Here are three ace things to ingest with your eyes: Aliens at the cinema, The Marigold by Andrew F Sullivan, and the brilliant Polite Society.
Film: Aliens (1986)
It was a real treat to catch this on the big screen at last. I first saw this when I was thirteen or so and was appropriately terrified. In time that fear has morphed into a tonne of affection for this absolutely banging action movie. This and T2 are definitely Cameron’s finest work and ideally he’d only ever be given second films in a series to work on where he can turbo-charge them and make them orgies of cool violence (plus The Abyss and True Lies, of course). From the very stressful dream sequence of Ripley and poor freaked out Jonesy to the smackdown with the xenomorph queen this is every bit as fun as I’d hoped. It’s astonishing how long we go in the film before seeing the actual aliens, steadily racheting up the tension. Everyone’s brilliant, from Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn to Carrie Henn as the wildly traumatised child. Standout punchable corporate baddie Paul Reiser is excellent too, as is the endlessly quotable Bill Paxton as Hudson. This is either the director’s cut or some new near-identical version with some extra scenes of the colonists which I only half remember, but it’s the proper two and a half hours of monsters, explosions and oh-so-macho colonial marines who seem like massive dicks to begin with, but all are redeemed in death and sacrifice. The aliens still look ace (well-worth looking up the bin bag alien queen they mocked up while designing the monsters), even if the spaceship model work doesn’t look that good any more (and against Star Wars, it never did look great). I was struck by how unambitious the futuristic technology is – even 57 years on from Alien it’s still BBC micro level computing, and the in-house video phones are wonders of failed retro-tech. For a world that’s built full-AI androids like Bishop (probably the first film I saw the wonderful Lance Henriksen in) and hibernation chambers (and possibly everything in Bladerunner) it’s all amazingly low tech and barely a hop above what we had in the 80s. The less said about the sequels the better, I guess… stick to Alien and Aliens I’m delighted we saw this at the cinema, it’s a great film.
Book: The Marigold by Andrew F Sullivan
Another delight this week: body horror and cynical building developers in a future Toronto. Slightly challenging to summarise… Toronto is slowly being consumed by both the rising waters of climate change and the rapacious developers building new towers that no one will ever live in. There’s a cost to building though, and it’s blood. The sacrifices have all gone tits up though, and now there’s a new toxic fungus spreading through the city, consuming both the city and its people. A scattered range of characters from Stanley Marigold (developer of the titular Marigold tower), public health investigators, a even-worse-version-of-Uber driver, a girl whose friend disappeared into a sinkhole and more residents of the Marigold combine to tell this charming yet horrifying story of ecological collapse, dystopia and humanity. I enjoyed the writing immensely, it’s rich and evocative and occasionally horrifying, like Jeff VanderMeer and Ray Bradbury, but manages to remain entirely coherent and cohesive. I both do, and do not, want to visit Toronto now.
Film: Polite Society (2023)
This couldn’t me much more different to Aliens, but I enjoyed it just as much. This is a brilliant mash-up of family drama, school friends, martial arts action, and a hint of biomedical horror (not played for fear though). All that set in a British-Pakistani family in London; two sisters – one still at school who wants to be a stunt woman, the other an art school drop-out. When the drop-out gets involved with a handsome young man whose mum is overly-involved in his wife-shopping, it all gets much more complicated. The action is beautifully done, from scraps in school and being kicked through a bedroom by her sister, and Priya Kansara (Ria) positively glows in both the comedy and the action. Her relationship with Ritu Arya as her sister is an utter delight. The fights escalate, as does Ria’s desperation to get her sister out of her upcoming marriage. There’s so much to enjoy, including a stunning Muslim wedding/heist, big boss fights, sweary teenagers, and a deep sense of fun. I’ve rarely seen big action / kung fu movie and Western tropes incorporated so seamlessly and with such delight into a completely different kind of film. My favourite thing is that when the heightened action takes place, it’s never diminished by treating it like a fight the characters only imagined to be really cool. Beautiful costume work too, all the way through, though the wedding does gleam. Really, really wonderful. I hope it gets tonnes of awards and work for everyone involved.