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“Alien: Covenant” disappoints on many levels

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As I left the theater, I honestly gave a small giggle. Once I got into my car, the giggle became a laugh. Then, as I drove to my house, the laughter just couldn’t stop. I couldn’t believe how absurd and dumbfounded this feature was that I found myself laughing in mockery over what strange choices director Ridley Scott took. At least when “Prometheus” came out, Scott had the upper hand in starting a fresh timeline. My theory is thanks to those who complained about the unhinging questions and mysteries from that movie, we ended up with “Alien: Covenant.” A film meant to pacifier fans who complained about Scott’s prequel. Instead, I feel those pacifiers have been rejected in the process.

I should point out another film would have taken place after “Prometheus” called “Paradise Lost” and I was rather intrigued to see where it would lead. From what I recall, unless its the “Mandela Effect” kicking in, we would have seen Elizabeth Shaw’s character visit the Engineer world and seek her questions of why this and that. Either that concept was tossed when writer Damon Lindelof left or Scott had alternate plans. After all, he did say there would be no xenomorphs in the next feature and then contradicted himself by saying they would have aliens of a similar breed. Honestly, I’d rather get my opinion out of the way now considering how confusing it is to look into the behind the scenes stuff already.

The plot is very close, if not, and somewhat similar to the first “Alien” movie. A group of people get a distress call and go to investigate, they find a strange stuff there, one of the members gets attacked by a creature that impregnates him with an alien and so forth. Scott tries to rectify that by doing some new stuff like introducing the ship’s crew in the midst of an action scene. But when casualties happen, like one of the scientists die in the wreckage, we feel little to no empathy because we just met these people. In previous movies, at least we had time and development in understanding who we are with. Here, I could care less.

The spacecraft named Covenant holds a crew on a mission for colonization. That means, we spent with couples instead of scientists. Even when the crew of Prometheus was doing things like taking helmets off in oxygen laden alien ships, I wouldn’t mind it too much because they were observers and examining things. Here, when I see normal people walk around on an alien planet without something crucial as a space helmet, it begs the question if they really think they got a chance at living or have a death wish. And when your characters are so dumb enough to a point they slip on bloody floors or shoot alien creatures inside a ship near explosive equipment, it gets irritating to wonder if anyone has any brains. Even the Robinson Family on the “Lost In Space” series knew much better than these people.

I can’t remember a single character that was memorable or did anything significant. Sure, Katherine Waterston’s character is given this Ripley-style arch where they place her in the background and build her up, but it doesn’t work. All we know to her character is that she is suffering from a loss and you don’t feel the building emotion of her recovering once her big action scene kicks in. Most of these crew members feel like the red shirts you would see on Star Trek. The minute you see them, you know someone is going to act dumb and die from their consequences. Even the captain is so miffed that what happens to him later on is so baffling that it makes you think why would anyone make such poor choices.

So is there anything worth sparing? For one, Michael Fassbender has proven to be very unique to this “prequel” trilogy. He does double duty as android Walter who seeks to serve the crew and android David who plans to one up mankind in his own right. Being a fan of Blade Runner, there is a running theme of creation vs. creator that is reflected here. Instead of creation asking for something impossible to achieve, it seeks to outdo creator by means of making something in his own image. It is here the character of David is brought to creepy levels that overpower those of HAL 9000. The idea if he is created in the most perfect way possible and wishes to let humanity die on its imperfect nature. A typical trope but it’s helped with the character of Walter who is complete opposite and let nature take its course.

Even if I said most of the crew are forgettable, Danny McBride is surprisingly engaging here. His character Tennessee is more laid back and less manic compared to his other comedic roles. McBride tries to channel his actions like he is the next Kurt Russell when it comes to overpowering computer restrictions and comes handy in key action scenes near the end. Considering how I’m used to seeing him in raunchy comedies, I’m very speechless to see how great his acting is here. When he looses someone dear, we see him react in broken manner that shows how much he is giving it his all.

On the whole, did I completely hate this movie? For the most part, I’d say maybe the first and second acts where fine. When it was doing its own thing and trying to follow on the questions “Prometheus” left, that’s when I felt it worked. The final 20 minutes, on the other hand, try way too hard to repeat what made “Alien” so enjoyable. “Alien” was about claustrophobia and survive in the unknown space frontier. Here, all of that gets revisited in a section of the movie that could have been so easily cut out and you wouldn’t have noticed it. I won’t go into spoilers about what happens in the final third, but if you know what happens at the end of EVERY ALIEN MOVIE, then I’m certain will expect that it will go in THIS DIRECTION as well. But wait, there is a bonus twist tossed in that is sure to throw viewers for a loop but even we can see that coming a mile away.

How did one of the most unique and mysterious of features get turned into something akin to “Friday the 13th?” The beauty and sublime are replaced by trope characters repeating things that have been done light-years before. There was never a sense of dread or fear. I was never scared at all by these CGI monsters and never felt like I was on the edge of my seat during the action scenes. It’s hard for me to chalk off if Ridley Scott was giving too much freedom with the franchise or the keys to the liquor cabinet during press interviews. I feel bad for saying that because Scott is capable of doing a good movie and this shows it. There is much eye candy to behold, but the story that goes with it doesn’t match up. If 20th Century Fox is considering another installment, my best recommendation is to really overlook what has become right before they hand over the blank check budget.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” bigger yet dumber

Independence-Day-2-posterSequels appear to be all the rage these days. Even ones that exist to films that were released eons ago. So when Roland Emmerich announced he was crafting a sequel to the 1996 sci-fi hit, I was a little skeptical. The first film was fine alone and stands for being an explosive popcorn flick. Not a masterpiece but at least entertaining none the less. Emmerich to me is more like a modern day Jack Arnold. He knows how to deliver on the concept, but unlike Arnold (who is known for Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man), Emmerich is weak on story and character. And much of that is obvious here.

The general story here is that the aliens are back, but literally bigger. They seek to get revenge on Earth after the War of 1996 by parking its massive craft on the tip of the planet. Old characters are back like David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) who seek a way to defeat them. While newbies like Liam Helmsworth and Jessie Usher sadly can’t hold a candle or try to match the goofy spirit of the original. And that’s in part to how much time has passed with Independence Day. The first movie, on its own terms, never had a building franchise. No sequels, no spin offs (aside from the occasional novels but who reads them or even considers them cannon) or anything to show a follow up was needed.

In a nutshell, its practically the first movie but with CGI, more subplots, more destruction and little to care for. There are so many storylines, that even I found it hard to keep track of what was going on most of the time. One minute, we are with Jeff Goldblum examining spaceships in Africa, and then the next minute, we are with Bill Pullman trying to convince Earth that there is an impending invasion. To be fair, its nice to see some characters return and at least try to be essential to the story line. And that’s because we knew what to expect from this kind of movie. Its basically a 1950s invasion movie but with updated stuff and a bigger budget. But even some characters have no point or purpose to be there. Judd Hirsch is a prime example as he trudges on through the apocalypse with little to nothing to do.

Everything that made Independence Day unique is rehashed and yet used unfairly. There’s tons of worldwide destruction in one scene when the mothership parks itself on the top of Earth, and yet it happens like a casual thing. In the original, there was build up and tension to the big explosions akin to a ticking clock. Now, everything is akin to “stuff happens” and that’s it. Certain characters die and even whole countries get torn apart. But we don’t feel an impact because nothing is literally there to drive this emotion.

Thought if I had to be fair, it was nice to see some characters come back and the destruction is good as always. But I feel “Resurgence” was trying to do what “Jurassic World” did. With “Jurassic World,” it took an old concept and did some new things with it. It didn’t rehash anything from the first movie and knew when to be bigger while maintaining proper build up. Here, its a different case. While I don’t think “Resurgence” is the worst of the summer, its not a very good flick. Just because the spaceships are bigger and just because the aliens are the size of Godzilla, doesn’t make it a worthy summer flick.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy

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Of all the trilogies to exist in this universe, I never thought I would hold this one a step above Star Wars in terms of admiration. Edgar Wright originally started this as a joke but since has been official. Three original movies with different plots that have similar connections with only one big thing that keeps it together; a Cornetto ice cream. For those here in the U.S., a Cornetto is sort of a Nestle Drumstick ice cream but with more diverse flavors. An odd choice how three different movies are connected but a simple ice cream brand. And yet, each movie feels deliciously enjoyable as a frozen treat.

Shaun-of-the-deadShaun of the Dead kicks it off with the colors resembling a strawberry flavor for the gore and blood. Indeed, how fitting it is seeing the film is great send off to the Romero zombie movies. But in a sense, it feels more like both an homage and a “how NOT to survive” film. Simon Pegg is Shaun, a electronic clerk without a life, bunks with a lazy friend (Nick Frost) and recently had his girl break up with him. To think, this would be the last hero you would expect to root for in a zombie apocalypse.

Even if you haven’t see the Romero films, this movie is such a roller coaster to watch from beginning to end as our hero Shaun has to use what he has to stay alive. What makes this guy so lovable is not just the every-man abilities he gets, but just how we connect to his low life. This is the last person we expect to see be a leader with a group of friends that even feel diverse about his choices. From setting up camp in a pub to devising plan after plan, the comedy comes from not just how these people can’t work with each other but how they poorly they perform. As the gory effects mix beautifully with the British wit, one wonders how a film like this can be so well-made and nearly flawless.

2007-hot_fuzz-1The second film in the trilogy takes a different turn with Hot Fuzz. The original blue flavor symbolizes the police element which very describes this entry in a nutshell. Simon Pegg returns as a hard-boiled but “goody-goody” cop named Nicholas Angel. Because of how “too good” he performs, Nicholas gets sent to watch after a small village that is more backwards than you can imagine. Outside of trying to fit in with the lazy team, Nicholas thinks something is afoot as key murders happen while trying to deal with small-time tasks like underage teens in pubs and chasing geese.

Trading in his slacker personality, Simon Pegg does a good job playing the tough as nails cop while a good bulk of the comedy comes from how his serious edge doesn’t mingle with the small town. Of course, this builds to a huge conspiracy that he is aware of and perhaps a few others too. One suspicious character is his new chum Ed (Nick Frost) who may seem dimwitted but surprisingly doesn’t get the hard shaft when he messes up. The highlight of Hot Fuzz is the chemistry between Pegg and Frost knowing how well these two play off each other like a comedy couple. The humor of the movie is certainly in the right place seeing how odd of a village that can take something so small as a typo in a newspaper column so seriously.

However, while most people deem this the best of the three, there are problems I have with this one. The tone of Hot Fuzz tends to parody action buddy movies and at times seems to fall into the traps of them. What feels like a satire at times can be a bit too close when mimicking these Michael Bay style tropes and cliches. Of course, they do pay off at the end but nearly ruin the unpredictable factor. Now there is a dark twist about the village that I can spoil which brings the movie into a huge 360 degree turn but I tend to question the aspect too much. Unlike Shaun that is straight-up fun, the clashing parody of real cop drama vs. stylized action gets too much for me to handle. None the less, there is good comedy and charm with these characters but I miss the carefree tone from Shaun of the Dead.

The_World's_End_posterBut that leaves us to The World’s End with mint chocolate chip representing the aliens in this film. And without a doubt, this is my personal favorite of the three. I recall seeing this one in theaters after a slow summer and honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better way to end it. Many fans and moviegoers seem very divided over this one but I still feel it is the strongest of the three for a variety of reasons.

Simon Pegg trades in responsibility to become the loud and boisterous Gary King, who manages to convince his old school pals to gather and attempt a pub crawl that they failed to do years ago. Once back in the town, things seem to have slightly altered outside of the whole town being converted into mechanical beings with blue ink for blood. The concept alone doesn’t get more high winded than that paying homage to 1980s dark sci-fi ranging from John Carpenter films to a little of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Not only does Pegg changes things up but so does Nick Frost as Gary’s best friend who is more calm and organized compared to his previous characters who were lazy and irresponsible. It’s almost like the two traded places just to see how well they could do a character like this. Even Pegg’s Gary comes off as likable despite the loud personality as someone who just wants to relive the past. Its not till near the end a huge plot twist comes into play where we finally understand why this high school past time means so much to him in a tragic yet interesting way.

The rest of World’s End is just pitch perfect to me. The fact you want to see these guys complete this marathon of beer while trying to avoid being converted into alien robots is just fun. Even for a low-budget film, the special effects alone are a huge highlight displaying how much can be accomplished with so little. Dare I say, this entry has probably the best fight scenes of all the three from bathroom brawls to intense chase scenes from one pup to the next. It all builds to a climax that is simple yet I feel Douglas Adams himself would be proud of as the worst of humanity is left to defend how amazing the human race is under the skeptical alien anomaly (voice by Bill Nighy in a hilarious cameo.) In short, this is a very engaging entry.

Besides that, I do admire all three of them for how bizarre and yet entertainingly diverse each one is. Like flavors to ice cream, movies have flavors too that entice out taste buds as much what entertains us. From zombies to cop action to aliens, these three movies have it all and much more. The appeal for these movies is just indescribable as they feel like pure love letters to what movies mean to us and why we love them. While they are not pure masterpieces, they not meant to be. They are Edgar Wright’s great send ups to our favorite genres.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: It Came From Outer Space

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It Came To Theaters....In 3-D!!!!!

It Came To Theaters….In 3-D!!!!!

In the 1950s, it was common practice that invaders from other worlds would be the ultimate enemy. While many were over the fear of war with another nation, movies reflected that with films about aliens trying to take over our world. There are so many to count and so few that reflect outer space monsters are good people. And here is where our good friend Jack Arnold comes in. You can give him any script and he would know how to work with the idea. And next to The Incredible Shrinking Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon, I feel It Came From Outer Space ranks very high among one his best to date.

The premise is very simple. An alien spacecraft crash lands in the Arizonan desert and the inhabitants inside have to make some repairs. While that goes on, an author named John Putname (Richard Carlson) is the only one who knows about it and tries to warn the town that strange beings are among us. And rightfully so, some people get kidnapped and the creatures disguise themselves as duplicates to avoid any suspicion. But once John catches on, he at first thinks the creatures are pure evil but later sympathizes when he finds their true purpose.

Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush watch the skies...

Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush watch the skies…

Here is where things get clever. Like movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, the fear of beings from another world is kept but not hit over the head. We understand that humans have a fear for aliens while the other worldly creatures know this too. Its a great commentary on xenophobia and how afraid we were of other nations at the time. The scene that will always stick out in my mind is when John meets one of the creatures disguised as a human in a mine shaft and have a basic conversation at where they stand. It all concludes when the alien reveals his true self reluctantly making for a chilling yet powerful scene.

Credit goes to Ray Bradburry for the story even though the screenplay was written by Harry Essex. Some say Harry took a lot of Bradbury’s material from his screen treatment but changed the dialogue. Regardless, one can tell it has that subtle and poetic touch that normally is a crucial part of Ray Bradbury’s writing style. Even Bradbury himself stated he wanted to treat the alien creatures as beings that were not dangerous which was unusual at the time. Supposedly, he offered two different story outlines; one with the aliens as being malicious and another when the aliens acting benign. Apparently, Universal went with the right decision.

Take notes Hollywood! THIS is an alien!

Take notes Hollywood! THIS is an alien!

The alien design is also very different from the others at the time. We don’t see their true form that often. Most of the time, we get a point-of-view shot that was achieved by blowing a bubble onto the lens which is very creative. And when we do, its a very brief shot which I feel adds to the mystery.  And Its described as a giant floating eye with a bizarre mass of furry bits that almost look like tentacles. We don’t see legs or arms. Just a giant mass floating around and that to me is pure imagination right there. We get something so bizarre that we’ve never seen before and yet question how it can be peaceful. For something that looks so menacing, its a wonder how it can be seen as gentle and that’s how clever this movie is. Originally, another monster design was made but it was eventually used as the Mutants in This Island Earth and certainly it was for the best.

Well, if its bigger on the outside....

Well, if its bigger on the outside….

Another notable highlight was that this was Universal’s first foray into 3-D movies which were all the rave. Sadly, I was only able to see this move in 2-D seeing there has yet to be an official release. Its a shame seeing I am curious to see how certain scenes would work like the falling rocks and the “bubble-vision” shots of the alien. Either way, its still stunning to watch no matter what version. The last thing to address is that there are other humans in this movie that think otherwise about our outer space visitors as a sheriff (Charles Drake) grows paranoid over the creature’s ambiguous nature and plans to hunt them down. Instead of the cliche “man hate alien” motif, we understand why. There is no good or bad side. Just basic paranoia. And for a B-movie to address those heavy themes while still being fun and enjoyable is a wonder to me. Don’t let this one gather dust on the shelf. Check out this underrated sci-fi classic for what its worth.

Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial

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The movie that captivated hearts...and gets no play around Halloween on TV

The movie that captivated hearts…and gets no play around Halloween on TV

I’m surprised to say not one person has thought of the idea of Steven Spielberg’s E.T. being suited as a movie for Halloween. Yeah it has elements that make it the perfect movie for kids and family but when you really start to look at it, it does have the feeling of being a movie to pop on during the spooky season. After all, the iconic fly over the moon shot has to feel at least exciting yet Halloween-ish. Now granted, its not because there’s a scene where trick or treating is involved but the whole movie from tone to narrative wise feels perfect for the season. Don’t believe me? Let’s break it down a bit.

We have the opening scene when E.T.’s kind arrives on Earth. Its played up for wonder with an eerie tone. Its interesting to see visitors from another planet but at the same time, it feels unsettling. The fact that the creatures are kept in the shadows and there’s not a single spoken word of dialogue makes this opening intense but with awe. Sure they are not here for an invasion but are more like intergalactic botanists that have who knows how many alien plants collected. But even then, we don’t know if they are good or just examining the planet for a possible invasion.

Elliot (Henry Thomas), Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) look over their new found friend

Elliot (Henry Thomas), Gertie (Drew Barrymore) and Michael (Robert MacNaughton) look over their new found friend

Anyway, the aliens leave when a group of people come close by but unfortunately one of them gets left behind. It seeks refuge in a nearby town where in a nearby home, a 10-year-old boy named Elliot is really having a tough time. His sister Gertie is mischievous yet simple minded and his older brother Michael likes to make fun of him of lot. Worse, they are going through a huge divorce with their parents and its effecting everyone. The idea of someone being young at that age and having a hard time coping with an issue like that can be really tough. In short, Elliot’s life is a mess.

But sure enough, he starts noticing that something other than a coyote exists in his backyard and this is when things get really good. Again, the build-up to E.T.’s reveal is genus. All we get are hands and shadows that again make us wonder if this being from outer space is here for explore or a danger. Well, as you can imagine, it turns out he’s not a bad being after all but there is that sense that we don’t know what to expect from him. Sure he’s kind-hearted but with the ability to levitate objects mentally, bring flowers back to life and connect through other people it only makes you wonder what does he use these abilities for. It adds to the mystery while not demystifying it too much.

Elliot and E.T. wait for the arrival of his ship

Elliot and E.T. wait for the arrival of his ship

The real monsters are the human characters. E.T. is plopped in a world with troubled families and scientists that are fascinated with the discovery and will go as far to entrap a house just to study him. The scene where a group of government agents dressed as astronauts that “quarantine” Elliot’s house is one of the most scariest moments I’ve seen in a family film. The idea of being safe in your own home and have it invaded by your own people (let alone, the government) is a really frightening image and always freaked me out as a kid.

Its funny how Steven Spielberg originally wanted to do a sci-fi horror where a group of aliens terrorize a farm but elements of it changed when he felt that it would be interesting if the aliens were really explorers. Either way, that change was for the best seeing how many invader movies the 1980s would later get. E.T. maybe sweet and heartwarming but it knows when to ground itself into reality while also taking some risks along the way. Its not shy to kill off a character or even afraid to place of heroes in danger. The fact that these kids have no idea how to watch after a 6 foot alien is interesting yet frightening. How would you know its come to make peace or how do you know it arrived to make war? It only adds to the mystery to the character.

From the climatic end that got everyone riding bikes

From the climatic end that got everyone riding bikes

E.T. is really about childhood. Spielberg’s movies often have a running theme about separation or working together as a family. Here, its a bit darker considering Elliot is trying to find a way to deal with the separation of his father and with the discovery of this alien he eventually learns to love and let go at the same time without giving too much away. I also like how its all from the perspective of kids. A lot of the times, we barley see any faces from adults and when we do, its either they have relevance to Elliot or the story. The performances of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore are so investing that we really feel like this is what the world of a kid is like. Originally, there was a scene when Elliot meets up with the principal of his school played by an unseen Harrison Ford playing up to the idea of how this is from the view point of a child and how something big like seeing the principal is simple yet intense. The scene was cut (and rightfully so) but clips are on a laserdisc available documentary. With so much attention devoted to an adult character, it would have ruined the view point all together seeing this is Elliot’s world and its our focus.

There is another character played by Peter Coyote, nicknamed in the credits “Keys,” who is smartly seen from the waist down till later on we see his face. This government agent at first is played up to be a villain until we realize he has similar dreams in seeing if other worldly creatures exist. It humanizes him a bit too much seeing the build-up in the first half but I think it works. We go from what could have been a cliche villain to a sympathetic character who has childish dreams like Elliot. The only thing I feel that is weird is how later on he talks to Elliot’s mom played by Dee Wallace as if there’s a hinting romance. Its brief but at the same time, it does feel a bit shoddy.

A deleted scene where Elliot examines E.T. more. Restored in the 2002 cut with a CGI model, it was placed on the Blu-ray as a bonus feature and rightfully so

A deleted scene where Elliot examines E.T. more. Restored in the 2002 cut with a CGI model, it was placed on the Blu-ray as a bonus feature and rightfully so

And yes, I am aware of the 2002 re-release version with the updated effects and stuff. I actually had the advantage to see this at my local drive-in theater and if you want my thoughts, I’d say stick with the original cut. At times, the updated effects did look unique back and did fix a few things up like the flying stiff bike riders and some of the floating objects. But even as a kid, I was bugged by how the Carlo Rambaldi puppet was replaced at times with a CGI model. Granted, it did manage to get a few more expressions but there was a unique charm to the anamatronic that brought it to life more than even the CGI model did. When E.T. mentions how his kind will come get him in broken English, you can’t tell if he’s happy or sad about it. The 2002 version robs this charm by making it clear about how home sick he is. There’s also the two added scenes where Elliot examines E.T. more in the bathroom and Gertie bumping into the mother on Halloween night which are cute but they don’t add much to the narrative. I’m not jumping on the bandwagon and saying the original cut is the one that must be seen. But I will say that while I do prefer the original edit, there were some things that I did appreciate that got fixed but there were only minor things like certain effect shots here and there. Bottom line, there was no reason to re-edit E.T. because its perfect that way it is.

Even he's ready for Trick or Treating...

Even he’s ready for Trick or Treating…

Anyway, back to my point, E.T. deserves to be labeled a Halloween movie because it not only has the elements of one but when you think about it, Halloween was a special time for kids. It puts us in the right mindset when we were young and dreamed of being adventurous. We all had similar things we wanted to do like how we wanted to meet creatures from different worlds or go on an epic adventure. Its charming while also knows when to be subtly dark at the right moments. In fact, a lot of our childhoods weren’t always perfect. At times, there was good stuff while at times there was stuff we had to go through that was unbelievably harsh to us as kids but as an adult we accept it as something of the norm. Its been hailed for years as a masterpiece, its one of my all-time favorite movies and you can see why. So if you want to take a break from all the usual monster movies and have something charming but not too sugary-sweet, I’d say pop this in around the bewitching hour for some memorable charm and heart.