Alien: The Director's Cut
Dir. Ridley Scott; writ. Dan O'Bannon; feat. Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto (R)

Harry Dean Stanton in Alien (courtesy photo)

Nearly 25 years later, does Alien still deliver? Remember, nothing happens in its first 45 minutes, and there are only cries and whispers in its last 17 minutes. Yet, a still-going-strong film franchise was born in Hollywood when the the rough alien beast was birthed aboard the Nostromo. Alien is loaded with clever subterfuge and duplicity - from the freighter that isn't actually on a mission to collect ore to the crewmember who is programmed to sabotage their mission.

Actually, this is a no brainer. Director Ridley Scott knows how to build suspense, and his 1979 film is blessed with a strong and engaging cast. In the interim, this seminal film hasn't been dated - nor have H.G. Giger's gothic metallic gray biotechnical creations and Jerry Goldsmith's smart score. Few films get better than this: From the moment an alien "facehugger" attacks a crewmember to the perfectly horrific "chestbuster" scene, Scott scares us silly - and we want a second helping.

One quibble: The addition of a deleted scene (already available on the film's website and the DVD version) does not make this a true "director's cut." Scott initially cut the "nest" scene because the film's momentum came to a halt. As attractive as the digitally re-mastered print is on the big screen, the DVD version (presently available for video rental only) is better - and it is chock full of extras: a director's commentary, Goldsmith's score, and deleted scenes.
By Gregg Barrios

In the Cut
Dir. Jane Campion; writ. Campion, Susanna Moore; feat. Meg Ryan, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kevin Bacon, Nick Damici, Sharrieff Pugh (R)

Meg Ryan and Jennifer Jason Leigh in In the Cut (courtesy photo)

There may be a serial killer running loose, but the real mystery in In the Cut, the one that seems hopelessly unsolvable, is how men and women ever come together without destroying each other. Even the most positive male/female relationships in this film are fraught with menace and mistrust, and the worst result in severed heads and "disarticulation."

Jane Campion's films (like her most successful one, The Piano) are famous for their pessimism about society's hobbling of women's souls, and for intimate portraits of characters chafing at their bonds. She hammers at these points too insistently for some viewers' tastes, but it is bracing to see her obsessions at work in this film, where half-sisters - played by Meg Ryan and Jennifer Jason Leigh - have miles of dialogue that makes no claim to advance the plot: They talk about sex, longing, and dreams with a frankness hardly seen in mainstream movies today. (And Campion's depiction of sexuality, solitary and communal, matches the frankness of the talk.) On the spectrum's far end, the male characters - even the supposedly sympathetic ones, like Mark Ruffalo's Brando-ish Detective Malloy, behave with unmasked sexual aggression and are caught voicing thoughts unfit for polite company.

However magnetic Ruffalo's swagger is, there is no debate who owns the film: Ryan's chronically disappointed Frannie Avery is too busy puncturing the romantic myths littering the fairy-tale filmography to sacrifice much of the camera's interest to other characters. That camera is poetically restless, swaying constantly through an unfocused world and fixating on small details with an intense gaze that echoes Frannie's attention to pleasing words and well-turned phrases.

While not collecting found poetry, Frannie is busy worrying whether a killer is after her. The only person in a position to shield her could actually be the psychopath; Cut's subtle but deliberate clues are there not so much for us to piece together as to challenge our willingness to accept what we see. In its blend of sex and death and its ambiguity about its protagonists, the film has more in common with a '70s work like Klute than with the '90s sensationalism of Basic Instinct. Its long, quiet detours and mixed messages aren't what the marketplace seems to require these days, but they are as intellectually awake as the characters they champion.
By John DeFore

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