Blog Archives

“Alien: Covenant” disappoints on many levels

Alien-Covenant-Trailer-Breakdown-59

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.

“Rogue One”a step in the right direction

featured-image-rogue-one

Last year, Disney reintroduced the Star Wars franchise to a new generation with “Force Awakens.” The positive of that was to see a new story on the big screen from the galaxy far, far away. However, my greatest disappointment was how so much time was spent rehashing material from the first movie instead of being its own thing. “Rogue One” has the upper hand because its a true prequel. This one has the advantage to expand on the universe while being a true link to “Star Wars.”

The main center of the story is a heroin named Jyn (Felicity Jones) who reluctantly assists a group of rebels to find out what the evil Imperial army is up to. I like how at first she doesn’t show interest but suddenly shows a sign of care once faced with what’s to come. Although she has little to no appeal in the space battles, her curiosity peaks when she learns how her father is in the mix of this. She is rebellious yet cunning. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t highly determined.

Joining for the trip is an officer named Cassian (Diego Luna) whose only there to do his job. Tasked with the mission at hand, Cassian shares the same instincts but knows his limits. In one crucial moment, he’s told to assassinate someone vital to bringing down the Rebellion. Once in the moment, he hesitates questioning what value it would bring.  I like how he’s not stubborn to a new idea and at least there is no romantic pairing with Jyn. He’s an honest companion that questions his rights as a fighter.

Other rebels on the way range from a blind man who believes in the Jedi ways and his friend who is more militant. There’s sort of a ying and yang idea going on here as the two have different fighting methods. One is more resourceful on spiritual belief while the other is more into physical action. Its elements like these that make me wonder why “Force Awakens” wasn’t this clever with ideas like this. Sure it had Finn questioning if he’s a human or a fighting machine, but “Rouge One” was built around a fresh story.

To be fair, this one doesn’t shy away from reheating leftover elements. Case and point is an android named K-2SO. He’s obviously the C-3PO type who is very knowledgeable despite being the comic relief. Thankfully, Alan Tudyk’s performance saves the character from being a predictable variation making K more open to fighting when needed and hilariously pessimistic. In a way, this bot reminded me of Marvin the Depressed Robot or some kind of creation that only Douglas Adams would delight in.

Like I said, “Rogue One” doesn’t shy away from the bin of “oh, look its this from the other films” or “wow, that answers this.” I can’t begin to describe the amount of Easter eggs and things I’m sure Star Wars fans of old will be overjoyed in. The one I’m most surprised is a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I guess now in days you don’t need to hire a new actor with heavy make-up and I should be too shocked considering this same method was done in Tron Legacy to Jeff Bridges. Still, I liked how limitless this movie went when it came to linking itself to the older entry.

When you boil it down, “Rouge One” is hard to talk about without giving away most of the plot details. For fans of old and new, this will certainly be a nice Christmas treat. I know considering how much of a kick I got out of seeing real sets instead of CGI crafted ones, actual planet environments instead of studio built ones and intense battle scenes that challenge or match the charm of the original trilogy. I can’t tell you how much I smiled to see the AT-TA walkers during the big finale. This is a fun ball of nostalgia while also delivering a complex movie about power and fighting back.

Though parents, be fair warned. “Rouge One” is highly recommended not for smaller fans. This is a radically different movie as director Gareth Edwards wanted this to be more like a  war movie and I feel he succeeded. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is packed with many intense battle scenes and shootouts that parents might want to reconsider this as a Christmas gift for their kids. Even bigger of a debate is the ending (which I will try to avoid ruining) as key characters get killed off to which I’m certain will upset some viewers. For alternatives, I suggest taking them to either “Moana” or “Fantastic Beasts.” Both films have a kind charm that are better suited for the holiday. “Rogue One” is a good entry and an improvement over last year’s entry. But what irks me is how it won’t be canon with the new trilogy. Apparently, the idea is to make a series of Star Wars anthology movies that are more in line with the original films. Honestly, I’d more inclined to see them than watch the continuing retreaded adventures of Kylo Ren.

“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.

New “Star Wars” good entry but lacks something

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterIt has been a decade since “Revenge of the Sith” and my thoughts were simple. Six films were all that was needed in the Star Wars canon. There was no way they could make a new set of films or even a new one period. The cast was too old and I didn’t feel there was anything else to explore in the franchise. Sure there were tons of worlds but considering the fan fiction and “Expanded Universe,” I didn’t think there was a possible way to make a new movie at the time. And when Disney bought the rights from creator George Lucas, I still didn’t think it was possible. Well one way or another, they did it. They were able to make a seventh entry in hopes of making a new trilogy from what I hear.

I went in, had my “Dark Crystal” t-shirt on (lost my Star Wars shirt. still fitting seeing 33 years ago that movie came out on the 17th of December), treated some friends of mine and watched the movie. My reaction will be quite different from what many will expect. But let me say off the cuff that this is a Star Wars movie. There are elements and things that I can look at and say this is something I can picture in the Star Wars universe. The planets, alien beings and spaceships are Star Wars elements. But as far as the rest of the movie goes, it makes for a good entry. Not a great entry along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back,” but at least respectfully better than the prequel trilogy.

Star-Wars-7-Character-Guide-Finn-ReyWithout ruining too much, “The Force Awakens” has plenty of interesting elements and story ideas. I dig the idea of a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) questioning his place in the universe. Along the ranks of the Iron Giant and Peace from “Wizards,” his position as a weapon is seen as an afterthought as he seeks for redemption. I felt the character and the actor were one seeing how much subtly they show in his wish to change. This is not a basic cliche but a full developed character. Not once in the saga have we questioned the aspect of a mindless solider’s ability to have a personality and questioning morality. Here, we do and it does feel philosophical in a sense. Not in a “beating over the head message” but more of a character motive which is very fitting here. To me, this was “THX-1138” but performed better.

Of course, things get into a tangle with a desert scavenger (Daisy Ridley) who is also searching for purpose as well. Again, hard to talk about the character without giving too much but here are the basics. This is a cool heron. When she is captured, she doesn’t sit and wait for someone to rescue her. This is the kind of character that will seek a way to escape no matter what it takes. Of course, this does contradict it a bit seeing she thinks certain parents who abandoned her as a kid will return. On the plus, its nice to see a female hero that can fight, use logic and know how to run a “bucket of bolts.”

star-wars-force-awakens-han-solo-chewbacca“Force Awakens” I’m sure will be the talk of the town with old fans seeing some familiar faces appear. Confirming just by the trailer, yes we get Han Solo and his sidekick Chewbacca. I admit, seeing Harrison Ford still doing stunts at the age of 73 was incredible. It shows he still knows hows to be an action man even long after the originals. Some get cameos, some get a small importance to the story while others appear just to please the fans. Its nice to see familiar faces and the original actors but part of me wishes they did a lot more. Or didn’t use some for a sequel bait. Oh, well get to that later….in non-spoiler fashion.

However, not all of the new adventures works. At least for me. The story-line I felt took one too many familiar beats from the original trilogy. And I understand what its trying to do. Certain elements are trying to please the mass of die hard nostalgia fans. Again, I can’t talk about them without spoiling it. But let’s say unlike Terminator Genysis, they at least take old stuff and try to do new things instead of tossing them at the screen and seeing if it sticks. A good example is the aspect of the villain. Yeah, they try to do this thing with Vader by giving him a mask and family issues. Its no Vader but there is this nice menace that reminds us of the power that was once there.

force-socialAnd speaking of which, the new baddies were get are not that interesting. Instead of the Empire, we get the First Order. Yeah, an obvious take and attack on Nazism even right down to the flags and its general making dictations of conquest as an army of stormtroopers observe. Yeah, you can argue that was something with the original trilogy but here, it feels a tad more obvious even right down to the banner design. Even the new set of villains are sort of forgettable. With more focus on our heroes, the basic gist we get from these new evildoers is they are evil and want to take over the galaxy.

Even Kylo Ren is pitted as the next Vader and to be honest, he does has some intimidation. You can feel this fear and anger flow from him but only when he had the mask on. Though, there are times when he did act like he was having a childish fit when he thrashed his light-saber at computer screens after hearing bad news. And without giving too much away, when his true face is revealed, most of that menace dimmed. It appeared more like a brooding version of the secret love child between Benedict Cumberbatch and Josh Groban. And the ever so hyped Captain Phasma felt very useless to me. Aside from one moment near the end, this metallic baddie never did anything that stood out to me. The only one who stood out was Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a tough as nails general whose so determined to conquer even to the point you see his eyes bug out of his head when he’s screaming speeches.

Now, I understand this is a new entry in a trilogy Disney is crafting but when making a new film, it would be nice to at least tie up some loose ends. Again, without spoiling too much, there are open questions left here and there which I feel give too much sequel bait. Call it a nitpick, but seeing we are being introduced to these characters for the first time, I feel it would have been nice to at least give a sense of closure without being too broad. I understand there are character arcs that need to be explored but even in the first Star Wars (“A New Hope”), it ended on a note that felt satisfying as opposed to saying “there will be another” in a blunt manner. A better example are the new Planet of the Apes movies which do open the door for a sequel but not in a demanding way. It tells us the story is concluded and there is room for another as opposed to making obvious set ups. When something like that happens when it leaves too many questions floating around, it obviously says “there will be a sequel to answer those” and it really annoys me. Again, these are new characters and at least we should feel a sense of closure as opposed to a “To Be Continued” feeling by the end. Its a double edge sword but that’s how I felt.

Aside from the flaws, I can safely say this is a Star Wars movie. I can look at a certain scene from the movie and say on the fly, this is what a Star Wars movie looks like and acts like. The action scenes are enjoyable, the new monsters and aliens are unique to look at, the weapons are certainly Star Wars and the new worlds we see are a nice change of pace. I feel like its something “Star Trek: Generations” tried to do by merging the universe of the old with the new, but I feel its done a tad better here. Maybe if the villains where more threatening and the story took some new risks, it could have been this great sequel along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back.” But I feel its enjoyment is on the level of the first movie and “Return of the Jedi.” And thankfully its nowhere near the area of the prequels, but part of me feels there could have been more improvement in spots. On the upside, it was nice to see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen and makes it an easy recommendation. Just don’t go in with too much hype is what I say.

The Mysterious Case of “Pacific Rim’s” Box Office Bombing

The movie that divided viewers....

The movie that divided viewers….

I must ask why did “Pacific Rim” bomb in the US while “Grown Ups 2” become a big hit? It seemed predictable that one would be a far better film seeing the hype and buzz but how did Del Toror’s magnum opus about giant robots and fierce sea monsters get taken down by a lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame, lame and completely unfunny Adam Sandler comedy?

First, Pacific Rim was a hard movie to sell and after watching it, I can see why. The idea of monsters from another world taking over is not a bad idea and the concept of having a facility where that is taken care of by means of giant robots controlled by people is hair-brained but executed in such a clever way. What the tv and trailer ads didn’t talk about is how it takes TWO to control a massive machine and how the people have to be literally linked together in order for the thing to work. Its an interesting theme on relationships and trying to find balance with one another.

But this leads to one problem with Pacific Rim that I have with it. Its a very well set-up universe with complex concepts but in the long run feels way too complex. Its never easy to make a movie that will please anyone when they are either too simple or stuff with too much rules for the universe its placed in. And here, I think there is too much which I feel should have been saved for a sequel. Things like seeing the home world of the Kajui should have been kept a mystery and while I did enjoy Ron Pearlman’s character as a black market dealer with giant monster organs, I feel his presence hinted a bigger role for a future film in some way. Other ideas like how the monsters are possibly and mentally linked are not explained to the point where it feels like they pay off in the end but once again, it feels like build up to a second feature where more is explained.

I heard rumors that a 3 hour cut exists and if that is possible, maybe it has more material that just couldn’t fit a 2 hour summer blockbuster. But what we get is at least tolerable. The characters are well-developed, the fight scenes are cool (even if its CGI heavy and sometimes go on for too long in spots), the creature designs look amazing (even if they appear to be a bit TOO CLOSE to the monsters in Hellboy), and some shots feel iconic in their own right like a little child seeing a massive fight before her eyes.

So if Pacific Rim had the makings of a good blockbuster amidst its flaws, what does that leave for Grown Ups 2? Well, I have a few theories. Either people were unsure to make of Del Toro’s flick or the advertising just didn’t address the complex nature (as addressed earlier) which harmed a unique gimmick that could have saved the film’s marketing department. (They do address the whole “takes two to operate a giant robot” but not a single one said THEY had to be linked…think about it) Or people just wanted a bright shiny movie that even thought it looked stupid they just went for it because it was dumb fun as opposed to ridiculous but clever fun.

As for my thoughts on Grown Ups 2, what can be said that hasn’t? Well, for one the plot….its nothing. Just a random set of events that either don’t pay off or just conclude in a weak way. There are things like David Spade meeting his estranged son or Adam Sandler trying to bond with his kids while the mother has a day off as well as a group of frat college boys out to seek vengeance on the group, but 100% of them have a weak pay off or not one at all.

Worse is the production values. For a movie budgeted at $80 million, they sure needed a CGI deer and CGI David Spade trapped in a moving tire. For a film with that big of a budget, it feels like good money was wasted to sure a cheap quality. I sat though and only laughed with Shaq

...the movie everyone saw...I wonder if they regret it

…the movie everyone saw…I wonder if they regret it

was on-screen because of his clueless but fun natured performance. Everything else was met with dead silence or the munching of me eating potato chips to drown out the stupidity. Not even Taylor Lautner as a self parody of his wolf pack from the Twlight films can save this flick. Its just an insult waste of your time that once again brings me to my main point.

Grown Ups 2 was nothing. People paid to see nothing. And instead of being risky and seeing a loud blockbuster with explosions, opted for something less complex. Another theory I have deals with the blockbuster fatigue we had this year but I’m saving that discussion for a future FB post. The only hope I can say is that Pacific Rim will get new life over here on home video cause seeing how huge of a hit it was overseas, it makes me wonder if it qualifies as franchise material for both parties. Then again, Del Toro did make Hellboy 2 even if the first one didn’t go highly well domestically, so only time can tell….