harryhausen—very glad Harryhausen was included here-, Sid Caesar, Roger Ebert, Shirley Temple, Joan Fontaine, Harold Ramis, Richard Matheson, and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The montage concludes with Bette Midler coming on stage and singing “Wind Beneath my Wings.” As you would expect, Midler received a standing ovation.

It’s now 11:00, which means the show has reached the 2 ½ hour mark, and so far there have been only a few major awards given out.  Let’s get this show moving already!

Ellen announces “We just crashed Twitter with our group photo!”  She’s overjoyed.

Goldie Hawn introduces the final three Best Picture nominees:  PHILOMENA, CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, and 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Hawn looks almost as bad as Kim Novak, and by bad, I mean that she’s obviously had too much work done on her face.  I wish these actresses would just allow themselves to age naturally.  They would look so much better.  She looks like a victim in a mad scientist movie.  Very sad.

John Travolta – who’s actually looking pretty good here – introduces the song “Let it Go” from FROZEN.

Jamie Fox and Jessica Biel present the award for Best Original Score, and the winner is: — what a surprise!GRAVITY, music composed by Steven Price.

For Best Original Song, the winner is “Let it Go” from FROZEN.

Now it’s time for the homestretch, as it’s just the major awards left, which is good, because it’s 11:20 and I’m getting sleepy, and I have to get up at 5:30 tomorrow for work.

Ellen is now running through the audience to collect money for the pizza, which she has already handed out, and so we’ve seen celebrities like Harrison Ford eating take-out pizza at the Oscars.  Ellen gets money from Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt, who she hits up for extra since he’s there for more than one movie.

Robert De Niro and Penelope Cruz present the award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the winner is:  12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Could this be the beginning of Big Awards Sweep for 12 YEARS?

And for Best Original Screenplay, the winner is:  HER, screenplay by Spike Jonze.

It has not been a good night for AMERICAN HUSTLE.  Just sayin.

Angelina Jolie & Sidney Poitier come out to announce the award for Best Director.  Jolie thanks Poitier for his groundbreaking work over the years, and says to him:  “We’re in your debt.”  And Poitier tells the audience, “Please keep up the wonderful work.”  Poitier looks old and frail, but at least he looks old and natural.

The winner for Best Director goes to Alfonso Cuaron for GRAVITY.   Wow.  This one surprised me.  I thought Steve McQueen would win for 12 YEARS A SLAVE.  This has turned out to be a really big night for GRAVITY.

Daniel Day Lewis presents the Best Actress Award, and the winner is:  Cate Blanchett for BLUE JASMINE – I didn’t see BLUE JASMINE, but I like Blanchett a lot, so I’m glad she won.  And even though both Sandra Bullock and Amy Adams were very good in their roles, I’ve seen them better in other movies.

Blanchett gives an energetic speech, making a nice plug for movies with women in the lead roles, and for movies about women, saying they are not just niches, that audiences really want to see these kinds of movies and more importantly that they make money.

Jennifer Lawrence, looking great tonight, presents the Best Actor award, and the winner is:  Matthew McConaughey for the DALLAS BUYERS CLUB.  This comes as no surprise.  Glad he won.

Will Smith presents the Award for Best Picture.  Nothing against Smith, but he’s the best you can get to present Best Picture?  How about Steven Spielberg?  Clint Eastwood?   Morgan Freeman?  Some other elder statesman or giant of the genre?  Anyway, the winner is:  12 YEARS A SLAVE.  Nice choice.

Well, as the show ends, it’s midnight- and with that, I can now go to bed.  A big night for GRAVITY as it wins 7 Awards, and AMERICAN HUSTLE ends up getting shut out.

Well, that’s all she wrote.  Good night everybody!

Thanks for reading!

—Michael