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25 Years Later: ‘Alien 3’ Is So Much Better Than You Remember It Being

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This month marks the 25th anniversary of the release of Alien 3. Sadly, there will be no fanfare to mark the occasion, no special Blu-ray releases are planned, and any xenomorph mania currently overtaking the nation is focused solely on Alien: Covenant. There might be one or two other opinion pieces like this one, written by lone contrarians trying to defend an unfairly maligned sequel, but for the majority of fans, Alien 3 will always remain the Voldemort of the franchise – the sequel-that-must-not-be-named instead of the darkly beautiful, nihilistic masterpiece that it is.

wasteland

It’s easy to see why some might not like Alien 3; it’s not as scary as Alien, it’s not action-packed like Aliens, and it doesn’t have the over-the-top grotesqueries and Joss Whedon-penned dialogue that make Alien: Resurrection such a curiosity. Add to that reports of a disastrous production and bittersweet dreams of sequels that could have been (RIP Newt), and you get a movie that most fans treat like the redheaded stepchild of the series. That’s a shame though, because when you really get down to it, Alien 3 is not a bad movie – quite the opposite in fact. Sure, the film has its flaws (it can be a bit slow at times), but it certainly doesn’t deserve all of the hate that it gets. For instance, it currently sits at a whopping 44% on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest of any movie in the Alien franchise (not counting AVP of course, because why would we?). To put that into perspective, Police Academy 3 has a score of 40%. That means that David Fincher’s directorial debut was only slightly more popular with critics than a movie where Bobcat Goldthwait screams at people for 84 minutes.

I have to admit that I might not be the best person to give an objective opinion of Alien 3. When I was eleven years old, my dad took me to the movies to see it on opening day – it was going to be my first R rated movie-going experience, and truth be told, I was a little bit nervous. It shouldn’t have been that big of a deal (after all, I had been watching R rated movies at home for quite some time), but there was something exciting and almost dangerous about seeing an adult movie on the big screen. When I watched Aliens at home on my blurry thirteen-inch TV, I could always hit pause on the VCR if things got too intense. In the theater, nothing short of jumping up and running to the lobby would give me a reprieve from the larger than life carnage on the screen. In the end, I needn’t have worried; Alien 3 ended up having less blood and guts than either of its predecessors, but gore or not, I absolutely loved it. To this day (including in preparation for this article), I continue to carry the nostalgia-soaked memories of my first visit to Fury 161 with me upon seeing it again.

fincher-and-the-alien

Personal feelings aside, however, Alien 3 does have a lot of things going for it, and considering the circumstances surrounding the filming, David Fincher should be praised as a miracle worker. To say that he had a hard time making Alien 3 would be an understatement. The tumultuous production has been well documented, but the highlights include the original director leaving, several script rewrites, reshoots stemming from less-than-positive test screenings, and additional rejiggering by the studio. Somehow, despite all that, Fincher was able to deliver a moody art film so depressing that it practically requires a prescription for Zoloft just to finish it. But that’s a good thing!

newt-and-hicks

One of Alien 3’s best qualities is how dark and hopeless it is. Right from the beginning, the film lets us know just what kind of movie we are in for when it kills off two of the surviving characters we had spent the entire previous movie rooting for. The deaths of Newt and Hicks within the first few minutes of the film inspires the most hate from fans, but it’s a bold choice, and one David Fincher should be applauded for making. Newt and Hicks didn’t do anything to earn their deaths, they didn’t make any foolish mistakes, nor were there really any precautions that they could have taken to alter their fate – their deaths serve no purpose, neither setting the plot in motion or providing any sort of motivation for the protagonist. They die because sometimes in life bad things happen to good people for no reason, and Fincher is one of the few directors brave enough to mirror that on film.

From there the movie continues on its bleak course until the very end, when we see Ripley – a character we’ve grown to love over the course of three movies – hurl herself into a giant furnace, taking her own life in order to destroy the alien inside her. It’s an ending that many fans hate almost as much as the beginning of the film, but one befitting the cursed life Ellen Ripley started to lead the minute the Nostromo first set down on LV-426. To have Ripley ride off triumphantly into the sunset would have felt tonally wrong, like making the character a half-alien, half-human clone that plays basketball…oh…wait…never mind. Instead, by ending the trilogy in the saddest way possible, Alien 3 stands as a reminder that movies are allowed to make you feel something other than joy; whether anger, sadness, or disgust, it makes you feel something. If you want a trilogy with a happy ending go watch Star Wars or The Lord of the Rings.

Fincher’s decision to feature only one of H.R. Giger’s creations rather than the hordes of xenomorphs in James Cameron’s Aliens was also a brave move. In stark contrast to Superman 3 (two Supermans!), Jaws 3D (two sharks!), Spider-Man 3 (two three villains!), and every other “threequel” that tries to ramp up excitement and spectacle in the third act, Alien 3 scales back the action in favor of a more intimate experience than the film before it. Many reviewers complained at the time that the series ended with a whimper instead of a bang, but in reality, things seldom end with the same level of excitement that they begin with.

alien-3-tunnel

The story’s setting – a dirty, rundown prison – helps to accentuate Fincher’s desolate vision, but it’s the actual sets themselves that really make the movie feel like a dystopian nightmare. Everything looks like it’s covered in at least three layers of grime and rust, while water drips from every ceiling and pipe. Alien 3 just oozes atmosphere, and granted, it may be a depressing, minimalist atmosphere, but it helps to make Fury 161 feel like a planet you could actually visit…not that you’d want to.

The titular alien is another high point. Fincher has the same reverence for his creature as Ridley Scott did for his; the first and third films both require a group of people just to deal with one alien, and in both cases they barely succeed. James Cameron, on the other hand, allows his space marines to mow down xenomorphs en masse, and at one point even dispatch them with a simple handgun. If Aliens has one weak spot, it’s that reducing the aliens to cannon fodder robs them of much of their menace.

Alien 3 doesn’t have that problem, as its solitary beast – nicknamed “The Dragon,” after a delusional prisoner mistakes it for one – proves to be more than capable of taking on twenty-five hardened criminals without breaking an acid sweat. The Dragon is the first (and so far only) alien to burst out of anything other than a human (again, we don’t count AVP), and in doing so it takes on some of the characteristics of its host – a dog in the theatrical version, an ox in the Assembly Cut – such as running on all fours and a more streamlined body. It’s an interesting concept having the xenomorphs gestating in different animals and gaining their attributes, and one can only wonder if Alien: Resurrection‘s decision to revert back to using the classic Alien design was at all influenced by Alien 3’s poor reception.

breaking-free

There is a “special edition” of Alien 3 known as the Assembly Cut that vastly restructures the movie while adding thirty minutes to its run time. Many fans see it as the definitive version of Alien 3, with some going so far as to say it’s the only version that’s even remotely watchable, but the theatrical version of the film is perfectly fine, and is more than capable of standing on its own two feet.

the-gangs-all-here

The bottom line is, Alien 3 is nowhere near as bad as everyone says it is. It’s a visually stunning exercise in melancholia, featuring some of the best performances in the entire series – worth a watch if you’ve never seen it, or even a re-watch if it’s been a while. I can personally guarantee you’ll at least like it better than Alien VS Predator: Requiem.

Zack Zagranis is a stay-at-home dad by day and a writer by night. Occasionally those two get switched around. His interests include Star Wars, Batman, his family, and transcending space and time...but not necessarily in that order.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Kageyama

    May 17, 2017 at 11:24 pm

    nope, nope, nope.

    • Zack Zagranis

      May 18, 2017 at 6:03 pm

      Wow, that’s certainly a compelling argument you’ve got there!

  2. degree7

    March 27, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    You never address the most chief complaint of the film, something that the entire plot hinges on: how did the egg get on the Sulaco? Answer is it couldn’t. The entire premise of the film simply could not have happened when the filmmakers offer no explanation to these plot holes. And how exactly did Ripley get impregnated anyway? Not explained either.

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‘Uncut Gems’ Sends Adam Sandler Through the Ringer

The Safdie Brothers have crafted a hectic, abrasive crime thriller that revels in its misery.

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Uncut Gems

The Safdie Brothers have followed up their grimy, abrasive Good Time with a film that never quite reaches those levels of tension, but is nevertheless cut from the same cloth. With Uncut Gems, the directing duo has crafted something so loud and chaotic — led by a perfectly-cast Adam Sandler — that there is no denying it’s a fun ride, even when it is not so fun to watch. Digging through the grit of loan sharks and a dog-eat-dog world, Uncut Gems is another bonafide hit by the Safdie brothers, but one that works when it piles on the misery — which it often does, rather than find a shred of happiness.

Evading debt collectors throughout New York City, Howard (Sandler) runs a jewelry shop in the Diamond District where he sells to many high-profile celebrities. When a new opal arrives at his shop from Ethiopia, he can’t help but show it off to Boston Celtics player Kevin Garnett (who stars as himself in a fun role that never feels out-of-place), who becomes obsessed with the rock and borrows it with the hope of eventually convincing Howard to let him buy it. Of course, Howard has other plans, as the rock is allegedly worth a million dollars if sold at an auction in which he has already purchased a spot. When Garnett doesn’t return the stone, everything starts going horribly awry in Howard’s life as he juggles a failing marriage, his Jewish family ties, and keeping the loan sharks at bay.

Right out of the gate, Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) hits the ground hard with a score that carries the cosmic and reverberating effects of the titular uncut gems. When Garnett stares into the opal, he sees exactly what Howard tells him he’s supposed to see: the universe. In that, Lopatin provides a sonic scape so expansive and yet violently singular in its aesthetic that it provides much of Uncut Gems with a mystical aura. Drenched in gritty camerawork that gets up close to show the blemishes of everyone, there’s no denying the film’s mean and potent intensity.

Where Uncut Gems often stumbles is in its narrative threads. While the Garnett storyline weaves in and out, providing a lot of fun as well as hectic tension, it’s a piece of stunt casting that works, while also highlighting one that very clearly doesn’t involve R&B singer The Weekend. Why he is in the movie is baffling, other than perhaps because he evokes a further sense that Howard is in a very upscale world — something we already know by his clientele, multiple properties, and the wealth he actually wears. The Weekend ends up as a weird diversion that can take viewers out of the experience, even if his presence does lead to a further escalation in problems for Howard.

That all being said, Uncut Gems also brings Adam Sandler back into the fold as an actor who can do more than the drivel he has churned out over the decades. More evocative of his performance in Punch-Drunk Love than The Meyerowitz Stories, Sandler gives a comedic and sympathetic performance to a character for whom everything suddenly goes wrong. Living a manic, fast-paced lifestyle, Howard is impatient, aggressive, and greedy, but Sandler makes it possible to get on board with his plight at least partially (there is no way to be on his side completely). His vices are many, but the performance keeps him down to Earth even when it feels like everything is flying off the hinges.

There will likely be many that can’t get past how dirty this movie feels, as it treats many criminal activities as both simply the way things are and the way they always will be. Beyond that, however, the Safdie Brothers provide a nuanced look at Jewish culture, utilizing one of Hollywood’s most prolific Jewish actors, and treat it is as matter-of-fact. Uncut Gems is a frenetic crime film from a Jewish perspective and delivers on its promise of being a wild ride with a phenomenal Sandler performance. Just don’t expect there to be much hope present, as the Safdies revel in the misery as much as humanly possible, only using hope as a torture device to make the anguish all the more painful.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 14, 2019, as part of our coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival.

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The Best Movie Trailers of 2019

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Best Movie Trailers 2019

They exist to sell a product, but there’s also something about movie trailers that inspires certain ticket buyers to get to the theater early: the promise of movie magic. Before we have a chance to be disappointed by their final products, the best trailers are constructed to show off endless potential — the suggestion that audiences are in for an amazing cinematic treat. Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, but there’s nothing better than being seduced — and for a few moments, that’s exactly what the best movie trailers of 2019 do. Below are some of my favorites from the past year.

Smarmy Murder

Knives Out

Rian Johnson’s followup to The Last Jedi seems to have found a safer home for the director’s irreverence (I’m not aware of any diehard murder-mystery fans, at least), and it’s trailers have been free to lean heavily into that twisted playfulness. If you’ve gone to a theater in the last three months, it’s been hard to avoid seeing this one a million times (including at times as an ad before the previews), but the relentlessly snappy pacing, ironic edits, and pervasive shots of actors hamming it up really drive home that Knives Out is looking to be a wickedly fun romp. Whether it succeeds or not, there’s no question that the trailer makes me want it to. 

Ready or Not

This one hits more traditional beats when it comes to unspooling its gleefully barbarous premise, and knows just how to mix the tension with the violence with the cheeky one-liners. But it’s the use of The Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” that really pushes this trailer over the top, as the song works brilliantly for both magnifying the drama during the screaming moments, and providing an excellent contrast between its blatant romantic sincerity and the sarcastic amorality of this bizarre predicament. Also, Henry Czerny.

The Hunt

This one’s a bit more subtle about its dark comedy, but there’s no question that there are plenty of smirks lurking just below the surface of this premise. A cabal of elitists hunting a bunch of backwoods yokels for sport is the kind of satiric setup that has potential for real bite (enough to get the film’s release indefinitely delayed, apparently), and this trailer does a great job of playing that element up, suggesting a more brutal and sardonic version of The Hunger Games. The tired look on Betty Gilpin’s face as she moseys down train tracks or calmly drives over someone’s head showcases a low-key humor that hopefully is reflected in the final product. Fingers crossed that The Hunt eventually sees the dark of theaters.

Moody, Mysterious Spooks

Midsommar

There’s always something refreshing about a horror story that takes place in the daylight, and the trailer for Midsommar appeals perfectly to this sentiment. Plucky strings, tribal drum beats, and plenty of off-kilter camera angles help set the creepy stage for a relationship problem that is about to manifest itself in a physical problem, but one that is smartly only hinted at. The bright, lush environment and comforting tradition initially draws you in (like any good cult would hope), but exactly what’s in store for this young woman and her companions? Flashes of gore and deformity near the end are what linger, even after a sunny visual finale. Very enticing.

The Lighthouse

It’s possible that this trailer could have just consisted of nothing but the weather-worn faces of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe staring back at the audience, punctuated by the droning bellow of the fog horn, and that might have been enough to sell people on this thing. Of course, what follows is a stark, visual feast that also does a masterful job at dropping clues as to the possible supernatural mystery, but layering them in the potential madness. Dark, ominous trappings are slathered on as thick as the sea-faring accents, giving off an old-fashioned horror vibe. Despite a deep dislike for the actual film, I could watch this trailer forever, and dream of what else could have lurked out on that lonely island.

If Only They Lost the Song

1917

Bolstered by gorgeous images courtesy of the great Roger Deakins (whose sumptuous cinematography can only help no matter what it’s in), this trailer does a masterful job at communicating to audiences just what a nail-biter this WWI story promises to be. Starting out with an innocuous shot of two soldiers lazing beneath a tree, and ending with one of them dodging explosions, the tension is meticulously built step by step, gunshot by gunshot…until a sappy, tone-deaf song called “Wayfaring Stranger” cuts in halfway through and tries to ruin everything with hammy emotional telegraphing. It’s a curious choice, as the textured, frank visuals and dialogue don’t otherwise give off a manipulative vibe. Still, there is stirring power in that imagery, enough to make me want to see more. Just…save the song for the end credits, please.

What. The. Hell.

Bird Talk

It’s generally not desirable to feel even slightly repulsed after viewing a movie trailer, but I have to confess that the bizarre images here are cut together in a way that doesn’t quite agree with me. So why is it good? Because that seems to be exactly the sort of note Xawery Zulawski’s film is trying to hit, with its disorienting fish-eye lenswork and indecipherable depictions of what seems like general depravity, even if I can’t point to exactly why. Even the special effect for that weird flaming car looks wonky and nightmarish. Not every film has to be pleasant to work, and neither does a trailer; Bird Talk looks intense and intriguing and indecipherable, and that’s good enough for me.

Pleading For Attention (and Actually Getting It)

Joker

Every year there are trailers for movies that desperately want to be taken seriously as films, and I’m not sure there was a better example of that in 2019 than Joker. With its gritty, scum-on-the-lens look, an early burst of cruelty, and use of Jimmy Durante’s “Smile” to lay the irony on thick, there’s no question of this promo distancing the final product from traditional ‘comic book’ movies. There’s also no question that the trailer does a magnificent job at showcasing the film’s best element: a writhing, tortured, smirking, dancing, on-the-edge Joaqin Phoenix. While it’s debatable whether Joker itself ultimately deserved all the attention, putting Phoenix’s performance front and center in the trailer was the best way to get it.

The Cream of the Trailer Crop

Richard Jewell

This is a fantastic example of how to communicate an overall old-fashioned approach to sharp storytelling, yet break up the standard formula with well-timed asides. The premise and protagonist are firmly established through standard trailer character development, but it’s the interspersing of those chilling interrogation scenes that really drive the point home and solidify the character as supremely sympathetic. The soft piano notes are joined by a growing orchestra, the frequency of these inserts picks up as the blatant railroading intensifies, and by the time the crescendo hits, the trailer has told a story that we want to see a resolution to — and that subtle nod suggests it’s going to be a very, very satisfying one.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Almost a mini-movie in itself, the trailer for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood spans the range of emotional beats found in the film it’s cut from, roughly (and impressively) in the same order, all while cementing the unmistakable tone of the film’s creator. What’s being sold here is exactly what audiences are going to get, and that’s a sprawling Hollywood epic filled with sharp dialogue, offbeat B-movie/TV show asides, and a undercurrent of a looming, horrific incident that will come to a head in the last reel. An aging cowboy, a loyal sidekick, a radiant princess, and a creepily smiling ogre are set in a neon fantasy land full of make believe, where dreams (and sometimes nightmares) come true. It’s a primer for a magical fairy tale, and also the most complete, all-encompassing, masterful trailer of the year.

***

Of course, these are just my picks for the best trailers of 2019 — what are yours?

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70 Best Movie Posters of 2019

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Best Movie Posters of 2019

Deciding the best movie posters is no easy task…

I remember when I was younger, I used to head to the video store and rent movies I’d never heard of based solely on the movie poster art. This was, of course, a different time— sure, the internet was a thing, but we didn’t have countless websites, not to mention social media platforms, promoting new movies online with news stories, movie stills, featurettes, teasers, trailers and so on. Not to say that sort of marketing didn’t exist in the past, because it did, but it wasn’t always in your face. For better or for worse, the internet changed the way studios market movies, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the use of a poster to help build excitement and anticipation for an upcoming film. Most posters continue to be an important marketing tool for filmmakers worldwide and so once again, we’ve decided to collect images of our favourite movie posters revealed over the past twelve months. If you checked out our list of the best movie posters of 2018, you’ll remember it included posters for indie gems, thrillers, horror movies, foreign language films, Hollywood blockbusters and everything in between. This year is no different, although it should be said that some marketing campaigns were so good, we’ve decided to include more than one poster for a few select films. Also worth noting, we didn’t include any fan-made poster art below. That out of the way, here are the best movie posters of 2019.

Click on any one of the images to enlarge the posters.

The Best Movie Posters of 2019

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