Notes from the Back Row 

Aliens attack, again

The first sci-fi film of note was George Mélies' Le Voyage dans la Lune, way back in 1902. Noted for its technical ingenuity and special effects (which are not bad) A Trip to the Moon also delivers our first cinematic conflict with aliens. The wacky explorers end up in a giant lunar mushroom cavern and discover some Selenites, weird lizardy moon people that explode when you whack them with your umbrella. Although they're eventually captured the moon explorers manage to battle their way out of the Selenite lair, get back to their ship (which they launch with a rope) and return safely to earth. Find it free online.

Battling aliens has remained a movie staple ever since. From satirical epics like Tim Burton's Mars Attacks, to realistic creepfests like Fire in the Sky, to true classics like Aliens or District 9 our obsession with hostile E.T.'s never seems to fade.

This week it's Battle: Los Angeles, which opens Friday at the Village 8. Rated PG-13 and just under two hours long, Battle L.A. is about a ragtag team of emotionally burdened marines sent to rescue some civilians from a city under attack. Aaron Eckhart stars as the first of many clichéd characters saddled with cheese-dick dialogue while expensive-looking shit blows up all around them. Even Michelle Rodriguez, playing the butchy tough-girl role she's done at least seven times before, can't make the script shine.

Visually the film looks pretty slick (decent action set pieces and a docu-style of shooting reminiscent of Black Hawk Down ) but the aliens, kind of an integral part of an "aliens attack" movie, are nothing special. At least their ships are cool.

Outer Space keeps coming in Mars Needs Moms , also opening Friday. This one, a PG Disney offering, features that creepy-ass, wax-museum, Robert Zemeckis motion-capture animation that we've seen before in The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. The story is about Martians kidnapping moms and trying extract their disciplinary skills in order to run an army of robotic nannies - and if that doesn't convince you not to go see it, then the animation ought to. It's supposed to look "realistic" but it just comes off as creepy and off-putting. Saddled with a stupid story this flick has nothing on Rango or anything by Pixar, Dreamworks or even old George Mélieis.

Mars Needs Moms also boasts the stupidest title of the year so far and features the worst abomination of hip-hop music ever recorded in its trailer. This looks less entertaining than finding someone else's turd floating in the public restroom stall. Save your money.

Salvaging the week, or trying to, is Red Riding Hood, a re-telling that turns the classic tale into a werewolf story starring Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman. Directed by Catherine Hardwicke ( Thirteen, Lords of Dogtown), this version puts Little Red in a bit of a love triangle except that one of her suitors just might be the wolf. It doesn't look that bad but the lack of a pre-screening makes me nervous, as does the PG-13 rating. And you can bet the wolf will be CGI and not a guy in make-up. Make-up and the transformation are what make werewolf movies cool.

The best, most twisted, Red Riding Hood remake is 1996's Freeway starring Reese Witherspoon and a spooky Kiefer Sutherland. It's not what you expect and it's the Download of the Week.

So is They Live , a 1988 classic starring Rowdy Roddy Piper as a drifter that stumbles into a mind-control alien shitstorm. Director John Carpenter also made 1982's The Thing another all-time alien flick starring Kurt Russell. Catch up on your alien defense techniques finding because those bastards could be coming for us (or our moms) at any time.

 

 

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