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Alien: Covenant – Review

28 May

Since 1979, the Alien series has been consistently revisited. The original film is a classic, and the same can be said about James Cameron’s 1986 sequel, Aliens, which is my personal favorite in the series. David Fincher’s Alien 3 is a major disappointment, and an all around ugly film, while Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Alien: Resurrection is an off kilter, almost comic book adaptation. It’s an odd one but I like it. Ridley Scott returned to the series with his 2012 prequel Prometheus, which opened up a lot of new doors for the series and left many people scratching their heads and asking questions. Well, it’s time for those questions to be answered because we have a new movie in the series, and I was really hyped up for it. Alien: Covenant is a rollicking, violent, and disturbing summer blockbuster that filled me with plenty of emotions and made my gag reflexes work some overtime. This is a welcome addition to the series.

In 2104, the colonization ship Covenant is en route to the planet Origae-6, which will become a new home to humanity. After a disaster hits the ship, Walter (Michael Fassbender), the android watching the ship, wakes the rest of the crew from stasis. With the ship’s captain dead, the next in command is the faith based Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup). After receiving a signal from a nearby planet that looks habitable, the crew decides to check it out, much to the protests of Daniels (Katherine Waterston), the terraforming expert onboard the Covenant. On the planet, members of the crew are soon infected by spores which then produce creatures that erupt out of the bodies of the crew. They soon meet David (Fassbender again), who survived the Prometheus mission and is hiding out in a temple that holds more secrets than the Covenant team was expecting. Soon it’s the aliens against the humans, and David’s true motivations make survival all the more difficult.

When watching an Alien movie, I expect a certain kind of standard, and some of the movies in the series do not meet the criteria. This one certainly does despite some obvious flaws in character and storytelling. Let’s get some of the negatives out of the way first. For one thing, there’s a certain character that is completely wasted, and it isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this happen in this series. Sure, there’s a moment of shock when this character’s fate is revealed, but it kind of left me wishing I could have seen more of them. There’s also a lot of exposition that crowds the middle of the movie, but a lot of this exposition is dishonest, which leads to more exposition, which then leads to confusion. Any fan of Prometheus may have well guessed that this prequel trilogy is not going to be a straightforward one, and the confusion and questions that Covenant raises just adds to that theory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when this all happens in a murky and dark and muddled part of the movie, that’s when there’s a little bit of a problem.

Much like the other films in this franchise, Alien: Covenant has a slow start, but that’s a wise way to tell this story in the grand scheme of things. Tension is built up for a long time, and when that tension is finally released, the screen explodes with terror and gore and just outrageous violence that sometimes made my stomach turn. This is easily the most violent Alien movie, and it shocked me in more ways than one. When an alien first explodes out of a crew members body, my mouth was side open at the shamelessness of it all. Ridley Scott clearly wanted this reaction and he sure got it. It’s so fun to be in a movie theater and hear gasps coming from all around the auditorium. The intensity in this movie is amped up to 11 and a lot of this comes from the incredible production design. The claustrophobia of the ships and the wide open spaces on the planet’s surface makes it very clear that no one is safe in this movie. There is one computerized effect that looked kind of weird, but the rest of the movie looked excellent.

Alien: Covenant takes what happens in Prometheus and builds off of it, so it would be hard to like this movie without liking its predecessor. The world building in Covenant is awesome and motivations for the characters feel very strong and often times tragic. A lot of the success has to do with Fassbender’s performance as both Walter and David. He is the crux of this whole prequel trilogy and he brings more menace to the screen than I was expecting. He is the perfect villain that this series needs and his calmness plays off the chaos of the xenomorphs perfectly. This is one of those movies that made me excited to see what more the series has to offer, and I really can’t wait to see what happens next, but that’s a review for another time.

Alien: Covenant isn’t the best film in the series, but it is the best film since Aliens and it’s just the sequel that Prometheus needed. This film is also not for the squeamish, but long time fans of the Alien series probably expect nothing less. Still, this movie managed to shock and horrify while also building the science fiction universe of androids, aliens, heroes, and the evil Weyland Corporation quite well. Fans of the series will have to check out this one out. If I  had to rank this movie, I’d say it’s my third favorite Alien film.

Final Grade: B+

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The Martian – Review

7 Oct

Ridley Scott is known for his ability to craft some of the most epic movies in modern film. GladiatorKingdom of Heaven, and even the crime epic American Gangster all fit nicely into this category of huge films. Now we have a movie based off of a novel by Andy Weir, and in my opinion, this is a pretty absurd choice of book to make a movie out of. Not because it’s a bad story, but it’s actually too great of a story with different story lines that not only spans continents, but planets. If I was a major Hollywood film maker, a project like this would intimidate me, but leave it to Ridley Scott to take the source material and make it into one of the stand out movies of 2015.

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In the not too distant future, NASA sends a group of scientists to Mars to learn more about the desolate, red planet. When a violent storm cuts the mission short, botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is presumed dead. NASA releases the news, but are then shocked to learn that Watney is alive and well and has been stranded on Mars. Watney knows that it may be up to four years before the next mission can arrive to rescue him, so he begins working to make the dead soil of Mars into a place that he can live on. Meanwhile, NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) and Ares III mission director Vincent Kapoor (Chiwetel Ejiofor) start devising multiple different plans to not only provide food for Watney, but also find a way to rescue him from Mars as soon as possible. This may ultimately fall on Ares III commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) and the rest of her crew, forcing them to turn back around and get Watney home.

I can’t stress it enough that the story of The Martian felt absolutely enormous. Not only does it cover over a year of time, but also involves so many different characters that each have very important jobs to do throughout the entire ordeal. There isn’t one character that felt wasted throughout the whole thing. It was also cool to see that even for some of the most minor roles, good actors would still fill their shoes. For example, one of the people that completely changes how NASA approaches the whole problem is astronomer Rich Purnell played by Donald Glover. This character is only in a few scenes for a few minutes, but they still casted a great actor to fill that role. Other than the people I already mentioned, there’s other actors like Kate Mara, Michael Peña, Benedict Wong, and Sean Bean. It’s one of the best casts that’s been assembled in recent memory.

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What seems to be surprising most critics and audiences is how lighthearted this movie actually is. Sure, it’s very dramatic and some of the scenes can get really intense, but I found myself laughing through a lot of the movie. The character of Mark Watney is literally what this story needs. Instead of letting his situation get the better of him, he remains optimistic and cracks jokes throughout the entire movie. If it wasn’t for him keeping his good humor, this would be an unbearably depressing movie. It’s also cool to see how his optimism affects the other characters and keep them from throwing in the towel before something can be done. Pretty much, this movie keeps you feeling great the whole time, and never did I feel like the situation was absolutely hopeless.

I can’t really find anything to complain about with The Martian. Not only is it very well written and acted, but it’s also a beautiful looking movie. In order to get the perfect look for his Martian landscape Scott and the rest of his special effects team filmed in Wadi Rum, Jordan, which has a red desert. That location shooting combined with excellent special effects makes this film visually immersive. Harry Gregson-Williams’ low key score also accentuates the drama very nicely.

While Ridley Scott hasn’t made perfect movies and has recently slipped a little bit, The Martian is proof that he is still able to take huge stories, compress them, and successfully put them on film. This film is an achievement of special effects, but also stands out with it’s quick writing, believable characters, and feeling of hope and good humor that spans the entire two and a half hour run time. Nothing in this movie feels wasted, which means everything feels important and that isn’t easy to do. This is an outstanding movie.

Stoker – Review

15 Apr

I feel confidently in saying that when we were all children, we’ve heard a fairy tale in one shape or form. I’m also pretty confident in saying that we’ve probably heard many. For me, it was strange to learn that the fairy tales that I loved growing up were pretty much watered down versions of the original story. This leads me to my review of Stoker. To me, this film is a fairy tale that isn’t watered down, but presented exactly how it should be. Add in a little bit of flair that would please Alfred Hitchcock and that’s exactly what Stoker turns out to be: a twisted fairy tale of repressed psychological issues and a family that can only be described as deeply disturbed.

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India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) is a teenage girl who was born with senses that are far beyond normal and a personality that leaves her distanced from everyone else except her father. When her father dies on her 18th birthday, India’s mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman) is left alone and is completely unstable. Her loneliness is soon appeased with the arrival of India’s mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode) who has apparently been travelling around Europe and most of the world since India was born. As Evelyn becomes more and more infatuated with Charlie, India begins to look at him with an increasing amount of disdain and suspicion, especially when people around the house and neighborhood begin to go missing. As the mystery thickens, even India, herself, can not help but become increasingly drawn to Charlie which may lead to India releasing what’s been bottling up inside her for eighteen years.

The collaboration that made Stoker possible is as strange as the plot is. The screenplay was written by Wentworth Miller, who was made famous by being the lead role in the television show Prison Break. In the director’s chair is the Korean film maker Park Chan-wook, known for directing films like Oldboy and Thirst. Composing the music is one of my favorite film composers Clint Mansell, known for his exceptional score to Requiem for a Dream. Finally, producing this film is Ridley Scott and Tony Scott, which is the last movie he ever produced before his death. When I was watching the credits for this film, I really couldn’t believe how strange of a combination this all was, but it was an excellent combination nonetheless.

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While everyone involved makes Stoker what it is, there’s no denying that some of the people involved had more to do with how good the movie turned out than others did. What I’m trying to say is that although Miller’s screenplay is essential to the film, it’s really Park Chan-wook’s impressive visuals that make the film more than an ode to Alfred Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. What is visually present is, at times, more interesting than the story itself. Park has created a modern day Victorian/Gothic style that is really interesting and works with Miller’s screenplay. As cool and disturbing as the story is, Miller’s dialogue just isn’t very good which means that the times where there were no dialogue had to be extra intriguing, and they were.

Along with Park Chan-wook, major credit is given to the cast for portraying their characters in the eeriest of ways. Mia Wasikowska is quiet and broods throughout the entire movie which really gives us a hint of what she’s really capable of. Nicole Kidman shows us an unbalanced widow in a not very obvious way which makes her character interesting. My personal favorite is Matthew Goode who keeps that shit eating grin on his face the entire movie and makes the audience really love just how smug and secretive he really is. Another star of Stoker is actually someone related to the post-production phase. This person is Nicolas De Troth, the editor of the movie. The editing is so precise and seems so meticulous that it really makes this film one of a kind when it comes to the post-production. The sound design is also spectacular, really keeping with the idea that India’s senses are heightened. Even the smallest sound is heard perfectly, which made me feel like I could really hear what she was hearing. From the sound to the visual cues and cuts, Stoker was just a marvel to watch even though the Academy would go nowhere near something as disturbing as this movie is.

Stoker is definitely one of the best movies to come out in 2013, and it’s really a shame that it wasn’t recognized at all by the Academy. But, we all know that the Academy Awards are all very P.C. and Stoker is pretty much the opposite of P.C. That’s what I love it though. That and just how well made it is. I had no doubt in my mind that it was going to be a darkly beautiful film, but actually seeing it made me realize just how much detail was put into constructing this modern day Hitchcockian fairy tale. That description should be enough to make anyone curious enough to check this movie out.

Blade Runner – Review

25 Jul

I should really be ashamed of myself for having waited 21 years of my life to see Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. I have read Philip K. Dick’s outstanding novel on which the film was based, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and was completely sucked into the dystopian city that he brought to life. To begin with, I was surprised with the similarities between the book and the movie after hearing how different they were, and I was also surprised that I have to call this film a little bit over rated.

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Deckard is (Harrison Ford) is a retired blade runner, a branch of the police force whose main objective is to hunt down and “retire” androids that are called “replicants.” After four advanced Nexus-6 models escape from an off planet colony and come to earth, Deckard is forced out of retirement to hunt them down. These new models are a bit more tricky to find, however, due to advanced emotional control and, in some instances, false memories implanted into their brain to give an “emotional cushion.” This assignment will prove to be a life changing one as Deckard begins to see that he may be playing for the wrong side of the law.

Ok, I know I’m going to get a lot of heat for this one, but I have to be totally honest. I felt a little twang of disappointment with Blade Runner. Part of me thinks that I was expecting a bit too much from it. Another part of me realizes that Deckard is a really boring character whom I really didn’t care for. In the novel, seeing the world from his perspective and getting the inside scoop on his thoughts made him a much more interesting character. As the main protagonist, he just doesn’t really work. I’m way more interested in Rutger Hauer’s role as the lead replicant, Roy, who brings more humanity to his role than Ford. On top of that, we are introduced to characters early in the film which we then don’t see again for what seemed like a really long time. Then after all of that, the movie seems to wrap up really quickly.

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So, while the movie bothered me at some parts, it really does exceed in others. For one thing, the special effects are superb. Seeing the spinners flying through the dystopian Los Angeles, complete with advertising zeppelins and moving billboards as tall as skyscrapers is mind blowing. If anything, Blade Runner deserves a spot on anyone’s list of best science fiction films for the visuals alone. I hear a lot of complaints that this is a very dark movie and can be hard to see things at times. This is true, but Blade Runner falls into the sub genre of tech noir, which means it’s science fiction in the style of classic noir films. Thankfully, that god awful narration by Harrison Ford has been taken out of the re-releases!

Like the book, Blade Runner is definitely a philosophical tale. Deckard begins to see throughout his journeys that destroying these androids is a moral dilemma. In what I consider to be a fantastic monologue given be Hauer towards the end, he explains that his replicant eyes have seen things that most humans on earth would never believe, and when he is gone, so are the memories. The theme of eyes is very important to the story, and visually, Scott even went so far as to make the character’s eyes glow at some parts by reflecting a small light directly at them. The eye is the window to the soul, people say, and that is what the movie can be boiled down to. Deckard is hunting the androids because they have no soul, even though his job is more soulless than the androids he is killing.

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In my honest opinion, Blade Runner is just a tad bit over rated, even though the more I really think about it, the more I am liking it. Some things about it could definitely be changed, even though it’s been tinkered with throughout the years so  much so that even George Lucas would be blushing. It’s not my favorite sci fi movie, and objectively it isn’t the best, but it is something of a marvel and is definitely a reminder that blockbusters these days don’t have as much of a philosophical or soulful push that they had just a few decades earlier.

Prometheus – Review

31 Dec

The question of our existence can only be outmatched by the infinite amount of unknown questions that the universe still has in store for us, most of which we will probably never have time to ask. Prometheus is a movie that dares to ask, “what if?” To me, this is more than a science fiction movie that happens to take place in the same universe as the Alien franchise. This is a movie about philosophy, religion, and science with arguments for and against all of these points.

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After finding ancient cave drawings that point to the existence of much more powerful alien life forms that have a special connection to humanity, scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and  Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) lead a voyage funded by the Weyland Corporation to the moon LV-223. The moon definitely shows signs of life, especially a biosphere that contains hundreds, if not thousands, mysterious canisters. David (Michael Fassbender), an android, takes an especial curiosity to these canisters. Unfortunately for the crew of the Prometheus ship, both natural disaster and exposure to unknown biology starts to spread panic and death leaving little hope of anyone getting off the moon alive.

The plot to Prometheus is a little weird. Not the story itself, but how it’s presented. I hear a lot of complaints about how it’s slow or disjointed, and even that not enough is revealed. To me this just shows how desensitized audiences have become to straightforward storytelling. Yes, the movie is slow at points, but then erupts into satisfying sci-fi mayhem. Does this mean it’s disjointed? Not at all. Finally, of course not a lot is revealed. This is all a set up to a bigger picture. There’s going to be a Prometheus 2 and maybe even a third entry. Revealing too much would ruin the suspense and the surprises we have in store.

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Ridley Scott has never shied away from epic film making and this isn’t his first science fiction either (Alien, Blade Runner), but this is what I call epic science fiction. This movie looks absolutely huge. LV-223 looks so desolate, but also strangely majestic. I can’t take my eyes off the beautifully bleak scenery. Not only is the landscape and the ships huge, but also the feeling that one should feel while watching this movie. Nothing can get bigger than the universe, and Prometheus takes me to places I haven’t yet been in a movie. I feel like LV-223 is the farthest I’ve ever been from home. The movie also got me thinking about the absolute insignificance of our existence compared to everything else, and also made me curious as to what actually happened in the beginning and what will happen in the end. Questions that I will never know the answers to.

Let’s get out of the existential territory and talk about something more real: the performances. Noomi Rapace is a great leading lady and definitely does not have an easy part. Charlize Theron is pretty typical as the corporate ball buster, but Idris Elba does a great job as the pilot who realizes he is into something way stranger than he ever thought he’d be in the middle of. The person you’re really going to remember is Michael Fassbender as David the android. Talk about a difficult role. Fassbender is mesmerizing. His ability to make an android character who is mechanic, yet bizarrely human, believable can not be a simple task. Massive kudos.

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Prometheus is one of my favorite science fiction movies that I think surpasses Alien. It seems that you either love it or you hate it without any middle ground, and I can imagine that some people will think that the last sentence I wrote is some sort of film blasphemy. It’s existential themes and questions that still need to be answered are interesting and super intriguing. The special effects are only matched by the performances and the tie ins with the Alien universe will make any film buff squeal with excitement. I loved this movie very, very much and I can not wait to see what Ridley Scott does next with this story.

Also, to set the record straight, Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien. It is a spin off, or a tie in if you will. Things happen in it that relate to the events of Alien, but nothing that is directly connected.