Alien Covenant Review

“I’m really excited, I love the Alien franchise as much as you love Mad Max Fury Road & Dredd.” Wittered my scriptgremlin from underneath his rock. And, as I looked at him, his little face full of hope and expectation, I wondered what exactly he was basing this delusion on.

Because lets face facts, the last good Alien film was released in 1986. That’s 31 years ago! Since then we’ve had to deal with Alien 3, Alien: Resurrection, Alien Vs Predator, Alien Vs Predator: Requiem  and Prometheus. I seriously hope he wasn’t talking about Aliens: Colonial Marines. But maybe he was talking about the creatures numerous appearances in graphical novels? I mean wow has the xenomorphs gotten around in its life. As well as taking on the Predator, The Alien has taken on Superman, Green Lantern, Batman, Tarzan, Buffy, Archie, Star Trek: The Next Generation AND of course, my own beloved Judge Dredd.

None of these are regarded as classics and almost non of them are regarded as cannon within their own universes.

But hey, every 111 million dollar film directed by man who gave us 2010’s Robin Hood deserves to be looked at as it’s own entity. It’s own, mediocre, unsure of what it want’s to be so it winds up being a hybrid of Alien and Aliens.

I mean it, you’ve got your people answering a distress call and winding up dealing with the Xenomorph on a planet which is hopefully the birthplace of wherever the always superb Michael Fassbenders accent calls home, and then finish up the film back on board their spaceship which i’m pretty sure the people from Space 1999 would like back at some point.

And as this is an Alien film, allow me to introduce out not-Ripley for the evening- the mono-named Daniel’s, portrayed by Fantastic Beasts star Katherine Waterston who for me seemed less like a woman finding her inner steel so that she could defeat one of the most deadly animals in the universe, than  a head girl trying to decide whether or not to tell the head teacher that someone keeps disliking her Instagram posts.

Your going to spot every twist from a mile away and resent every scene that doesn’t have Fassbender in. I mean everyone else is fine, but there’s no memorable lines or characters in the entire thing. Even my notes only refer to them as ‘redshirt’ ‘redshirt in hat’ and ‘cowardly redhsirt.’

It had some tense moments and some points where I was squirming in my seat and yes, the music was very impressive and unsettling and it did fly past fairly quickly and inoffensively but this could have been a much better film if there had been better and less dialogue, not telegraphed their plot twists in advance, had a lot more Fassbender and a lot less everybody else and realized that the xenomorph is supposed to be a practical effect that you don’t really see allowing your imagination to fill in the blanks and not a CGI creation. Especially not when the budget is running low.

It’s defiantly not the worst film I’m going to see this summer, but it’s certainly not the best.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to re-watch a 31 year old Vietnam metaphor.

My Score- If Nothing Else 

The Belko Experiment Review

It seems to me that grind-house films are having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. And in a way, I suppose that it was inevitable.

Because with the the ‘super blockbuster’ dominating the silver screen, it only make sense that the alternative is to go tiny. It can also be a good way for directors and actors to unwind after making a huge film. After all, if a 5 million dollar film flops in the woods, does anyone hear it?

Which brings me to today’s nasty little beast, The Belko Experiment, a blending of Battle Royale with corporate America, written by James Gunn (The director of both Guardians of the Galaxy films) and believe you me, it is a very nasty little piece of work.

One seemingly ordinary day,  80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and are ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.

Alliances are made and broken, people are driven to the edge of madness and beyond heads explode with gleeful abandon and it’s a pretty good, gory time.

The people react like people forced into this nightmare of a situation, some try to become better, some cower and others become monsters. It’s just a shame it all feels so empty.

I mean here was a golden opportunity to satirize cooperate dog-eat-dog mentality exporting workers around the world to save a buck, platitudes designed to hide gruesome truths and this film plays it straight for no real reason that I can work out.

I mean yes, its a good, gory ‘what would you do?’ film. Please don’t get me wrong on that point but I was hoping for something a little bit meatier. And also, for a tight, claustrophobic film I felt like it would have been better served to have been shot in real time, increasing the unrelenting tension and could have been done without very, very easily.

I would also have like the space to shrink over time. Again, this could have easily been done and could have lead to a tenser and more exciting film as the participants are forced to chose between suicide and fighting to the death.

But for what it was? Yeah, it passed 88 minutes harmlessly enough. I could have done with an extra ten minutes added to it and a bit more time developing the characters but it’s another good one to throw on the telly when you’ve got your friends over and you’ve had a few beers.

My Score- See It 

The Fate Of The Furious Review

Back in 2001, a low budget film called The Fast and the Furious was released onto a mostly indifferent public. It wasn’t a sequel or remake to either the 1939  mystery comedy film directed by Busby Berkeley.  Nor was it a sequel to  the 1955 American film noir starring John Ireland and Dorothy Malone. It was instead such a pallet swapped carbon copy of the 1991 cult classic Point Break that I’ve always been slightly confused as to why the lawyers never got involved.

The series pottered on for a few unremarkable sequels and then, one dark evening and probably after a small amount of ‘Columbian inspiration powder’ some executive somewhere Frankensteined this nearly extinct car franchise with Michael Bay and Several series of Top Gear, threw in a cast of varying genders, ethnicities and levels of acting ability, laughed madly as the lightning flashed and the (at time of writing) 9th highest grossing franchise of all time lurched from the table and out into the world.

Back to the 8th film in the franchise (numbers nine and ten are due to be released in  2019 and 2021 respectively) I paid my money, deactivated the parts of my brain that like developed charterers, logic, the laws of physics, gravity, the amount of damage the human body can take as we currently understand them, plots that make sense and why on Earth Dame Helen Mirren would be told to do her best Barbara Windsor impersonation. Or why Snake Plisken would be wasted as chief exposition and plot mover instead of as an actual character. And so hyped on on coke and popcorn I was…..

Slightly bored.

Lets start with the big issues, all of the big WOW moments in the film were spoiled in the trailers, meaning that when I did see them I was waiting to see what else the film had up it’s sleeve instead of enjoying the carnage on screen (According to insurance company InsuretheGap.com, the damage done onscreen through the stunts of the franchise would total more than $514 million across the first seven films.)

And when the film does have a fun car chase shot so competently that at times I could almost tell what was happening, the film would slow down for a dialogue scene giving the audiences time to catch their breath which sadly also means that we can start thinking at which point this film falls apart. This franchise works best when the audience is so drunk on spectacle and sugar highs that they can’t question almost every aspect of the film and leave with a good feeling. And that just doesn’t happen here.

It also doesn’t help that I could have removed every car chase/race out of this car racing racing franchise and it wouldn’t have impacted the film in the slightest.  It would have trimmed the run-time down from 136 minutes to maybe 120 but that’s no great loss.

Mind you, I did like the fight scenes and laughed more at the frankly ridiculous dialogue and characters moments than I have in some comedies. But the film never quite came together for me. It felt like a spy film with a few chases in rather than a car racing franchises.

Speaking of which,  Charlize Theron plays an amazing villain in Cypher a computer hacker who can do everything with computers that scriptwriters from 1994 thought that you could do with computers. She’s cool, calm, collected and is probably the best villain James Bond has never fought. She’s completely wrong for this franchise but she’s a really good villain in her own right.

Is Furious 8 a good film? Not really. It has too many slow moments, trying to develop characters that we don’t really care about who spout terrible dialogue whilst struggling to act. Its stunts have been seen too many times in trailers to be impressive. And even then, this franchise has done better It’s too long and despite a budget of 250 million feels like it somehow needed more.

My Score- Skip It. 

Ghost In The Shell Review

Ghost In The Shell is based on one of the most influential manga of all time (which I’ve never read) and one of the greatest anime films of all time (which I’ve never seen) and bearing that in mind, I have to ask- Do both of them resemble an uninspired remake of 1987 film classic Robocop?

I’m deadly serious- in a world where the government has either collapsed or become completely irrelevant, a person who was converted into a cyborg against their will fights systematic corruption inside their own corporation whilst under constant threat of being shut down or having their memories wipes whilst trying to work out where the machine ends and the human begins.

Hell there’s even a boss battle at the end against what might as well be ED-209.

But there’s none of the satire that made Robocop a classic, none of the epic violence that made this film stand out hell, there’s hardly any violence at all. The films 110 million dollar budget condemned it to a 12a rating which has limited what I imagine could have been several very exciting action scenes.

And as for the philosophical underpinnings about morality, memories defining us, what does it mean to be human and was the whitewashing controversy overblown? All the dialogue is so on the nose that I was quite surprised to find out that Christopher Nolan hadn’t ‘borrowed’ the script. Instead it turns out that Spielberg had the rights since 2008 and has resisted the urge to drown it in his trademark sugar.

The film is literally dark though- I think someone forgot to hire a lighting guy or decided to spend the lighting money on instead hiring the sides of more London busses.

They certainly spent money hiring a legendary director though- getting the one, the only… Rupert Sanders! Who has directed such timeless classics as Snow White and the Huntsman and… erm… literally nothing else. Good move there Dreamworks.

And naturally, for a film set in Japan, based off of Japanese source material  but with seemingly no Japanese involvement in either the writing, producing or cinematography, the whole thing seems to have been filmed in New Zealand. Which, did mean that the geishas featured in many of the films trailers wore physical full-head masks, created by Weta Workshop, modeled after Japanese actress Rila Fukushima. Even the opening or ‘exploding’ of the geishas’ heads was handled mechanically rather than by using CGI. Which would normally get a gold star from me but since they feature for about 10 seconds and everything else is bad CGI, I was just left wondering why they bothered putting so much effort into something that barely mattered.

There are some good things, the film has some gorgeous shots but since the film is based off of a manga i’m just going to assume that they were direct lifts rather from the source material rather than from originals from the Directors mind so no points from me there.

The characters are all stock and underdeveloped, with Scarlett putting in an amazing performance despite the inevitable whitewashing controversy that has followed this film around.But, in the words of   Mamoru Oshii (director of the original films) “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply … I can only sense a political motive from the people opposing it, and I believe artistic expression must be free from politics.”

Also, A female Japanese American writer, Yoshida, has written extensively about the transmutability of Major Kusanagi’s identity, and about the “racial mystery zone” that so much anime, including Ghost in the Shell, occupies. “Japanese audiences, unlike American audiences, don’t understand Motoko to be a Japanese character,” Yoshida writes. “Of course, it’s a different issue for Japanese Americans, who grew up forced to think about identity in a much more tactile way”.

According to Yoshida, “Japan is a nation of people who are almost 100% ethnically Japanese. Accordingly, the average Japanese citizen’s outlook on diversity is much less influenced by pluralism than the outlooks of many Asian Americans, who live in a country where popular culture rarely represents them well, if at all. Hence, many Japanese Americans may find Johansson’s casting in a Ghost in the Shell movie distressing, while native Japanese observers make nothing of it”

Because when asked Japanese  fans were surprised that the casting had caused controversy, as they had assumed that a Hollywood production would choose a white actress. They felt the appearance of the protagonist was immaterial due to the franchise’s themes of self-identity and the blurring of artificial and natural bodies.

Ghost In The Shell is a dull predictable 106 minute long slog with a few good performances and visual shots failing to save it from stagnation and being forgotten immediately. I have no idea why it was made or who it was made for and neither does anyone else from the state of the box office receipts.

My Score- Skip It 

Alone In Berlin Review

In 1940, a working-class couple in World War II-era Berlin, Otto and Anna Quangel, decide to resist Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, after receiving the news of the death of their only son. And they do so not with guns and bombs but with postcards of all things. (Ask your mum if you were born after 1998.)

And that really is the film. It simply one hour and forty three minutes of watching Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson (naturally giving amazing performances) wondering around Berlin leaving postcards telling people that Hitler is a rotter and they shouldn’t support him whilst being chased by Daniel Brühl’s policeman.

There are no gunfights, no car chases, no explosions. The film is definitely nothing like the daring-do boys-own adventures such as Where Eagles Dare. Instead the first film that comes to mind is All Quiet On The Western Front. There’s just this sense of determination. Of an ordinary couple engaging in what might seem to be a whimsical rebellion but is really the only way that they can rebel.

The performances are all excellent and it shows that whilst there were people living in Nazi Germany that were card carrying members of the Nazi Party there were brave people who tried to resist in small ways as well as those just trying to stay alive for another day.

I cannot understand why this film has released almost no publicity as it does deserve to be seen and has shown me that film can take a subject that I had thought done to death and show me a new way to look at it.

If you can find this and are in the mood for slow film about people trying to spread hope the only way they can then see this amazingly acted gem.

My Score- See It Now 

IMDB Message Boards

Like countless movie fans my Mecca is the Internet Movie Database (or IMDB as it’s commonly known) Pretty much any fact that I want to know about pretty much any movie in history ranging from what is La La Lands budget? To, did they really make a film with the tagline Unwittingly He Trained a Dolphin to Kill the President of the United States? (They did, it’s called The Day of the Dolphin and it was somehow nominated for 2 Oscars.)

And like many others, I’ve made a habit of checking the boards after viewing a film, reading up on the fan theories and narrative deconstructions or just checking to see if other people have similar opinions or why their opinions are different from mine and therefore completely wrong and irrelevant.

But as of the 20th of February I won’t be able to do that any more. Because from that date IMDB will be shutting down it;s message boards, claiming that it had “concluded that IMDb’s message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide”, and that the decision was “based on data and traffic”.

Essentially, they belive that the discussion has moved from the notice boards to social media.  And some outlets claim that IMDb’s assertion that the site no longer provides a “positive, useful experience” refers to those trolling the boards. US entertainment website the Wrap highlighted the recent example of Raoul Peck’s Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro being hit with a slew of negative and one-star reviews before its official release date as a tipping point. And you don’t have to wade far into the films’ boards to find them riddled with racist, ignorant and posturingly obtuse comments.

“IMDb say that the boards have been overtaken by trolls, but they could easily make it harder for people to troll, by hindering them creating multiple accounts.” User Dan L began an online petition to save the boards, currently at just under 10,000 signatures. He suspects the invocation of trolls is little more than a smokescreen. He believes the real reason is a combination of much lower user numbers than IMDb is publicising, and the way in which the boards and ratings are being exploited.

“They make bold claims such as 250 million monthly users worldwide. If IMDb really had 250 million users how come the movie with the most ratings, Shawshank Redemption, only has 1.7m votes? I don’t see how they can have 3.3% of the world’s population regularly using the site.”

And sadly, if shutting down the boards was an attempt to remove trolls then it’s failed miserably. Researching Patriots Day, I found that the user reviews are still up, and for every review of Patriots Day that was a genuine review of the film, I found three one-star reviews about how the bombings were an inside job. The swamp hasn’t drained, it’s just migrated.

I’m not going to pretend that IMDB’s message boards were completely perfect, there were threads that were sexist, racist and demeaning, and maybe they were getting quieter (which I don’t believe) but they were also a community of people who loved a particular film or actor as much as you did,or people who could explain why something that I was bumping my head on wasn’t a plot hole but instead just poorly explained.

But I’m going to miss them, troll infested and probably horrifically expensive to run as they are, they were a valuable resource and good source of knowledge.

But what do you guys think?

The Great Wall Review

I, Daniel Miles, Amateur Film Critic am delivering this review of my own free will and is in no way being written under duress.

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The Great Wall is the most expensive Chinese film ever made with a budget of $150 million dollars or one corrupt decadent capitalist Mad Max: Fury Road which is inferior to this cinematic masterpiece in every way.

And naturally as befitting a great story set in China, funded with Chinese Renminbi and directed by legendary Chinese director  Yimou Zhang it makes sense for the film to be filmed entirely in English and to star action legend Matt Damon, legendary hero of the not stagnant for fifteen years Jason Bourne franchise.

The very idea that this film follows the plot of The Last Samurai or  47 Ronin by seeming to utilize the white savior narrative is of course a complete fiction! For did Director Zhang Yimou not  state that Matt Damon was not playing a role that was intended for a Chinese actor, he further criticized detractors for not being “armed with the facts” and stated that:

In many ways ‘The Great Wall’ is the opposite of what is being suggested. For the first time, a film deeply rooted in Chinese culture, with one of the largest Chinese casts ever assembled, is being made at tentpole scale for a world audience. I believe that is a trend that should be embraced by our industry.

Besides, who would pay to see a movie headlined by Chow Yun Fat or Jet Li? And Jackie Chan is far too busy being a pop star infinitely superior to Frank Sinatra to appear.

As for this masterpiece itself, it notably makes use of an all CGI army of villainous monsters monster called the Taotie instead of lowering itself to practical effects which never look as good. And this gem from the Gods themselves in no way resembles a particularly wall centric episode of Game of Thrones. The fact that the Noble order appear to have the same morals, standards and requirements as the Nights Watch is purely coincidental. And besides! The Nights watch wear all black, whereas the Nameless Order is color coded for your convenience.

In a bid to make sure that Visual effects were spectacular, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) were held responsible and they made creatures that will stand the test of time and anyone who claims that they are already fake-looking is clearly wrong. Hell, Weta Workshop (who previously did Lord of the Rings) will contribute the practical effects (namely, weapons and props) to ensure a high quality film reminiscent of Hollywood productions.

The action scenes are superb, with the budget never being an issue regarding huge hordes of CGI monsters and sometimes coming into thrilling hand to monster combat.

And when in December 2016, users of film review websites Douban and Maoyan  (roughly equivalent to Rotten Tomatoes here in the West) disgracefully rated The Great Wall 5.4 out of 10, which is shamefully low for such a celluloid blessing. The Communist Party’s official media outlet People’s Daily  on December 28th was forced to publish an article on its website severely criticizing Douban and Maoyan for doing harm to the Chinese movie industry with their bad reviews. And it was sheer coincidence that that very same day, Maoyan took down its ‘professional score’ for The Great Wall.

 

I myself have no issue with awarding The Great Wall my highest rating and would not in my wildest dreams state that it has bland characters, a completely predictable plot full of deus ex machinas and average special effects with pretty medicore action. And that I can’t fathom why anybody would want to watch this whilst Disneys Mulan deals with similar films in a far superior way or that The Lego Batman Movie is still out and should be wached again.

Nope. Not. Me. Because like I said, I’m doing this review of my own free will and under no duress in any way shape or form.

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