Tag Archives: 1986 movies

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) Review

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Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer

Time: 83 Minutes
Cast:
Michael Rooker as Henry
Tom Towles as Otis
Tracy Arnold as Becky
Director: John McNaughton

Henry (Michael Rooker) is released from prison following his mother’s murder. He supplements his job as an exterminator with a series of indiscriminate and violent murders. Fellow jailbird and drug dealer Otis (Tom Towles) becomes a willing accomplice in Henry’s bloody killings. But as the depravity escalates and Henry forms a bond with Otis’ sister, Becky (Tracy Arnold), things start to get out of hand. The film is based on the true-life story of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas.

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I heard some things about Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It’s a movie from the 80s where Michael Rooker played the lead role of a serial killer named (in apparently his best role to date), and it was extremely controversial, leading it to be censored and banned in many places. I did hear some positive things about it though, so I decided to check it out. I do think it is good, even though its very much not one I would ever want to go back to

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This movie is essentially the examination and portrayal of a psychopath and serial killer, focussing on protagonist Henry as he kills random people without any remorse or empathy. There doesn’t seem to be a point to these senseless killings, but that in itself seems to be the point. The film doesn’t dig deep into motivations or reasons for the killings, but I thought that it worked for the movie. From the very beginning, it establishes an uneasy tone and never lets up. There is very little humanity here; the only shred of empathy is in the form of a character played by Tracy Arnold. While I found myself locked in watching this movie, I will say that nothing substantial really happens with the plot. It’s a good thing that it is only 83 minutes long then, it might’ve suffered had it been any longer. There are some terrible and poor dialogue at times, but the roughness and rawness of the film’s approach does make it work in way, more so than if it was in a more polished movie. The story culminates with a very dark, bleak and chilling ending that lingers in the mind long after watching.

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The role of Henry is played by Michael Rooker, in what is quite possibly his best performance yet. He is outstanding, compelling to watch and unsettling, with a subtle menace to him. Despite his character being clearly a serial killer, Rooker makes him someone you are willing to follow (at least initially). He makes him more complex, and you are interested in seeing his interactions with other people. Some of the acting from the rest off the cast aren’t that good. However, much like the dialogue, with the tone combined with the realism, it worked.

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This movie is directed by John McNaughton and his work here really made it work. As said before, this film is low budget and it certainly looks like it, throughout it feels very dirty and raw. Its raw and grimy appearance gives it a sense of realism, helped by the 16mm cinematography and the grainy look. It almost makes it look like a documentary riding around with Henry. Additionally, it makes use of real locations and settings that give the story an added sense of realism, only making it more disturbing. Considering that this is a movie about a serial killer, a surprising number of the murders take place off screen and we usually see the aftermath, but they are no less impactful (or perhaps it makes them more impactful that way). The violence feels unsettlingly real with the movie never revelling in it, and the ominous tone and never lets you feel comfortable.

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Watching Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, I can definitely see why it caused such controversy at the time. It is uncomfortable to watch and not for everyone, however I found it a compelling watch, and it is at least admirable with how uncompromising it is. While the writing and direction is very rough around the edges, that helped the movie succeed as well as it did, along with a strong lead performance from Michael Rooker.

Top Gun (1986) Review

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Top Gun

Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] contains coarse language
Cast:
Tom Cruise as LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell
Kelly McGillis as Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood
Val Kilmer as LT Tom “Iceman” Kazansky
Anthony Edwards as LTJG Nick “Goose” Bradshaw
Tom Skerritt as CDR Mike “Viper” Metcalf
Director: Tony Scott

As students at the United States Navy’s elite fighter weapons school compete to be best in the class, one daring young pilot learns a few things from a civilian instructor that are not taught in the classroom.

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Classic 80s movie Top Gun is getting a sequel titled Top Gun: Maverick, released over a few decades after the original’s release. It has been a while since I had watched the first movie, so I was interested in revisiting it before the newest film’s release. I wouldn’t say that it is great but there’s a lot to like about it

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Despite this movie being about dogfighting and fighter pilots, Top Gun is less of an action movie and more of a coming-of-age film. Most of the actual flying is just done in training, real combat only happens in the third act. The writing isn’t anything special, the script is definitely formulaic, and I didn’t find the story to be all that thrilling or compelling. While I wouldn’t say that I was bored watching it, the story is a bit dull. I think the biggest criticism I have for Top Gun is that it feels more like a collection of memorable scenes more than a greatly cohesive movie; the plot didn’t have much direction or drive. The characters didn’t stand out for me but they were likable enough. When the drama appears, it really comes out of nowhere and is melodramatic but it works for the 80s vibe. Speaking of which, the 80s cheese factor helped a lot of the movie, it made some of the weaker and over the top elements work better for me.

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There are some solid performances. Tom Cruise plays the lead character of Maverick in one of his early iconic roles. I wouldn’t say its one of his all-time best performances by any means, but it is definitely one of his most recognisable characters. Cruise is charming and fun to watch, while also giving some depth and development to his character. The chemistry and bromance between Maverick and his friend Goose (Anthony Edwards) was very convincing. That’s more than I can say between the romance between him and Kelly McGillis’s character, which could be more than a little cheesy at times, but again the 80s vibe made it sort of work for me. Generally, the rest of the cast are decent enough.

TOP GUN, Kelly McGillis, Tom Cruise, 1986, (c) Paramount/courtesy Everett Collection

Tony Scott’s stylish direction is one of the best parts of the film, it’s not one of Scott’s best but it is well made. The cinematography is great, and the dogfighting action sequences are beautifully shot. There aren’t as many of these action scenes as you’d initially think, but they are staggered out so they have us wanting more. The soundtrack is pure 80s and wonderfully enjoyable (even if it’s a little repetitive at points).

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If you were to make a list of the top 5 most iconic 80s movies, Top Gun would be right up there. There are definitely some issues with the writing and characters, and I wouldn’t call it great. However, there’s a real charm to it, and I can see why it became something of a cult classic. The cast led by Tom Cruise are solid, it’s well directed by Tony Scott, and the action sequences are entertaining. I do think it is worth checking out at least once.

Castle in the Sky (1986) Review

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Castle in the Sky

Time: 124 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1] Violence
Cast:
Mayumi Tanaka as Pazu
Keiko Yokozawa as Sheeta
Kotoe Hatsui as Captain Dola
Minori Terada as Colonel Muska
Director: Hayao Miyazaki

Young orphan Sheeta and her kidnapper, Col. Muska, are flying to a military prison when their plane is attacked by a gang of air pirates led by the matronly Dola. Escaping from a mid-air collision via a magic crystal around her neck, Sheeta meets fellow orphan Pazu and the pair join forces to discover the mystical floating city of Laputa while pursued by both Muska and the pirates, who lust for the city’s myriad treasures.

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I wanted to watch more films from Studio Ghibli after loving the four I had already seen from them. The next one of their movies I decided to check out was Castle in the Sky, which seemed to be one of their earlier movies, and as it turns out it was the first film they produced. This probably isn’t one of Ghibli’s best, but it was quite entertaining and I enjoyed watching it.

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The plot of Castle in the Sky is a rather straightforward good vs evil adventure tale, but that doesn’t take away from how exciting and fun it is from beginning to end. The story is entertaining, fast paced, and filled with many different types of adventures and obstacles for the main characters to overcome. It has quite a bit humour, action, warmth, drama and imagination on display, and the story itself holds up to modern animation standards. The worldbuilding is also masterful and well done. Helping that is the fact that a lot of this world is left unexplained and leaves viewers to engage their imagination with it. There are also a number of memorable, likable and nuanced characters that are given quite a bit of depth, with the story essentially being held together by the bond and strong chemistry between its lead characters Paku and Sheeta. As with other Miyazaki/Ghibli movies there are some themes on display. The movie makes some strong statements against war and weaponry, and there’s a lot of environmentalist subtext too. Now in contrast with the previous Miyazaki/Ghibli movies I had seen, I didn’t find myself emotionally connecting with the story of Castle in the Sky, despite it being quite heartfelt and the characters being likable. My Neighbor Totoro, which didn’t connect with me as it did with other people, even seemed to resonate a lot more with me. It’s also not particularly complex or thought provoking. With that being said, as a thrilling adventure movie it delivers, and that’s really what I was expecting from it going into it, so I wasn’t let down or anything.

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Hayao Miyazaki directs this movie (this is actually his third film), and so I expected it to be wonderfully animated and well made, and I certainly got that from Castle in the Sky. The animation is pretty remarkable from beginning to end. The environments are fantastical and gorgeous, the colour scheme is stunning, the designs especially for the robots and transportations are fantastic, and there are some thrilling action scenes throughout. Now it’s not quite as fluid with the animation compared with some of the later Ghibli movies but that’s to be expected, and it’s already really good here (especially for a movie from the late 80s). The musical score from Joe Hiaishi is great too and really fits the movie really well.

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Castle in the Sky is a fun and fantastical adventure that I enjoyed from beginning to end, with memorable characters, a solid plot, and some thrilling sequences. I can already tell that it isn’t among Ghibli’s best work but it’s nonetheless a pretty good adventure. At the very least it hints towards the bright future of the studio, as well as Miyazaki’s later work as a filmmaker.

Blue Velvet (1986) Review

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Blue Velvet

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 79a0443c-3460-4500-922d-308b655c1350[1] contains violence, sexual violence and offensive language
Cast:
Isabella Rossellini as Dorothy Vallens
Kyle MacLachlan as Jeffrey Beaumont
Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth
Laura Dern as Sandy Williams
Hope Lange as Mrs. Pam Williams
Dean Stockwell as Ben
Director: David Lynch

College student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home after his father has a stroke. When he discovers a severed ear in an abandoned field, Beaumont teams up with detective’s daughter Sandy Williams (Laura Dern) to solve the mystery. They believe beautiful lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini) may be connected with the case, and Beaumont finds himself becoming drawn into her dark, twisted world, where he encounters sexually depraved psychopath Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).

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Blue Velvet was the first movie I saw from David Lynch and it left quite an impression on me. Returning back to it after having seen some of his other movies, I find it to be an even better movie. A great and strange thriller, directed excellently and beautifully. It may have been divisive upon its release, but its generally regarded now as a classic.

BLUE VELVET, Kyle MacLachlan, 1986. ©De Laurentis Group/Courtesy Everett Collection.

Blue Velvet is by far the most straightforward of David Lynch’s films, at least one of his most. While there’s definitely a lot to unpack thematically, you won’t have to deep dive interpret events yourself to understand the general plot (like some of his other movies like Mulholland Drive). It is tightly paced across the 2 hour long runtime and keeps you constantly engaged. It starts as an innocent enough mystery that seems Nancy Drew esque (albeit one sparked by discovering a severed human ear in a field) but turns into a seedy nightmare as it descends into an unsettling psychosexual fantasy world. Lynch contrasts the bright and sunny façade of suburban life with the dark underbelly of crime and sexual perversions. Blue Velvet may be a neo-noir thriller but it’s a mix of a lot of elements, noir, comedy, satire, thriller, a bit of horror, and it’s even part sordid noir and teen melodrama. It’s a film dripping in sleaze and foreboding menace, and has a creepy aura.

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The cast are all great in their parts. Kyle MacLachlan does well as Jeffrey, portraying someone who finds his innocence corrupted as he uncovers what’s really going on. Isabella Rossellini gives a very effective and memorable performance. Laura Dern is also good in her part. The performance that steals the whole movie however is Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth. Hopper has played plenty of villains, but none of them come close to the level of Booth in this movie. He’s completely depraved, disturbed and incredibly memorable. The movie is already great before he shows up, but its taken to a whole other level when he does, and really does signal the reveal of the darker side of the film’s setting.

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David Lynch’s direction is nothing short of fantastic. It looks great, the cinematography is rich and colourful in its presentation, showcasing the light and dark of the town with impressive use of texture and shades of tone. At the same time there are occasionally some aesthetics of a horror film in here. The set and production designs are also quite effective. Blue Velvet really does aim for a noir movie feel, with the shadows, some of the shots and the score. Speaking of which, the score from Angelo Badalamenti works quite well. The use of songs also works in their respective scenes, including Blue Velvet, In Dreams and Mysteries of Love, fitting Lynch’s vision perfectly and heightening their respective scenes.

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Blue Velvet is an excellent movie, a dreamlike and nightmarish thriller so fantastically directed and put together. It is up there among Lynch’s best work, and I think I’m close to considering it among my favourite movies now. While I haven’t finished watching all of David Lynch’s movies yet, I’d say that if you wanted a movie to start to get into his filmography, Blue Velvet is a great start.

The Color of Money (1986) Review

Time: 120 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felson
Tom Cruise as Vincent Lauria
Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Carmen
Helen Shaver as Janelle
John Turturro as Julian
Bill Cobbs as Orvis
Forest Whitaker as Amos
Director: Martin Scorsese

Pool hustler Fast Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) finds the young, promising pool player Vincent (Tom Cruise) in a local bar and he sees in him a younger version of himself. To try to make it as in the old days, Eddie offers to teach Vincent how to be a hustler. After some hesitations, Vincent accepts and Eddie takes him and Vincent’s girlfriend Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) on a your through the country to work the pool halls. However, Vincent’s tendency to show off his talent and by doing so warning off the players and losing money, soon leads to a confrontation with Eddie.

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I knew only a little bit of this movie going into it. Along with it being directed by Martin Scorsese, it involved pool games, starred Tom Cruise in one of his earlier roles, and was a sequel to a Paul Newman movie The Hustler, with him reprising his role as Fast Eddie Felson. Outside of that I didn’t know much of the movie, but because it’s a Scorsese movie I was going to check it out. I actually liked The Color of Money quite a lot, it was fast paced and entertaining, with the performances and especially the direction shining.

Having seen The Hustler the day before I saw this movie I’ll just say that you don’t need to watch that before The Color of Money, despite it being a sequel. As someone who thought The Hustler was just okay, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. Even if you have no interest in pool whatsoever, the movie does such a great job in getting you really into what’s going on. It’s paced very well, never allowing for a dull moment, though I thought it really picked up significantly in the second half of the movie.

Paul Newman reprises his role of Eddie Felson from The Hustler, and you see glimpses of his character 25 years later. He gave up his career at the end of that film but 25 years later in this movie when he starts teaching Cruise’s character what he knows, he starts up pool again himself. Newman as usual is great. Tom Cruise plays Vincent, Felson’s protegee who has a real talent for pool. His performance is just full of such energy and he really does hold his own against Newman. Also someone who shouldn’t be overlooked is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as Vincent’s girlfriend, she’s also quite important as part of the trio who go on the trip together. Other smaller roles work well, especially an early one scene performance from Forest Whitaker.

A large part of why this movie works so well is Martin Scorsese’s direction, that was the real star of the film for me. The camera movements and the cinematography in general was so great and really stood out. On top of that, Thelma Schoonmaker as usual delivers on an incredibly edited movie, and was a big part of way its so well paced. Both of them really infuse this movie with such an energy that keep you invested in what’s going on. Pool games have never been so tense, engaging and entertaining to watch.

The Color of Money is often placed towards the bottom area of Scorsese’s filmography, but even though I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s one of his best, I do think it’s a little overlooked. It’s performed well by Newman, Cruise and Mastrantonio, and it is sharply written, but the key ingredient is Martin Scorsese’s direction, which makes the whole movie engaging and so entertaining. So I’d say that it’s worth checking out for sure, you don’t need to have seen The Hustler beforehand and can jump right in at any time.

Manhunter (1986) Review

Time: 120 minutes
Age Rating: 860949[1]
Cast:
William Petersen as Will Graham
Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde
Dennis Farina as Jack Crawford
Kim Greist as Molly Graham
Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor
Joan Allen as Reba McClane
Stephen Lang as Freddy Lounds
Director: Michael Mann

FBI criminal profiler Will Graham (William L. Petersen) is called out of early retirement to assist on a serial murder case involving a killer known as the “Tooth Fairy” (Tom Noonan). Graham enlists the help of imprisoned serial killer — and cannibal — Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), who is the reason Graham took an early retirement. Soon, Graham and the FBI are entangled in a deadly cat-and-mouse game between the Tooth Fairy, Lecktor and an interfering journalist (Stephen Lang).

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Manhunter is a movie I’d been meaning to get around to for some time. What I knew was that it was the first adaptation of a Hannibal Lecter book, that being of Red Dragon, and that it was directed by Michael Mann. I wanted to check it out, I like most of Mann’s movies (the ones I’ve seen at least), and it was the only live action Hannibal Lector adaption I hadn’t gotten around to yet. I will admit that although it’s decent, it didn’t completely work for me, and I do have my issues. Nonetheless I don’t regret watching it, and I think it’s worth a watch.

It is worth pointing out that Manhunter came well before the name Hannibal Lecter (or the other characters) was a cinematic household name. With this movie, they took the story of Red Dragon and took it in their own direction, and I at least admire that they wanted to do their own thing with it. I won’t hammer in my problems with how it’s different, just the ones where I find the changes made the story less compelling. It seems much more procedural and less psychological, and with that it didn’t really interest me as much. For the most part across its 2 hour runtime, Manhunter is well paced enough, but at times it can feel a little drawn out. The most disappointing part of the movie was the third act. The climax is an incredibly simple fight, even putting aside the fact that it was much different from how the book handled things, it was much less compelling and was simplified. While most of the movie was a bit of a slow burn, the climax of just being this conventional fight scene just didn’t fit in with the tone for me and felt really out of place.

William Peterson plays Will Graham, I thought Edward Norton was good in the Red Dragon movie as Graham but Peterson really seemed to embody what I imagined him to be in the books a little more. He seemed like a troubled person who really gets inside the killer’s mind, and that really seemed to take a toll on him. I really liked a lot of the ways that they portrayed him in the movie, like the possibility that he could go over the edge and turn into one of the killers that he’s hunting down. Hannibal Lecktor (not spelt as Lecter in this version) is played by Brian Cox, who receives as much screentime here as he did in the Red Dragon book (if not less), which is to say not very much. While I still love Mads Mikkelsen and Anthony Hopkins’s versions more, Cox’s version is no doubt unforgettable and one of my favourite parts of the movie. If you were to ask me what a real life version of Hannibal Lecter would be, I’d say it would be this version. He’s not as overtly charismatic as you’d expect, he’s a fast talker, and seems more natural, yet incredibly intelligent. Not overtly scary but nonetheless chilling in how real he feels. Tom Noonan plays the main killer Francis Dolarhyde/Tooth Fairy, surprisingly you don’t see him until much later on in the movie. It’s definitely a much more eerie version than other versions of the character on screen, and Noonan plays the role well. Joan Allen plays Reba, a blind woman who becomes a love interest of Dolarhyde. I wasn’t really a fan of how the relationship was handled, it felt so underdeveloped and you really felt nothing for it, so there wasn’t even any tension throughout. The movie and mini series definitely handled that aspect better. It’s hard not to spoil it, but let’s just say that there’s less conflict with Francis in this version, and so overall I just didn’t find it as interesting. He seemed to be at the same stage throughout the story, and he ended up being more interesting offscreen in the first half than he was when he was on screen. To the film’s credit, his presence in the first half of the movie was very effective and that was an aspect that was handled very well.

Michael Mann’s direction was one of the standout parts of the movie. If you’ve seen any of his other movies, you can tell just from the cinematography that he directed Manhunter. Despite the great look to the movie, some of the sets and production design at time was a little lacklustre. I’m aware this is the 80s and I didn’t necessarily expect the environments to be particularly flashy, but some of the surroundings looked kind of bland at points. The score for the most part worked but other aspects of the music were just silly, especially towards the last act with some horrendous song choices.

Manhunter is pretty good for what it is. As for how I feel about it compared to Red Dragon (the 2002 adaptation), the latter generally sticks closer to the book and storywise does things I like more than Manhunter. With that said, Manhunter has a lot of merit to it as well. It is separate from the book and it really is its own movie, and you have to be aware of that going in, I was and I liked it mostly for what it was. It’s directed pretty well by Michael Mann, the cast is good, and it was certainly an interesting take on the source material. I definitely recommend at least checking it out, even if you still like the other Hannibal adaptations more.

Aliens (1986)

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Aliens

Time: 137 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence and Offensive Language
Cast:
Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley
Carrie Hann as Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jordan
Michael Biehn as Corporal Dwayne Hicks
Lance Henriksen as Bishop
Jenette Goldstein as Private Vasquez
Paul Reiser as Carter Burke
Bill Paxton as Private Hudson
Director: James Cameron

The only survivor of the Nostromo, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakens half a century later (after the events of Alien) after her escape vessel is recovered and taken back to Earth she soon learns that the human colony of LV-426 which is on the planet the alien she found, lost contact with Earth. Ripley is called back to the planet as an adviser with space marines to investigate.

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The idea of having a sequel to a film which was a horror movie, which is now an action movie, seemed like a recipe for disaster. However, this movie is greatly directed by James Cameron and even manages to still contain some of the fear elements from Alien. It is always hugely entertaining and has led to many other sci-fi movies. Aliens is a thrill ride that never lets up at gaining your attention, scaring you or entertaining you.

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One thing noticeable is the pacing which isn’t as slow as its predecessor; it is slightly faster which is good for the type of movie it was going for. The ways the Xenomorphs (the aliens) work are shown so we get an idea about how powerful they are. However, Cameron doesn’t show all of it or explain it; he gives enough information necessary for the audience to understand. The film also manages to balance the action scenes with the suspense scenes. The film’s action scenes build up over time and are always satisfying. The final act is particularly enjoyable and entertaining and is Ellen Ripley being a pure badass.

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Ellen Ripley is more developed here than in Alien and therefore Sigourney Weaver’s performance here makes her character so great; her performance even being rewarded with an Oscar nomination, despite this mostly being a sci-fi movie. She is stronger in this movie and you can clearly see her develop as the plot goes on – like Sarah Conner in Terminator 2. The side characters have more personality than in the characters in Alien; however as there are more of them, this means that a lot of them die, which results in some being more developed than others. There are some stand out characters that are focussed on more such as Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Lance Henrikson, Jeanette Goldstein, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton – and all of these actors were really good in their roles and carry the movie along with Sigourney Weaver.

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Aliens takes advantage of its higher budget and makes use of really good effects, especially for the aliens, though they aren’t CGI, which is great. As with Alien, this movie has really good cinematography and lighting, which were some of the things that made Alien so effective as a horror movie. As this now takes place on a colony, where as Alien took place on a ship, Aliens has a larger place to work with and therefore have a lot of impressive sets that were used. The sound design and editing are also good, like in Alien. The soundtrack composed by James Horner is also good, adding to the atmosphere the tension and the feeling of the unknown.

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Aliens proves that there are times where a horror movie can become an action movie – you just need the right people who can make it so. This is one of the rarest cases where a horror movie to action movie translation actually works, and in this case brilliant. You won’t get as many scares as you may have from the previous movie but this is still a great experience. This is my favourite movie in the Alien franchise. Aliens is a great action sci-fi movie that gives the audience exactly what they want, when they want it.
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