Thursday, 25 May 2017

Alien Covenant

Do you remember M Night Shyamalan? He made a big splash with The Sixth Sense, the twist at the end shocking a lot of people. Not only that, but on subsequent watches, the twist continued to make sense - yes, there are some scenes where it's a bit of a stretch, but it mostly worked.
He then did another film with Bruce Willis - Unbreakable. It was not based on a comic book, but was very much of that genre. It was a great pseudo-comic book film at a time when comic book films were mostly awful. It, too, featured a twist. While the twist wasn't great, the film beforehand was, so it was overall a really good package.
Then he continued to make films, relying on the concept of having a surprising twist at the end. The stories became a method for delivering the twist, rather than being good stories. He even made a navel-gazing film, which was infinitely less meaningful than he thought it was or intended it to be.
He went from amazing, to awful. From intelligent to stupid. It was hugely disappointing.


This is now how I feel about Ridley Scott.


Alien Covenant is the latest film in the Alien/Prometheus "totally not an Aliens prequel... ok, it is" franchise.
It is terrible, but to describe why I'm going to have to go into spoilers.
Before I get to those, I will say that there are a lot of phenomenally good practical effects. Some of the visual effects are absolutely amazing.
However, there are a lot which are also unbelievably bad. Especially when it comes to the titular Alien(s). The issue is that, even if the good effects outweigh the bad, the bad are far more noticeable and memorable.

Is it scary? Not even slightly.
Is it tense? A little bit.
Is the acting good? Yes.
Is the script good? Hell no.
Is it worth it? Absolutely not.

The first half hour or so is fantastic, and then the film takes an absolute nose-dive. The strength of Alien was that it was a horror effecting the characters despite them (mostly) being sensible. This film involves horror effecting the characters because they have all been lobotomised, presumably. I definitely do not recommend this film.



SPOILERS:

The film starts off with a scene of David (played by Michael, the Bender of Fass) first being activated and interacting with Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce), with heavy-handed metaphors a plenty.

We are then introduced to David's next iteration, Walter, working on the colony ship Covenant (with a crew of 15)
The ship is hit by a disaster, and after repairs they receive a signal from another planet. Their mission is to head to one 8 years away (which has never been visited, but was found via scans) and this new one is a week away (missed by the scans). Considering their predicament, they decide to head to the new planet.

They land on the planet and go exploring without any form of hazmat suits!
I honestly cannot describe how utterly, ridiculously, unbelievably moronic and unrealistic this is. Unfortunately, the film just gets worse from here.

Before I pointed out the crew number of the ship. I would say this is important, but apparently the film doesn't think so. Once the characters start dying off, the main actress mentions how many deaths there have been so far (which would put the crew count at 14)
Not only that, but later on there is a picture of the whole crew, and there are only 14 people in the picture! Maybe I miscounted, maybe the 15th is the camera man, or maybe one of the crew got killed so hard that they were retroactively wiped from history. I guess we'll never know.

After getting infected by tiny organisms that eventually hatch into Aliens (yes, really) - which is something that would have possibly been avoided had the crew taken even the tiniest of precautions - the surviving crew meet David/Blatant Satan metaphor who takes them to a massive space jockey temple. The temple is littered with corpses, would have been easily spotted from the air (but wasn't), and no one asks any questions about it!

David arrived ages ago, killed all of the jockeys using the virus-vase things and then settled down in the temple. He murdered Shaw from Prometheus in order to experiment with the virus. He even goes so far as to "cross-breed" the pathogen... with itself, which doesn't make much sense at all.

He's finally managed to develop them to the point where we have the eggs like in Alien, despite not having a queen to lay the eggs.

Despite admitting all of this to one character, said character still trusts him when he says the eggs are safe to put his face directly into.

Later, it's left mysterious as to who survived a particular fight - David or Walter. Except it's not mysterious, it's incredibly predictable and cliched.

[edit]
The final annoyance is related to that "reveal" - David now has to somehow get tons of the eggs onto a space jockey ship, have it piloted by a space jockey, have it crash on LV-246 and have it stay long enough for the jockey to mummify, for the other films to make sense. Unless this is a reboot. A really bad reboot.

Seriously, it's difficult to describe exactly how unbelievably awful this film is.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Pete's Dragon (2016)

I only recently watched the original Pete's Dragon, a technicolor musical about an orphan sold into slavery and his pet dragon. Upon escaping from his captors Pete and the titular creature go to a sea-side town, getting into mischief and befriending the lighthouse keeper. However, Pete's owners are looking for him, and there is a greedy snake-oil salesman who sees a money making opportunity in capturing the dragon.
The songs were good, the acting was not subtle, and the villains were moustache-twirling (in one case, very literally) - but it was a thoroughly enjoyable film, very much of it's time.

Disney's odd fascination with remaking it's classic films to be "grittier" continued with a 2016 version.
The film is immediately more on-the-nose, as we meet Pete as a very young boy, orphaned by a car crash, and then lost in the woods for years. Cut to a few years later, when the forest is being cut down by a logging company, and Pete is discovered.

The characters all react fairly naturally - Pete's taken in with the caveat that he'll be handed over to social services; Dr Judge Bones (Karl Urban) is initially curious as to what could be knocking down the trees (that haven't been cut) and eventually evolves it into a money making scheme, without being over the top.

In essence, the characters are written believably, and the acting is definitely not hammy (much as I enjoy ham).
The special effects are a weak-point, but I was absorbed enough in the film that it eventually stopped bothering me, looking more like moss than polygons.

It's very different to the original, such that by seeing one you don't feel like you've seen the other. If you get the time watch both, but maybe not in a small timeframe.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

The Lego Batman Movie is, I suspect, a pseudo-sequel to "The Lego Movie", which was awesome.
 Will Arnett (Job from Arrested Development) reprises his role as Lego Batman, the arrogant loner who graced us with the greatest song ever written:



The story is multi-faceted, but largely boils down to Batman needing to learn the importance of teamwork, family, and hatred.
Hatred? Why, yes. One of the driving forces behind the story is that the Joker's relationship with Batman is metaphorically almost sexual in nature, and it is utterly hilarious!

Part of the joy of the writing of this film is how it is aware of the inherent silliness of Batman, while also crafting an interesting and emotionally engrossing story.
The silliness is also enhanced by factors that make me think of it as a pseudo-sequel to the Lego Movie. Those facts are that Gotham is described as being built upon a delicate platform above a void (i.e. a table) and that when characters shoot guns the voice actors make "pew pew" noises - almost as if it's people playing with toys, but it's not explicit.

There is also an odd fascination with Michael Jackson, having both in your face and subtle references. For example, see the choir of children singing "Yeah, Charmone!"

The only real negative point that I can think of is that some of the jokes don't mix well together. A specific example is a point where Batman excitedly asks if he will work with the Suicide Squad, and then around 20 seconds later says that the concept of bad guys being used to fight bad guys (e.g. Suicide Squad) is a moronic idea.

This is a wonderful, exciting and hilarious film. The jokes are relentless, and are mostly brilliant. It's not as good as The Lego Movie, but is still amazing fun.

Monday, 30 January 2017

Hacksaw Ridge

Haxx0r Ridge is the latest film by Mel Gibson and tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector in history to get the Medal of Honor (sic) for bravery while under fire.

Desmond is a devout Seventh Day Adventist from Virginia, brought up by a loving mother (Rachel Griffiths) and an abusive alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) who is an understandable mentally scarred World War 1 veteran.
Due to a series of violent incidences in his life, Desmond has become a pacifist. This causes confusion when he signs up to take part in World War 2, especially amongst his regiment, who regard him as a coward.

The sergeant of his regiment (Sgt Howell) is played by Vince Vaughn, who is obviously trying to channel R Lee Ermey from the Kubrick masterpiece "Full Metal Jacket". Despite this, he manages to be hilarious, and makes the role his own.
There are quite a few actors, many of whom are recognisable, and all of whom are excellent. However, listing them all will take ages, so I won't do it.

The film can be considered in three acts: The first is before he signs up, when he starts his relationship with Doroth Schutte (Teresa Palmer)
The second is while he is being trained, struggling with how he is treated by the people he wants to help, and how that affects his relationship.
The third is once he is finally goes to the front lines as a medic, without any kind of weapon.

I'm not sure how much to describe, as the basis of the film is historical fact which you can look up, but it might spoil some of the gravitas of Desmond's deeds. I imagine that there was some poetic license taken, but regardless of that the bravery of the main character is frankly unfathomable.

Wracking my brains for any negative aspects of the film, all I can think of is that the war scenes feature a lot of quite obvious CG, which does detract from how brutal and visceral the battles are.

Overall I think this film is incredible - the acting is fantastic, and the story is one which I think deserves to be known by everybody on the planet. If this doesn't win an Oscar I'll be shocked.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Moana

Moana is the latest film by Pixar, with a story based on Polynesian mythology and a cast made up largely of actors from the region.

The story is that in the beginning there was only ocean, but then the goddess Te Fiti created islands and life, before going to sleep as an island herself.
Later, the shape-shifting demi-god Maui (Dwane "The Rock" Johnson) steals Te Fiti's heart, but gets defeated by a demon while trying to escape, losing the heart.
Due to the theft, a black miasma is spreading throughout the world, and will eventually envelop it all.

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief (Temuera Morrison) of a self-sufficient island with a policy of isolationism, surrounded by a reef that means the sea around the island is peaceful. Encouraged by her grandmother (Rachel House), and magically chosen by the ocean itself, Moana goes against her father's wishes to leave the island, find Maui and return the heart.

The songs throughout the film are fairly good, though the one that is nominated for an Oscar is not to my tastes. I greatly enjoyed Maui's introduction "You're welcome!", and felt a little bit disappointed by Jermain Clement's "Shiny" - in that case I found the music drowned out the lyrics, but that might have just been an issue with the cinema.

I cannot find any fault with the actors in the film, but I will say that Dwane Johnson brings his usual incredible charisma to the role.

The script is full of brilliant jokes, including a wonderfully self-aware reference to the fact that Moana will inevitably become a Disney Princess, despite not being a princess. The story is touching, and since I didn't know anything of the mythology involved, the story was fascinating to me (though I imagine there was some artistic liberty at play.)

The actual rendering and character designs are fantastic - they are obviously stylised, yet the skin textures (including the tattoos) are extremely convincing.

I'm not sure what else I can say - it's absolutely a top-tier film, well worth watching.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Passengers

Passengers is a film about the starship, the Avalon, which is on a 120 year trip to the colony of Homestead 2, carrying around 280 members of staff and 5000 passengers, all of whom are in suspended animation.
However, 30 years into the journey something goes wrong, and Jim (Chris Pratt) is woken up.
Being the only human awake on a ship, unable to go into suspended hibernation, and being very restricted in terms of luxuries (such as non-bland food), where your only social interaction is an android barman (Michael Sheen) is an utterly frustrating, hopeless and terrifying concept, which I think the film carries across very well.
It would be enough to drive someone completely insane, which is why is understandable why he eventually elects to wake up Aurora (Jennifer Laurence) - an ethical dilemma that is dwelled upon at first, but somewhat dismissed at hand later on.

It's difficult to discuss too much of the film without spoiling what happens, so I'll leave the story description there.
The film is part psychological horror film, part romance, and mainly sci-fi. The unhelpful artificial intelligences on board, unable to reflect on the cognitive dissonance of the two narratives (pods cannot malfunction, someone is awake too early) were a refreshingly accurate representation of both how difficult it would be to create an AI and how arrogant some people are when it comes to their creations (i.e. completely ignoring the fact of "mean time to failure"); While relativity had no place in the story, it was also nice that communication with Earth was represented realistically.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the film was not only accurate (or at least convincing) when it came to the majority of the science involved, but it was also very accurate to the human aspects of that technology. There were some excellent scenes to do with the consequences of space travel, especially when the artificial gravity fails.
The characters were (mostly) believable, and very well acted.
The story was gripping and moving.
The CGI wasn't distracting (with the exception of a very brief attempt at fabric, which we still suck at), possibly because the rest of the film was good enough to maintain my suspension of disbelief.

I loved it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed is a film based upon the video game franchise of the same name, starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremey Irons and Michael Kenneth Williams.

I have only played some of the first game, so I went into this with only a slight familiarity.

If you have absolutely no knowledge of the franchise, don't worry! The film is here to treat you like an idiot, and tell you the entire plot to the film via a text crawl at the start!

The plot is that the Templar Knights are searching for "The Apple of Eden", which will allow them to eradicate free will in humanity. The only people who know of this and are trying to stop them are a guild of assassins, imaginatively called "The Assassins"

In modern day, Michael Fassbender is killed by lethal injection, but it turns out that it was faked and that he has been "not imprisoned" by the *mumble* company. I'm sure that the company has a genuine name, but no one in the film can say it clearly.

This company has a device called "The Animus" which allows Fassbender to relive the memories of his ancestor, an assassin who guarded the McGuffin. The Mumble company hopes that through this process, Fassbender will lead them to the free will McGuffin, so that they an eradicate violence from the world.

I think that the general plot of the film is actually very good, with lots of interesting and not-completely-unbelievable ideas to explore.
However, my main problem with the film is the opening text crawl. Had that not been there, the story would have evolved fairly naturally. Cotillard talks about eradicating violence from the world, but there is obviously something sinister and underhanded about the company she works for. This builds, until we see scenes where Irons explains about the McGuffin controlling free will.
This could have been a fairly satisfying reveal - the sense of something sinister building into a climax of moustache-twirling villainy... had it not been for the text crawl explaining it at the start of the film.

That's not to say that's the films only problem:
Towards the beginning there is some strange editing choices, especially one scene where it flips between four or five different shots. About half are in a yellow colour, the other half in teal. Of those, one of the teal and one of the yellow shots are extremely bright (including lens-flare), the others are darker. The shots each last for a bit over a second, but it is very disorientating to switch between drastically different colours and brightness levels, repeatedly.
Normally disorientating the viewer is done in order to distract them from something (hence shaky-cam being used in lots of action films), but this seemed pointless. Even more so because some of the shots were also unnecessary.
It's a bit like Battlefield Earth, which uses dutch-angles all the time without understanding what purpose they serve in film-making.

Also during the first act, some of the stunts characters perform are CGI, but it's almost unnoticeable. In a way that's not a good thing, as it creates a little sense that something is wrong, but it was better than normal.
What is fair less forgivable is quite a few shots in the same action scene which are meant to be quick (e.g. riding a horse full-pelt to catch up with a speeding wagon) are quite obviously much slower, and then sped up to give the illusion of speed. Which they fail at. Completely.

My final major complaint is that, in order to service sequel-baiting, a character does a complete 180 degree turn at the very end. The change in attitude is not built up to or earned in the slightest.


I did enjoy myself, and I think there is a very decent sci-fi film in there, but unfortunately it's book-ended by sections with complete and utter contempt for the audience, ridiculous ineptitude at film-editing, and a distinct lack of ability at convincing writing.

Forced to give a score, about 6/10