Aliens: Extended Edition

Director: James Cameron
Writers: James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill, Dan O’Bannon, Ronald Shusett
Staring: Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Bill Paxton
Streaming: HBO MAX
Release Date: 1991

Extended edition of one of my favorite action movies of all-time? Yes please and thank you!

Aliens brings back Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her badassness and combines it with overconfident and raunchy soldiers. Also throw in lots of Xenomorphs and their acid blood. Lots of face suckers and LOADDDSSSSS of guns. Aliens is a blast and one of the best action movies ever made.

  • I don’t know if I ship any fictional relationships more than Riply and Corporal Hicks (Michael Biehn).
  • Newt (Carrie Henn) has an iconic high-pitched screen.
  • Is there a more iconic science fiction double-dip than The Terminator (1984) and Aliens (1986)? James Cameron was just a monster at the peak of his powers.
  • The most visually stunning shot from Aliens is when the Xenomorph rises up out of the water behind Newt in the film’s final sequence. Just so menacing and cool. A close second is when Hicks looks in the vents and sees the Xenomorhs climbing toward them.

Stanko Rating: A- (4.0/5 Stars)


Cold Skin

Director: Xavier Jens
Writers: Jesús Olmo, Eron Sheean, Albert Sánchez Piñol
Staring: Ray Stevenson, David Oakes, Aura Garrido
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Release Date: September 7, 2018

My theory: Cold Skin is a weak chemistry combination of The Lighthouse (2019) and The Shape Of Water (2017).

I admit to making a judgmental mistake when turning on Cold Skin. I thought it was going to be like a Jaws-esq type movie where we don’t see the monsters for the majority of the movie.

NOPE. I WAS WRONG.

Cold Skin is a lot more of a character study then a monster movie. The isolation is more of a monster than the beasts who arrive from the see. You escape to the island running in fear from something, only to learn to stay and fight but at the sacrifice of your mind.

Unfortunately the movie doesn’t deliver the depth of its message with its deep asperations.

  • I had not seen Ray Stevenson is anything in a LONG TIME. I am surprised he has not been a John Wick villain yet. It appears he has been more on the TV circuit of recent years.
  • Movie was made in Spain and France originally. The more you know!

Stanko Rating: C- (2.0/5 Stars)


Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel

Director: Joe Berlinger
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: 2021

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel starts off fascinating but dwindles into boring. It is the opposite of Night Stalker: The Hunt For A Serial Killer. This documentary begins with the most fascinating part of its story, the debaucherously hideous Cecil Hotel. It ends with the lest fascinating part of the story, Elisa Lam.

Sure, you can read that as cold-hearted. But this is a determent of the docu-series. There is not nearly enough in this documentary to make Elisa Lam interesting. There are no interviews with members of her family. None with her close friends. The only education we get on this young women is from a voiceover of her Tumblr posts. It does not matter if it is mean to say if it is true.

How about a nice, concise, two hour documentary just on the Cecil? This hotel and its manager, staff, residents and horrors are fascinating. Those things are highlighted most in the second episode of this docuseries, and after that this show dwindles into nothing.

  • The LAPD really did screw the pooch not having the scent dogs find Elisa in the water tank. That is rather embarrassing.
  • Maybe I am just not a fan of Joe Berlinger and his documentary style? Didn’t love Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel and his other most notable venture, Conversations With A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes.
  • Amy Price, the former Cecil Hotel manager, has massive crazy eyes.
  • The shoe-horning in cyber-bullying and Internet sleuthing made me disinterested. Again, just show me the hotel and the history behind it more.

Stanko Rating: C- (2.0/5 Stars)


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Director: George C. Wolfe
Writers: Ruben Santiago-Hudson, August Wilson
Staring: Viola Davis, Chadwick Boseman
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: December 18, 2020

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was more than I expected and I have not stopped thinking about it since I saw it. Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman both give award worthy roles in a movie that delivers spunk, a message, and entertainment.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place all in one day at the recording session where the main turbulence is between the fading star Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and the young blissfully ignorant Levee (Chadwick Bosemen). Their preferences in the style of music for the song “Black Bottom” is paralleled preference in dealing with the white producers who are handling them on this singular day.

No bones about it, this is the best acting that Boseman has ever done. Hands down, he steals the show. What makes his portrayal of Levee different from any other role Boseman has taken is that Levee has faults. He is not an angelic character. He is known for T’Challa; a fearless leader. He has played Jackson Robinson and was literally a god-like to figures to his friends as Stormin’ Nomran in Da 5 Bloods (2020). It is crazy that his last movie role is the one with a character most can identify with on a human level. He has his desires, hopes and dreams dashed, and he lashes out.

Viola Davis. She just hasn’t missed recently. Loved her in Widows (2018), she was awarded for her performance in Fences (2016) and in terms of blockbuster, she was arguably the best part of the bleak Suicide Squad (2016). Davis transforms in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom into the repulsive but propulsive Ma Rainey. She is rude beyond believe, but she has to be for the sake of protecting her own pride. Ma Rainey knows that the only reason she is being treated “well” by the producers is because of her skill and not who she is. Ma Rainey is such an interesting character because she is naturally unlikable, but the reason for her bitterness is understandable.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is quick, its loud, its propulsive. It has grown on me as I have continued to think about it.

  • I don’t want anyone saying that any award Boseman gets is because of his passing. He deserves any recognition he gets for this award.
  • The scene where Levee breaks through the door only to find himself entrapped in a prison and the only thing to look at…a ceiling that ever ends and that he can never reach. Hard not to get goosebumps when that seen ends
  • Yes, the ending did shock me. Did not see Levee doing that action.
  • What artist is most like Ma Rainey now in terms of reaching for straws and relevance.

Stanko Rating: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)


Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: A Legacy Brought To Screen

Staring: Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, George C. Wolfe
Streaming: Netflix
Release Date: December 18, 2020

A simple 30 min piece, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: A Legacy Brought To Screen teaches the audience about the writing of August Wilson and how director George C. Wolfe brought the tale to screen.

Yes, I understand there was not a ton to explain here. Simple matter is that if you enjoyed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2020) then you’ll enjoy this doc.

  • Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have a good track record with this following Fences (2016).
  • I love the reasoning why Wolfe chose to put this play in the summer and not in the cold of winter as Wilson originally wrote.

Stanko Rating: A- (4.0/5 Stars)


Nomadland

Director: Chloé Zhao
Writers: Jessica Bruder, Chloé Zhao
Staring: Francis McDormand, David Strathairn
Streaming: Hulu
Release Date: February 19, 2021

Nomadland land is a character drama based around Fern (Frances McDormand). After losing everything in the great recession, Fern decides to take her meager resources and journey through the American West as a nomad. Fern and her fellow van-dwelling friends go through the highs and lows of the unique lifestyle and show the audience the tangible and intangible burdens of it.

While the stories and vibes are not similar at all similar, Nomadland and Joker (2019) are one in the same. Both movies are beautiful to look at and there is a performance knocks your socks off, but both stories fall just short of reaching the pinnacle in terms of a transcendent story. Both Nomadland and The Joker are good movies, even very good, but it is the performances in each that make you want to possibly rewatch them.

The most crushing moment of Nomadland is when Fern leaves Dave (David Strathairn) for the last time. Dave did everything he could to try and win Fern over, but she is steadfast in her quest of isolated contempt. There is the montage of her driving alone, doing a puzzle alone and working at Amazon below. It is hard to watch someone throw away potential happiness, but it is also easy to understand why Fern is so connected to her quest and roots.

  • Both Frances McDormand and David Strathairn deserve Oscar nominations for their roles in Nomadland. Also most definitely a nomination that is well deserved is Best Adapted Screenplay and I would argue Film Editing as well. It is not easy to make a story like this so fluid in its migration through time. Whenever a significant amount of time has passed, it is messaged seamlessly through the context of the story. Never feels like forced exposition.
  • Is Francis McDormand the most underrated actress in Hollywood right now? She is a five-time (soon to be six-time) Academy Award nominee and two-time winner. McDormand is always a piece of good movies as well. Though it is shocking to know she had a part in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011).
  • The poster for Nomadland with the different license plates is awesome. Just clever and simple. Looks great.
  • A wonderful touch of Nomadland is that there are very normal people in this movie; AKA people who live the lifestyle that McDormand is acting out. With the exception of McDormand and Stranthairn, most of the cast are “normal” and act of characters with their first name.

Stanko Rating: B (3.5/5 Stars)


Pride & Prejudice

Director: Joe Wright
Writers: Deborah Moggach, Jane Austen, Emma Thompson
Staring: Keira Knightley, Matthew Macfadyen, Donald Sutherland
Streaming: Rental
Release Date: November 23, 2005

What an absolute delight! Pride & Prejudice exceeds the prejudice (you see what I did there haha) I had against it. I thought a PG movie would be cheesy and too cringe to watch (AKA A Walk To Remember-esq), but man, oh, man am I happy I was wrong.

I TOTALLY understand the appeal of Mr. Darcy. I get it. Matthew Macfadyen is brooding, isolated, selfless and hidden. His world has made him cruel and impatient of the benign. All he needs is someone to crack his shell, AND IS THAT ELIZABETH BENNET’S MUSIC???

Keira Knightly is amazing in Pride & Prejudice. She is both whimsically romantic and stone-found self-assured. Her evolution from stubbornness to acceptance is relatable but the journey seems much more profound with the performance of Knightly. Honestly, it is perfect casting. She is fragile and elegant, but strong willed and has eyes that will pierce one’s soul. I was pleasantly surpirsed when I saw she was nominated for an Oscar for her performance.

I have zero doubts that Pride & Prejudice raised the expectations of romance for anyone who watched it a formative age. Let’s all be real here. If anyone was able to spin words of vulnerability like Darcy, they’d sweep everyone off their feet.

  • I never would have thought that the most emotional part of the episode would be when Lizze talked with her father, Mr. Bennet (Donald Sutherland). The pure joy on his face when Lizzie admits she is in love can not be reenacted so well. Mr. Bennet’s smile is just so genuine it had me in a puddle watching it.
  • Brenda Blethyn must have had an ABSOLUTE BLAST playing the role of Mrs. Bennet. Just seemed like the most fun part in the movie, maybe besides that of creepy Mr. Collins (Tom Hollander).
  • Side note, Hollander was excellent as the bastard Cutler Beckett in the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies.
  • Pride & Prejudice is now atop my favorite romantic movies list.

Stanko Rating: B+ (4.0/5 Stars)

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