Tag Archives: Alien

Months in Review: May, June & July films (part I)

It's been a while once again. Between family visits, test studying, work demands and a new romance in the air; life gets the best of this blog of mine.
Apart from my writing, my film watching has also decreased, but not as sharply as my visits to the blogosphere. In the last three months of  online inactivity, I managed to watch 25 films, with an average score of 3.2. There were, per usual, highlights and disappointments. On the one hand I marveled at Jordan Peele's confident directorial debut with  Get Out and Christopher Nolan's breathtaking Dunkirk, while on the other I watched in confusion how Luc Besson managed to waste over 150 million dollars making his latest passion project, or how Brad Pitt continued his bad streak with the ill-conceived War Machine, which he produced and starred in.
Without further ado, I share with you a list of quick reviews for all the films that were watched in the order in which they were seen. Being that it is quite a number of them for one single post, I will be splitting these up into two parts. 

MAY FILMS

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]

The sequel is a very satisfying reunion with Starlord (Chris Pratt) and his crew of unlikely heroes. Years after it was first introduced to audiences around the world, Guardians of the Galaxy still feels fresher and funnier than most other superhero films, propelled forward by the writing and playful direction of James Gunn.
With a decisively bigger budget, the movie is a bit overstuffed with very colorful worlds and enemies that are both evil and hilariously ill-prepared. Volume 2 has plenty of highs and packs a lot of fun in two hours of film. The film was at its best when it focused on the interactions between these wild characters. My biggest complaint is with Starlord's origin story, which was no more than traditional and predictable Hollywood fare.

ESTEROS (2016) [ 3/5 ]

A love story between two kids whose families pulled them apart at a young age just when they were starting to find romance in their friendship.
Many years later they find each other again and the romance is rekindled despite girlfriends. Though there is a element of nostalgia and sadness over time wasted that is well executed , the film struggles to get any traction and the adult actors were not convicing enough to sell their chemistry.

SPLIT (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]

The first film in many years to deliver on the promise of M. Night Shaymalan's skills as a director and storyteller. Split soars for long stretches due to the nearly perfect chameleonic performance of James McCavoy as a man with multiple personalities. Like some of the better Shaymalan's creations, Split is also effective in holding and building suspense but, once again, falling just short of finding consistent emotional resonance all the way to the end.
The best scenes happened early between McCavoy and his psychiatrist, played expertly by Betty Buckley.

CASTING JON BENET (2017) [ 2.5/5 ]

Yet another exploitative film about America's bizarre obsession with the murder of Jon Benet Ramsey. The Netflix Original documentary is a cleverly constructed if unevenly executed piece that feels as if we're watching a random focus group of Americans give their thoughts on the case. At the end the question remains as to whether we need to keep rehashing this tragic and unfortunate story. The answer is no. 

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

As odd as it was to even conceive of an animated film based on a game with such a narrow and mindless purpose; The Angry Birds Movie delivers a playful and charming story about channeling anger through selflessness and friendship. For the most part, the characters are well conceived and the story moves in deliberate and well structured ways. Its problems lie, for the most part, with its source material and how it informs the struggle between birds that don't fly and green pigs who love eggs. (??)
ALIEN: COVENANT (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]


Entertaining and beautifully directed (except for the ad-hoc ending), the latest film in the Alien franchise I have cherished since I was a kid was a bit of a disappointment, if only for the quality of some of its predecessors. My full review here.

EVERYBODY WANTS SOME!! (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Every few years, one of America's most talented and underrated storytellers releases a movie that makes you reconsider how movies like it were made. Richard Linklater crafted THE American college film with all of the typical debauchery we come to expect while giving a plethora of characters tangible personalities that never become stereotypical caricatures. For a film to be able to juggle so many small stories and turn it into a cohesive and satisfying whole requires the kind of talent that only a few directors have. We can thank Richard Linklater for showing us that even the immature college films can also be wonderful pieces of cinema.
HOW TO BE A LATIN LOVER (2017) [ 3/5 ]

The comedic gifts of Eugenio Derbez help the film come off better than on the page. With the help of a charming kid and a convincing motherly turn by Salma Hayek, How to be a Latin Lover is a satisfying enough comedy that should not be taken more seriously than the silly lighthearted humor it aims at.

QUÉ CULPA TIENE EL NIÑO? (2016) [ 2.5/5 ]

For a film that has the trappings of a silly comedy about young adults making mistakes, there are long stretches that offer no moments of laughter beyond a chuckle or two. As it gets going and the story unfolds the film improves, but it does so rather unevenly, sometimes resorting to the kind of poorly written situational comedy one can expect to find in a hispanic soap opera.

WAR MACHINE (2017) [ 2/5 ]

One of Netflix most bold attemps yet at charting a new course towards original filmmaking suffers the faith of an unprepared amateur. Brad Pitt offers star power but little else in one of the most unfortunate performances of his long career. The script is a jumbled mess that touches upon many cliches of war-themed movies without ever sustaining a point of view in a coherent and consistent manner.

HANDS OF STONE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

There is something about boxing that lends itself to cinematic treatments. We can cite many great films like Raging Bull, Million Dollar Baby and the original Rocky just to name a few. This boxing biopic has many familiar elements, without it ever rising to the emotional struggle of souls fighting their demons on a stage made for violence and blood. Its saving grace are the very apt performances from the cast, starting with my fellow Venezuelan Edgar Ramirez alongside a vintage Robert De Niro. More importantly for me, the film is directed by another rising Venezuelan talent: Jonathan Jakubowicz.

I DON'T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE (2017) [ 3.5/5 ]

I know Macon Blair from his convincing acting turns in indie films like The Green Room (which disappointed me) and Blue Ruin (one of my favorite films of the last few years). In his first attempt at the director's chair, Blair gives us an entertaining and weirdly funny film that bears a resemblance to the kind of projects he has been involved with. Even though the film is silly and feels rather pointless once it is over, its characters are oddball charmers that you eventually warm up to. Definitely worth watching.

I will be posting Part 2 within the next few days with the films I watched in June and July. 

A fan reviews Alien: Covenant

Covenant 1

As a big fan of the Alien franchise, it has always been difficult for me to write or even think about reviews of the films and remain unbiased. As a child, I played with a six inch tall action figure (that I still have) of the Xenomorph, the frightening and brilliant monster at the center of the franchise. It was, as everyone that knew me would tell you, my favorite toy, by a long shot.

I watched the original 1979 film sometime between 1990 and 1992, when I was between 6 to 8 years old. Soon after, I also managed to watch Aliens, James Cameron’s fantastic action packed sequel, and I was forever captivated.

What started from a simple script that had the makings of a silly B-movie was turned by a young Ridley Scott into a horror sci-fi of a quality and thoughtfulness that had not been seen before. With an ensemble of very good actors which included Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt and Ian Holm, Scott hired the services of a relatively unknown Swiss artist, H.R. Giger, to manufacture a credible alien universe that would be convincing enough to elicit fear and dread in audiences. With the invaluable help of Giger’s twisted and unique vision, Scott would introduce us to an exosqueletal U-shaped alien ship sitting in isolation in the midst of a stormy unexplored planet. Inside, there were tunnels made out of what seemed to be organic material that led to one great chamber, where something that looked like a super weapon, or perhaps a giant cockpit, held the remains of a fossilized giant that had been torn open from its insides (popularly refered to as the Engineer). Soon, we would meet the gruesome eggs, the nightmarish “facehugger” and the xenomorph bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in one of cinema’s most unforgettable scenes.

In an act that would later prove to be extremely wise, Scott declined the chance to work on a sequel, giving the keys of a promising franchise to the up-and-coming James Cameron who, with a bigger budget and studio backing, made a thrilling sequel that felt like the first film but on steroids. Once again, our heroes were led by a toughened yet relunctant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) against an entire colony of the deadly creatures.

Though one can argue the merits of the third entry directed by David Fincher (many point to the less than amicable relationship between 20th Century Fox and the director as a cause for some of the dissappointment), there is no denying that the sequels that came after Alien 3 followed the law of diminishing returns. It seemed the franchise was headed to an inglorious end.

In 2012 and with the very real prospect of irrelevance looming nearby, Ridley Scott resurected its acclaimed creation with Prometheus. The film, which took us to the very beginnings of the Alien universe (and of the Weyland corporation), had a surprisingly philosophical and existential vibe that seemed to be entirely disconnected to the older films.

Even though Prometheus ends on a high note by promising an exploration through the Universe in search for the “Engineers”; Alien: Covenant is both a continuation and a rejection of the path that was hinted at by its predecessor. As crafty and stylish as Scott’s direction is and remains throughout the film, there is a designed attempt to please the fans whose nostalgia for horror, dark smokey tunnels and death had been less than satisfied with Prometheus.

Covenant 2

Halfway through the film, Covenant abandons any hope to give us answers about any of the questions posed by Prometheus, entirely dismissing the journey of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), and giving David (Michael Fassbender) a far more protagonical role than most of us expected. In it, I saw similarities to the abrupt and unceremonious divide between Aliens and Fincher’s Alien 3, where two of the four survivors had been killed off before the first scene.

The latest part of the franchise is a conscious return to its roots, bringing back the beloved xenomorph, the gory horror, and the occasional bit of dark humor and eroticism that distinguished the 1979 film.

Covenant also has the makings of a blockbuster summer film, giving us moments of genuine thrill and edge-of-your-seat suspense that feel, however, far less distinctive than its stylish and more introspective predecessor. At times, Covenant played as a film that is clearly self-aware of its place in popular culture, hoping not to betray the lust for “xeno violence” that many had waited years for.

To add insult to injury, Covenant suffers in the details, much like Prometheus did. Even though it clocks in at 2 hours, the film struggles for pace in the first half hour to then feel hurried and messy. The crew of explorers that confronts an unimaginable danger in a yet unexplored and unknown planet follows a pattern of decision-making that reveals either their low IQs, or their complete lack of training and preparation. Once again, the first creatures that appear in Covenant are a close relative of the original, until they eventually give way to our long lost trifecta: egg, facehugger and Giger’s xenomorph. Sadly, by the time our violent guest comes into the film, its presence is more thrilling than scary, and perhaps shorter and less remarkable than I had expected. The monster’s prey isn’t a group of navy seals (Aliens) or violent criminals (Alien 3), but a diminished space expedition crew that was already on the run. The monster’s thirst for violence and death not as horrific as it once felt back in 1979.

Covenant’s greatest pleasures come from its striking visuals in the way of stylish spaceships, convincing creatures, and a deserted hellish planet whose dreamy exterior holds many deadly secrets within. More significantly, the cast of Covenant is as great as the ones from the first two movies of the franchise. Katherine Waterson fills the void left by Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw in convincing fashion as Daniels, while Michael Fassbender’s double take as androids David and Walter is at the level of the chameleonic actor’s best work. Each a distinct personality, each with a different accent, standing at opposite ends of a philosophical question: to serve your master, or to upend the status quo by killing everyone in sight.

Rating: 3.5/5

Covenant 3

A fan of the Alien franchise reviews “Prometheus”

Released: 2012

Synopsis: A crew of scientists embark on a mission to find answers about the origin of the human race in a distant planetary system. What they find is not only surprising but a bit more than they can handle.

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba

Director: Ridley Scott

To watch Prometheus on the big screen at your local multiplex is an experience that should not be missed. From the gorgeous visuals, to the effectiveness of the cast and the artistry of the special effects, Prometheus is one of those pieces of cinema that is well worth the admission price.

After years away from science fiction, Ridley Scott shows that this genre might be his true forte as an artist, always able to create immersive worlds that border on the sublime. The stylistic language in Prometheus takes cues from Scott’s previous work while utilizing the latest in special effects to modernize his view of the future. Whereas Alien featured clunky, heavy machinery with computers running on MS-DOS in a maze of dark hallways filled with smoke, Prometheus takes the route of revisionism and updates Scott’s vision towards sterilized, streamlined, minimalistic technology inside spacious rooms adorned with splashes of bright colors. The change is mostly an aesthetic one. Prometheus continues with the tradition of Alien, crafting sets that contribute to the suspense, almost too large and too perfect to be inviting.

Continue reading A fan of the Alien franchise reviews “Prometheus”

A preview to Prometheus: looking back at the Alien franchise

After a month-long hiatus, I return not to miss the chance to talk about the upcoming release of Prometheus, marketed as a prequel of sorts to Alien, one of the most significant sci-fi thrillers of all-time and one of my favorite films.

Even though I count myself as a true fan of the franchise, especially of the first two installments, I have gathered the impression that there is a lot of skepticism about the continuation of the franchise, understandably so given that the last few attempts to revive it have been such a disappointment.

Continue reading A preview to Prometheus: looking back at the Alien franchise

Top 10 films of a Ten Year Old

Inspired by Dan from Top 10 Films, I decided to basically steal his post and contribute to the conversation by providing a list of the ten films I enjoyed the most when I was younger, approximately at age 10, circa 1995.

I think you will notice a ten year old trying to watch films that are deemed inappropriate for someone that age, often going around the watchful eyes of his parents to watch a horror film, or catch a glimpse of the latest monster or the latest adventure. The list is practically made entirely of blockbusters that were either a product of the 1980s and early 1990s.
With the exception of Child’s Play and Rocky IV, all of these films still remain close to my heart and I consider them extremely entertaining and well done to this day.

Here is my list:

10. Child’s Play (1988)

I was introduced to the famed franchise by my uncle who, after a day of looking after me, probably decided to take a breather and distract me with a movie, albeit not one that kids should watch. Child’s Play was probably one of the first R-rated films I watched. I especially remember how upset my mom was when she found out I had seen it, afraid it would give me nightmares.

Continue reading Top 10 films of a Ten Year Old

IMDB Top 250: The Thing (1982)

Carpenter

After a long hiatus I restart my blog with my tenth film review of my IMDB challenge: The Thing, released in 1982.

The Thing stars Kurt Russel in one of the most convincing roles of his career. He plays R.J. McReady, the charismatic leader of a pack of roughened-out American scientists locked away by snow and ice from any meaningful hint of civilization in a distant outpost in Antarctica. The film benefits from a very strong opening sequence that shows us a Siberian dog running for its life as two men in a helicopter seem determined to end its life. As with the rest of the opening third of the film, the first few scenes are permeated with an ominous atmosphere that fills the screen with a sense of doom that is rarely as effectively delivered as it is in this film.

Despite the vastness of the environment, the film feels incredibly claustrophobic. The almost constant snowstorm that cuts all communication with the outside world serves as the lock that keeps all of these men trapped inside a narrow ensemble of hallways and rooms that make up the scientists’ outpost. From the moment we are introduced to the dog desperately running away from a certain death, we know that there is something off with this picture and that whatever it is come, it would have to be confronted in this limiting setting, where escaping is impossible. There is, as a result, a sense of unavoidable doom that inhabits every room and corridor. There is always a presence lurking among the men and even after we discover what it is, the very nature of this unexpected visitor keeps us guessing for who its next victim will be. It is never a matter of if it will happen, but a matter of when.

Having pointed out some of the most prominent features of the film, some sci-fi fans might be able to see a striking similarity to Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece: Alien. While Carpenter’s film does borrow a lot from the famous sci-fi thriller, which certainly undermines the raw artistic value of the piece, the director makes it his own by successfully reinterpreting the concepts and ideas elegantly used by Ridley, while introducing new elements that still made it feel fresh and nerve-wracking. While Alien is helped by incredibly convincing special effects for the time in which it was filmed, The Thing lacked, even 3 years later, the sleekness of its predecessor. In this sense, The Thing comes out as more of an unfinished material that is odd, gory and awkward all at the same time.

However, what the film lacks in intricacies and richness of detail, The Thing makes up for it with a sense of realism that is almost exclusively the merit of the unpolished look of the film. While the creature’s appearance is not altogether convincing, the circumstances these men find themselves in seem genuine.The characters we see on camera are far more relatable than those we see in Alien. These are not nerds or cowboys of a distant future, these feel like average Joe’s that are trapped in this impossible situation none of them could have avoided. It is this sense of impending doom that the film so effectively generates that keeps you at the edge of your seat throughout.

There are, as in other Carpenter films, several cheesy lines and cliches that hinder the overall effect of the movie. However, Carpenter does an awesome job at building a highly suspenseful and atmospheric environment that does wonders for the film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Niels

Film review: Skyline (2010)

There are some movies that are just awful, lacking any redeemable qualities to be appreciated at any level. Skyline, released as the latest incarnation of the Alien invasion movie sub-genre, is certainly one of the truest examples I can remember of utter mediocrity.

I came across this disastrous movie on a night of boredom, lacking the drive to find something original to do and even with the knowledge that the film I was about to rent had received dismal reviews from critics and viewers. However, I decided to give it a chance not only in a desperate attempt to relieve my boredom, but also because it is almost always possible (but not in this case) to find something of value within a film that most people deemed as terrible (no two minds think alike !)

Having past the first five minutes of the movie, Skyline had already lost me. The film begins midway in the story only to take us back, as many other movies do, to the events that led to the moment we first witnessed. It turns out that it was important for a movie lacking any credible emotional or rational substance to try to establish the setting or back-story for lifeless characters we end up not caring about. It could have actually worked better if the film-makers had just made a movie about Aliens killing humans we don’t know the names of. As it turns out, I was relieved that the Aliens were clearly winning and that the characters presented to us were being eliminated swiftly and without much opposition.

Movies such as these do not fail because they lack the funding (Skyline was made for a quite modest $ 10 million) to support the usual grandeur that such a genre tends to require, they fail because they try too hard to be grand and accomplish many things, failing miserably in every level. In addition, we have seen that Sci-fi films about aliens or UFOs can be made for relatively small budgets and accomplish good results, which was the case of the original Alien, District 9, 12 Monkeys and many other great films.

Rating: 1 out of 5 (very bad)

Niels

IMDB Top 250: Blade Runner (1982)

My mission to watch all of the TOP 250 films listed in the IMDB site (as of March 22nd) has officially begun.

In picking the first movie of the long list of 124 films that still await to be viewed, I chose one of the few that I have always been interested in watching but never quite had the opportunity to do so. The movie is Blade Runner, released in 1982. It was directed by Sir Ridley Scott, who is also known for other great movies like Alien, Thelma & Louise and Gladiator. The film stars Harrison Ford, who was still at his prime having already been immortalized by his roles as Indiana Jones and Hans Solo in Star Wars.

It is clear from the very first scene (seen above) why this film is among the most influential motion-pictures ever made. Blade Runner relies heavily on the legacy of science fiction movies to create what was the most believable larger-than-life fictional environment in cinema’s history.

When analyzed from a purely visual perspective, Blade Runner takes many cues from Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”, conceived over 50 years prior. Both present us with a highly machinized society that thrives on monstrous corporations and social disparities. Blade Runner depicts its version of Los Angeles in 2019, a mere 8 years away now. The first picture we get is that of a heavily industrialized, dense, compacted city of unbelievable scale. As the film progresses, so does our impression of this future. We are taken from the calm, organized, clean and luxurious upper stories of the presumably gigantic Tyrell Corporation to a street level that is compacted, dirty, noisy, diverse and hectic in every way imaginable. Within a few minutes, Blade Runner explores topics that go beyond the central storyline. The movie offers a rather critical perspective of a world dominated by corporations where technology has not necessarily contributed to the betterment of life on Earth. The disparity of riches is apparent, and it is clear that the vast majority does not benefit from the extreme industrialization that the world has undergone.

As a person that is usually inclined to appreciate the visual before any other aspect of a film, I was perhaps devoting a lot more of my attention to the environment so skilfully depicted in the film than to the story itself. However, I believe this is exactly the intention of the director. The objective was not so much on the details that made up the plot, but rather on how this story would gain life within the unique environment that was created around it.

The movie communicated, like very few have, a sense of place. When you follow Harrison Ford, you get a sense you’re just another passerby in the busy streets of futuristic Los Angeles. We are offered with an “inside look” that simultaneously and continuously delivers a sense of chaos, of foul smells, of political and social decay.

It is to Ridley Scott’s credit that the overall success of the film was not severely hampered by the linearity and flawed storyline. However, if analyzed rigorously, we will find that the story lacks pace, where we find characters that seem to be a few revolutions behind the world around them. Such a discrepancy in forward-motion lessens the visual impact of the film but not the extent one would expect.

The storyline is not especially rigorous either. There is a lack of attention to detail that makes us care less about the conclusion to the plot and wonder more about what the rest of the city looks and feels like.

For the artistry behind the making of the film, Blade Runner is certainly one of the most finely crafted science-fiction movies I have ever seen (and one of the most influential), which is not to say it should be considered in any way perfect, or as great as some of its predecessors.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Niels