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Posts Tagged ‘Sigourney Weaver’

Vantage Point (2008)

06/08/2011 1 comment

Eight strangers.
Eight points of view.
One truth.

Vantage Point is a political thriller action film directed by Pete Travis, adapted from a screenplay written by Barry Levy. It stars Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Sigourney Weaver, and William Hurt.

A lot can happen in 23 minutes. Today, President Henry Ashton will be attending a political summit in Salambanca, Spain, to promote an international antiterrorism treaty. The summit is being attended by thousands of spectators and covered by the news crew of GNN, who are all eager to see and hear and record what Ashton has to say. However, as Ashton is about to speak, the summit suddenly explodes in a series of terrifying events as Ashton is shot by an unknown gunman, followed by a series of bombs being detonated, including one that takes out much of the staging area for the summit, leaving hundreds injured and dead. After this shocking event, the movie takes you back through the past 23 minutes several times, each from the point of view of eight different strangers, and each time the viewer learns more of the story and finds more pieces to the puzzle, until the full extent of the conspiracy is revealed at last.

I generally enjoy unconventional storytelling methods. The Rashomon style has long fascinated me, and in this case, rather than each witness providing a subjective interpretation of the events, each witness simply sees different parts of the overall story. Going over and over the same span of 23 minutes might seem like it would get repetitive after the first three iterations, but I found this treatment of the multiple-witnesses convention remained engaging throughout as the plot unfolds, with each 23-minute span offering different viewpoints of the same events. What seems like a simple setup turns into a complex series of interweaving events that ultimately spiral towards the climax in unpredictable ways.

In the course of exploring these different perspectives, we also learn a lot about the witnesses themselves: Rex Brooks, whose job is to offer as complete a picture as she can to the television public while keeping things interesting; Thomas Barnes, a burned-out secret service agent who once saved the President from a gunman and whose primary goal is still to defend him from any threat, even as he doubts his ability to do so; Enrique, who is assigned to guard the mayor of Salambanca and finds himself swept up in the terrorist attack; President Ashton himself, who must weigh his own safety against that of the country he leads; Howard Lewis, a tourist just out to videotape the rally but forced to become a hero under unlikely circumstances; and a little girl named Anna, who is attending the political summit with her mother and finds herself an unwitting witness to several key events, only to get separated from her mother as the terror unfolds. While each witness does offer his or her own spin to the events, you also come to care what happens to them as their respective stories interweave with the overall plot, offering several worm’s-eye views of this chain reaction that will ultimately have long-reaching consequences for all of them.

While some may tire of the repeated views of the same span of 23 minutes from different angles, I found the exploration of the central event to be fascinating, and would recommend political thriller fans at least rent Vantage Point. It’s amazing how much things can change just by altering your perspective.

Galaxy Quest (1999)


Once, the sci fi series Galaxy Quest was so popular that a rabid fanbase developed around it, with enthusiasts debating the science and theories behind the show until the cows came home. Today, hardcore fans still travel miles to attend Galaxy Quest conventions, each one itching for the chance to talk to one of their favorite stars. Some come from states away. Some come from distant countries.

And some even come from galaxies away…

Galaxy Quest is a sci fi comedy film directed by Dean Parisot, centering on the washed-up actors of a cancelled sci fi television program who discover that somebody has mistaken their adventures for documentaries. It stars Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub, and Daryl Mitchell.

It has been seventeen years since the once-popular sci fi series Galaxy Quest was cancelled, but the actors playing the crew of the U.S.S. Protector are still the target of fanatic adoration by their fans, a fact which inspires a wide spectrum of reactions from the actors themselves. Jason Nesmith (Allen) continues to soak up the attention and adoration, while Sir Alexander Dane (Rickman) hates being eternally associated with his role of Dr. Lazarus, as he started off in Shakespeare. Regrettably, none of them have had any meaningful acting roles since Galaxy Quest, and all their work these days mainly consists of convention appearances and being commercial spokespeople – all in character, of course.

During one of the loved/hated/best avoided Galaxy Quest conventions, Nesmith is approached by a group of people who identify themselves a Thermians and request his help. He happily agrees, thinking they are bringing him to an amateur filmmaking session, but he soon find out that the Thermians are genuinely aliens, using devices to make themselves appear human. They have built their entire society around the Galaxy Quest “documentaries”, and want the crew of the U.S.S. Protector to help defend them against the genocidal warlord Sarris. Nesmith does what anyone would do in this situation: He has a panic attack. Now, he and his crew find themselves having to truly assume the television roles that they have come to hate so much, and find in themselves courage and ingenuity befitting the crew of the Protector, or else Sarris is likely to kill them all.

I loved this movie. Even though I’m not as big a Trekkie as some of my friends, I enjoyed picking out the references and in-jokes to the series it was riffing on, and the whole movie works as The Magnificent Seven meets Star Trek. The concept was sound, and the story was tight, even as it freely made fun of itself throughout. Trek veterans were originally leery about this parody, but were relieved to find the “affectionate” part of “affectionate parody” was solidly in place. George Takei actually called it a “chillingly accurate documentary” – ironic, given the core plot point that the Thermians believe that Galaxy Quest was itself a documentary. The interactions of the human cast, who start out hating their tired TV roles (except for the egotistical Nesmith) and eventually end up finding the spirit of each character again, are well-scripted and well-acted. Rickman as falled Shakespearian Dane is, of course, the deadpan snarker of the group, utterly despising the rubber headpiece he wears throughout, until the moment when he makes it quite clear to Sarris’ men that Dr. Lazarus has quite a bit of Worf in his Spock. Tim Allen’s feature-length comedies have historically been rather hit or miss, but here he is dead on as a Shatner clone, and Sigourney Weaver shines as the opposite of her role in the Alien series – instead of a brunette action girl badass, her entire role in Galaxy Quest is to be the blonde token female who repeats everything the computer says. The Thermians were well-characterized as well; while they might be pitiably naive about matters of fictional entertainment, their plight appears genuine and potentially tragic, while Sarris comes off as entertainingly evil, having his own reasons for exterminating this pacifistic race but likely just doing it because he can.

The special effects are also well-done in this movie, well-crafted with a certain degree of stylistic schlock to capture this modernization of the original Star Trek, using CGI where the original might have used a guy in a shitty-looking costume, and using a guy in an awesome-looking costume where the original might have used a rubber forehead alien (and using an actual human in a rubber forehead because he was a human in a rubber forehead on the show). The replica Protector look like a Star Trek set, but then, that was the point, and it enhances the effects with CGI exterior shots that match well with the spirit of the movie.

Whether you’re a longtime fan of Star Trek or merely a casual acquaintance of the franchise, I think you’ll enjoy Galaxy Quest. I pokes fun at itself and the overall concept of the rabid fandom in ways that simultaneously honors and parodies both. By Grabthar’s Hammer, watch this movie!

Ghostbusters (1984)


Number one rule of marketing: Find out what people want, and find a way to provide it. Waterborne plague? Sell bottled water. Zombie apocalypse? Shotguns, food, and ammo. Outbreak of hauntings? Paranormal extermination services. It’s simple, really, especially considering the growing market that three New York parapsychologists are about to discover…

Ghostbusters is a comedy film produced and directed by Ivan Reitman, and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis. It stars Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Sugourney Weaver, Annie Potts, and Ernie Hudson.

When three quirky parapsychologists – Drs. Peter Venkman (Murray), Ray Stantz (Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Ramis) – lose their jobs at Columbia University, they decide to use their knowledge of the supernatural in a slightly different field: extermination. After their first attempt ends in hilarity, they develop equipment to help them capture and contain the ghosts, and set themselves up for business, advertising themselves as “the Ghostbusters”. Things appear to be set for failure until they finally get their first call from a posh hotel with a recurring haunting; after they capture this one (destroying most of the ballroom in the process), the calls start rolling in, with more and more people in New York City finding themselves vexed by wayward spirits. Business is so good, in fact, that they must fire a fourth member of their team, Winston Zeddemore (Hudson) to help distribute the workload (and to have someone to explain the supernatural stuff to), but before long the boys starts to wonder if their newfound success might not be a symptom of a building menace that has the potential to endanger the world…

Ghostbusters is one of those old favorites that I first saw while growing up, and it still holds up well today. The core cast are all close friends of Ivan Reitman, and in fact a similar combination (Reitman-Murray-Ramis) can be seen in Stripes. The actors worked well together, and you could tell that they enjoyed the hell out of whemselves while filming. In addition, I have been assured that Aykroyd is that big of a paranormal nerd in real life. Of course, the best part about this movie is that it works as a comedic scare film for both kids and adults – it isn’t that bloody, and the sexual stuff is more suggested than shown (at least, I wasn’t sure what that female ghost was doing with Ray until years later when I first heard of the succubus).

The special effects were well-done for their day, with the proton pack effects and ghostly apparitions still holding up well. The stop-motion terror dogs are a bit dated, but this is only a minor nit is what is otherwise a well-made and well-acted movie. The Godzilla-ish miniature effects used in the Stay-Puft sequence were well-crafted (though that suit must have been stuffy as hell), and I could actually believe that there was a fifty-foot snack mascot walking down the street, no matter how absurd it would look in any other context. The cast reacted well to the spooks and monsters, and nothing felt forced or half-assed.

If you like supernatural comedies, I strongly recommend adding this one to your collection. It’s an old favorite that has lasted for years, and will continue to last for years to come.

Aliens (1986)


It has been decades since Ripley last tangled with the ultimate killing machine. She never wanted to go back to LV-426, but in the time that she was in cryosleep, somebody had a great idea: establish a colony there and terraform the dead planet to make it habitable for human life.

No, wait. That’s not a great idea. That’s a bad idea.

So now Ripley has to go back to the place of her nightmares, just because Weyland-Yutani decided to be an idiot…

Aliens is a science fiction action movie and the first sequel to Alien. It was written and directed by James Cameron, and stars Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, William Hope, and Bill Paxton, plus the creature effects of Stan Winston.

When Ellen Ripley, sole survivor of the massacre and subsequent destruction of the Nostromo is rescued and revived from hypersleep, she discovers that 57 years have passed since her harrowing ordeal. Called to task for the Nostromo‘s destruction by a panel of Weyland-Yutani executives, her account of a hostile alien life form accidentally picked up on LV-426 is met with skepticism, because she blew the thing out an airlock to save herself rather than capturing the specimen for study, and because, to her horror, there has been a terraforming colony living there for the past 20 years, and they haven’t griped about any hostile wildlife. Her judgment is called into question, and she loses her piloting license. Not long after, W-Y loses contact with the terraforming colony (surprise!), and she is called in as a consultant on how to handle these monsters that don’t exist, but which haunt her nightmares every night. Reluctantly she agrees to go, hoping that facing her fears with help her get a good night’s sleep, and she is sent with a squadron of Space Marines aboard the Sulaco to check out the conspicuous absence of communications. The Marines are confident that they will be able to handle whatever is wrong, because they’re Space Marines, dammit, but Ripley has seen one of these things plow through six of her seven-man crew on the Nostromo, and has her doubts, made worse by the inclusion of android artificial person Bishop, who fortunately is a newer model that is Three Laws compliant. When they arrive, they find the colony almost completely abandoned save for a traumatized young girl named Rebecca Newt, who saw her entire family slaughtered by the things. Hilarity ensues when xenomorphs attack, wiping out most of the Space Marines and taking out the dropship that would have taken the survivors out of there. Now Ripley and the others will have to draw upon all available resources and their own ingenuity to survive…

I was impressed when I saw this movie for the first time. Building on the plotline established by Alien, this is a sequel that doesn’t feel like a sequel so much as a natural extension of the first – something that is apparently really hard to do, to judge by 95% of the sequels I’ve seen. Ripley is actually realistically affected by the horrors of the first movie, suffering from nightmares and flashbacks consistent with PTSD, and who could blame her? Then W-Y throws her under the bus regarding her actions aboard the Nostromo (kind of a dick move on their part, but a logical reaction to an apparently unbelieveable story), only to make it clear later that, yeah, we knew about them the whole time, and we didn’t want you jeopardizing access to possibly the coolest living weapon of our generation. Even here their motives make sense in a dystopic sort of way.

The acting here is also very well-done. Sigourney Weaver, reprising her role as Ripley, demonstrated that Alien wasn’t just a fluke (as she has continued to prove in the decades since), and Paul Reiser is affably slimy as Carter Burke, the guy who manages to wrangle Ripley back to LV-426 with the promise that W-Y will do everything he can to ensure the Xenomorph colony is destroyed (*cough*liar*cough*). And if creature effects can be considered actors, then Stan Winston’s Alien Queen rig, the most detailed single monster he had ever built to date, is still one of the most impressive animatronic puppets I have ever seen, alongside, er… much of Winston’s other work. The establishment of a hive society with a central breeding Queen takes its cue from the social insects of Earth, but ups the ante from fighting a single individual to outmaneuvering hundreds of Xenos, all coordinated with a single, thoroughly badass matriarch.

If you enjoyed the original Alien, I highly recommend Aliens. While it’s more action than horror, it’s a satisfying continuation of Ripley’s story, and capably expands on the cold insectile ways of the Xenomorphs to make them seem more like an organic species, intelligent, deadly, and brutally efficient. Every sci fi fan should have this in their collection.

Avatar (2009)


Great things happen when James Cameron makes a movie these days. Sometimes it’s spectacular, frequently it’s philosophical, and occasionally there is a fresh, deep, multilayered plot with excellent writing and interweaving plotlines. Often new filmmaking techniques must be devised to convey his sweeping vision. Did Cameron succeed with Avatar? Having had good experience with his movies in the past and having heard all the hype surround his latest Biggest Movie Ever, naturally I wanted to know.

Avatar is an epic science fiction film directed by (who else) James Cameron. It stars Sam “Remake of the Titans” Worthington, Zoe “Vantage Point” Saldana, Stephen “Project X” Lang, Michelle “Resident Evil” Rodriguez, Joel David “Grandma’s Boy” Moore, Giovanni “Gone in 60 Seconds” Ribisi, and Sigourney “Get away from her, you bitch!” Weaver.

In the year 2154, the RDA corporation is mining a mineral called unobtanium on a lush, jungle-like moon called Endor Pandora, a planet where absolutely everything is deadly to humans, but not to the Na’vi, a race of Native American cat girls nine foot tall sapient humanoids, who live in harmony with nature and follow a mother goddess they call Eywa. To interface with the Na’vi and learn about Pandora, the researchers use genetically engineered human-Na’vi hybrid bodies called Avatars, controlled from afar via mental link by genetically compatible operators. Jake Sully (Worthington), a paraplegic former Marine from Earth, is recruited to replace his dead twin brother, a scientist for whom the body was originally created, but who was murdered during a robbery. Dr. Grace Augustine (Weaver), the head of the Avatar program, doesn’t think Sully is sufficiently prepared for intergalatic diplomacy, but when he is separated from the group to whom he was assigned as a body guard, attacked by native predators, and rescued by a Na’vi named Neytiri, he is brought to a local village, as signs portend Great Things for him. The Na’vi teach him the native ways, and Colonel Badass Miles Quaritch, who to judge by his facial scars has already had a less than diplomatic encounter with the Na’vi, promises to help Sully walk again if he gathers intel on the Na’vi, but plans to get his Unobtanium by any means possible. But then the plot gets lost in the goddamn beautiful scenery.

This movie is really frapping gorgeous. The lush jungle scenes are filled with plantlife that you would expect to find on an alien planet, but with enough parallels with Earth flora that you almost recognize many of them. Some of the glowing blue ferns look like something from the bottom of the ocean, and the trees are huge, organic, old-growth behemoths that look like they’ve been there since the beginning of time. The wildlife is vicious but plausible, with claws and spikes and armor that have a purpose other than for sheer scary factor, and the Na’vi are believeable as a native race, with their own ways and customs, and a unique appearance that automatically precludes the “dude in a suit” limitations that less ambitious directors might try. 95% of Pandora is completely CGI, and Cameron worked with a small army of designers, artists, costumers, linguists, botanists, anthropologists, and CGI creators to bring this alien world to life. Which would be great if this were a pure mockumentary of Pandora, and we had time to explore without worrying about any plot-based reasons for being there. Unfortunately, the plot that we are given is fairly thin and derivative, and easily gets lost in the beauty of this created world.

When I saw Avatar in theaters, my main impression was, God, that was pretty. And… that was pretty much it. While the visuals were impressive, like I’d come to expect from Cameron, the actual story was kind of disappointing. It was like, okay, there’s this alien world with this really awesome stuff on it that humans want (and I have a hard time taking Unobtanium seriously as a scientific name since they used it with a straight face in The Core), but OMG LOOK AT THE PRETTY PLANET AND THE AWESOME HALF-NAKED CATGIRLS and wait, we need an actual story? Meh, just retell Pocahontas and Dances with Wolves, nobody will notice.

So, if you’re looking for impressive visuals and an overall very shiny movie, see Avatar. On the other hand, if you want a unique, well-developed story that doesn’t ride exclusively on visuals, give this one a miss.

Dave (1993)


You all probably know the tale of The Prince and the Pauper: a working-class guy who just happens to be the spitting image of somebody rich and important is asked to take the place of Rich and Important Guy. Think that couldn’t work today? Ivan Reitman disagrees.

Dave is a comedy-drama film written by Gary Ross and directed by Ivan Reitman. It stars Kevin “Silverado” Kline, Sigourney “Alien” Weaver, Frank “Superman Returns” Langella, Kevin “Transformers” Dunn, Ving “Pulp Fiction” Rhames, and Ben “Suspect Zero” Kingsley.

Dave Kovic (Kline) runs a temporary employment angency in Washington D.C. By chance, he bears a striking resemblance to U.S. President Bill Mitchell (also Kline, only an asshole), which he uses during side jobs impersonating him in such things as car advertisements and supermarket openings. He’s just an ordinary guy, who is about to be asked to do something extraordinary in service of his country. Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (Langella) approaches Kovic to act as a presidental body double to help conceal Mitchell’s extramarital affair with a White House secretary, having Kovic appear as the President while the real deal is off sweating up the sheets. However, during the course of the ruse, Mitchell’s extracurricular activities cause him to suffer a severe stroke, leaving him in a coma with no prospect of recovery, and the hapless Dave in his place to keep up appearances. Only Alexander, Communications Director Alan Reed (Dunn), and Secret Service Agent Duane Stevensen (Rhames) are aware of the ruse; First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Weaver) largely ignores her husband, utterly despising him. One should note that Kovic has no clue how to be a politician; this is both a good thing and a bad thing.

As Dave settles into his role, he plays the President they way he thinks the Commander in Chief should act – helping the common people, just as he did in his previous job. He has his accountant help him rewrite the United States budget to allow funds for a previously cancelled homeless shelter program, over Alexander’s protests, and he finds himself rapidly falling in love with the First Lady, his own “wife”. However, he is largely unaware of a plot to implicate Vice President Gary Nance (Kingsley, in one of his few truly benevolent roles) in a fraud that Alexander and Mitchell perpetrated. Once Nance is out of the way, Alexander plans to have Dave nominate him as V.P. and have a very convenient second stroke, landing Alexander in the Oval Office.

I don’t watch many comedies, but I found this movie to be charmingly funny. Kline as Kovic was a humble, good-hearted everyman uncorrupted by the customs of politics as usual, while Kline as Mitchell, in the character’s brief scenes, was a smug, opportunistic bastard, the sort of politician you love to hate – and he was convincing as both. Weaver was a sharped tongued defrosting ice queen as the First Lady, initially hating her “husband” out of habit but eventually being charmed by his simple kindness. And Frank Langella, whom I’d previously seen as that creepy guy with an offer in The Box is a persuasive manipulative bastard. Ving Rhames, as always, plays Ving Rhames, a no-nonsense badass who doesn’t take any shit, even from his supposed charge.

This modern-day take on an old story was also surprisingly fresh for its more modern setting. While a ruse of this magnitude might seem implausible at first, the amount of security surrounding the President would make this surprisingly simple (see Vantage Point for another example). Watching Dave stumbling through his new life is well-rewarded when he finally got his feet under him, and further rewarded when the American public starts coming around to this new, revitalized President Mitchell, making me hope that Kovic could be a hundred times the President that Mitchell was – and in his own way, he was.

If you’re looking for a charming comedy featuring a new twist on an old plot, I recommend this movie. Dave does not disappoint.

Alien (1979)


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

Thus the world was introduced to one of the most terrifying movie monsters ever, a nearly unstoppable killing machine designed to pour on the paranoia fuel in every possible way, including its nightmarish breeding cycle.  The Alien franchise would go on to span movies, books, video games, and eventually an official crossover with the Predator franchise to create one of the biggest franchise grudge matches this side of Freddy vs. Jason.

The original Alien was written by Dan O’Bannon (who would go on to direct Return of the Living Dead) and directed by Ridley Scott (who would follow his success with Blade Runner and Gladiator).  It starred Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton as the crew of the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo whose return trip to Earth is sidetracked by an apparent distress signal from a derelict ship, where they find the pilot is long-dead, his ribcage apparently exploded from within, the rest of the crew is not in immediate evidence, and a lower hold is filled with leathery eggs.  When Kane (Hurt) investigates one of the eggs, it hatches, releasing a spiderlike organism that attaches itself to his face.

Over the objections of Ripley (Weaver), Ash (Holm) allows Kane and his passenger back on board the Nostromo, carried by his teammates Dallas (Skerritt) and Lambert (Cartwright).  In the infirmary, the crew unsuccessfully attempt to remove the parasite, discovering in the process that it has corrosive acid for blood.  Fortunately, it ultimately detaches on its own and is found dead, while Kane recovers apparently unharmed.  However, over dinner, the crew discovers that the true terror is just beginning, in a scene that has been referenced and homaged many times since, most notably when Hurt himself reprised his role for a cameo in Spaceballs.

Alien still holds up well today as a tense horror movie set in the “used future” that would be depicted in future sci fi films, and the Alien itself (designed by H. R. Giger, the master of biomechanical body horror and symbolic penises, and amazingly played by a 7’2 Nigerian design student named Bolaji Badejo in a suit) continues to terrify even today, with its overall design blending in perfectly with industrial surroundings, and its chilling, insectile efficiency letting you know right off the bat that it does not care about you.  If you are lucky, you are food.  If you are unlucky, you will be an incubator.

It is worth noting that the original script did not specify the genders of the seven leads, making Sigourney Weaver’s casting as Ripley less a matter of her being the Final Girl of a horror movie and more an inspired bit of serendipity that would lead to her pioneering the Action Girl archetype later in the franchise.  Indeed, the crew of the Nostromo are not action heroes – just government contractors who discover that EvilCorp Weyland-Yutani is quite willing to throw them to the wolves if it will get them the finest weapon they could ever hope to find.  The role of W-Y regarding the Xenomorphs continued to be explored in the Expanded Universe, showing savvy viewers that sometimes the worst monsters are completely human.

Overall, Alien is an excellent example of science fiction/horror subgenre.  The characters are sympathetic and believable, and the creature effects still hold up well and make us believe that this is a monster that would gladly eat your face as soon as look at you.  If you want an example of a hostile alien movie done right, look no further.