Alien Covenant

aliencovenantneoxeno

Alien Covenant is the second film in the prequel Alien series and the 6th film considered to be a part of the original canon of Alien films.  (This is a direct reference to the now defunct Alien vs Predator series which licenses the use of the Xenomorphs from the original films, I should also state that Aliens have also been in comic books and various other media ventures so the property itself has been very profitable.)  The continuation of the series picks up after the events of Prometheus which saw the film return to its original suspense/mystery roots.  This shift allowed for new questions to be asked and answered of the original series as well as make use of modern advances in film technology to build the world to be visually stunning.  Prometheus did well at the box office setting up director Ridley Scott nicely for his plan to make multiple prequels and sequels.  Alien Covenant picks up about 10 or 11 years after the events of Prometheus and follows the attempted colonization of the planet Origae-6.  This film seeks to add further depth to the Alien Universe and continue telling the origin story of the Xenomorphs and their creators the “Engineers”.

A few words about Alien:  Covenant:

  1. Characters are flat – There is not much character development at all in this installment of Alien.  While the characters have an assumed backstory, exposition that is explicitly stated in the movie does little to provide depth to the characters themselves.  It does not help that in many cases the characters are making stock horror movie decisions, such as always choosing to split up rather than work together.  At one point in the movie, the idea of them continuously splitting up becomes a little comical as one character will be found dead, and the remaining characters still assign separate tasks for each other to complete.  The setups for Alien carnage comes off a little convenient.
  2. Not many Xenomorphs – In this movie while the Xenomorphs (traditional Alien creatures from these films) are prominently displayed, at times their presence did not feel necessary.  The central conflict involved them, however, they were not the central villain.  This made seeing them feel a little empty or one note.  In many cases, it seemed as if they only showed up to ratchet up the immediate tension rather than because they were a necessity to the story.
  3. Two much fassbender – It is not a spoiler to say that Michael Fassbender plays two roles in this movie.  While his acting is solid and interesting to watch, at one point he’s doing scenes with both characters together.  These scenes were at least a little bit overwrought.  I found myself wondering what the ultimate purpose of these scenes were and don’t ever know that it was revealed.  Seeing him “mentor” himself came off hokier than I believe it was intended to be.
  4. Not much real story development – Prometheus introduces the characters of the “engineer” or the beings that humans suspect created them.  In Alien Covenant, the engineers have a brief moment but their story is not really expanded upon.  The questions raised about them in Prometheus seemed to be discarded in order to create a different movie.
  5. Visually Appealing – Much like Prometheus the use of wide shots in this movie did much to establish the contrast between the small humans exploring the vast universe.  Many of the shots are breathtaking on the big screen, which in this format does a great job of making the viewer feel small as well.

Overall, this movie did very many traditional “Alien” things.  There are Xenomorphs, space tension, action, air locks, acid blood, running, screaming and dying.  However, this film eventually ends up just being another installment of Xenomorphs killing humans.  While the reasoning for the existence of Xenomorphs is a little clearer, the film ultimate does little to expand the mythology of the Alien universe.  I would still love to see a movie that does more to expand this backstory, much like Prometheus began to do.  This is a solid summer movie, but ultimately I left the theater feeling like something was missing.  Do not bring your kids.  2.5 of 5 stars.

 

Advertisements

The Netflix Chronicles: Black Mirror (Season 3)

blackmirrortitlecard

Writer’s note:  For those of you that have not read our previous piece on the series ‘Black Mirror’ you can do so by clicking here.  This piece talks more about the show as a whole and gives an entry point into watching the series.

To pick up where we left off last, the first episode of the new season of ‘Black Mirror’ entitled ‘Nosedive’ immediately re-establishes the tone set by the previous two seasons and Christmas special.  Using a bit of a despondent score and a sanitized color aesthetic immediately you are reminded that we are being showed a view of our possible future.  One of the differences of this episode from previous episodes is how bright and cheery it is, as well as its use of sanitized language.  However as the show continues it becomes obvious that the cheeriness is a possible wink to dedicated viewers who know things will only continue to fall apart.  While the first episode of season three boasts the only real “happy” ending seen on this series as the season continues the show continues to shine.

A few words about ‘Black Mirror’ (Season 3):

  1. Satirized technology – In many episodes of this season the way technology is used is greatly advanced.  This show very much plays with the “what if” factor with regards to where technology is going.  Questions like “What if the entire windshield of a car were used as a screen?”  to “What if NFC technology were standard in all business transactions?”.  This is done effectively because most times no attention is drawn to the advance in technology itself, but rather these portions are spinkled into the show like seasoning for the viewer to enjoy.
  2. Continues to cover the trajectory of technology -The majority of the episodes of this season cover where technology is going.  This is done through using “satirized technology” as well as playing with ideas of our interactions with each other changing based on technology.  This is enjoyable because at first glance you can view an episode and think to yourself “This would never happen”, but after continuing to watch will change to the thought of “Isn’t this already happening?”.  Black Mirror does an excellent job of asking the question “How far is too far?”
  3. Covers current theories about technology and human interaction – As stated before, the question of “Isn’t this happening already” is understated in some episodes however in a few episodes it is the main question.  These could be considered to be the allegorical or metaphorical episodes.  These episodes do a good job of providing commentary to our current state by telling us a cautionary tale.  A good example of this being effectively done are in the episodes of “Shut up and Dance” and “Hated by the nation”
  4. Stays consistent with the tone of the rest of the series – With the exception of “Nosedive” (and as far as the spirit of the show even “Nosedive” meets this mark) the tone of the show is still dark and unsettling.  Everything from the aesthetics to scoring to ideas, while this show is easily binged watched, the ideas of the show will leave a lasting impression on you.  A combination of thinking through these ideas while processing what is on the screen will definitely leave you feeling a certain way.  For dedicated viewers this will be something easily done and in most cases enjoyable.  However getting used to the dark tone of this show for new viewers may take some adjusting.  Unsettled, is the best description of feelings after watching even the brightest episode of this season.
  5. Experiments with multiple genres – Season 3 does a better job of experimenting with different genres of television and film.  This is done while masterfully remaining the same show.  You will travel through multiple genres including horror, romance, and even police procedural (esque) episodes all while still hitting the points stated above.  Above all the tone remains the same, which is remarkable when considering that it legitimately is crossing genres.
  6. Diverse casting – Race and gender in casting are not an issue in this season (nor was it ever in this show)  People are placed in the roles that are best for them and the viewer has no need to be concerned with their race or gender.  This is also the case for leads in each episode.  To be clear, 2 of the 6 episodes have white men lead characters.  3 of the 6 episodes have women lead characters.  2 of the 6 episodes have black lead characters.  This is done without a shoehorn and gives the show a very relate able feel across the board.
  7. Immersive world building – Each episode is a world unto itself.  Each world is built so effectively that a whole season could be built around each premise.  This is not unique to season three, however it is on great display in this season.  The ideas are bigger than the vehicles themselves and because of this, the stakes of each episode feel real and weighty.  This allows for you to be completely immersed in one episode, then end the episode and completely immerse yourself in another episode.  There is no inherent need to watch the episodes in order, however I believe they were set up in the order they are in an extremely effective manner, and I would recommend watching them in the order presented on Netflix.
  8. Boiler plate boxes checked (great acting, great direction, great writing) – Without saying, direction, writing, and acting are impeccable on this show.  It would be difficult to go through each episode to pinpoint some favorite moments.  However for each episode to only have about one hour to establish characters, plot, and story it is done without feeling rushed or like an afterthought.

Black Mirror season three continues to be Netflix at its best.  It is an underrated show that not everyone will enjoy because it is about way more than what you are being shown on the surface.  I strongly encourage all of you to begin with season 1 as a means of getting the tone and direction the show intends to take.  This is not a show for your kids, at all, not even a little, do not let them watch.  4.75 of 5 stars.  (note this is an increase from 4.5 from the original Black Mirror post)

The Strain (Seasons 1 and 2)

strain-cast

The golden age of television continues as networks attempt to double down on programming that demands the audience to suspend disbelief in an effort to push the limits of storytelling.  While there is no shortage of post apocalyptic stories in the world of television from ‘The Walking Dead’, and ‘Fear the Walking Dead’, to ‘The Last Ship’, ‘The Strain’ is an interesting take as it is a slow burn of development that views a potentially world ending plague from the ground level.  Created by Guillermo Del Toro, ‘The Strain’ is the tale of vampires taking over the world by force beginning with New York City.    This is told through the eyes of two CDC doctors who mistake the effects of vampire poisoning for an unknown virus.  Their research plus the plotting of the actual vampires is what sets forth the events of the show.

A few thoughts about ‘The Strain’:

  1. Intriguing premise – In the first season the story unfolds slowly with much mystery.  It is obvious that the first episode was filmed and produced with great care.  As the story unfolds and the “plague” begins to spread the viewer becomes engrossed in the questions raised by the plot that are purposely left to unfold as the show continues.
  2. Unsteady plot – These questions, however, are only answered at a strangely unsteady pace.  At times the story takes strange turns that initially appeared to be deliberate however as the series continues it becomes obvious that being deliberate is not something this show does well.  From the strange and untimely love triangles to the fluctuation between being a fantasy show vs. science fiction it becomes hard to understand how the story is being told.  While some will read this and posit that perhaps it is in both genres, it would seem that the story would have been best serviced by firmly placing itself in one lane or the other.
  3. Poorly written – From the horribly contrived dialogue to the flat out nonsensical decisions made by some of the characters at times an otherwise fine show left the viewer puzzled.  The show is based on a novel by Guillermo Del Toro who originally envisioned this as a television series but was unable to garner interest until it was completed as a novel.  This originally for television novel turned television series, feels at times lost in its own creation.  At times bearing the gravitas of a work with high ideas and thought provoking questions about humanity and at other times devolving into a puzzling mess of blood and tears.
  4. Unlikable characters – Not all of the characters are unlikable.  This would be an appropriate time to note that perpetual typecast character actor Kevin Durand has a main role as a exterminator turned vampire slayer.  (He is a friendlier version of the darryl  character (from the Walking dead) of this series)  It is nice to see him play a protagonist for once as well as be able to see him do more than simply look menacing on screen.  Outside of him many of the other characters have problems of likability.  This show seems to double down on the “flawed” character.  Some of them are so flawed they are difficult to root for as they continuously get in their own way.  There is a child character in this show that rivals the Carl character (from the walking dead) in terms of nonsensical rationale.  Nonsensical enough that it could cause a viewer to actively root for a child to die as he continuously leads other characters to their demise.
  5. Interesting take on vampires – While preserving some of the commonly accepted beliefs about vampires such as aversion to silver and sunlight this show paints an entirely new picture of these mysterious demons. (words of this writer not the show)  For instance people who are attacked by these vampires are shown as being infested with parasites (worms to be specific) that actually change their biology.  This new biology includes a “stinger” which extends out of the mouth of the vampire that opens to reveal teeth to suck out the blood of its victims.  This leads to the next point.
  6. Unnecessarily gory – The choices made by the creators to depict vampires in this way makes for some excessively gory scenes.  This show is in the 10pm Sunday slot on FX, and it takes full liberties with its abilities to be as gory as a cable television show can be.  With graphic deaths of humans and vampires alike,  horror fans and those who like gory movies will enjoy a nice treat without going to the theater.  However for those squeamish viewers who do not like squirmy worms wriggling literally everywhere inside and outside of people as well as red and white (vampire) blood liberally spilled everywhere, gratuitous head shots and copious amounts of machete/swordplay (for the sake of decapitation only for the most part) this may be a bit much.

At first glance this post may lead you to believe that this would be a lowly rated show in the opinion of the writer.  However despite its many glaring flaws the show was perfect for binge watching and is pretty entertaining.  Currently the first two seasons are available on Hulu and as of this post the third episode of the third season has aired on FX.  Definitely not a show to watch with your kids, at all.  3 of 5 stars.