John Hurt

For movie buffs, the month of October means one thing: 31 days of horror movies. With tons of horror flicks to choose from, The Daily Texan is going to be providing a daily horror recommendation. Whether you prefer ghosts, zombies or stark explorations of the human condition, we’ll be featuring horror films of all flavors. Check back every evening for the movie of the day. Today, we go to outer space for “Alien.”

I may be in college, but is it too much to ask for bag full of candy on Halloween? I want to be able to keep the Halloween spirit alive without having to dress up as a skanky Red Lobster waitress or United States president. Thankfully, there are scary movies. When it comes to the horror genre, I am a stereotypical girl. Why spend money watching attractive people die, when I can see them live? Less gore, more romance — it’s a win-win. 

Luckily for us scaredy cats, there are suspenseful movies out there that won’t cause nightmares and will give us the street credit we desire. “Alien” for example, is a solid choice. It’s exciting but is unlikely to give viewers an anxiety attack, it has gore but isn’t gratuitously violent and Sigourney Weaver has massive late ’70s red hair that could make a cynic fall in love. 

USCSS Nostromo is a commercial spaceship embarking on a journey home, when it picks up a distress signal. Like good intergalactic-traveling Samaritans, the crew pulls over to see what all the fuss is about. The signal is coming from a broken-down alien spacecraft, in which three of the crew members find the remains of a large alien creature and a massive chamber filled with eggs. One of the eggs breaks open and attaches itself onto Executive Officer Kane’s (John Hurt) face. Breaking orders, the crew members open the air lock in order to save Kane and his new, pretty alien head. After unsuccessfully trying to remove the creature off of him, it detaches voluntarily and is later found dead. 

Kane, battered but seemingly healthy, joins the crew at the last dinner before the group reenters hypersleep. Get ready for the screams, fellow wimps, because this is where the movie gets messy. The alien emerges from its human cocoon like a bloody butterfly, escapes in the ship and leaves the crew, and specifically Ripley (Weaver), to find and destroy it without conventional weaponry. 

Before I saw “Alien,” I was dragged to “Prometheus” on an involuntary Mother’s Day family outing. Sporting a weirdly chic parade of heavy-handed metaphors and starring Michael Fassbender, “Prometheus” was neither what I wanted in a sci-fi film nor in a Mother’s Day family event. I left disappointed, and during the whole drive home my brother explained how the movie served as a symbol for Jesus Christ’s birth and resurrection. 

“Alien” doesn’t try as hard as its prequel. It is scary, it is gross and for the era, high tech. It’s also sheer entertainment. People don’t leave the movie questioning Ridley Scott’s hidden messages, they leave wanting to be Scott and no longer afraid. The fear doesn’t follow you home and tuck you in at night; it stays on the screen. 

This movie is for everyone: sci-fi nerds, feminists, movie buffs, Weaver fans — who I now call “The Sigourney Fevers” — and even crazy cat ladies. Yes, there is an orange tabby in this movie and, spoiler alert, he survives. 

So boys, grab your easily frightened lady friend and tell her that “Alien” is about a strong, independent woman, her cat and their new friend, Mr. Homicidal Alien. She’ll cuddle up to you and scream a little bit, but at the end of the film, she still won’t hate you.

Review

Alexander Skarsgaard, left, Kirsten Dunst, center, and Charlotte Gainsbourg are shown in a scene from “Melancholia.” (Photo courtesy of Christian Geisnaes, Magnolia Pictures)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

It’s an understatement to say Lars von Trier films are not for everyone. His Björk vehicle “Dancer in the Dark” is widely credited with being one of the most devastating films ever produced and “Antichrist” gained quite a reputation at 2009’s Fantastic Fest for its bizarre imagery and content. However, “Melancholia” finds von Trier reining in many of his more self-indulgent qualities and makes for a unique, discussion-worthy experience.

It’s well noted that von Trier has suffered from depression in the past and “Melancholia” portrays the condition with harsh, brutal honesty through Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a newlywed attending her reception at sister Claire’s (Charlotte Gainsbourg) massive estate. With everyone, including brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland), waiting for Justine to dip into her familiar well of crippling depression, the impending apocalypse threatened by approaching planet Melancholia goes mostly unnoticed. That is, until the film’s second half, which focuses on Claire’s mental disintegration as the planet threatens to collide with Earth, a disaster which oddly makes Justine much more serene.

While von Trier often goes through great lengths to punish his lead actresses (especially Gainsbourg, who was absolutely fearless in “Antichrist”), Kirsten Dunst manages to escape much of the director’s notorious wrath. Her Justine is a delicate creature, sent on an emotional downward spiral for the slightest of reasons and Dunst easily gives the best performance of her career here. It’s easy to get frustrated with Justine, but Dunst’s despair over just how easy it is for her to fall apart is affecting enough to let us understand her, if not like her.

In the film’s second half, when Justine’s fear of inevitable doom is confirmed and she takes on a calmer demeanor, Dunst isn’t quite as prominent, but still just as effective. Meanwhile, Gainsbourg almost gives two different performances, playing annoyed and frightened for her sister very well in the film’s first half before she embarks on her own sobering descent as Melancholia approaches. Gainsbourg shines in both halves, often playing a character more fully realized but a bit less magnetic than Dunst’s Justine.

Sutherland proves to be a strong supporting player as Claire’s husband, and Alexander Skarsgaard brings his familiar “True Blood” charm to Michael, Justine’s new husband who finds himself not entirely prepared for the condition his wife surrenders herself to over the course of their reception. Wedding planner Udo Kier brings sorely needed comic relief with his growing frustration with Justine’s shenanigans and John Hurt is equal parts funny and heart-breaking as the girls’ dodgy father.

Lars von Trier makes “Melancholia” less of a typical disaster movie, starting the film off with a gorgeous (but self-indulgent) opening showing the planet colliding with Earth and preferring to focus on the psychological trauma the end of the world has on its characters. “Melancholia” is Lars von Trier in relatively noncontroversial mode, focusing on telling a small, intimate story about a family dealing with various emotional apocalypses as a literal one barrels towards them. The film is very well shot and the final moments in particular have a striking beauty to them that makes the film more than worth seeking out in theaters.

While its first half is much stronger than its second, “Melancholia” boasts some incredibly strong performances (including one that could possibly redefine Kirsten Dunst’s spotty career) and mostly restrained work from Lars von Trier. The film is equal parts experience and narrative, and while its loose threads may frustrate some viewers, Lars von Trier provides a memorable catharsis with his finale that makes “Melancholia” something that can leave you elated, shattered or just entertained.

Cars line up at the intersection of East Oltorf and I-35 Frontage Road Saturday afternoon. Last week the Texas Department of Transportation named the stretch of I-35 from State Highway 71 to U.S. Highway 183 the fourth most congested roadway in the state.

Photo Credit: Julia Bunch | Daily Texan Staff

Interstate Highway 35 from State Highway 71 to U.S. Highway 183 is the fourth-most congested roadway in the state, according to a Texas Department of Transportation list released last week.

Because of Austin’s economic growth and population increase, roadways are growing increasingly congested during peak commuter hours despite attempts to fund infrastructure improvements, according to the city of Austin’s website.

“With a combination of the business district, downtown area, double deck split, hospitals and UT, there is a lot of entering and exiting traffic in that area,” said John Hurt, Austin spokesman for the Texas Department of Transportation.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s the upper deck on the stretch of I-35 entering downtown Austin was built to alleviate traffic, Hurt said. However, since the 1970s the downtown area has become busier and more crowded and new lanes cannot keep up with increased congestion.

“The possibility of adding lanes is not good,” said Hurt. “It’s a temporary fix.”

In the last four to five years, traffic on that section of I-35 has not gotten dramatically worse, said Tim Lomax, research engineer for the Texas Transportation Institute. He said this has been a result of the ongoing recession.

“Congestion has actually dropped 10 to 15 percent, reflecting the economy of the past three to four years,” Lomax said. “However, on that section of the road, a decent economy combined with an increase in population is bound to produce traffic congestion that is still worse than average.”

For the every-day commuter, this means skyrocketing gasoline consumption, he said.

“In 2009, the average Austin commuter spent an extra $900 dollars a year in gas and travel time,” Lomax said. “If you think about the commuters on that section of 35, they’ve spent at least $1,100 just sitting in traffic. It boils down to about an extra $100 a month.”

However, the increased spending on fuel because of bad traffic is not the only cost to society, said engineering professor Kara Kockelman.

“The main cost to society lies in lost time [or higher crash severities, at high speeds], rather than extra fuel consumed,” Kockelman said.

A drastic change will require effort from many groups, including the city of Austin, the Capital Area Metro Planning Organization, the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority and others, said Kockelman. While many Austin residents would not appreciate price increases, Kockelman said tolling and road pricing may be the best option for TxDOT at the moment.

TxDOT added state Highway 130 over the last decade in hopes to revive pressure from I-35, Kockelman said, but Highway 130 has not yet been successful at reducing congestion on I-35.

“It is rather new, in a largely undeveloped setting, and presumably too far away and tolled too heavily to attract much traffic at this early stage,” Kockelman said. “But it does offer a bypass option for those with long trips. Shorter trips remain very much attracted to the highly congested I-35 corridor through and near downtown Austin.”

Some commuter students of UT have also experienced the brute of peak I-35 traffic congestion. Journalism sophomore Rachel Knapp said she spent last semester commuting to UT and struggled to make it to campus in the face of the high congestion.

“I live in Round Rock, which is only a 30-minute drive from here on I-35,” Knapp said. “But because I had 8 a.m. classes every morning, I would have to leave at 6:30 every morning to beat the traffic and make it to class.”

Drivers on Interstate Highway 35 and Ben White Boulevard will face frontage roads and temporary ramps because of construction this weekend.

The Texas Department of Transportation will continue construction on the flyovers, or interchange overpasses, from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. Drivers going southbound will have to take the access road at the Woodward Street exit starting at 10 p.m. Friday. Drivers heading north will have to take a temporary ramp built north of the U.S. Highway 290 and State Highway 71 exit beginning at about 1 a.m. Saturday.

“The project is adding four additional flyovers to the interchange and will help reduce traffic in the future,” said TxDOT spokesman John Hurt.

When completed, the project will connect I-35 and Ben White. The temporary ramps and frontage roads will have two lanes to help regulate the flow of traffic while under construction, Hurt said.

“We scheduled the construction on the weekends to get the least amount of traffic, as well as took other actions to keep traffic steady,” he said.

The department also needs to place steel beams over the interstate’s main lanes before the project is completely done. The project is expected to be finished this September, but Hurt said the department did not encounter many delays.

“We are ahead of schedule,” he said. “Sometimes a drought has a silver lining,” Hurt said.
All lanes are scheduled to open by Sunday afternoon.