Memory: The Origins of Alien


You never want to mess with the furies.

2019) Documentary (Screen Media) Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Diane O’Bannon, Ben Mankiewicz, Ronald Shusett, Roger Corman, Roger Christian, Ivor Powell, William Linn, Clarke Wolf, Axelle Carolyn, Henry Jenkins, Adam Egypt Mortimer, Carmen Scheifele-Giger, Gary Sherman, Linda Rich, Mickey Faerch, Rhoda Pell, Shannon Muchow.  Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe

 

One of the classics of its time was Ridley Scott’s Alien, which came out in 1979. While it wasn’t the first movie to meld horror and science fiction, it is certainly one of the best examples of both genres. Even now, 40 years after its initial release, the movie still terrifies and inspires.

Over the years there have been plenty of “making-of” documentaries about the film but few have taken the tack that this one has. Philippe, best known for his dissection of Hitchcock’s shower scene from Psycho in his documentary 78/52, looks more at the gestation of the film culminating in its infamous “chestburster” birthing scene which in 1979 caused audience jaws to collectively drop. Even today, new viewers of the film going in unprepared can be taken unawares.

Philippe does a deep dive into writer Dan O’Bannon’s influences to begin with; from his fascination with Greek and Egyptian mythologies to the loathing of insects he developed on the Missouri farm he grew up on to his eventual love for writer H.P. Lovecraft, no stone goes unturned in discussing where the ideas for Alien germinated. O’Bannon’s widow Diane (her husband passed away in 2009 of complications from the Crohn’s disease he lived with all his life) acts as something of a shepherdess, guiding us through his initial filmmaking foray (Dark Star which he co-directed with John Carpenter) through an abortive Dune project with Mexican surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky but which introduced him to the work of Swiss artist H.R. Giger and through the frustrating attempts to sell what would become his masterpiece. Giger’s influences are also briefly summarized as well as a lengthy discussion of painter Francis Bacon’s influence on the look of the chestburster scene (I would have preferred a little more time spent on Giger but that’s just me).

The documentary isn’t as comprehensive as The Beast Within, the making-of documentary that first appeared on the DVD edition of The Alien Quadrilogy which collected the first four films of the franchise along with an array of special features. In fact, some of the archival interviews from that feature appear here, projected onto video screens on a faux bridge of the Nostromo, a touch I liked very much.

There is a very intellectual approach to the film; there are interviews with respected critics and film historians such as Axelle Carolyn, Ben Mankiewicz and Clarke Wolf. There are also contemporary interviews with some of the cast and crew of the film including Cartwright and Skerritt (but interestingly enough, not Scott or Sigourney Weaver whose career essentially began with the film). There is discussion of how the politics of 1979 affected the film and how some of the social points are still relevant (the expendability of the working-class crew, for example).

In many ways, this is an excellent lead-in for those who haven’t yet seen the film although I can’t imagine someone willing to invest the time on a detailed examination of a movie they haven’t seen. Fans of the movie will no doubt enjoy this even though some of the on-set stories have been told elsewhere.

Almost by necessity there is an endless parade of talking heads although it is well-dispersed with footage from the film as well as behind-the-scenes footage, particularly when the examination of the chestburster scene finally arrives about halfway through. I don’t honestly know if this is the definitive documentary about the film – it really doesn’t examine the movie’s effect and legacy except in very broad terms. Still, fans of the movie will find the academic approach different and perhaps enlightening. It reminds me of the early days of DVDs and VHS home video releases when certain movies got documentaries that really gave great insight into the development of the film unlike the modern back-slapping love-fests that you see these days when you see anything at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Definitely a godsend for fans of the movie.
REASONS TO AVOID: May be too detailed for the casual fan.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as horrific images from the original film.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is one of the first purchases by the fan-owned entertainment company, Legion M.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/6/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews: Metacritic: 70/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Empire of Dreams
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Wallflower

Montana Amazon


Montana Amazon

Haley Joel Osment and Allison Brie wonder why the film's budget didn't include dry cleaning.

(2011) Comedy (Self-Distributed) Olympia Dukakis, Haley Joel Osment, Allison Brie, Veronica Cartwright, Ellen Geer, Lew Temple, James McDonald, Liza Del Mundo, Angel Oquendo, Haley Pullos, Michelle Bonilla, Zach Lewis, Connie Cooper, Patty McCall. Directed by D.G. Brock

Not everyone is born a genius. Not everyone is even born with normal intelligence. Some people are born to march to a different drummer, and some people are just born.

The Dunderheads of Montana are the kind of family that small towns in Montana sometimes have to put up with; not super bright, not socially graceful and apt to do the wrong thing more times than not. Ira (Dukakis) is nearly mute, for whom smoking seems to be her only joy in life. She is as mean-tempered as a Missouri mule and twice as violent as a Manson family disciple.

Ella (Brie), her granddaughter, has the sexuality of Sue Lyon in Lolita and the maturity of a six-year-old. She dreams of being swept off her feet by a studly gas station attendant (she has a thing for gas station attendants) and has all the sophistication of a musk ox in heat. As beautiful as she is, there is something disturbing about her that makes most guys go running in the opposite direction; that is if they have any sense at all.

Womple (Osment) is Ira’s grandson and Ella’s brother; he dreams of finding his father, who has been missing in action most of his life. Womple believes he is a big game hunter in Africa. He is sure his dad will return any day now, a hope that his sister ridicules at every opportunity. Ira doesn’t have much to say on the subject; she doesn’t have much to say at all.

When Womple accidentally kills a friend (and believe me, Womple doesn’t have many), a paranoid Ira herds her grandkids into an ancient Ford Falcon and drives off to escape the law. She has but one word in her vocabulary: “Canada!” which she grunts with ferocity. There’s just one problem; Canada is to the North of Montana; Ira heads resolutely south.

Along the way the Dunderheads leave a trail of mayhem and chaos behind them, but Womple will also discover the truth about his father and the family skeleton that he literally comes face to face with, and we will discover that some families are dysfunctional for a reason.

Director D.G. Brock is not a name I’m familiar with but she is a name you want to keep your eye on. This is one of the best-directed comedies I’ve seen in quite awhile. The pace is absolutely frenetic, moving from scene to scene with reckless abandon. There are a lot of really big laughs here, and many of them come from the puzzled expression of Haley Joel Osment, who probably saw a few dead people when he was channeling his performance, most notably the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges.

Olympia Dukakis is a treasure; while she has been cast in a lot of similar roles over her career (mother and now grandmother), she carries off this offbeat role bravely, allowing herself to go outside of her comfort zone (she beats the crap out of Osment throughout the movie and smokes like a fiend) and as a result, delivers one of the best performances of her stellar career.

Allison Brie is familiar to television viewers more than movie fans, having critical roles in both “Mad Men” and “Community” but she does a great job here. While her performance isn’t quite as fearless as Dukakis’, she displays a comic touch that marks her as a comic actress who has a future on the big screen as well as the small.

Cartwright and Geer deliver strong albeit brief performances in supporting roles. In fact, the acting is uniformly strong in this movie which for the most part has flown under the national radar. I caught it at the Orlando Film Festival and while the movie isn’t scheduled for U.S. release until April 2011 (and at present has no national distribution lined up), nonetheless this is one of those movies that remind you that good movies don’t necessarily generate Internet buzz. It’s an impressive comedy that mixes the best elements of screwball comedy and road pictures but injects a modern sensibility into the mix. It’s one worth making an effort to look out for.

REASONS TO GO: This movie is as manic as they come; combines the traditions of the screwball comedy and the road comedy, only with a modern sensibility. Dukakis, Osment, Brie and Cartwright all deliver the goods here. The ending packs quite an unexpected wallop.

REASONS TO STAY: At times the Dunderheads act so dumb and revolting it’s hard to sympathize with them.

FAMILY VALUES: There are some fairly disturbing scenes, a bit of bad language (not much) and some scenes of sexuality, as well as some sexual language; I would rate this as acceptable for most teenaged audiences.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Those who bought tickets in advance from the film’s website can get a free download of the John Legend song that is played during the closing credits.

HOME OR THEATER: While it is still possible the film might be picked up for national distribution, it is more likely your best bet will be to find it on DVD/Blu-Ray either on Netflix or online.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Flushed Away