Alien Covenant. A movie review.

No spoilers! Not real ones, anyway…

I just saw Alien Covenant. I was a bit concerned that it might be all promise and not deliver the goods (a bit like the rather crappy Prometheus that preceded it). But guess what? I was pleasantly surprised. Alien Covenant was good, it filled in the story behind the additional canon Prometheus introduced, and actually made that movie better as a result.

The colony ship Covenant is on its way to Origae-2, where 2000 colonists in suspended animation will start a new life. On the way the ship intercepts a transmission of human origin. They identify the planet it’s coming from as being suitable for colonisation, and make their way to the source of the signal. Landing on the planet, they find it eerily deserted. Then some of the crew members breath in alien spores…

That’s the set up for Alien Covenant. Ridley Scott returns as director, and as expected the visuals and set designs are spectacular. Michael Fassbender returns in dual roles as David (the android from Prometheus) and Walter, an android accompanying the mission, and gives a suitably nuanced performance as both. The human colonists are the usual selection of lesser known actors, with little to care about when they are inevitably killed in various gory ways. This movie belongs to the enigmatic David, and Fassbender’s performance.

Alien Covenant manages to resolve a lot of the issues caused by Prometheus, the movie that divided audiences with its bizarre logical leaps and glaring continuity problems. The pathogen, what happened to the engineers, the different early forms of the Alien progenitors, how the final Alien xenomorph evolved, what happened to the alien ship that took off at the end: all these questions are answered.

Unfortunately, the humans in Alien Covenant are still just as stupid as they were in the previous movie. Walking onto a new world without some kind of breather to protect against bacterial and viral infection? Come on, that’s almost as bad as running in a straight line from a wheel-shaped spaceship rolling towards you… And yes, you just knew someone was going to get killed in the shower. What is this, Friday the 13th?

Alien Covenant was fun, a little bit creepy at times, but not very scary (we’ve seen the Aliens enough by now). It answers the questions you probably asked when you saw Prometheus, improves that movie as a result, and sets up a potential sequel. Not perfect, but good stuff. B+

Lion. A tear-filled movie review.

This review contains spoilers.

I never got the chance to see Lion in the cinema. In some ways, I’m glad I didn’t. Not because it’s a bad movie, but because it’s a movie that guarantees I’m going to cry, and I don’t want to be going to the movies with a mate and tear up (it’s a bloke thing). If I ever have a girlfriend again (and if you’ve ever read one of my dating posts, you’ll know the odds of that seem ever remote), then I will gladly accompany her and blubber away like a baby.

I borrowed my Mum’s copy (as you do when you’re poor) and watched it by myself (why don’t you go to the cinema by yourself, I hear you say. My life is sad enough already without going on my own, thank you very much).

Lion is, without doubt, the best movie I have seen all year. That’s a pretty big statement to make, so I guess I better back it up.

Lion tells the story of a five-year old Indian boy called Saroo (played by newcomer Sunny Pawar), who is separated from his brother and ends up on a train that takes him thousands of miles away from his Indian home town to Calcutta, where he is lost. Eventually he is relocated to an orphanage, and from there is adopted by Australian parents and raised in Tasmania. Later on, he discovers he can track down his mum and brother by using Google Earth, and does so.

The story sounds pretty straightforward, but it doesn’t prepare you for the sheer emotional rollercoaster this movie puts you through. From the squalor and heartbreak of the living conditions of Saroo’s family, to the plight and serious abuse of street kids in Calcutta; you are overwhelmed by incredible anger and profound sadness, and I was on the verge of tears throughout the first act in India. Saroo’s adopted brother is profoundly affected by the abuse he’s received, and this is a theme carried through part of the film’s second act in Australia.

Dev Patel is magnificent in the role of the adult Saroo, who suffers from PTSD as a result of the separation from his family. His adoptive parents are played by David Wenham and Nicole Kidman (in possibly the best role I’ve ever seen her in. In Australia, Nicole falls into two camps: ‘national treasure’, or ‘can’t stand the frigid cow’. I quite happily sat in the second camp, until I saw her in this movie. Wonderful performance, glowing with warmth and intensity).

As expected, Saroo finds his mother and is reunited. Tears all around.

It’s not a perfect movie: there are times when the pacing drags, the secondary characters are often underdeveloped. But the cinematography and music are excellent, and the leads more than make up for anything else that is lacking.

I found this movie mentally and emotionally overwhelming to watch. But it was also profoundly uplifting. I challenge anyone to not feel for the characters and their situations. This is a movie you should see, even if you hate tear jerkers, if only to remind yourself that you are better off than you think you are.

My movie of the year. If I judged movies based on the number of tears I shed while watching, it would be movie of the decade.

Borrower. An ‘Alpha Girl, Beta Max and Me’ short tale.

This is a uni piece I wrote a few months back. It was actually the first appearance of Alpha Girl, Beta Max and Me. I’ve removed the academic references and included one of my discussion thread responses from that week. NOTE: This was back when I used social media. Nowadays I only use it to promote my blog, which makes me even less well informed then I used to be. 

I haven’t read a newspaper in well over a year. It’s not that I don’t like newspapers; it’s not like I don’t have a ready supply of them each day. It’s just that I’m not really bothered to read them when I get my news through social media and television.

(“Are you on Twitter again?” says Beta Max.

“No,” I reply, quickly changing to YouTube.)

So, I was a little surprised when I read the Insider Movies section of the Sunday Telegraph and found a number of well written movie reviews by Vicky Roach, the reviewer in residence.

(“Why are you reading the paper?” says Alpha Girl.

“Research,” I reply.

“Why can’t you be normal like other people?” she says. I extend my tongue.)

When I read through Critical Review in my uni course notes, I thought to myself: “this is a bit clunky – I don’t recall reviews being this structured.” Identification of work, Context, Description, Assessment, Identification of reviewer – it all seemed a bit robotic to me. I got to the bit about “blending the elements”, and was somewhat relieved. Heaven forbid I’d have to write a review in such a stilted way.

So, back to the newspaper: Ms Roach reviewed four movies: Passengers, Assassin’s Creed, Rosalie Blum and Paterson. I really enjoyed her approach. She was knowledgeable about the art form (script and director techniques, for instance), had a good understanding of the plot and themes of each movie, and raised relevant points and criticisms insightfully. Her comments about Assassin’s Creed succeeding on a “kinetic level”, but failing to deliver in the end due to the character’s “moral ambiguities” and a lack of viewer investment in the outcome, struck home with me as I was planning to take my son.

(“We’re still seeing it,” says my videogame-loving nerd.)

Ms Roach obviously loves the film medium. You can tell from the way she crafts her reviews. (I love women who write well about things they love, especially when it’s a subject I know and love as well. It’s a bit of a turn on. Um, that probably was more than you needed to know.) As expected the smaller “art nouveau” films like Rosalie Blum and Paterson rated better than the big budget movies. Is this a thing with reviewers? “I will always take art over fluff!” I happen to like a little fluff with my art.

(“It’s like chocolate, marshmallow and vegemite sandwiches,” says Beta Max. “They shouldn’t work, but somehow really, really do.”)

Each of Ms Roach’s appraisals captured the essence of the five ingredients of a review, including context and a witty summation of each movie in the legend (for example: “French crowd-pleaser sure to leave audiences blum-struck”, with an attempted pun, no less). I especially liked the intro headline for each movie, in punchy prose – for Passengers: “Sci-Fi romance has too much space in its plot”. For Paterson: “Story of a secret poet has its own rhyme and reason”.

So now I have to read the newspaper every week, just to check out the movie reviews. And maybe read some of the other stuff: news and the like.

(“Are you finished with the paper” says Alpha Girl.

“Not much longer,” I reply.

“Buy your own,” she says.)

 

One of my responses to the discussion thread:

Hi

I, too, like short reviews. I think it’s a measure of a “real” reviewer to be able to do a review in a short format and not leave anything out; to be able to capture the essence of a movie, book or CD in a short, almost perfunctory way.

I have to admit that I’m not good at short. I think I’m a bit verbose at times (read: boring). Maybe I should try writing reviews as Haiku – that way I’m deliberately restrained by the form:

Assassin’s Creed film
Started well but ended bad
Little investment

Could be onto something here. I’m just going to rush out and patent the Haiku movie review concept.

Cheers

Steve

John Wick: Chapter 2. A Movie Review.

No spoilers here!

I loved John Wick, the Keanu Reeves actioner from a few years back, about a retired assassin who returns to the business after some local mobsters steal his car and kill his dog. The movie features plenty of martial arts and Gun Fu action, with Keanu doing many of his own stunts.

The sequel has just opened in Australia (why so late? I don’t know. I prefer movies being released at the same time worldwide – less piracy that way). Chapter 2 continues on from the first, with Keanu reprising the lead and with a new dog (acquired at the end of the first film). He is approached by an Italian mob boss closely linked to the society of assassins Wick used to work for. He calls in a marker that helped Wick retire from the business. He wants Wick to kill his sister in Italy, so he can take her seat at the High Table that heads up the assassin society. I’m not going to spoil the movie any more than that, but will give my general impressions.

John Wick 2 kicks ass! This movie has a bigger budget than the last and it shows. The action and stunts are bigger, the story bolder and broader, production values have improved, more backstory is provided for the assassin society (which is more expansive than you’d think), and new characters are introduced that will carry over into Chapter 3 (yeah, it sets up a sequel).

Reeves’ stoic performance suits the character. Wick’s motivations are pretty basic: finish the contract, avenge his losses, survive. And he does these with aplomb: lots of killing with guns, knives, cars, hand to hand, and pencils (yes, you read that right). Remember the 1980’s, when people used to comment on how many people Sly Stallone and Arnie Schwarzenegger killed in their movies (alright, you’re probably too young to remember, but it was a thing)? Well they’ve got nothing on Keanu in this. Wick also gets run over (multiple times), stabbed, shot, tossed down stairs, and generally made a mess of. 

I thought John Wick 2 was pretty awesome. If you like action movies that cut to the chase and get on with it, with dramatic action and stunts, guns and cool fight scenes, this is the movie for you.

Awesometacular Justice!

The new trailer for the upcoming Justice League movie is here. I’m sure it will be the first of many as the November release of the movie approaches.

For those who don’t know what the Justice League is, they are the premier DC Comics super team, made up of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg and Aquaman. And they come together to kick evil’s ass.

In the comics the Justice League was created before Marvel’s Avengers, but Warner Brothers, the studio that owns DC Comics, has been dragging its feet and has finally got the celluloid version going. The JL movie comes after the Wonder Woman movie released in June.

I’m looking forward to Justice League. I think the first trailer is pretty good, but I think the upcoming ones will be even better. So, enjoy:

Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about.

And while you’re at it, check out the Wonder Woman trailer.

Wonder Woman – still great at 75

I don’t know if I’ve ever told anyone this, but I am a HUGE fan of Wonder Woman.

I love the current comic book version (in DC Comics’ Rebirth initiative), by Greg Rucka and Liam Sharp, and I love the trailers that have been coming out for the new movie.

Why am I such a big fan? Wonder Woman is not only a cool superhero, she’s also the first and greatest female superhero of them all. She’s super strong, can fly, has an unbreakable mystic lasso that forces people to tell the truth, can deflect bullets and stuff with her bracelets, and, although she’s trained as a warrior by her Amazon people, she’s an ambassador for peace .

When Wonder Woman was first created by William Moulton Marston in December 1941, the intent was to create an allegory for the perfect woman leader. Marston was a supporter of women’s rights and believed that women were more honest than men – and thus capable of being better leaders. Having helped create the polygraph lie detector, I guess he knew what he was talking about.

And for 75 years, Wonder Woman has been the subject of great comic book stories. Yep, it’s her 75th anniversary this year.

She’s got a movie coming out in June. Check out the latest trailer:

If you haven’t read a Wonder Woman comic lately, rock on down to your local comic shop and pick up an issue. Or check out her movie in June. She’s also in the Justice League movie coming out later this year.

It’s a great time to be a Wonder Woman fan. And to become one.

‘Kong’, baby! A movie review.

No spoilers were harmed in the making of this review

Just saw Kong: Skull Island. Lots of big monsters, big explosions, soldiers getting eaten by big monsters, big explosions blowing up big monsters, crazy-ass leave your brains at the door logic. Awesome.

So, you know the deal from the trailers. King Kong is a humungous ape the size of a building. He protects the natives and the peace-loving animals of Skull Island, a lost world protected from discovery by a massive weather system surrounding it. Until Skull Island is picked up by satellites in 1973, that is. It’s the end of the Vietnam War, and Monarch, a company funded by the US Government to track down monsters and stuff, joins up with another expedition planning to map the island. Add a military escort, lots of helicopters, and you have a recipe for lots of head kicking goodness and Apocalypse, Now references. Cue shots of Kong smashing crap up.

There are a lot of good actors in this movie, and some solid performances – Samuel L. Jackson as the crazed, vengeance-driven colonel, Tom Hiddleston as the ex-SAS tracker, John Goodman as the Monarch boss who knows more than he’s letting on, Brie Larson as the more-than-capable anti-war photographer, John C. Reilly as the war-lost pilot gone native. And more. But don’t let the acting get in the way. What you’re really here for is the big dino-like beasties and lots of ‘Kong smash’! The 70’s soundtrack  that accompanies it is freakin’ great.

You may have guessed that I really enjoyed this movie. I love a good, thought-provoking and message-laden film as much as the next literary nerd, but every once in a while, I just need to switch off my life-stressed brain and see some big explosions. And giant apes.

Kong: Skull Island delivers. Catch it now. Oh, and hang around for the post-credits scene – franchise building begins…

Firefly is back! Or, might be…

Fifteen years ago, a Joss Whedon TV show called Firefly graced the airwaves on the Fox Network. In no time at all, it was cancelled. In no time at all, fans started begging the network to bring it back. In no time at all, DVD sales for the series went through the roof, and have pretty much stayed there. In no time at all (okay, two years), Whedon was able to make a movie sequel to the series, called Serenity, something that had been previously unheard of, for a show with only one season.

So, what is Firefly? (I know you know but I’ll remind you, anyway). Firefly is an ensemble science fiction show about the crew of a Firefly-class spaceship, captained by ex-Browncoat revolutionary Malcolm Reynolds. The crew gets up to mischief and shenanigans in a wild west-style frontier region of space. In twelve episodes, Firefly manages to fit in more characterisation, charm, humour, and intelligence, than most long-term series can do in several seasons.

And people love Firefly. I don’t just mean they love it. I mean they LOVE it. Diehard fans are everywhere, and the one thing they have clamoured for all these years, is to bring the show back to TV.

Years ago, Fox was not keen on low rating series. That’s when Firefly was cancelled. If the series had run today, it would have been given more chances to establish an audience, or would have had multiple seasons on a cable network like SyFy. Recently, however,  networks have been reviving old shows, like The X-Files and Twin Peaks, riding a wave of nostalgia for TV old and beautiful. A few weeks ago, Fox indicated they’d be willing to bring Firefly back, if Whedon were  to run it (the “showrunner” leads the writing team and provides the general direction of the show).

I know what you’re thinking:  for fifteen years the fans have been asking for this, and all of a sudden Fox is saying “no worries”. In a 2013 interview with ComingSoon.Net, Whedon said, “If all the planets align that would be great, but I’m not going to do what I did the first time and move heaven and earth to make it happen.”

So, we may be waiting for longer then we think.

Still, it’s nice to dream. And sometimes, just sometimes, dreams come true.

 

This post seems a bit late, doesn’t it? That’s because I originally wrote it six weeks ago, as part of a uni assignment. It’s has only just been marked, so I can post it, now.  

English spelling, too, not American. Nothing wrong with American spelling, just letting you know.

Logan. A movie review.

This movie review is spoiler free.

I saw Logan yesterday. And what I saw was a great movie, one that focussed on character, with a good story, great acting, great action set pieces that contributed to the plot (rather than being there for the sake of it) and some deep underlying themes and messages that resonated with me.

It’s 2029, mutants have all but disappeared from the planet, and Hugh Jackman’s Logan is no longer Wolverine, but instead a cynical and washed up alcoholic, whose healing ability is fading. He’s looking after a decrepit Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is slowly losing his faculties and whose mental abilities have him classified as a weapon of mass destruction by the government. They’re hiding out in Mexico, from where Logan drives back and forth across the border working as a limo driver to pay the bills and get drugs to control Xavier’s dangerous seizures. Logan meets up with a young girl, Laura, also known as X-23, who has abilities like his own. She is the first of a breed of new mutants, designed as weapons and now hunted by the Transigen corporation. Logan and Xavier need to take Laura north to Eden, to meet up with other young mutants, who escaped Transigen together. Thus begins a road trip that reveals much about the characters and leads to inevitable showdowns with the corporation’s agents.

Hugh Jackman has stated that this will be his last outing as Logan/Wolverine. Patrick Stewart has similarly indicated he is retiring from the character of Charles Xavier. Both actors deliver gritty and emotive turns in perhaps the finest performances of their careers.

Director and writer James Mangold delivers a dark and violent story where Logan acknowledges the cost of killing, and the pain it has caused him. It’s a spiritual quest for Logan’s personal deliverance, driven by Xavier and Laura. There are big action scenes, as you would expect, and the MA rating (Australia)/R rating (America) means plenty of gore and language, but it’s all appropriate to the story. There are references to the original X-Men movie and the X-Men Marvel comics play their part, as a sort of manufactured history of the characters. Logan is ultimately about personal redemption.

Logan is not a movie for kids. It’s has adult themes and content. It delivers in the way Chris Nolan did with his Dark Knight trilogy, that superhero movies can be deep, dark and thought-provoking. It’s a shame that it’s Jackman’s last appearance as the character.

Logan is the Wolverine movie we’ve all been waiting for.

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