“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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“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

“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)