FILM: Alien: Covenant (2017, Ridley Scott)

A black-and-white poster of a mass of people being surrounded/tortured by the aliens, not unlike the Renaissance depictions of Hell, with one alien at the center highlighted by a shaft of light from the upper-left.

Science-fiction film Alien: Covenant serves as a sequel to Prometheus, prequel to Alien, and was distributed by 20th Century Fox. In 2104, the colonisation ship Covenant is bound for Origae-6, with thousands of humans and human embryos in a state of cryo-sleep. When the crew pick up a radio transmission from a distant planet, they go to investigate. On the planet, however, various forms of Xenomorph live there, and begin to pick off the crew members. However, the cause of these creatures existing in the first place is more shocking than they could have imagined.

PROS

  • Visually, this is an overall spectacular film. The production design brings great vision and detail to the various ships, while the various forms of Xenomorph are brilliant pieces of CGI, who the cast interact with to near perfection. The film also features breathtaking shots of stunning landscapes.
  • Michael Fassbender gives a phenomenal performance. Well, two actually. Both of the performances he gives are very multilayered, nuanced turns, which give both Walter and David a non-human quality, while also highlighting their understandings of what it means to be human. It is through lovely little nuances that Fassbender manages to make the two characters similar yet different. Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride and Billy Crudup give very good support, being very engaging to watch, and having well realised rapports with each other.
  • There are some very good aspects of the screenplay. The most notable one is a plot twist, which comes around two-thirds into the film, and is escalated to a greater level in the final minutes. It all adds to the film, escalating the tension of the film. The film also comments in a subtle, yet clever way on how we are too reliant on technology, and how that really could backfire on us in the end.

CONS

  • While there are no outright bad performances, the majority of the film’s fair sized ensemble cast are simply not memorable, either because they are noticeably underused as part of the narrative, or because they are playing one-sided characters.
  • Due to the fact that this follows the same basic formula as all of the other films in the franchise, this film has a number of scenes which are very formulaic, and as a result are predictable, robbing them of tension. Some of the earlier action scenes are also made far less enjoyable or engaging by the unnecessary use of shaky cam.
  • While there are the most unique themes about technology in this film than there is in the entire franchise, other themes do not get the focus or development that they really would benefit from, such as genocide and religion.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott)

A female figure in silhouette stands before an enormous statue of a humanoid head. Text at the middle of the poster reveals the tagline "The Search For Our Beginning Could Lead To Our End". Text at the bottom of the poster reveals the title, production credits and rating.

Prometheus is a science-fiction film, which serves as a prequel to Alien, and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Archaeologist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) finds a star map during her research into several Earth cultures, which point to ideals of a creator of the Earth. In the year 2093, she joins the crew of spaceship Prometheus, who follow the map to a distant planet. There, however, they find a threat which poses a threat to humanity, and begins to pick them off one-by-one.

PROS

  • Visually this is a beautiful film. Cinematographer Dariusz Wolski uses wide angle and long range shots perfectly, in order to capture and convey the size and majesty of landscapes, most notably some stunning shots of the Isle of Skye, Scotland. The CGI is also excellent, which blends well with some practical effects, all of which the cast interact with to a near-perfect degree.
  • While not a huge number of the ensemble cast are memorable, there is not a single bad performance in this film. The highlights include strong turns from Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Idris Elba. The most memorable turn, however, comes from Michael Fassbender, who plays android David. Fassbender gives a very nuanced performance, which conveys perfectly the fact that, while not human, David understands what it means to behave as one.
  • Thematically this is the most unique film in the Alien franchise. The film takes an interesting take on the theme of having a personal faith, which is prominent, with Elizabeth standing up for her Christian faith, despite being scoffed at. As a whole, the film explores quite well man’s desire for answers, with regards to a creator. Themes of sacrifice are also prominent a number of times throughout the film, including a shocking moment, which is played movingly by Logan Marshall-Green.

CONS

  • The fact that this film is part of the Alien franchise is one of its biggest downfalls in many ways. The film is quite formulaic, following a fairly similar formula to Alien, and as such it is a very predictable film, ergo reflecting the fact that it is not a completely necessary film, while it is very hard to make an original film of this genre.
  • The fact that the ensemble is bigger than that of Alien means that the individuals’ deaths, as a whole, get far less focus, and are not so significant a part of the film. On top of that, some of the deaths are just badly executed, to the point where I could not help but think “Surely the South Park writers would kill Kenny like this?”
  • The film has a little too many themes that it wants to convey, with the theme of an awkward human-android relationship being poorly realised, as the prejudice that is shown to David is not fully fleshed out.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Alien: Resurrection (1997, Jean-Pierre Jeunet)

Alien Resurrection poster.jpg

Alien: Resurrection is the fourth film in the franchise, is distributed by 20th Century Fox, and is set 200 years after the events of Alien 3.  On the USM Auriga, Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) has been cloned, and resultantly so has the Xenomorph (Tom Woodruff, Jr.), as it was inhabiting her when she died. Upon the ship, the US Military are trying to breed multiple Xenomorphs to study, using human hosts that have been brought to them by a group of mercenaries. When the mercenaries discover how deadly the Xenomorphs are, after they escape, they work together with Ripley, as they must escape from and destroy the ship before it returns to Earth.

CONS

  • This is a highly convoluted film, with the narrative boasting too many random, illogical ideas, which do not get any real development or consistent focus.
  • The film ultimately stinks of a cash-grab film. The concepts which underpin the narrative are completely ridiculous, and stop the film from being a tense science-fiction/horror in the way that the earlier films had been, and which this film was meant to be. I suppose that credit should go where it is due to screenwriter Joss Whedon (I know, right, I hope he got paid well), for he gives Ripley a couple of lines of dialogue which reflect upon the fact that this film really is the flogging of a dead horse.
  • Visually, this film is a mess, not least because the balance between practical effects and CGI is non-existent, while the sets do not really add to the tension of the film. The action sequences use a ridiculous amount of shaky cam, which makes the sequences a headache to follow; while the creatures that result from failed attempts to clone Ripley and the Xenomorph are ridiculous in design, and sloppily created pieces of imagery.
  • The majority of the performances in this film are undeniably bad. Winona Ryder is bland and unengaging to watch as Annalee, while Dominique Pinon is highly irritating as Vriess, the victim-antagonist rapport he has with Ron Perlman’s Johner being poorly realised.
  • There was sound in space…need I say more?

PROS

  • Before the appearance of the Xenomorph, the underwater sequences are well shot and competently edited, with the slightly slow pace making these moments quite chilling to watch.
  • Sigourney Weaver is a strong protagonist as Ripley, the character proving engaging to watch, in the action sequences in particular.

VERDICT: 2/10

FILM: Passengers (2016, Morten Tyldum)

Passengers 2016 film poster.jpg

Passengers is a science-fiction/romance film, which is distributed by Columbia Pictures. The starship Avalon is transporting 5000 colonists, plus a 258 person crew, to Homestead II. They are all in hibernation pods, due to wake up a total of 120 years later. However, thirty years later, the technology begins to fail, and engineer Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) wakes up, and a year later so does author Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence). The two begin date, and later fall in love. However, soon it will be up to them to save the lives of everyone aboard the Avalon.

PROS

  • Overall the visual effects are very good, with the sets and technology of the ship being very detailed, and brought to a fun, vibrant life. The sense of scale is enhanced by good use of wide shots by cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto.
  • Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence give good turns, and have good chemistry with each other. Martin Sheen provides good support as robotic bartender Arthur, conveying a lovely sense of charm, and Sheen has a good rapport with Pratt and Lawrence.

CONS

  • The part of the narrative that would be the real plot twist, and would have been a good one, happens early on in the film, and from there the entire film becomes incredibly predictable, to the point where it is both dull and bland.
  • The relationship between Jim and Aurora is quite shallow for the majority of the film, ergo it is not engaging, made worse by the fact that the (unnecessary) sex scenes do feel awkward. The film also really is their show, and only their show, which is further made so by the fact that Laurence Fishburne is quite underused.
  • The film’s climax breaks away from the romantic drama, and becomes an all-out explosive action flick, which is frankly a headache to watch, as it is riddled with Hollywood cliches, and is far sloppier on a technical level than the rest of the film.

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009, Carlos Saldanha/Mike Thurmeier)

Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs theatrical poster.jpg

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is the third film in the animated franchise, which is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Sid (John Leguizamo) finds three eggs, which hatch into dinosaurs. Their mother, however, finds them and takes Sid below the Earth’s surface, into an underground paradise, where dinosaurs roam. The rest of The Herd follow them, determined to rescue Sid, and are led by new friend Buck (Simon Pegg), who lives in the dinosaurs’ paradise.

PROS

  • Despite the fact that the shapes of the characters are somewhat basic, the animation is detailed, with real texture to the fur of the animals, while the dinosaurs’ paradise is bright and very colourful.
  • There are new sides to Sid, as he becomes a loving guardian to the dinosaurs; and to Manny (Ray Romano), as he shows a far softer side, as he worries like there is no tomorrow for wife Ellie (Queen Latifah), who is pregnant with their child.
  • Buck is a highly enjoyable new character, whose presence adds to the film’s sense of adventure, and Simon Pegg voices him with a real sense of energy and enthusiasm.

CONS

  • While the balance between humour and drama is generally okay, the slapstick is not at all funny, rather it is very repetitive, ergo the subplot of Scrat (Chris Wedge) is just not at all enjoyable.
  • The rest of The Herd get no development during the film, with no major differences to their characters from previous films. Plus, Crash (Seann William Scott) and Eddie (Josh Peck) are consistently irritating throughout the film, which would frankly be a better film without their presence.

VERDICT: 6/10

PREVIEW: June 2017

Wow! We are already in the final weekend of May 2017. It seems crazy that we are this far into the year, and this month has had some real highlights, the major one being my dear friend Gen’s wedding. But anyway, that is a personal reflection on my part…

June 2017 is going to be another month for a variety of content. There will be some new release reviews – keep an eye out for reviews of Wonder WomanPirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s RevengeBaywatchThe Mummy and Baby Driver. There will also be reviews of slightly older films, as I am going to be reviewing a number of films from 2015 and 2016. My rewatch pile currently includes Black MassCreedThe Danish GirlEye in the SkySteve JobsTrumboA Monster CallsArrivalMoanaThe Neon DemonRogue One and Silence, while I also have a copy of Moonlight pre-ordered.  So, keep your eyes peeled.

Annoyingly, my bigger goal will take a long time to accomplish. My goal is to review not only new releases, but everything else that I have seen, read or played. Ever. Given that my film collection alone consists of almost 2000 titles at present, this could take a while, but I shall muddle on.

There are some details on what to look out for in June 2017, so Happy Reading!

TELEVISION: Pokémon the Series: Gold and Silver (1999-2002)

File:Pokémon the Series Gold and Silver logo.png

Pokémon the Series: Gold and Silver is an anime series, the sequel series to Pokémon the Series: The Beginning, and originally aired on TV Tokyo in Japan, with 157 episodes, all but one of which were dubbed into English. After winning the Orange League, Ash (Veronica Taylor) heads to Johto, with Misty (Rachael Lillis), Brock (Eric Stuart) and their Pokémon, with Ash determined to compete in and win the Johto League. In the region the gang catch new Pokémon, and battle new opponents, and continue to be followed by the Team Rocket Trio, who remain determined to steal Ash’s Pikachu (Ikue Ohtani).

PROS

  • For the most part this is well animated stuff, with good detail, and a real vibrancy to the battle sequences. The final fourteen episodes are all digitally coloured, and this gives it a whole new life.
  • The Gym battles are very fun to watch, and these, along with the League battles display how Ash is gradually growing as a trainer over the course of his journey.
  • There are some good new characters, with Ash’s Bayleef (Mika Kanai) and Totodile (Kayzie Rogers) in particular having some real personality. Some of the Pokémon of Misty, Brock, Jessie (Rachael Lillis) and James (Eric Stuart) also get more focus in this series than they did in the original.

CONS

  • Around thirty episodes in, there is a noticeable dip in the quality of the animation, which remains so for ten episodes.
  • There is A LOT of filler in this series, much of which is actually kind of boring, and does not even serve the purpose of unveiling new Pokémon that have not been seen before.
  • Despite getting more screen time, the Pokémon of Misty, Brock, Jessie and James still get far less focus or development than those of Ash.

VERDICT: 6/10

TELEVISION: Pokémon the Series: The Beginning (1997-1999)

File:Pokémon the Series The Beginning logo.png

Note: While the Pokémon anime still continues to this day, it has been divided into (so far) seven different series, both inside and outside of Japan, a bit like how the Dragonball franchise has been (so far) divided into five series.

Pokémon the Series: The Beginning is an anime series, based on the video games, which originally aired on TV Tokyo in Japan. A total of 118 episodes were originally aired in Japan, three of which were never dubbed into English, and a further three of which have subsequently been banned outside of Japan. The series follows beginning Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum (Veronica Taylor), who travels through the Kanto region with his starter Pokémon Pikachu (Ikue Ohtani), and his friends Misty (Rachael Lillis) and Brock (Eric Stuart). On this journey the three of them capture new Pokémon, and battle a variety of different trainers.

Ash’s goal is to become the world’s greatest Pokémon Master, and the first big step to achieving that goal is participation in the Kanto League. Following the League, the trio travel to the Orange Islands, where Brock takes some time off from travelling to work as a research assistant to Professor Ivy (Kayzie Rogers). Meanwhile, Ash and Misty travel around the Orange Islands with Pokémon watcher Tracey (Ted Lewis), with Ash seeking to win the Orange League. Throughout the adventures in both Kanto and the Orange Islands, the gang are followed by Jessie (Lillis), James (Stuart) and Meowth (Adam Blaustein) of Team Rocket, who want to steal Pikachu.

PROS

  • Rich, vibrant animation, filled with lots of excellent little details, which gradually improves over the course of the programme’s run. The animation shines further in the battle sequences.
  • Throughout the series, there is a consistent sense of fun and adventure, as the characters go on their huge journey, with said sense of fun upped for a large number of the battle sequences.
  • The characters and their relationships, both with each other and with their Pokémon are well realised, and the characters are made more relatable by the fact that they make mistakes, a number of which the gamers made during initial playthrough of the games.
  • The screenwriters create a number of engaging subplots and character arcs, such as Ash’s attempts to get his stubborn Charizard (Shin’ichirō Miki) to obey him, and Ash’s effort to reunite his Lapras (Rikako Aikawa) with its long-lost family.

CONS

  • At times this really is The Ash Show, as his Pokémon receive far more screen time and character development than those of Misty, Brock, Tracey, Jessie or James.
  • At times in the first half of the series, the narrative does feel somewhat rushed. This is not purely the fault of the writers, as the series was originally only commissioned for eighty episodes, and did not get the green light for more until around forty episodes in. After being commissioned for more though, there is noticeably more filler, which is what the Orange Islands ultimately serve as.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Alien 3 (1992, David Fincher)

Alien3 poster.jpg

Alien 3 is a science-fiction/horror, the sequel to Aliens, and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Four escape pods, containing the cryo-sleep induced survivors of Sulaco land on galactic prison Fiorina 161. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) is the only survivor who made it alive…until she learns that a Xenomorph – who gets nicknamed “Dragon” (Tom Woodruff, Jr.) – also made it to the prison. As the inmates and staff start to get picked off one-by-one by Dragon, it is up to Ripley to lead the inmates in a final bid to kill the Xenomorph.

PROS

  • The production design is good, with the sets of Fiorina 161 being a convincingly detailed labyrinth, the dingy colouring and mise-en-scene providing effective shadows, which add to the chilling tone.
  • Sigourney Weaver gives a more understated, nuanced turn this time, which conveys well the psychological tole that the events of the first two films had on Ripley. She builds a good chemistry with Charles S. Dutton, who brings a strong sense of determination to the role of Dillon; and with Charles Dance, who is charming as Clemens.

CONS

  • Director David Fincher has subsequently disowned this film, stating that it is not his vision, due to the fact that there was major studio interference in post-production. This can be seen as true, due to the fact that there is no clear vision, as the film dips its toes in the genres of prison drama, space thriller and high-octane action, without fully committing to any of them.
  • It is clear within the first ten minutes that the screenwriters have no idea what their target audience want. The target audience were the fanbase of the previous Alien films, and by killing off Newt off-screen, therefore robbing Ripley of her final chance of being a parent, the screenwriters more or less gave the fanbase the middle finger. As the film goes on the screenwriters’ poor decisions become more and more frequent.
  • A noticeably flawed supporting cast, with several bland, wooden performances, such as Brian Glover, who is a very unconvincing warden. The supporting cast are mostly very one-note characters, and good actors such as Pete Postlethwaite are underused, while Lance Henriksen has a very disappointing cameo.
  • While themes of sacrifice are prominent in the climax, it is a very convoluted climax, relying a lot on explosions, to the point where it is a sloppy action film that is no better than a bog-standard Hollywood action flick. These effects also hold up now far less well than the effects of the original, despite the original being thirteen years older.

VERDICT: 4/10

 

FILM: Aliens (1986, James Cameron)

Aliens poster.jpg

Aliens is a science-fiction/horror film, which is the sequel to Alien, and is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) awakes from hyper-sleep, after being rescued, fifty-seven years after defeating the Xenomorph. Ripley is shocked to learn that the planet where she first encountered the Xenomorph has since been colonised, but when contact with the inhabitants is lost, she must co-lead a team of Marines in a rescue mission, where the Xenomorphs (Carl Toop) are great in number.

PROS

  • Sigourney Weaver is an excellent lead, giving a multilayered performance, and putting her all into the role of Ripley, proving highly engaging to watch. Weaver also builds a very good chemistry with Carrie Henn, who plays a child nicknamed “Newt”, whose family were all killed. Henn is a natural talent, who brings great energy to the role, and is very good dramatically, as she conveys well through her face and voice the sense of trauma that the character has.
  • The supporting cast are excellent with several stand-out performances. Bill Paxton, who portrays Private Hudson, beautifully contrasts Hudson’s camaraderie and excitement at the thought of action with a real sense of vulnerability. Most memorable though is Lance Henriksen, who gives an understated, subtle turn as android Bishop, giving the character a wonderful otherworldly quality.
  • The screenplay and the supporting cast give a realistic, highly engaging depiction of a Marine unit. The cast bring a real sense of camaraderie to the screen, clearly enjoying working together, yet when at work they are very professional.
  • The screenplay is a near-perfect balance of science-fiction, horror and action, which remains consistently engaging, and features clever writing that build up the suspense a lot throughout the film. The narrative also has more philosophical themes though, with underlying themes of man’s relationship with technology and technophobia, depicted through Ripley’s rapport with Bishop.
  • Visually this film is outstanding, and over thirty years later the practical effects still stand up. The production design is excellent, the sets of the ship being full of great detail, the labyrinth that the Marines must move through emphasising the terrifying environment that they are in. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle uses excellent tracking shots and close-ups to immerse the viewer into the action scenes;  while the excellent use of shadows ups the sense of dread and horror. The fact that the Xenomorphs are actors in costume, yet look better than almost any CGI aliens ever, further testifies to how good the film is visually.
  • Many great scenes do not use a musical score, relying solely on diegetic sound, in order to heighten the suspense.

NITPICKS

  • The fact that the supporting cast is over double that of the original means that as a whole they are not as memorable as that of the original.

VERDICT: 10/10