How to Quickly Identify Bad Movies

Was 'Aliens' the Best Science Fiction Sequel Ever?

By Michael Simpson

"There Are Some Places In The Universe You Don't Go Alone."

So said the tag line advertising the main feature at London's Odeon Leicester Square in August 1986. The film on show was Aliens, the eagerly anticipated sequel to the 1979 sci-fi horror movie Alien. Fans of the first film had waited a long time to see what new horrors would be inflicted on Alien's heroine, Ellen Ripley, and her beloved cat. Some feared the cat might be the unfortunate host of writer and director James Cameron's new generation of stomach-bursting beasts. The young Canadian director was keeping the truth close to his chest, though.

Despite the secrecy, moviegoers and critics were optimistic that they would get something good from the man who had thrilled them with The Terminator. As one of them, I went to the Odeon Leicester Square to see Aliens one week after it went on general release in the UK (I'd wanted to go on opening day, but I slept though my alarm and missed the train). Yet, contrary to my expectations, I left the theater feeling slightly disappointed. It was only when I saw the film on VHS for the first time that I began to appreciate its excellence. Since then I have come to believe that Aliens may be the best science fiction action movie and the best sequel ever made.

Thanks to the franchise is spawned, Ridley Scott's Alien is now seen as a critical and commercial success. In the early 1980s, however, sequels to adult-oriented horror movies were not guaranteed. Consequently Alien II (as Aliens was initially and unimaginatively known) took a while to gestate. Part of the blame for that could rest with the producers of Alien. The story goes that Cameron initially met with two of them, Walter Hill and David Giler, to discuss another project that they had in mind. That project didn't interest him, but his ears pricked up when they mentioned a sequel to Alien. Cameron 's accounts of those meetings suggest, however, that they weren't enthusiastic about revisiting Ripley's nemesis.

"I felt like he was digging out an old bone in the backyard, dragging out something no one had been thinking much about," Cameron said in a 1986 issue of Time Magazine.

Thankfully, Cameron was a fan of Ridley Scott's film and was inspired by Hill and Giler to develop a treatment for Alien II. According to EOFFtv, he already had a concept for another project involving "predatory aliens tangling with highly armed space marines" that he had titled "Mother". Hill and Giler were supposedly also thinking of having soldiers in the sequel, so it seems likely that the two ideas fed Cameron's imagination.

Enlisting Cameron to develop Alien II was initially a bit of a gamble. He was relatively unknown in Hollywood when he first met Hill and Giler. He had directed Piranha II: The Spawning, a silly 1981 sequel to Joe Dante's Piranha, but had no major work for a big studio to his name. Between first meeting Hill and Giler and the start of production on Aliens, though, he scored big with The Terminator and his screenplay for Rambo: First Blood Part II (although he has said that the final script for the latter differed significantly from his own). These successes gave him the credibility he needed to take the best elements of Alien and use them as the basis for a story that referenced the original but (in the modern parlance) partially rebooted it.

With the benefit of hindsight, Cameron actually looks like the perfect fit for Aliens. The terrifying creature introduced in Alien was similar in its single minded determination and ferocity to Arnie's Terminator or the relentless war veteran John Rambo. Cameron also wanted to make a different kind of film from the one Ridley Scott had helmed. The scenes of future warfare in The Terminator introduced the conservative directing style and dour military-industrial design sensibilities that Cameron would carry over into Aliens. At that time he also reveled in action. This mixture of qualities meant that Aliens would have a different vibe from the slow pace and artistic imagery that characterized Alien. The result was a stylistic and thematic distance between Alien and Aliens that ensured the sequel was no inferior retread of the original.

Bearing in mind Cameron's different visual style, it was an inspired move on his part to set Aliens 57 years after its predecessor. It implicitly justified the different look of his film and meant he wasn't bound by expectations about the level of technology that humans had reached in Alien. For example, in Scott's film the crew of the Nostromo had to wear space suits when they landed on the moon where the alien was found. This led to one of that film's most memorable scenes (when Kane's mask is removed to reveal the face-hugger). However, it also slowed down the action because the suits were an encumbrance to the wearers. Cameron avoided this problem by populating LV-426 with terraformers. The result of their work was breathable air, which negated the need for suits. The changed climate also allowed for rain, which gave the outdoor scenes in Aliens a claustrophobic and chilling atmosphere that complemented other sources of tension. Meanwhile, the terraformers — men, women and children, alike — gave the aliens the means by which to multiply.

While the success of Aliens owes much to Cameron's directorial vision, the contribution of Sigourney Weaver cannot be underestimated. The script allowed Weaver to expand on the minimal characterization Ripley was afforded in Alien and bring the character through a process of maturation. Whereas Ripley quivered with fear at the end of Alien, she had grown into a strong, courageous, uncompromising heroine by the climax of Aliens. Along the way she was also able to show a caring, compassionate side that made her a fully-rounded personality to which the audience could relate. Weaver's performance earned her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1987.

One of Cameron's biggest difficulties in the script was finding a convincing reason why Ripley should agree to another face off with a creature that had terrorized her once already. He eventually settled on something suggesting catharsis and conscience; Ripley returned to LV-426 to destroy the aliens and help an investigation into the disappearance of the terraformers. She was also supposed to be under the protection of highly trained space Marines. The Marine's cocksure did not save her from another round of trauma, however. Instead they got the royal ass-whooping that provided the film with much of its action. This element of the plot also echoed Cameron's earlier works in that it was a vague reference to the United States' military adventures in south-east Asia. In an interview on the film's DVD release Cameron admits that Aliens was, in a minor way, meant to be a Vietnam movie in outer space.

To populate Ripley's military support, Cameron called on some past acquaintances. The character of sensible Marine Corporal Hicks was given to Michael Biehn, who had played someone similar (Kyle Reese), in The Terminator (Biehn would work again with Cameron on The Abyss). Cameron also drafted in another Terminator alumnus, Bill Paxton, to play a cocky and foul-mouthed Marine called Hudson. Paxton had played a minor role in The Terminator as one of the bikers accosted by a naked Arnold Schwarzenegger early in the film (and would work again with Cameron on Titanic). Rounding out the better known members of the cast were Lance Henriksen (Piranha II) as the android Bishop and comedian and writer Paul Reiser (Mad About You) as slimy company man Carter Burke. Canadian viewers may also recognize a young Daniel Kash (Due South, The Line) as the ill-fated Private Spunkmeyer.

Aside from Ripley and the Marines, the other principal character in Aliens was the little girl known as Newt. She was played by Carrie Henn and that role was to be Henn's first and only part. She left acting thereafter and went on to earn a degree in liberal studies and child development from California State University.

While Cameron may have got much of what he wanted with Aliens, the studio left its mark before the film's release. The theatrical cut was substantially shortened, resulting in the removal of some important character scenes and a sequence showing how the colonists initially become infected. In terms of the coherence of the plot, Aliens fared better from such editing than did Cameron's next film, The Abyss. Nonetheless, the restoration of missing scenes for the DVD release, amounting to an extra 17 minutes, was a welcome event.

The writers and directors of the sci-fi blockbusters Hollywood puts out today could take several lessons from Aliens. It proved that action films needn't be preposterous and over-the-top; that a successful sequel can be stylistically and thematically different from the original; and that suspense is a better buttress for action scenes than big explosions.

That said, Aliens is not without its faults. It starts slowly (especially the extended version) and the finale is both contrived and too similar to that in Alien. It also suffers from a false climax that is more stirring than the real one. Nonetheless, over 20 years after it was made, it remains one of the best action films to come out of Hollywood. It is a rollercoaster ride, comprising one memorable sequence after another, backed up by James Horner's fabulous score. Furthermore, the build-up to that aforementioned false climax is fantastic. The introduction of the now iconic alien queen was a masterstroke and the scenes in the nest were more macabre than any amount of gore.

Almost 23 years after my trip to the Odeon, I am intrigued to read that Ridley Scott will direct a prequel to Alien. It is a fascinating prospect. To pull it off, though, Scott faces an unusual challenge. His new film must not only match the quality of his own original work, it must also be a prequel that is as good as the sequel. James Cameron raised the bar with Aliens and no subsequent film in the franchise has reached it. I hope Scott succeeds and that the release of his film can be celebrated by viewing the hi-def remastering of Aliens that is overdue. Both would be fitting tributes to one of filmland's finest monster movies and what must surely be the best sequel ever made.


"For my money, the film is still as intense as ever - it still rocks over 20 years later as non-stop pure adrenaline sci-fi action!"


Hanging 10 with the Beach Boys' Mike Love

By Sean Daly

Back in the late '60s, when the rock 'n' roll template was chiseled in stone, the Beatles and the Beach Boys battled in brilliance. Blue-collar Liverpudlians and SoCal surfers, Lennon-McCartney against Brian Wilson, Pepper's versus Pet Sounds.

Who won? We did.

Four decades later, the Beatles continue to be deified; on Wednesday, they will be celebrated with an assortment of new box sets, video games and more. But despite their genius bloodlines and phenomenal songbook, the Beach Boys now reek of mothball nostalgia. Saturday, they'll play a free postgame show at Tropicana Field — a band with more sad, spare parts than '61-vintage ones.

So it was with a wrinkle of the nose and only middling curiosity that I sat in on a conference call with the controversial Mike Love, the sole founding member still touring under the Beach Boys shingle. (Bruce Johnston will be there, too, but he joined in '65 for California Girls.)

Although Love is not the reason the famously troubled Brian Wilson split the band — and Love's fractiousness certainly didn't cause the sad deaths of Carl and Dennis Wilson — he is nevertheless berated as arrogant and litigious, a loud, proud divider with a history of lawsuits against his musical family. (His most recent legal action against Brian was filed in 2005.) In '88, Love famously scored a dubious double-whammy: He insulted the Beatles and the Stones during the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Worse, he co-wrote Kokomo, the video that featured Full House dope John Stamos, now an occasional member of a once-indomitable band.

Love is synonymous with the Beach Boys' fall from relevance. But a funny thing happened on that conference call: I found the 68-year-old Love to be surprisingly interesting — or at least a little weird. Plus let's be honest: Love helped write Surfin' Safari, Fun Fun Fun and Good Vibrations, and his deep R&B voice lent great grooving counterpoint to Wilson's high hang-ten croon.

So I shouted out the first question, unafraid of being impolitic: Hey Mike, in 2011 the Beach Boys will celebrate their 50th anniversary. Any chance you, Brian and Al (Jardine, another founding member who left in 1998) will patch things up and reunite?

"There's a lot of thought going on in that direction," Love answered in a soft, methodical voice, both vaguely creepy and politely engaged. "There have been issues in the past...but for something that auspicious, yes, there's a lot of activity."

"Issues in the past"? Yeah, the Beach Boys had issues like Salem's Lot had vampires. Another reporter then asked who was in the band these days. Love responded: "As you may or may not know, my cousin Brian stopped touring with the Beach Boys in 1964..." Love said "my cousin Brian" as if he were casually wiping schmutz off his lapel.

For all his curious chatter — "I do transcendental meditation I learned from the Maharishi in September of 1967" — there was also just-plain-cool stuff. The Beach Boys "started out with a pure love of making harmonies," he said, inspired by doo-wop, the Everly Brothers, the Four Freshmen. "We wrote songs about surfing and cars and high-school life, and that subject matter was unique. It was the kind of stuff kids of all ages can relate to."

Love spoke of the late Ted Kennedy: "Because of our experience in the Beach Boys, we met quite a few of the family members. I was at Ted Kennedy's house one time. I took a shower there." That led to a story about Love and "cousin Brian" writing the devastatingly beautiful Warmth of the Sun on the evening of Nov. 22, 1963: "One of the most beautiful songs we've ever done. It's about losing someone who doesn't love you back — and that's a bummer."

I managed to sneak in another question, asking about that Beatles-Beach Boys rivalry: "The Beatles are unrivaled globally," he said. "But the Beach Boys have always been heralded as original. Paul McCartney has said that God Only Knows is the perfect song, and that Pet Sounds is required listening for his kids. It was a mutual admiration society more than a competition."

That creaky-jointed nostalgia was suddenly youthful, vital. But then Mike Love tried to instill confidence in the modern Beach Boys, his Beach Boys: "Good Vibrations was the most unique and most popular of our songs — eclipsed only by Kokomo. That's been our best-selling song."

Ugh. God only knows what Brian Wilson would think.


Beach Boys celebrate the 'Sounds of Summer'

By Scott Meeker

Mike Love remembers looking at the lyrics for the then-newly written song “Kokomo” and being disturbed by them.

Off the Florida Keys

There’s a place called Kokomo

That's where we used to go to get away from it all

“I thought, ‘Oh no. This sounds like some old guy lamenting his youth,” said Love, the lead singer of the Beach Boys. “My thought has always been to try to think about how (a song) is going to communicate what we want it to communicate to the widest possible group of people.”

At his insistence, writer John Phillips changed the line to “That’s where you wanna go.” The song would go on to be one of the band’s biggest hits.

Songs celebrating youth, young love, fast cars and good times are at the root of many of the Beach Boys’ greatest hits which the audience can expect to hear when the band perform Sunday at Downstream Casino.

Love said that the music has come to embody the title of his favorite release by the band, the 2003 greatest-hits package “Sounds of Summer.”

“We actually haven’t had a summer off in about 40 years, but that’s OK,” said Love. “Musicians love performing. And if you don’t, you better get out while the getting is good.”

That’s what Brian Wilson — the band’s founder and chief songwriter — did in 1964, being replaced on tour first by Glenn Campbell and then Bruce Johnston. Johnston still performs with the band today.

But it’s not a dig at his cousin, because Love credits Wilson as being “incredible” when it comes to music arrangement and a “master of harmonies.”

Love said that he can’t help but be amazed sometimes at how so much of Wilson’s music has found an audience with each successive generation.

“Three years ago, my daughter who was 13 years old at the time said that ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ was her class’ favorite song.

“That song, the lyrics appeal to a young generation of kids who are in love. We may look at it nostalgically, but every successive generation has that boy-girl attraction.”

After Brian stepped back from touring and a combination of drugs and mental illness took their toll on his songwriting, the band struggled to find their footing and their place in the music world. Their constant touring helped the band find popularity as a live act, and the nostalgia inspired by their greatest hits helped secure them the title of “America’s band.”

Drummer Dennis Wilson died in 1983, and Carl Wilson succumbed to cancer in 1988. Brian Wilson eventually severed his ties with the band, as did original vocalist and guitarist Al Jardine. Lawsuits among the surviving members are not uncommon.

In reading what has been written about the band over the years, Love is not always portrayed in the most flattering light. There are plenty of allegations of condescension toward the direction Brian’s music was taking and a domineering nature when it came to how the band was run.

But Love said that those accounts aren’t accurate and that he feels he has been unfairly portrayed.

“A lot of that is just hearsay by people who weren’t even there,” Love said. “Some writers get all caught up in that and lose sight of the music.”

Much of the rumored acrimony, he said, came from a tumultuous time during the band’s history, when they fired Murry Wilson — the Wilson brothers’ father — as their manager.

“And then there was a time in the late ‘60s when the Wilson brothers got into drugs, and Al and I got into meditation,” he said. “There was definitely a division there, which led to some people making comments.

“But that’s pretty much in the past, and my personal relationship with Brian is great.”

Still, the surviving members of the band continue to tour separately — Love and Johnston as the Beach Boys, while Wilson and Jardine perform with their respective bands.

But Love said that fans of the band can take heart: with a milestone in the Beach Boys’ history approaching, there is a strong possibility of a reunion of some sort to come about.

“We’re looking at doing a 50th anniversary celebration in 2011, and that would entail seeing what we could get together and do recordingwise,” he said. “And the PBS show ‘American Masters’ is interested in doing a documentary about the band. There are a lot of interesting possibilities likely to manifest in the near term.”

Reunion or no reunion, though, Love said he believes that the Beach Boys’ legacy in the world of American music is already secure.

“I think the band’s legacy is already being realized to a pretty good degree,” he said. “Our music has been part of the soundtrack of America, and I think it will always be a super positive legacy because of the good feelings it has made people enjoy over the years.”


Beach Boys' Mike Love recharges at The Raj


With its tight falsetto harmonies and sunny lyrics, the Beach Boys' sound is immediately recognizable to both young fans - who consider it a retro band - and to older fans who grew up on hits such as "California Girls" and "Surfin' USA."

The legendary ensemble that has been entertaining audiences since 1961 will perform Monday in Fairfield - a quick return trip to Iowa after a recent show Aug. 14 at Meskwaki Bingo-Casino-Hotel in Tama. But Monday's outdoor concert on Labor Day at a middle school in Fairfield also will deliver a different "vibration" for singer Mike Love.

"My main place for rest and relaxation and recharging has been the Raj and meditating in the domes," Love said last month during a stopover in Fairfield. The Raj is a Fairfield spa that integrates holistic practices into its treatments.

And Love routinely practices transcendental meditation (T.M.) inside the domes of Maharishi University of Management, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Love, one of the remaining 1960s members of the Beach Boys, will be named Energy Czar for the day by Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy. He will also help unveil the city's 40-point Green Sustainability Plan, funded by an $80,000 grant from Iowa's Office of Energy Independence. The plan calls for energy conservation and support of local farms, among other initiatives.

"Energy independence is something that is close to my children and grandchildren and their children's heart," Love said.

Proceeds from Monday's concert also will benefit the David Lynch Foundation, which supports T.M. education, and the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center.

Love is a longtime fan of the eastern Iowa city.

"I've been going to Fairfield for a few decades," he said. "One time I came here for three weeks and did treatments every day, and that was fantastic. I never felt better."

Transcendental meditation is so important to Love that he wrote a song about its founder: "Cool Head, Warm Heart."

"Maharishi said once in a meeting, 'You need a cool head and a warm heart,' so I made a little sound out of it," Love said about his inspiration for the song.

Love, who performs nearly 150 concerts per year, said he has a special connection to Iowa and its "small-town environment." He recalled a recent memory of the "little gem in the heartland" when he landed at a Tuscon airport.

"This woman that drove me from the airport said she heard us at the Dance-land Ballroom in Cedar Rapids ... Now how ironic is that?"


Al Jardine Emerges From Beach Boys' Shadow

By Winchester

I was a late-to-the-party Beach Boys fan. Sure, I loved all the classics, but when Brian Wilson dropped out, I somehow became more and more interested in that ensuing train wreck, than the group.

When Dennis Wilson released his amazing solo album Pacific Ocean Blue, I became quite enthralled; it quickly became the quintessential solo album. To me, it was right up there with McCartney’s first solo work.

When CBS re-released it late last year, I went on and on about it. It sounded better than ever. CBS even released it with his second solo album, delayed for years after Dennis untimely passing. It too, was fabulous.

When Tom Cuddy called with an invitation to joined him for a show by former Beach Boy Al Jardine at B.B. King, I was there in a flash.

Jardine, to me, never really stood out as a singular artist; he was always there with the Wilson Boys, Brian, Dennis and Carl. Now, seeing him front his own act, Al Jardine’s Endless Summer was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year.

His sons, Matt and Adam now handle the Brian-like vocals and boy, they are impressive. Also joining them was David Marks who was, one of the original Beach Boys, according to Cuddy, even replacing Jardine for a time. Boy, imagine having to live with that!

But tonight he was back and certainly impressive. Richie Cannata, late of the Billy Joel’s band was on horns, percussion and keyboards and was simply dazzling, adding a nice extra-texture to everything. Jardine will release his first solo album, A Postcard From California on Sept. 7, and on it he has guest spots from Brian, Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Glen Campbell, Flea and Steve Miller.

The three tracks he did this night were terrific, reminiscent of The Beach Boys in many ways. He serve up their hits, including “I Get Around,” “Sail On Sailor,” and, “God Only Knows.”

Those songs proved one thing for sure: Brian Wilson is an amazing writer! Cuddy said, the irony of Jardine, is that his group sounds more like the Beach Boys than Mike Love’s current touring entourage.

If Jardine comes to your town, definitely check him out.



Earth as photographed in 1990 by the Voyager 1 from more than 4 billion miles away

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."
Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, Random House, 1994

Disney to Acquire Marvel Entertainment

BURBANK, Calif. & NEW YORK, Aug 31, 2009 (BUSINESS WIRE)

Acquisition highlights Disney's strategic focus on quality branded content, technological innovation and international expansion to build long-term shareholder value

--An investor conference call will take place at approximately 10:15 a.m. EDT / 7:15 a.m. PDT August 31, 2009. Details for the call are listed in the release.

Building on its strategy of delivering quality branded content to people around the world, The Walt Disney Company has agreed to acquire Marvel Entertainment, Inc. in a stock and cash transaction, the companies announced today.

Under the terms of the agreement and based on the closing price of Disney on August 28, 2009, Marvel shareholders would receive a total of $30 per share in cash plus approximately 0.745 Disney shares for each Marvel share they own. At closing, the amount of cash and stock will be adjusted if necessary so that the total value of the Disney stock issued as merger consideration based on its trading value at that time is not less than 40% of the total merger consideration.

Based on the closing price of Disney stock on Friday, August 28, the transaction value is $50 per Marvel share or approximately $4 billion.

"This transaction combines Marvel's strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney's creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories," said Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company. "Ike Perlmutter and his team have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney."

"We believe that adding Marvel to Disney's unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation," Iger said.

"Disney is the perfect home for Marvel's fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses," said Ike Perlmutter, Marvel's Chief Executive Officer. "This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney's tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world."

Under the deal, Disney will acquire ownership of Marvel including its more than 5,000 Marvel characters. Mr. Perlmutter will oversee the Marvel properties, and will work directly with Disney's global lines of business to build and further integrate Marvel's properties.

The Boards of Directors of Disney and Marvel have each approved the transaction, which is subject to clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act, certain non-United States merger control regulations, effectiveness of a registration statement with respect to Disney shares issued in the transaction and other customary closing conditions. The agreement will require the approval of Marvel shareholders. Marvel was advised on the transaction by BofA Merrill Lynch.