Alien Covenant

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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.

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

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Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is the 15th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and the third film in the third phase of the same.  The first installment of Guardians takes the viewers on a journey far beyond earth and sets the larger stage for what is to come in the MCU.  Before the first film debuted there was much doubt to the success of the movie due to its use of lesser known characters in the MCU.  However, the hilarious use of witty banter among the protagonists and the well-executed trope of the “ragtag group of misfits” somehow thrown into extraordinary circumstances with extraordinary expectations played well for audiences worldwide.  The first Guardians film set the bar high for future installments and created much anticipation for the second film.

A few words about Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2:

  1. Tries too hard to be funny at times – Right out of the gate Guardians 2 seemed intent on doubling down on the humor that endears itself to the audience in the first installment.  However in this installment, while funny on its own, there was a noticeable shift in a number of jokes per scene.  While the first installment felt very natural with jokes flowing at the pace of the film, Guardians 2 seemed at times to stop the action or story to tell jokes that at many times felt as if they went on a bit too long.
  2. Lots of character development – In this movie each of the Guardians gets a deeper look into why they are the person (or tree, or raccoon, or other species) that they are.  For the most part, this was done pretty well with explaining the motivations behind each of the characters.  However, this made the movie;
  3. Extremely emotional – There were times in this film where it felt as if the audience was being forced into an emotional cheese grater.  There were several instances in which again the film felt like it stopped to make a very specific emotional point about one of the characters.  This was at the very least a bit heavy handed and at most emotionally manipulative.
  4. Fun and engaging action – The action sequences were very well executed.  Specifically, there is one involving Rocket that was very entertaining to watch and another involving Yondu (Michael Rooker with a functional mohawk) that was mesmerizing as well.  The larger action set pieces were also done very well, watching this film in 3D was very rewarding as the editing made full use of the medium.  (this coming from a critic who despises 3D and feels its use is mostly gimmicky)
  5. Felt very disconnected from the MCU – There is a total of five end credit and mid-credits scenes and only two of them did any work to tie this film to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Other than those scenes this film felt almost entirely self-contained and outside of the MCU.  There are still about four films between this one and Avengers:  Infinity War and while we know who the main villain of that film will be (Thanos) it still remains to be seen how the Guardians will mesh with the heroes of the other films.  This didn’t hurt the film itself however it did make this seem a little more like a lot of side plot rather than an important part of the main story.  (also there is a point in the film where the main villain is destroying earth and it seemed at the bare minimum a little odd that there would be no Avengers interested in helping to stop this)
  6. Terrible main plot reveal – When the main villain reveals their ultimate plot to destroy much of the galaxy it is done in kind of a crass way.  Revealing any more than that would be a spoiler but suffice it to say it felt at the very least a bit “Maury” -esque.  (I welcome anyone who wants to unpack this further to contact me on twitter or fb)

Overall the film was not bad.  I would say another solid entry in the MCU (whilst not necessary being a strongly connected unit of the MCU) with great action sequences and still remained funny (at times to a fault)  The audience loved Baby Groot (albeit it seemed there was more of him than was needed) and there is much visually to enjoy while watching this film.  You can bring your kids, but it is a bit long as I sat next to a kid who got very antsy during the second hour.  3 of 5 stars.

 

Time Well Spent Episode 03 – Garbage Persons

Please enjoy episode 3 of Time Well Spent with Ronald.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Star Wars continues the story with its first big budget feature length spin-off.  ‘Rogue One’ bridges the gap between episodes 3 and 4 of the main canon and tells an adjacent story in the star wars universe.  While this story doesn’t assists main canon its primary goal is to flesh out the rich star wars universe.

A few words about “Rogue One: A Star Wars story”;
1.  Visually stunning – Every shot in this film was beautifully done.  Wide sweeping shots of spacecrafts flying and landing.  Full color landscape shots of planets and space battles.  Detailed graphics, an amazing blend of costume design recognized from the original trilogy coupled with advances in film technology made for a very appealing visual aesthetic.
2.  Paper thin plot – This film had the difficult task of going from one fixed point to another fixed point with little room for latitude in the storytelling.  This means the plot was very rigid and there was little room to develop the characters on screen.
3.  Weak character development – due to the weak plot, characters while having a backstory did not have quite the depth as those in the main canon.  This did not mean you do not care what happens to them, but rather your acquaintance with them is a bit rushed.  Individually there is little attachment, however being invested in the main canon and the mission of the characters in the film allows you to care about what they intend to accomplish.  This is enough to attach you to their fate as the film continues.
4.  War tone, very different – In no other Star wars film has there ever been a greater sense of the stakes at hand than in rogue one.  This film does an excellent job of reminding you that the rebel alliance and the galactic empire are at war.  This is war in which people are dying in order to accomplish their goals.  Not just dying offscreen or in a way that allows you to be shielded from the reality of death but rather death in a very realistic and palpable sense.  This tone is completely different from other Star wars films in this regard.  (That being said there are still jokes and it’s still a lot of fun at times)
5.  Great action – the battle scenes in this movie are brilliant.  Going back to the first point visually the space battles are easy on the eyes however even the blaster ground battles are very lengthy fast paced and enjoyable.  There is only one scene of light saber and force battle carnage, however it is well worth the wait and is especially satisfying.  Advances in film technology make battle scenes much more realistic and easily viewed.  It does not feel campy any longer, but like what you would imagine a futuristic space battle to be.
6.  Leans into tragedy – If the original series and prequels are the tragic tale of Anakin Skywalker then this film continues to tell a bit of a tragic tale.  That’s about all that can be said here without being a spoiler.
7.  Solid fan service ( cameos, lines, music) – while there is no scrolling text to begin the movie, there is plenty of fan service done here.  From the cameos, to the extremely well done CGI “cameos” to the music to the obligatory line stated in every single Star Wars film, this movie did fan service right and every moment was well received.
The movie started slow, but ended well.  It was an extremely solid movie that did an excellent job of expanding the Star Wars universe.  This was a tale told in the world of star wars that tells us that many more individuals made sacrifices for the rebel alliance than movies can be made.  This tells us that the Star Wars were filled with many more stories that could be told for years to come. (cha-ching says Disney)  You can bring your kids but it’s not the romp that the other films were so it may be a little intense for the youngest of children.  3.5 of 5 stars.

Doctor Strange

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Phase 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) receives its second film with Doctor Strange.  One of the lesser known heroes (as far as mainstream knowledge of superheroes go) Doctor Strange is a bridge for the MCU from the known villains, factions, and heroes to new and more “mystical” unknown villains, factions and heroes.  As the Avengers will need time to regroup and prepare for their eventual clash with Thanos, the forthcoming Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 and Doctor Strange will reset the stage for the coming conflict in “Avengers: Infinity War”.

A few words about “Doctor Strange”:

  1. Strange pacing (no pun intended) – there was no marking of the passage of time.  From the time doctor strange was in training to the time he mastered his craft seemed especially fast.  Some of this was explained by his superior intellect, however in some ways this felt like cheating.  This made portions of the movie feel rushed.  By the time we reach the main conflict, the film does not feel like it got to this point naturally.
  2. Benedict Cumberbatch played his role well, but did nothing new. – a spin on his typical take of being brilliant as is the case in most of his roles.  He was more arrogant than usual in this, but with a heart of gold as is standard with marvel heroes.  This shtick is pretty familiar coming from him, however what made it better was imagining his interactions with the rest of the folks in the MCU.  He will fit right in.
  3. Stark change in genre – Typically Marvel movies are action/adventure films with a touch of fantasy.  Sure there are portals, talismans, stones and other mcguffins however these are all typically more seasoning than sustenance.  Doctor Strange falls deeper into the category of Fantasy/Adventure, where much of the plot is driven by the mysticism.
  4. Excellent special effects – Imagine if all of the coolest portions of the movie ‘Inception’ that had to do with bending time and space were used over and over as a method of physical combat.  Between this, and the brilliant colors and time moving backwards, this film visually is stunning.  Watching these scenes was very enjoyable.
  5. Sets up for next phase well – This film does a good job of expanding the universe.  With some of rules set by what is established in Thor, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange builds larger on this theme by setting rules in the “multiverse”.  Routinely using the portals they create and artifacts they use for battle, Doctor Strange gives a glimpse into where the MCU is going.  Much of the universe has been driven by physical actions and characters fighting back physical forces, however Doctor Strange doubles down on the mystical doors opened by Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy.
  6. Forgettable conflict – It almost didn’t feel like a conflict much as obligatory first level challenge for the new hero.  Even the bad guys weren’t completely fleshed out as much as they were placeholders standing in place as stereotypical movie conflict.  By the end of the film this becomes unimportant as what is most important is introducing a new direction for the MCU.
With all that being said, the biggest problem that this movie faced was that it didn’t necessarily need to be a feature length film.  Perhaps it would have been better served as a limited series on Netflix or as a backdoor pilot on Marvel’s Agents of Shield.  (although the budget cut would have affected the visual effects).  Overall a solid summer film, albeit opening in November which is always a breath of fresh air among mostly art films vying to contend in Oscar season.  Take your kids, but be warned there are a few scenes that may not be easily understood by young eyes.  However if they can handle Harry Potter this shouldn’t be a problem for them.  3 of 5 stars.

The Netflix Chronicles: Black Mirror (Season 3)

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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)