Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox, Scott Free Productions and TSG Entertainment

Alien: Covenant – Film Review

Cast:  Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Director:  Ridley Scott

Synopsis: The crew of the Covenant make course for a chartered planet that’s seemingly hospitable for humanity to colonise. Upon arrival however, they make a horrifying discovery that has them fighting for their lives…

Review: When you are the creator of a franchise that has made its mark on pop culture and was a game changer in the science fiction/horror genre, it always feels like there’s a certain amount of pressure when said director make a return to the franchise, as Ridley Scott certainly found out. The expectation that was on the shoulders of Ridley Scott when 2012’s Prometheus, the first film in a prequel series of events taking place before Scott’s 1979 classic. It was not the happiest of returns to the franchise for Scott, as the film’s divisive reaction can testify. However, for this newest instalment Scott decided to return to more familiar routes.

The year is 2104, and the crew of the Covenant are soundly asleep in their stasis chambers, destination planet Origae-6. Yet when disaster strikes and fatalities occur, newly appointed Captain Oram decides to change course and head for a new planet that looks perfect for them to colonise. But of course, once they land there and begin to have a look around, it’s not long before the crew realise something is very wrong and the members of the team are all locked in a desperate bid for survival against some Neomorphs who as to be expected, are looking to make a meal out of the crew, LITERALLY!

“Doctor, I think I might be a little unwell…”

Given that Scott is in many ways the founder of this franchise, it’s almost a given that the film will look visually mesmerising, and here he continues that trend. The production design and set direction are excellent, and the cinematography is all just wonderful to look at, but great visuals do not make a great film alone, you need to have some characters that you want to get on board with, and this is where the film falters a little bit. Many of the crew have so little development that you just don’t care about them, perhaps cos you know they’re just meat for the aliens. Thus you don’t have any sadness for the characters when they’re picked off. The death scenes are nowhere near as iconic, but Scott definitely throws in throwback moments that fans will undoubtedly enjoy. Chest popping death scene anyone?

That being said there are a few standout performances, most of all from Michael Fassbender in a dual role playing two versions of an android whose motivations you’re never quite sure whose side he’s really on. Katherine Waterston due to tragic circumstances at the film’s outset is fuelled by grief and anger, which makes her a character the audience can get on board with. When the shit goes down, she really delivers a wounded and powerful performance, in many ways, she’s the new Ripley, but not quite as badass, and Danny McBride really helps give the film a little sprinkle of humour.

I’ll make a meal out of you…

Much like Prometheus, the film’s script is a little choppy and does falter at times in the second act. You do get the feeling that there are certain plot points that perhaps ended up being edited out of the final product, but the overall script delivers a story that certainly fuses elements of Prometheus and the original Alien film in ways that should be appeasing to fans of the franchise. Whilst also bringing that  signature sci-fi gore that this franchise has become synonymous with. It’s similar in many ways to the films that have come before it, but as has been proven in the past, that is by no means a bad thing, and here it helps the film remain on course, and ensures it becomes a worthy addition to the franchise.

It doesn’t offer anything new to the franchise, but by fusing the best parts of Prometheus and Alien combined with an excellent dual performance from Fassbender, ensures it doesn’t become another disposable alien flick.

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Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Image is property of Hasbro Studios, Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Ramón Rodríguez, John Turturro, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Tony Todd

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: After saving the world from the Decepticons, Sam (LaBeouf) tries to leave all that behind and go to college. However, due to some clues that are in his possession, the Decepticons are ferociously hunting Sam once more…

Review: The first live action foray into the world of live action talking robots, was certainly if anything a noisy affair. Lots of explosions thrown in with robots fighting in a human metropolis. If that for whatever reason, didn’t provide you with a couple of hours of some mindless dumb popcorn entertainment, chances are this sequel to Bay’s Transformers mayhem probably won’t tickle your fancy much either, as it serves up more of the same in many ways, but the results this time, are not nearly as pleasing to the eye as the first instalment.

With the Decepticons seemingly defeated, Sam Witwicky now seems determined to lead a normal life, by going to college. Unfortunately for him, his role in the Transformers Civil War is not yet over, as a clue to another ancient artefact’s location on Earth sees him become the target for the Decepticons once again, and cue again lots of explosions and a Transformer Civil War reignites on Earth once more. What Bay does well is the visual effects are once again excellent, and for what it’s worth the opening sequence is for the most part, extremely entertaining to watch. These scenes are scattered throughout the film, and they, along with Steve Jablonsky’s score, are undoubtedly the high points of this expensive metal extravaganza.

Bruised and beaten, but still the ultimate badass…

The problematic dialogue has unfortunately not gone away, there are times when it is painful to just watch once again. The chemistry between the lead characters is not awful but its paper thin at best. The plot, once again is completely ridiculous and it seems was once again nothing more than an afterthought in production. You go into these movies to see Autobots fight Decepticons, but that is almost second fiddle here, as the humans are the centre of the attention. As such when those humans are front and centre for the majority of the run time, it’s really frustrating, especially since screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have proven themselves to be capable screenwriters.

As well as the bland humans, well they’re ably supported by some equally bland new Bots. Of course Optimus is his usual Peter Cullen-voiced badass self and the not so talkative Bumblebee. The rest apart from Ironhide are not nearly as developed as the aforementioned robots in disguise, thus rendering them big and uninteresting pieces of tin. Two robots that are not uninteresting, but for all the wrong reasons, are The Twins. Annoying and just offensive, it’s a pity they didn’t end up in the scrapheap of the editing room. In the Decepticon corner however, there is the eponymous Fallen who wants to do what Megatron did, and that is essentially destroy the human race, with a really absurd way of doing so. Bay’s style of editing is carried over from the first movie, and while it does have its merits to the way he frames his action scenes, it could quite possibly be migraine inducing.

It had its flaws but Bay had the platform to build on what he achieved from the first one and make a meaningful sequel. From quite the considerable production budget, the end result is certainly bigger in scale, but better it most certainly isn’t. There’s enjoyment to be had, as such it’s not a complete car crash, but  it’s not far off. Ultimately it is one colourful and noisy mess that doesn’t add anything new to the franchise. Instead it takes the problems of the first film, and just makes them that so much more noticeable.

Nothing more than meets the eye to be found here, a messy and absurd script is slightly compensated by some good effects, but even they become extremely tiresome after a while.

Posted in 2000-2009, Film Review

Transformers (2007)

Image is property of Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures

Transformers – Film Review

Cast:  Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, Josh Duhamel, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Peter Cullen

Director:  Michael Bay

Synopsis: When a teenager buys his first car, which turns out to be a Transformer, he gets dragged into an ancient war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and a battle for humanity’s survival.

Review: Making an adaption of a popular toy franchise, one that has been around since the mid 1980s, would seem like a safe bet for cinematic greatness. After all, when said franchise has spawned a plethora of spin off TV shows and an animated movie among other things, that have had a very loyal fan-base down the years, it was always bound to get the live action film treatment, and a popular toy franchise fused with live action must equal greatness, right? Well, not quite.

As this is a tale of two factions of alien robots, disguising themselves as regular Earth vehicles, doing battle over a transformer cube artefact, this is very much a popcorn flick where you leave your brain at the door. No thought-provoking themes to be found here, just sit back and watch at the metallic mayhem that director Michael Bay throws at you, which should for the most part leave you very well entertained as it truly is breathless stuff at times. There is a plot, of sorts, but it’s all pretty much irrelevant once we arrive at what we signed up for. Basically, the Autobots and Decepticons battling for possession of this cube, set in human territory, and Sam Witwicky (LaBoeuf) is at the centre of this fight.

Not your regular bunch of vehicles…

Bay certainly likes to tell his stories with some explosions, or ten, and when its all out Transformer Battle Royale, in a scrappy fight to the death, it certainly is pulsating stuff. Bay certainly favours quick cut editing, and it is used to great effect here. What is also truly excellent is the CGI, especially when the robots are transforming, it all looks absolutely superb.  What’s not as interesting however is the bits in between with some of the human characters. LeBoeuf is interesting enough as the human lead, even if he is a bit of a dork. The chemistry between him and and Mikaela Banes (Fox) is shaky at first to say the least, it’s not the best it could be, but it’s not the worst that’s ever been put to screen, although some of the initial dialogue between the two is just uncomfortable to watch, for all concerned. Leading the military contingent is Josh Duhamel’s Major Lennox, who certainly carries the most charisma amongst all of the human contingent.

Despite a mixed bag of human characters, the action that Bay delivers is more than enough to leave the viewer satisfied. Casting the OG voice of Optimus Prime Peter Cullen to reprise his role was a smart move to win over the fans, as Cullen’s deep voice brings an aura of authority to Optimus which being the leader of the Autobots, is kind of important. Similarly, as he is no stranger to playing bad guys, Hugo Weaving as the voice of the Decepticon big gun Megatron, another superb choice. Many of the Decepticons are in many ways very disposable, but in terms of the Autobots, there’s a good contingent of memorable friendly bots that you definitely want to root for.

It may not be perfect, in fact some of it is extremely cheesy, but when the action is this good, that’s really what matters as that is precisely what you sign up for. For fans of the original, they might have some nitpicks, but it cannot be denied that Bay delivers the sort of dumb, loud popcorn entertainment that you want from this sort of film, and Steve Jablonsky’s brilliant score complements it perfectly. There’s nothing more than meets the eye about this,it is big, loud and ridiculous fun and it does what it exactly says on the tin.

The script was clearly not high on the agenda of the production team, and it didn’t need to be, as Bay delivers precisely the sort of popcorn entertainment that you signed up for.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Sicario (2015)

Image is property of Black Label Media, Thunder Road and Lionsgate

Sicario – Film Review

Cast:  Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro, Jon Bernthal, Daniel Kaluuya

Director:  Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: In the war on drugs on the USA/Mexico border, an FBI agent is recruited as part of an undercover operation to take down a leading drug cartel.

Review: Whenever you depict war on film, chances are the results usually aren’t going to be pretty, especially the story you’re telling is focusing on the war on drugs and drug cartels near the US/Mexico border. Some folks are going to get their hands dirty and things are going to get messy very quickly, with some fatalities along the way. Though this is an ongoing conflict, and even though the events portrayed here are fictional, you would be forgiven for thinking that you are in fact watching a documentary about this struggle, and not a fictionalised version of events.

The gritty and dark nature of the story then is perfect material for Denis Villeneuve, the director behind Prisoners, the dark and unsettling drama about a family who see their young daughters mysteriously disappear. Once again Villeneuve chooses a subject matter that will almost undoubtedly be very unsettling for some, but at the same time, it’s a story that is told with such conviction you will not want to take your eyes off the screen. The main protagonist here is Blunt’s Kate, an FBI agent who just wants to do what’s right, and that desire takes her into this conflict, and what she sees really opens her eyes. Alongside her is Josh Brolin’s Matt, an agent that is quite casual about the mission they’re on and Benicio del Toro’s Alejandro who by contrast, is not fucking around.

Don’t get in this guy’s cross hairs…

Taylor Sheridan in his debut screenplay tells the story in a very ambiguous way, is what we’re seeing right or is it wrong? There’s certainly some things displayed on screen that are certainly very wrong, and not exactly pleasant, but for a film about the war on drugs, that is hardly a surprise. The film might be a slow burner, but the script keeps you hooked in the story, and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score will keep you on the edge of your seat. The three leading actors all deliver performances of a very high award worthy calibre, but special mention must go to del Toro who has perhaps never been better in his career and was mightily unlucky not to have received an Oscar nomination. He’s a man who is driven by his motivation, and that makes him one scary dude that you don’t want to anger, and if you have angered him, well you’re in deep trouble.

Villeneuve’s direction is masterful with some breathtaking wide shots of the FBI teams on their patrols, the camerawork is so authentic, it really makes you feel as if you’re on patrol with these guys. It kind of goes without saying at this point but Roger Deakin’s cinematography is as beautiful to the eyes, and Johannson’s score is to the ears. Deakins’s work, as is so often the case is just mesmerising to look at, even with the depravity that you see on screen sometimes. It’s incredible to think that he has never won an Oscar across his superb career, despite amassing THIRTEEN nominations. It’s only a matter of time before he lands that coveted Oscar gold, Blade Runner 2049 perhaps?

With a pulsating final sequence that will have you biting your nails until the credits begin to role, Villeneuve reinforced his growing reputation as a film-maker to watch, which he further cemented with his magnificent alien invasion flick Arrival. To make a movie about such a weighty subject matter cannot be an easy task, but with Prisoners and with Sicario, Villeneuve really proved more than anything than when it comes to directing, he most definitely is a Sicario himself, one that is absolutely deadly and does not miss.

Dripping with gorgeous visuals combined with some heavy subject matter seems an unlikely recipe for success, but with electric performances and assured direction, this is superb tense and gritty entertainment.