Saturday, May 20, 2017

Alien:Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant 
Director: Ridley Scott
Cast Headliners: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, others
Original Release Date: May 19th, 2017

        The Alien franchise has been on quite a journey. It's jumped between timeline placement, directors, lore ideas, transmedia and more without any real sort of true consistency. Alien: Covenant is in a way “Prometheus 2” in Ridley Scott's new prequel series that attempt to tell the “definitive” origins and events leading to the classic first ever Alien film. This time, more philosophical elements and ambience of the 2012 film are blended with older-school classic Alien staples to make something that's fittingly messy yet impressive in its carnage like the xenomorphs themselves.
The movie begins with a brief flashback with the android David(Michael Fassbender) and a welcome cameo by his (younger luckily no silly makeup) Peter Weyland(Guy Pearce) as the creator and createe discuss deep manners in a stark beautiful setting. This definitely foreshadows the events to come that are set after Prometheus.  The movie really picks up in setting of a colonization mission by the spaceship Covenant. Another android Walter(also Michael Fassbender pulling amazing double duty) deals with the de-thawing and aftermath of a interstellar accident. The event leaves many crew members dead within the first intense moments of the film. Things soon transpire into unsettling uneasy chillness however there is plenty of excitement in the film ahead.
The main survivors and active de-thawed members of the expedition , aside from Walter, are the human crew of the Covenant. Our protagonists in a sense include Daniels(Katherine Waterston), Tennessee(Danny Mcbride), Oram(Billy Crudup), Lope(Demian Bichir) as main players with very bit roles by others including Karine(Carmen Ejogo), Maggie(Amy Seimetz), Upworth(Callie Hernandez), Jake(James Franco in a all too short blink and you miss minor role), and more.  The thing about most these characters is that...they're hard to tell apart. This is true of many of Ridley and other's takes on Alien and similar sci-fi tales. The human characters mostly serve as cannon fodder and some small moments of ok if slightly stupid humor. They mostly ask obvious questions or die bloody deaths often.
  As with the original Alien(handled well) to Prometheus(handled only a bit less well) the movie is a slow burn. There are large portions on the spaceship before a distress call brings them to a mysterious (and unplanned for) world.  However the mysterious slow burn pays off in time.
It turns out this is the world where David and Dr.Shaw(Noomi Rapace) had gone to after the events of Prometheus. As for the specifics of where they are now and how their path intersects to the newer heroes it must be seen firsthand. For all the deep ideas attempted to build the world, it's a shame that the connective tissue between this film and earlier and later ones is still either vague or non-existent. There's some decent reveals and twists in that regard as to why things went down. But when it appears, and often there's holes whether intentional or not by Ridley, it's often briefly shown or rushed through.
The movie is about the present thus. About showing results rather than giving explanations in terms of the crazy worlds and xenomorphs at play. It's an adventure where the audience is taken along the crew through this horror world.
What a world it is. Without a doubt Ridley Scott is a master of the visual. Whether in very retro inspired spaceships (ala older Aliens) or on the gorgeous mysterious world (ala Prometheus) the visual aesthetic is breathtaking. This is fine craft in a cinematic sense by this director, as always. Lush dark landscapes.  Intense zoomed in views.  When creatures do show up(duh) they appear very much real for the most part aside from some momentary obvious CGI. The “Neomorph” creatures are a scary fresh take on the classic. The classic Xenomorphs also return, with tweaks, to look as awesome as one remember.  So yet also at times this CGI is used for surreal views and unique perspectives.  There are moments of intense, at times shaky at times clear, action. There's more blood than ever to attain that R rating.  That stuff delivers on the true horror , xenomorph bloodfest.
What is less effective is some of the pacing , plot, and performances. There is a sloww buildup that becomes exciting. Then slows down again. Then becomes exciting. Then slows down again. Then becomes the most exciting with the cheese fully reaching its head with almost kung-fu combat going on. Then seems to end the film. Then (pleasantly surprisingly) picks up again before the true end is reached. All over the board persay. The story , as mentioned, can be vague on what we wish we could have learned about the Engineers and reasoning behind the Xenomorphs existence though it is touched on.
Most human characters make very dumb mistakes which can be a detraction. However it also odds to the gory fun. Through all the xeno-fodder, some shine. Waterston's Daniels is an ...alright heroine. She goes through a lot of pain, like Ripley and Shaw did. But she never quite manages to be as charming or badass as either. She's just kind of ...there but gives an attempted alright performance. Crudup's Oram is a solid highlight. He is fierce, strict, and odd as one would want from a commander of such a mission although the focus goes away from him as time goes on. McBride is of course pretty good and actually isn't too much of a comic relief character although he has his funny lines. He's more of a badass himself than anything.  Other usually talented actors, like Bichir and Franco, aren't given enough content to shine. This is especially true for Rapace as Shaw as well especially after she was so good in the first film.
Through it all, the most shining memorable element is both of Fasssbender's performances. Despite looking similar visually David and Walter couldn't be more different. David is the shinier star of the stars.  He was awesome in the first film with his vile cold scientific curiosity. Now that returns and is dialed up another notch plus has the addition of a sense of utter insanity. See the film to see why this is so memorable. Conversely, for every bit as untrustworthy David is, Walter is a good robot person. Even more robotic in his speaking style and mannerisms yet also through his actions he shows more kindness than anyone. The interactions and plot between these two Fassbenders is gold, even in its cheese. It is great that there is the emphasis that there is on them because they are now so important to the overall Alien saga lore. However at times they are lost in the horror/excitment shuffle of things. But when they show up its nearly always amazing.
Overall, this is an interesting new take on the Alien series and follow up to Prometheus by Ridley Scott. If before he was trying something almost completely new, here he tries to bring in some more staple elements and it mostly works. There's still a lot of unanswered questions, and it ends on a bit of a frustrating yet surprising cliffhanger once again. But the blood and beauty are mostly worth it, and it leaves one wanting another film even more to hopefully really get those true answers. Hopefully with more true deep philosophy as well.  8.55 out of 10

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2 Review

Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol.2
Director: James Gunn
Cast Headliners: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell, more others..
Original Release Date: May 5th, 2017

   Everyone expected a lot out of the first Guardians of the Galaxy film. No only was it Marvel Studios going for its deepest obscure characters to that point but it also looked wholly , wildly unique. It certainly was with its mix of zany mania, ripping humor, cosmic spectacle, oddness, and retro inspired groovy rock/funk/soul music and colorful aesthetic. With the main big players of director James Gunn and all the principal cast back for the second film in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 hopes were high. How could they follow it going bigger, crazier, more zany? Well they absolutely do, and overall it absolutely works for another amazing cosmic spectacle.
The movie opens , in main part after an important flashback, with the titular Guardians of the Galaxy out on another mission. Everyone's back, wonderfully... from charismatic leader rogue Star-Lord(Chris Pratt), fearsome heroine Gamora(Zoe Saldana), literal-minded brawny Drax(Dave Bautista), tech savy wise cracking Rocket Raccoon(Bradley Cooper), and the now Baby Groot(Vin Diesel, somehow). In what is one of the most wild opening sequences of any film ever, the gang fights a gigantic tentacle monster on floating platforms ….in the background as we get a zoomed in view of tiny Baby Groot dancing to Mr.Blue Sky. Within minutes, the film is off t the hillarious crazy start we'd want.
Events transpire to send the Guardians on the run from both the golden skinned, imperial empire of the Sovereign led by Ayesha(Elizabeth Deblicki) and the piratelike Ravagers from the first film led by the likes of Yondu(Michael Rooker) alongside his underlings Taserface(Chris Sullivan) and Kraglin(Sean Gunn) amongst others. They find themselves rescued / crash landing in deep space having drug along Gamora's cyborg sister Nebula(Karen Gillian) where they meet some mysterious potential new allies in Ego(Kurt Russell) and Mantis(Pom Klementieff).
The twists and betrayals may seem to be overly complex but it is only in the best way. The first film had a relatively simple premise, and this one does when one takes a moment to break it down. The nuance and occasional dark emotions make it “The Empire Strikes Back” to the first film's “A New Hope”, but that is fine for a universe that is essentially Marvel's Star Wars. Although in a post Disney-Star Wars world, the differences are apparent enough to make it special. Luke Skywalker never used a Walkman tape player and electronic football toy game in battle.  It almost makes this feel..Pixar whimsical with its lighthearted moments
The plot flows at exactly the pace it needs to. There's large expanses of exciting action and spectacle that go to a new height than anything seen in the MCU to date. There's quiet moments of deeper themes and character growth. There's twists, turns, betrayals, surprises..constant wonder. Of course, there's humor out the wazoo. The amazing touch of director James Gunn is felt throughout all this. The action is frenetic with amazing special effects. The humor goes for edgy for constant gut busting and ranges “did they just really just say that” to simple charm between all of the characters. The writing, great...characters are shuffled around in interesting ways.
The visuals reach those same psychedelic heights from one whether its in action or wacky worlds/creatures. However one wants music too, and it's there. There's once again a bunch of 1970's and circa round then pop songs. There may be less some less famous but time period fitting cuts, but they are used greatly to make scenes that will stick with the viewer as it combines to make true art.
It's a long, twisting, amazing action and hilarious humor ride but it'd be nothing without good characters.  The great news is that.. everyone has some kind or another chance to shine. Pratt's “Peter Quill” Star-Lord goes for some great lines. However, understandably so, his performance goes for some of the more serious material as it turns out this Ego person claims to be his father. From being skeptical to emotional to hilarious, Pratt does a really good charismatic job once again if at times he gets a bit lost in the spectacle.  As he has his arc with Ego, Gamora faces family troubles of her own when it comes to Nebula. Saldana and Gillian get more scenes to both be fearsome and funny as their rivalry unfolds, touching at times deep but mainly exciting if a bit random.
There's the ones who shine the brightest once again and even further. Bautista's Drax steals the show. His extreme, laughing swagger constantly will leave one laughing and charmed. PK's Mantis is equally delightfully weird with her bug-like antenna and awkwardness in an alien manner and they play well off each other. Cooper's voicework in Rocket may get lost in the tapestry of humor as well but when “lost” leads to some incredible laughs and cool things that's something great as well.  Baby Groot is the show stealers amongst show stealers...the cutest little character ever. It's the “Grootness” one wants, combined with a child/baby. One even senses Diesel's swagger at times amongst the adorable amazingness.
The most surprising source of greatness comes from Yondu. Rooker gives what is perhaps the performance of his career, from a humor an passion perspective. His scenes are the coolest, the funniest, and the most heartful for (some of the many, many) reasons that have to be seen first hand. He even gets a cool new fin to wear.  It's also good to see fellow Ravager Kraglin given a larger role. Sean Gunn is the brother of the director and actually served as the stand-in for Rocket on set so he plays double duty in a way. His role is funnily raised to something of a bit of a main character, and the writing involving him, as everyone, is great.
The new grey to evil sided characters are a bit of a mixed bag from great to hmm. Kurt Russell's Ego is of course amazing. Russell is always amazing in everything and here continues that. He is wise, warm, funny, weird ...just like his so-called son. His role has an extremely important place and got more and more impressive as the film went on, making him a perfect addition for what he is and one of the MCU's most quality ones of his type to date. Sullivan's Taserface is generic evil but the play off of his cartoonish threat and name works and he does alongside. This is a living cartoon after that pokes fun at itself in great in-universe ways.  If there's one not as good character, it's Deblicki's Ayesa in her villainous way.  She has a cool fierce demeanor and imposing speech style. But however she is essentially in the same way as Ronan last film.. a big evil excuse for things to happen. However it's not a detraction by any means and one feels she will have more of a role in future films. Likewise for Stakar(Sylvestor Stallone) who is cheesy but has potential for more along with his other Ravager/deep lore friends...
There's very little wrong with this film. It's long sure but constantly exciting. One will be glad they saw the FIVE credits scenes from funny to deep comic lore related. Sometimes the manic tone makes things a bit unclear if they should be funny or serious, with the two tones mixed moments after each other. But isn't that what most of the MCU is including the first?  These moments are few between the joy.
Joy is what one could describe this sub-franchise with. These movies are living candy. Hours of groovy, retro, cosmic, funny, weird candy. For some time you will find yourself loving it for what it is separate from the dour conflicts and small stakes of the rest of the Marvel universe. Once again a new celing for blockbusters and sci-fi as a whole is uniquely raised. However, when thinking these characters have more adventures ahead, and are going to meet the Avengers sooner than later... that's leaves one so excited for the possibilities. Some say this is more of the same as the first, but when means the emotional feels are more feelisy, the aciton is more wild, and the laughs are more knee slapping, thats a amazing testamant to great blockbuster filmmaking. 9.51 out of 10