Alien: Covenant

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 stars

Cast: Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Michael Fassbender

Director: Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The Covenant and its crew are carrying 2,000 colonists towards a new life deep into unknown space. Just like the original Alien, the crew stumble across a distress signal from an unexplored planet. The covenant follows the signal and horror ensues.

Halfway through Alien: Covenant one of the characters declares that ‘if one note is off, the whole symphony fails’. His words are prophetic for the film itself.

Alien: Covenant is an enjoyable film with scares equalling the terrifying Alien.  Unfortunately, Alien: Covenant shares the same problems as Prometheus. It self-proclaims its own profoundness and complexity but buckles under this ambition, resulting in occasionally poor dialogue and plot omissions. Only Scott’s renewed focus upon the monsters distracts you from Covenant’s flaws until the film ends.

The film evades any of the questions raised by Prometheus, concluding without any finality to the Alien arc. The cliff hanger ending was well-delivered, but exposes the whole film to be mere kindling for another sequel. Nor does Alien: Covenant provide an explanation of past events for new viewers.  I found the film engrossing, but Alien: Covenant will confuse the uninitiated, and disappoint fans expecting answers to Prometheus.

Alien: Covenant does have many merits. Scott has repeated the pragmatically futuristic design from Alien, coupled with CGI, to create a grounded and believable world. Alien: Covenant is genuinely terrifying, with Scott returning to the slasher-esque feel of the original as the crew scramble to fight or flee from the monsters. The monsters themselves do fall flat  in earlier scenes where they are clearly computer generated, but their menace grows, especially when they appear in glimmers before snatching their prey.

Scott, when interviewed in a Q and A about Alien, said that if you cast properly for a film you have done half of the work. For Alien: Covenant, Scott stuck to his maxim. The cast is a solid roster who convincingly portray the Covenant’s crew. Danny McBride (Tennessee) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) stand out from the cast. In the past Waterston has stuck to roles portraying damsels in distress. At Alien: Covenant’s beginning, it seemed that Waterston would repeat that role, but she transforms into the pragmatic leader of the survivors. Danny McBride, known for comedic roles, suits the slightly more serious character in Alien: Covenant. It would be great to see him in similar roles soon.

One of the best aspects of the film is the power play within the Covenant’s crew. Certain characters, as tragedies unfold, either break or harden, letting us witness a power shift between the crew from Alien: Covenant’s beginning to end.

Michael Fassbender, as identical androids David and Walter, delivers a great performance once more. Both characters are mirror opposites of each other, developing a twisted father-son relationship, repeating David’s own relationship with Peter Weyland, the androids’ creator.

Other characters may seem underdeveloped, but Alien: Covenant is a monster film, with a vast cast to boot. Given the circumstances, it would be difficult for many of the characters to be well-developed before they die off. However, the lack of expostion for David causes his surrounding air of mystery to dwindle, transforming him into a vaudeville villain.

David’s character underlines what might be the central flaw of Alien: Covenant and Prometheus. Both films require a near complete focus and prior viewing of Scott’s earlier sci-fi films, to understand and appreciate their stories and themes. Personally, Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, through their focus on artificial intelligence and conflicts between the creator and the created, are spiritual successors to Blade Runner.

For the every-man, Alien: Covenant will likely disappoint and confuse as much as it may entertain.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

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The Handmaiden- Review

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Director: Park Chan-Wook

Cast: Tae-Ri Kim, Jung-Woo Ha, Min-Hee Kim, Jing-Woong Jo

Synopsis: Thief Sook-Hee (Tae-Ri Kim) is hired by conman Count Fujiwara (Jung-Woo Ha) to aid in his plan to steal the rich Japanese heiress Lady Hideko (Min- Hee Kim) away from her Uncle Kouzuki (Jin-Woong Jo). Yet a simple con trick spirals into an exquisitely filmed sexual thriller laced with the weirdness and humour which hallmark Park Chan-Wook’s films. The Handmaiden is a must see for fans of Park Chan- Wook.

Stoker was the first Park Chan-Wook film I saw. The experience of watching Stoker was akin to a dream before waking where the world is vivid and surreal yet so close to our own. While Stoker‘s gothic overtones lingers in your mind, The Handmaiden haunts with its visceral autopsy of male fantasies, which occasionally devolves into a sexploitation but with better cinematography. The film echoes a restrained ambience of weirdness throughout refraining from the excesses of David Lynch. The Handmaiden bristles with a visual opulence matching the decadence tasted by the Japanese elite which Lady Hideko and her uncle belonged to. Yet beyond the physical trappings, grandiose manor, and clean city streets which are revealed, there is a richness in every scene, particularly when the camera pans across the landscape. The verdant greens of mature firs revealed during a night-time drive clash with the blazing sun and roaring blue waves beating against the cliffs upon which Uncle Kouzuki’s estate sits. The Handmaiden may not be Park Chan-Wook’s masterpiece, but surely presents his mastery of film.

The Handmaiden commences as a scheme to dupe Lady Hideko and slowly becomes a tale about women fighting against a male society that fetischizes and manipulates them. For a film that is an unfettered delve into sexual desire, the setting of Japanese controlled Korea in the 1930’s is a politically barbed statement towards Japan. The backdrop of Japanese rule coupled with the sordid desires of Uncle Kouzuki and his entourage of respectable Japanese noblemen eerily reminded me of the Comfort Women.

The Comfort Women were young women in the Asian countries conquered by Japan during the 1930’s and World War Two who were forced to be sex slaves. This dark sliver of history remains inflammatory between Japan and its Asian neighbours, where the events of World War Two are fresh wounds compared to Europe. While The Handmaiden bears no explicit reference to Comfort Women, the film’s depiction of sex and desire loses any whiff of eroticism once the connotations strike home, morphing The Handmaiden into a graphic attack on Japan’s misdeeds in Korea. Delving into hard subject matter is nothing novel for Park Chan-Wook, and his brand of black humour prevents The Handmaiden from excessive brooding. Both Count FujiWara and Uncle Kouzuki deliver comic relief, helping to humanise their selfish and deceitful characters.

The Handmaiden is close to a masterpiece but is flawed by its own focus on sex. The film is advertised as sexual thriller, far beyond the fodder of 50 Shades of Grey. Yet The Handmaiden’s unbridled depiction of sex, both in reality and fantasy is intentionally perturbing to the point where I longed for the film’s end. Moreover, the ending disappointingly devolved into soft porn, pandering to the very sexual desires the film had earlier lampooned.

The Handmaiden is a film that should be seen for its beauty and its oddity, but I could not stomach repeated viewing.

Target Audience: Fans of Park Chan-Wook of adult age, so parents, keep your DVD copy in a safe place.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer see below:

 

The Exception [Trailer Review]

Outlook: Simple, but possibly pleasing

Director: David Leveaux

Cast: Lily James, Jai Courtney, Christopher Plummer, Ben Daniels, & Eddie Marsan.

Whenever the A24 logo appears, I pay attention. When I noticed that The Exception takes place during World War II, I was sold. After watching the trailer, the plot appears fairly basic: Forbidden love, dark secrets, and a mysterious man who may end up being the villain.

Receiving little information from the trailer, I will go see this movie because I’m willing to fully place my faith in A24 to produce another solid film after having success across varied genres such as VVitch, Ex Machina, Room, 20th Century Women, Locke, and Moonlight. However, we must all remember that not all of the studio’s films have been well received by critics and audiences. Take Trespass Against Us or Mojave. Both films displeased their respective viewers despite sporting strong casts and interesting plots.

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I’m a fan of Christopher Plummer and The Exception’s trailer is reminiscent of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which is one of my all time favorite films. Placing my bias aside, The Exception has the potential to be great if David Leveaux can balance the atmosphere of mystery that the trailer cultivates alongside the themes of love and duty.  However, The Exception may be the opposite of its namesake, relying upon the well-worn trope of star-crossed lovers and devolving into a half-boiled thriller.

Overall, I’m cautiously hopeful. Let us know your thoughts.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham