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 πŸ™‚ The Alien franchise has had its ups and downs over the years but it seems to be finding a groove. The β€œalien” 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: Ghost in the Shell (2017)

Ghost in the Shell movie posterSynopsis
Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A perfect human / machine hybrid. However, she has no recollection of her past before becoming the weapon she is today. When she confronts a mysterious terrorist known as Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), she soon begins looking for answers about the truth of who she really is.

Review
Ghost in the Shell had the difficult task of luring in fans of both the original 1995 animated film and proceeding anime of the same name, as well as a new audience. Because I have yet to see the original film, I fall into the latter, but found myself right away getting drawn into the movie’s world. What hooked me in the beginning was its fantastic science-fiction neo-noir version of Tokyo. The bright colors from the advertisements, signs, cars, and lights create a stark contrast against the more muted-colored buildings. When it comes to sci-fi films, I like to be sold on the world it is looking to create. Almost every character has some sort of cybernetic enhancement and this movie shows how integral these enhancements have become in this world. Say what you will about Scarlett Johansson being cast as Major, she did a great job in the role. She made her movements rigid and less fluid than what you are used to seeing. This motion sold that she had a robotic body despite her appearance as flesh and blood.

As philosophical as this movie wanted to be, it never fully examined the themes it was trying to bring across. They were touched on and hinted at several times through the film but it still felt like the message or commentary it was trying to provide was not delved into as deeply as this movie thought it was. I think it is funny that this is the case because a lot of time was spent on exposition. However, it never seemed to move past a superficial level or into any deep exploration of its themes. This also made the movie feel like it was often not going anywhere because there wasn’t enough action to make up for the lack of depth. It’s a shame these ideas never found much ground because the concepts of artificial intelligence and identity are very interesting to me.

I thought Ghost in the Shell was OK 😐 Its futuristic neo-noir world is extremely well realized and Scarlett Johansson was great casting as Major but despite much of its run time is spent on exposition, the themes and commentary it was trying to bring across aren’t explored past high-level concepts. This movie isn’t bad by any means, but there are flickers of good ideas that never came to fruition to make it something special.

Trivia
Several original voice actors from the 1995 animated Ghost in the Shell reprise their roles for the Japanese dubbed version of this film. Atsuko Tanaka, Akio Otsuka, and Koichi Yamadera voice their parts as Major, Batou, and Togusa respectively.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Rupert Sanders – Director
Jamie Moss – Screenplay
William Wheeler – Screenplay
Ehren Kruger – Screenplay
Lorne Balfe – Composer
Clint Mansell – Composer

Scarlett Johansson – Major
Pilou Asbaek – Batou
Takeshi Kitano – Aramaki
Juliette Binoche – Dr. Ouelet
Michael Carmen Pitt – Kuze
Chin Han – Togusa
Danusia Samal – Ladriya
Lasarus Ratuere – Ishikawa
Yutaka Izumihara – Saito
Tawanda Manyimo – Borma
Peter Ferdinando – Cutter
Anamaria Marinca – Dr. Dahlin

Lightning Review: Predator 2

Predator 2 movie posterSynopsis
In 1997 Los Angeles , Lieutenant Harrigan (Donald Glover) is in the middle of a gang war when, unbeknownst to him, he is targeted by a Predator (Kevin Peter Hall). He must figure out why his squad members are disappearing while dealing with a government official, Special Agent Peter Keyes (Gary Busey), who is taking over his investigation of the cartels.

Review
One of Predator‘s strongest features is its simplicity. A team of commandos is in the wrong place at the wrong time. Predator 2 tries to keep the same simplicity but in an urban jungle instead of a lush, green one. It’s an interesting concept to move to such a dramatically different environment but I don’t think the film fully took advantage of the setting. Maybe it was the way the Predator hunted this time wasn’t as exhilarating or maybe it was the film’s pacing. Either way, I didn’t feel the suspense I felt in the previous movie. The film has a good cast who do what they can with what little script they are given. Danny Glover is a good follow up to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Dutch. I particularly liked Bill Paxton as the quick-talking Jerry Lambert. The character’s attitude is much some of Paxton’s other characters I like, such as Private Hudson in Aliens or even more recently John Garrett in Agents of SHIELD TV series. Similar to the Xenomorphs in Aliens, Predator 2 expands on the Predator’s as a species, apparently called the Yautja (e-wat-ya), more by showing they hunted a variety of species, not just humans, as well as expanding their arsenal.

I thought Predator 2 was OK 😐 It tries to be simple like Predator but it doesn’t have the same thrill or suspense so it ends up feeling dull at times. The great cast does well but they can only do so much with the little material they have to work with. This is a rare case where the plot was too simple and to have a twist or two would have kept it interesting.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Stephen Hopkins – Director
Jim Thomas – Writer
John Thomas – Writer
Alan Silvestri – Composer

Kevin Peter Hall – The Predator
Danny Glover – Lieutenant Mike Harrigan
Gary Busey – Peter Keyes
Ruben Blades – Danny Archuleta
Maria Conchita Alonso – Leona Cantrell
Bill Paxton – Jerry Lambert
Robert Davi – Captain Phil Heinemann
Adam Baldwin – Garber
Kent McCord – Captain B. Pilgrin
Morton Downey Jr. – Tony Pope

Tron: Legacy Review

Tron: Legacy movie posterSynopsis
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), computer programmer and president of Encom, disappeared twenty years ago. When his son Sam (Gerret Hedlund) receives a mysterious message from his father’s old arcade, he finds himself transported to the Grid, a world inside the computer. With the help of Quorra (Olivia Wilde), Sam goes on a search for his father and a way to escape back into the real world.

Review
Tron is a cult favorite from the 1980s. It comes as no surprise that with the trend of bringing back old and favorite franchises, particularly over the last decade or so, that Tron would get its own sequel, nearly thirty years later. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original but I still understood its significance in cinema. In 2010, Tron: Legacy takes audiences back inside the computer with an updated look to match the updated times.

My biggest issue with Tron was the characters. There wasn’t much to them, or the story even, so I didn’t care much about Flynn, Tron, or Crom. This time around, I would say the characters are the strongest part about this film. From the beginning, we learn about Sam’s close relationship with his father and he how distraught he is when his father disappears. As the film goes on, we learn more about their relationship and them individually. Their relationship is fleshed out. By the end of the film, I cared more about either them than I did any of the characters from the previous film.

The costumes from Tron were pretty interesting, with lines running along the outfits differently and in random patterns for each character. This design element is brought back for Tron: Legacy but better realized than it was before. The rotoscopic techniques used inΒ Tron to add the color were distracting and not very crisp. With today’s computer imaging technology, the lines are sharp, creating an effect that is probably more in-line of what Lisberger imagined in 1982. Although the scenes set inside the computer are in color as opposed to the black-and-white of Tron, they do have a gray tone to them that gives it a similar feel without becoming distracting.

When Sam first enters the Grid, he is taken immediately to the Games, an arena reminiscent of what was seen in the previous film. This creates a lot of confusion for both Sam and the audience. I liked this feeling because I didn’t get all the information right away. I was trying to figure things out, just as I’m sure Sam was, and it had me excited. The film gave a burst of excitement before getting to the characterization scenes between Sam and his father. And it gave a glimpse that this was the same world as before but updated, just like an actual computer would be.

For a film called Tron, there is an obvious lack of the character in the film. Hints are dropped throughout the movie as to where he is (and eagle-eyed fans might figure it out based on some visual clues). However, when Tron is finally revealed, it felt anticlimactic. Given his history with Kevin Flynn, I was expecting more. I’ll just leave it at that because going into it any more would wonder into spoiler territory.

De-aging in film has been happening longer than I have realized. I knew it has been used to some effect before, such as in films like X3: The Last Stand and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button but I didn’t think it wasn’t until more recently that it was used to the degree it was used here. A de-aged Jeff Bridges is used for Clu (since most programs in the Tron universe resemble their programmer) back in 2010. Flash forward six years and the process is used again to resurrect Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I mentioned in my review of that that the effect looks great except for when Tarkin talks. Now knowing this de-aging effect has been around since at least 2010, it is a little more disappointing that this is a problem in Rogue One because that is the same flaw in this film. There is something off with Bridges’ mouth as Clu when he speaks and it removed me from the film.

I thought Tron: Legacy was GOOD πŸ™‚ It fixes the biggest reason I didn’t like the previous film: the characters. They actually get some development this time. There are plenty of Easter eggs and homages to the original classic. Although it doesn’t push the boundaries of CGI and animation as much as Tron did in the early eighties, it looks visually remarkable and has some impressive de-aging, albeit with some imperfections. Tron: Legacy is a worthy legacy of such a popular cult classic as Tron.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Joseph Kosinski – Director
Edward Kitsis – Screenplay / Story
Adam Horowitz – Screenplay / Story
Brian Klugman – Story
Lee Sternthal – Story
Daft Punk – Music

Garret Hedlund – Sam Flynn
Jeff Bridges – Kevin Flynn / Clu
Olivia Wilde – Quorra
Bruce Boxleitner – Alan Bradley / Tron
James Frain – Jarvis
Beau Garrett – Gem
Michael Sheen – Castor / Zuse
Anis Cheurfa – Rinzler

If you are interested in participating in the Ultimate 90s Blogathon, hosted by Kim from Tranquil Dreams and myself, you can find all the information here.

Tron Review

TRON movie posterSynopsis
Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is a computer hacker who was fired from the company Encom. When searching for proof that his rival in the company, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), stole his code, he gets transported to inside of the computer system. With the help of a security program called Tron (Bruce Boxleitner), Flynn must make his way to the Master Control Program to escape the system.

Review
With movies like Rogue One and Furious 7 literally reviving diseased actors on screen and recent visual marvels like Doctor Strange, it’s truly impressive to see how far CGI has come in cinema. Considering where we are today, it can be a bit jarring to see animation that was done with less computing power than the phone currently in my pocket. But as the old saying goes, it had to start somewhere. There is a lot to like and be fascinated with in Tron but it has its flaws, too.

Tron‘s director Steven Lisberger was ahead of his time when he wrote Tron, particularly in where he saw the future of computers. Being a programmer myself, I always enjoy when movies try to visualize and create a world inside of computer. In the early 80s, personal computers had just become a thing, with the Apple I and Apple II being released only a few years prior to this film’s released. Most people were in the midst of entering a world where computers were more than just an academic tool used in universities. For Lisberger to imagine this world inside this fledgling technology, as in-depth and detailed as he did, is impressive to me.

Now having geeked out about some computer history, I’m going to disappoint a lot of people. There is a very distinct feel to the world inside of the computer compared to the real world. Everything is monochrome with bright colors running through as highlights. I like the idea of the black and white color palette because it mirrors the binary nature of computer data and the color highlights could be imagined as data flowing through everything. Despite the uniqueness about it, I found it to be very distracting. Other movies have used this type of effect before with beautiful results, so I don’t think it was the idea of black and white with color highlights but rather its execution. It’s not very crisp here and it ends up being a distraction.

I don’t really know what it was but I couldn’t get into the story. With this featuring scientists and computer hackers, you would think this would be something I would be into. As flashy as the visuals are, they merely act as a distraction to catch your eye so you don’t notice the relatively flat characters and uneven pacing. The move is only an hour and a half long, so it breezes through the story quickly. With the two worlds, the computer world and the real world, it has two sets of characters to juggle. As a result, no one gets much development.

All the story focuses on is getting Flynn (Jeff Bridges) from point A to point B within the computer. It never stops to breathe, moving from one computer animated display to the next. This movie is more focused on showing off this new technology rather than using it to enhance the story. One of the reasons that Toy Story works so well is because although it was revolutionary in a similar vein as Tron, it told a story first then put the technology on top of that. I feel like I am watching an extended 1980s tech demo when I am watching Tron.

I thought Tron was OK 😐 At the time, films like Star Wars were pushing the boundaries of special effects while Tron was pioneering what was possible with the infant field of computer animation. It’s not hard to see it hasn’t aged well but to some, that turns into part of the film’s charm. I appreciate this movie for its historical significance and what it accomplished in computer animation but for me, I didn’t get into the story or behind the characters. It is quite the dazzling spectacle, unfortunately that isn’t enough this time to carry the film.

Also check out my review for the sequel, Tron: Legacy.

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Steven Lisberger – Director / Writer
Bonnie MacBird – Story Writer
Wendy Carlos – Composer

Jeff Bridges – Kevin Flynn / Clu
Bruce Boxleitner – Alan Bradley / Tron
Cindy Morgan – Lora / Yori
David Warner – Ed Dillinger / Sark / Master Control Program
Barnard Hughes – Dr. Walter Gibbs / Dumont
Dan Shor – Popcorn Co-Worker / Ram
Peter Jurasik – Crom

Galaxy Quest Review

Galaxy Quest movie posterSynopsis
The cast of the hit 80s show Galaxy Quest don’t have much of a career anymore. Going to conventions and doing promotions in character is the only way they can make money. When an alien race called the Thermians mistake the show as β€œhistorical documents” and seeks the crew’s help to save their people, the cast of Galaxy Quest must pretend to be the heroes the aliens believe them to be.

Review
Whenever I think about my favorite parodies, one of the first ones that come to mind is Galaxy Quest. This is one of those comedies were everything just seems to pull together perfectly. All the jokes are funny without being forced, every character gets their chance to have their laugh, even the serious ones you don’t expect, and the cast just works.

It is very obvious that the cast of Galaxy Quest was having a good time. Even with such a large, eclectic group of actors, the chemistry between them is great. I don’t know how they did it but Dreamworks managed to assemble one of the best casts in any film ever. Each character has their own unique personality. They all resemble the different types of actors that are no longer in their prime. From the attention seeker to the drama queen, they are all here.

Tim Allen has no problem portraying the self-centered β€œleader” of the group who feeds off of the audience’s fondness for him. He brings his signature wit and comedic timing. I’m a big fan of Allen and although this may not be my favorite role of his, he is still very enjoyable to watch.

Sigourney Weaver could not be any more perfect for her role. In the film’s TV show, she is a stereotypical science-fiction female character, not really providing much value except for eye-candy and but dammit will she do her best. This is perfect for her given one of her earliest and best roles was one of the most badass females in science-fiction, or even cinema for that matter.

Alan Rickman plays a British actor who longs to be back on the stage but instead is stuck in this role repeating a catch phrase he is getting tired of repeating. He plays the down-on-his-luck Shakespearean actor part so believably. Some of my favorite moments are in the beginning when he is at conventions and this fans say his catch phrase to him. I laugh every time he begrudgingly signs his autograph. However, this moment is probably my favorite for the character (it’s a little hard to set up with words so you’ll just have to watch it yourself).

Tony Shalhoub is the most deadpan of everyone in the group. He doesn’t seem phased when the crew first gets teleported to the Thermian ship, he’s in no rush when delivering vital news about damaged systems and he doesn’t think twice about opening the hatch when landing on an alien planet. Shalhoub delivers every line with the perfect tone and attitude.

Sam Rockwell is the biggest surprise of the bunch. He plays an extra who appeared for a few minutes on one episode before being killed off and is starstruck being around the show’s other actors. It’s hard to say he is the comedic relief with every character offering so many comedic moments but he made me laugh the hardest.

There are so many more excellent characters but I don’t want to get into everybody because then we would be here for a while. I have talked a lot about the cast because they are really why this film works so well. However, what helped them is the fantastic script. Even with a cast so large, no one feels like they are getting shafted on time. They each have their shining moments. It is very difficult to pick a favorite moment for each character because they all have so many. Best of all, every character has a completed arc by the end of the film. That’s quite a feat given a) it’s an ensemble and b) that doesn’t happen in comedies very often.

This film is often viewed as a parody about science-fiction shows, such as Star Trek, but it parodies more than that: it parodies the fandom. Conventions are a huge part of the film, it is where we meet the characters after all. There is this subtle show of affection towards fans. People who, like myself, get completely engrossed in a show or movie, whether they are called Trekkies, Brown Coats, Potterheads or what have you. It’s not poking fun at them as much as it is celebrating the idea of being part of a fandom.

I thought Galaxy Quest was GREAT :-D. It is often an overlooked gem of a movie. The casting is spot on and the script is brilliantly written. This film both pokes fun and pays homage to the classic science-fiction shows and, more than that, their fans. Few parodies can deliver such reverence and humor at the same time that Galaxy Quest manages to.

Favorite Quote
Guy: I changed my mind. I want to go back.
Alexander: After the fuss you made about getting left behind?
Guy: Yeah, but that’s when I thought I was the crewman that stays on the ship and something is up there and it kills me. But now I’m thinking I’m the guy who gets killed by some monster five minutes after we land on the planet.
Jason: You’re not gonna die on the planet, Guy.
Guy: I’m not? Then what’s my last name?
Jason: It’s, uh, um, uh… I don’t know.
Guy: Nobody knows. You know why? Because my character isn’t important enough for a last name because I’m gonna die five minutes in!
Gwen: Guy, you have a last name.
Guy: Do I!? Do I!? For all you know I’m just Crewman #6!

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Dean Parisot – Director
David Howard – Story / Screenplay
Robert Gordon – Screenplay
David Newman – Composer
Tim Allen – Jason Nesmith
Sigourney Weaver – Gwen DeMarco
Alan Rickman – Alexander Dane
Tony Shalhoub – Fred Kwan
Sam Rockwell – Guy Fleegman
Daryl Mitchell – Tommy Webber
Enrico Colantoni – Mathesar
Robin Sachs – Sarris
Patrick Breen – Quellek
Missi Pyle – Laliari
Jed Rees – Teb
Justin Long – Brandon
Jeremy Howard – Kyle
Johnathan Feyer – Hollister