Spider-Man Homecoming

Movie Score4 out of 5 (Excellent)

Cast: Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Robert Downey Jr., Marisa Tomei, Jon Favreau, Donald Glover, Zendaya, Jacob Batalon, Hannibal Buress, Laura Harrier, & Tony Revolori

Director: Jon Watts

Synopsis: The mutated spider has already bit Peter Parker and transformed him into Spider-Man. The movie commences a few months after Spidey disarmed Captain America. While technically part of the Avengers, Peter has to remain in Queens, fighting petty criminals because Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey Jr.) commanded him to lay low and be “a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man.”  Frustrated with such limitations, Peter sets off to fight “serious crime” in order to prove his worth as an Avenger to Tony and his assistant, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). On this quest, Peter discovers Adrian Toomes/The Vulture/Birdman (Michael Keaton), a former construction contractor, who is now scavenging and selling alien weaponry from The Avengers invasion on the black market. After seeing the destruction such weapons are capable of, Peter sets out to defeat The Vulture whilst balancing a normal high school life. A great movie ensues.

Heading into the movie, I felt disappointed. A week early, I had read a review that stated Spider-Man Homecoming was purely a franchise building machine with only small moments of humor and few redeeming qualities. Ladies and gentlemen, friends, families, and readers, let me be the first and hopefully not the last to tell you the aforementioned review was wrong.

The movie’s teenage characters were my favorite part (besides the villain Toomes). Tom Holland phenomenally portrayed Peter Parker. I’m so glad he did not try to emulate Toby Maguire’s sniveling, wimpy version of Peter. Instead, Holland imbues Peter with humorous and nerdy, yet subtly cool, qualities. Together with Jacob Batalon’s hilarious character, Ned, the two form a wonderful duo who made me laugh a lot more than I expected. Normally, six screenwriters on one film signals trouble, but in this one the writers created and gave Ned and Peter some fantastic quips. However, they didn’t hoard all the best lines for the main characters. Zendaya’s hipster Michelle several great lines. I wish they had also decided to make Michelle a more prominent character since she stole all her scenes.

Like Zendaya, Keaton, of course, killed all his scenes. However, what made me love his character and the movie was not just his quality acting. It was also his character and his motives. Toomes began the movie as just an honest construction worker trying to take advantage of a good business opportunity: governmental contracts to help rebuild a destroyed New York City after the Chitauri army wrecks it in The Avengers. However, after losing the contract when the government discovers the power of the Chitauri weapons and asserts control over the reconstruction. This move leaves Toomes in a precarious position as he took out large loans to gather the men and equipment needed to take on such a job. Therefore, in order to support his family and his men’s families, he starts finding, fixing, and selling the alien weaponry on the black market.

I enjoyed Toomes because he was not a master villain trying to take over the world à la Loki. Instead, he was just a man doing whatever it takes to make ends meet and live the American dream. In an interesting conversation with Peter, Toomes asks him, what’s the difference between what he does and Tony Stark selling arms to the armies of the world. Such a question enters a fantastic grey area that Marvel likes to venture into and have successfully done so far like in The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  The question stumps Peter and it stumped me.

Target Audience: Teenagers, Marvel/DC/Disney lovers, and middle age adults. I’m counting out people over 50 based on my dad’s groans when he saw the trailer and children because the Vulture can, at times, be fearsome.

For trailer, see below.

By Hagood Grantham

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Ridley Scott and the value of life part two: Life, replicated

 

This article is part of a mini-series exploring the themes and ideas in Ridley Scott’s Sci-Fi films; for the first part click the link here.

*Spoilers ahead for Alien and Blade Runner*

Blade Runner, based on the seminal novel Do androids dream of electric sheep? is a futuristic world sculpted by the Cold War. By 2019, the Tyrell corporation has created humanoid androids. The androids, called replicants, look like humans and surpass us in intelligence, speed, and strength. Despite their similarities to us, replicants are treated like tools, exploited as slave labour across the solar system and forbidden from coming to Earth.  Blade Runner begins after a group of escaped replicants arrive on Earth, which prompts retired Blade Runner, Deckard (Harrison Ford), to return to his old profession and hunt down the replicants.

Alien challenges our position in the universe and our assumptions about intelligent life. In Blade Runner, Ridley Scott turns his gaze from the stars to earth, providing a condemning account of human society from the bottom-up. The replicants of Blade Runner are humanity in the neo-liberal age, dehumanised and robbed of an identity. They are the low-wage worker of today, an expendable commodity sacrificed for the benefit of the elite. The only difference is that replicants do not get a zero-hours contract but only four years to live.

Beyond our present day, the replicants represent ‘the other’ in society. They are the oppressed elements within every nation and culture branded as lesser and promptly exploited. The plight of the replicant parallels the medieval serf, the slave trade and the colonial subject. Despite its futuristic setting Blade Runner biopsies how society quietly exploits those at the bottom while we individuals, just like Deckard, look away.

Replicants: Machine or human?

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(Tyrell in all his glory)

Tyrell (Joe Turkel), wearing an imperial purple suit and thick glasses, is the god who underpins Blade Runner‘s society through his knowledge and technological prowess. The escaped replicants’ leader Roy (Rutger Hauer) even address Tyrrel as ‘The god of bio-mechanics’. Tyrrel’s apartment, guarded by an owl, symbol of the wise goddess Athena, is an Olympian temple supported by classical pillars, swathed in golden light from the sinking sun atop the pyramid superstructure witnessed in Blade Runner‘s introduction.

Deckard indulges Tyrell’s request to use the Voigt-Kampff test on Rachel (Sean Young), a supposed human. Deckard confronts Tyrrel after the test stating that Rachel is a replicant and asking, ‘how does she (Rachel) not know what she is?‘. Tyrell’s response is ‘commerce’. To Tyrell, replicants are a faulty product, becoming increasingly unstable as they develop memories and emotions. Rachel is ‘an experiment’ embedded with memories to believe that she is human, making her a more stable product.

Rachel reveals to Deckard that replicants are not just machines, but are parallel to regular humans through her morality and emotions. Ironically, it is Rachel, not any human, who questions Deckard about the moral and philosophical dilemmas of his work, asking him whether he ‘ has ever retired any humans by mistake?‘.

During Deckard’s attempts to chase and kill his replicant targets he begins to see them as increasingly human. At each encounter with an escaped replicant, the story shifts to their point of view, rendering Deckard and the human world around them to be cold, machine-like killers.

Challenging our assumptions

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(Our first encounter with Leon)

Leon is the audience’s first introduction to replicants when he is questioned by Dave Holden, another blade runner.  Leon is unstable from the beginning, his rage and confusion building until he abruptly shoots Holden in his stomach. Leon’s actions panders to the widespread view of replicants, repeated by Tyrell himself, as a tool that becomes a menace if they run amok. Later on in Blade Runner, Leon toys with Deckard after capturing him, stating to Deckard ‘painful living in fear isn’t it?’.  Deckard’s torture by Leon is Leon’s attempt to make another understand his suffering and pain.

Leon creates and later destroys the audience’s perception of replicants though his character arc. Leon transitions from a pyschopathic machine to a slave resisting his masters through the language they taught him, which was violence. Blade Runner uses Leon to challenge our own assumptions about ‘the other’ within society, by underlining how our opinions, just like Deckard’s can be unwittingly formed by convention. When given the chance to speak, the replicants, and ‘the other’ within our own society are exactly like us.

Violent recognition

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(Tyrrel’s death)

Both the audience and Deckard slowly begin to recognise the replicants as equal to humans. Then why does Tyrell, god of Blade Runner and father of the replicants still perceive them as below human?

The answer is found in Hegel’s philosophy.

According to Hegel, self-consciousness is not only the recognition of the self, but the recognition of that self by another self-conscious being. In human society, there exists a dominant and subservient consciousness with each recognising the other. This is what Hegel calls the master-slave dialectic.  Over time, the slave, having laboured for the master for so long, recognises his position as the inferior and demands the level of superiority enjoyed by the master.

Yet In Hegel’s words ‘Each (consciousness) wants to be securely recognised- has its certainty, but yet not truth.’ 

The master and the slave both want their identity to be recognised as superior. The master perceives his superiority due to his independence and power over the slave. The slave gains their own sense of superiority through the skill and hardship of their labour. Neither side will compromise and recognise the other as equal, causing as Michel Foucault states, a continual ebb and flow of power between one group and another within society as different identities emerge and conflict.

Tyrrel is the master and the replicants are the slaves.  He cannot recognise his own creations as more than human for fear of losing his own position. Tyrrel’s very identity and status in Blade Runner is literally built off the replicants and like the ancient Pharaohs he mimics, Tyrrel cannot be a god without an army of slaves beneath him. Roy’s quest to meet his maker Tyrrel is a struggle for identity, to climb the pyramid and be recognised by the master. Roy finally meets Tyrell, who continues to treat him and the other replicants as objects, calling Roy ‘a prize‘. Roy, disastisfied by Tyrell’s rejection, gauges Tyrrel’s eyes out.

At Blade Runner’s beginning, a superimposed eye blinks and dilates, reflecting the hellish cityscape of 2019 Los Angeles before it. The eyes in Blade Runner represent our own individual struggle with self-consciousness and recognition. The Voight-Kampff test, used to sniff out replicants, revolves around pupil dialation while the sodium orange flare of certain characters’ pupils teases who may be a replicant. After all, it is through our eyes alone that we perceive and recognise world, just like the eye gazing at 2019 Los Angeles. Roy’s gauging of Tyrrel’s eyes is the literal destruction of a worldview that rejects the replicants. Leon, in revenge for Zhora’s death, tries to do the same to Deckard before Rachel intervenes.

What about J.F.Sebastian?

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(J.F. being manipulated by Pris)

Perhaps the most unfortunate character in Blade Runner, J.F.Sebastian (J.F.), played by William Sanderson. He is a brilliant genetic designer who helped create the nexus 6 model of replicants. Befriended by replicant Pris (Daryl Hannah), J.F. is manipulated and later killed by Roy as part of his plot to meet Tyrrel. Afflicted by a genetic disorder accelerating his ageing, J.F. is denied ascension to the heavens and life among the solar system. Instead, J.F. dwells alone in a hellish derelict apartment block slowly succumbing to flood water.

J.F. blurs the artificial boundary between replicant and human. Deemed a faulty product, J.F. is valued for his productive capability like the replicants, while his desires are ignored and he is reduced to living alone. J.F’s plight is each our own tragedy, although the humans of Blade Runner are supposed to be superior, J.F. has been exiled and ignored by his fellow man. Strip back the scapegoat of today; be it the banks, the immigrants, or the replicants and we are only valued by society for our economic output while we each in turn dismiss the hardship of others. In a way, we are all replicants without realising it.

Writing about J.F. has made me eager for Blade Runner 2049 From the glimpses given in the reveal trailer, Blade Runner 2049 will witness the crumbling of the artificial line between replicant and human which J.F. straddles. Whatever happensI am more excited about Blader Runner 2049 now than when I reviewed the trailer.

By Saul Shimmin

My Life As A Courgette/My Life As A Zucchini

Movie Score: 4 out of 5 (Excellent, definitely one to watch)

Director: Claude Barras

Synopsis: In the wake of tragedy, Icare (Courgette) is placed in an orphanage, leading to an uplifting tale that highlights the enduring innocence and resilience of children. Despite the beautiful childlike designs and the brilliant voice acting for the children, this is a film for adults, not children.

My Life As A Courgette is an unfiltered account of the adult world seen from the eyes of kids. The film bravely examines the effects of addiction, crime, and abuse, addressing them through the children at the orphanage as they each slowly reveal the reason why they are alone in the world. By discussing these issues from the children’s point of view, My Life As A Courgette exudes an infectious optimism adding to the emotional weight of the film’s uplifting ending.

The disproportionate and minimalist design of the clay characters alongside the exceptional voice acting from the predominantly young cast places you within the orphanage. The voice actors deliver great performances, enhanced by the way their lines have been recorded. The sound design has a distanced quality to it, making the children’s lines sound like a candid recording of the orphans as they embark on trials and adventures, adding to the film’s realism.

The voice acting and simplistic artistic style has the warmth of an Aardman animation. Also, the movie’s writers riddled the plot full of adult jokes told by the children, which adds to their hilarity as they discuss sex and other adult themes. You will definitely find yourself cackling at questions about exploding willies.

It is hard to not love the children who inhabit the orphanage, even the initial bully, Simon. We witness their vulnerability as they expose their emotional and mental wounds once Courgette and his love-interest Camille enter the orphanage. Both characters open up about their pasts, letting the other orphans discuss their own pain. Together the children overcome their abandonment and isolation, making it even sadder to leave them behind when this brief film ends.

The film’s only flaw is that the plot does slightly drag, but otherwise My Life As A Courgette is a gem which art house and animation fans must watch.

A dubbed version is available, but I recommend the french language version with subtitles.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

The Graduate

 

Movie Score5 out of 5 (Classic)

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Anne Bancroft, Katharine Ross

Director: Mike Nichols

‘I feel like I am living in a world where the rules were written by other people’. The Graduate is not a simple tale of 1960’s rebellion against the norms, but the ageless tale of how any young person feels about the world, including myself.

Celebrating its 50th birthday this year, The Graduate remains a classic film whose tale of youthful existential angst still resonates with my generation as strongly as it did with the Baby Boomers in 1967.

Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returns home to suburban Los Angeles after graduating from University. The ‘real’ world of maturity is incredibly alien for Ben, his frustration and isolation are ignored by adults around him, who treat Ben as a simple object. Ben’s parents, throw him a graduation party where he is a status symbol for their ambitions. Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), his lover, treats Ben as a distraction from her broken marriage and an escape from aging. It is only when Ben meets Mrs. Robinson’s daughter, Elaine (Katharine Ross), another young person who is cut off from the decadent world of their parents, that Ben feels connected to another.

Ironically for a film shown as part of The Dustin Hoffman season at the BFI Southbank, it is the camera who is the star. Both the film’s visual style and soundtrack, written by Simon & Garfunkel, convey the emotions Ben cannot convey to the outside world. The Graduate’s tale is revealed through the camera whose inventiveness in editing and composition shames most modern films.

The Graduate is both provocative and hilarious. Hoffman’s slight use of slapstick adds a bumbling charm to Ben and the other acting cast deliver some great comedic moments. Luckily, The Graduate is out in many art house cinemas in the U.K. to celebrate the film’s 50th birthday, and should definitely be seen on the big screen. Having tried to watch The Graduate before on a laptop, the introduction, seen on a smaller screen, will deter many as its visual richness cannot be appreciated.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

Kenobi [Movie Poster]

First of all, this movie is not real. Not yet. It’s a fan-made poster, but, according to The Hollywood Reporter, it has gained serious traction among Star Wars fans on reddit.

obiwan posters

Twenty-year old British artist Tom Lathom-Sharp created the poster. He posits George Miller in the director chair. You probably best know Miller for his latest film, Mad Max: Fury Road. With the spaghetti western/Tarantino aesthetic Lathom-Sharp imbues the poster, Miller is a perfect choice. He also credits Tyler Sheridan as the movie’s writer, but no notable Tyler Sheridan exists. When I Googled Tyler Sheridan, “Did you mean Taylor Sheridan?” popped up. I want to ask Lathom-Sharp the same question because if he did mean Taylor Sheridan then this movie would likely be the most likely Star Wars film to win Best Picture since A New Hope. Taylor Sheridan is known for his writing credits on modern-western powerhouse films like Sicario and Hell or High Water. The combination of George Miller and Sheridan on any film would attract major attention. Get them to collaborate on a Star Wars film, Kathleen Kennedy would be looking at a rare breed of critical darling and blockbuster.

Even though the Star Wars community desires a Kenobi movie and Ewan McGregor said, “I’d be happy to do it, if they want to do it” that does not necessarily mean Lucasfilm will create an Obi-Wan standalone film. This is because Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Story Group, a writer’s room tasked with keeping Star War’s timeline in check, must approve any idea or movie concept and make sure it can seamlessly weave into their overarching narrative. They have already approved a Marvel comic chronicling Obi-Wan’s time on Tatooine called Star Wars #7, so maybe they’d be open to expanding upon Obi-Wan’s time as Luke’s invisible guardian or translating the comic’s action onto film.

Such an action from the Group is not unthinkable. 2016’s Rogue One, the first Star Wars anthology film, bloomed from an idea Lucasfilm creative director John Knoll had while watching A New Hope’s opening title crawl. Even though Knoll is a higher-up at Lucasfilm, Rogue One proves that the Story Group is open to outside ideas. Maybe someone within Lucasfilm will pitch this idea to the Group. I cannot think of a better setting for a space, spaghetti western than the desert planet of Tatooine.

Paris Can Wait

Movie Score: 0 out of 5 (Horrible, avoid at all costs)

Cast: Diane Lane, Arnaud Viard, & Alec Baldwin

Writer & Director: Eleanor Coppola

Synopsis: Anne Lockwood (Diane Lane) is the wife of busy movie producer Michael Lockwood (Alec Baldwin). The couple are at the Cannes film festival and have to travel to Budapest for Michael’s work. Anne suffers from ear-ache and decides to meet her husband on the next leg of their trip in Paris. Michael’s partner, Jaques, offers to drive Anne to Paris and she accepts. The pair depart from Cannes, but fail to reach Paris as speedily as Anne desires because Jaques takes her on multiple side trips to his favorite restaurants and villages.

Paris Can Wait reveals that greatness in filmmaking is a non-transferable asset through marriage. Eleanor Coppola (wife of Francis Ford Coppola) failed in her endeavor to emulate the romantic magic of a Nancy Meyers’ film. She set herself up well with a romantic destination (small villages in rural France), the possibility of an unhappy marriage, and a doting goof to woo the leading lady’s heart (Jaques). Despite selecting the correct trappings of the genre, Coppola fails to correctly execute the motifs.

For example, normally in a love triangle, the female lead is unhappy in her relationship because her husband/partner neglects her. Once she meets the hero, he wins her heart through acts of kindness, humor, and sex appeal. However, only one of these things occurs in Paris. Michael Lockwood ignores Anne at the beginning of the movie. However, he does not mistreat her to the extent that would justify to the audience her leaving him. Michael’s greatest sins occur when he overlooks the fact that Anne’s ear hurts and takes a phone call when she is talking to him. True, such behavior is a little rude, but after the first ten minutes, Michael ends all such negative conduct. Even though he’s in Budapest on business, he calls her several times in two days, asking about how her ear feels and her trip with Jaques thus appearing like a caring husband. If Coppola wanted the audience to root for Anne to leave Michael for Jaques then she needed to make Michael more unlikeable.

However, the worst part of the film is not Michael as a “bad” husband, but Jaques as the film’s “hero.” Jaques lacks charm, looks, and tact. Really, he is just a creep. During a ride through the countryside the couple suffered from one of many uncomfortable silence. Anne tries to break it by playing the beloved car game, I Spy. She says, “I spy something with four legs.” They had just passed a herd of cows, so obviously she meant cows. In response, Jaques puts her hand on Anne’s leg, and as she tenses, he says, “I spy something with two lovely legs.” She tries to laugh it off, but I could only cringe as Anne had no where to run and no one to save her. Sadly, the creepiness doesn’t end there. During one meal, early on in the movie, while talking about Michael and his busy production schedule, he asks Anne, “Are you happy?” Flustered, she cannot answer because he blurts out, “Is your husband faithful?” These two characters do not know each other well besides Jaques’ business partnership with Michael , so this question is horribly inappropriate. Later in that same meal, he continually refills her wine glass. His intentions become so obvious that Anne even asks, “Are you trying to get me drunk?” Jacques just shrugs his shoulders, offering no verbal answer which connotes a silent “yes.” People should boycott this movie for this scene alone.

To add to the pile of garbage that is Jaques, throughout the movie he fails to pay for their five-star meals, stating that he lost his credit card. While he does repay her at the end of the movie, he continues to take her to fancy restaurants while making her pay for them.

The restaurant ordeal brings me to my final point: Anne had no agency. Wherever Jacques wanted to go, she had to acquiesce to his desires. He had the car, he spoke the country’s language, and knew his way around. Anne possessed none of these things. After accepting his offer to drive her to Paris, Anne made no decisions for the next half of the movie. In fact, she continually implores him, “Please, no more stops till Paris.” Yet Jaques continues to stop since “Paris can wait” even though Anne just wants to get to Paris. In most romance movies, the lead has the ability to choose between her man and the hero. Coppola affords Anne no such choice.

The final nail in this movie’s coffin occurred at the end. When the two say their goodbyes, Jaques turns to her and tells her, “I made a bet with myself… that I would not make an advance on you.” I laughed out loud. Throughout the movie, every time they were in the same room, he made advances on her and most of them unwanted. During the last fifteen minutes, Anne magically starts taking control and looking fondly upon our fat and tactless French hero. The audience is supposed to believe that Anne turned a corner and started to “stop and smell the roses” (her favorite flower). But I believe Coppola must have reread her script and realized Jacques was a goon and she gave Anne no agency so she tried to rectify it. However, her late alterations made the movie more fake than romantic. You can hear the movie’s falseness in Anne’s laugh. She filled it with empty the “ha-ha” that we give someone who is telling us a factoid that we don’t give a damn about.

Do yourself a favor and go see Wonder Woman instead of this pile of shite. For trailer, see below.

Target Audience: Old people with nothing better to do than waste 90 minutes on a stormy afternoon.

By Hagood Grantham

 

The Red Turtle

Movie Score: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit

Synopsis: An allegory of family, nature, innocence and more, The Red Turtle revolves around an unnamed man who becomes stranded on island which refuses to let him go.

The Red Turtle’s plays on the saying ‘no man is an island’. Life, its value and its purpose, stem from our connections with the world, and our loved ones. The life and identity of the unnamed man before being cast away are never revealed. At The Red Turtle’s beginning, he bursts from the water amid a dark storm. Devoid of anything, the man’s arrival on the island is his rebirth, from which he begins to adapt to the island, until one scene where he falls asleep, slowly forming the shape of the mountain which peaks the island.

The man becomes part of the island, and the island becomes the world. The Red Turtle lets us witness the cycle of life with an intimacy of a documentary, as scenes focus upon the rainfall in a monsoon, birds flying in the dusk, or the havoc of a storm. The island’s wildlife being to react to the man, adopting the air of children. The wildlife and its behaviour endears us the island providing levity, but also emotional impact, when the harshness of life bears down.

Director de Wit years of effort to create The Red Turtle has forged a masterpiece which requires little dialogue to connect us with the unnamed man’s trials and tribulations. Instead, de Wit uses the island itself as a series of props to convey emotions and ideas to us, alongside eerie dream sequences and the haunting lullaby soundtrack. De Wit’s spartan art style, blending Asiatic economy with a European colour palette, renders the vibrant island alive.

The Red Turtle, which was eventually backed by Studio Ghibli, epitomises the power of animated film. The genre is as profound and provocative as other forms of cinema and can be appreciated by adult audiences. This is a beautiful film which will stay in your eyes and your mind long after viewing as you ponder of its meaning. That being said, The Red Turtle is not a film for children. At times my attention wavered, and when viewing it at the Southbank in London, the bulk of the audience were in their 30’s or older. For parents looking for a good animated film for children below 14, I recommend Belleville Rendez-vous, which is below and a favourite of mine.

I have said little about the film’s plot for fearing of spoiling the story.  The trailer for The Red Turtle is below, but I would strongly advise you to not watch it before viewing the film. Having only watched the trailer after viewing the film, it is a better experience The Red Turtle blind, allowing the twists and turns to have their full weight.

Do watch de Wit’s earlier short film, Father and Daughter, before viewing The Red Turtle. It is linked below the review and acts as an indirect and helpful prelude to ideas and themes in The Red Turtle.

By Saul Shimmin

The Red Turtle Trailer

Father and Daughter (full-film)

 

Belleville Rendez-Vous trailer

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:

 

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

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.