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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

There have been plenty of looks into the making of Ridley Scott’s Alien—most notably the director’s-cut Alien DVDs, followed by the special-feature-saturated Blu-rays.

Memory: The Origins of Alien, a new documentary from director Alexandre O. Philippe, is one of the best, although it lacks new interviews with the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Ridley Scott. (The film does include a handful of archived interview moments.) Instead, it talks to folks like Roger Corman, who almost made Dan O’Bannon’s original Alien script on a shoestring budget, and gets the likes of Tom Skerritt to sit down for some original insights on the filming. Veronica Cartwright is also interviewed, once again recounting the great story of witnessing the chest-burster scene live.

The movie goes beyond typical behind-the-scenes looks, tracing the origins of Alien back to some old-timey comics depicting Navy sailors accidentally eating alien eggs.

For fans of the movie and moviemaking in general, Memory: The Origins of Alien is quite fascinating.

Memory: The Origins of Alien is available via online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

This is a well-meaning movie with good heart—but it was better when it was called The Iron Giant.

J.A. Bayona’s film based on the Patrick Ness book tells the tale of Conor (Lewis MacDougall), a young boy whose mother (Felicity Jones) is dying. Conor is, understandably, having issues—not just with the impending loss of his mother, but with bullies at school and a domineering grandma (Sigourney Weaver) he doesn’t quite understand. When things come to a boil, a tree monster (the voice of Liam Neeson) shows up to offer guidance and tough love.

MacDougall gives a respectable performance, as do Jones and Weaver, but the film never really works. The relationship between the boy and the imaginative monster does not make much sense, so the human interactions wind up being far more interesting. Problem is, this movie is called A Monster Calls, and much of the film leans on the effectiveness of the monster scenes. There are moments where everything jells—but it never lasts.

For the most part, the movie feels disjointed, uneven and too similar to films that have come before it. It doesn’t earn the tears it wants you to shed at the end. It’s just kind of manipulative and weird

A Monster Calls is now playing at the Regal Rancho Mirage Stadium 16 (72777 Dinah Shore Drive, Rancho Mirage; 844-462-7342).

Published in Reviews

Ron Howard directs The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years, the first major Beatles documentary since The Beatles Anthology in the 1990s.

While the Anthology is still the most definitive account of the greatest band to ever walk the Earth—it’s damn near perfect—Howard does a nice job of culling footage snippets of the band during the short-lived touring days, screaming fans included (one of them being Sigourney Weaver, who is seen both in vintage footage and in a present-day interview).

The surviving Beatles—Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr—participate with interviews, while John Lennon and George Harrison have a strong presence in archived interviews. As with Anthology, there’s no narrator, just the voices of the Fab Four either recounting those crazy touring days or commenting on them as they were happening.

That stretch ended right before Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, when The Beatles became a studio band and eschewed live performances. As the film demonstrates, that decision came about not because they didn’t love playing together, but because they were basically afraid for their lives.

Hardcore fans will be familiar with most of the interviews and performances, although you will see and hear some surprises. This film is actually a great starting point for anyone looking to get to know more about the band. Keep this in mind when you check them out: This band did what they did in just seven years. SEVEN YEARS. That’s how long it takes many current bands to put out one album.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week—The Touring Years is streaming on Hulu.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The first Ghostbusters was a magnificent movie miracle.

Some of the greatest comedy actors of the time (Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Rick Moranis and Dan Aykroyd) joined forces under the guidance of a hot director (Ivan Reitman, coming off Stripes and Meatballs) to merge horror, science fiction, comedy and big-budget special effects. They balanced these elements perfectly—and turned out a classic.

I was not expecting anything near the brilliance or originality of the 1984 original from Paul Feig’s reboot/remake/whatever-you-want-to-call-it entry into a movie franchise that has remained dormant since the miserable 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters 2. Considering the cast that Feig assembled—Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones—I did expect to have a good time.

That didn’t happen. I was bored … super bored. I laughed a total of 2 1/2 times at the new Ghostbusters, and I did not laugh once due to anything the headliners did. It’s as if Feig (Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat) figured, “Hey, I have these stars and a big budget for special effects. I don’t really need a funny script, do I? These stars can just stand in front of a camera and be funny, right?”

Perhaps they can, but that didn’t happen this time out: Ghostbusters is a stale facsimile of the original. If you watched those lousy preview trailers and worried that the franchise was creatively bankrupt, know that the stupid jokes in that trailer (“That’s gonna leave a mark!”) are about the best laughs the film has to offer. I found myself really annoyed with the haters who judged this movie by those lousy trailers before they saw the completed project. Sadly, I have now joined that camp: I really hated this movie.

The normally reliable Wiig, as the “sensible scientist,” basically stands around looking lost. Comedic firecracker McCarthy, as the trailblazer scientist of the group, bumbles her way through the role with a smile but no material. My current favorite Saturday Night Live star, Kate McKinnon, is the brainy yet eccentric science wizard; she’s allowed to mug like a crack addict on an New York City subway full of inebriated, unarmed billionaires. Leslie Jones, as the street-smart member with no science chops, seems to equate volume with humor. She’s just loud.

After a promising start featuring Zach Woods (Silicon Valley), Ed Begley Jr. and a haunted house, the plot switches to a geek (Neil Casey) looking to cause a ghost apocalypse in Manhattan. He’s planting traps around the city that attract paranormal activity, perhaps because he’s lonely. The new Ghostbusters then band together to conquer the geek and save the city.

The ghosts are dull, fluorescent things bolstered slightly by some decent 3-D effects, if you should choose the more-expensive viewing route. The folks putting together some of the 3-D action did a pretty good job: There are moments where stuff seems to be coming out of the movie frame and suspending in the air in front of you. Those moments won’t make you laugh, but they might wake you up a little.

Andy Garcia as the mayor made me laugh … once. Begley as a paranormal enthusiast made me laugh … once. Chris Hemsworth as a brain-dead receptionist almost made me laugh once, but it was more like a chortle. That’s it for the laugh count.

Aykroyd, Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver all make useless, remarkably lame cameos. Ramis also makes an appearance in one of the movie’s few inspired moments.

To say this film is a disappointment would be an understatement. So far, this summer has blown it with Spielberg, Superman, Batman, Independence Day aliens and now the Ghostbusters. Will Suicide Squad return some dignity to DC? Will Star Trek Beyond give the summer the big-budget fun boost it needs?

Let’s hope the movies get a lot better when it gets cold outside. Let’s also hope that the people steering this franchise have a much funnier script in their hands before they make any further adventures involving proton packs.

Ghostbusters is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

The sequel to Finding Nemo is a bit darker than its predecessor, with Ellen DeGeneres returning as the voice of Dory, the lovable fish with short-term memory issues.

An event triggers a memory of family in her little brain, and she sets off on a journey to find her mom and dad (voiced by Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). Pals Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) join Dory on her quest, which culminates at an aquarium/amusement park that is graced with voice announcements by the actual Sigourney Weaver. Dory winds up in a pond, in a bucket of dead fish, and swimming around inside a lot of dark pipes.

In some ways, Finding Dory is to Finding Nemo what The Empire Strikes Back was to Star Wars: It’s a darker, slightly scarier chapter. However, it still delivers on the heartwarming elements, and contains some good laughs, many of them provided by Ed O’Neill as the voice of a conniving octopus. We also find out how and why Dory can speak whale, as she reconvenes with an old friend, Destiny the Whale Shark (Kaitlin Olson).

Overall, Finding Dory is not as good as the first chapter, but it’s still good, and DeGeneres rules as the voice of Dory. Her voicing of Dory definitely goes into the Animation Voices Hall of Fame.

Make sure to stay all the way through the credits for a rather lengthy final scene!

Finding Dory is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

There are some good ideas at play in Chappie, the latest from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp. Problem is, many of those ideas are unabashedly lifted from other movies. There’s nothing seriously original in this strange and goofy story of a sentient robot that loves his drug-dealer “parents.”

Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, star of Slumdog Millionaire, possibly the most overrated film of the new century) is sick of his cubicle job; he works for a company creating police robots in Australia. He wants to take things to the next level and create the world’s first “human” robot—a robot with a consciousness. So we get a bunch of sequences with him vigorously typing (aided by prominently placed Red Bull), only to be left with the monitor saying “UNSUCCESSFUL.”

Eventually, the screen says “SUCCESSFUL,” and the program to make an emotional robot has become reality. Against the wishes of his superior (Sigourney Weaver), Deon steals a damaged police robot with the intent of loading his program into the sucker.

However, some drug-dealers kidnap Deon and discover his plans. They force him to upload the program into the damaged robot, and insist that he leave the robot with them to help with a big heist. So while Deon is off doing whatever, Chappie the robot learns the ways of the street and starts speaking slang.

Chappie is voiced by Blomkamp mainstay Sharlto Copley, who also provides a decent motion-capture performance. Because Chappie is portrayed as a baby robot learning rapidly, Copley has to go with a very childlike performance. It’s endearing at times, but this is nothing he’d want on his résumé reel.

Chappie’s drug-dealer parents are Yolandi and Ninja, played by Yo-Landi Visser and … some guy named Ninja. They teach Chappie the ways of swearing and shooting things, and even get him to steal cars. The screenplay, by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, tries to give these characters redemptive qualities toward the film’s end, but fails. They are scumbag drug dealers, after all.

If this all sounds stupid, that’s because it mostly is—which is shocking, considering it’s from the mind of the usually reliable Blomkamp. His Elysium, starring a bald Matt Damon, was a step down from the very good District 9, but it still had its merits. Chappie, on the other hand, is misguided flop from the start.

A year after the RoboCop remake, we get a film in which police robots have similar voices and basically say the same things as Peter Weller’s original half-man, half-robot. There’s even a big robot called “The Moose” that is much like the ED-209 championed by Ronny Cox’s bad guy in the original. This time out, the villain is Hugh Jackman, playing Deon’s mullet-wearing co-worker who wants The Moose to go into mass production. It’s the same damn plot! Somebody’s ass should get sued. And what were they thinking when they gave Jackman that haircut?

While the movie is largely ripped off from RoboCop, there are also traces of I, Robot, as well as Run Lola Run, Wall-E, Terminator, District 9, Elysium, E.T. and others. It feels like a hodgepodge of every robot movie ever made.

I’m concerned, because Blomkamp just got the green light from Fox to make Alien 5, possibly with Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn. Now that Chappie is dead on arrival, could the Alien project be in jeopardy? If so, everybody needs to run out and see this piece of shit so we can get our Alien movie. As film geeks, we must make sacrifices sometimes.

Chappie is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews