From ALIEN to ALIEN: RESURRECTION – The Collapse of a Franchise

“In space no one can hear you scream.”

It’s one of the best taglines in movie history, chilling, visceral, and immediately identifiable. Fittingly, it belongs to perhaps the best piece of sci-fi horror ever made: Ridley Scott’s 1979 Alien. Using still-astonishing creature design from H. R. Giger and practical effects that wow to this day, Scott crafted one of the most intense horror experiences of a decade that basically gave us half the modern horror canon. Alien landed in 1979, two years after the release of Star Wars created a seemingly insatiable desire for outer space adventure

Smartly, James Cameron’s sequel, Aliens, pivots rather than tackling Scott’s film head-on, turning the series into an eerie sci-fi action vehicle. Sure, it’s creepy, but that’s just because the creature design remains some of the finest ever committed to film; Cameron otherwise has little-to-no interest in trying to build a horror movie. And that’s fine! Aliens is bigger than Alien, it’s bolder than Alien, and it’s damn near as good as Alien, a relative rarity when it comes to sequels. Trying to recreate the tense thrills a second time would have almost certainly led to diminishing returns, so by varying up the genre a bit, Cameron was able to approach the same material in a different way, to feel fresh and unexpected.

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Why Does Hollywood Hate You?

After the surprise success of Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World in its opening weekend, Esquire made an interesting observation: Hollywood seems to have developed a self-loathing problem. Films like Jurassic World and Tomorrowland are rife with subtext (and just flat-out text) about the modern movie-making process, about the kinds of stories we tell and what that means for us as a society. It’s an astute reading of a growing trend, one that really kicked into full gear with Birdman‘s Oscar win earlier this year, but there’s one thing about the reading I’d take issue with.

Hollywood doesn’t hate itself; it hates us. And we apparently love them for it.

Whether it’s misusing cinematic language when handling a death scene, ignoring everything its heroine does, or failing to understand the narrative meaning of wardrobe, Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World had its fair share of problems – and that’s not even digging into the slack narrative, the awful character work, the ridiculous ending, and the tacky, nonsensical pandering to fans of Jurassic Park. But the film doesn’t blame filmmakers. It has a fair share of blame for execs who keep twisting and tampering with the stories in an effort to craft the perfect, neverending franchise, who seek to make regular, how did Disney describe their modern films? Oh yeah: “Brand deposits.”

But the execs aren’t doing it just for fun. They’re doing it all for us. The audience. The stupid, crass audience who won’t recognize the majesty of dinosaurs really brilliant movies because they’re on their smart phones seeing another gritty, spectacle-driven superhero movie (or on their smart phones). They blame the nerds who keep demanding that Hollywood crank out samey superhero movie after samey superhero movie, shit no one there wants to be making and none of them understand the appeal of, but all of them know that it’ll make money, and that’s what matters. Birdman director González Iñárritu has called superhero films a cultural genocide, and his film reflects that mindset. So do the Oscar ceremony at which he won, which featured at least three different ‘jokes’ at how much Hollywood hates making them. But they’ll keep doing so, and even if they quietly hate us for seeing them and wish they could be doing anything else, they’ll love the cash they make.

It’s essentially the same logic filmmakers use to justify decades of sexism and racism in hiring practices: We, the smart, cool filmmakers and artists, don’t want to be doing this, of course, obviously, but audiences want what they want, and what they want is tough, cool white dudes and literally nothing else ever. Similarly, these filmmakers seem to desperately want someone to make the kind of movies they loved growing up, but they have no faith that audiences would go to those kinds of movies. And we’re not talking about arthouse fare here! Trevorrow didn’t spend this film making a feature-length homage to Ingmar Bergman’s arty existentialism, but to Steven Spielberg, the King of Populist Cinema, the guy who basically invented the modern blockbuster as we know it. Trevorrow seems to believe that we don’t get more movies like Jurassic Park because we won’t see it, and thus there’s no reason for him to even bother trying to make a good movie. After all, we wouldn’t appreciate it anyway.

In Jurassic Park, Spielberg manages to craft something that moves comfortably between harrowing and wonderful, a movie that never lets you forget the majesty of what you’re seeing for too long. It doesn’t do so by telling you about all the cool features of the dinosaurs, or by telling you that you should be feeling wonder. It does so by letting the brachiosaurus’ sing, heads high above the treeline against a red-and-grey sky that makes it look like they truly are in another world. “Yes,” the film may be saying, “Bad things happen. We aren’t in control. But it still brought this lost, otherworldly beauty back into the world, and there’s value in that.” Even the last shot of Jurassic Park reinforces this idea, and it does so with a bird, a smile, and a bit of music, not with Dr. Alan Grant turning to the camera and delivering a lecture on what Spielberg wanted us to think.

What Jurassic World‘s Colin Trevorrow and Tomorrowland‘s Brad Bird and Birdman‘s Alejandro González Iñárritu got so thoroughly wrong was this: If you want your audience to feel a sense of wonder, a sense of hope for the future, if you want your audiences to care about more than just simple spectacle… make them.

Don’t tell them to. Don’t ask them to. Don’t chide them for failing to. Make them. You have the tools. You have the sublime way sound and image hit that screen and dig into our animal brains. You have a century of evolving, sophisticated cinematic language, and millennia of narrative language. Smart phones and cynicism can’t stand up to that power. If you do your job, that is, and make a movie instead of a 200-million-dollar thinkpiece.

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What the 2015 Oscar Snubs Say

Selma, by Ava DuVernay

Every year, there are dozens of articles on “Oscar Snubs and Surprises.” It’s become a cottage industry, a quick and easy way to get a handful of clicks from a ton of folks whose favorite films weren’t nominated, and it returns year after year because, well, the Oscars typically make a few mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty rare for an outright bad movie to win (though not impossible *cough*Crash*cough*), but typically, the Academy aims to please the totally middlebrow older white people who make up most of its voting block. While it has led to some notorious snubs, they are often counterbalanced by the pleasant surprises. Not this year, though. In 2015, the Oscar snubs were the only story they left us to talk about.

See, this year was a boring one for nominations. Most of the categories were pretty easy to guess 2-3 months ago. Keeping in mind that the Academy never, ever awards more avant-garde films like Under the Skin and banishes entire mainstream genres from consideration most years, it isn’t hard to figure out what sort of films and what sort of performances the Oscars typically reward, though one or two out-of-the-box films typically sneak in each year. But this year, there weren’t really any pleasant surprises for film fans… and there were an awful lot of very, very telling snubs.

Click here to read the rest of the article at Geek Rex.


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Taken 3 Movie Review

Liam Neeson returns as Bryan Mills, superspy/superdad, in Taken 3, the worst film of the franchise. Avoid it like the plague, my friends. 

Taken 3 review

Click here to read my full review of Taken 3.

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Ant-Man #1 Review

Not sure how you felt about last night’s ANT-MAN trailer during Agent Carter? I can’t actually help you with that. But I can tell you to keep an eye on Marvel’s newly-started Ant-Man comic series by Nick Spencer. Want to know more?

Ant-Man #1 review GeekRex 1

Click here for my review of Ant-Man #1!

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Movie Review: A Walk Among Tombstones

In A Walk Among the Tombstones, Liam Neeson plays Matt Scudder, an unlicensed private eye with a talent for digging into the seedy side of 1990s New York City. But when he’s asked to help track down the men who kidnapped and brutally murdered the wife of a local drug dealer, he finds himself getting in deep with some very bad people.

Among Tombstones review

Click here for my review of A Walk Among the Tombstones.

All Film Reviews

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Horns: A Film Review

Horns is a bleakly comical take on Gone Girl material as Daniel Radcliffe plays the media’s public enemy number one, a man who claims he’s falsely accused of murdering his girlfriend despite the pile-up of evidence pointing his way. When he suddenly grows a pair of demonic horns out of his forehead, it looks awful for his public image, but gives him the power to dig into the townsfolk’s deepest, darkest secrets and maybe, just maybe, find out what really happened to his girlfriend.


Click here to read my review of Horns (2014) at Geek Rex.

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A Successor to The Wire?

Is there another show that has tried to pick up where The Wire, television’s most sophisticated drama, left off? And if so, what is it? Over at Geek Rex, I put forth a suggestion…

The Wire HBO Good Wife CBS

Check out “You Come At The King, You Best Not Miss“, my argument for The Good Wife as the best successor The Wire has, today!

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Dead Ends: A Pair of Horror Articles

Over at The Solute, I wrote the first two ‘Dead Ends’ articles, looking at the beginning and ending of some major horror franchises. Up first is A Nightmare on Elm Street and the sad, slow fall of Freddy Krueger, followed by Tobe Hooper’s masterpiece, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and the weird-ass sequels it inspired. Check it out!

Texas Chainsaw Massacre Next Generation Mcconaughey

Click here for Dead Ends: A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Or, try here for Dead Ends: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre

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I Review More Movies!

Over at GeekRex, I reviewed a pair of new releases. First, The Maze Runner, the newest hopeful in the Young Adult Dystopia brawls that brought us The Hunger Games, Divergent, How I Live Now, and more. Can this mysterious adventure story survive in the recent glut of like-minded movies? Then I wrote up The Two Faces of January, a measured, mature thriller from the writer of Drive.

Maze Runner film review

Check out my review of The Maze Runner here

Then try my review of The Two Faces of January

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