“Alien: Covenant” – The path to paradise begins in hell.

This may be more of a rant against what Hollywood seems to be becoming rather than a review, but I think it will still cover the important aspects of what I was expecting and what I wanted from “Alien: Covenant”. Basically, it was a letdown for me. I walked away from it telling myself, “No no, it was good…right? It had some cool parts…” but I just can’t seem to forgive a lot of the issues it was filled with. Seems to me that Ridley Scott is trying to remake the saga he created by making us forget how great the originals were. I don’t think he’s succeeding.IMG_20170323_0950491

When “Prometheus” came out in 2012 a lot of audiences were pissed at the plot holes, scientist stupidity, and altogether “…what??” that it instilled in viewers. I’ve seen it enough times at this point to actually enjoy it as a film in the Alien franchise. Yes, it has plot holes. Yes, it has characters doing incredibly stupid things. But the whole idea of that movie was to watch a bunch of scientists investigate something they had no clue about and gradually get torn to pieces due to their lack of intelligence. If that’s how you go into the film, it’s actually a great piece of Alien lore that could’ve set up Ridley’s sequels leading up to “Alien”. Sadly, I think he missed the mark with “Covenant”.

Before getting into the actual plot of the film, I want to point out something that the film business has started doing lately that has upset me deeply. Months before “Covenant” came out, marketing materials were being released in the form of vignettes that were supposed to give us an early look into the film. For instance James Franco was cast in the film as the captain and has a very, VERY brief cameo in some of these “films”, so I was expecting to see more of him in the actual movie. NOPE. You can count the seconds he’s on camera. So imagine how upsetting it is for fans of the franchise to see these early release stories only to not include them in the film itself, making for a somewhat confusing storyline we’re forced to piece together. Sadly I see this as becoming a Hollywood trend now just to generate more dollars for studios, along with “trailer teases” which is just the stupidest thing I’ve seen. Let’s get you excited about getting excited about the movie! No.

Anywho, the film. “Covenant” takes place 10 years after the events in “Prometheus” with yet another ship of people headed somewhere to setup a colony. In typical “Alien” fashion they receive some sort of distress beacon, are woken up from cryosleep early, and go to checkout what ends up being a really bad idea. Now something that “Covenant” seemed to get right that “Prometheus” didn’t, is that this time around these are just colonists looking to start a new life on some planet. Therefore when danger starts creeping up on them they really don’t have a clue what to do. “Prometheus” kind of failed at this because the point of that film was to discover an alien race, so they planned accordingly by bringing weapons and military personnel, but everyone just ran around like chickens with their heads cut off once things took a downward turn. But I digress. In “Covenant” the action

In “Covenant” the action actually starts pretty quickly with some rather gruesome deaths. Normally the “Alien” franchise has hinted at gore here and there but the main focus was sheer terror. That is not the case here as anytime someone dies, it’s pretty brutal and sometimes over the top. But even that’s not the biggest issue. My problem with the whole film came into play once David (Michael Fassbender) was re-introduced. Seen as the sole-survivor from “Prometheus”, he shows up in a cloak as some ominous figure who’s been living alone for these past 10 years. The audience actually laughed when he appeared in the movie, which is never a good sign. From there it just gets really convoluted. Whereas in “Alien”, “Aliens”, and even “Alien 3” the story builds along with the fear, “Covenant” doesn’t really know what to do. None of the characters are super memorable besides Tennessee (Danny McBride). I think people were expecting him to be some sort of comic relief but besides a few comedic lines here and there, he was great and dramatic and definitely the best part of the film for me. Anyway, as people started to get offed I found myself trying to figure out where the film was going. The death scenes were just too…creative? Probably not the right word but I feel like the studio heads said something along the lines of, “Let’s kill everyone in a different, unique way and really focus on the gore rather than the creeping fear the other films have.” This sucks. What made “Alien” great back in 1979 was that you barely saw the creature. It was all noises and shadows that made you scared to walk down a dark hallway. “Covenant” has no problem showing you the creature from the get-go and letting you bask in the CGI for the whole film, which is another drawback for me since I appreciate practical effects and costumes more.

xalien-covenant1.png.pagespeed.ic.wYPhwsFyFIThis was really just one long ad for grand pianos.

The film also didn’t have much suspense in the way of “I wonder what’s going to happen next” or “How in the hell are they going to survive this?” Almost everything was telegraphed and there were even moments where people laughed or sighed out loud once a scene unfolded. Overall it just felt like Ridley Scott was rushing a film to theaters just to get it out there. For the die-hard fans, Neill Blomkamp’s proposed “Alien 5” sounded so much cooler and it was going to bring back Ripley and Hicks, something longtime fans just couldn’t argue with. Personally I think that once his leaked concept art hit the web, Ridley rushed to get his vision made instead and therefore created a less-than-perfect follow up to “Prometheus”. Now I’ve read a lot of comments and reviews, some saying it answered “Prometheus’s” questions, others saying it made the prequel look like the greatest entry in the franchise, so it’s pretty clear there’s a divided audience. I mean even Rotten Tomatoes lists “Covenant” as Certified Fresh with a 73%. While not the upper echelon of reviews, that’s pretty good for RT standards. Sadly I have to disagree.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: If you’re a fan of the franchise then it’s definitely worth seeing. Go into it removing any ideas of a strong, coherent story and just view it as an entry into Alien canon knowing there are better entries out there. And hopefully you’ll love Danny McBride.

SCENE COLLECTED: Several people have brought this scene up on Reddit as being a favorite and I’d have to agree, mainly because I was somewhat disappointed with how the rest of it played out. But there’s a scene on the planet where Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is flipping through some drawings that are all H.R. Giger’s original concepts for the Xenomorph look. So that was a pretty cool nod to longtime fans of the series.

FLICKCHART RATING: 834/2409

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“Insidious: Chapter 2” – It Will Take What You Love Most

I love a good scary movie. In fact if lights are on, I’ll turn them off before I start it. I’ll do whatever I can to enhance the experience. So when a sequel comes out to a movie that legitimately gave me the willies…you’ve got my attention. Sadly as with James Wan’s first foray into horror (“Saw”) it would appear that this series is destined for the same “sequels equal money” path. It definitely had some moments that got my heart-rate up, but then again so does running up the stairs.insidious2

The first film did a great job taking a normal haunted house flick and turning it on its head. It freaked us out because as with almost every other film, the hauntings tend to stop once you move into a different house, but what happens when one of you is haunted? Plus the ending to “Insidious” just made you go, “Well great, I’m never living with roommates again.” and that was that. The sequel starts up right where the first one left off, which honestly detracts from what made the original great but oh well. I think  there’s actually a third one on the way so I’m losing hope as I’m writing this. But I digress…

So a quick premise of the first film: family has son who can wander in his dreams, accidentally wanders into Hell or something similar, becomes lost and possessed. Hijinks ensue and eventually all seems well when son wakes up. Ending comes out of nowhere, you need new pants. Ok, now that we’re caught up we’ll move on to the second chapter. Family moves into a new house (a la normal thought process of hauntings) and of course crap keeps happening to everyone, only this time the son isn’t to blame. Without giving away too much plot because it will give away pretty much the entire first film, just know that it’s very sub-par to the first film. The scares aren’t as genuine and they rely on the same “sudden noise” effect that is more related to how high your volume is. Also they tried to give a backstory to the hauntings which I believe rarely works. Much like “Paranormal Activity” it was so much scarier when things were happening and you had no idea why, versus some tortured soul of the creepy guy next door whose house was always the recipient of hurled rotten eggs. That, and by the time it was over they were totally gearing up for the threequel, and knowing Hollywood I’m sure we’re destined for about four more of these as well.insidious2 (1)

I know this is from the first movie, but it still scares the crap out of me.

Now if you’ve read at least a few of my reviews then chances are that you’ve seen one of my horror pieces. To be honest I think most of them have low ratings from me but that’s because I’ve set the bar rather high when it comes to scaring myself, something that only “What Lies Beneath” and “The Tunnel” can still do on a reoccurring basis. I really wanted to enjoy this movie, and in some ways I did but just not as a follow-up to “Insidious”. First time I watched it was in broad daylight and after it was over I still had to politely excuse myself to go for a good cry. Last night I popped this on while on the couch in pitch black and with the volume at a decent “scare” level, and I still felt like “meh” when I crawled into bed afterwards. The acting was not the greatest and I’m sure the actors just phoned this one in for the paycheck, but then again Hollywood isn’t exactly rolling out the originals these days.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Definitely watch the first film, it will remain better than it’s follower and most likely all of the films after that. Oh, and the guy on the poster for this one isn’t even in the movie.

FLICKCHART RATING: 731/2057

“A Good Day to Die Hard” – Like Father. Like Son. Like Hell.

It’s not uncommon to see franchises spinning out sequels to just about anything these days, which is quite unfortunate and I don’t think I need to explain why. However every once in awhile a decent one shows up, not necessarily better than the last or the original, but entertaining to say the least. Being a big fan of the “Die Hard” series it was hard to turn down the chance to see “A Good Day to Die Hard”…so I didn’t. I said “Yippee Ki-Yay”. Well actually, I just said “Sure, why not.”

A Good Day to Die Hard

If you haven’t seen the “Die Hard” films, I apologize as they are rather essential 80’s and 90’s action flicks, not to mention Bruce Willis at his very best. So when “Live Free or Die Hard” came out several years ago, that was kind of “our” generation’s version. Now depending on who you ask, they may tell you that it was incredibly terrible and not at all an homage to the great action prequels. Or they may tell you that it was an excellent revamp to the series and a fresh way to keep it going. You could find me in the latter. So several years later when this new addition came out I, while feeling that Willis may be starting to get a tad old, still had to see it if not out of principle. I’ve got to say, it did exactly what movies are meant to do; entertain. The plot was simple enough to follow and it had exactly what I wanted it to have, including tons of explosions. Were parts of it unbelievable? Sure. Was his catch-phrase forced and “meh” worthy? Of course. Was it balls to the wall, action-packed, ass-kickery? Duh.

The basic outline of each “Die Hard” film is that John McClane (Willis) always finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. This film is probably the most pin-pointed example of that seeing as he winds up in Russia. The movie starts with a few clips of some guy shooting another guy in a Russian club and then getting sent to prison. Then we flash back to New York where McClane is then told the plot to his own movie; get to Russia and get your son (newcomer Jai Courtney) out of trouble. Already this is a solid connector to the original trilogy since it’s mentioned several times that he has kids, and Lucy McClane (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was a central character in the last installment. So John heads to Russia, and within minutes things are already blowing up, as they should be. The story takes off from there and of course it gets a little far-fetched near the end, but who sees a “Die Hard” movie for the story? I read some of the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes before going to see it, and I couldn’t understand why so many reviewers were panning the lack of “story” and how many plot-holes there seemed to be. If you want story, go see “Avatar”, or “Dances with Wolves”, or “Fern Gully”…wait…

urlIf you’re a fan of the previous four movies then you know that this is completely normal for John McClane.

I apologize but this is going to turn into a bit of a rant real quick. People need to stop seeing movies, expecting to get something enlightening from each one they go to. In the olden days movies were made to entertain, and that was it. I will admit that some educate, but that’s rare as “based on a true story” means pretty much nothing nowadays. “A Good Day to Die Hard”, actually the whole series for that matter, is there to entertain us with explosions, awesome gun fights, and the most American hero we have on the big screen. When the movie ended I felt like just like I had after walking out of “Live Free or Die Hard”, and that one had Bruce Willis “tap-dancing on a jet” (quoted from my good friend Joey, who if memory serves didn’t really enjoy it). Point is folks, don’t get caught up in “Oh I don’t know, I think my Jane Austen book will be more ‘realistic'” train of thought. John McClane is back and is still solid in my book, despite what the the other reviewers say. Do yourself, and America, a favor and go see Bruce Willis do what he does best.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Even if this was somehow rated PG-13 like the last one, it still would have been pretty awesome. And the highway chase scene in the beginning is totally worth it.

FLICKCHART RATING: 1013/1992

“Skyfall”

As I sit here listening to the soundtrack to “Skyfall” by my man Thomas Newman (Newman for President 2016!), I can’t help but replay the entire movie through my head. I’ve seen every Bond film multiple times, most of which spent with my dad during the TNT Month of Bond marathon’s over the years, and “Skyfall” definitely takes the cake. Most if not all of you older folks will automatically disagree because Mr. Connery “is the only Bond”, but Daniel Craig has brought in a new era altogether. “Skyfall” is no longer your dad’s James Bond.

To me “Skyfall” is the best James Bond film I’ve ever seen, and here is why. It is every single Bond movie put together. That’s not to say that you don’t need to see the previous 22 to appreciate it, but it does stand alone as a pretty awesome film. It also has the closest thing to an origin story that Bond has ever come to. Previously Pierce Brosnan mentioned how Bond’s parents died back in “Goldeneye” but this time we actually get to live through Bond’s past. Also the jokes are back. Both “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” were almost completely bare-bones action with a few chuckles here and there, but “Skyfall” came back and had us laughing several times throughout the film. It brings you back to remembering that Bond is still a suave and quick-witted spy instead of just a brawler with some fancy gadgets. Which brings me to my next point: Q. Ever since Desmond Llewelyn passed away after “The World is Not Enough”, Bond has been remiss of his trusted Quartermaster. Luckily we now have Ben Whishaw as a younger, Mark Zuckerberg-esque Q who quickly proves to be more of a friend to Bond then a mentor. I felt that this fit in quite well, especially with our generation who may tend to find the older films tedious and smutty. I’ll be honest, I’m not quite sure what that word means but for some reason it felt like it fit the sentence. Let’s run with it.

At 143 minutes this movie definitely did not feel long enough. I tend to piece together the bits of the trailer into the film and use what’s left to figure out how close we’re getting to the end, and as the remaining pieces dwindled all I could think about is how I wanted it to keep going. From the opening sequence watching Bond chase down an assassin on a moving train through Istanbul after riding a motorcycle off a bridge, to his romps in China, England, and finally Scotland I just couldn’t get enough. Sure the dialogue has it’s cheesy moments and Javier Bardem’s villain is a tad reminiscent of earlier rogues, but that’s what makes this a fun movie, right? That’s another thing, Bardem’s portrayal of Silva, the blonde haired creeper with a personal vendetta. He’s almost more realistic in this way because his motive isn’t world takeover or large scale bank robbery, it’s something much deeper than that. In my opinion it takes Bond and MI6 to places they’ve never been before and creates tension for Bond. I read an article yesterday about the film and how Bardem’s role was questioned as being homosexual in a way, but instead Sam Mendes (director) defined it as uncomfortable, which is exactly how it ended up being. Coincidentally the first time we are introduced to Silva the audience had several laughs at the interaction between the two. It was a breath of fresh air to be up against a baddie who wasn’t petting a cat, or trying to harness the sun’s rays with a satellite filled with diamonds (yeah, this actually happened in “Die Another Day”). The chemistry between the two actors was amazing, and even Bardem’s channeling of Hannibal Lecter was spot on. Even Judi Dench got a much larger role than usual, which is great to see because she was born to play M and get out from behind the desk. Newcomer to the series Ralph Fiennes was a perfect choice for his character, Gareth Mallory (Gareth?). He’s basically M’s higher-up but treats her more like an old…younger sister, if that makes sense. He spends his time looking out for her while also trying to remain professional. Naturally the first time he and Bond meet they butt heads, but the relationship takes a sudden leap about halfway into the film which can mean only great things for later on. And holy crap, Naomie Harris and Bérénice Marlohe are super sexy Bond Women (no longer “Girls”), and are also a solid throwback to the wooing ways of old. Truly everyone cast in this film in whichever roll they filled was an excellent choice, and I certainly wouldn’t have picked anyone else.

Javier Bardem no longer works in films unless his character has weird hair.

I would like to end this with the “Bond Theory”, and what “Skyfall” does for it. When “Die Another Day” came out, the director had considered using Roger Moore or Sean Connery in a cameo role as Brosnan’s Bond’s father, therefore explaining that the Agent number 007 and James Bond were just moniker’s for an agent’s specific level. Basically if you were a member of MI6 and happened to be good at breaking the rules and killing bad guys, you reached the level of 007 and your “cover” then became James Bond, with the same back story as every character. This would explain why there have been so many different Bond’s over the years, as well as why George Lazenby looked directly at the screen and said, “This never happened to the other fella” after chasing a girl on a beach in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Of course there are discrepancies with this over the series, but there are also reaffirmations such as Judi Dench M being referred to as “new” in “Goldeneye”, and “Casino Royale” being time stamped within 2006. Yeah I know, we fan boys have way too much time on our hands. Anyway, “Skyfall” offers it’s own unique take on this theory, one that I assumed was debunking it right away but after listening to my girlfriend’s thoughts (and dismissing them way too quickly), I now think she was right in stating that this film only helped the idea that there have been several James Bond’s over the years (shout out to Emily). So whether you really care about the series or not, it really hits home and offers more than just action. Even you Connery lovers will walk away thinking this one is shaken and not stirred. (I admit, I have no idea what that means.)

DIRECTOR’S CUT: I hate Adele and wish someone else had sung the theme song, but the movie more than makes up for it. It’s just too bad that kids can’t really dress up as James for Halloween since the man could use some more recognition as being awesome.

FLICKCHART RATING: 20/1956 (Whoa)

“Grave Encounters 2” – Fear is just a word. Reality is much worse.

Nope.

When the trailer first came out it looked genuinely good. It showed a bunch of YouTube clips strung together of people seemingly reviewing the first film, “Grave Encounters”, and then cutting to a specific review where one kid was convinced the movie and the mental hospital were real. So what does he do? Get a bunch of his teenage friends and their awesome cameras and go check it out. This would have worked because it was just kids being dumb and getting killed for it, which in today’s horror world tends to work out. Luckily neither of these movies fit the “torture porn” genre that so many others have been geared towards lately, and just rely on actual scares and atmospheric fright. However, the trailer is about as close as you get to the plot I just laid out for you so if you want a better sequel than whatever Canada made, just watch that instead and be happy.

I’ll do a quick recap for those who haven’t seen the first film since it’s not entirely fair to slander the sequel if you have no clue what the first one was even about. Basically it’s a found footage (I tend to enjoy these, apparently) film involving a TV crew for the show “Grave Encounters”. This is their sixth episode and they are going to spend the night inside of an old insane asylum where the patients were rumored to be used for experiments by the head doctor and his nurses. Of course by the time they realize that locking themselves inside of an abandoned mental hospital overnight was a bad idea, it’s too late. I’ll let you fill in the blanks which shouldn’t be too hard, because as long as you aren’t imagining them running into unicorns and having picnics you’re pretty much on the right track. So this is where the sequel picks up. The main character of the sequel is some douche named Alex, and he represents every pretentious film student in the world who thinks they’re the next Kubrick. He wants to reinvent the horror genre and use films like “Grave Encounters” as his inspiration. Luckily for him it’s at that exact moment that he receives a comment on his YouTube movie review website (because reviewing movies on YouTube is STUPID…) from “death awaits”. Let’s read it! Over the course of a few weeks this “death awaits” keeps messaging him and eventually he convinces his four idiot friends to join him in breaking into this abandoned building to film the whole night and prove that everything from the first film was actually real.

Look at how angry he makes you.

I’m sorry, but why on earth would you want to spend one minute in that building if all of the previous visitors experienced horrible deaths, and then Hollywood profited off of it? That’s like saying, “Hey ‘Jurassic Park’ was so scary, and they just opened up that dinosaur exhibit on that island nobody can easily escape from…wanna go?” (Reader Detail: May not be the best example as I would actually do that…and hope for the power to go out.) So anyway, these wonder-kids arrive on the scene and break into this abandoned happy place and start setting up their cameras. Pretty much within minutes the spirit world decides that nobody messes around on it’s turf and starts scaring the bejeezus out of these kids. It should also be noted that WITHIN MINUTES of this happening, the director (Pretentious Film School Kid) decides that all hope is lost and becomes a lump on the log for the rest of the group. Seriously, he’s an awesome friend and we should all have one like him. The scares continue and the group is slowly picked off one by one a la the first film, all the while having the PFSK talk directly to the camera about how hopeless life is and how all he wanted to do was finish his movie. Even the kid’s hair pissed me off.

I found the first film to be pretty frightening. As far as found footage films go, nothing will ever beat “The Blair Witch Project”, “Paranormal Activity”, or “Cloverfield” for their originality, but coming from someone who has explored abandoned hospitals and their favorite scary film is about one…I enjoyed the first “Grave Encounters”. Sure, the budget could’ve been higher so the effects a bit more realistic, but even putting that aside the scares still made me hug my knees. I’m sorry to say that “Grave Encounters 2” did nothing of the sort except try to repeat some of the same scares but in a worse way. Trying to add a sub-plot was also a mistake because it detracted from the actual creepiness of people being dragged down halls and running away from ghoul-children. The worst part is that it kind of left it open for a third installment, which I can only imagine would be absolutely abysmal. Total ugh-ness.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Watch the trailer if you want to see the “best” parts, but definitely check out the first film if you like scary movies. A bit rough around the edges but I thought it was pretty good. Also for any future film school student, study the main character so you can reach the maximum level of douchebaggery among your fellow students.

FLICKCHART RATING: 1410/1953 (Much too high in my opinion)

“The Expendables 2” – Back for War

I had no idea Chuck Norris’ voice was so high. That’s pretty much what I walked away with from this sequel, besides the over the top explosions and gun battles that would make Michael Bay break down and cry. To me this was a perfect example of what happens when a studio gets involved with making a sequel to a half-way decent film, and in my opinion it failed to hit the mark.

The first “Expendables” was pretty solid; a bunch of aging action stars getting together to form a mercenary-for-hire team to do the dirty work of the government while also retaining some form of humanity. This second take was more of a revenge mission as one of the members is killed off right at the beginning. When the posters and the teaser trailer hit, everyone was excited to see JCVD and Chuck Norris (CHUCK NORRIS!) in the film, but after watching it you realize that they were hardly in it at all. JCVD (Jean-Claude Van Damme) plays the villain of the film, trying to collect plutonium to make a bomb or something, kind of hard to pick up on when the actual plot scenes are few and far between. Chuck Norris shows up about halfway into the movie as another friendly mercenary who likes to work alone, however his appearance is nothing short of a gimmick. No joke, but when he walks up to the team he actually delivers his own “Chuck Norris” meme that was so popular on the internet a few years back. That’s how…low this movie sunk. Bruce Willis and the good Governator make a comeback as well, and I’ll honestly say that I enjoyed Willis’ performance as a John McClane-esque CIA operative working in the shadows. Arnold, however…I swear the man’s acting has become worse over the years. He definitely peaked during “Jingle All The Way”. From the way the trailer portrayed those two I thought they were going to be villains in the film, judging by all of the yelling they did in the first film, but they surprised me and actually come out on top as friends to Sylvester and his crew. However while we’re on the topic of cheesy lines, I’m starting to wonder if Arnold is getting paid every time he says “I’ll be back” in a movie that isn’t “Terminator”, because frankly it’s getting old. He and Bruce have a quote exchange in the middle of a firefight (where else?) that is literally just a chance for them to pretend to be the other. Wow.

Just a normal day for Chuck Norris.

So enough about why it was mediocre. The original cast is back and I enjoy the camaraderie they have for one another, especially because they’re all jacked up meat heads with guns. Jet Li makes yet another appearance in a film, coming out of retirement for the umpteenth time, but disappears early on with a very ambiguous answer as to whether we’ll see him in future installments. The explosions and violence definitely keep up with the name “Expendables” and don’t leave you wanting for much else. The dialogue could use some tweaking, but then again in a movie about guys shooting each other and blowing things up one-liners are an occupational hazard. I guess the first film really didn’t need a sequel because it would essentially be the same film, over and over again, which is exactly what this ended up being. I’m sure the studios will want more of these and last I saw, a female version of the film is on it’s way. So heads up, we could be seeing “The Expendabetties” sometime in the near future.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Hooray explosions!

FLICKCHART RATING: 633/1950