Alien: Covenant (Review)

I’m not too sure which trailer it was for the movie, but after seeing one of them I was sold. Being disappointed by Prometheus like many others I was really into the idea that the follow-up was going to be an Alien film, and the trailer seemed to confirm that as it looked tense, scary, and filled with cool action. Jokes on me, I guess, because that’s not what I got. It’s a sequel to Prometheus disguised as an Alien film.

As per usual, spoilers.

The film is directed by Ridley Scott, who if you don’t know created the original Alien. The great thing about him helming the project is that it’s a beautifully shot movie. It’s not that surprising considering Ridley Scott knows what he’s doing behind the camera. Also, the portions that are dealing with the Xenomorphs I really enjoyed. Again, being the man who created the franchise it’s not surprising that those segments were the best portions of the film. It’s just those parts are really only in the beginning and the end. The middle of the movie is just characters sitting around while Michael Fassbender talks to himself, literally. To me, it seems like Ridley Scott wasn’t really interested in delivering a sci-fi horror film using one of the most iconic movie monsters of all-time. He was more interested in having his characters talk about philosophy than delivering a good Alien movie.

Getting to the characters, I have to say I quite liked Katherine Waterson who plays the female lead in the movie, Daniels, and Michael Fassbender pulling double duty playing new android Walter and the android David who was in Prometheus. He’s really the reason why I enjoyed the movie during its down moments. Even though I would’ve preferred it to not come to a halt and pretty much remove the Xenomorphs for a big chunk in the middle, the scenes where it’s just the two androids talking were enjoyable just to see Fassbender play both characters and see how each performance was really different from the other. The rest of the cast does a solid job as well, such as Danny McBride who plays the character Tennessee, as none of the characters were written or acted in a way I wanted to see them die, but they’re all kind of dumb.

You see, pretty much everything bad that happens to these characters is their fault. After the film opens with an incident that causes the crew to be woken up, they pick up a rogue transmission from a nearby planet that’s apparently a better option to colonize on than the one they were heading to. Considering it’s closer to them, the captain, Oram, (played by Billy Crudup) decides that they should go check it out. Despite Daniels protesting by pointing out they know nothing of this planet and they should stay on course, they go anyway. Once they get there they each start dying off one by one because of things like wanting to go off for a smoke, deciding to touch something on an unknown planet without proper protection, and trusting someone who clearly shouldn’t be trusted. Not every character dies because of poor decision making, but the ones that do really could’ve lasted a little longer if they just put more thought into their actions.

There’s also a lot more telling than showing in this film when it comes to its characters. Some of them are apparently married and you would never have guessed it because you never see them together and act like a couple. By telling instead of showing it makes it harder for the audience to get emotionally invested when people start losing their loved ones. I’m not with them emotionally in the moment, so it lacks any impact. Another point is made about how Oram wasn’t the first choice to lead the colonization mission because he’s a man of faith and that he couldn’t be trusted to make logical rational decisions. He feels that the crew doesn’t trust him because of that fact as well, but you never see him at all do anything religious like praying, talking about God, or see him wearing a cross. Nothing visually is shown to the audience to indicate that he’s religious. Is there at least any trust issues between him and the crew like he indicates there might be that leads to any tension? Nope. There’s no conflict with any of the crew members throughout the movie. It just seems like an unnecessary thing to bring up as it’s never touched on again in any meaningful way.

I’m really focusing in on the characters because that’s really the biggest weakness of this film for me personally. We never get to really know these characters because we never see what they’re like. The relationships between characters are never established in a clear manner. For things to move along the characters have to make poor decisions. I mean, one of the biggest reasons they land on the planet in the first place was because no one wanted to go back into cryosleep. I understand they don’t want to be stuck in the pods for another seven years, but if that’s the worst case scenario for sticking to your current plan compared to the countless things that could go wrong if you land on a planet you know nothing about, I would’ve gone back to sleep.

I don’t hate the movie, however. I just feel like it could’ve used more thought into incorporating the Alien and Prometheus aspects together. Because of the negativity surrounding the latter film, Ridley Scott seems like he tried to deliver both a movie he wanted to make and one audience wanted to see. Whatever the reasons are the film turned out the way it did, the final product ends up feeling like an Alien movie that gets interrupted by philosophical talk halfway through when all we want to see is people fight Xenomorphs. It happens, just not enough that you feel satisfied by the end.

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The Dark Tower Review

I will preface by saying I never read the book series by Stephen King but I know of them. The premise has always intrigued me. It has this cool western/fantasy vibe and these mysterious, cool characters. It all seemed like an idea that would make a great movie. Unfortunate then that throughout my time watching it I was just baffled at how they managed to mess it up.

(Minor spoilers, of course)

The Dark Tower is directed by Nikolaj Arcel, whose previous works have been reviewed well. Add in the fact the movie stars Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey, there’s obvious talent here. It really falls apart with its pacing, however. No amount of acting or cool gunslinging action could save it.

This movie is in a rush to get itself over with. It brushes past any chance at character development and doesn’t spend the time to build up tension or excitement. A story needs to have peaks and valleys and this film lacks that. There’s no highs and lows. The relationship between Roland and the young boy, Jake, is practically non-existent because they aren’t given time to really get to know each other. They spend the majority of the movie together and yet I never felt like a bond formed between them. When the movie finally gets to the climax I personally didn’t have an emotional reaction. Nothing feels genuine. Idris Elba and Tom Taylor (who plays Jake Chambers) give fine performances, it’s just not enough.

The first act actually does a very good job of setting up Jake’s character. We see who he is, how people view him, and the problems he’s dealing with. He’s a character I could root for. Roland, however, doesn’t get the same kind of treatment. We do get to see some of his past but it’s poorly handled. We’re first introduced to him via one of Jake’s dreams and he just pops up. It’s like, “Oh, I guess we’re seeing some of Roland’s backstory now.” No build up. No mystery. We’re kind of just shown him without any fanfare. We do learn why he’s hunting The Man in Black, but the film never decides to go deeper into analyzing this interesting character.

Speaking of The Man in Black, who is played by Matthew McConaughey, we’re never given a clear motivation for why he’s trying to accomplish his goal. We learn that he wants to destroy the dark tower, which is protecting all worlds from an evil outside our dimension, but that’s it. As far as I could tell, he’s just doing it because he’s evil. I don’t need a villain to be sympathetic or have the most intriguing of motivations, just something more than the bare minimum would be nice.

What’s worse is that the dialogue in this movie is pretty bland. Nothing anyone says is particularly interesting. You have these great actors and no combination of them have an engaging conversation. They even repeat information multiple times throughout the movie and it can feel awkward. An example would be when Roland is introduced, he’s being attacked by The Man in Black who mentions that Roland for some reason isn’t affected by his magic. This feels out of place because it’s something they both already know, so it’s only being said to fill in the audience. Later in the movie, one of The Man in Black’s men ask him why he doesn’t just kill Roland and he says the same thing. The second time you at least had a character ask, so it was more natural to share that piece of information. It makes me wonder why it was even brought up earlier in the movie if it was addressed later. Was it because the writers were worried the audience wouldn’t be able to follow along if we didn’t know why Roland wasn’t affected by The Man in Black’s magic? Give us some credit. We can follow a story just fine even if all the details aren’t spoon fed to us at once.

Because of the pacing, bland dialogue, and lack of time spent getting to know more about the characters and the world, it’s hard to care. If you don’t care, nothing has an impact. This film is hollow. That’s how I felt when leaving the theatre: hollow. I’m not even mad, just disappointed. The action is cool and the actors are enjoyable enough to watch, but everything else fails this movie. Go into it with low expectations if you plan on checking it out. It’s a great idea that’s poorly executed.

(NOTE: Anyone curious why I didn’t use a promotional image from the movie, it was because my choices were either picking something that was lower than 720p or using the poster. I didn’t like the poster.)

 

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Ghost in the Shell (2017) Review

This was a rough one. For a film that’s so beautifully shot, it’s one of the most uninteresting things I’ve watched in awhile. I haven’t seen any of the animated movies or the anime (nor read the manga), so I can’t comment on how it compares to the source material, but I don’t think that matters much because the movie just isn’t very good.

It’s directed by Rupert Sanders, who also directed Snow White and the Huntsman, and stars Scarlett Johansson as Major Mira Killian, a person who’s brain was put into a cybernetic body. She ends up working for Section 9 which is an organization that deals with things such as counter-terrorism. The basic premise of the story centers around Section 9 trying to catch a hacker who’s going after certain people and killing them.

What I loved about the movie was the world. I’m a huge fan of that cyberpunk style, so it played right into my tastes. It was cool seeing people with these neat cybernetic enhancements in this city of neon lights. I particularly loved the large billboard-like holograms that decorated the skyline. I can’t say the movie adds any of its own unique flair that we haven’t really seen before, but it’s still cool nonetheless.

As mentioned earlier, the movie is shot very well for the most part. A lot of wide shots to really get a sense of the world, and when the action gets started you can easily make out what’s going on. When most films like to do quick cuts and shaky cam to ill-effect for their action sequences, this movie allows you to follow along and enjoy the action, which itself is fine. Nothing I would really say stands out to me and most of the sequences, in my opinion, don’t last for very long, but that’s really more a nitpick. It’s not a weak aspect of the film.

That honor is reserved for everything else. Even though the movie is very enjoyable to look at, I feel it lacks tension and energy. I would argue some scenes could’ve been shot differently to better evoke a sense of emotion. There was one scene in which someone who Section 9 captured actually had their memories altered by the hacker. It should’ve been this sad, emotionally devastating moment, but it just kind of fell flat.

The story isn’t very interesting as well. What makes it more frustrating is that there are elements of a complex narrative, but just like with the ideas it brings up in the movie such as what it means to be human, it doesn’t really go deeper with them. It settles for the surface level. One of the antagonists in the movie is as one dimensional as you can get. There’s no complexity to his motivation other than he’s the bad guy. The other antagonist is actually quite interesting, but I just wish we were able to spend a little bit more time learning about him. We get enough to be intrigued, but that’s about it.

Which is fair enough. The movie is about Major Mira Killian. Unfortunately, I just didn’t really care about her. I don’t think Scarlett Johansson gave a bad performance, but the Major just isn’t that compelling of a character. The movie never really does a good job showing us who she is or how she feels about her situation. Early on after killing a robot one of her partners says to her that “She isn’t the same,” and the Major leaves the scene upset, but it’s never brought up again. The Major is never given a chance to talk about how she feels about being a ghost in a shell so to speak. She’s never allowed to really open up, therefore we never really get a sense of who she is. And that’s not the worst thing in the world. We can like a character and get to learn who they are as a person without really ever going in-depth into their backstory, but she is never given any tough choices throughout the movie that helps inform us on what kind of character she is based on her choices. Hell, she’s never really given anything interesting to say. Combine that with the fact she doesn’t have any personal stakes in the story up until just past the halfway point, it just doesn’t lead to a very captivating character to follow. If the whole movie was about her trying to get her memories back then that’s something that could’ve created compelling character drama. Instead, it really only comes into focus in the latter half of the movie and by then I just didn’t care what was going on.

I could go on and on about this movie, but I think I got my point across by this point. The film is definitely not a complete waste of time and as always I encourage anyone who’s interested in seeing a movie to check it out no matter what the consensus for it is. Even if something isn’t liked by others it doesn’t mean you won’t like it. It’s just in this case I didn’t.

(Also, I really liked Johan Philip Asbæk as the character Batou. He was cool.)

 

 

 

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Dunkirk is an Experience I Wasn’t Expecting

I’ve been a fan of Christopher Nolan’s for some time. Ever since Batman Begins his films have always been some of the best I’ve seen. They’re all worth watching because there’s always some value in a Nolan film. He’s one of the few directors who can mesh big ideas with big action for mainstream appeal and success. But for me personally, after The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, I didn’t know how excited I should be for Dunkirk. It definitely intrigued me. He’s good at that. I just didn’t know what to expect from this film which seemed very much Nolan, but at the same time different from pretty much all his previous films. A Christopher Nolan World War II film? What can that be like?

Well, pretty amazing actually (which in hindsight isn’t so surprising). Also minor spoilers.

Why this film really took me off guard were for three reasons: the fact it has little dialogue (compared to his previous work), the wonderful directing that makes you feel as if you’re there, and the constant feeling of dread.

Anyone who’s seen a Nolan film knows they can be pretty dialogue heavy. There’s a lot of exposition for various reasons and sometimes his characters don’t really speak like how you might expect someone would. I love Alfred Pennyworth in The Dark Knight trilogy, but he does seem to have a speech for every occasion. Dunkirk, however, probably has the least amount of dialogue of any of his previous films by a decent margin. It leans really heavily on telling its story through visuals (imagine that) and Dunkirk‘s visual storytelling is excellent. The opening of the film almost has no dialogue. Everything is being expressed via characters’ expressions and actions. When a character is seen doing something it doesn’t need to be explained. You can piece it all together. You understand the situation each of the characters are in, so their motivation for their actions are easy to grasp without dialogue. This visual storytelling causes you to be actively engaged in the film. It pulls you in.

Nolan does a spectacular job of making you feel like you’re there with the characters. Some people are trapped as a ship capsizes and instead of watching from a distance you’re under it with them. Light fades as they are pulled beneath the water. They scream and gasp for air. You experience the moment with them. In another scene, the beach where so many of the soldiers are waiting to be rescued gets bombed. There aren’t any wide shots as the bombs are dropped. The camera sits there with one of the characters as one bomb after another drop nearing closer to him and therefore to you, the viewer. The shot doesn’t change. The movie doesn’t “cut” the viewer away to safety. You stay with these soldiers. There’s no safety for them and therefore none for us. When the Spitfire pilots are trying to take out enemy aircraft in a dogfight we’re in the cockpit with them. The viewer is constantly right along with the characters in the thick of it for the entirety of the movie.

Yes, there are other filmmakers who have and will continue to be able to pull off this kind of filmmaking, but what separates this movie from anything else I’ve seen is the sense of foreboding that doesn’t let up from the start of the movie to the end. A lot of movies have some form of levity or quiet moments to help break the tension. Give the characters and the audience a breather before things pick up again. Not Dunkirk. Hans Zimmer does the score for the movie and it constantly keeps things uneasy. There are definitely moments when no shots are being fired and characters just talk about the situation but they’re brief. It’s like the second one thing ends the buildup to the next thing begins. You just know the moment of peace can’t last, and it doesn’t. There isn’t a scene where characters sit around and talk about their girlfriends or lives back home. They don’t reminisce or make jokes because they can’t. There’s no time. The soldiers are trying to get off the beach before the enemy comes and wipes them out. The Spitfire pilots are engaged the entire time with enemy aircraft. Things just continue to build and build until the end.

This movie really got to me in a way I didn’t think it could. I haven’t seen what other people have been saying about the movie, so maybe I’m alone in how I feel about the movie. Maybe my viewing experience was different from the majority. All I know is I highly recommend anyone interested in seeing this movie to go out and do so. This is definitely a movie you want to see on a large screen, IMAX 70mm if possible. Now I have to patiently wait to see what Nolan does next.

 

 

 

 

 

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Kong: Skull Island’s Biggest Mistake

This was a movie I was interested in when I first saw the trailer for it. I missed out on it when it was in theaters, but it recently became available to rent, so I decided to finally check it out. I’m glad I saw the movie. It’s not a perfect movie and has too many problems with it that I don’t know if I can call it good in my opinion, but what I think this movie’s biggest mistake was not focusing on the right character. Instead of being about the people who go to the island and get stuck there, the movie should’ve been about the person who was already there. I’m referring to John C. Reilly’s character Hank Marlow.

(Spoilers) 

When you’re creating a story you want your main character to be interesting. If there’s another character who’s more interesting, who drives the plot more, who seems more compelling than your main character you have two valid options: tweak your main protagonist so they are a stronger force in the narrative or make the story revolve around the other character. Kong: Skull Island should’ve done the latter (and technically the former, but maybe they tried. I don’t know. Do you?).

The first act of the movie is fine. It sets the scenario up, we’re introduced to all the characters, and then we’re off to Skull Island. Once we get to the place things immediately get rolling. The film knows what we want so it gives it to us. The problem is after that nothing interesting happens until the climax. There’s a good amount of down time, which could be used efficiently for some good character development, but it pretty much forgoes that. We get one brief scene with Tom Hiddleston’s character talking about his past. That’s it. He does things, but we never really get to know who he is or who any of the other characters really are. What makes them tick? What drives them? They’re just there and what we know doesn’t make them interesting. The actors are great and do everything to make what they’re given work, but that doesn’t equate to a good character.

Hank Marlow is interesting, however. He’s been stuck on the island for almost three decades. He has a child, but never met them and doesn’t know if his wife had moved on or not. He knows the island really well. He’s been living with the native people so long that he can communicate with them even though they don’t say a word. He had a friend who he lost. That friend was also someone who wanted to kill him when they first both crashed on the island because they were fighting on opposing sides during World War II. He has an interesting backstory, great character drama to mine, and it’s very easy to have an emotional investment in his journey to get home.

Imagine we followed Marlow the entire movie. We see him crash on the island like we do in the movie and then we jump forward in time, but instead of seeing the recruitment of all the other characters, we stay on the island and see Marlow in the present day interacting with the natives, seeing what the day to day is like on Skull Island. Once all that’s established, the story gets going when the other characters show up on the island and he goes to help them. He leaves the safety of the village to go find these people and try to get home. He guides them back using his knowledge and their firepower to get through dangerous areas and giant hostile monsters along the way.

Of course, this is Kong’s movie so the big guy himself will be a part of the journey the entire time. It could’ve been written that Kong and Marlow have a respect for one another so it would make sense for Kong to protect him and the others. Then later in the movie it could be Marlow who decides to go help Kong when he’s in trouble (to be fair, he does in the movie, but only after Hiddleston says he’s going to) and that would really mean something because he could be sacrificing his one chance to get off the island to help out the creature who’s been protecting him this whole time. Having already established Marlow’s relationship with the natives, moments like when Marlow leaves them to go home will hit the audience harder. He would be leaving the family who saved him for another. That really could’ve been such a powerful moment. The ending of the movie would also be more impactful as it ends with Marlow reuniting with his wife and son. The movie wasn’t about him, but the filmmakers knew that was a great way to cap off the story.

All my ideas don’t exactly fit with the current structure of the movie. Certain things would definitely need to be changed. As fun as he is, I don’t believe Samual L. Jackson’s character would be necessary being the hostile creatures on the island would be more than enough to cause problems for the protagonists in my version. And, again, it’s not lost on me that this is Kong’s movie, but if you’re going to spend a decent chunk of time on human characters they have to be interesting. I’m just trying to illustrate that small changes like who’s the protagonist in your story can open a world of different storytelling possibilities.

(They got the title character right at least. I love Kong in this movie. He doesn’t need to change.)

 

 

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Is Spider-Man: Homecoming the Best Spider-Man Movie?

Hi.

I love Spider-Man.

So, let’s just start off by answering the important question: Did Marvel do it again? In my opinion: yes. If you’re interested in seeing Spider-Man: Homecoming, go see it. It’s a very fun movie that’s worth your time. I personally believe it’s the best incarnation of the character, but I don’t think it’s the best Spider-Man movie. That honor still goes to Spider-Man 2. Allow me to explain. Also, some light spoilers.

Spider-Man: Homecoming takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War. Peter is still riding high on that experience and he thinks his life is about to be changed forever. He’s going to be an Avenger, which means no more boring high school. That is not the case. Months pass and he still has no word on any Avenger business. This frustrates Peter to the point that he actively tries to stop the Vulture, who is the main bad guy of the movie, to prove himself to Tony Stark that he’s ready for the big leagues. That pretty much is what drives Peter throughout the entire film. It’s simple and made very clear, so we as the audience understand why he does what he does. I just don’t think it’s as interesting as Peter giving up to be Spider-Man in Spider-Man 2.

Think about it. The hero of the movie gives up within the first act. That’s almost the last thing you want your hero to do in the movie, but you understand why. He doesn’t quit because it’s too hard. He stops because being Spider-Man made him miserable and he just wants to be happy. Who can’t understand that? And it just adds to the tragedy of the character. You see him carefree, smiling, and doing well throughout a chunk of the second act, but you know he’s going to be Spider-Man again. And that just hurts. It’s great as an audience member because that’s what we want to see. It’s great for the citizens of New York in the movie because they have their hero back saving lives. It’s not so great for Peter though. He’s sacrificing something he wants because with great power comes great responsibility. Peter in Spider-Man: Homecoming doesn’t lose anything. He doesn’t give anything up. He kind of maybe learns a lesson, but that’s about it.

Another thing is Peter in Spider-Man 2 struggles. You see early on how his life as Spider-Man negatively impacts. He loses his job. The rift between him and Harry continues to grow larger. Mary Jane is mad at him because he’s never reliable. Then his powers begin to fail him. Just so much is piled onto the kid you just want him to catch a break. While in Homecoming the only thing he really struggles with is learning the new suit Tony gave him in Civil War. Yes, he also is rough around the edges when it comes to fighting bad guys, but there’s really no internal struggle for the character. Peter’s arc in Spider-Man 2 is overall just much more interesting and meatier so to speak.

All that said, that doesn’t impact the portrayal character. He’s everything I wanted to see from a live-action version of the character in Homecoming. Tom Holland brings so much energy to the character. He’s smart but naive. He’s awkward. He makes mistakes. He’s funny. He has a good heart. He really is just a kid. At one point in the movie, there’s a sequence where you just see him interacting with New Yorkers such as giving an old lady directions. Perfect. He moves as you would expect Spider-Man to move. The suit is great. Those eyes were an inspired choice. He looks and acts the part. If you’re a fan, there’s really not much to complain about.

Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. I do think the creative minds behind the movie and Tom Holland nail the personality of Spider-Man and Peter Parker. They keep him in high-school and actually focus on the high-school stuff. That may disappoint some, but it was the right choice in my opinion. Because of that, it has a different feel than the other movies. The Vulture is one of the best Marvel movie villains. Michael Keaton knocks it out of the park with his performance. In fact, the entire cast is excellent. Specifically Zendaya as Peter’s classmate, Michelle, and Jacob Batalon as Peter’s best friend Ned. I just believe Peter’s character arc in Spider-Man 2 is much stronger than what we got with Spider-Man: Homecoming. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, but I do think it makes that movie a stronger one.

(Plus, the action is solid in Homecoming, but nothing comes close the train sequence in Spider-Man 2. To be fair not much does but still.)

 

 

 

 

 

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