It’s because of this that we at HeyUGuys (and in this case we is myself and Gary) have decided to set ourselves a project. To watch and review all 250 movies on the list. We’ve frozen the list as of January 1st of this year. It’s not as simple as it sounds, we are watching them all in one year, 125 each.
This is our 29th update, my next five films watched for the project. You can find last week’s update here.
Alien (1979) – 8.5 No. 46
The Nostromo is a commercial ship returning from a mining operation when its crew are unexpectedly woken from a stasis sleep. The ship is receiving a beacon from a small planet-like installation, and is obligated to offer assistance despite the protestations of several members of the clue. The crew investigate, but discover too late the signal is a warning rather than a plea for help. With their ship damaged, the inhabitants of the Nostromo discover a nest of sorts, and one of the crew are attacked by an alien being which attaches itself to him.
Eventually, the ship is repaired, and the alien detaches itself, and all seems well. However, following an explosive debut, an alien stowaway dispatches the members of the crew one by one. As the crew count diminishes, the fight for survival becomes increasingly desperate, eventually leaving on sole survivor.
Released two years after Episode IV: A New Hope, Alien is in many ways the anti-Star Wars. Where George Lucas’ space opera was a fantasy story filled with colourful characters, Alien was much more of a straight edge sci-fi film, and a great one at that. The pace is slow and deliberate, with the arrival of the Nostromo, and the encounter with an alien face hugger played out in a serious, dramatic way, with a genuine air of intrigue. Meanwhile, the story behind the Nostromo, its crew and their orders offer a comment on corporate America.
When the action comes, it is used sparingly, building up the suspense and never showing too much. The movie keeps you on edge all the way through, and as the crew members disappear one by one, all of them name actors to boot, it keeps you on the back foot the whole time. It is impossible to tell who, if anyone, will survive. A horror film set in space, Alien is one of the most effective examples of both genres it has a foot in.
A classic horror, as well as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, Alien is a definite inclusion in my all time list, and well deserving of its place in the IMDb250.
Aliens (1986) – 8.4 No. 54
Fifty-seven years after the events of Alien, Ellen Ripley is awakened from stasis after her ship is discovered drifting through space. At a tribunal she is questioned by the corporation that she worked for, but her stories of alien creatures are brushed off, and she loses her license to fly spaceships. However, when a group of terraformers on the planet where Ripley first encountered the alien go radio silent, a team of marines are sent to investigate, with Ripley aboard as an advisor.
The marines arrive to find no sign of life, except for one young girl who has obviously been traumatised by recent events on the colony. They discover the alien nest, and hole up in a sealed part of the complex in a bid to defend themselves from the alien attack. To make matters worse, it seems the processing station beneath them has become unstable, and will soon reach critical mass. The aliens finally make it through the makeshift defenses, and the marines are killed off one by one. An escape plan is put into action, culminating in one more face-off between Ripley and a seemingly invincible alien foe.
Aliens carries on from Alien with an interesting twist to the underlying political story, but arrives with much more of a sense of fun. The theme here is more. More marines, more weapons, and a whole lot more aliens. What at first seems like a more fair fight turns into a bloodbath, and whilst there is a lot more action this time around, it is the moments of anticipation and fear as the team await the alien attack that are the most effective. There is humorous banter between the marines, and the outcome could be considered far more camp than the first film, but there are scenes of sheer terror that more than make up for it.
Far more popcorn than Alien, Aliens is nonetheless another great film, and that rare example of a sequel that does justice to its predecessor. A great entry in the list, and an absolute pleasure to watch.
The Usual Suspects (1995) – 8.7 No. 21
Roger ‘Verbal’ Kint sits in a police station, one of only two survivors of an apparent massacre on a boat in the docks of San Pedro. He is questioned by detectives, and tells the story of a police line-up. Unlike most line-ups, all five members are infamous cons. They decide to team up to pull a job, and after meeting with success, take on another job offer, which sadly goes awry. This leads them to a lawyer named Kobayashi, who claims to work for Keyser Soze.
Meanwhile, the other survivor of the events of the previous night, a Hungarian with severe burns, reveals to the police that the infamous Keyser Soze was responsible for the deaths of many men on the boat. Soze is a myth, a super-criminal who is said to be sadistic and evil, casting fear in the hearts of criminals everywhere. Soze’s lawyer Kobayashi blackmailed the criminals into raiding the boat, and destroying its cargo. They discover, however, that there is no Cocaine on the boat, and that the real target is a man who can identify Keyser Soze. The whole exercise was an attempt to silence the only man that Soze had cause to fear. Did Soze die on the boat? Or was Kint a patsy, used by a man he thought was his friend to help a master criminal escape from prosecution?
The Usual Suspects weaves an intricate, and in some places difficult to follow story. Kevin Spacey is brilliant as ‘verbal’, meaning that Kint’s storytelling is hugely compelling. As details of the night before, and the events that lead up to it, are revealed, the plot becomes almost fascinating. Some guess the twist, others don’t, but no-one can argue that it isn’t brilliantly crafted. With a great cast to complement the story, on first watch The Usual Suspects is brilliant.
On second watch, once you know how the magic trick is performed, it sadly doesn’t hold up nearly so well. The backstory is a little slow, and needlessly confusing, and without the hit of the big twist, the flaws become a little too obvious. Parts of the film can be tedious, and there is far less reason to stick it out to the end.
The Usual Suspects is one of those films that suffers greatly upon rewatch. On the basis of first watch, it easily deserves its place on the list, so should definitely be present. It is easy to forget however that as its brilliance is predicated on a big final reveal, without it, it is a pretty plain piece of filmmaking.
Reservoir Dogs (1992) – 8.4 No. 64
Opening with 8 men around a coffee shop table having a chat, we are shown the story of a robbery gone terribly wrong. Scenes around the aftermath of the heist are interspersed with those of the present moments, as the participants arrive one by one at a safehouse. Mr Orange and Mr White have arrived together, with the former bleeding profusely from the stomach. Mr Pink arrives next, revealing that he has hidden a bag of swag. White and Pink discuss the possibility that there was a mole in the operation.
Mr Blonde turns up next, and having been the one who instigated the bloodbath, is verbally attacked by White. He reveals a hostage, and the men attempt to get information about the double cross. Eventually, White and Pink leave to retrieve the bag of swag, leading to the reveal that Mr Orange is in fact a cop. When the rest return to the warehouse, and stand-off occurs, with White unwittingly standing in defense of the undercover cop he thought was his friend.
Quentin Tarantino’s first feature, Reservoir Dogs in filmed mostly in one location. This was obviously due to financial constraints, but the effect it has is to givethe film the appearance of a stage play adaptation. This is no bad thing, and the fixed locale, with characters entering and exiting, is a very effective storytelling device. The slow unraveling of the story of the robbery is perfectly paced, and unlike The Usual Suspects, the twist reveal of the identity of the rat isn’t built up and used as a big bang at the end, but revealed much more organically.
The power of Reservoir Dogs isn’t in this detail, but in some fine acting performances, and a genuinely interesting story. The non-linear storytelling allows the pace of the movie to be much more even, and the cinematography is very interesting, with very few close-ups, until the very end. Whilst the script isn’t brilliant, and Madsen’s performance is well below par, Reservoir Dogs is a very well made film, and one of the most important independent films ever made. It is an obvious inclusion in the list, but one that i feel deserves its place.
Batman Begins (2005) – 8.3 No. 103
Following a night out at the theatre, the Wayne family meets great tragedy when young Bruce’s parents are killed in the street by a petty criminal. With no family left, and a jaded view of the city he calls home, Bruce Wayne leaves Gotham to travel the world. Compelled to fight crime wherever he goes, Wayne comes to the attention of the League of Shadows, and becomes their student. When it is revealed to him that the League has been responsible for the fall of many corrupt states throughout time, and that Gotham is their next target, Wayne destroys the League and returns to his hometown.
Once there, he becomes a masked vigilante, using his own personal fears as a shroud, he targets the criminal elements of Gotham City, in a bid to make it once more the metropolis his father dreamed of. When the League of Shadows turn up to bring the city crashing down, Bruce Wayne and his Batman alter-ego finds he is in the fight of his life to stop the city tearing itself apart, and to end the reign of the evil League once and for all.
Batman Begins was hailed as a dark film, and a reinvention of the superhero genre. Its use of real world technology and application make it far more realistic than most superhero films, but to be fair, the Batman character has always been rooted in realism far more than most other comic book characters. The previous series of Batman movies had become increasingly outlandish, so by that token it is more realistic, and maybe more adult, but to call it darker is inaccurate. The basic plot elements of Batman’s origin are the same as they have ever been, and that is about as dark as Batman Begins gets.
It is far different in tone to other superhero movies, and it works well fort it. Bale is very good as the (reluctant) playboy by evening, masked vigilante at night, and there are several other fine actors present. This was Christopher Nolan’s first action film, and that is evidenced by some poorly shot action sequences, leaving parts of the film looking awfully untidy. The ‘ancient society’ of the League of Shadows makes for a very interesting plot strand, and the early scenes of Wayne training amongst them, and on the glaciers are the best part of the film. The conclusion of the film possibly doesn’t pack enough punch, with the runaway train scenario at the finale feeling a little too generic. However, the execution of Batman’s set-up and gadgets is very good, and a great foundation is set in place for a successful film series.
Batman Begins is a flawed masterpiece in many ways. The tone and origin execution are great, and make for a truly unique comic book adaptation, but the director’s inexperience with the genre is exposed in several places. Definitely one of the best superhero movies ever made, and a very enjoyable watch, despite its flaws Batman Begins is one of my favourite films, and I’m glad it has such a high place in the IMDb250 list.
Come back next Monday for update 30. You can follow our progress at www.twitter.com/baz_mann and www.twitter.com/gary_phillips_