James Horner. 1953 – 2015

Composer James Horner passed on yesterday in a plane crash while flying his Embraer EMB 312 Tucano turboprop aircraft. Horner, like many film score composers, has a massive list of film credits, including most of James Cameron’s filmography (From Aliens to Avatar), most of Ron Howard’s filmogarphy (From Willow to A Beautiful Mind), most of Mel Gibson’s directed films (Braveheart to Apocalypto) and so many more. Take a ride with the Fire-mares below from the camp classic Krull.

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Trailer: The Edge of Tomorrow

Tom Cruise simply can’t get enough of science fiction action pictures. If Oblivion was kind-of sort-of a bigger budget Moon, then Edge of Tomorrow is a bigger budget Source Code. Mr. Cruise, must be a fan of the cinema of Duncan Jones ? I have little doubt that Edge of Tomorrow will be a perfectly fine piece of entertainment when it arrives in the cinemas in the summer of 2014, but here in 2013, it already feels rather like we have been through this a few times already. Even the music in this glossy trailer feels like it is taking a page out of the marketing for Battle: Los Angeles. But hey, Emily Blunt and Bill Paxton is pretty swell in the supporting cast department.

Based on the novel, “All You Need is Kill” Hiroshi Sakurazaka and directed by Doug Liman (Go, The Bourne Identity) Cruise plays a soldier fighting in a war with aliens finds only to find himself caught in a time loop of his last day in the battle. While I’m a big fan of writer Christopher McQuarrie, seeing Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman contributing to the screenplay might contradict my ‘perfectly fine piece of entertainment’ theory in the preceding paragraph, as everything they touch turns to over-plotted under-developed diarrhea.

Countdown to Prometheus: The Legacy of Alien

The Alien franchise is unusual for several reasons. It started with a highly successful, even visionary, film from an almost unknown director (Ridley Scott’s The Duellists had been a modest success in England, but it was Alien that boosted him to international fame). Seven years later came a sequel from a different director, set in the same universe but with a decidedly different tone and approach. Both Alien and Aliens are excellent films in their own right, and James Cameron (in only his third feature film) managed to build his own unique niche which expanded the original mythology, rather than simply trying to clone the first film.

It would be six more years before the third film in the series followed, and Alien3 was again the work of a newcomer director. David Fincher had only directed music videos up to the time he was hired to carry on the Alien franchise, and thanks to script issues and studio interference, it was not a great experience. Thankfully, Fincher has gone on to ever-greater things, but as you’ll see in our write-up, perhaps the third entry is undeservedly maligned. Still, despite lukewarm reception from fans and critics, Alien3 was successful enough for a fourth film to be made five years later, the also-coolly-received Alien: Resurrection, helmed by French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet in his only American film to date. Four films, made over a span of almost twenty years, all directed by different people, each of whom happened to be relative newcomers to Hollywood. We repeat: this franchise is unusual.

Despite the popular lack of enthusiasm for the last two films in the franchise (and we’re not even getting into the crossover Alien vs. Predator films), Alien has left its mark on the cinematic landscape for all time, combining a fantastically original visual design with a genre-mashing sci-fi/horror (and in Aliens, sci-fi/horror/action) story that set a lasting tone for science fiction which has persisted to the present day. In visual terms, the pristine and sterile spaceships of 2001: A Space Odyssey are gone. In their place is a rough-and-tumble spacecraft and a species of sentient (?) aliens bent on destruction and their own procreation, dripping with sexualized imagery. The themes in Alien run deep, hitting us with our most primal fears. And it’s not unremarkable that the hero of all this is a woman – the quintessential Final Girl who didn’t ask to be brought into all this, but has the smarts, the willpower, and (eventually) the skills to withstand all that gets thrown at her – not just by the aliens, but by the patriarchal society that continually tries to refuse her voice. Ellen Ripley remains an iconic figure, but an icon who is deeply and viscerally human, one of the greatest gifts that the many legacies of Alien have left us.

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Finite Focus: Monsters vs. ALIENS

[Prometheus is coming. And to celebrate the Alien universe and all its permutations, I’m pulling this 2009 Finite Focus entry from the archives, which looks at one of the quieter moments in Jim Cameron’s entry into the series]

aliens_onesheetWhen one thinks of James Cameron‘s re-invention of the premise from 1979’s Alien, it generally is the macho bravado of the space marines that get the lion-share of quotable dialogue, and have been copied in other films to this day, ad nauseum. Yet the movie (most especially the lengthened directors cut of the film) slips in a strong maternal theme amongst the testosterone. While the film finally does turn Ellen Ripley into a ‘mech suited warrior’ (via the most well realized body-fork-lifter ever committed to celluloid), that comes later.

One of the strongest scenes in the film, perhaps showcasing some of Sigourney Weaver‘s best acting (Oscar nominated for this role, dontcha know!) this side of Death and The Maiden and Galaxy Quest is a tender moment spent with the frightened little girl. Being the only survivor of the fledgling colony of a planet infested with monsters, Rebecca, or Newt, likely witnessed on some level, many of the horrors when her parents bring home an embryo implanted in her father. Hardly a girl that needs to be lied to for protection, yet she is surely confused by the pretense of adults. Newt’s line of questions on ‘monsters’ and a tacit acceptance that they do indeed exist, ending with the connection to pregnancy is worthy of a Grimm fairy tale. Despite being a hearty mainstream blockbuster with crowd appeal, this moment stands out as one of (if not the) best moments in the film, worthy of Jan Svankmajer‘s Alice, a surreal take on Lewis Carroll that would come along two years later from eastern Europe, and feature a child actress bearing more than a little similarity to Newt’s Carrie Henn. Henn quit while she was ahead, not appearing in another film after this one.

Worthy of mention too is that the scene starts out cold, metallic and sterile (like most of Aliens) and ends on a warm orange light haloing both actresses in intimate close-up. This is one of the last breathing moments before a 45 minute long perfectly sustained action sequence. A sequence where much is on the line because of the tenderness of that moment.


Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

The Iron Giant

1999 US. Director: Brad Bird. Starring: Eli Marienthal, Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Aniston.

It seems as if many view The Iron Giant as a precursor, of sorts, to the (allegedly) greater things to come from Brad Bird and Pixar as a whole. There is a grain of truth embedded in there, as Pixar has yet to have a true ‘miss’ (though I have not yet seen Cars 2) and two-dimensional animation has sadly become a relic, of sorts. Rest easy, as this is not going to become some half-assed or preachy bit of nostalgia … at least no more so than it already is. Rather, I feel that The Iron Giant has unfortunately been lumped with the somewhat underwhelming middle ground between ‘classic animation’ and the Pixar juggernaut … and yet The Iron Giant is, in my mind, the very best that the animated medium has yet to offer. The animation is crisp and beautiful, the characters are fleshed-out, believable, and lovable, and Michael Kamen’s score is simply stunning. Moreover, I am not sure that any recent film has crafted a greater portrait of 1950s sensibilities, particularly insofar as the Cold War is concerned. Would it be blasphemy to suggest, if not outright state, that this is a better version of E.T.? Perhaps … but it’s true.

Netflix Instant (USA)


1979 USA. Director: Ridley Scott. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt.

A masterpiece of genre splicing in sci-fi and horror… for the art house. What makes Alien stand the test of time is it’s unwillingness to try and look futuristic and cool; rather it spends it time worrying about how the film looks, not what it should look like based on the time setting. It also works like a good Hitchcock thriller in its tension building. And dammit, did this thing win any awards for its sound design? Because it damn well should have walked home with a win for every nomination it received in this respect. Watching the Blu-ray of the theatrical cut really does seem like watching the movie anew. For the first time, my eyes were finally open to the gorgeous, artfulness of every conceivable detail.

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Movies We Watched

Sometimes we watch stuff that we want to talk just a little bit about, not a full review worth. These are those films. If any of the films reviewed are available on Netflix Instant Watch (US or Canada) or HuluPlus (US only), we’ll note that by putting a direct link below the capsule.

Hereafter poster


2010. Director: Clint Eastwood. Starring: Matt Damon, Cecile De France, Bryce Dallas Howard, Thiery Neuvic, Jay Mohr, Frankie McLaren, George McLaren, Richard Kind.

Clint Eastwood is perhaps more known now for being a director than an actor and he almost always delivers a handsomely made film, even if they don’t break any sort of new ground. But Hereafter sticks out like a sore thumb in his modern directorial repertoire – a too often overly sentimental, emotionally manipulative three-way story about death and what might come after. To be fair the blame falls on the script (by the usually excellent writer Peter Morgan, of such films as Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland) and not on Eastwood’s direction, and the performances across the board are all very solid. But aside from a surprisingly bold but arguably entirely unnecessary (and tasteless?) Tsunami scene at the start, Hereafter follows the path you’d expect pretty much from start to finish. And the fact it had so much potential makes it all the more frustrating.

Aliens poster


1986 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Paul Reiser, Lance Hendrickson, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein.

And with this I scratch another off my List of Shame, one that many many people have been nagging me to watch for a very long time. I had put it off after being less than enthused with the first film when I saw it ages ago (but I do want to rewatch it now), and because the shift from sci-fi to action that I’d heard about the second film didn’t really intrigue me. But I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s a great example of how to build a good and suspenseful action story; it says high-octane for most of the time, but it never loses sight of Ripley, and it allows her to gradually build into the action heroine she is at the end by using traits and skills established early on. The emotional throughline involving Newt is predictable, but effective. It’s interesting to compare this movie to Avatar, because lots of details from here turn up again, except here they all work much better within the narrative, with no over-earnest message-picture pandering. Similarly, this is a much better female empowerment narrative than a lot of so-called girl power movies in recent years, although my one complaint with the film is the over-determined machismo of the marines – I got the point, but some of those early boasting scenes went on far too long. Overall, though, a more than solid film that more sci-fi actioners should learn from.


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Cinecast Episode 223 – Just the Alien from Cloverfield and Super 8?

A bit of a break in the usual routine as summer comes closer to a close – In this episode of the Cinecast director Jim Mickle (Stake Land and Mulberry St.) joins Kurt and Andrew for a chat on Jon Favreau’s Cowboys and Aliens and Errol Morris’s Tabloid. We mix up the typical show order and do DVD picks first (as Stake Land hits DVD shelves this week!), then our main reviews, with liberal sprinkling of Netflix instant watch suggestions throughout the show before finally ending on The Watch List. This allows for a lot of delightful tangents and director/screenwriter insights. Hope you enjoy this one, it’s a keeper.

As always, thanks for listening and please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below.



To download the show directly, paste the following URL into your favorite downloader:

Full show notes are under the seats…
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They Live is the next John Carpenter film optioned for a Remake


Proving that just about the entire library of John Carpenter directed films is up for being remade in this decade (The Thing is of course almost upon us, albeit the Escape From New York remake has been stalled for years) Universal has tapped Let Me In and Cloverfield director Matt Reeves to wite and direct. Many people seem to really dig is reboot of the Swedish vampire classic, but is Reeves ready to kick ass and chew bubblegum on this? Will there be a nod to the epic street-fight to put on the glasses? Will there be a wholeheartedly hilarious and gratuitous boob shot as the final image in the film? And will the blunt Reganomics subtext be upgraded (a la Wall Street) to the post-Bush era economic climate? Most importantly will it star The Rock, John Sena or Triple H? Actually, it appears that they are just using the story as a jumping off point, and it is safe to say that there is a lot of wiggle room to do something wholly original with this type of story. The adaptation is going back to the Ray Nelson short story called “8 O’Clock in the Morning,” (the original source material for John Carpenter’s version, before Carpenter put his own spin on things.) Even so, I hope they change the title, because really, how much of a brand is They Live, really? Stay tuned folks.

“I saw an opportunity to do a movie that was very point-of-view driven, a psychological science fiction thriller that explores this guy’s nightmare,” Reeves told me. “There could be a desperate love story at the center of this. Carpenter took a satirical view of the material and the larger political implication that we’re being controlled. I am very drawn to the emotional side, the nightmare experience with the paranoia of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or a Roman Polanski-style film.”

Via The Hollywood Reporter and Hitfix.

“Cowboys and Aliens” Super Bowl Ad

I imagine we’ll be seeing a lot of ads coming out of Super Bowl Sunday over the next few days. A more interesting one might be the promo spot for Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens starring Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford. While I remain skeptical, it’s optimistic skepticism as the trailers so far have looked fairly exciting and interesting. Everything here looks pretty great. And I’m always hoping my childhood hero will someday make a triumphant comeback. Will this be it? Probably not, but I can always hope. Universal is bringing Cowboys & Aliens in only 2D(!) to theaters on July 29th, 2011 this summer.


1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger (Craig) with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution. The only hint to his history is a mysterious shackle that encircles one wrist. What he discovers is that the people of Absolution dont welcome strangers, and nobody makes a move on its streets unless ordered to do so by the iron-fisted Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford). Its a town that lives in fear. But Absolution is about to experience a fear it can scarcely comprehend as the desolate city is attacked by marauders from the sky. Screaming down with breathtaking velocity and blinding lights to abduct the helpless one by one, these monsters challenge everything the residents have ever known. Now, the stranger they rejected is their only hope for salvation.


Battle: Los Angeles [Trailer]

We’ve seen the Monsters on the Skyline. Now it seems Los Angeles must face the onslaught for a third time in six months – though in the trailer it clearly shows that this is a world wide phenomenon.

How the film (Battle: Los Angeles; directed by Jonathan Liebesman) will turn out remains to be seen, but this is a pretty awesome looking trailer. No sound effects or dialogue, just a haunting, robotic-sounding musical queue and imagery of world wide devastation and interplanetary war. It gives off a really great vibe and gets my excitement brewing. I’m not holding my breath for cinematic mastery here, but as of now, this looks pretty killer. It’s also got a cast full of recognizable faces, including Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Aaron Eckhart, Noel Fisher and Michael Peña.

Take a look…