Tag Archives: franchise

ALIEN: COVENANT

“…a film that tries far too hard to be everything for everyone, and consequently, on balance, falls short in all departments.”

Wayward Wolf.

Oh how I long for simplicity.

There are a handful of set pieces within Alien: Covenant that hint at what a decent film it could have been, but so buried are they within an over-cooked, rambling backstory, that any impact they may lend the film is fleeting, to say the least.

It was Ridley Scott who took charge of the much-hyped, but ultimately quite frankly poor, Prometheus, and in Alien: Covenant, he once again looks to rediscover a bit of that old Alien magic in the latest chapter of this most patchy of franchises.

Sadly, long gone it seems are the days when we cowered in horror and bit our nails down to the bone in fearful awe of the most excellent Alien, not to mention it’s excellent James Cameron-directed sequel, Aliens. Whilst Alien: Covenant does have its moments, it’s a very pale imitation of what’s preceded it.

Another 2017 release, Life, made no pretence to be anything other than something of a homage to some of the great science fiction films of the last half century, yet despite its relatively unoriginal concept(s), it delivered a tight, neatly packaged and thoroughly entertaining finished product with both considerable impact and laser-sharp precision.

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant, in contrast, struggles somewhat for identity. There’s clearly an ‘epic’ vision at play behind the scenes here. The director tries manfully to engage his audience on far more of an expansive scale and cerebral level than simply throwing rampaging aliens in numbers at unsuspecting space travellers (although there’s plenty of that to be getting on with), but the general impression is that this is a film that tries far too hard to be everything for everyone, and consequently, on balance, falls short in all departments.

Part thriller, part thought-provoking science fiction piece, part action-packed white knuckle ride, part philosophical lament, you name it, this is a film that struggles gamely yet ultimately fails to weave these and other disparate threads together into something resembling a coherent whole.

Alien: Covenant is not helped by both momentum-sapping, drawn-out scenes of unnecessary ponderous self-reflection, and by fairly weak characterisation.

Although Michael Fassbender (playing both David & Walter) and Katherine Waterston (Daniels) turn in strong performances, and as whole-heartedly as all other parts are played, there’s something of a disconnect here between viewer and character, and I doubt that there will have been too many tears shed by the viewing public as the cast are predictably whittled down in number via various grisly means, leaving the remaining few to battle it all out in overly exaggerated bloated fight sequences.

Where Alien: Covenant does however score highly, is in the ‘memorable, hard-hitting set pieces’ department. Indeed, never let it be said that Ridley Scott doesn’t know how to shock, or to sear disturbing imagery into our collective grey matter.

There are certain franchises that tend to garner a generous tidal wave of goodwill regardless of the true quality of their output, attracting something of a blinkered, head-in-the-sand devotion by the masses. The Alien franchise is one such example. But the truth is that there have been just two truly excellent Alien films in the series, and the rest, no matter how much you dress them up, or who’s been pulling the strings, have largely been regurgitated re-hashes of the original, admittedly excellent concept.

There’s no doubt that there were good and very grand intentions behind Alien: Covenant – this is a film not without its positives, rest assured – but it’s probably all  best summed up by the rather sign-posted ‘twist’ at the film’s conclusion. Well executed, but rather predictable and ultimately all a bit unnecessary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: The girl with all the gifts

The zombie genre has undergone a metamorphosis or two over the years. From Romero’s seminal Night of the living dead, and the succession of thought-provoking sequels that it spawned, to the grisly, elongated soap opera of AMC’s The Walking Dead and its various spin-offs, right through to the re-imagined ‘crazed’ warp-speed zombies of the 28 Days Later franchise. Each of these well known offerings – and pretty much everything in-between for that matter – whilst differing stylistically, essentially all tell the same story of man’s struggle against the undead in the ultimate game of survival.
It must be a tough task to bring something new to the zombie table with most avenues seemingly explored and exhausted by now, but The girl with all the gifts (TGWATG) – Colm McCarthy’s adaptation of Mike Carey’s book and screenplay of the same name – is an attempt to do just that with a slightly different take on things.
A predominantly military set of survivors are holed-up in a secure base. Here, their collective mission is quite simple: attempt to create a vaccine in order to combat the fungal illness that has afflicted the brains of the population, turning society into a land of flesh-eating ‘hungries’.
Glen Close (Dr. Caroline Caldwell), is convinced that she is just days away from finalising an effective vaccine through her work harvesting what she needs from a selection of subjects. These subjects happen to be children, and not only that, but children who possess an innate partial immunity to the illness. These are the second generation of the infected. Born to infected parents, they exhibit all the traits of normal children, until provoked that is, be that through hunger or ‘the wrong’ external stimuli.
For everybody’s safety they are therefore kept in underground cells, released daily only to attend their schooling, and even then, only once securely restrained; strapped into wheelchairs, at gunpoint.
Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton), is the children’s teacher and very obviously the only person to treat them with anything approaching a level of human kindness. To the others they are functional pawns in a necessary game of survival.
One girl in particular, Melanie (Sennia Nanua), a highly intelligent and valuable ‘asset’ to the camp, forms a particularly strong bond with Helen, but when the base’s defences are finally breached by the sheer weight of hungries at the perimeter fence, a sequence of quick-fire circumstances leads to Melanie being whisked away from the compound in an armoured vehicle, accompanied by Helen, Dr. Caldwell, Sgt. Eddie Parks (Paddy Considine), and a couple of other members of the military.
Alive but shaken, they must all now fend for themselves on the outside.
Much like many a zombie film, the group will need to navigate the extraordinarily dangerous challenges that exist outside the safety of their previous home, but unlike many of its contemporaries, TGWATG conjures up a scenario in which the group must contend with the level of unknowns that Melanie’s presence offers. A necessary evil, if you like. Disabled from biting by strapping a perspex mask to her face, it’s no longer a case of what danger Melanie represents, but more a case of what use she can be to aid them in their quest.
McCarthy’s film is one which produces a number of interesting observations. The importance of having respect and empathy for both those we know and understand, as well as for those that perhaps we don’t. The advantages of developing symbiotic relationships in order to maximise our chances of survival, and then, perhaps most importantly of all, in light of a new, more advanced second generation of the infected, the question is posed: Is it more important for ‘man’ to preserve his way of life at all costs, or is man’s life in fact worth no more than this new domineering force of the land that has now arisen – the hungries.
It’s a good set up, and a story that has substance and forces the viewer to think in ways that perhaps one wouldn’t expect to do when dealing with this particular subject matter. On that basis alone, TGWATG deserves a lot of credit.
Disappointingly though, it’s a film that, on balance, struggles to deliver an end product  worthy of the book’s innovative concepts.
For a book that centres so crucially upon the role of children in this harsh new world, it’s a little surprising therefore that it’s actually once TGWATG introduces scenes in its latter stages containing any number of feral, conniving youths – think Lord of the Flies meets the cast from Oliver – and indeed once Melanie really takes centre stage and begins to exert her influence on proceedings, that the film noticeably loses impact, and all levels of tension and foreboding that have been carefully-nurtured up until this point, quickly dissipate.
And then there’s that ending. As absurd as it is clever. An accomplishment that I imagine wasn’t actually McCarthy’s intention. See for yourselves. Make up your own minds. In all honesty, I still can’t decide.
It all leaves a bit of a sour taste in the mouth. There’s nothing particularly wrong with the performances that you can put your finger on. The effects are convincing enough and it’s hard to think of anything that leaps out at you as being overly-naff or in any way contrived. I suppose the kindest way to look at it is that TGWATG is just simply a film that runs out of puff. It fails to sustain that crucial level of intensity and credibility for that matter, and exhibits too many awkward moments of clunkiness as it limps unconvincingly towards its rather ambivalence-inducing conclusion.

FILM REVIEW: Blair Witch

The Blair Witch ‘franchise’ has thus far followed a familiar pattern; a genuinely ground-breaking original, a predictably dire sequel – Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 – in which every single positive aspect of the original was extracted and discarded, and now this, the third instalment: Blair Witch.
It’s a film that, to a certain extent at least, seeks to get ‘back to basics,’ attempting to recapture the essence of what it was that made the first film such a refreshingly original horror, way back in 1999.
The whereabouts of the original bunch of young folk that disappeared, having foolishly set foot into the woods in search of the Blair Witch, has by all accounts mystified many for years. None more so than James (James Allen McCune), the younger brother of one of those that originally vanished, Heather, whom he’s convinced he spots in some creepy video that’s been uploaded onto the internet. This footage was apparently discovered, discarded in those infamous woods, by Lane (Wes Robinson), a slightly odd character who lives with his girlfriend, Talia (Valorie Curry).
Racked by curiosity and still harbouring hopes of finding Heather alive, James, together with his girlfriend, Lisa (Callie Hernandez), and a couple of their friends, tracks down Lane, who, on the proviso that both he and Talia may tag along for the adventure, agrees to escort James and his group into the woods and show them exactly where it was that he discovered that abandoned video tape.
Though dubious of whether they can trust Lane and Talia, they all reluctantly agree to the proposition, and into the woods they go…
First and foremost, it should be said that Blair Witch, on the surface at least, is a very routine horror run-out. A few classic horror ‘devices’ are thrown about which serve to ramp up the fear factor sufficiently, and to provide a number of irritating obstacles which hamper the group’s best laid plans and actions. We’ve certainly been there and seen its kind before.
Based upon such a luke-warm summary alone, Blair Witch won’t get too many pulses racing, but, perhaps unwittingly even, it’s a film that has an unusual ace up its sleeve – technology.
Admittedly, this could also be a point of irritation to many, as our intrepid explorers – they of ‘the generation that can’t leave their fekkin’ gadgets alone for even a minute’ – spend many a scene either engrossed in an assortment of illuminated screens or fiddling about with operating buttons and switches, but it’s in the use of this plethora of mobile phones, GPS systems, walkie-talkies, digital video cameras, miniature bluetooth cameras clipped to ears, and even a small flying drone device, that director Adam Wingard ensures that maximum video coverage of the events that unfold, is attained – remember, this is a film compiled from nothing but the group’s own personal footage.
Visual footage is one thing, but the act of switching on and off, combined with the cutting in and out of reception of the aforementioned gadgets, adds considerable jarring digital distortion and static noise into the mix. These decibel-heavy sudden bursts of grating sound are used repeatedly – almost to the point of overkill – but to often startling, dramatic effect by Wingard.
Add to these a whole array of thuds, rumbles, creaks, shrieks and screams that emanate, out of sight, from within the forest, and given the general low visibility of the night, Wingard’s sonic assault on our senses really does prove key here to achieving a truly disturbing experience, to say the least.
 As the film develops and the tension levels are augmented, there is a growing sense of uncertainty and confusion amongst the group. Combined with the gathering realisation that Lane and Talia perhaps cannot be trusted after all, and not to mention the bizarre sense of both time and place rapidly becoming warped and displaced, Blair Witch takes us into a truly messed-up, rather hexed dimension, beyond that which we’ve experienced in either of the previous outings.
It’s well-paced and increasingly alarming, and in fact it takes Blair Witch right until the closing act before it arguably finally falls over its own broomstick.
Ramping up the energy and the claustrophobic levels of confusion to almost demented levels by this point, Wingard conjures up an increasingly disorientating experience for the viewer. Intermittent flashes from an excessive lightning storm offer brief glimpses of both the members of the group – who by this point have disappeared and are exhibiting peculiar behaviour in varying states of distress – and, interestingly, glimpses of the Blair Witch herself.
Yes, all this chaos does indeed achieve moments that are genuinely disturbing, but there’s a sense that ultimately the whole thing begins to ‘get away’ from Wingard by this point in this crazy melee of loud noise and visual carnage, like some sort of desperate attempt to spin more and more plates over a greater and greater distance.
 The need or desire to throw more and more – both visually and sonically – at the screen, is certainly one approach to the heightening of terror levels, but as ever, one senses that less would have been more.
If anything it takes the sheen off a film which, whilst no game-changer, is up to that point, as good a horror sequel as you could realistically hope to expect.
In its favour though, Blair Witch refuses to offer any sense of resolution, leaving many an unanswered question in its wake – primed, no doubt, for a further instalment of this most ‘marmite’ of franchises.
Whether this is a good thing or not remains to be seen…
It is unsurprisingly not quite up to the standards of the original. It has a tendency to get just a little clunky in places, but considering the whole Blair Witch phenomenon is now thoroughly well-trodden territory, it was always going to be on a bit of a hiding to nothing.
Let it be said though, Blair Witch makes an admirably good fist of things in its bold attempt to recapture some of the original film’s magic. I’d be surprised if it doesn’t successfully manage to get back on-side many of the franchise’s original fan base, whilst simultaneously convincing a whole new generation of its considerable worth as a genuinely frightening horror concept; and that, ladies and gentlemen, comes as both a pleasant surprise, and should be considered a thoroughly laudable achievement.

 

FILM REVIEW: Jason Bourne

I was a little late familiarising myself with the Bourne films, and despite the fourth instalment having passed me by to date, like many of you, having finally seen the original trilogy, the prospect of a further fifth chapter with the franchise’s original star, Matt Damon, on board, was something to get excited about.

The series of films that came out of nowhere and gave the Bond legacy a good kick up the rear end, is back. But does it deliver?

Against the odds, I have to say – I wasn’t at all disappointed.

Why ‘against the odds’ you cry?

My heart so often sinks when a film company releases a sequel, in this case to a whole series of films that have all delivered superbly thus far at a higher certification, yet suddenly deems it necessary to lower a film’s rating, and in turn our expectations, by adopting the all encompassing, bums-on-seats death knell that is 12A; so often the tell-tale sign of a film company’s big sell-out in their panic to recoup a hefty initial outlay.

Thankfully, Jason Bourne is directed in a manner that’s sympathetic to the core attributes that made its predecessors such a hit. Its a film whose only real concession to the lowered rating is to restrain itself from the overly-gratuitous, and to any scenes of over-the-top, in-your-face violence. The grit, realism (to a point) and suspense remains and is layered on thick and fast.

As ever, Bourne is up against it. This time he’s targeted by the CIA for both his part in past misdemeanours (when at the behest of the CIA), and through his new association with Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), a computer hacker who, acting on behalf of a whistle-blower, seeks to expose truths about -amongst others – the highly sensitive CIA operation, Treadstone. Consequently the pair find themselves on the run, pursued by an assortment of CIA goons and assets – with one particularly determined assassin, played by Vincent Cassell – hell bent on bumping them off, lest the truth should come out.

Needless to say, Bourne isn’t coming quietly.

As the  chase intensifies, stark truths about Bourne’s past and the death of his father come to light, galvanising his resolve to see justice done.

It’s all high-octane fun with some genuinely riveting chase and fight sequences, well choreographed and impressively executed.

This, together with a good cast – Tommy Lee Jones is CIA Director Robert Dewey and Alicia Vikander plays Heather Lee – and the creation of a convincing, over-riding sense of suspense that director Paul Greengrass does well to sustain throughout, makes Jason Bourne a surprisingly decent effort.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly new here, and certainly no re-writing of the genre or benchmark-setting for the future, but much as with the Bond franchise, that’s not necessarily important.

If you’re a fan of mainstream quality, gritty espionage thrillers, this should hit the mark.

 

 

FILM REVIEW: Deadpool

 

 

Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) is a bit of a messed up anti-hero. An ex-special forces, now mercenary idiot who, through a combination of charm and wise-cracks just about masks the unsavoury deeds he performs and the rather unsavoury character that he actually is.

On discovering that he’s been stricken with terminal cancer, he has a life or death decision to make. Does he remain stoic in the face of the inevitable and see out his final days alongside his sweetheart, Vanessa, (Morena Baccarin), or does he sneak away and take up the bizarre proposition that’s been offered to him by ‘the recruiter’ (Jed Rees), to undergo some bizarre experimental procedure to be cured of his cancer, whilst simultaneously adopting super-human powers in the process?

With the latter option a formality, he quickly wishes he’d not bothered as the procedure is particularly gruelling to say the least. Things are not helped with it being performed with unnecessary relish by the sadistic Ajax (Ed Skrein), leaving Deadpool with total face and body disfiguration.

A few explosions and a bit of falling debris later, left for dead and understandably not a happy camper, Deadpool vows revenge on his tormentor and thus a rather large amount of carnage commences…

There’s really not much more to Deadpool than that. There’s much CGi wizardry , some additional super-human characters join the fray attempting to keep Deadpool on the straight and narrow, and a larger than average body count piles up in savage fashion.

Shackled by such a dead-end plot, the film really hedges its bets on Ryan Reynolds’ lead character as he cracks one-liner after one liner and attempts to rip up the Marvel hero rule book, poking fun at the nuts and bolts of the genre with great glee, albeit in considerably reverential fashion.

It’s fast-paced, it’s crude, it’s violent and it rattles off the gags at break-neck pace. Some hit the mark, but a fair amount whistle by, a good deal wide of the target. Above all though, it’s all annoyingly self-aware and smug in that ‘we’re going to rubbish our own scene before you have the chance to’ manner.

Ryan Reynolds, in a role that has a tendency to come across as a sort of vulgar Jim Carey – lite, is sufficiently amusing in places to just about pull this one out of the bag, but it really is nowhere near as amusing or clever as it thinks it is, or indeed needs to be. Add to this, there really are only so many gross-out gags and scenes of super-human characters pointlessly pummeling twelve bells out of each other to no avail in a sea of spurious CGi trickery, that you can watch before it borders on the boring.

Ultimately, the whole contrary, sending one’s self up approach has been done to death and more importantly, done far better than it is here.

There’s a point in the film when someone delivers some smart-arsed, glib comment suggesting that there’s a Deadpool film franchise to be made out of it all.

I dare say there is and almost certainly will be.

There are plenty of people that would whole-heartedly back that sentiment I’d imagine if the screening that I attended was anything to go by, but it’s a rare event for a sequel to ever top its predecessor and considering Deadpool is nothing to write home about at its best hit and miss, and at its worst, tiresome, I won’t be holding my breath for the next installment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FILM REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD

Jurassic World has no right to be good.

The original Jurassic Park, whilst quite standard fare in its plot and construction, had the wow factor of CGi dinosaurs, not to mention the direction of a certain Steven Spielberg and all that that brings to the party.

It’s fair to say that CGi dinosaurs aside, the Jurassic Park dynasty had long since faded away as is the way of many dynasty following  a run of inferior sequels.

Here we are in 2015: Enter Jurassic World, a further, seemingly unnecessary chapter in a franchise long since past it’s best. Or is it?

I’m not sure what provoked this fourth Dinosaur-fest, but it’s here and it’s actually rather good.

Spielberg is on board, albeit in an executive producers role, whatever that may entail. It’s hard to know how much input he actually had in proceedings but Jurassic World has all the tell-tale signs of Spielberg’s tinkering, so either director Colin Trevorrow is a big fan of Spielberg, or the man himself has had a hands on role here, to some extent at least.

Jurassic World is a huge Dinosaur Kingdom and theme park situated on a remote Costa Rican island. It’s a Mecca for boat load after boat load of entertainment hungry tourists to indulge themselves within.

John Hammond’s original, ill-fated Jurassic Park may be consigned as a footnote in history, but the hunger for its content has ensured that this new shrine to the dinosaur has now been built in its place. There’s just one problem though; as the park’s director of operations (and the film’s leading lady) Claire (played with real savvy and attitude by Bryce Dallas Howard) says: and to loosely quote… “Kids these days consider seeing a Stegosaurus to be no different to seeing an elephant.”

There is of course a sad irony to this comment considering the rate at which elephants are being plundered for their ivory, something that will soon see their numbers far closer to the actual numbers of living Stegosauruses.

Essentially though, there’s an ongoing need for bigger, better and more exciting and with this in mind, the geneticists and the Kingdom’s enthusiastic, yet slightly misguided owner have created a savage, mutant DNA-fest of a creature to satisfy the public’s appetite.

Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) are brothers sent by their parents on holiday to Jurassic World. The idea is that Claire (who also happens to be their aunt), will spend some quality time with them, showing them around the place in a rare opportunity to bond with the nephews that she rarely sees; but Claire is far too busy in her business-centric world of pie charts, stats and spreadsheets and her assistant is therefore assigned the task of taking care of the boys. The boys give her the slip and with a marauding, hybrid dinosaur on the loose, that’s the cue for all manner of shenanigans to unravel.

Of course, all good blockbusters need a hero and Chris Pratt steps up to the challenge with aplomb, playing Owen, the park’s resident velociraptor whisperer. In his waist coat and exuding all manner of charm, one could be forgiven for drawing comparisons with another notable Spielberg hero of yesteryear; he just needs a whip and a hat.

Much as before, Jurassic World boils down to a familiar message of ‘don’t mess with nature or it’ll come back and bite you’, literally in this case, for telling the possible ramifications for mankind should he not take heed and resist his desire to control and be the master of all he creates or surveys.

Naturally, all of this is never going to end well and lessons will always be learned (and then of course forgotten once again it would seem, to keep those sequel gravy trains a’rollin).

Jurassic World is a story of Good guys, bad guys, misguided fools and a whole truck load of dinosaurs thrown, en masse at today’s attention span-light, hard to please generation.

I should be running like a squealing pig, pursued by a T-Rex from such formulaic output as this, particularly when you throw in the gratuitous product placement and the predictability and somewhat cliched nature of the plot, but in spite of everything, Jurassic World holds it’s own. It’s damned good fun, it’s damned entertaining and probably the best, big budget family blockbuster I’ve seen in many a long year.

Ok Hollywood, this time you’ve got me!

Well and truly sucked in!