Opens Wed., Oct. 29, at Cinerama and others
As space-ship crewman Yaphet Kotto decapitated cyborg Ian Holm in this new director's cut of the 1979 sci-fi/horror classic, causing Holm to spurt geysers of milky white goo and spin shrieking around the room, I caught myself wondering, "Gee I don't remember the alarm klaxons in the original scene." That's because they weren't there; the fire alarm was at Pacific Placenot aboard the alien-infested space tug Nostromo. So ended the press screening, with about 30 minutes of the restored film still unspooled.
See it anyway. Director Ridley Scott hasn't done all that much to Alien; its run time is almost exactly the same as in '79. The soundtrack and mix have been cleaned up, and the cinematography digitally tweaked, and some other scenes restored, and still other scenes trimmed and tightened. It's presumably being polished for a DVD reissue, with Halloween a convenient peg to gather a little hype, but the movie holds up remarkably well. If you're looking for a flick to cause your date to cling to your arm in the dark, House of the Dead or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake can't hold a candle to Scott's extraterrestrial dread and gloom. Alien won an Oscar for its visual effects; Sigourney Weaver is a no-nonsense heroine for the ages; and the H.R. Giger-designed monster still causes nightmares.
Here's what I found new and interesting about Alien, 24 years after its debut. AIDS and ebola and SARS have given a whole new mortal resonance to Weaver's (disregarded) concerns about quarantine and infection. The bickering, class-divided shipmates reflect the movie's origins in Thatcherite England. They're fractious proles in the service of a corporate overlord whose computer proclaims, "All other considerations secondary. Crew expendable." It's all about the product, the alien, the potential profit center (as James Cameron's brilliant action flick Aliens would explore seven years later). "We have to stick together," says Weaver in vain, but everyone is too panicked for solidarity; capitalist avarice is too powerful with its double sets of jaws and acid blood. Save for Weaver (sequel-bound), everyone else aboard the Nostromoa nod to Joseph Conrad's tale of greed and doomis consumed. (R) BRIAN MILLER
Opens Sat., Nov. 1, at Metro and others
Another step in Disney's cultural sensitivity program, the animated feature Bear delves into Alaskan Indian lore for its tale of a young Paleolithic-era hunter, Kenai (voiced by Joaquin Phoenix), who must learn to be a man by first becomingyes, indeeda bear. In ursine form, Kenai runs across the characters who make this Phil Collins-powered tunefest, um, bearable: Rutt and Tuke (Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), two frolicsome moose whose brewy banter evokes their old SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie. This running in-joke gives Bear the comic zing it desperately needs (for parents, at least), as Collins' songs are lyrically atrocious. On the other hand, you've never seen this many animated salmon in your life; and the influence of anime master Hayao Miyazaki enlivens scene after gorgeously rendered scene of the fierce Alaskan tundra. All told, this is one Disney flick that most adults should be able to grin and bear. (G) NEAL SCHINDLER
DIE MOMMIE DIE!
Opens Fri., Oct. 31, at Uptown
Charles Busch is as funny as Bette Davis ever was. I suppose you could argue that Davis wasn't usually going for laughs, but why quibble? Portraying has-been Hollywood crooner Angela Arden, Busch's tenderly savage homage to the overcooked grandes dames of the silver screen is reason enough to partake of a movie that is otherwise underdone.
Busch has adapted his own play for this off-color ode, and its salacious twists are worth a grin. His Angela is trapped in a loveless marriage to a constipated producer (Philip Baker Hall) who's had enough of her infidelities but won't set her freeso why shouldn't she off him with that giant poisoned suppository? Angela may have to escape the suspicions of her petulantly virginal daughter, Edith (Natasha Lyonne), gay slut son, Lance (Stark Sands), and enamored maid, Bootsie (Frances Conroy), but won't she have handsome, hung gigolo Tony (Jason Priestley) waiting for her?
Mark Rucker is a terrific stage director helming his first film here, and he knows how to get his actors gamely going for broke (Sands, in particular). But Mommie doesn't have a visual scheme vivid enough to match its pulse. Intended as a campy salute to those glossy, last-gasp Hollywood melodramas of the '60s, the film just lies there rolling its eyeballs. It's a cheap-looking movie that feels lifeless despite all the cheeky activity. Even the intentionally florid musical underscoring isn't around enough to give it a nudge.
Busch, however, knows his game. His rich, full-bodied comic turn is colored with the kind of emphatic emotionalism and absurd vocal gymnastics that made Davis' late-career performances so compulsive; preposterous throwaway lines are made to seem terribly important. That affectionate ridiculousnessand a ribald sense of humorare just enough to keep the film afloat when the rest of it is sinking. (R) STEVE WIECKING
HORNS AND HALOS
Runs 8 p.m. Fri., Oct. 31-Sun., Nov. 2, at Consolidated Works, 500 Boren Ave. N., 206-381-3218.
The saga of J. H. Hatfield involves the sort of scandal and intrigue that simply cannot be faked. Hatfield bounced back from an attempted murder conviction to pen Fortunate Son, the most controversial book to date about George W. Bush. His sudden fame turned into infamy, however, when the author's most scandalous accusationthat Bush had been arrested in 1972 for cocaine possessioncame under fire in a libel suit. While Hatfield is a compelling figure, this documentary that tells his story would be nowhere near as fascinating without Sander Hicks. The indie publisher who scooped up Son and rocketed to national recognition, Hicks looks and behaves like a cross between De Niro in Taxi Driver and Christian Bale in American Psycho. He resonates like no other figure in the film, and his limitless confidence and charisma speak volumes about what kind of person it takes to challenge the system. (NR) N.S.
THE HUMAN STAIN
Opens Fri., Oct. 31, at Metro and others
Robert Benton's adaptation of the Philip Roth novel starts out just like Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter: A vehicle in remote, snowy New England skids off the road, plunging us into the crash victims' troubled lives. Both films share a brooding mood and look, but Egoyan's film has a firm structure in the subsequent investigation of that tragedy, while Stain veers all over the place.
The doomed car contains Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins), a distinguished classics prof at a sleepy, tony college, and the object of his Viagra-stoked passion, college janitor Faunia Farley (Nicole Kidman). They are menaced by Faunia's loose- cannon Viet-vet husband (Ed Harris).
The flashbacks that mostly constitute the movie reveal that this triangle is only a subplot. Mostly, the film is about how Silk's life went out of control. When two students are absent from class, he asks, "Are they spooks?" Meaning ghoststheir chairs are empty. They turn out to be black, and though Silk didn't know this, his craven p.c. colleagues pillory him for racism. If you've read the book, you'll get the irony; if not, you'll still understand why the disgraced academic wants to start a (short) new life with the easily accepting white-trash Faunia.
Hopkins seems miscast, as does Kidmanshe looks about as unattractively underclass as Michelle Pfeiffer in Frankie and Johnny. Their sexual chemistry is about as plausible as cold fusion, yet their acting chops make you believe they've bonded somehow. The flashback scenes in which young Silk renounces his family to advance his career are an intelligent treatment of a searingly important subject. Rising star Wentworth Miller is fine as the young Silk; Harry Lennix is suitably straitlaced as Silk's father; Anna Deavere Smith is heartbreakingly great as his forsaken mother.
The problem is, these plots don't convincingly connect. They seem projected onto the characters instead of arising spontaneously from them. The whole story seems an abstraction, a labored effort to squeeze a novel into a film script's too-tight suit. Gary Sinise (as the Roth alter ego who narrates Silk's story) and Mimi Kuzyk (as the professor's p.c. persecutor) are painfully superfluous here. The net effect isn't bad, but The Human Stain is a cinematic strain. (PG-13) TIM APPELO
Runs Fri., Oct. 31-Thurs., Nov. 6, at Varsity
You can have a rip-roaring time at this patchwork biography of the legendary gay black Brazilian cabaret artiste/ killer/street fighter of the 1930s, João Francisco dos Santos, and still not understand much about his complicated life. Does not matter a bit. Between the fearless performance of Lázaro Ramos (6 feet tall, muscular, and whippet thin) as dos Santos and the lush, intense cinematography of Walter Carvalho (Central Station, Behind the Sun), there's heat enough to satisfy even fans of Brazilian carnival. The film sketches dos Santos' beginnings, hustling and robbing in Rio's seamy Lapa quarter, and his determination to become a star after his first arrest (taking back wages at knifepoint). Ramos is sensational in dos Santos' cabaret act, which out-Bakers Josephine. Offstage, dos Santos' flamboyant extended family is as important as his virile pride at being gay and black at a time when such sentiments were dangerous and premature. An amazingly assured first film. (NR) SHEILA BENSON