Alien: Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant movie posterSynopsis
The Covenant is on its way to the remote planet of Origae-6 to start a new human colony. Along the way, the ship is hit by a neutrino burst from a nearby star, forcing the crew to wake up early from stasis to make repairs. After repairs are made, the crew receives a distress signal from a nearby planet and travel to the planet’s surface in search of the signal’s origins.

Review
The Alien movie franchise is an interesting one. It spans nearly four decades, while consisting of only 6 films. The first two are two of science-fiction’s best films, which are then followed by three mediocre films. In Prometheus, Ridley Scott returned to the franchise to begin delving into the origins of his mysterious Xenomorphs, but ended that film with more questions than answers. Scott returns yet again to direct Alien: Covenant, which is inching closer to where we first met them at the beginning of Alien.

With the exception of Aliens, each film in the franchise after Alien has attempted to recreate the horror aspect of the original 1979 film. This film has so far been the closest to recreate the horror that made the first film so engrossing. Although this shouldn’t be much of a surprise given both are directed by Scott, the visionary behind the franchise. He understands that it is the fear of the unknown and mystery surrounding it that makes Alien great. Having several decades to become familiar with it, that atmosphere cannot be replicated, which is why the sequels have failed. However, that style can be honored. This movie still draws on the fear of the unknown for its tension but rather than the Xenomorph, it looks towards a fairly unexpected place.

What did surprise me, and what I really enjoyed, was that the horror didn’t always come from the alien but rather David. David is a truly twisted being and that is where a lot of the tension come from. He is an android who has no emotion and is only seeking perfection on life. And to him that requires sacrifice, sometimes at the cost of others if need be. His distorted view on life and the pursuit of perfection is sure to keep your attention. It’s a different kind of villain but one that works amazingly well.

Of course, a lot of David’s memorability is due to Michael Fassbender’s excellent portrayal of the character. It was an excellent idea to keep him in the franchise after Prometheus because he was the highlight of that film as well. He also plays another android, Walter, an updated model of David. At first I wasn’t sold on the accent he gave the character but after a while it grew on me, especially after a few scenes of the two androids together. Fassbender portrays the two characters in two very distinct ways that really highlights his acting ability.

Although it may be difficult to remember, there are other cast members besides Fassbender. Katherine Waterston as Daniels gets the most development and keeps the Alien franchise’s bad-ass heroine streak going. Danny McBride’s Tennessee also gets quite a bit of screen time but not as much development. Everyone else pretty much exists as Xenomorph fodder, just like in all the previous movies. However, with this kind of a movie, and what has become expected of the franchise, that’s alright. Not every character needs a deep rich background, especially if they aren’t going to last long anyway. Scott understands that we are there to see one thing: the titular Alien. And if we get a great character like David along the way, then that’s just icing on the cake.

I thought Alien: Covenant was GOOD 🙂 The Alien franchise has had its ups and downs over the years but it seems to be finding a groove. The “alien” is slowly becoming less and less the alien Xenomorphs and more of an android alienated from humanity. If Michael Fassbender keeps up the great work as the android David, then that is completely fine with me.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Ridley Scott – Director
Jack Paglen – Story
Michael Green – Story
John Logan – Screenplay
Dante Harper – Screenplay
Jed Kurzel – Music

Michael Fassbender – David / Walter
Katherine Waterston – Daniels
Billy Crudup – Oram
Danny McBride – Tennessee
Demian Bichir – Lope
Carmen Ejogo – Karine
Jussie Smollett – Ricks
Callie Hernandez – Upworth
Amy Seimetz – Faris
Nathaniel Dean – Hallett
Alexander England – Ankor
Benjamin Rigby – Ledward
Uli Latukefu – Cole
Tess Haubrich – Rosenthal
Lorelei King – Mother (voice)
Goran D. Kleut – Xenomorph / Neomorph
Andrew Crawford – Neomorph

Lightning Review: Mr. Brooks

This review was originally posted for the 2017 Decades Blogathon, hosted by Three Rows Back and Digital Shortbread.

Synopsis
Mr. Brooks (Kevin Costner) is a successful businessman and philanthropist. However, he hides a terrible secret: he is addicted to killing and is the serial murder known as the Thumbprint Killer. After his latest kill, he is approached by a man calling himself Mr. Smith (Dane Cook) who witnessed the killing and agrees not to go to the police if Mr. Brooks takes him on his next murder. Meanwhile, Detective Atwood (Demi Moore) is on the search for the Thumbprint Killer.

Review
Mr. Brooks feels demented in all of the right places. When it comes to Kevin Costner, I have decently high expectations. Or I should say, I can count on him to not give a bad performance. As the titular Earl Brooks, he doesn’t disappoint. It is clear that Earl might put on a visage but underneath he is struggling to keep his inner demon in check. Costner easily switches from a calm, cool father and businessman to a serious and broken killer. However, the star of the movie is William Hurt as Marshall, Earl’s “inner demon,” an imaginary friend of Earl. Throughout the movie, Marshall is constantly pushing Earl to give into his cravings and kill. Hurt is simply maniacal as Marshall. Every scene of his had me leaning towards the screen, intrigued and caught up in his performance. Stand-up comedian Dane Cook traditionally does comedic roles in movies (surprise, surprise), so Mr. Smith was a different kind of role for him. I’m curious to see how the part would have been different if someone who traditionally acts in thrillers had been in the role, but Cook was good for what it was.

I really liked that Earl’s subconscious was personified as Marshall. This almost gives a scapegoat of sorts to Earl’s actions, almost like it was Marshall who pushes Earl towards killing, despite his reservations. It also creates some interesting questions. How long has Marshall been around? Is he a childhood imaginary friend or was he created when Earl started killing? Was he created to deflect Earl’s actions from himself? The concept isn’t wholly original but the implementation is unique. There is a subplot where Detective Atwood (Demi Moore) is dealing with her divorce that contributes to the plot very little. It could be removed, or at least trimmed down, to keep the focus on Mr. Brooks and Mr. Smith.

I thought Mr. Brooks was GOOD 🙂 Kevin Costner gives a good performance as the two-faced business man but the scene-stealer is William Hurt as his imaginary friend, Marshall. Some might say that this film goes on for one scene too long (literally one scene) but it leaves Mr. Brooks in a precarious place either way. One thing is for certain, you’ll think twice about who people truly are on the inside despite what you see on the outside.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bruce A. Evans – Director / Writer
Raynold Gideon – Writer
Ramin Djawadi – Composer

Kevin Costner – Mr. Earl Brooks
Dane Cook – Mr. Smith
Demi Moore – Det. Tracy Atwood
William Hurt – Marshall
Marg Helgenberger – Emma Brooks
Danielle Panabaker – Jane Brooks
Ruben Santiago-Hudson – Det. Hawkins
Aisha Hinds – Nancy Hart
Lindsay Crouse – Captain Lister
Jason Lewis – Jesse Vialo
Reiko Aylesworth – Sheila (Jesse’s Lawyer)
Matt Schulze – Thorton Meeks

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 movie posterSynopsis
After a botched job, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) and the rest of the Guardians are being chased by the Sovereign. They are found by a man named Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Peter’s long-lost father. They go to Ego’s planet to search for the truth behind Peter’s mysterious heritage.

Review
In 2014, Marvel put their blockbuster powers to the test, releasing Guardians of the Galaxy. It was filled with lesser known characters, even to some regular comic readers, who are unique unto themselves. It turned out to be one of Marvel’s best films and now comes the inevitable sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has all of the qualities that made the first so much fun and enjoyable, albeit without the surprise of what to expect.

As I said, everything that made the first film so fun and enjoyable has returned. Everything and everyone are just as quirky and zany as you have come to expect. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill is the main funny man, but Dave Bautista’s Drax get his fair share of comedic moments. Zoe Saldana is the green-skinned bad-ass Gamora. Groot, voiced by Vin Diesel, is more adorable than ever and Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper, wants to get a hold of everyone’s prosthetics simply to see their reaction. All the while, it has a rocking soundtrack in the background.

Doctor Strange is probably Marvel’s most visually vibrant films to date, but this movie give that one a run for its money. The most notable is Ego’s planet. The moment the team sets foot on it, it just pops. The fauna are colorful, the buildings are shiny and bright, even the soil is a vibrant color unlike what you would expect. However, it’s not just Ego’s planet. The opening battle between the guardians and an interdimensional creature (a big part of the trailers) and scenes where Yondu’s ship is jumping through several wormholes are also vivid scenes worth mentioning. At the very least, your eyes won’t be disappointed.

One of this films best characteristics is its character development. Most of the second act is spent really diving into the characters and their relations with other members of the team. Some you would expect, like Peter and Gamora, but there are some that you wouldn’t, like Rocket and Yondu or Drax and newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff). These interactions do a great job of building the characters and lead to some strong, emotional moments.

Much to my surprise, Yondu (Michael Rooker) has one of the greatest arcs of the film. His moments with Rocket and their similar histories really tug at the heartstrings. As Peter’s adopted father, he had to deal with Peter finally meeting his real father, Ego (Kurt Russell). In the previous movie, he felt like a throwaway character; someone who was there when the plot needed it but didn’t feel like he had much importance. This time, he is front and center and gives the film’s most emotional scene. Speaking of Russell, he was a great as the living planet Ego. Like most villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, he isn’t going to have any lasting presence, but Russell gave one of the more memorable villainous performances is the MCU. The relationship between Peter, Yondu, and Ego would make a great conversation starter between step-children and step-parents.

I wasn’t as in love with the soundtrack as I was with the first Guardians movie. It was still bouncy and fun and integrated into the movie well but it wasn’t as entrancing as before. Maybe it’s because I was unfamiliar with more of the songs this time around or maybe it was that I expected a rocking retro soundtrack and it wasn’t as much of a surprise. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t blown away but I still was rocking out nevertheless.

This might sound contradictory, but despite all the great character development throughout the second act, it also felt like the weakest part of the move. Weakest isn’t the right word but I’m not sure exactly what word I’m looking for. During this time, the team is split into two groups. The bouncing back and forth between the groups, as well as the balancing of those serious moments with the humorous ones gave it a really weird pacing. Whenever the movie slowed down to give the great character moments, it immediately went into a joke / gag or changed scenes. I liked that they managed to get as much development in as they did but the jumping around made my head spin after a while.

I thought Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was GOOD 🙂 This movie is a good example of a movie studio giving a director the freedom to do their movie their way. James Gunn brought as much heart and soul into Volume 2 as he did in Volume 1. A slow and somewhat oddly paced middle act does not deter from what this movie does well: great characterization, a fun soundtrack, and plenty of humor to rival any comedy film. It can feel like much of the same but if you liked it the first time, you’re going to like it here as well. Once again, I left the theater excited to see where these characters go next.

Favorite Quote
Yondu: He might be your father, but he ain’t your daddy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
James Gunn – Director / Writer
Tyler Bates – Composer

Chris Pratt – Peter Quill / Star-Lord
Zoe Saldana – Gamora
Dave Bautista – Drax
Vin Diesel – Baby Groot (voice)
Bradley Cooper – Rocket (voice)
Michael Rooker – Yondu
Karen Gillan – Nebula
Pom Klementieff – Mantis
Kurt Russell – Ego
Sean Gunn – Kraglin
Elizabeth Debicki – Ayesha
Chris Sullivan – Taserface

Beauty and the Beast (2017) Review

Beauty and the Beast (2017) movie posterSynopsis
Belle (Emma Watson) takes her father’s place as the prisoner for the Beast (Dan Stevens).  The Beast hopes to win Belle’s heart and break the spell that has been placed on him, his castle, and its inhabitants.

Review
Disney is currently going through a phase of remaking its animated films as live action films.  There have been a few of their lesser (although no less loved) classics already made and now they are stepping up to remake one of their most popular films, one that even holds the honor of being the first animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.  Disney’s previous live action remakes have gone in several different directions.  Maleficent retold Sleeping Beauty’s tale from the titular fairy’s point of view, whereas last year’s The Jungle Book, told a similar story to their 1967 classic while incorporating more of the original book’s source material, making it feel new yet familiar.  Where does Beauty and The Beast stand? Well, knowing that their Disney Renaissance film is such a well known and well loved film, it follows very closely to the original. Maybe a little too close.

Beauty and the Beast‘s biggest strength comes from its cast.  Emma Watson, to no surprise, is an absolute gem.  Her Belle is every bit as gentle yet strong as her animated predecessor.  Watson mentioned many times in interviews that Belle means a lot to her on a personal level and that love for the character really shines through.  Not only that, she has great chemistry with Dan Stevens, who plays Beast, which seems like a silly thing to say since Beast is a CGI character. However, Stevens’ emotion is still felt through the computer animation, leading to several touching moments throughout the film.

Besides Watson as Belle and Stevens as Beast, I thought the other characters were well cast also.  Luke Evans’ experience in theater made him a perfect fit as Gaston.  He brings the same charisma we’ve come to expect from his animated counterpart.  Josh Gad’s short and stout stature fit the character of LeFou perfectly, and I’m sure his experience as Frozen’s Olaf helped with the musical numbers as well. Kevin Kline was a more composed, less village-crazy-man incarnation of Maurice, Belle’s father, than the 1991 version.  Ian McKellen embodied the character of Cogsworth flawlessly. While Ewan McGregor’s French accent is a little dodgy, it never bothered me too much and he was still fun.

What surprised me the most about this film was how humorous it was! The original had plenty of laughs, sure, but I don’t remember it for its comedy.  This time, however, there were multiple times the entire theater would burst out laughing.  It definitely kept the mood light.

The set and costume design for this movie undeniably gorgeous. The majority of this film takes place within Beast’s castle and the ornate designs and decorations give it a breathtaking appearance. Everything is extremely detailed and well thought out and designed. It all deserves some recognition, from the castle’s furniture and stone towers, to the characters’ 18th century outfits, even character designs for the living objects, such as Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts.

My biggest flaw with Beauty and the Beast is that it doesn’t expand on, or do anything new with, the 1991 classic. Instead, what it does do is fill in and clean up the story.  For example, Gaston is painted in more of a villainous light, Belle’s family is given more of a background, the movie’s timeline is tightened, and more is revealed about the Enchantress’ spell. Disney’s other live-action remakes they have done so far have each told their own story using characters we were acquainted with, albeit with varying success.  This film, on the other hand, hits the exact same beats and the characters go through the same motions as before.  In essence, all this film is what the 1991 Beauty and the Beast would look like with live actors.

I thought Beauty and the Beast was GOOD 🙂 If you are a fan of the Disney Renaissance classic, you will more than likely enjoy this remake since it follows it very closely.  However, that is also its biggest weakness, in that it simply fills in some story points but never does anything wholly original.  It does make up for it though, with fantastic casting all around and great chemistry between Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Bill Condon – Director
Stephen Chbosky – Screenplay
Evan Spiliotopoulos – Screenplay
Alan Menkin – Composer

Emma Watson – Belle
Dan Stevens – Beast
Luke Evans – Gaston
Josh Gad – LeFou
Kevin Kline – Maurice
Ewan McGregor – Lumiere
Ian McKellen – Cogsworth
Emma Thompson – Mrs. Potts
Nathan Mack – Chip
Audra McDonald – Madame Garderobe
Stanley Tucci – Maestro Cadenza
Gugu Mbatha- Raw – Plumette
Rita Davies – Old Woman
Hattie Morahan – Agathe / Enchantress

Wild Wild West Review

This review was originally posted for the Ultimate 90s Blogathon, hosted by Tranquil Dreams and me.

Wild Wild West movie posterSynopsis
Army Captain James West (Will Smith) is tasked by President Grant (Kevin Kline) to work together with US Marshal Artemus Gordon (Kevin Kline) to find the ex-Confederate scientist Dr. Arliss Loveless (Kenneth Branagh) before he can take over the United States government.

Review
Wild Wild West was a go-to movie for my friend and I back when we were growing up. Between the two of us, we could (and still can!) quote the movie in its entirety. Having watched this many times over the years, I acknowledge that the nostalgia factor might affect my enjoyment of the film, as I have found several flaws since watching it as a young lad. However, that doesn’t mean it still can’t be enjoyed on its own merits.

Right out the gate, this movie is goofy. Not funny, although it is that too, but goofy. Artemis Gordon’s inventions feel a little too perfect for the situations they get Gordon and Jim West out of. Arliss Loveless’ beard rivals Crane’s beard from The Hunger Games for most intricate movie beard, acting as the proverbial “I’m the bad guy” sign. Loveless’ invention to bring the “US government to its knees” is a giant, steam-punk tarantula. Everything about this movie screams “Saturday morning cartoon.” Nevertheless, it has a sense of fun that many film miss, which is why it still works for even as I’ve grown older. Wild Wild West never takes itself seriously, making it fun for both the actors and the audience.

The humor can be seen as a little juvenile, like the scene below, but that kind of humor is what I like. Will Smith and John Kline are enjoyable to watch together. This film came out relatively early in Smith’s film career. It is fun to see how he has brought the same energy and personality to his characters throughout all of his movies, whether they were in the 90s, when he started film acting, or today. I’ll admit I haven’t seen many of Kline’s films to compare Artemis Gordon to his other roles but his comedy here is more subtle than Smith’s which works because having two boisterous comedians would be too much.

Besides the two leads, the other two big supporting actors, Salma Hayek and Kenneth Branagh are clearly having a good time too. The often scantily clad Hayek is obviously there for the eye candy and to give West and Gordon someone to compete for, but it doesn’t appear to bother her and she gives a memorable performance. Branagh gets fully into the maniacal villain role. It’s cartoonish and over the top but he steals his every scene he’s in.

I thought Wild Wild West was GOOD 🙂 It isn’t afraid to be silly and have fun with itself, which might turn off other viewers but I really enjoyed that. Everyone, from Will Smith and Kevin Kline to Salma Hayek and Kennith Branagh, feel like they are enjoying themselves. I grew up watching this film regularly and although its imperfections have become more apparent over the years, it still is every bit the fun, adventurous romp I remember it to be.

Favorite Scene

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Barry Sonnenfeld – Director
Jim Thomas – Story
John Thomas – Story
SS Wilson – Screenplay
Brent Maddock – Screenplay
Jefferey Price – Screenplay
Peter S Seaman – Screenplay
Elmer Bernstein – Composer

Will Smith – James West
Kevin Kline – Artemis Gordon / President Ulysses S Grant
Kenneth Branagh – Dr. Arliss Loveless
Salma Hayek – Rita Escobar
M. Emmet Walsh – Coleman
Ted Levine – General “Bloodbath” McGrath
Frederique van der Wal – Amazonia
Musetta Vander – Munitia
Sofia Eng – Miss Lippenrieder
Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon – Belle
Bai Ling – Miss East

Ultimate 90s Blogathon Kickoff: Encino Man

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Welcome! Welcome, one and all to the Ultimate 90s Blogathon! For the next several weeks my co-host Kim, the mastermind behind Tranquil Dreams, and I will celebrate films of the rad 90s with our fellow bloggers.  There is quite a mix of movies reviewed so I’m excited for you to see what is in store.  Kim kicked off the blogathon on her site as well with reviews of several of her favorite Robin Williams movies. She is also keeping a page of all the blogathon entries, which you can see here, that way you can get them all at one easy-to-find location.  Now let’s get this party started!


Encino Man movie poster

Synopsis
Dave (Sean Astin) just wants him and his best friend Stoney (Pauly Shore) to be one of the cool kids at high school. When they find a frozen caveman (Brendan Fraser) in Dave’s backyard, Dave tries to use their discovery to get in with the popular crowd.

Review
For this blogathon, all the entrants looked at “Ultimate 90s” as their favorite film from the 1990s. Well I’m going to look at it from a different point-of-view. I’m interpreting it as what movie I think best encapsulates the 1990s. Before I get to my review, here are a few reasons why I picked Encino Man as my Ultimate 90s movie:

  1. The Vocabulary. A good way to figure out what era a given movie is from is by listening to what slang is used. The 90s were littered with terms like “dope,” an excessive use of the word “babe,” and creating custom words by adding “-age” to the end of words. Let’s not forget the ever popular “as if.” Encino Man has all of the above and then some, which very easily lets the viewer know it very clearly takes place during the 90s.
  2. The Fashion. 90s fashion was defined by bright colors and crazy patterns. Oh, and jean jackets and leftover 80s aerobics outfits. All three of the main characters check these fashion crazes. Plus the girls’ hairstyles are exactly what you remember from the 90s.
    encinoman-hair
  3. Pauly Shore. Pauly Shore hit his heyday with his MTV show Totally Pauly. After Encino Man, he began to work on more movies, which lasted through most of the 90s then slowed down significantly in the early 2000s. So really, the Pauly Shore era is primarily the 90s.
  4. MTV. Speaking of MTV, believe it or not, this TV station actually PLAYED MUSIC at one time in history. Unlike today where it is filled with reality shows. I know this isn’t exactly a great way to tell that a movie takes place in the 90s but at one point in the movie, there is a glimpse of MTV playing music with the MTV logo from the 90s.
    mtv-90s-logo
  5. Freeze frame before credits. It was very common for movies and even television series in the 90s to do a freeze freeze before fading to credits. Encino Man is no exception.

Encino Man is far from the best film of the 90s, and it hasn’t aged extraordinarily well because it is so very clearly 90s but that is why I still enjoy it. This film is a snapshot of the 90s. As a child of the 90s, it takes me back in time. The lighthearted story keeps the movie from becoming too serious but at the same time, it doesn’t feel like there is much of a conflict either. Although I guess that isn’t the worst thing for a comedy. The plot is not the most original, an unpopular kid want to be popular and try to win the girl of his dreams, and filled to the brim with cliches but Sean Astin, Pauly Shore, Brandan Fraser bring an undeniable charm to the film. All members of the cast feel like they are enjoying themselves, which comes across and makes a better experience for the audience. It is very easy to turn this film on, sit back, relax and have an enjoyable ninety minutes.

I thought Encino Man was GOOD 🙂 It may not be the most exciting or the most genre-defining teen movie but it still has a certain appeal to it. This could have easily been a terrible film to try to ride the rising popularity of Pauly Shore. Instead, Shore’s trademark personality and Fraser’s antics create a fairly pleasant experience that acts as a time capsule of being a teenager in the 90s.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Les Mayfield – Director
Shawn Schepps – Story / Screenplay
George Zaloom – Screenplay
J. Peter Robinson – Composer

Sean Astin – Dave Morgan
Pauly Shore – Stoney Brown
Brendan Fraser – Link
Megan Ward – Robyn Sweeney
Robin Tunney – Ella
Michael DeLuise – Matt Wilson
Patrick Van Horn – Phil
Dalton James – Will
Rick DuCommun – Mr. Brush
Mariette Hartley – Mrs. Morgan
Richard Masur – Mr. Morgan
Ellen Blain – Teena Morgan