Scifi

Alien: Covenant

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A crew is taking a ship filling with sleeping colonists to a new planet that makes a perfect habitat for humans. After an accident, the crew is woken up out of cryosleep. They then get a distress call from a nearby planet. Not only is this yet another planet perfect for human life, but the distress call seems to have come from a human as well. Unfortunately for the crew, everything on this planet wants them dead.

The general premise of this film is a very interesting and it wastes no time in getting the action going. I find the characters to be compelling, the sequence of events is thrilling and terrifying, and there are a few great twists and turns. The filmmakers even manage to trick me a few times and throw in a few surprises I didn’t expect. There are also quite a few different variations in the Xenomorph and how people become “impregnated” with the aliens, which is gruesome and fascinating. Covenant has a lot of the more grandiose aspects of Prometheus in that there is a whole new planet to be explored, but it also has some of the more intense and claustrophobic scenes that fans of the first Alien will recognize. Unfortunately there is one large problem with the story; plot holes.

The film connects to Prometheus, as it should, fairly early on in the story. While this adds a lot of intrigue and answers some questions audiences had after watching Prometheus, it actually offers more new questions than it does answers. There are certain events that don’t make sense with the evidence at hand, don’t fit what people said happened, and there are also random things that are just never explained. I won’t speak about specifics because that would reveal some of the plot twists. However, I will vaguely say that it is explained what happened to David and Shaw when they left to find the planet of the Engineers. The problem is that what is said, what we are shown, and various pieces of evidence simply don’t match up. It’s unfortunate because if the filmmakers had done a bit of rewriting here and there, or simply cut one or two scenes, the films would make perfect sense. As it is, the plot will leave audiences confused more than anything else.

The cast in Alien: Covenant is one of the best aspects of the film. Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Inherent Vice) brings a powerhouse performance as Daniels. She is strong, questions authority when it is needed, and is willing to face anything that comes her way. Waterston manages to make Daniels the ultimate female role model, much like what we saw Sigourney Weaver do with the infamous Ripley. Then of course there is Michael Fassbender (Prometheus, X-Men: First Class). Fassbender plays more than one character in this film and he does it exceedingly well. Not only does he change his speech as the various characters, but he even changes his entire body language. It makes it clear which character Fassbender is playing every time he is on screen. Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Eastbound & Down) should also be mentioned for his portrayal of Tennessee. While he clearly is meant to be the comedic relief of the film, McBride still gives audiences a fantastic dramatic performance. All in all the entire cast lends to the excitement and drama of the film.

My personal favorite part of this film is the fantastic creature design and special effects. As I mentioned before, Alien:Covenant gave the filmmakers a unique opportunity to come up with new and exciting ways for the crew to be impregnated by the alien lifeforms, as well as giving audiences new Xenomorphs at their various stages of life. The combination of practical and CGI effects are sewn together so seamlessly that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. This film also feels much more graphic in the amount of gore and the way people are killed than most of the previous Alien films. While the body count in previous films may be bigger, the deaths seem to be more violent and grisly in Covenant. The aliens and the gore are simply superb.

Alien: Covenant is a thrilling nightmare to follow Prometheus, but it has rather large plot holes. Whatever answers audiences get, they are left with even more questions by the end of the film. Moving past those issues, Alien: Covenant still brings a lot of excitement and new mythology to add to the Alien franchise. It is also packed with out of this world performances from a great cast and frighteningly good practical and CGI effects. It still has me looking forward to what Ridley Scott can come up with next film in a franchise that has endured for nearly 40 years.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

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Sequence Break

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Video games can be addicting. For Oz, they are his whole life. Not only does he love playing them, but he also works at an arcade game repair shop. In a short amount of time two interesting things happen; Oz meets a young woman, and a mysterious arcade game gets left at the shop. From then on, Oz is pulled in two different and opposing directions. One is the pull to be with the woman he cares for and the desire to live a complete life, and the other is his obsession for the arcade game – and the game does not want to lose.

Graham Skipper manages to create an interesting, creepy, and sometimes disgusting story in Sequence Break. On the surface the film is about a video game that threatens to destroy a man’s life. After Oz finds it in the shop and plugs the game into an old arcade console, it quickly begins to take over his life. What’s more bizarre is that the game seems to come alive every time Oz plays it. The game even takes on certain organic physical characteristics, creating a biomechanical monstrosity. These scenes create disturbing imagery and can be downright gross at times, but they are also quite fascinating. There is also a strange drifter always in the background, willing Oz to play the game more and more. It all results in a unique film, utilizing something familiar like a video game and turning it into something much more sinister.

The second, deeper layer is what makes this film a true work of art. There is a constant underlying metaphor for obsession and addiction. In this particular case it is an addiction to video games, but it can be applied to any addiction. Oz’s whole life is taken over by video games even before the mystery game appears. The first time he meets the woman he falls in love with, he doesn’t even notice her because he is so consumed with whatever game he is working on at the time. It isn’t until he starts dating the woman and begins to move away from his obsession with the games that the mystery game tries to take hold of him. The game is his addiction, and it attempts to be everything for Oz so that he will never need the outside world. There are even instances where the filmmakers manage to insert subtle clues as to Oz’s state of mind throughout the film. The story and imagery create such a compelling metaphor that shows, no matter how hard a person tries to break free and live their life, addiction will always try to suck them back in.

The two leads in this film are great, and their on screen chemistry is electric. Horror fans may recognize their chemistry as both leads acted together in another horror film, John Dies at the End. Chase Williamson (Beyond the Gates, The Guest) plays Oz. What makes Williamson’s performance so compelling is how he can make a pathetic slacker character so lovable and enjoyable to watch. This is something we have seen Williamson do in previous roles as well, and he never disappoints. Then there is the ever lovely Fabianne Therese (Southbound, Starry Eyes) as Tess. Therese brings a lot of heart to the film in her portrayal of Tess, which she will need to get Oz away from his addiction. Every time Therese is on screen your eye is immediately drawn to her. She lights up the screen and plays Tess in a very endearing way. Williamson and Therese’s powers combine to create the perfect duo to tug at the audience’s heart strings through every twist and turn.

Throughout the film there is a rather unsettling use of practical effects. All of the effects are centered around the mystery video game. Specifically, when the game moves away from the mechanical side and goes more toward the biological side. Not only are these effects incredibly well done, but they are sometimes a bit gross. The first time the biological aspects are seen it makes viewers feel like they are watching something they shouldn’t be. It adds a peculiar sexual aspect to an inanimate object that makes the viewer feel a bit uncomfortable, but at the same time you can’t look away. Each time the game is played the effects become more and more grand, leading to some very unusual and fantastical imagery.

Sequence Break is a surreal scifi-horror mashup that manages to be both unsettling and beautiful all at once. It is incredibly disturbing to watch, yet it also brings to light the sad truth of addiction and how it can completely consume a person’s life. The striking visuals and amazing acting by the two leads only add to the power behind the plot. While there are a few scenes that made me cringe and want to look away, I can say with confidence that my eyes never left the screen. This is a film that will leave your eyes devouring every moment, no matter how disturbing.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

Throwback Thursday Movie: Phantasm (1979)

A teenage boy named Mike recently lost his parents and is afraid his older brother, Jody, will leave him. Mike gains the habit of following Jody around to make sure he doesn’t get left behind. While following him to a funeral, Mike witnesses the strange Tall Man lift a coffin with a body inside like it was light as air. This shocking sight leads Mike to investigate what is really going on. What he finds is more bizarre than he could have ever expected.

This is a classic horror film that every fan of the genre should see at some point. That being said, I saw this film once when I was about 10 years old and only vaguely remembered it. Now that the remastered version is out, it seemed like the right time to watch the film again. While I remembered the infamous Tall Man and his deadly spheres, apparently that was about all I remembered. The aspects of the plot that included the brothers and their ice-cream man friend investigating the strange happenings and a portal to another planet seemed entirely new to me.

If nothing else, I can say that this film had a very unique plot. The Tall Man worked at a mortuary and used the bodies of the recently deceased to create his own army of minions. Due to the gravity of his home planet, the minions ended up half their normal size. This was all fine and interesting, but there were definitely more questions than there were answers while watching this film. It was implied that the Tall Man has been doing this since the days of horse drawn carriages. If that was the case, what was his ultimate goal? It seemed like he already had quite a few minions created, but there was no real purpose for them other than to lurk in the shadows of the graveyard and make creepy noises. I also wondered how the Tall Man had been doing this for so long in the same town, yet no one had noticed the strange disappearances or that the mortuary had been run by the same guy for the past hundred years. This seemed like the kind of franchise that would (hopefully) make more sense as you go through the following four films.

Since this was a low budget horror scifi flick made in the seventies, the acting was nothing to write home about. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was definitely a bit over the top. Angus Scrimm (Awakening, I Sell the Dead) was the only actor of note as The Tall Man. He only spoke a handful of lines throughout the film, but he had quite a presence on screen. He was tall, creepy, and had a stare that chilled the bones. Scrimm was perfectly cast for this role because he somehow managed to be a fearsome being, but there was also something humorous about the way he delivered his few lines. It was the perfect blend to fit in with this low budget classic.

It is time to address the elephant in the room that was the effects and creature design of this film. I’ll start small and work my way up. There was little need for any kind of gory practical effects in this film. The only scene that really had any was when the ominous sphere got lodged into a man’s head and then proceeded to drill a hole between his eyes. The effects are mediocre, but it was the thought that counts in this case. I love the idea of the flying killer sphere that drills into skulls enough to overlook the cheesy seventies effects. One thing I can’t overlook is the creature design for the army of minions. They look like freaking Jawas from Star Wars (which came out two years before Phantasm). I couldn’t help but wonder if this was intentional or just an oversight. The planet we saw the minions working on even looked like Tatooine. It may have been a poor decision on the filmmaker’s part, but I definitely got a good laugh out of it.

Phantasm was a cheesy, somewhat nonsensical, seventies horror scifi film that became a cult classic despite all its shortcomings. While I couldn’t help but be annoyed at all the questions I was left with after watching the film, it’s also easy to see why this is such a beloved film among horror fans. The Tall Man alone was enough of a creepy and compelling character to make me want to continue watching the rest of the franchise. One thing I would recommend to people who have not seen it before: go in thinking it is more of a comedy than a horror film. I think you will end up enjoying it much more that way.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Morgan

A group of scientists have artificially created a humanoid hybrid. Everything was going as planned until the humanoid, named Morgan, violently attacked one of the scientists. The corporation in charge decides to send a risk management analyst, Lee Weathers, to the remote site of the experiment. Her job is to determine whether or not Morgan should be terminated. During her investigation it becomes clear that Morgan is much too dangerous, and she is just getting started.

This is a film I feel very conflicted about. Immediately after seeing the film, my initial reaction was that it was great and I loved it. There is a lot to like about the film. Morgan is a great scifi thriller that keeps your attention and the plot was compelling. I also enjoyed when important bits of information were divulged in a variety of different ways, such as flashbacks and security camera footage, so it wasn’t one linear story. There were also many moments of calm that were broken by bloody violence. These were some of my favorite moments because the film makes a point of emphasizing that Morgan is still a child. When you see her commit these acts of extreme violence it’s shocking and beautiful, much like when you watch a wolf hunt a deer.

When looking at the character development, the only characters that didn’t feel like they were “phoned in” were Morgan, Lee Weathers, and the behaviorist, Dr. Amy Menser. The rest of the scientists felt a bit forced. There were a few big name actors in minor roles where we as the audience are made to simply assume their connection and love for Morgan. The film would have been just fine without many of the scientists, and with lesser known actors.

My biggest problem is I can think of two films that came out within the past two years that are strikingly similar to Morgan. Those films are The Hybrid (2014) and Ex Machina (2015). All three films feature an experiment in some kind of underground bunker, the experiment is a humanoid hybrid or has a human appearance, and the experiment will do whatever it takes to get out of the confines of its underground prison. While there are differences between all of these films that make them unique, it is hard for me to look past the similarities when judging the plot. I will say that Morgan had a bit more of a unique ending compared to the other two films. Without giving too much away, the way Morgan ended was similar to how I thought Ex Machina was going to end. Yet with Morgan it was something I didn’t see coming until the last 15 minutes of the film.

One of the best aspects of this film was the acting. Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) gave another knock-out performance in her second leading role in a major motion picture. Taylor-Joy plays Morgan in such a way that you at once both sympathize with her and fear her. Morgan is not fully human, and Taylor-Joy does an excellent job of emphasizing this fact at the perfect times. Kate Mara (Fantastic Four, The Martian) was also outstanding as Lee Weathers. She is a bit cold and robotic, but it worked perfectly for the character of Lee because she is a very calculating and analytical person. The surprise performance in this film was Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Straight Outta Compton). He plays the psychologist the corporation brings in to analyze Morgan. Giamatti has a very small role in the film, but he brings such a powerful performance to the role that he stands out in your mind, even after the film ends.

Morgan is a film that grabs your attention and makes you question whose side you want to be on. While it may not have the most original plot, and other films may have done a better job with that plot, it is still a great film. Setting aside some of the lesser unnecessary characters, the two lead actresses bring such power and elegance to the film. If you focus solely on Taylor-Joy and Mara, then this film exceeds expectations. Unfortunately, I have to also factor in the plot and the somewhat sloppily written scientists. It is a film I would definitely watch again, and recommend to fans of the scifi thriller genre, but there are many ways in which it could improve.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

10 Cloverfield Lane

After a horrible car accident, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) awakes locked in an underground bunker. The man who owns the bunker tells her that he pulled Michelle out of her car after the accident. What’s worse, he says there has been an attack. Supposedly everyone above ground is dead. Trapped in this bunker with a stranger, Michelle finds herself wondering if she is being told the truth.

I am going to do my best at reviewing this film without giving away any spoilers. To help in avoiding this, let’s start by talking about the acting instead of the plot. This was the first leading role I have seen for Mary Elizabeth Winstead (The Thing, Death Proof) in a while. She perfectly blends two opposing characteristics; she is terrified and usually panics in tough situations, yet she shows strength in her fight for survival. This sounds like it would be coming from two completely different characters, but Winstead manages to seamlessly bring these traits together in a way that makes sense for Michelle’s back story. The biggest surprise in this film was John Goodman (Roseanne, The Big Lebowski). He played the owner of the bunker, Howard, who brought Michelle down to his lair after a car accident. This is quite possibly the most disturbing character I have ever seen Goodman play, and he did a superb job. He typically plays lovable comedic characters. While Howard is still a character that is funny at times, he is also incredibly creepy. You find yourself questioning his motives throughout the film. Did he kidnap Michelle? Is he just a bit weird? Is he hiding the truth about what’s going on above ground? The third inhabitant of the bunker is Emmett, played by John Gallagher Jr. (Newsroom, Jonah Hex). The fact that I didn’t even realize this was the same actor from Newsroom just goes to show that he is incredibly talented.

10 Cloverfield Lane is very different from Cloverfield. Cloverfield was a found-footage style monster movie that was very action packed. The filmmakers took a different approach for 10 Cloverfield Lane. This film focused much more on intrigue. Being trapped in a windowless bunker with no means of communicating with the outside world, it is impossible to know if Howard is telling the truth. The setting makes you feel claustrophobic, while Howard and his stories give you a feeling of paranoia. One of the most successful aspects of the plot in this film is the number of twists. Obviously, there is going to be a huge twist ending, but there are smaller twists leading up to the big finale. These twists add to the paranoia because you are never fully aware of what is going to happen next. You are forced to follow the clues along with Michelle and Emmett. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that the end of this film will likely divide viewers. Some people will absolutely love it, and some will hate it.

There has been a ton of hype about this film. Most of it has surrounded speculation as to whether or not 10 Cloverfield Lane is a sequel to Cloverfield. Again, without giving too much away, I can tell you that there really is no answer to this question. After watching the film, I could see it being both a sequel and a stand-alone film. I believe the filmmakers purposely created a film that could go either way, leaving it up to the audience to decide if they thought it was a sequel or not. This was incredibly smart because it allowed them to use the Cloverfield name in all their advertising, bringing in fans of the first film, while also giving them the freedom to come up with a new story without being constrained by what took place in the first.

Whether this film is a sequel or not, it was a very entertaining experience. It was so intense right from the start, and it didn’t let up until the epic climax. The climax was probably one of the biggest movie twists I have seen in a long time. It was something I never saw coming and it made everything even more exciting.  10 Cloverfield Lane is an intense ride that constantly throws you for a loop the minute you start to feel like you know what is going on. It has something that will appeal to horror fans that are looking for more of a mystery, as well as those that want a lot of action.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

Honeymoon

The story starts innocently enough. A young couple, Paul and Bea, just got married. They decide to spend their honeymoon at Bea’s family cabin in a secluded area near a lake. Since it’s before tourist season, the place is pretty much deserted. One night, Bea vanished from their bed. Paul finds her naked and bruised in the middle of the woods. From that point on Paul notices there is something seriously wrong with the woman he loves.

This film has several good elements that could have made it a great movie. The two leads, Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful), I already love from their past work and know they are amazing actors. While they were both excellent in this, there was something that really got to me during the entire movie. For those of you that don’t know, Rose Leslie is from Scotland and has a very thick accent, and Harry Treadaway is from England. In this film, they did American accents. Treadaway did a perfectly fine job, but there were times during the movie where I could hear Leslie’s Scottish accent come through. I know it must be hard to fake an accent for that long, but she is an actor and this is part of her job description so it ruined the illusion a bit for me.

I enjoyed most of the storyline. It was slightly reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As the film progressed it made you wonder what was real and what wasn’t, adding an extra element of mystery to the point where you begin to wonder if Bea is really Bea. This aspect of the film I found very interesting, and it held my attention. It was when the climax of the film came around that it lost me a bit.

(Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away). In the climax of the movie, it seemed like you were watching a different movie than you started with. It goes from psychological thriller/mystery to a weird, gross out movie that had scenes that were almost hard to watch. The hard to watch scenes weren’t used to get a point across like in some more successful horror films. This film seemed to add the scenes in more as an afterthought trying to make you squirm. They don’t even really explain what is happening in those scenes or why this has happened to the once happy couple. On a higher note, I will say the very last scene has some pretty great (yet simple) special effects makeup.

This movie really could have been great. It had all the right tools at it’s disposal. Unfortunately, the storyline took an odd turn that left me scratching my head, wondering what the hell I just saw. The one redeeming quality is that the two leads are wonderful and easy to root for, and the very last scene is really rather stunning visually. I won’t say you shouldn’t see this movie, because it was still entertaining, but I will say that you shouldn’t set your expectations too high. That will only lead to disappointment.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10