Your Weekend at the Movies Sprung Forth From John Hurt’s Chest

06/08/2012 8:58 AM |

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Lo, for I have rewatched all of the Alien movies in preparation for Ridley Scott’s sorta-prequel Prometheus, even though it was not really necessary, as I have seen the Alien movies plenty of times, and probably only the first one connects to this movie in any way. I’m excited for this movie due to its lack of immediate franchise name recognition (this is the current state of affairs: a prequel to a three-decade-old movie series counts as a summer original!), exciting casting, cool trailer, and promise of actual science fiction after a run of convenient, often uninspired alien-invasion stories (in The Avengers, an alien invasion is simply the only way to construct a threat big enough to threaten Earth’s Mightiest Heroes; sci-fi by default!).

What makes me less excited is actually Ridley Scott, who seems to have received a lifetime nerd pass for making Alien and Blade Runner which, you know, fair enough, but have you guys seen 1492: Conquest of Paradise? Even Scott’s semi-celebrated early-aughts commercial run, while diverse in genre with the likes of Gladiator, Hannibal, and Black Hawk Down, failed to produce a single movie I’d be happy to rewatch in advance of his newest project – though the underseen movie that brought his commercial streak to a halt, Matchstick Men, is fantastic and, along with the aforementioned sci-fi triumphs, gives me hope that Prometheus will not be, well, your average Ridley Scott movie. Which is to say Legend or something. Scott’s semi-sour grapes comments about how he had wished they’d given him back the Alien franchise at some point also shows a limited-at-best understanding of what’s interesting about that series to begin with; you never hear Brian De Palma insisting that his Ghost Protocol would’ve been way cooler. But hey, no one will be happier than I am if Prometheus is as cool as it looks.

My big Alien series rewatch also put me further at peace with the idea that there are two near-perfect and very different movies in Alien and Aliens, and then there is a rest of series that I really like despite not being up to that lofty standard. Fincher’s Alien 3 has yet to find a cut that strikes a Blade Runner-style balance between the truncated-feeling theatrical cut and the overlong “assembly” Fox put together for DVD and Blu-ray in the wake of Fincher’s refusal to make a director-approved version, but both versions are interesting: visually distinct, impressively grim and serious-minded, conceptually sound even if a little monotonous in execution. Jeunet’s Alien Resurrection is less defendable, but I don’t know, once you’ve come off the disappointment of it being inferior to every other non-Alien vs. Predator movie about this creature, it’s sort of fun; it certainly doesn’t skimp on the perversity, with the room of failed Ripley clones, the breeding of new aliens via kidnapped humans, the horrible birth and death of the human-alien hybrid, and the sometimes absurdly crafty Aliens deciding at one point that tearing one of them apart will create enough acid to burn through their cage.

The point is, Alien movies tend to cause disappointment and then play better once you’re removed from the delicate hope of recreating the feeling of first watching Alien, especially now that the original’s director is back in the game. I assume this expectation-adjustment should apply to prequels, spin-offs, or whatever the hell Prometheus is, too.

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Elsewhere this weekend, fans of the movie Greenberg have plenty to disappoint them! Madgascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted features an actual co-writing credit for Noah Baumbach, presumably due to his connection with Ben Stiller, the lead voice in this series; it’s far better than Madagascar 2 while simultaneously being by far the worst ever movie with Baumbach’s name on it (including the non-release Highball, a wonderful comedy that Baumbach took his name off of, at least as writer and director; I believe he maintains an official acting credit).

Baumbach’s Greenberg muse and current girlfriend, meanwhile, has a bona fide star vehicle out: Lola Versus has Greta Gerwig in every scene! Beyond that near-inherent goodness, it doesn’t have much to recommend it; it’s one of those neither-here-nor-there indie comedies that tries to go down mainstream easy but sticks in your throat, and not in that uncomfortable, awesome Greenberg way. Gerwig, though, is a delight as always; ticketsellers for Lola Versus should be required by law to inform moviegoers that Damsels in Distress is still playing.

If you’ve already seen Damsels, maybe you can catch supporting gal Aubrey Plaza as the lead of Safety Not Guaranteed, an indie comedy (like Lola Versus!) with sci-fi overtones (like Prometheus! Actually probably more like one of those Brit Marling movies!). Plaza plays a magazine intern helping to investigate a guy (Mark Duplass) who claims to be recruiting for a time-travel trip. Unless this investigation is for a trend piece on time-travelers, I’m not sure I buy it (the magazine story, that is; not necessarily the time travel), even as an example of snarky condescension. But I’m on board for any Aubrey Plaza-utilizing even the merest hint of time-travel. And although I wasn’t certain it was actually coming out this weekend until I read Henry’s review, I may be willing to dip back into the dark, murky waters of Todd Solondz for Dark Horse.