Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Double Feature - "Election"/"Alien"

Note: The "Alien" review contains moderate spoilers. The "Election" one should be fine for everyone. Both reviews can be seen after the jump:

"Election" - I have had mixed reactions in the past to offbeat comedies such as this one (as my review of "Easy A" a few weeks back should prove). But "Election" is just a fantastic film: a darkly funny look at human behavior as seen through a high school election. It's populated with quite a few absolutely brilliant characters, among them the hard-working and ambitious Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) and teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick).

For various reasons (none of them particularly good), McAllister decides that Tracy needs to be taught a lesson in humility. He recruits a popular ex-football player named Paul to enter the race. Paul's sister Tammy also decides to run, due mostly to her jealousy over Paul's relationship with her former girlfriend.

What follows is both hilarious and just plain entertaining. The film makes many pointed jabs about the absurdity of student government, but its real focus is on the motivations of its characters: particularly the sleazy and rather detestable McAllister, who in addition to his other misdeeds also considers cheating on his wife. And yet as played by Broderick, you can't help but kind of like him in spite of everything.

All the other characters are equally engaging, with the depressed but intelligent Tammy being my personal favorite (she's responsible for a scene at the school assembly that's probably my favorite in the film). Perhaps we're meant to find Tracy as annoying as McAllister does, but I for one kind of admired her work ethic and determination. And the good-natured but clueless Paul is a delight throughout. You can't help but love these people, in spite of their flaws. The dialogue is also extremely sharp, and even profound and insightful in some scenes.

But there's no great lesson to be learned from "Election", as the film itself makes clear by treating the title event as something resembling a fairy tale. Student elections may seem like a big deal to those involved, but they really don't matter in the long run. In this case, all that matters is that this is one brilliant movie.

Grade: A

"Alien" - Justly regarded as a classic of the sci-fi genre (or horror, depending on who you ask), Ridley Scott's incredibly well-shot "Alien" is without a doubt one of the most genuinely terrifying and creepy movies ever made. I'll be seeing "Aliens" at some point, but it's hard to imagine it topping this.

The first hour in particular is masterful at building the tension. Scott utilizes tight, controlled shots of dark spaceship corridors and the deserted ruins of an empty planet to create a truly unsettling atmosphere as Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her fellow crew members investigate an apparent distress message. And then things start getting chaotic, starting with one of the scariest scenes ever put on film. (Those who've seen the movie know what I'm referring to.)

From there, the movie becomes a little less about suspense and a little more about action. It's still impressive, though. To Scott's credit, he doesn't allow the film to spiral out of control and continues to make excellent use of shadows and silence even as the pace picks up and the crew begins to get picked off one by one. There's one scene set in the ship's ventilation shafts that is particularly effective.

I admit to liking the very end of the movie a little less than the rest of it. Once the alien has been seen a few times, it becomes a lot less scary. In addition, the final ten to fifteen minutes (superb final scene aside) features perhaps a little too much action at the expense of genuine tension. It's not enough to cost the movie an "A" grade, though. This is a fine, frightening film: the rare sci-fi picture that holds up decades later.

Grade: A


  1. about Aliens, I don't know if you think it'll top alien, but they are kind of different films.

    I've always felt that alien was a lot more about tension (and I first saw it when I was 7 so I'm sure I know what I'm talking about) and aliens is more of an action film.

    It's not a generic action film though, I thought that the characters were well drawn out (something that's lacking in Cameron's recent movie) and that the tension was geniune and there were a lot of awe inspiring scenes. Can't wait to hear your thoughts.

    And funny you mention election, I'm about to start reading the novels of tom Perrotta and he wrote the novel of which the movie is based on (I think he also did the screenplay). It looks like I'll start with election, then Little Children, The Abstinent Teacher, and then watch the movies.

  2. I'll have a review up of "Aliens" a few days after I watch it. Haven't found the time yet, though, and may not for at least a few weeks considering most of my free time is going to be spent on a bunch of new and returning shows premiering in the next week or so (not to mention "Treme" on DVD). I definitely plan on checking it out, though, so stay tuned.

    Please let me know if the book "Election" is good, since I absolutely adored the movie. Always looking for new stuff to read, even if most of my reading time(particularly during the school year) is spent on non-fiction these days.