Alien: Covenant Review

Alien: Covenant Review at ComingSoon.netRating:

6 out of 10

Cast:

Michael Fassbender as David / Walter
Katherine Waterston as Daniels
Billy Crudup as Oram
Danny McBride as Tennessee
Demián Bichir as Lope
Carmen Ejogo as Karine
Jussie Smollett as Ricks
Callie Hernandez as Upworth
Amy Seimetz as Faris
Nathaniel Dean as Hallett
Alexander England as Ankor
Benjamin Rigby as Ledward
Uli Latukefu as Cole
Tess Haubrich as Rosenthal
Lorelei King as Voice of ‘Mother’ (voice)
Goran D. Kleut as Xenomorph / Neomorph
Andrew Crawford as Neomorph
James Franco as Branson
Guy Pearce as Peter Weyland

Directed by Ridley Scott

Alien: Covenant Review

If you take the first Alien and mix in a little Prometheus, you have Alien: Covenant. While there are cool new alien effects and a solid cast, everything is just too familiar to be satisfying.

The Story:

Ten years after the events of Prometheus, the spaceship Covenant is on its way to start a colony on a distant planet in the farthest reaches of explored space. En route, they are struck by a solar flare that severely damages the ship. The crew is awoken from cryogenic sleep by the ship’s computer “Mother” and the robot Walter (who is a newer model of the robot David).

As they repair the ship, they catch a stray signal from a nearby planet previously unknown to them. When they investigate the planet further, it appears it may be suitable for a human colony and seven years closer to reach than their original destination. Captain Oram decides to check it out despite the protests of his First Officer Daniels.

When they arrive, the planet at first appears perfect for human life. But as they investigate further, they discover a hidden threat from the Alien Xenomorph and more details on the horrific legacy of the Engineers.

Alien: Covenant is rated R for sci-fi violence, bloody images, language and some sexuality/nudity.

What Worked:

Your opinion of Alien: Covenant will more than likely reflect whatever your opinion of Prometheus was. Whether you loved it, were okay with it, or hated it, that’s pretty much what you can expect from this Alien prequel / Prometheus sequel. That’s because it’s largely the same in content and tone. Let’s focus on the positives first.

If you were missing the aliens in Prometheus you’ll be glad to know they’re in this film more, but not a lot more. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re in maybe 10 minutes of this movie. And that’s a shame, because when they’re on the screen, that’s when the film is most entertaining. Ridley Scott finds new variations of the chestburster, which makes the audience cringe. You also see variations of the Alien, which explains why they were so different between their Prometheus version and their Alien version. Our heroes get into two impressive battles with the classic “Big Chap” Alien and it’s a lot of fun. I’d honestly like to see more of that, especially with modern computer animation.

What may surprise audiences is that this movie is much more about the Walter and David robots than the Aliens. Ridley Scott is clearly more interested in them and it shows. That’s fine, but if you walk into an Alien movie wanting Aliens and get Fassbender robots, it may be a disappointment to you. That being said, Michael Fassbender does an excellent job in his dual role as David and Walter. As in the first film, you are constantly kept guessing what his motives are and what he’ll do next. He has a number of scenes where he’s acting against himself and they’re fairly intriguing though pretty creepy. This ultimately ends up being one of the top performances of Fassbender’s career.

As for the rest of the cast, they all handle their roles as victims of the Aliens well. Katherine Waterston is this film’s Ripley as she plays Daniels. She handles the character’s sadness, unease, and fighting spirit well. Billy Crudup is also good as Oram, the new captain in over his head with something to prove. But the real surprise is Danny McBride as Tennessee. I never in a million years would have cast him in a Ridley Scott Alien movie, but he works very well here. He handles the dramatic scenes with ease but he also brings much-needed comic relief to this otherwise dreary, depressing story. And it’s just the right amount of comedy, not his usual over-the-top shtick we expect from him.

Finally, there’s a cool Easter Egg for H.R. Giger fans. Keep an eye out for some drawings clearly inspired by or drawn by the eccentric artist who designed the original Alien.

What Didn’t Work:

While there’s plenty to like about Alien: Covenant, there’s plenty to dislike as well.

First off, it largely follows the formula of Alien and Prometheus blended together. A diverse and likable crew travels through space, gets a distress signal, discovers an extraterrestrial ship, gets infected by Aliens, then is slowly killed off one by one. When you throw the Engineer storyline in along with the David robot, you start seeing the Prometheus elements. It’s all very predictable and familiar and the similarities go on from there. It’s only the details that are different. And like with Prometheus, the ending makes you think, “Well that’s a good setup for a sequel. I bet that’s a better film.” If Alien: Covenant is any indication, the sequel to this film will be more of the same. It’s hard to believe Ridley Scott wants to do two more of them.

Alien: Covenant repeats a number of the sins committed in Prometheus. First off, the humans make epically bad decisions. If you landed on a planet for the first time and it is full of new life forms, would you explore it in a protective suit of some sort or in regular clothes and a baseball cap? You can guess what our characters do and you can guess how it ends for them. On the scary new planet, do you split up or stay together? If someone looks infected, do you quarantine them or let them spew blood in your face? If there’s an Alien stalking you, do you stick together or go off and have a bath by yourself? I think you follow where this is going.

There are also a number of bizarre choices by Scott in this film. When an Alien bursts from the chest of a victim, it has a bizarre interaction with David that is one of the weirdest moments in the Alien series. Late in the film there’s a shower scene that comes across as incredibly gratuitous. It is only made more absurd when an Alien is thrown into the mix. Then there is the weird relationship between David and Walter. It drew snickers from the audience I was with watching it.

Finally, Alien: Covenant ruins some of the groundwork that the previous films laid out. One of the appeals of the Aliens was the mystery surrounding their origin. This film entirely lays out where they came from and it’s a bit of a letdown. And one of the few appealing things about Prometheus was the promise of further adventures with Elizabeth Shaw and David. This film rather quickly throws that out the window, puts it in reverse, backs over it, then runs over it again. It’s a disappointment.

The Bottom Line:

If you like the Alien series, then Alien: Covenant is worth checking out on the big screen. Even if you don’t love the film, it is beautifully shot, mildly entertaining, and it fills in enough gaps in the Alien lore that you’ll want to follow it whether you love it or loathe it. But if you did not like Prometheus, don’t expect much more from this.

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‘Silicon Valley’ Season Premiere Review: A Whole New Internet

silicon valley season premiere

The most brilliant comedy on TV returns! The fourth season premiere of HBO’s Silicon Valley is titled “Success Failure,” which is a pretty accurate description of the show so far.

Richard and the rest of the Pied Piper crew have seen tiny pieces of amazing success and attention thrown at them that promise to make them enough money to live the rest of their lives, only for them to lose it all each and every time. After three seasons of this, it’s hard not to get a little bit disinterested in this motley crew, but this season started off by doing something pretty brilliant – they’re rebooting it. Or at least, they’re changing the direction of the show.

A New Title Sequence

One of the most underappreciated parts of each Silicon Valley episode is its title sequence, which changes from season-to-season. The sequence shows the Valley being built up with corporations in a mere ten seconds, so quickly that it takes a few rewatches to catch the many in-jokes each contains.

For instance, near the space where a Napster balloon floated up before imploding and falling to the ground, a massive Uber balloon rose up in season two. In season three, a smaller Lyft balloon rose up to bounce against Uber, futily. But at the start of the season 4 premiere, they’re both about the same size and knocking against each other, probably due to Uber’s incredible snafus made earlier this year and Lyft taking advantage of their rival’s bad press so expertly.

Last season, there were a couple of drones delivering bottles of champagne to buildings. This year, they’re all over the skies, delivering six-packs of beer and individual pizza slices.

Another building now has a sign for Theranos, which immediately starts to peel off the building, probably due to the multiple FBI vans outside. The company isn’t doing well, lately. There are probably a dozen more tiny references taking place on the rooftops and streets, just a small hint of the brilliant depths of the show.

SV Gavin

The Most Silicon Valley Moment

If you think a $ 400 juicer is a stupid waste of money (it is), how about what Hooli CEO Gavin Belson gets up to in this episode? We see him with his new hire Jack Barker on the way back from a successful trip to China. Gavin becomes incredibly angry when Jack convinces him that it would be faster to drop him off at his destination first, even though it’s clearly farther. Gavin becomes so obsessed with this slight that he sends his right hand man on the exact trip from China to San Francisco to time how long each leg of the journey it takes. When he returns and confirms that it was indeed 28.3 minutes shorter if they had gone Gavin’s way, Gavin sends him back out to take five more private transcontinental flights in order to sum up the average time, to account for headwind and other variables. The purpose of this? He’s concerned with Barker’s corporate spending.

Barker ends up delightfully punished for this at the end of the episode, demoted to an “office” in the fourth sub basement next to the servers, facing the door of a men’s room.

SV Russ

The Doors of a Billionaire

With each of these weekly review, I plan to single out the best one-liner of the episode, so color me surprised that this one didn’t belong to something from the mouth of Erlich Bachman. We all know that T. J. Miller is king of the one-liners and will usually dominate this section, but we can’t blame him because this episode features an appearance by Chris Diamantopoulos’ Russ Hanneman, the billionaire who put radio on the internet. He appears in his ridiculous car to meet with Richard outside of his kid’s school. His greeting?

“Thanks for meeting me here. My fucking nanny got a D.U.I. and lost her license and I’m stuck picking up my own kid like an asshole. So what’s up?”

This is perhaps the tamest portion of his dialogue, which is delivered in front of horrified children and parents. Russ may be crazy, but it’s only because of this interaction that Richard realizes that he’s not fully behind the new direction of Pied Piper, and he has only one thing he can do – quit.

By far the best joke in the episode is Russ peeling out in his car after his chat with Richard, blasting Papa Roach’s “Last Resort,” the way we all wish Paul Ryan did.

SV Leader

The Most Inspiring Speech

Dinesh and Gilfoyle have the best (lack of) chemistry on the show, so it was perhaps shocking to think that Gilfoyle would ever back Dinesh as the new CEO of Pied Piper. But after Dinesh’s rousing speech, he had no option but to fall in line.

“Gilfoyle, can I please be CEO of Pied Piper?” pleads Dinesh.

“Spoken like a true leader,” replies our favorite anarchist. “But, since your failure as a leader is a virtual certainty, tolerating your short reign as CEO in exchange for a front-row seat to the disaster seems fair. Plus if I’m wrong, which I’m not, I get rich. So I’m down with Dinesh.”

And the new crew gets almost immediately to work on their video conferencing app, with a new gung-ho leader who’s actually interested in the product they’re creating.

SV New Internet

Building, Not Sustaining

Richard’s problem has always been that he’s a weirdo genius. He’s an amazing engineer and the rest of the crew has admitted many times that they can’t code like he can, but he has absolutely no social skills. This is what makes the show so fun to watch, but it also means thatany time he tries to steer the ship, it’s destined to smash into pieces against rocks he didn’t even see.

Richard finally realizes that in this episode, and breaks off from the new Pied Piper video chat direction (which Dinesh is excited about, since it’s his!) to do his very own thing – and that thing is to build a new internet using his algorithm.  He doesn’t even know how this will work, so this should be interesting. Will he achieve an engineering miracle, only to fall back into the same self-defeating problems? Or will he finally give up the front-facing roles of the company to people that are actually good at it? We still have a whole season ahead of us to find out.

The post ‘Silicon Valley’ Season Premiere Review: A Whole New Internet appeared first on /Film.


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Voice from the Stone Review

Voice from the Stone Review

Voice from the Stone Review: Emilia Clarke gives a solid performance in this beautifully crafted romantic horror film

If you’re a fan of Roger Corman‘s first few entries in his classic series of ’60s films based on the writings of Edgar Allan Poe, you know that writer Richard Matheson was fond of marrying those opulent tales of dread with Henry James’ influential ghost story The Turn of the Screw. In 1960’s House of Usher, 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum and in the “Morella” segment of 1962’s Tales of Terror, a hero would travel for whatever reason to an impossible Gothic European manor or castle, nestled in the middle of nowhere and soon be swept up in a supernatural psychodrama of some sort. And it was true that — especially in regards to Usher — like in the James tale (and the film version, 1961’s The Innocents), it wasn’t the twists of plot that left viewers spellbound, it was the remarkable way in which Corman and production designer Daniel Haller created an immersive, haunted world, where every creak and whisper hit the nerves like a dagger.

Stuntman and pyro FX artist-turned-director Eric D. Howell’s delicate new ghost story Voice from the Stone (based on the novel by Italian writer Silvio Raffo), similarly mines that Corman/James marriage and ladles on plenty of creamy pulp paperback intrigue, creating a distinctly feminine fright movie that is more in love with baroque architecture, swirling mists, broken statues, intricately-designed costumes and suffocating supernatural mystery than it is jump scares or genre cliches. It’s a beautiful horror movie, truly, one made for patient grown-ups and with every technical element refined and buffed to a high gloss.

Game of Thrones‘ Dragon Queen Emilia Clarke doffs her platinum wig and dials down her amazonian warrior act to play Verena, a gifted teacher and nurse who, like a non-fantastical Mary Poppins, drifts in and out of the lives of a myriad European families, assisting children in need and drawing the previously-fractured units together. And though her young wards are devastated when she checks out to go to her next gig, Verena never takes it personally. She walks away and doesn’t look back. Work is work.

Voice from the stone

One day she’s summoned to the estate of a widow (Marton Csokas) and his young son in the Tuscany countryside and, as she wades through the dense fog surrounding the home, she immediately feels something is off. So do we, but Peter Simonite’s handsome photography makes every image a masterpiece worthy of framing, so we don’t mind much. Turns out the boy hasn’t uttered a word since the death of his mother and the grieving patriarch is so shell shocked by his loss, he hasn’t had the energy or ability to reach him. But Verena is up for the challenge, gently bonding with the mute boy, day by day. But when first the boy, then Verena, hears harsh whispers coming from behind a stone wall of the house, Verena becomes convinced the dead woman is haunting the house and that somehow she is slowly, surely becoming the mother.

Voice from the Stone is a gorgeous bauble of a chiller, with a sensual, minimalist cello and piano-based score by Michael Wandmacher (Underworld Blood Wars) that aids in building an ambiguous, romantic and melancholy world for the emotionally-troubled characters to inhabit. The cast is just as on point, with Clarke reveling in her role, playing a woman who unlocks both her sexuality and primal maternal instinct in the face of the arcane; and she’s matched by Csokas’ work as the broken husband who becomes smitten by the new woman in his home and Italian genre film legend Lisa Gastoni (War of the Planets) who creeps around the peripheral as the steely, elderly matron who passive aggressively steers Verena more and more to accepting the fact that she’s “becoming” someone else.

Not for horror fans seeking a quick in and out, Voice from the Stone is a slow burning, absorbing and carefully-crafted Gothic gem. With its rich cinematography, bodice-heaving sensuality and grandiose sense of decay, it’s a film admirers of this sort of thing will want to eat, slowly… so slowly, savoring every shivery second.

Voice from the Stone opens in theaters, VOD and Digital HD on April 28th from Momentum Pictures

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Review: Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire’ is a Crazy Fun and Comical Ride

Ben Wheatley's Free Fire

It’s difficult to say which is sharper in Ben Wheatley’s latest film, Free Fire: the bullets being fired by the nefarious characters found within or the witty jabs those characters tend to fling at one another between the continual barrage of deadly gunplay. One may kill you, but the other may actually hurt your feelings. As with his previous films, Wheatley presents Free Fire with a gleefully dark sense of humor, the ridiculousness of events playing out made all the more senseless when you take into account where everyone’s mindset is at. That sense of humor – not to mention the aberrantly comical characters – washes the onslaught of violence down all the easier, though, and, with Free Fire, Wheatley once again proves to be a unique voice ›››

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Phoenix Forgotten Review

Phoenix Forgotten Review: New Ridley Scott-produced found footage horror film is full of sound and fury and paranoia

Phoenix Forgotten Review: New Ridley Scott-produced found footage horror film is full of sound and fury and paranoia

Found footage horror movies are a dime a dozen and have been since Paranormal Activity traded on the success of the previous decade’s The Blair Witch Project and rode it all the way to the bank. With the film industry in a less-than-healthy state, found footage horror movies cost nearly nada to make, with rarely a known star in site and a visual palette that demands incompetence for it to even function.

Yeah, I don’t like them. If I want reality, I’ll look out the window.

But every so often a film of this type comes out and surprises, mixing cinematic craft with the urgency of found footage. Enter Phoenix Forgotten, director Justin Barber’s Ridley Scott-produced faux docu-thriller about the purportedly “true” events on March 13th, 1997 in Phoenix, Arizona when a bunch of locals swear that the glowing light saw in the distant night sky weren’t government jets but a big ‘ole UFO dropping in for a quick hello.

Barber’s film works because it’s a film first, by that I mean it’s produced and presented as an actual piece of dramatic journalism, with score and ace editing as various talking heads (are they real? actors? The lines here are rather ingeniously smudged) debate the authenticity of the footage and tell tales of other such sightings that might lend credence to the tin-hat set.

Woven into this is a narrative about a trio of teens who had obviously seen and enjoyed The Blair With Project enough to pack up some snacks and video gear and hightail into the desert to find potential evidence of extraterrestrial activity. Of course, they’re never heard from again. That is until 20 years later when the makers of this movie find a tape buried in the sand containing the last few minutes of the kids’ lives… on Earth at least.

The makers of this movie are cruising for a critical bruising when reviewers get hold of the title. I can just see the cynical headlines: “Phoenix Already Forgotten!”; “Forget it Phoenix!”. But the truth is, Phoenix Forgotten is really rather good. It’s expertly-paced and immersive and cynical about its subject before blossoming into a fiery horror movie for the shaky-cam finale. Unlike many of these movies, post-production is solid, especially the sound design and that last reel is a real hackle-raiser because of those alarming sound FX. The pro-am performances are pretty good too and ultimately its these controlled, presumably semi-improvised performances that elevate the movie, making us feel genuinely sad at the stressful fate the three kids endure.

While Phoenix Forgotten won’t change your life, it is a damn sight better than last year’s Blair Witch sequel and it gives hope that there is SOMETHING out there: a better breed of found footage film.

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Tales from the Hood Blu-ray Review

Tales from the Hood Blu-ray Review

Ingenious socially volatile horror omnibus Tales from the Hood hits Blu-ray on Tuesday from Scream Factory

When one is critiquing a film, the thinking is that objectivity is key. A proper review must not reflect the writer’s personal tastes but must evenly judge if the film is successful at its chosen level and respond accordingly. Well, f**k that. If you eat, sleep and breathe cinema, if you love it so much that it keeps you awake at night, if it makes your pulse pound faster and in many respects informs your view of the world, then objectivity is impossible. In fact, I think the very concept of a piece of film writing being removed from one’s life experiences and leanings is an abstract one, even on an academic level. Art provokes response and every single human being who views that art will respond differently. That’s the beauty of art.

So with that verbose preamble, I’ll say right here, right now that I am crazymadinsane in love with Rusty Cundieff’s savage, smart and socially potent 1995 omnibus Tales from the Hood beyond all reason. Many say Scream saved and redeemed horror in the ’90s. I hate Scream, that self-aware, sneering, smart-ass sitcom thing. And if the studio that released it had been savvier with their marketing campaign, they’d be saying that about Tales. It should have been “the one” that spawned the franchise, that kick-started the trends and Clarence Williams III‘s wild-eyed hell spawn mortician with his Satanic Don King hairdo should have been the guy people were dressing up as for Halloween.

TalesHood2

But it was just too black. I mean, look at Scream, with its gaggle of pretty, porcelain white faces staring smugly at the pundits on that copied-to-death poster. A far easier sell to America than the ebony skull with the glowing gold tooth that grinned at you on the awesome Tales one-sheet. Savoy Pictures saddled the movie with a marketing campaign and tagline (“Chill…or be chilled…”) that positioned the picture as a spoof, like a Wayans Brothers skewering of HBO’s then-popular, campy series Tales from the Crypt. Ironically, those Wayans lads would find great success lampooning Scream a few years later.

No, Tales from the Hood is no spoof. It’s not a send-up. It’s funny, certainly, but often that humor — as it should always be in horror films — stems organically from the absurdity of the situations. What Tales really is, is a primal scream about black Americans in the urban ’90s landscape, both marginalized and — even more potently — cannibalizing themselves. And revisiting the film today via Scream Factory’s marvelous Blu-ray presentation, it’s important to note that its power and relevance has not dulled an ounce.

The film sees a trio of macho, tough-talking and pistol-wielding gang-bangers descending upon the wildly Gothic funeral home owned by the aforementioned mortician Mr. Simms, so deftly essayed by The Mod Squad‘s Clarence Williams III, who they think has a stash of cash and drugs. The punks demand that Mr. Simms cough up “the sh*t” to which the potentially insane embalmer retorts, “you want the sh*t? You’ll be KNEE DEEP in the sh*t!”

Over the next several hours, Williams stalls his antagonists with the grim, supernatural stories of the young, black men who fill the coffins in his basement. We get the story of the crooked, murderous cops (one played by the great Wings Hauser) who beat, frame and murder a crusading black DA while a young rookie cop watches in horror… and ultimately turns a blind eye. Years later, the unjustly slain victim rises from the dead to exact revenge with the now homeless and substance-addicted ex-cop’s help. Another story sees a teacher worried about a little boy who swears his bruises and broken bones are the result of a monster that hides in his home. Meanwhile, the kid’s dad (comedian David Alan Grier in a very dark change of pace role) is getting plenty angry at the images his boy is drawing. The next story sees a sniggering former KKK-linked politico (Corbin Bernsen) defiantly moving into a former plantation slave house and running afoul of ghostly marionettes who demand bloody justice. And the final story, the corker, sees a lethal gang banger left for dead after a bloody street brawl and whisked away to a secret clinic where a majestic doctor (The Omega Man‘s Rosalind Cash) subjects him to a mind-bending, gut wrenching “Ludivico” -esque treatment to make him aware that the real enemy to “his people”…is him. And then there’s that ending…

Oh, that ending. It’s one for the books, baby. Wow.

In style, structure and tone, Tales from the Hood is more of a kissing cousin to Freddie Francis‘ still chilling 1972 Amicus adaptation of EC’s Tales from the Crypt comics, with its somber tone, intense morality plays, Grand Guignol gore, black (in every sense) humor and supernatural punishments. But it’s something else. Something angry and upsetting. Something sad. If Jordan Peele’s brilliant current smash-hit Get Out is about the way racism now hides behind America’s current grinning, faux liberal facade, Tales is about the pulse on the street, of how poverty and ignorance are causing young black men and women to fall into a chasm, one in which they rage war against themselves.

Cundieff and co-writer/producer Darin (From a Whisper to a Scream) Scott’s film is a masterpiece. It’s a perfect horror film and its messages aren’t so heavy handed that they overtake the pleasures of the genre elements, rather the social spine enhances the film’s fright factor. Scream Factory gives Tales from the Hood the dignity it deserves by commissioning an absolutely first-rate documentary about the making of the movie on the Blu-ray’s back end. In it, Cundieff and Scott have a blast discussing the film’s legacy, it’s unfortunate marketing and the legion of fans it now commands; FX wizard Kenneth J. Hall cheerfully discusses the movie’s many gags and it’s great to see Hauser and Bernson comment on their work in the movie, both citing their performances as career highlights.

In case I have not made this clear: I LOVE TALES FROM THE HOOD. It’s a major work. If you’ve missed it, fix that grave error as soon as humanly possible.

Pick up Tales from the Hood on Amazon now

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