“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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“Gravity” – Don’t Let Go

So with the Oscars right around the corner and ten movies on the “Best Picture” list, I figured it was time to start checking some of these out. Granted I’ve waited long enough for all the hype to sink in, which is therefore going to mean that this post will probably piss off some people, but that’s why I write. “Gravity” was pretty good…but definitely not Oscar worthy in my mind.Gravity

Ok now that some of you are teeming with anger, let’s press on. The Academy loves to honor films that really push actor’s limits, whether physically or because they’re pretty much the only person on screen. The latter happens to be the case for “Gravity”, as we find ourselves joining Sandra Bullock for about 3/4 of the movie, and I’m pretty sure the soundtrack could’ve been recorded by the Williams’ sisters with all the grunting. Basic outline is this (if you couldn’t gather it from the trailer/poster): Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) are two astronauts repairing the hubble space telescope when they are informed that some Russians blew up a defunct satellite which in turn creates a chain reaction of debris to get caught in Earth’s gravitational pull. What this means is that a bunch of sharp crap is going to be flying towards our heroes at Superman speeds. Naturally things go bad and Stone becomes untethered in space.

There’s your story.

So yeah, the plot is pretty good because it keeps you on edge. When it’s one-on-one like that you tend to feel like you’re right there experiencing the fear that the character is feeling. “Gravity” did a pretty good job with that, and there’s nothing wrong with it…it just felt empty. This is not meant to undermine Sandra Bullock’s acting in anyway, I just felt that by the end of the movie I could’ve guessed the whole thing without watching it. And George Clooney was in the film for maybe a minute so it makes you wonder if he was just attached to give it more traction. Again, not a bad movie by any means, just not something I would root for at the Oscars.

Gravity-movie-2013-trailer-screenshot-international-space-stationYeah um, screw that.

I’m sure I could do some deeper research into “Space movies that have won Academy Awards” to see how they’ve fared in the past, but I don’t get paid to do this. So instead I’ll focus on seeing it without the “Oscar” connotation. The action crops up pretty fast, and watching satellite debris tear through the telescope is pretty awesome. I’ve never been in space (duh) but I can’t say it’s at the top of my list when things like that can occur. After Stone is broken loose from her tether we get to listen to Kowalski calm her down with idle chit-chat about where they’re from. I’m pretty sure that if I were floating through space that it’d take a bit more than “So what’s Tulsa like this time of year?” to keep me from screaming to death. After awhile Kowalski finally catches up to Stone using thrusters and they make their way towards the International Space Station (which inconveniently blew up in “Armageddon”). But of course nothing in space is easy, so once they reach the ISS a new set of problems arise, such as the fact that the earlier debris is still caught in Earth’s pull, which means HEY! It’s coming back for round two. So essentially, the movie starts all over again and we are forced to watch as Sandra Bullock and George Clooney make it painfully obvious that space sucks.

There you have it, I know I tend to do “in a nutshell” reviews but this almost covered the entire film without giving away spoilers. It’s said that the Oscars are all politics anyway so who knows, but when the credits started to roll both my roommate and I looked at each other and said, “Well it was good…but it wasn’t Oscar good.”

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Great acting with awesome voice work by Ed Harris, and entertaining to say the least, but just leaves you a bit empty afterwards.

FLICKCHART RATING: 547/2071

“Apollo 18” – There’s a reason we’ve never gone back to the moon.

And we’re back. Ok so to start everyone off I actually had quite an invested interest in this film, which I’ll get to below. But for my obligatory first paragraph I’ll just say that I wound up being rather disappointed with the outcome despite having read the original script and possibly even having some input on what the finished version ended up being. Scary things in space have been done before, and much better than this.

While I was living in Los Angeles I had a roommate who worked for a certain agency (he may still work there, who knows) that represented foreign directors and the films they could bring to the table for American audiences.

Real quick, everything I’m typing out here may be illegal on some plane but at this point…oh well.

Anyway, a few years ago while I was interning in Los Angeles I somehow got signed up to see free pre-screeners of films. This means that when a movie has been completed the studios sometimes want to see how an audience will react to it before making it mainstream. Due to these pre-screeners and the reactions they receive, some films become shelved and never see the light of day. I was lucky enough to attend one of these.

I received an email one day about a film coming out called “Movie Title” about a few teens who stumble across an underground military base that is housing extraterrestrials and film their entire encounter. Since I’m already teetering on the edge of some kind of infringement here I won’t say anything else about what the movie was actually called or who directed it, because some of you may actually know what this film was. So I saw the film and it ended up being pretty terrible even though a reputable director was behind the whole thing. Once the movie ended and nobody clapped, pieces of paper were handed out to everyone so that we could answer a few questions and jot down our own changes. Just to give you an idea of what this is like, if everyone saw a great movie they would be scribbling through this paper as if it were a five question math quiz, but since this movie was so bad everyone in the room was hunched over with pencils flying. After I left my scathing review I went home and talked to my roommate about it, the one who works/ed for the agency. The very next day he came home and told me that he had brought up my encounter with the film to his boss (the head honcho), and his boss was extremely eager to hear my review of the film against the script of a movie they were about to start shooting with this new, hot-shot director; a little number called “Apollo 18”.

I agreed because I thought this would lead to some kind of job or something (it didn’t), and began to read the script for the film. It wasn’t a long script, only about 80 pages or so. It follows two astronauts who are sent up in the Apollo 18, a shuttle expedition that was kept under wraps due to the funding and the overall nature of the trip. These two astronauts went back up to the moon, just because, and when they got there they discovered a cosmonaut helmet and a crashed cosmonaut ship. The US government denied all knowledge of the Russian expedition (as they do) and then sh*t gets weird. One of the astronauts gets bitten or attacked by a weird moon alien and starts to change into a more sinister and murderous version of himself. Think “The Shining” on the moon. The movie continues on this direction until it ends with a “These men where never heard from again blah blah blah” message, trying to make you believe it actually happened. That was the overall script. So after I read that I gave a very detailed review of the movie I had seen and described why I thought it was bad. At the same time however, I went above and beyond and wrote my own review of their film and what I would change to make it scarier, more intense, and just overall more enjoyable. My roommate gave it to his boss, his boss was very thankful, and I never heard anything about either movie again. A few months later, “Apollo 18” hit the theaters and the pre-screener I went to has never seen the light of day.

I finally got around to watching “Apollo 18” the other night, waiting until night time so that I would get a good scare and enjoy it the way it was meant to be enjoyed.

I’ll cut to the chase though; it sucked.

There were some subtle changes in the film, stuff that didn’t make a whole world of difference from the script such as a third astronaut, finding more than the cosmonaut’s helmet, and I guess the alien things were moon rocks. Woohoo. I think what my biggest problem with this film (and just about all other ‘found footage’ films) is that the studios try very hard to put that ounce of doubt in your head that this might actually be real. But if that’s the case, why did you make a movie out it? Why did you film all the weird build up stuff? Better question, why share it with a wider audience who is pretty sure Apollo 17 was the last space expedition in the 70’s? I guess this is a double edged sword since hey, it’s entertainment, but if you think about it too hard like I do then it just doesn’t make sense. The scares were mediocre at best, and I was in a completely dark room with headphones and the volume turned up. Granted I had already read the script and pretty much knew what was going to happen, but even then it just wasn’t pulled off correctly. Faux pas.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Sorry that the majority of this post was a story but if you’ve actually seen the movie then I hope you enjoyed the story more. There are plenty of other horror space movies out there (read my review on “Prometheus”) and you should watch those instead. This will just make you question our already over-questioned government and make you angry that you waited until night time to watch it.

FLICKCHART RATING: 1477/1936

“Lockout” – Take No Prisoners.

Guy Pearce is a beast, and lately he’s been shortchanged on his roles. He was essentially the Boromir of “The Hurt Locker”, and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” definitely wasn’t “starring” Guy, so finally having him as a leading man in something as badass as “Lockout” was well overdue. His amazing acting plus Luc Besson’s brilliant action writing made for an hour and a half of total ass-kickery, and I’m going to tell you all about it.

All around the world families have special traditions for Christmas Eve, whether it’s opening a present, watching “It’s A Wonderful Life”, or ordering Chinese food. For some reason I choose to watch Kevin Reynolds’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” every year with my good friend Eric, so if you haven’t seen that definitely get on it. Even after years of watching the same movie every Eve, Guy Pearce still manages to wow me with each viewing. But I digress.

“Lockout” is a space-action-thriller written by Luc Besson (famous for “The Professional”, “The Transporter”, and “Taken”…so basically any movie where people kick major ass and look awesome while doing it) about a prison takeover. It seems to follow the same recipe as “Escape from New York/LA” except Guy Pearce’s “Snow” has a ton more one-liners. The plot starts with the president’s humanitarian daughter visiting a space prison to make sure that prisoners are being treated fairly. Once she arrives the first thing she does is interview the most Scottish man on the planet (or in this case, space) as I couldn’t understand a damn thing the guy said. While interviewing Angus he manages to kill some guards, blow a hole in a wall, and escape.

Well sure.

All of the prisoners are freed from their cryo-sleep including Angus’ older and less Scottish brother, and then the space station becomes a giant Chuck ‘E Cheese for the prisoners and their hostages. Enter Guy Pearce as the ex-Special Ops guy with a sweet ‘tude. His little back story is that he claims he was set up when it appears he killed some other special ops guy, so instead of facing life imprisonment he gets to face space imprisonment. Sorry, couldn’t resist. But anyway, as long as he rescues the President’s daughter he’ll have his freedom. This is where every other convict-rescues-someone movie launches the plotline, but thanks to Besson’s great storytelling Pearce actually turns this option down. It’s not until another character gives him a better reason to go that he finally agrees and the film becomes the snarky, action comedy that it is.

I have always found it better to go into a Luc Besson film without expectations, but not because they’re bad but rather because you just have no idea how amazing it’s going to end up being. “The Professional” came out when Natalie Portman was just a kid but the fact that “Lockout” was excellent gives me hope for the future of great idea filmmaking. Most sci-fi movies these days seem to involve aliens of some sort, or blue cat people (what’s that all about?) so it’s nice to go back to our roots and have a good ol’ human vs. human conflict. IN SPACE. The acting is spectacular, even from the Scottish brothers who might as well be speaking in Klingon, but I implore you to watch it for Guy Pearce. I’ll admit that I’m not well-versed in his older work but I really hope that “Lockout” opened up plenty of doors for his future in the acting world because man, is he versatile.

You’re a big girl, right? Here’s an apple and a gun. Don’t talk to strangers, shoot them.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Excellent. Guns. Action. Zingers. Space.

FLICKCHART RATING: 288/1916

“Prometheus” – The search for our beginning could lead to our end.

This post is going to be extremely biased because I am a HUGE fan of the “Alien” franchise/Ridley Scott. In case you’re a huge fan too and think that I don’t know what I’m talking about, “Alien³” is my favorite out of the quadrilogy (now quintology? maybe?), and that’s saying a lot. Just like when I first heard about a new “Indiana Jones” 14 years ago, I’ve been following every bit of fan news, viral campaigning, and trailer watching one could possibly do. Only this time I didn’t wind up extremely depressed with the outcome.

Ridley Scott has always seemed like the kind of guy who could say, “Sure, I guess I’ll make that movie” and it would turn out to be gold. Even “Matchstick Men” was entertaining and it “starred” Nicolas Cage. So when the news came about that he wanted to return to his space-terror roots and preboot his own franchise, I think you can say I was a tad excited. “Alien” first came out in 1979 as what was supposed to be a B-movie starring a few somewhat known actors, and then shuffled under the rug of lesser known films. They say that “Jaws” did for the ocean what “Psycho” did for showers, and if space wasn’t already creepy enough “Alien” definitely made it worse. Without giving away the premise of the “Alien” franchise for those who have been missing out, I will try to give the best rundown of “Prometheus” that I can without spoiling the awesome.

During the year 2089 a group of archeologists have compiled a handful of cave drawings around the world dating from different centuries, all to contain roughly the same thing: a star map. These archeologists believe that the star maps were put here by “engineers”, or rather our creators (take that, religion). Within a few years the extremely generous and extremely old Peter Weyland has funded the mission to find this moon that all of the star maps are pointing to in order to ask the engineers why they created us, and maybe why male pattern balding is a thing. A crew of 17 heads out on the ship “Prometheus”, aptly named for its purpose. Among this crew are the two archeologist types who found the “invitation”, an android named David (wonderfully played by Michael Fassbender), some other scientists, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) who is running the show, and then the captain and his captain squad. Almost immediately it is made present through both David and Meredith that there is an ulterior motive to this journey, which is a nice homage to the other “Alien” films. Upon landing on the moon LV-223 they disembark and head straight to a weird, dome-like cave system. This is where things get weird. Using technology that would have been great to have in the future world of “Alien” they are able to watch playback of the engineers clearly running from something that eventually killed them.


Awesome.

It’s at this point that normal people would just say, “Well that was cool, if we leave now we can make it to Friday’s for $2 sliders.” But instead the archeologists get excited about their find and David sneaks something back on board. Right around now I became worried that Ridley Scott was just reheating his plot for “Alien” with a different cast and different space suits, but thankfully he proved me very, very wrong. The movie changes gears and suddenly my palms just got sweaty. There are a few solid “Ridley” scenes as I’ve seen them referred to online, and one in particular that made me and the two guys on either side of me cringe as if we just bit into a batch of lemons. It honestly just gets better and better until the end, where we are given an amazing climax/lead-in to “Alien”. I mean, I even applauded.

For those who have seen the other movies in the universe, or at the very least “Alien”, “Prometheus” is filled with bits and pieces from the rest of the series. It’s a real treat to sit there and smile because you realize that the line that character just delivered ends up playing a huge role later on in a completely different film. Ridley really does a great job creating the world he only visited in “Alien”, while also offering this great question of where we actually came from. Also, you’ll learn two very important rules regarding space exploration.

1. Don’t touch anything. Ever. No matter how shiny or cute it is.

2. Don’t go to space.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: Absolutely excellent. A lot of people will be afraid of having nightmares (and you will) for a few weeks following, but it’s totally worth it. Rarely are sequels/prequels worthy of their predecessors, but “Prometheus” is everything I could have hoped for. Oh, and the score is mesmerizing.

FLICKCHART RATING: 40/1907

“Love” – To be given a pass to watch all others go is perhaps the most troubling thing to ones being.

Sometime around 2006 I was introduced to the band Angels & Airwaves. For those of you who don’t know who they are I urge you to check them out, especially if you were/are a fan of Blink-182. But enough about them, let’s talk about “Love”.

Ever since I saw “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I made my standpoint on existential space films, “Never again”. Believe me, this caused many a rift between other film students and myself. Apparently it’s unheard of to dislike a film by Kubrick. So needless to say I was hard pressed to sit down and watch this film, even after I heard that it was produced by Tom DeLonge and the soundtrack done by Angels & Airwaves. In fact, their two most recent albums are called “Love” and “Love: Part II”, go figure. You’re looking them up on YouTube now, aren’t you? Good, let’s get the juices flowing here.

The movie turned out to be what I had hoped “2001” would be; enjoyable. The story spans the course of about 300 years, starting with the Civil War and some soldiers trapped underground, all of the way to an astronaut trapped in space when he loses contact with Houston. Naturally his sanity comes into question as do his survival instincts, and we’re strapped in for the ride. A very minimal cast (pretty much honed down to one actor for the majority) is a bunch of no-names, or at least to me they were. This fact did not stop me from watching the movie, but rather gave me an open mind; this way I wouldn’t expect oscar worthy performances. I don’t want to give away plot points (my girlfriend thinks I do this too often, when in reality I’m just reading the back of the DVD box) so you’ll have to check this one out for yourself. Expect a well-directed, thought provoking, claustrophobic film with a story you’ve seen before, but with an intriguing twist.

DIRECTOR’S CUT: If you enjoy slow movies that aren’t actually slow, check it out. If you have no idea what that previous sentence even means, don’t bother.