Nostalgia


Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

Director: J.J. Abrams

“She used to look at me… this way, like really look… and I just knew I was there… that I existed.”

Summer, 1979, in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. While 13-year-old Joe Lamb and his friends are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera they witness, and barely survive, a horrific train crash. Shortly afterwards, strange things start happening in the town and Joe begins to suspect that something less than human was on that train.

One suspects that J.J. Abrams always fancied himself as a natural successor to Steven Spielberg, and this collaboration with the Grandmaster of fantastical cinema really does go a long way to proving that assumption true. Abrams, of the same generation as this reviewer, grew up during the heyday of Spielberg and his ‘movie brat’ contemporaries and Super 8 is nothing less than a beautifully crafted love letter to those magical cinema experiences of the late seventies and early eighties.

In paying homage to his hero and, in this instance, mentor, Abrams gives us what almost amounts to a greatest hits of Spielberg themes. Small town Americana, broken families, kids who are much smarter than the adults, an oppressive military and a heart as big as the alien intruder abroad in suburbia. All are present, correct and served with the kind of loving nostalgia that could only be brought to life by someone whose inner-child was there at the time. And, in turn, it’s impossible for the inner-child of the viewer not to be carried back to that sense of wonder which permeated the movies of that time.

The young cast are uniformly excellent, and Abrams certainly seems to share Spielberg’s knack for bringing the best out of his adolescent actors. Joel Courtney, as the reserved, wide-eyed Joe and Elle Fanning, as the confident, sassy Alice are both engaging and sympathetic leads. And if the adults sometimes feel a little one-dimensional it’s only because this is not really their movie. They’re just there to make the kids look smart. Which, of course, they do.

Abrams manages to bring his own style to proceedings while still shooting the movie and moving the camera as if he were the young Spielberg. Indeed, it often feels as if you are watching Spielberg’s lost movie, made somewhere between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but with shades of Cloverfield thrown in.

You think these haircuts suck, boys. Be thankful the movie wasn’t set in 1985.

However, it’s this overwhelming nostalgia, and accurate imitation of a style of moviemaking long gone that will probably be the making or breaking of Super 8 for much of its audience. Many of a younger generation will doubtless find it a little too passive and a little too otherworldly for their liking, whereas those a generation behind them will be reminded of a time when movies didn’t need to smack you round the face, or leap out of the screen, to bring into their embrace, enthralled and enchanted, for two hours of whimsical fun.

The Sixties, with all of its commendable trumpeting of tolerance, restraint and free love was always going to be too good to last. Sooner or later there’s always a rebound and in Hollywood few movies represented that rebound better than 1971’s Dirty Harry. Peace, love and understanding proved to be no match for the most powerful handgun in the world and an actor who, at that time, was best known for playing a different kind of cowboy.

The project had been floating around Hollywood for a few years by the time Eastwood came on board. Originally written under the title Dead Right as a vehicle for either Frank Sinatra or John Wayne, it began to do the rounds after both actors turned it down, Wayne because he felt it was too similar to his other roles and Sinatra because a wrist injury left him unable to carry the weight of Harry’s hand cannon. Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum also declined the role, both objecting to the character’s violent, right-wing persona. The script itself went through a number of revisions, including drafts by John Milius (unsurprisingly) and Terence Malick (very surprisingly). Eventually the script was offered to Clint Eastwood, on the recommendation of Paul Newman (after he, too, turned it down) and Eastwood, who found some sympathy for Harry’s dedication to victim’s rights, agreed on the condition that his old friend Don Siegel direct.

What the screenwriters, Siegel and Eastwood created was a movie, and a man, who polarised audiences and critics alike (New Yorker critic Pauline Kael denounced it as ‘fascist’) and who continues to do so today. The character of Harry Callahan is one of cinema’s more challenging propositions, especially for those of a liberal and left-leaning disposition. Unlike many other anti-heroes, such as Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken (who sounded a lot like Eastwood) or X-Men’s Wolverine, Harry exists in a wholly non-fictional world and as a result asks much more uncomfortable questions about that world. It is entirely possible to be appalled at Callahan’s disregard for the rights of those he pursues, but also to cheer him on when he puts the bad guys down. Harry represents an animal justice which must resonate somewhere in everyone, even if the necessary application of law and ethics make his actions just plain wrong.

You could debate the rights and wrongs of Harry Callahan for hours, and that’s what makes him such a potent and important fixture in the history of cinema. _________________________________________________________________________________

Dirty Harry

Don Siegel (1971)

‘You gotta ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky?’

A serial killer is holding San Francisco to ransom and rigidly self-governing Detective Harry Callahan, at constant odds with the city’s policy of tolerance and liberalism, is determined to stop him at any cost. But preferably at the cost of a few .44 bullets.

Having been offered to just about every A-list star in Hollywood, the role of Harry Callahan finally came home to the only actor, at least in retrospect, who could have played the archetypal anti-hero cop. Dirty Harry is Eastwood’s Man with No Name in a contemporary setting, only with an added sense of righteousness and humour. And while the movie can look and sound rather dated, very much a product of its time, it set the template for a thousand loose-cannon-cop movies that followed it but never managed to better it.

Eastwood and his mentor Siegal, always a great pairing, create a taut, brutal classic in which rooting for the cop is not always as easy as it usually is. Few actors could make such an objectionable character so likeable but Eastwood’s frosty charm works perfectly. Here is a complex character masquerading as a simple one; a character whose perceived callousness is actually a result of a fervent, concrete belief in right and wrong. Dirty Harry makes you question yourself and your morals in a way that few cop movies had before or would again. 

The Punk: Serial killer Scorpio, based on the real-life San Francisco killer who called himself Zodiac (do you see what they did there). Actor Andrew Robinson had to be sent on gun training to stop him from flinching every time he shot his gun, but turns in a signature performance as the deranged, whiny lunatic. In fact that for many years he had trouble getting any roles that didn’t involve being a deranged, whiny lunatic.

Rating – 6 Shots

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Magnum Force

Ted Post (1973)

‘A man’s gotta know his limitations.’

After a series of high-profile San Francisco criminals are murdered in broad daylight, Harry Callahan begins to suspect that a rogue hit squad exists within the police department, even as he begins to attract the attention, and admiration, of four rookie cops.

Magnum Force was a direct and intentional attempt to answer the critics of the first movie by demonstrating the difference between Callahan and a group of genuine police vigilantes. Although Harry is still the same play-by-his-own-rules cop as before, he stands in total contrast to the group of executioners with badges who are slaughtering criminals in cold blood. Even when they go as far as to offer him membership of their group, he turns them down. Callahan may be ruthless and trigger-happy, but he’s not a vigilante.

Although Eastwood’s preferred choice of Don Siegel was absent from this sequel, it didn’t seem to hinder the quality at all. Ted Post, who clashed with the now far more powerful Eastwood both during and after production, does just as good a job as his predecessor, even upping the action a little as well as the violence. And it’s to the movie’s credit that it resists the easy route of simply retreading the original, by finding a way to extend the moral complexity and present and even larger grey area for Callahan to work in. 

The Punk: Make that punks. Officers John Davis, Philip Sweet, Alan “Red” Astrachan, Michael Grimes and their leader, the unctuous Lt. Neil Briggs make up the hit-squad within the department. Looking a little like Village People when they all turn up wearing the same outfit, the group features quite the list of future stars in David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich and, err, Kip Niven. Plus the ever reliable Hal Holbrook as Briggs.

Rating – 6 Shots

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The Enforcer

James Fargo (1976)

‘Here’s a seven-point suppository, Captain.’

Having just foiled a robbery by driving a car through a liquor store window, Inspector Callahan is taken off homicide and made to work in Personnel. But when a group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force engage in a series of escalating crimes, culminating in the kidnap of the Mayor, Callahan is reinstated. Only this time his new partner is a woman, much to Harry’s disapproval.

The series loses its legs a little with this third instalment, although it remains an enjoyable slice of debatable Callahan behaviour. Eastwood, despite delivering some of the funniest lines of the franchise, seems to be a little on autopilot here. In fact, The Enforcer is notable for being the first Dirty Harry movie in which Eastwood fails to remain the centre of attention, upstaged as he often is by a charming, engaging turn from Tyne Daly as the brash, inexperienced Inspector Kate Moore. The banter between the two characters is certainly the highlight of this one. The Enforcer also suffers from rather lacklustre action scenes, compared with the franchise’s two previous outings, although the finale on Alcatraz Island is a series high point.

Director James Fargo was originally set to be Assistant Director to Eastwood, but the actor decided not to direct due to a lack of preparation time after completing The Outlaw Josey Wales. Ultimately, The Enforcer is a worthy addition to the franchise but did mark the beginning of the decline.

The Punk: Baby-faced psycho Bobby Maxwell and his motley group of get-rich-quick hippies, layabouts and bums. DeVeren Bookwalter was primarily a stage actor and following The Enforcer primarily remained one. Unlike the foes of the previous two movies, Maxwell is never really explored in much detail, just a background character awaiting his magnum bullet. Imagine his surprise when he gets a bazooka shell instead.

Rating – 4 Shots

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Sudden Impact

Clint Eastwood (1983)

‘Go ahead, make my day.’

After yet again upsetting the mayor and police chief, despite the positive results, Inspector Callahan is shipped off to the small town of San Paulo to investigate a murder. There he meets artist Jennifer Spencer, who, as Harry begins to suspect, is hunting down and killing a group of men that raped her and her sister 10 years ago. 

The fourth outing for Harry Callahan is also the first and only Dirty Harry movie to have been directed by Eastwood himself, which is surprising considering he had been directing since 1971. As with Magnum Force, the maverick cop is again contrasted against an out-and-out vigilante, although this time a far more sympathetic and understandable one. An interesting premise in what had become an otherwise increasingly tired franchise. By this time, of course, the rogue cop was becoming a familiar movie figure and Sudden Impact suffers from being just one in a crowd.

The odd thing is, Sudden Impact probably introduces more change into the franchise than any other instalment. Moving the action from San Francisco makes for a refreshing change of scenery, the introduction of a female and uncomfortably justifiable murderer, with whom Harry develops a relationship, returns the series to its morally questionable best and Harry even gets a brand new gun. But somehow it all manages to seem like the same old same old, only without the 70s grit that elevated its predecessors.

The Punk: Rapist, bum and all-round pantomime scumbag Mick and his equally sleazy crew serve as the cannon-fodder for either Harry or Jennifer. Paul Drake, who went on to enjoy a dazzling career in lo-fi TV shows, couldn’t have been more of a ham if he wore a top hat, cloak and twiddled his pencil moustache while tying hapless maidens to railway tracks. Dreadful. Shoot this guy, already. 

Rating – 3 Shots

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The Dead Pool

Buddy Van Horn (1988)

‘Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.’

After putting away a major crime boss, Harry finds himself dealing with more fame than he is comfortable with. And when celebrities begin dying in mysterious circumstances he becomes aware of a betting ring among the elite predicting which celebrities will die next. As one particular list of celebrities proves to be too accurate to be coincidence, Harry discovers his own name has been added.

The last Dirty Harry movie, and its easy to see why. The Dead Pool takes both a promising idea and a cinematic icon, and fritters them away on a lazy, flat and badly made attempt to make Harry seem at home in 80s cinema. He doesn’t, and so iconic has the character of Harry become that he no longer elicits the same sense of moral uncertainty as he did way back when. Instead, we get unexciting scenes of Callahan shooting bad guys to a triumphant soundtrack and are left feeling nothing. Eastwood even looks as bored doing it as we are watching it. The character, the actor and the franchise has simply become too old for this shit.

The Dead Pool is notable for featuring early appearances from a young Liam Neeson and an even younger Jim Carrey, but it’s the older Eastwood who ultimately disappoints, portraying an older Callahan who is apparently exactly the same man he was back in 1971. There is one great scene involving a car chase through the streets of San Francisco as Harry is pursued by a remote controlled car, but when Inspector Callahan finally dispatches the bad guy with a huge harpoon gun, he takes that last step toward becoming a parody of himself.

The Punk: The Dead Pool is the first and only movie in the series to keep the identity of its main villain a secret until the end, leading you to believe that Neeson’s movie director is the killer. However, when the true identity of the murderer is revealed to be a nobody stalker we haven’t seen before called Harlan Rook, it has a rather overwhelming ‘so what’ factor to it. Yawn.

Rating – 1 Shot

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There are some things that you bring with you from childhood, some things that you just never grow out of. Tantrums, laughing at farts and pulling stupid faces, to name but a few. But for me, and for many of us Brits, there is also Doctor Who. The 50th Anniversary of this very British sci-fi show is fast approaching (okay, it’s still two years away, but when you’re nearly 50 that isn’t very long). With such a lengthy life there are very few these days who didn’t grow up with this unusual, time-travelling alien forming part of their childhood, and for many their adulthood, too.

For those of you who have no idea who or what I’m talking about, allow me to illuminate. The Doctor, as he calls himself, is a member of an old and significantly advanced race known as the Time Lords. Disgruntled and bored with the Time Lords’ policy of observation and non-interference in the affairs of the universe, The Doctor ‘borrows’ a TARDIS (a vessel for travelling through time and space) and roams the cosmos righting wrongs, fighting evil and generally poking his nose in where it doesn’t belong. The TARDIS is bigger on the inside, almost infinite, and is supposed to be able to change appearance to match its surroundings. However, The Doctor’s TARDIS is stuck in the shape of an old police phone box (something that was a common sight on the London streets when the series first aired in 1963). You with me so far? Excellent.

Dalek. Iconic!

When I was a kid, back in the from the seventies and beyond, Saturday nights were all about the next episode of Doctor Who, of that glorious half-hour spent cowering behind a cushion as the renegade Time Lord faced down Cybermen, Sontarans, Autons, Zygons and, of course, the iconic Daleks. Those must have been more innocent times because my son now finds it incredible that entire generations of children could have found moving pepper-pots with wobbly protuberances scary. But hey, we also though the Atari was the coolest piece of technology known to science. Trust me, when you’re that naive there’s nothing scarier than a wobbly protuberance. Stop sniggering at the back. Anyway, now I’m an adult (probably) and I must confess that, while I no longer find the Daleks scary, Saturday nights are still defined by the next episode of the show. I don’t know why it has endured the way it has. That is the secret formula that TV producers have always been searching for (and if I knew that I’d be watching Doctor Who while cowering behind a huge pile of cash). However, I can tell you what I love about it.

Doctor Who was always a masterclass of writing over production. Perhaps not so much these days, since it has returned with a much increased budget, but back in the day the show consistently overcame its meagre means with razor-sharp scripting, great performances and an abundance of creativity. So what if the sets were often flimsy and some of the monsters looked like they were created for a local school pantomime. It didn’t matter because with the boundless conviction of Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee at the centre of events, delivering superlative dialogue, you believed it completely. Yes, even the Daleks and their wobbly protuberances.

70s Title Sequence. Iconic!

Doctor Who is just a little bit offbeat and there is something quintessentially English about it. The central character is eccentric, well-spoken and, with his peculiar taste in clothes and often quirky features, far removed from the conventional image of a hero. Time Lords have the handy ability to cheat death by regenerating their bodies, resulting in a change of appearance and, to a degree, personality. There are certain traits that always remain the same, however. The Doctor is extremely intelligent, slightly unhinged, scientifically gifted and passionately opposed to violence. He abhors weapons, refusing to pick up a gun and preferring instead to use his brain as his most effective attack. It is an amazing feat that so much action and adventure has been consistently created around a character who is essentially a pacifist.

Anti-authoritarian and rigidly individualistic, here is a champion for misfits everywhere. The Doctor is a rebel with a brain, bringing down tyrannical governments and seemingly invulnerable despots for fun. He is always the smartest man in the room (and the first to point that out) and, let’s be honest, who doesn’t want to be in that position whenever possible?

Perhaps it is these qualities that have made Doctor Who so popular for so long. He is certainly the kind of role model you would want your kids growing up with and I’m forever grateful to have grown up with him myself.

Splendid chap. All of them.

Of the eleven incarnations of The Doctor so far, here are my top five. Are you a fan of the show? If so, who are your top five Doctors?

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5) Patrick Troughton – The 2nd Doctor

1966 – 1969

“Your leader will be angry if you kill me. I’m a genius!”

Scatterbrained, fretful, mercurial and manipulative. When William Hartnell, the 1st Doctor, quit the role the notion of regeneration was introduced into the character to keep the popular show going. Enter Patrick Troughton who, while retaining the character’s core identity, delivered a very different personality. The 2nd Doctor was the classic hidden genius, an inter-galactic Columbo masking his great intelligence beneath the facade of a bumbling fool. It became a defining trait for The Doctor, adopted by many of the subsequent actors.

Trademarks: Playing the recorder, the woolly coat, ‘Oh, my giddy aunt’.

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4) Sylvester McCoy – The 7th Doctor

1987 – 1996

“Anybody remotely interesting is mad in some way.”

Enigmatic, dark, brooding and something of a clown. Sylvester McCoy brought an air of mystery back to the character, with his story arc often hinting at untold secrets in The Doctor’s past. You could say he put ‘who’ back into Doctor Who, while contrasting the gloom with sudden outbursts of circus trickery. McCoy got a raw deal when the show was cancelled in 1989, only to make a brief appearance when it returned for a one-off movie in 1996, and he was regenerated into Paul McGann. A shame because there were still depths to mine.

Trademarks: Question marks everywhere, rolling R’s, juggling and magic tricks.

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3) Jon Pertwee – The 3rd Doctor

1970 – 1974

“What’s wrong with being childish? I like being childish.”

Suave, avuncular, petulant, haughty and dependable. The show’s first Doctor to be seen in colour was the one that you would probably choose to travel with. You would always feel safe with Jon Pertwee, who delivered the character at his most heroic and dynamic. Swordplay and Venusian Aikido ranked among the many skills in this Doctor’s repertoire and no other incarnation was quite this dashing. Pertwee was the Time Lord as a perfect gentleman, impeccably attired and mannered but with a razor-sharp tongue for those who earned his ire.

Trademarks: The cloak, frilly shirts, various gadgets and his car, Bessie.

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2) Matt Smith – The 11th Doctor

2010 – Present

“I am a mad man with a box.”

Gangly, energetic, childish, bewildered but confident. The current Doctor has brought the character back to his outlandish best. At 26, Smith is the youngest actor to take on the role but has all the natural personality quirks to portray the Time Lord the way he should be. After years of David Tennant’s often overplayed and forced eccentricities, Smith makes it all look so easy and is the most assured and funniest Doctor to come along for years. Some actors are just a natural fit for the character, getting it right from episode one. So it is with Matt Smith.

Trademarks: Bow ties (are cool), Jammie Dodgers and a Fez.

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1) Tom Baker – The 4th Doctor

1974-1981

“First things first, but not necessarily in that order.”

Slightly insane, irritable, stubborn, unpredictable and hilarious.  For almost everyone of my generation Tom Baker is the quintessential Doctor. His unhinged, effortless and often improvised portrayal of the Time Lord was helped in no small part by the fact that Baker is just as eccentric in reality, perhaps even more so. Baker set the standard by which all other incarnations are measured, with ‘not as good as Tom Baker’ an overused judgement of subsequent actors. Who else has ever disarmed their enemies by offering them Jelly Babies?

Trademarks: Long scarf, Jelly Babies, K-9 and that toothy grin.

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Note: I wanted to post something to celebrate International Star Wars Day, but I’ve been way too busy. So I’m cheating a bit. This is something I wrote a year ago, which some of you may have missed. Enjoy.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…

And so it began, a generation lost in space. Our eyes were wide in wonder, our mouths were fixed in grins of joy, and our parents’ wallets did open up and spew forth dollars and pounds unto the profit margin of Saint George of Lucas. The age of Star Wars was upon us. Love it or loathe it, in 1977 Star Wars changed cinema forever, heralding the return of wonder and spectacle after a decade of dark, introverted American movies.

Here are some of the things that I love about Star Wars. And one thing that I really don’t.

Lightsabers

The weapon of choice for all Jedi knights, and without the doubt the single coolest weapon ever devised. Ever. Forget swords, forget pulse rifles, forget Uzi 9mm’s and forget Adamantium claws. This is cinema’s greatest contribution to iconic arsenal. They’re powerful, graceful, mobile, and they come in a range of colours. Who cares if they’re impossible? Who cares that you’d be more likely to cut your own legs off with it, than uphold galactic justice? They are just so damn cool. Who hasn’t, at one point or another, swung their clasped hands around and made ‘shwum mmmm shwum’ noises? Huh? Come on, admit it. Every little boy from 1977 onwards wanted one (myself included), and most men too (myself included). Christmas ‘77 probably holds the record for the highest number of household breakages, as millions of kids swung their plastic lightsabers around with gleeful abandon.

The lightsaber battles were pretty much the highlight of the three prequels. Having had to settle for the rather clunking battles of the original trilogy, which in contrast sort of resembled the fights you had with your mates when you stumbled upon a couple of long twigs, the prequels offered us fast, frenetic duels which fully utilised the fact that lightsabers were not made of wrought iron and could be swung around quickly. And Darth Maul had a double-ended lightsaber! Double the geekgasm!

Let’s face it, from a Freudian standpoint the lightsaber could be considered the ultimate in phallic symbolism, with the added bonus that this particular throbbing length between your hands lights up, comes in different colours, and makes ‘shwum’ noises. And they’re all the same length, which saves a lot of discomfort. All except Yoda’s, of course, which is smaller. But give the guy a break, he’s three feet tall.

Come on, admit it. They turn you on.

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Star Wars Figures

There was movie merchandising before Star Wars came along, but it was this franchise that really turned it into the multi-million dollar industry it has become. George Lucas was canny enough to have the merchandising rights and profits written into his contract for the first movie, thus generating the huge piles of cash that he probably sleeps on every night, smiling the smile of the smug.

Still, in helping Lucas accumulate his bedding, we were able to spend our childhoods recreating all our favourite scenes, with 3” replicas of the characters, major and minor, from the movies. Well, at least some of the scenes. Obviously this excluded scenes that involved sitting down, since they had no knee joints. I mean, they could sit with their legs straight out, lying down wasn’t a problem, and they could goose-step, but it has to be said that the original figures weren’t exactly ‘fully poseable’. But did we care? Nah. I remember how excited I was to get my very first figure, Ben (Obi-Wan) Kenobi. Old Ben came with a lightsaber which slid out of his arm, and a stiff plastic robe which made sitting him down, with legs straight out, even more difficult to accomplish. I spent hours making a cardboard version of the Cantina on Tatooine, only for most of the characters to repeatedly fall off their chairs. Trust me to recreate the one scene in the movie that involved sitting down and little else. Didn’t really think that one through.

Oh, but the thrill of separating that little plastic container from the card backing, and handling the 3” Han Solo (who looked even less like Harrison Ford than I did) for the first time. Oh, but the agony of realising that, a mere week after getting him, you’d already lost his little gun. Oh, but the sniggering amusement of putting Han Solo and Princess Leia into all manner of amorous positions. Damn those unbending knees!

Pure magic!

My legs are killing me.

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Stormtroopers

In Episode IV, having discovered a group of slaughtered Jawas, Ben Kenobi sagely advises Luke that ‘only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise’. Luke then rushes home to find his elderly, adoptive parents have also been slaughtered. Truly, we imagine, these soldiers of the Empire are fearsome warriors. Truly, the universe must tremble before them. Except that, for the next six hours of the saga, they can’t seem to hit a damn thing, including a seven foot wookie standing about 10 yards away. Apparently, Imperial Stormtroopers are great if you want kids in hoods or a couple of geriatrics murdered, but once they have to kill moving targets and major characters, the soldiers of the Empire may as well have their helmets on backwards. Witness an entire platoon of these bozos getting their asses kicked by a bunch of teddy bears with rocks. Fail!

But we love them. We love them because, despite being utterly rubbish, they look so cool. From a design point of view, the Stormtroopers are classic. Like much of the design elements in Star Wars, they’ve endured so well without looking dated. They have kind of angry eyes, with a bit of a frown, and a sad little mouth that makes them look a bit lost. You just want to give them a hug, and tell them that it will all be okay, one day they’ll be able to hit a barn door with their eyes open. And there are variations on the theme, too. You have the black Tie Fighter pilots who can’t hit other ships, or the Biker Scouts who like to crash into trees, or the Snow Troopers who let the good guys get away. Again. Bless.

You lookin' at me? I can't tell.

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Yoda

Somewhere there is a parallel universe where logic prevails, and a three-foot, olive-green, big-eared creature with a speech impediment, who is older than your Nan, isn’t the coolest character ever. In this universe, however, Yoda is King. Having seen this cool little Muppet for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back, fans waited twenty-two years for the chance to actually see Yoda opening a can of whup-ass on someone. When he did, we weren’t sure whether to gasp in awe or laugh, as he leapt around like the Tasmanian Devil on acid. Still, he was the only Jedi who could unclip his lightsaber just by holding his hand out. Awesome!

Simply put, Yoda is the best of both worlds; he’s as wise as the ages and he could kick your ass without breaking a sweat. The interesting thing about him, though, is that, unlike Han Solo or Mace Windu, no-one really wants to be Yoda, they just want to know Yoda. People want Yoda to be there when things go wrong. Bad day at work? Talk to Yoda. He’ll say something extremely wise, backwards, and you’ll feel better. That gang of kids on the block giving you trouble? No problem. Introduce them to Yoda. He’ll say something wise, backwards, and then kick all their asses. Twice. The perfect friend, he is.

Okay, so he failed spectacularly to see the Emperor’s machinations until it was too late, then royally screwed up when charged with kicking the one ass that would have made all the difference, before sodding off to a big swamp and hiding for twenty years. Details, mere details. If that was your Nan, you’d forgive her.

Lookin' at me, are you? The only one here, I am.

Used Future and Design Classics

One thing that stood out about Star Wars was the ‘used future’ aesthetic which Lucas wanted to bring to the movies. Up until then, science fiction movies and visions of the future were pretty shiny and spanking. Spaceships were usually pristine, well kept and whiter than white. People wore clean, pressed jumpsuits or walked around half naked, with clean, pressed bodies. Then Star Wars came along and dragged the future (or technically the past) through the dirt. Hi-tech suddenly looked beat up. Here we had a vision of technologically advanced societies that were ‘lived in’. The clothes were crumpled, the droids were a little rusted, and the Millennium Falcon looked like a flying student’s bed-sit. It suddenly made the far-fetched seem everyday.

There were even little references in the script of Star Wars which hinted at technological advances as matters of everyday conversation. Disappointed at the amount of cash he gets for his Landspeeder, Luke turns to Ben and says, ‘Since the XP-38 came out, they’re just not in demand’. Ben clearly couldn’t care less. Probably still uses Windows ’95. Your powers are weak, old man.

The Star Wars movies, or at least the original three, are littered with enduring, influential designs. The Millennium Falcon was singular in that it was the first spaceship (that I’d ever seen) which was not completely symmetrical. It had its cockpit, not in the centre, but sticking out of one side. Unique! You may not find this particularly interesting, but I have distinct memories of studying the design and being totally blown away by that element alone. Yes, I was a strange child.

The taps leak, the TV doesn't work too well, and there's a bit of damp, but we're allowed to have parties!

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But then there was…

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Oh dear Lord, where to even begin with this one. How about a little background? In 1978, the year following the release of Star Wars, CBS aired the two hour long Star Wars Holiday Special. George Lucas had no involvement in its production, but it did feature all the lead characters from the movie. It revolved around Chewbacca’s attempts to return to his home world, Kashyyyk, to celebrate Life Day with his family. Along the way, various guest stars made appearances, there was an animated adventure, and kids were glued to their TVs. Mostly, as it turned out, in abject horror.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is bad. No, it really is bad. It is not even bad in a way that is enjoyable. It’s the worst kind of bad. It is awful. It has never been aired again, never been officially released, and George Lucas won’t even talk about it. It’s that bad. Not funny bad, not bad in any way that could be considered endearing, just really fucking bad.

We open on a clip, from the original movie, of the Millennium Falcon being pursued by two Imperial Cruisers. Cut inside the Falcon to find Han Solo (Harrison Ford, who spends his time in this looking like he’d rather be anywhere but here) and Chewbacca sitting in the cockpit. Or rather, a rubbish TV studio mock-up of the cockpit. In fact, I think Han Solo is sitting on an office chair!

Then we get to meet Chewbacca’s family. Yep, Chewie likes to work abroad, and within five minutes it’s pretty clear why. There’s his wife Mallatobuck (Malla), happily pottering around in the kitchen, his father Attichitcuk (Itchy), sitting in an armchair grouching, and his son Lumpawarrump (Lumpy), running around annoying everyone. After about 10 minutes of watching these characters grunt and growl at each other, with no subtitles and no clue what they are saying, you start to wonder if there isn’t something better you could be doing with your time. Like, say, picking bits of fluff from the carpet and eating them.

Don't worry, Harrison. There really are better things to come.

And it gets worse. So much worse. Wait until you see the rest of the returning cast. Having just recovered from a car accident, and reconstructive surgery to his face, Mark Hamill was forced to wear extensive make-up, and what looks suspiciously like a wig. So, when the shaggy family contact Luke Skywalker on a screen, they find Hamill doing a passable impersonation of Mia Farrow. It’s shocking, to say the least. And Carrie Fisher’s appearances as Princess Leia are even more jaw dropping. Clearly high as a kite at the time, she can barely walk and wears a fixed, hazy smile that must have frightened most of the viewing kids.

Mark auditions for Rosemary's Baby 2 and Carrie is still singing five hours after everyone has gone home.

Slotted into all this fun and games are a series of ‘entertaining’ variety acts. We have Art Carney as a trader, helping out the Chewie clan. Bea Arthur sings a shit song in the cantina which seemingly last for hours. Harvey Korman presents a cookery show, in drag. And, in one of the most unintentionally disturbing scenes, Diahann Carroll turns up as some holographic singer, and apparently gets Grandpa Itchy off.

Then, when you think it can’t get any worse, Carrie Fisher, still floating on the ceiling, sings the Star Wars theme. Yep, someone wrote lyrics; terrible, awful lyrics, and Carrie Fisher sings them. It’s at this point that you have to remind yourself that you’re nearly at the end, and there’s no need to open up your veins and end your suffering.

The Star Wars Holiday Special is like nothing else you’ll ever see. And you have to see it to believe it. That the franchise survived this train wreck is surely a testament to its enduring magic.

George Lucas, having viewed the Holiday Special once too often.

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By the late Eighties the action movie was beginning to die a slow death. The indestructible, mountainous and mechanical Kings of the genre, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone, were finding that even they could not defeat the apathy of an audience who had grown weary of monosyllabic monoliths with big guns and bad jokes. The decade of excess was losing its grip and so were its heroes.

Enter John McTiernan, fresh from his success with Predator starring, ironically, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and casting for his new movie Die Hard. Based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe, Die Hard was originally intended as a sequel to Schwarzenegger’s Commando, but the Austrian actor turned it down and, thankfully, Die Hard became a very different beast altogether.

The original novel had featured a much older protagonist, visiting his daughter rather than his wife, and this might have stayed the same had Charles Bronson got the role. However, McTiernan’s masterstroke was in ignoring all the more obvious candidates and giving the role to someone who, at the time, seemed an unlikely action hero.

Bruce Willis had found success on the small screen in the massive TV hit Moonlighting, but his previous two movie outings, Blind Date and Sunset, both under director Blake Edwards, had tanked and he was not considered a sure thing by any means. The idea of casting him as an action hero must have seemed insane to the studio, but McTiernan stuck to his guns and together actor and director managed to reinvigorate the action genre.

John McClane was a new kind of mainstream action hero. Gone was the rampaging super-soldier who wipes out entire armies before breakfast, without breaking a sweat or ripping their trousers. McClane was just a regular guy. He got hurt, he bled, he got scared, and he didn’t know martial arts. He could also string a sentence together and think semi-complex thoughts. If there is a character defining line in Die Hard, one which illustrates what made McClane different, it’s not ‘Yippee-ki-yay’ at all. It’s ‘Oh God, please don’t let me die’.

With pre-production underway on Die Hard 5, and Willis adamant that there will be a Die Hard 6 to follow, Celluloid Zombie looks at the first four episodes in John McClane’s increasingly bizarre life.

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Die Hard

John McTiernan (1988)

New York cop John McClane flies to L.A. to spend Christmas with his estranged wife, Holly. Arriving at the Nakatomi Plaza, the plush offices of Holly’s Japanese employers, McClane finds himself the last line of defence against a group of international terrorists when they seize the building.

“Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.”

The movie which launched Bruce Willis into the A-list, changed the face of action movies forever and increased the sales of vests by about 600%. Die Hard is a text-book exercise in mixing action, performance and scripting to produce something which is more than the sum of its parts. Willis gives us a very human protagonist, who complements the wise-cracks with a dose of fear and a lot of pain. Care is also taken to make sure that even the peripheral characters have their moment to shine, with especially good turns from Paul Gleason as the inept Deputy Police Chief Dwayne T. Robinson and Hart Bochner as the archetypal Eighties sleaze-in-a-suit, Ellis.

McTiernan, who still has yet to top this, carries the movie forward at a breathless pace. And although it sometimes defies logic (no-one hears those assault rifles firing on the rooftop early on?), the action scenes are gritty, brutal and believeable. Die Hard remains one of the greatest action movies of all time. Much imitated, never bettered.

The Bad Guy: Suave, well-groomed and ‘exceptional’ thief, Hans Gruber. Hans likes money, good suits, scale models and comedy accents. Bruce Willis wasn’t the only star created by Die Hard, with Alan Rickman turn as the dastardly German mastermind setting his own career on track. Rickman is both sinister and charming. You almost want to be on his side.

Rescued: One building, dozens of hostages and a wife.

Not rescued: One Japanese businessman, one sleazy Yank and two FBI agents.

Rating - 5 Bruces

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Die Hard 2

Renny Harlin (1990)

It’s Christmas time again and McClane is waiting at Washington Dulles Airport for his wife Holly, flying in from L.A. Unfortunately, also flying in is drug baron Ramon Esperanza, to stand trial in the U.S. When the airport and air traffic control is commandeered by former Army Colonel Stuart, who wishes to free Esperanza, McClane races against time to stop him.

“How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”

The runaway success of the first movie meant a second was never going to be too far away. This time around the reins were handed to Finnish rent-a-hack Renny Harlin, and the story was based on another novel, 58 minutes by Walter Wager. Die Hard 2 clearly feels the need to be bigger and louder than its predecessor, and in many ways it is just that. However, in its determination to outdo the original, it forgets to build on the foundations which made Die Hard so strong. The script is weak, with far too many cheesy lines and knowing winks to the first movie, and recurring roles for some original characters that seem pointless and contrived.

Harlin does a workmanlike job with the action scenes, and Willis is reliable, but on the whole Die Hard 2 feels like a movie rushed into production to ride the success of the previous outing.

The Bad Guy: Serious, ruthless and slightly insane Colonel Stuart. The Colonel likes drug dealers, crashing aircraft and prancing around naked. William Sadler may not have much to work with, inheriting a rather colourless villain in contrast to Rickman’s Gruber, but he does what is required of him. It doesn’t hurt that he looks like he was chiselled out of granite.

Rescued: An airport, several aeroplanes, a few hundred passengers and one wife (again).

Not rescued: One SWAT team, one old man and one aeroplane full of posh-sounding Brits.

Rating - 2 Bruces

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Die Hard with a Vengeance

John McTiernan (1995)

New York City is under attack by a mysterious terrorist called Simon, who seems to have a vendetta against McClane. Forced to carry out a series of tasks by Simon, McClane reluctantly teams up with shopkeeper Zeus to find Simon before he can set off a series of bombs around the city. However, Simon has a secret agenda.

“I know what I’m doing!”
“Not even God knows what you’re doing!”

McTiernan returns to the fray for the third of McClane’s romps. This time the action is not restricted to a single building, but an entire city, with McClane running around like a headless chicken as he attempts to foil the plans of the latest member of the Gruber clan to screw up his life. Die Hard with a Vengeance marks a welcome return to the fun which seemed to go missing from the second movie. The addition of Samuel L. Jackson as the perma-angry Zeus is inspired and the banter between Zeus and McClane is magical.

Unfortunately, Die Hard with a Vengeance suffers from a rather saggy mid-section (I can sympathise) and gets far too bogged down with events away from the central characters, to the point where the movie almost feels like it has an intermission. The furious pacing of the first hour is then lost and the movie never quite recovers from it. Still, this is a vast improvement on Die Hard 2.

The Bad Guy: Revolutionary, greedy, Aryan poster-boy Simon Gruber, brother of Hans. Simon likes riddles, trendy sunglasses, painkillers and rough sex. Jeremy Irons, perhaps tired of constantly hanging out on more serious projects, hits the gym for his role as the vengeful Simon. Aside from the occasionally dodgy accent, Irons is always entertaining and is clearly having a ball.

Rescued: Several New York locations, one subway train (sort of) and countless people.

Not rescued: One department store, one cop and several security guards at the Federal Reserve Bank.

Rating - 3 Bruces

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Die Hard 4.0

Len Wiseman (2005)

When someone hacks into the FBI’s Cyber Crime Division and begins killing all the known hackers the FBI decide to question, McClane goes on the run with surviving hacker Matt Farrell. The mysterious cyber-terrorist then attacks all the country’s major computer systems, throwing the U.S. into chaos and McClane must stop them and rescue his daughter, Lucy.

“You just killed a helicopter with a car!”
“I was out of bullets.”

He’s back, he’s bad and he’s bald. McClane finally succumbs to the rigours of hair loss (I can sympathise) and takes on the terrorists sans mane. This time around the story is based on a magazine article, ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by John Carlin. Underworld director Len Wiseman comes aboard for the fourth of McClane’s pictures and does a great job. Die Hard 4.0 (Live Free or Die Hard in the U.S.) divided fans of the franchise quite brutally, but for my part it is the best of the Die Hard sequels to date.

The script sparkles with the same brand of wise-ass dialogue that punctuated the first and third movies, and the interplay between the ageing McClane and the young Farrell (Justin Long) is wholly entertaining. Wiseman orchestrates some of the finest action scenes of the franchise, be they sometimes a little 0ver-the-top, and Willis easily slips back into the character, ten years on. Ignore the naysayers, this is a more than worthy addition to the franchise.

The Bad Guy: Arrogant, maniacal, geek Thomas Gabriel. Thomas likes computers, dressing in black, Maggie Q and killing other geeks. Timothy Olyphant has some big shoes to fill, and while he does a nice line in exasperated-with-everyone-who-isn’t-me looks (I can sympathise), his character just isn’t grand enough to stand up to the Grubers of this world.

Rescued: The whole Goddam country, that’s who. And one daughter.

Not rescued: Dozens of computer geeks and various security guards (they never fare well in the Die Hard franchise).

Rating- 4 Bruces

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When screenwriter Dan O’Bannon sat down to write the science-fiction monster movie he’d been itching to create since working on John Carpenter’s Dark Star, it’s fair to assume he had little inkling just how successful his idea would be. Entitled Star Beast, O’Bannon wanted to ‘pay homage’ to the space monster movies of the 50s. In his own words, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” There’s certainly no denying that the basic premise of Star Beast was far from original. Even with several rewrites from other writers and a new title, Alien, it still seemed to be nothing that hadn’t been seen before.

However, sometimes it’s not the idea but the execution that makes all the difference, and after the introduction of a young, English director (Ridley Scott) and a slightly unhinged Swiss artist (H.R. Giger), Alien became far more than the sum of its parts. Scott was determined that Alien would be more than just a cheesy B-movie. He wanted something dark, moody, gritty and most of all, scary. Not so much Star-Wars-with-a-monster as The-Texas-Chainsaw-Massacre-in-space.

Realising that a huge part of the movie’s success hung on the monster, Scott turned to Giger to bring his psycho-sexual nightmare imagery to life in the creation of what has since become the most iconic and inventive monster in cinema. Part human, part skeleton and part penis-with-teeth, Giger’s creature truly is the stuff of nightmares. From its mouth-rape impregnation to its chest-bursting birth and brain-eating maturity, this is about as far removed from the rubber-tentacled invaders of 50s hokum as possible.

Together, O’Bannon, Scott and Giger created something special. James Cameron later added his own brand of lunacy to proceedings, but continued success was not to be. The Alien franchise is the perfect example of how easily a great idea can be milked to exhaustion. It is also a great example of an idea coming full circle. What started as a low-budget, B-movie script was elevated beyond its apparent potential by a superb direction and inspired design. However, thirty years and six films later, the franchise ended up right back where it started. With talk recently turning to Scott’s return to the franchise with a possible prequel, Prometheus, Celluloid Zombie takes a look back at the Alien saga’s sliding scale, from excellent to dreadful.

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Alien

Ridley Scott – 1979

The crew of the cargo ship Nostromo land on a remote planet after receiving a distress call. They discover a derelict vessel on the surface and when one of the crew is attacked by an alien parasite, he brings aboard a nasty life form.

You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? The perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”

The original and still the best. Ridley Scott could have made an all-out, rampaging monster mash, given the material, but instead gives us an atmospheric and terrifying horror movie. Almost a haunted-house-in-space flick, where the focus is on suspense as much as shock. Hyper-realistic performances, and much ad-libbing, from an accomplished cast give proceedings a believability which makes even the more outlandish events far more convincing. Alien also features some of the finest design work seen in any genre, with Scott’s decision to use completely different artists for the human environments and the alien environments paying rich dividends. The contrast is stark. Giger’s work on every aspect of the alien’s life cycle gives the title a rare veracity. Rarely has horror been quite so beautiful.

The Alien: Tall, vicious and utterly… well, alien. Despite all the CGI and model work that has been employed in subsequent interpretations of Giger’s creation, Scott’s man-in-a-suit still remains the most imposing, chilling and effective incarnation. The creature never quite seemed this menacing again.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Aliens

James Cameron – 1986

57 years after the events of Alien, Ripley is found drifting through space in hypersleep. She awakens to find that the planet where the alien was found has been colonised and returns with an army to determine why the colonists have stopped transmitting.

Just tell me one thing, Burke. You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to study. Not to bring back. But to wipe them out.”

Perhaps only James Cameron would have the chutzpah to attempt a sequel to one of the most successful horror movies of all time, seven years after it was released. His answer? Simple, don’t even try to make another horror movie. It’s an inspired decision. Although there are aspects of horror to Aliens, it is essentially an action flick. And a damn good one, too. This was the movie where the character of Ripley became as big a star as the monster, and Sigourney Weaver rises to the occasion admirably. But all-in-all the performances are a lot more comic-book this time around. In many ways, this is the rampaging monster mash the original never wanted to be. Rarely has a sequel had so much respect for its progenitor, developing its own magic rather than trying to recreate the original’s.

The Alien: Cameron employed effects guru Stan Winston to put his own spin on Giger’s alien, making them smaller and more insect-like than before. And while Aliens adds to the life cycle of the creature by introducing us to the thing that lays all those eggs, the mighty Queen, it suffers a little by diminishing the original creature. Because there are more of them this time they become somewhat more disposable, and in turn a little less frightening. However, Cameron does wonders with the facehuggers, and the battle between Ripley and the Queen at the end is very, very cool.

Rating - 5 Stars

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Alien 3

David Fincher – 1992

Ripley, now the sole survivor of the Sulaco, crash lands on the prison planet ‘Fury’ 161. Finding herself the only woman in a prison full of men, Ripley also finds that an alien has landed with her. However, this is a prison and there are no weapons with which to fight it.

“You’ve been in my life so long, I can’t remember anything else.”

This is where it all started to go wrong for the franchise. A troubled production from the very beginning, the script and story went through way too many changes, even during shooting. That, coupled with budget restrictions and studio interference, left first-time director Fincher with an almighty mess on his hands. Alien 3 was an attempt to return to the single alien threat of the original, but it just doesn’t measure up. The script is awful, with too much pointless running around and very little for the characters to do. In the hands of a lesser director this could have been truly dire but Fincher injects enough mood into proceedings to rescue it. There’s no doubt that Alien 3 is the most depressing, bleak and uncompromising episode of the franchise and ultimately it is this which prevents it from falling into total mediocrity.

The Alien: The first time the creature emerges from something other than a person. Born of a dog, this alien runs around on all fours and only occasionally stands up. While it’s a novel idea, it doesn’t really work. Also, the early CGI used for the dog alien fits so badly with the guy-in-a-suit used for the standing poses that you have to keep reminding yourself that there aren’t two different aliens running around.


Rating - 3 Stars

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Alien: Resurrection

Jean-Pierre Jeunet – 1997

It has been 200 years since Ellen Ripley died, but scientists on a military space ship manage to clone her in an attempt to clone the alien Queen within her, too. While the scientists begin experimenting on the freshly born aliens, Ripley finds that she is not quite human anymore.

“There’s a monster in your chest. It’s a really nasty one. And in a few hours you’re gonna die. Any questions?”

French director Jeunet continued the franchise’s comfort with maverick directors, but even his unique style couldn’t save this next-step-down for the ailing franchise. Anyone who has some familiarity with Joss Whedon’s writing will search in vain for his trademark snappy dialogue as the rather weak, confused story creaks along. Ripley and a group of tough-by-numbers mercenaries try to escape the vessel after the aliens break free, but the threat is now predictable and tired. The only real saving grace is Weaver’s turn as the new, slightly psychotic Ripley, now with added alien DNA. The movie’s attempts to add new angles to the alien merely serve to reinforce that this is a franchise with nowhere left to go.

The Alien: Same old, same old for the most part. The aliens are rendered with improved CGI, we even get to see them swimming for the first time, and there’s another appearance from the Queen. But by now the novelty has worn thin and the grace and dark beauty of Giger’s original is all but lost. Worse, however, is to come with the introduction of Ripley’s half-human, half-alien baby… thing. It’s crap. And ridiculous. And looks like a really bad Muppet.

Rating - 2 Stars

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Alien vs. Predator

Paul W. S. Anderson – 2004

Present day earth, and a research team travel to Antartica to investigate an ancient structure buried in the ice. Once inside, they discover a bizarre temple containing alien eggs. When some of the team become hosts to the aliens, a group of Predators in orbit arrive for the party.

“When that door opens, we’re dead.”

So, just when you think it can’t get any worse, some studio exec has a bright idea. Why don’t we mix franchises? Huh? Huh? After all, the comic books have been doing it, why not the movies? Well, here’s why. Alien vs. Predator. It was a dumb idea way back when Universal decided to put Frankenstein and the Wolfman in the same picture and it’s a dumb idea now. Coming off like a cross between Tomb Raider and Alien: Resurrection, AvP (as it likes to be known) ends up being worse than both. Not even the great Lance Henriksen, reprising his role from Aliens (sort of), can save this movie from being far too occupied with cool to remember that we’re supposed to be scared. Or at least thrilled.

The Alien: Nothing surprising, imaginative or creative here. Aliens, a Queen, Facehuggers and some Predators (who are also aliens, so why isn’t this called Alien vs. Alien?) all make an appearance, but none retain a semblance of the dread they evoked in previous outings.

Rating - 1 Star

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Alien vs. Predator: Requiem

Colin and Greg Strause – 2007

Following on from the events of Alien Vs Predator, the Predator’s ship crashes in the forests outside the small town of Gunnison, Colorado. A group of Facehuggers, and the newly born Alien/Predator hybrid, escape and overrun the town. Another Predator arrives to stop them. Yawn.

“Her stomach… It was gone.”

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse than worse… well, brace yourselves. The once innovative, proud and glorious creatures finally find themselves picking off teenagers in a small, American town. The equivalent of horror movie retirement. There is pretty much nothing to recommend this train wreck of a movie. The dialogue is dreadful, the acting on par and it’s so badly shot that you’re hard pressed to see what’s going on for the most part. Among the fantastically original characters are the reformed bad boy returning to town, the small-time Sheriff out of his depth, the weedy kid with a crush on the hot blonde and the bully jock. The franchise returns to the B-movie dross that gave birth to it, finally becoming the very movie it so successfully avoided being back in 1979.

The Alien: The aliens run around, the Facehuggers do their thing, the Predator follows them and throws things at them periodically. That’s about it. And then there is the ‘Predalien’, which is neither Predator enough to be cool, or Alien enough to be scary. It just looks like what it is, an alien with dreadlocks. Dumb.

Rating - 0 Stars

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It’s that time of year. Well, that day of the year. Cupid is abroad in the land, drawing back his bow and forcing men everywhere to do the things they really should be doing all year round, without his chubby help.

No doubt, part of the Valentine’s rituals across the world will be the sitting down to watch a romantic movie together. With that in mind, here is a list of my ten favourite movie couples. Be warned, though, I like movie couples who are a little bit different so you won’t find the likes of Dirty Dancing, Pretty Woman or Casablanca here. So, if you’re getting tired of yearly re-runs of Love, Actually, why not give one of these a go instead.

And, please, let me know who your favourite movie couples are.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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10. WALL-E and EVE

WALL-E – 2008

Who would have thought a relationship between two robots who barely have any lines could be so moving? Pixar did, and they were right. Alone on a desolate Earth, waste disposal robot WALL-E falls head over wheels for shiny, sleek and sophisticated EVE when she arrives on a scouting mission. She’s not sure at first. WALL-E is a bit low-brow, and conversation is not his strong suit, but she is soon won over by his complete devotion to her. Not a dry eye in the house.

EVE: Name?
WALL-E: WALL-E.
EVE: WALL-E? EVE.
WALL-E: Eeeee… aah.
EVE: “EVE”! “EVE”!

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9. Mr. Stevens and Miss Kenton

The Remains of the Day – 1993

James Ivory’s adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel revolves around the lives of the backroom staff at the home of Darlington Hall, England, during the build-up to World War II. Head butler Mr. Stevens (Anthony Hopkins) is absolutely dedicated to his work and his master, Lord Darlington, to the exclusion of all else. The arrival of a bright and headstrong new housekeeper Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson) stirs feelings in Mr. Stevens which are at complete odds with his rigid and professional demeanour. The unexpressed and unrealised relationship between them is utterly heartbreaking, propelled by career-best performances from both Hopkins and Thompson.

Mr. Stevens: Do you know what I am doing, Miss Kenton? I am placing my mind elsewhere while you chatter away.

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8. Alvy Singer and Annie Hall

Annie Hall – 1977

Woody Allen’s semi-autobiographical Annie Hall is almost a love letter to ex-girlfriend Diane Keaton (she was born Diane Hall and her nickname was Annie) which tries to explore just why relationships don’t always work out. Comedian Alvy and Singer Annie make an adorable couple, even if the cracks are there from the very beginning. Both are neurotic, both exist on the fringes of ‘normality’. They seem ideally suited to each other, but the things that make them ideal are the things that make the relationship doomed from the outset.

Annie Hall: So you wanna go into the movie or what?
Alvy Singer: No, I can’t go into a movie that’s already started, because I’m anal.
Annie Hall: That’s a polite word for what you are.

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7. Charlotte and Bob

Lost in Translation – 2003

Aging movie star Bob (Bill Murray) is stuck in Tokyo to film an advert for whiskey, but grateful to be away from his marriage and life. Young graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is stuck there with her new husband, a photographer who is more interested in his work than his wife. When they meet at a hotel bar Bob and Charlotte connect through their combined alienation and detachment from their own lives. Sofia Coppola’s movie, filmed on the fly in Tokyo, creates a touching, heartbreaking relationship between the two most unlikely partners. Murray and Johansson have a palpable chemistry, despite the age difference, leaving you wishing for the impossible, just as they are.

Bob: I don’t want to leave.
Charlotte: So don’t. Stay here with me. We’ll start a jazz band.

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6. Joel Barish and Clementine Kruczynski

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – 2004

Withdrawn and insecure Joel (Jim Carrey) strikes up an unlikely relationship with the emotionally unpredictable Clementine (Kate Winslet), both of them little realising that they are in fact former lovers who both went to Lacuna Inc. to have their memories of each other erased. Their relationship is revisited in Joel’s mind during the erasure, as he and Clementine struggle to hold on to each other. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a touching reminder that even the most volatile and self-destructive relationships can have something worth saving.

Clementine: This is it, Joel. It’s going to be gone soon.
Joel: I know.
Clementine: What do we do?
Joel: Enjoy it.

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5. Guy and Girl

Once – 2006

These two didn’t even get names but still manage to pull your heart-strings as effectively as the struggling Dublin musician twangs those on his guitar. When he meets a Czech woman, and fellow musician, they begin to collaborate on some songs together, while a romantic attraction begins to flourish. Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, both real-life musicians, wrote all the songs for the movie together and subsequently became a couple during the promotional tour for the movie. Awww.

Girl: How come you don’t play during daytime? I see you here everyday.
Guy: During the daytime people would want to hear songs that they know. I play these songs at night or people wouldn’t listen.
Girl: I listen.

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4. John Book and Rachel Lapp

Witness – 1985

Philadelphia cop John Book (Harrison Ford) meets Amish woman Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) after her son witnesses a brutal murder. Although they are virtually from different worlds the spark between them is there from the beginning, and when Book is forced to hide among the Amish community the attraction is given ample time to smoulder. If you saw these two characters individually you wouldn’t think for a minute that they would work so well together, but they are one of cinema’s most electric pairings, enhanced in no small part by the great chemistry between Ford and McGillis.

Rachel Lapp: Are you enjoying your reading?
John Book: Oh, yeah. I’m learning a lot about manure. Very interesting.

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3. Andrew and Sam

Garden State – 2004

Zach Braff wrote, directed and starred in this little gem of a movie, garnering much praise in the process. Andrew, a disillusioned actor suffering severe depression returns to his home town for the funeral of his mother. He meets pathological liar Sam (Natalie Portman) and they begin a tentative relationship over the funeral of Sam’s recently deceased hamster. It is impossible not to root for this couple, so cute are they. Portman is at her most kooky and Braff is all that’s likeable in a lost soul.

Sam: Are you really retarded?
Andrew: No.
Sam: Ooh, great job man! I really thought you were retarded. If there was a retarded Oscar you would win, hands down, kick his ass!

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2. Macon Leary and Muriel Pritchett

The Accidental Tourist – 1988

Ever since the murder of his son, travel writer Macon Leary (William Hurt) has emotionally withdrawn from the world around him, including his wife and family. When she leaves him and files for divorce Macon meets the eccentric dog trainer Muriel Pritchett (Geena Davis), and so begins Macon’s journey back to himself. Featuring an inspired, Oscar-winning, turn from Davis as the unconventional Muriel, whose big heart eventually breaks through Macon’s tough shell, The Accidental Tourist is not about finding the right person, but finding the person who brings out the right you. We all need our Muriel Pritchett.

Muriel: You ever go to movies?
Macon: I really don’t care for movies. They make everything seem so close-up.

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1. Parry and Lydia

The Fisher King – 1991

Terry Gilliam’s New York fable contains a love story so quirky, between two characters who are so clearly made for each other, that if your heart doesn’t drown in its own mush there is something very wrong with you. Homeless Parry (Robin Williams), his mind fragmented by a terrible tragedy, and clueless Lydia (Amanda Plummer), withdrawn and lost in New York’s noise, are brought together by both fate and the actions of a man seeking redemption. Williams and Plummer are adorable together.

Parry: I’m not coming up to your apartment. That was never my intention.
Lydia: You don’t want to.
Parry: Oh, no, I want to. I have a hard-on for you the size of Florida. But I don’t want just one night.

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