Monday, April 3, 2017

Obsessive Cinematic Disorder: We Need an "Alien: Isolation" Movie

Spoilers for the Alien franchise to follow.

Ridley Scott seems hell bent on making Alien films until he dies. But instead of producing the endless Prometheus/Covenant sequels that are apparently in the pipeline, why not adapt the phenomenal Alien: Isolation, a video game that follows Amanda Ripley*, daughter of original Alien protagonist Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). That's right, Alien: Isolation insists Ripley's daughter got into some xenomorph shenanigans of her own.

You see, when we meet Amanda at the beginning of Isolation, she's already been looking for her long-missing mother, working for the Weyland-Yutani company on the edges of fringe space. The company approaches Amanda with an offer: they've found the black box from the Nostromo, Ripley's ship from Alien, and they want Amanda on the mission. Amanda sets off to recover the flight recorder and winds up on Sevastopol, a sprawling space station. It's there that she finds trouble worthy of the Alien franchise.

And with that, here are some specific reasons a hypothetical Alien: Isolation movie is great.

It's Alien on Steroids

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was essentially a bigger, "better" remake of A New Hope, and that's okay. In fact, Alien: Isolation could do the same thing for Alien. The game is a jacked up version of Alien in that it has a plot similar to the original film (a Ripley vs. an alien), but it's on a giant space station with a larger cast of characters. There's even an android threat to deal with, but it's cranked up to 11. And speaking of androids...

Possible Michael Fassbender Connection

A member of Amanda's crew is an android named Samuels. Anthony Howell portrays the 'droid in the game - and he does a fine job - but how cool would it be to feature Michael Fassbender in the role? That would connect this film not just to Alien, but to Fassbender's Prometheus and Alien: Covenant as well. This would even continue the trend of Fassbender's android characters having different names in each film.

It's Scary

The game is terrifying. One thing that connects Isolation with its Alien roots is that no one really knows about the alien. There's a terrifying quality in Alien because the creature just comes out of nowhere. Same here. All of the subsequent Alien films featured Ripley dealing with a creature she - and the audience - already knew about. This would reset that.

Another scary part of the game is hiding from the alien. Amanda has some weapons and tools, but, just like in Alien, the creature is basically unstoppable, so cowering in a locker until it goes away is a requirement. The movie can't be all hiding, so maybe include one or two hiding scenes. Perhaps even make those scenes first person, which would be sort of found-footage-ish in a cool way.

There's even the aforementioned android element. In fact, there's a ton of them, and they're more like a basic model, with creepy, featureless faces and they're not the friendliest.

Franchise Potential

Alien: Isolation definitely leaves room for more Amanda Ripley adventures. Not to bring up that other sci-fi saga again, but the Alien franchise could be Fox's new Star Wars. In fact, forget franchise, this could kick off a shared universe.**  Fassbender could serve as the Sam Jackson of the series. This film would even have a Rogue One vibe going on...sort of an "inbetweenquel" about a character only briefly mentioned in another film.***

I'm really hoping Fox is already working on all this. Alien Day is coming up again on April 26, so maybe an announcement is incoming.

*Andrea Deck voices Amanda in the game. It would be awesome if she reprised the role in this film.

**Let Neill Blomkamp make his Alien 5 film with Sigourney Weaver. The film obviously wouldn't make sense considering the events of Alien 3, but this year's Logan proved you can do alternate timeline films.

***So, you're right, Amanda is only mentioned in the director's cut of Aliens. But while we're on that topic, it's interesting to note that that film would have you believe that Amanda lived a humdrum life on Earth while her mom drifted in space between Alien and Aliens. Or, at least, Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) chose not to mention Amanda's adventures. In reality, the folks behind Isolation were probably just taking some liberties with the character. When Amanda's information was mentioned in Aliens in 1986, that was probably true at the time. It makes Ripley's story that more tragic and sets up her mother/daughter relationship with Newt. On the other hand, we could now take it to mean that Weyland-Yutani was totally lying to Ripley's face about Amanda. It wouldn't have been the first time they did something sinister. Ret-conning Weyland-Yutani into covering up the Amanda/Sevastopol disaster makes perfect sense, and makes the franchise even more interesting.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Review: Rat Film

Rat Film is a documentary about rats and the people involved with them in the City of Baltimore, Maryland. Maybe? It's probably best to refer to the film's official synopsis:

Across walls, fences, and alleys, rats not only expose our boundaries of separation but make homes in them. "Rat Film" is a feature-length documentary that uses the rat—as well as the humans that love them, live with them, and kill them--to explore the history of Baltimore. "There's never been a rat problem in Baltimore, it's always been a people problem".
There were many times throughout the film when I wondered just what was going on, as it also touches on a weird 3D game/map, systemic racism and segregation ("Isn’t it nice to think that when it rains, the whole city gets wet?”), and different elements of crime scene investigations. But it’s somehow all this and more and still compelling, gross (I felt physically ill at one point - the highest praise you can give to art?), surreal, insightful, existential, and weird. It’s like filmmaker Theo Anthony set out to make a documentary about rats and ended up deftly covering a lot more. The film doesn't suffer because of this. If anything, the film's disjointed plot is a big appeal.


The most interesting part of Rat Film for me was seeing different rat catchers (and lovers) from different walks of life and how they relate with the rodents. One character - a rat specialist with the City of Baltimore - was particularly insightful, pondering for the film about life, God, and the afterlife. And rats, of course.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

Rat Film is playing at Sun-Ray Cinema as part of their Sleeping Giant Fest. The documentary screens on Friday, March 31 at 5:00 p.m. and on Sunday, April 2 at 5:25 p.m.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Review: The Void

A man and a woman burst out of a dark house in the middle of the night, with two attackers hot on their trail. The man survives, but the woman isn’t so lucky. She meets a grisly end, and a hooded figure - looking like a KKK member with a triangle sewn over his face - watches from the shadows as the assailants set off after the man. The Void goes on to follow Daniel Carter, (Aaron Poole) a police officer who takes the survivor to an on-the-verge-of-closing-due-to-fire-damage hospital. Once there, Carter must deal with insanity, murder, cultists (the hooded figure has quite a few friends), and otherworldly monsters.

Screen Media Films

The stylish and Lovecraftian The Void seems like someone put the films of John Carpenter and Clive Barker in a blender and then tried to strangle you with the power cord (in a good way). You’ll sense elements of Carpenter’s The Thing and Prince of Darkness and Barker’s Hellraiser (I think there’s a scene late in The Void that’s a direct homage to a bit in this film) and Lord of Illusions. A good story unfolds in The Void as well, something that can get lost in a movie like this in favor of zaniness for the sake of zaniness. In fact, there’s prequel-levels of backstory hinted at in the film, something lesser films wouldn't make time for.

But don’t get me wrong, there is definitely zaniness. There's a great atmosphere, thanks to the nearly abandoned hospital and the creepy woods surrounding it. There’s plenty of weird, bloody, and spacey visions to be had, and there’s some great creature effects on display. The Void boasts some very unique horror and gross-out images that are guaranteed to stay with you after the film ends. Writers/directors Jeremy Gillespie and Steven Kostanski have extensive backgrounds in art and makeup, so it’s no surprise the visuals here are great. I also noticed some stellar sound design happening - creatures sound both like monsters from another world AND the poor folks they’ve sprouted from. And the third act features the film’s hospital setting sounding more like our heroes are on a creaking ship that’s about to sink into the mouth of hell.

Screen Media Films

Every actor in the film is solid, with Poole standing out particularly as a man in completely over his head as reality turns on him. Kenneth Welsh also shines as a doctor and leader of the hospital's skeleton crew. If I can fault the film for anything, a specific theme of loss may have been used so much that it somehow gets confusing. But the movie more than makes up for this with its visuals and atmosphere.

4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Void is playing at Sun-Ray Cinema as part of their Sleeping Giant Fest. The film screens at 9:10 p.m. on Friday, March 31 and 9:40 p.m. on Saturday, April 1.