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Non-Review Review: Alien – Covenant

Alien: Covenant feels as though somebody facehuggered Prometheus and ended up with Alien.

It is a very messy, very awkward, very clever piece of film. It is a genre movie that understands both what it wants to be, and also the reasons why it cannot be what it wants to be. It is a film aware of its own grotesque attributes, of the way that it has been warped and deformed in its journey from original idea to concept to screen. It is a movie very much aware of what it wants to be, but it is also cognisant of the fact that it cannot be that film. Alien: Covenant is the result of any number of compromises, but it is very pointed on the subject of those compromises.

Alien DNA.

Most likely driven by the critical and audience reaction to Prometheus, the sequel is a decidedly more conservative affair. For all intents and purposes, Covenant is wed more tightly to the Alien franchise than to its direct predecessor. Although one main character (and performer) carries over from Prometheus to Covenant, most of the major characters from Prometheus are relegated to small supporting roles and cameos. Even the Engineers, the alien race at the centre of Prometheus, are primarily relegated to an extended flashback sequence.

In contrast, Covenant embraces the trappings of the familiar Alien franchise. The soundtrack repeatedly samples Jerry Goldsmith’s iconic score from the original Alien. The climax devolves into a hybrid of the most iconic action beats from the first two Alien films. The film lingers on the dramatic reveals of familiar Alien iconography, only barely teasing audience expectations before fulfilling them. It seems fair to argue that Covenant is a movie more consciously designed to appeal to fans of the Alien franchise than Prometheus was. The clue is in the title.

Bursting at the seams.

However, Covenant is most interesting when it plays up the tension between what it clearly wants to be and what it actually is, when the script throws the concept of sequel to Prometheus into conflict with the demands of a prequel to Alien. There is a strong sense of disillusionment and frustration in Covenant, particularly as explored through the story of David. Michael Fassbender’s enigmatic android is the only major returning character from Prometheus, and in many ways the central character. He reappears after being lost in the wilderness, angry and resentful.

Covenant is a big ball of Oedipal rage. It’s clever, awkward, messy and disjointed, but also entirely in keeping with the themes of the larger series.

The wilderness years.

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The 250, Episode #12 – Blade Runner (#138)

More human than human.

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released every second Saturday at 6pm GMT, with the occasional bonus episode between them.

This time, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

A science-fiction film noir set against the backdrop of Los Angeles 2019, Blade Runner is a cult classic interrogating questions of what it means to be human. Rick Deckard is a blade runner for the Los Angeles Police Department, a specialist tasked with tracking down artificial humans known as “replicants”, but who finds himself questioning his own humanity.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 138th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

podcast-bladerunner

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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – Fight the Future

The X-Files: Fight the Future is often described as the mythology episode that somehow got released into theatres. In her review, Joyce Millman teased that Fight the Future was little more than “a two-hour episode of the show, except with better production values and a nicer wardrobe for Scully.” It is a fair point. It is not too hard to imagine a slightly cheaper version of Fight the Future split into two parts and replacing The End and The Beginning as the two-parter bridging the fifth and sixth seasons of the show.

Certainly, Fight the Future retains the late-stage mythology’s reluctance to provide any real sense of closure to the long-running plot about alien invasion and colonisation. Writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz increase the stakes by using some of that sweet blockbuster money to pay for a gestating alien fetus, but what do Mulder and Scully actually accomplish? What would a viewer jumping from The End to The Beginning miss, except for the fact that the Well-Manicured Man has left the mortal plane to visit that great Somerset estate in the sky?

What you've all been waiting for, admit it...

What you’ve all been waiting for, admit it…

The answer is nothing, but that is not the point. As much as Fight the Future enjoys playing with the trappings of the mythology (black oil! bees! tanker trucks! space ships! Oklahoma City!), the film is only interested in the idea of alien colonisation as a vehicle to explore the show’s central relationship. Carter and Spotnitz have shrewdly realised that Fight the Future will have the largest possible audience for the show, and has decided to give the general public what they want.

As a two-hour mythology episode, Fight the Future leaves a lot to be desired. As a two-hour Mulder and Scully ship tease, it is right on the money.

Buried secrets...

Buried secrets…

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Non-Review Review: Exodus – Gods and Kings

Exodus: Gods and Kings might be more traditional in structure and execution than the year’s other big biblical epic, but it shares a lot of the same core sentiments of Noah. Both films posit the Old Testament God as a primordial and almost unfathomable force, transforming biblical parables in epic horror stories. Both accept the divine as inhuman, almost by definition; both offer harrowing and unsettling depictions of stories that many viewers will know from childhood or have heard dozens of times before.

Exodus: Gods and Kings suffers a bit with its pacing, trying to boil the core Moses stories down into a single two-and-a-half hour narrative. The film runs through a check list of iconic moments, struggling to squeeze so much in that the story of the reed basket is mentioned only in passing. Instead, the film moves from Moses’ relationship with Ramses II through to his exile through to his epiphany through to his military rebellion through to the plagues through to the exodus.

"Well, I got back to Gotham in six days, I think I can get us to the Promised Land."

“Well, I got back to Gotham in six days, I think I can get us to the Promised Land.”

It is an epic story in almost every sense of the word, and Exodus: Gods and Kings struggles to contain it all. Often key elements are only present for moments before the film has to hurry along – the burning bush lingers in the background; the golden calf is glimpsed only from the distance. So much ground is covered that it is occasionally difficult to maintain focus, as Moses seems to lose and gain families with each passing act break. Exodus: Gods and Kings holds itself together under the pressure, but the strain can be felt.

Nevertheless, Exodus: Gods and Kings largely works. Feeling more like Kingdom of Heaven than Gladiator, the movie does a wonderful job of building a massive and sprawling (and foreign) world. Exodus: Gods and Kings looks and feels like a more traditional biblical epic than Noah, and Scott’s efforts to ground the film in a tangible reality only serves to enhance the awe-inspiring scale of the horror on display here. Exodus: Gods and Kings is an exploration of faith and devotion, asking uncomfortable questions and leaving the answers to the audience.

"Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings..."

“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings…”

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Non-Review Review: The Counsellor

There are two ways of looking at The Counsellor, both handily articulated by the movie itself.

At one point, two characters engage in an abstract conversation about grief. They speak on the phone about what it means to lose something that is irreplaceable, and what that does to a person. They speak in metaphors and lyrical turns of phrase, dancing around the issue at hand. One participant in the conversation recounts the story of Spanish poet Machido, who managed to channel his grief into beautiful and moving poetry. Poetry woven from misery and suffering, beautiful and yet torturous. Much like The Counsellor itself, a story about corruption and consequences and greed and wraith, articulated with thoughtful elegance.

There's a lot going on under the hood...

There’s a lot going on under the hood…

At another point, one character regales another with a tale of his strange sexual misadventures. Awkward metaphors are used to describe exactly what went down, as the other character (and the audience) watch on in a state of awkward disbelief. Using surprisingly elegant language – never at a loss for words to describe a truly surreal turn of events – the storyteller crafts a stunning portrait of a bizarre encounter. Trying to make sense of it all, the listener articulates the thought running through the mind of most of the audience. “Why did you feel the need to tell me that?”

The Counsellor straddles both extremes almost recklessly, veering from a sophisticated and thoughtful moral tale into something grotesquely indulgent and almost distractingly oblique. During one conversation, the seductive Malkina asks her lover Renier how he sees things playing out. He can’t help but imagine two contrasting extremes. With just a hint of self-awareness, Malkina point out that there’s a middle that Renier just isn’t seeing.

Deal or no deal?

Deal or no deal?

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My 12 for ’12: Prometheus, Faith, Treachery & The Great Beyond…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #5

In the year 7510,
If God’s a-comin’, he ought to make it by then.
Maybe he’ll look around himself and say,
“Guess it’s time for the Judgement Day.” 

In the year 8510,
God’s gonna shake his mighty head.
He’ll either say “I’m pleased where man has been”,
Or tear it down and start again.

-Zager and Evans, In The Year 2525

Faith is a funny thing. If you don’t have it, it’s impossible to explain. If you do have it, it needs no explanation. Ridley Scott’s Prometheus feels a little bit ham-strung by the Alien DNA” that it carries. As a prequel to the iconic film series, it’s hardly the most successful endeavour. Indeed, the film’s references to everybody’s favourite chest-bursting extra-terrestrial feel almost forced. Like the discussion about the Scientology influence on The Master, focusing on the instantly recognisable xenomorph tends to obscure the unique strengths of Prometheus as its own film.

Interestingly, the strongest connection to Alien is thematic rather than literal. Like Ridley Scott’s first science-fiction masterpiece, Prometheus postulates a cold and uncaring universe, one that is inherently alien, incomprehensible and hostile. The human condition causes us to question, but Prometheus suggests that there can be no answers – no satisfactory answers at least.

prometheus16

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Dancing on the Edge of a Blade (Runner): Prometheus & Hyper-Intertextuality

Prometheus arrived on blu ray last week. I’m a big fan of the movie, despite the palpable sense of disappointment generated on its arrival – I suspect that I was wise not to expect answers, and instead to enough the movie for what it was. I’m not alone in considering the film’s ties to Alien to be among its weakest elements, forcing the movie to tie into something that had been a massive movie mystery for decades, rather than allowing it to be its own thing. However, it has emerged that Ridley Scott apparently hoped the movie could go further than that. Reportedly, the director had hoped that it could serve as something akin to “connective tissue” to tie together two of his most definitive science-fiction universes. Apparently, the director wanted to set the film in the same world as Blade Runner.

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