Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Web Monday: Sigourney Weaver

Movie Web Monday: Each week, I'll look at a specific actor's roles across three good movies. The third movie will in turn tie into the first movie of the next week's actor, whose third movie will continue the pattern. I will go through actors and movies at this rate, with the following limitations in mind: every movie(or television show) invoked will be one I either own, or wish to own; no movie or actor will be invoked twice. So sit back and enjoy as you fall into the nerdery's movie web. (Oh, and I'll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, telling you just enough to know if you'll enjoy the movie)

Sigourney Weaver: aging gracefully

Movie: Alien Resurrection (Own it)

The Alien series did a lot for Sigourney Weaver. She was initially recognized by many people for her role in the first creepy thriller, and the second really solidified that. So you can forgive her for being so willing to dive into Ellen Ripley's tank top and boots for Alien3 and Alien Resurrection, even if a lot of fans lampoon both films. But Sigourney has done a great job in all four movies of playing a character who changes greatly from one movie to the next for the thematic purposes of the director. In Alien Resurrection, Sigourney has to work with the most confounding theme yet--she is cast in the role of being both Frankenstein's monster and still going back to the maternal themes used in Aliens. It's pretty tough. First of all, we don't want to see Ellen Ripley as Frankenstein's monster--she's a trans-generational feminine hero that doesn't particularly threaten gender roles, which is quite a challenge. Secondly, she has no line that compares to the classic utterance from Aliens, the one quote everyone should take from the series: "Get away from her, you b---!" Instead, we get a sort of constant discomfort with Ripley in Resurrection. Written by Joss Whedon, she has the ninja-girl qualities and sarcasm he requires of his female protagonists, but this is a new development for the character, and so it feels off to most. But I think Sigourney pulls it off as attributed to a less than perfect cloning process that leaves her somewhat broken--a brokenness compounded by her obliterated sense of motherhood. That's encapsulated in one of the movie's over-the-top dramatic moments, in which Sigourney perfectly embodies the themes above as she explains to an impregnated colonist:

Sadly, this is probably the best Ripley line in the final installment of the series, and it isn't all that great. Sigourney works with what she gets, and does a good job in the role and the line, making it into an effective microcosm of the movie's themes and the movie's general flaws, as well.

Movie: Ghostbusters (Own it)

Jumping way back in the timeline, Ghostbusters was another early break for Sigourney Weaver. As Dana Barrett, Weaver does a great job of being the normal but nice person in the movie. Cast opposite three eccentric paranormal scientists, Dana is the one who is so mundane that we can identify with her. She also has to be friendly, even if scared, when we meet her as a sign that not all normal people in the movie are raging jagweeds. And she has to be attractive, despite the crimes of 80s fashion against American reproduction. And she has to be able to portray getting somewhat wooed by Bill Murray's character Peter Venkmand who is a shallow, sarcastic creep that makes his romantic plots painfully obvious. And she does all of this well. We get from Dana's interactions that Ghostbusters is set in a more or less grounded world--most people and events are normal in the setting, it's just these people and these events that are wacky and abnormal. She plays well against Venkman, making us buy into the fact that the proper cynic is being smitten by the basset hound-Han Solo scoundrel charm of Murray's character. And when Dana herself gets pulled into the supernatural plot of the story, she manages to seem somewhat sexy despite the horrific decade's crimes against her wardrobe and makeup, and she plays the ethereal dog-slut very well.

Hehehe, that last line really wasn't an insult, by the way, so don't quote me out of context there. But that's Sigourney's charm in this movie--she doesn't drive the plot, she's very reactive and is largely there in the beginning to tell the audience how to react, but she does so with a charm and a command of her scenes that is still notable. One thing, though.

What's up with that? Everytime I see this movie, I see that and wonder the same thing. This isn't a cheap Evil Dead or Texas Chainsaw Massacre sort of skin-slasher movie, so I really doubt Reitman the director told the stage-hand or whatever with the monster arm to grab Siggy's bazoomba. But there it is. Did the hand-man decide that he could get away with it--"Hey, I was under the seat, I couldn't see what I was grabbing...hehehe..."? Why?

Movie: Galaxy Quest (Own it)

This is a nerd gem. It's a comedy starring nothing but humor stars and yet still has the dramatic balls and science fiction to be better than most of the Star Trek movies made to date. So it's a perfect fit for Sigourney Weaver, who for better or worse has defined a lot of modern sci-fi thanks to the Alien series. And yet they throw her into the role of Gwen DeMarco--the marginilized actress condemned to rehashing her sexpot character from the titular tv show. This is funny, since Weaver--other than maybe in Ghostbusters, see above--has never really been in that role before, and it's only as a fifty year-old(!) that she gets a chance to spoof Uhura and Deanna Troi, the uber-hotties of Star Trek and Next Generation fame. Weaver owns the role, and shows her comedic depth that only really started to get noticed in the late 90s. Gwen is both a funny, sometimes simple, and very personable character. You get the impression that her dissatisfaction with being marginilized due her character's sensual role is tempered by the fact that she is at least somewhat flattered by it even after all these years, and her sensitive approach to the other cast members echoes the theme of the movie that life imitated art as she accepts the role of mediator between the group. And in Galaxy Quest, Weaver(among others) has a bevy of great lines with pitch-perfect delivery throughout the fast-paced picture.

Oh, and let me remind you that Weaver was pushing fifty when this movie came out. Not bad.

Movie Web Monday will continue next week with a new actor, picking up with some other prolific player from the last movie listed above.

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