Say what you will about Liquid Sky, there’s no other movie like it. Shot largely in a nightclub that feels warmed to sweltering by big costumes and body heat and a crowded penthouse apartment with a killer view of the Empire State Building (and a UFO on the porch), it mashes up an annoyingly slack New Wave fashion show with a New York sci-fi story about aliens who crave heroin and/or human orgasms cooked up by frisky Russian immigrant writer, director and co-editor Slava Tsukerman.
Co-screenwriter Anne Carlisle, playing the dual roles of aspiring “Mayflower stock” starlet Margaret and drugged-up downtown asshole Jimmy, gets to act opposite herself in a few scenes (including one where she gives herself a blow job) and is generally considered the MVP on screen, but I’ve always preferred the big-eyed Paula E. Sheppard, who dominates the film’s midsection as Margaret’s erotically aggressive performance-artist girlfriend, Adrian. (Her salacious delivery of the film’s single best line — a response to the age-old question, “What’s in the box?” — never fails to leave me convulsing with laughter.)
The film seems to have been edited in a blender, which only adds to its cachet as outsider art, but it’s remarkably well photographed and, once the story takes hold, the nihilistic shenanigans on screen ascend to the status of bleak, hilarious auto-parody. Still, It’s hard not to feel for the verbally and sexually abused Margaret as Carlisle drops her punk posture and shifts into broken-hearted mode, donning a wedding dress and climbing onto the roof, completely junked up, in search of some kind of completion. It’s a wicked fairy tale set among sad, smacked-out freaks and outsiders, doling out cruelly unequal helpings of sweet and sour, bliss and despair. But there’s a beating heart at the center of it all and, sometimes, poetry.
Director Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is, most of all, a study in imagery. Its science-fiction status is hinted at by visual design, as in the film’s opening moments, when concentric circles appear out of the darkness on screen, then are seen to separate, inhabiting three-dimensional space, from left to right, with a bright light blazing on one side. The figure suggests a diagram of a solar system, all its planets in perfect alignment, or (more on point) the glass elements of a lens.
Out of the previous silence, we start to hear fragments of a woman’s voice on the soundtrack, and the elements on screen, clean and fresh as something out of the Apple factory, are resolved as the workings of an eye, iris and pupil appearing on screen in startling close-up. The film then cuts to images of nature, water rushing by, and a jagged road slicing across the screen like Dali’s razor blade slashing an eyeball.
Dark Skies has the kernel of a really interesting genre twist — parts of it play like a retelling of Close Encounters of the Third Kind as a coming-of-age story from the point of view of an adolescent whose indulgence of hormonal urges manifests in part through a willingness to be abducted by aliens — where instead of a henpecked Richard Dreyfuss abdicating family responsibilities by boarding that mothership, its a horny teenager leaving the nest. Unfortunately, Dark Skies is not quite that movie, opting instead for a variation on haunted-house tropes anchored by a pair of dipshit suburban parents whose ever-so-slowly dawning reaction to supernatural phenomenon dates to the kind of 70s movies this pays homage to — The Exorcist, The Amityville Horror, and of course the aforementioned CE3K. Seriously, Dark Skies told from the teenager’s point of view could be the horror-movie response to J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 Spielberg pastiche. The film we got is more of a mess, but I’m glad I saw it — mainly because of my fondness for the movie that I’d like it to be.
For the purposes of my devotion to Alien as perhaps the greatest horror film ever made, I pretend the sequels never existed — especially James Cameron’s take, a sop to the gun lobby that brought Ripley’s character in line with pop-culture convention by forcing her into surrogate maternity, as if her main character flaw was the absence of a child sucking at her tit. David Fincher’s Alien3 wasn’t exactly a great movie, but it was at least a welcome return to tough, uncompromising form. It pleased me that the story was set up with a middle finger raised in Cameron’s direction, so that you could essentially pretend that Alien3 picked up where the first movie left off.
Taking the reins of the Star Trek saga, producer/director J.J. Abrams’ most impressive gambit is a self-consciously clever ploy. Faced with the task of acclimating new audiences to this venerably corny space opera, he simultaneously executes a franchise reboot and nostalgia play. Thanks to the miracle of time travel — in the context of the Star Trek cosmos, such gimmick doesn’t even qualify as a stretch — Star Trek functions simultaneously as sequel and prequel. That is to say, while it brings with it the return of a notably wizened Leonard Nimoy as an elderly Mr. Spock, the eyebrow-humping logician who was arguably the signature character of the original TV series, it’s also full of origin stories. If you ever longed to see the Trek-ian likes of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, “Bones” McCoy, and Uhuru as fine young things studying together at Starfleet Academy, this is your chance.
A look at scenes from John Carpenter’s satirical alien-invasion movie They Live, released four days before the 1988 presidential elections and relevant to this day.
Species II is one of those movies that the studio was ashamed to screen for critics. This is dumb. True, I can’t imagine that there’s a critic in the world who could find more than one or two kind words for Species II. But since when does a movie about space aliens mating with human females depend on good notices? Memo to MGM: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Just look what The New York Times wrote in its Saturday editions: “Species II … includes bloody murder, bloody births, exploding heads, partial nudity, shootings, simulated sex, monstrous couplings, profanity, foul language and bad parenting on the part of a U.S. senator.” Continue reading