Movie review: Alien: Covenant

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of Alien: Covenant – an apology for Prometheus or its continuation?

IMDb summary: The crew of a colony ship, bound for a remote planet, discover an uncharted paradise with a threat beyond their imagination and must attempt a harrowing escape.

Writing

Alien: Covenant was written by John Logan (The Last Samurai, The Aviator, Hugo, Spectre, Genius) and Dante Harper (a production manager), based on a story by Jack Paglen (Transendence) and Michael Green (Logan and Green Lantern – what a combo). Similarly to how the previous filmography of these screenwriters is a mixed bag, Covenant is also a movie of mixed quality. It just mostly rehashes the plot of the original Alien and throws in some Prometheus themes. I, personally, liked the ideas of the film Prometheus but didn’t feel like they were executed particularly well. Same happens in Covenant – the potential is there but the attempt at the backstory of the xenomorphs just convolutes the plot too much (how many unpredictable experiments have to happen for their final version to appear?). The idea to have a crew/cast of 10+ people also means that none of them receive any development. We do find out some traits of a few characters, but I am not even sure what roles did the majority of the crew members had on a ship. They all could have been scientists or sheep herders. The couples idea is also just plain stupid. Why would you have a bunch of couples on a dangerous space mission? Wouldnt’ they judgement in a difficult situation be impacted by the fact that their significant other is also on board?

Having bashed the plot, I would now like to praise a few good moments of the film. The discussion about creation was an interesting and promising concept. The faith and rationality divide was also a good idea to introduce. The decision to include another character played by Fassbender was the best judgment that the filmmakers made. While I am not sure when did David turn so purely evil, I liked seeing the David v Walter interactions, even if they were quite creepy.

Directing

Ridley Scott has made some amazing (Blade Runner, original Alien, and Gladiator) and less than amazing (Prometheus, Exodus) films throughout his career. His last picture – 2015’s The Martian – was one of my favorite movies of that year. Alien: Covenant falls somewhere in the middle on a quality scale. Visually, the film was gorgeous: the landscapes, the scope, and the scale were just breathtaking. (Prometheus was also visually stunning – I actually visited the filming location of the opening sequence – Isle of Skye). However, I felt that the action scenes could have been better – more suspenseful and intense. There also could have been more of them to replace some of the creepy dialogue sequences. And yet, at least Covenant was way grittier, gruesome, and more stylistically in line with the original two films than the squeaky clean Prometheus.

Acting

The cast of the film was quite big but not a lot of the actors delivered memorable performances (which was partially the blame on the script). Michael Fassbender (X-Men, Assasin’s Creed, Steve Jobs), not surprisingly, was the standout in his double role, while Fantastic Beast’s Katherine Waterston was also quite good. Billy Crudup (Spotlight, Jackie) and Danny McBride (Sausage Party) were the only two other actors from the cast who I remember as doing something of significance in the film. James Franco was probably featured more in the extra promo materials than in the actual film, while Noomi Rapace had a picture cameo only.

In short, Alien: Covenant was mostly disappointing. It had some good elements, but, ultimately, everything was ruined by the awful script full of laughable but not funny moments. If you want to watch a straight-up sci-fi horror, check out Life instead (even though it is just a knock-off of the original Alien), or if you want a more PG space movie, Passengers should do.

Rate: 3/5

Trailer: Alien: Covenant trailer

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Movie review: Life

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the annual space movie. For the year 2017, it’s Life.

Life follows in the vein of the sci-fi space films, like 2013’s Gravity, 2014’s Interstellar, 2015’s The Martian, and, I guess, 2016’s Passengers. It’s also kinda similar to the earlier pictures, such as 2009’s Moon and 2007’s Sunshine. Life is the most similar to the last one because both films feature diverse groups of astronauts stuck on a space ship and have horror/slasher elements in addition to the sci-fi themes.

IMDb summary: A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Writing

Life was written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (the duo previously co-wrote Zombieland and Deadpool). Story wise, the movie was not the most original but the narrative was still interesting and exciting. The two major themes were human intervention and survival. The character development was minimal but there were still a few nice character moments dispersed throughout. In fact, the movie’s main star was the alien – all the set-up focused on it rather than the humans. Life definitely depicted life beyond earth in an old-school way: the creature was instantly violent rather than communicative like the ones in Arrival. Whether the actual alien of this movie was just the rip-off of the Allien, I don’t know. It definitely appeared similar to that one and it was probably a good idea for this film to come out before Allien: Covenant.

In addition to there being some scenes to depict the character’s backgrounds, the picture also had a couple of sequences of the astronauts doing both scientific experiments and publicity for ISS. I really loved those parts and appreciated the fact that the scriptwriters attempted to show a variety of activities done by the astronauts. The ending of the movie was also interesting. I don’t know whether they didn’t explain what actually happened with the pods (how did they switch?) because they are hoping for a sequel or because they wanted to leave it open for speculation/discussion?

Directing

The Swedish director Daniel Espinosa directed Life. This was his second US-based picture, but he has also directed Child 44 in the UK (really enjoyed that one) and made a couple of films in both Denmark and Sweden. I quite liked what he did with Life. The visuals were just absolutely gorgeous and not once did I think that we weren’t in the real ISS. The pacing and the intensity were also great. The horror elements of the action weren’t cheesy either and didn’t rely too much on the jump scares but used the technique of suspense building and the visceral imagery to elicit a reaction. In fact, some of the scenes were quite gruesome and uncomfortable to watch but they were effective so I can’t fault a movie for that. The camera work was also pretty impressive, especially one of the early long shots that seemingly went all through the space station. The alien POV was also a neat effect.

Acting

The film had a very diverse cast for a narrative reason rather than just for a financial one. The astronauts were played by Jake GyllenhaalRebecca FergusonRyan ReynoldsHiroyuki SanadaAriyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.

Seeing Gyllenhaal on screen in yet another movie made me realize that he is one of a few actors who is constantly working. He never seems to fall off the radar even if his pictures don’t earn much. A few of his recent films that I enjoyed are Everest, Southpaw, and, especially, Nocturnal Animals. It was also really nice to see Ferguson in yet another American film (she began her career in Sweden, but has already appeared in MI5, Florence Foster Jenkins, and The Girl on The Train) and I’m excited to continue following her career. For Reynolds, this was his first post-Deadpool film and I think that his role in the marketing campaign for Life was expanded because he is the man behind the Merc with a Mouth. The ad campaign led me to believe that he will be an important part of the picture so I was quite surprised with his character’s story arc.

Sanada, weirdly enough, portrayed a character in Life who very closely resembled his character in Sunshine – a movie which I already mentioned in this review because of its and Life’s similar stories. What a coincidence that these films share an actor too. Bakare has mostly done TV work before now, but he also had cameos in big films like Rogue One and The Dark Knight. Lastly, Dihovichnaya is a newcomer to the Western mainstream cinema but is an established actress in Russian-speaking indie cinema market. I hope that her work in Life will provide her with more opportunities in the West.

In short, Life was a well-made space horror flick. It had a great cast and neat, suspenseful action, which will entertain the majority of the cinema -goers, and an open ending for those who appreciate the intellectual layer in their sci-fi.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Life trailer

VkEOtTI

Movie review: Stonehearst Asylum

Movie reviews

Hi!

This past weekend, I went to see the new mystery thriller Stonehearst Asylum. I went to this film for 3 reasons:

  1. Since seeing Cloud Atlas movie I became interested in Jim Sturgess – he plays the main role here.
  2. The movie is based on Edgar Alan Poe’s short story The System of Doctor Tarr and Profesor Fether. I had read Poe’s short story The Pit and the Pendulum in 10th grade and since then became intrigued to read more of his work. I have read the short story this film is based on before going to the movie and I can definitely see why Hollywood producers chose this particular story to turn into a motion picture. It has a tremendous amount of potential possibilities and a tonne of mentioned but unexplored themes.
  3. The work of asylums and the complexity of human mind fascinate me. Moreover, Fox’s Gotham’s story-line about Arkham asylum is my favorite part of that whole show.

Summary (from IMDb): A recent medical school grad who takes a position at a mental institution soon finds himself taken with one of his colleagues — though he has no initial idea of a recent, horrifying staffing change.

Directing

The movie is directed  by Brad Anderson whose most well know films are The Call (2013) with Halee Berry (we watched this one at school during psychology class – that film really shocked me, especially when something like that happened in my own county only recently) and The Machinist (2004) – I’m planning to watch this one.

Visuals and the setting:

The movie is set in 1899. I love period pieces and XIX century is one of my favorite time periods. Imperialism, industrialization, nationalism are 3 words that describe the XIX century. All these events have negative and positive outcomes and I love when history is complex like that and doesn’t give us just straight-up facts but challenges our minds, makes us compare pluses and minuses and lets ourselves decide if disadvantages outweigh the advantages or vice versa.

The color palette and the design of asylum looked believable and really cool too.

Twist (SPOILERS)

The first twist that the patients with Lamb had overthrown the doctors of the asylum and put all the keepers and the true head of the asylum Dr. Salt into cages was predictable and it was also spoiled in the trailer. The movie really had a lot of cliches and I swear, I finished almost all the lines of dialogue in my mind before the characters said the words. When the movie made me think than I had it all figured out, the plot had the twist that I really didn’t expect it to have. I might have predicted it if I had watched more carefully, but I stupidly turned off my mind and just enjoyed the movie. The twist was really nice surprise at the end and made the movie even more better.

Acting/Character by character breakdown

I don’t usually do my reviews like this, but this film had so many characters and all of them did something important. So, let’s begin!

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Jim Sturgess as Edward Newgate – he is the main protagonist and the only character you can root for because his intentions are mostly pure. He is divided between two sides: the cruel patients and not less cruel doctors.  Jim’s acting was great, really good performance.

Kate Beckinsale as Eliza Graves – a troubled woman whose family got rid of her and whose husband beat and used her, so she bit his ear off and ended up in an asylum. She suffers from seizures when touched by men. I wished her back story was explored a bit more.

These two characters, of course, fell in love in the course of the movie. To my mind, their romance was a bit fake and pushed.

Michael Caine as Dr. Salt – a cruel doctor with cruel treating methods. Michale Caine was on screen for only a short time and I never understood his character, he looked no better than a crazy person.

Ben Kingsley as Silas Lamb – mad genius and a killer whose actions I could understand. He was a surgeon in a war and killed few of his patients because they were suffering and dying, so he relieved them of their suffering.

In my opinion, Lamb’s action were justified much better than Salt’s. They could have showed why Salt was acting the way he was because it just seemed that he wanted to break his patients and, while trying to restore their sanity, he only made them more mad. Lamb, on the other hand, clearly had a post dramatic stress disorder after the war.

David Thewlis as Mickey Finn – a crazy supporting character who really lacked the back story. You knew he was crazy but you didn’t know why and as a result, didn’t care for him much.

Sinéad Cusack as Mrs. Pike – the head nurse of the asylum and the only character who was completely selfless and kind. Wish we would have spent more time with her as well.

Sophie Kennedy Clark as Millie – one of the patients who suffered from Salt’s treatments and blossomed when Lamb became the head of the asylum. Her whole plot-line could have been cut because it distracted the viewer form the main events.

Themes and Questions

The movie raised a lot of questions like: Can human actions be justified? Can we know what is right and what is wrong? Are selfless but cruel acts still acts of kindness ? What is insanity? Do we know if we are insane? Is there a cure for insanity? Is it a disease or just another term that describes a person as different? Can people be saved? Is there good side and a bad side or are they are inseparable and undefinable?

All in all,  I liked the visuals and the acting. Some characters were interesting and their actions raised a lot of questions while others could have been developed much more or cut out completely. The twists and clichés mixed together made the movie a plesant experience.

Trailer: Stonehearst Asylum trailer

Rate: 3.5/5 

Stonehearst_Asylum_poster(Google Images)