Alien: Covenant (2017)

There is an old parable about a man saving 18 months for a pair of shoes.  Another man saves longer for a nicer pair of shoes. One them is eaten by a bear.  That story may or may not have been told in Alien: Covenant.  I saw it 24 hours ago and honestly have no idea whether it was used in the movie or if I just dreamed it. Literally just dreamed it — I dozed off early this evening after a couple of Monkey Shoulders and just woke up with that hazy memory.

Which, I guess, is to say that I got more entertainment out of this fine moderately-priced scotch whiskey than I did out of a pair of movie tickets that cost about the same as the bottle.  My memory of the movie is already fading, so I have no right offering an opinion, or maybe that is the opinion.

I think most people, like me, went to the theater full of good will.  Sure, Alien III was dull and Alien IV was a fiasco.  Alien vs Predator might have had a slight guilty-pleasure vibe, but Alien vs Predator 2 killed that.  Then Prometheus . . . well, then Prometheus.  Never in history did a movie with such a spotty pedigree have people anticipating greatness.  This is like thinking, yeah, George Bush III, he’ll be the great one!

Still, it was directed by Ridley Scott.  You can’t take the original Alien away from him, and The Martian last year was great.[1]  His name, plus the promise of this being a lot more xenomorph-centric than Prometheus, and the absence of Damon Lindelof boded well.  Boded?

The thing that keeps coming back to me is a line from the great Plinkett review of The Phantom Menace.  This movie is about an old man [4] “shoving as much crap into each shot as possible.”  You can’t just have a simple computer display like MOTHER in the original — you must have a wholly impractical 3-D light-show.  You can’t just have a corporeal alien — it has to also be shown as choreographed black mist.[2]  You can’t just build suspense interspersed with a few earned jump-scares — you must use that god-awful choppy editing technique that no-one — literally not one person I’ve ever spoken to in my life  — likes. [5]  You can’t have the simple gritty claustrophobia of the Nostromo or the remoteness of an alien outpost — let’s throw in some rock-climbing and a scene of the world’s most over-praised robot playing John Lennon’s piano from the Imagine video.[6]

It might be a selective memory, but I have a feeling when I left the theaters, I could name every character in Alien & Aliens (except a few cannon-fodder Colonial Marines).[3]  Looking at the Alien: Covenant IMDb page, I remember Daniels, Tennessee, Oram (but no idea who he was), and the robots.  That’s it.  There was zero characterization to be found here.  Where were the working class guys like Parker and Brett?  The weasel like Burke?  The panicky guy like Hudson?  The grizzled tough guy like Apone?  Where is any character that is distinguishable from any other character?  Oh, Tennessee wore a wacky hat.  And was named Tennessee.  Any movie that makes me long for the acting skills of Bill Paxton is in trouble. At least he had a character, and I still remember him.  I guess it is not a coincidence that most of those characters were not in Scott’s Alien.

I get that you can’t just have a new group of people be slaughtered in every Alien movie; that would be as boring as any Friday the 13th movie (except X — Jason in space should have won an Oscar).  I understand new elements must be introduced to energize the story. You had to have the Dharma Initiative in Lost; the cast couldn’t spend 5 years on the beach hearing noises in the trees.  Lost might have been short on answers, but it understood you had to have interesting, definable characters.  Hey, maybe this needed Lindelof after all.

This is just a huge squandered opportunity.

Other Stuff:

  • [1] To be honest, it is best to overlook a lot of his films in between.  Blade Runner looked great, but people forget how deadly dull it is.  The rest of his resume is flirting with the Mendoza Line.
  • [2] Did they learn nothing from The X-Files?  Black Oil never works out well as a story-telling device.  Except in There Will Be Blood.
  • [3] Even ones I can’t picture, like Spunkmeyer and Wierzbowski — at least I remember dialogue using their names.  Hmmm to be fair, I have no idea who Private Crowe was.  And I always forget there was a 4th woman in the rescue mission.  Everyone in Alien: Covenant is that woman.
  • [4] Although, George Miller was 106 when he directed Mad Max: Fury Road, so it isn’t necessarily a function of age.
  • [5] And by the way, I don’t know if Ridley Scott invented it, but Gladiator is the first place I remember being annoyed by it.  The technique is objectively crap.  It is the worst kind of crap.  It is crap that is more difficult to produce than non-crap.  If it is cheaper, easier and more interesting to produce non-crap, what is the point?
  • [6] Mea Culpa: I just noticed on IMDb that the piano in the movie was black, not white.  However, in this case, being wrong further proves my point.

The Shallows (2016)

shallows1The Shallows almost immediately lost me when the main character apologized for being an American. It remained iffy with some out-of-place choppy editing (intermittent slo-mo) in an early surfing sequence — just jarringly awful.  However, the film quickly recomposed itself to be visually stunning and suspenseful.

Blake Lively is returning to the beach where her mother went when she was pregnant with Blake. Having not seen Touristas, Hostel, The Ruins, Jaws or basically any movie ever, Blake goes to the remote beach alone. She does not even have a car which might be spotted or reported missing.

She meets up with two locals and they ride the waves.  The landscape is beautiful and the surfing — awful editing aside — is great.  There is even a fun shot of the shark inside of the cresting wave.  I don’t know if it is aquatically accurate, but it is a nice visual.

The guys leave, but she just has to get one last ride in.  That is when the trouble starts. Without recapping the obvious, she is attacked by a shark.  However, the story does go places I’ve never seen and is never boring.  There is a B-story with her father that seems extraneous, but does give texture and closure to the story.  It might be a little perfunctory and cliche, but there’s a reason some things become perfunctory and cliche — they work.

Is the ending credible?  Is that even an issue?  Were the endings of any of the Jaws movies credible, even the first one?  Only the book had a credible ending and that was a complete bore.

This is Gravity in the water, but I don’t mean that as an insult.  A woman is alone, her companions killed, surrounded by a hostile unbreathable environment, can see home but can’t get to it, makes her way to “islands” of momentary safety grasping at any opportunity to survive, she wins by using her wits, and ends up exhausted on a beach.

Highly recommended.

Bonus points:  Blake Lively’s character is a woman rather than the usual immature Hollywood little girl, she is a medical student, she surfs, she clearly takes care of herself, she helped raise her little sister after their mother died, she is confident enough to go to this remote beach alone, she improvises sutures and bandages on a big-ass shark bite, she survives while the men die, she defeats the shark, and after her ordeal, she returns to surfing.

But some delicate snowflakes are saying it is exploitation because she wears a bikini to the beach, and applies sunscreen.

Mission Impossible – Rogue Nation

missionimpossible501As usual, my lousy memory prevents me from getting too detailed, but a few observations:

My usual routine is to arrive at a movie 10-15 minutes late to avoid the too-loud, spoilery, misleadingly-cut trailers.  Lately they have been running an absurd 17 to 20 minutes. However, at both this movie and and Edge of Tomorrow (also starring Tom Cruise) last year, there have only been 5 to 10 minutes of trailers. Does Tom Cruise have that much power?

I was immediately not crazy about the opening arrangement of the iconic score, however, patriot that I am, something else disturbed me more.  Movies’ interminable production companies and logos are getting very tedious.  In the first few seconds of the film, I was presented with China Movie Channel, Alibaba Pictures Group, and Alec Baldwin — all three names have the connotation of hair-trigger hatred of Americans.  I have never heard of these companies, they might be perfectly fine fellows.  Seriously, Baldwin is a dick, though.

Just one more complaint:  It really is a great scene (that has been spoiled to death in marketing) where Tom Cruise is hanging off the side of the plane.  And make no mistake, it is thrilling not because it is Ethan Hunt, but because it is Tom Cruise — this has nothing to do with acting.  This guy knows how to put on a show.  That’s not the complaint.

No, once Cruise gets into the plane — as you knew he would — he finds himself discovered by a guard.  Defenseless against the armed soldier, he always finds a way — he pulls the parachute deployment handle, pulling him and the canisters of toxic gas out of the back hatch of the airplane.  What really bugged me was that we literally get about one frame of the crate moving toward the back of the plane, then cut to credits.  Blink and you’ll miss it.

No shot of him clinging to the crate as it falls, no shot of him standing triumphantly on top of it after the parachute deploys?   Seemed like some great potential shots wasted there.

Other than that, excellent.

The Gift (2015)

gift01And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together[1].

In Arrested Development, Jason Bateman (Simon) was a master in his reactions to the other actors — always perfectly tailored to the other character and the situation, not lazily falling back on stock responses — the exact opposite of “walking through a part.”

In the 20 years since high school, his character Simon has also been a master at moderating his responses; so well that he has hidden his true face from his wife for their for their entire life together.

Simon has moved with wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) back to his hometown in California hopefully to get a national sales position with an electronics security firm. Despite his line of work, it never occurs to him to install some security cameras around the house once things start getting a little weird.

While stocking up at a fancy housewares store, he is awkwardly approached by Gordo, an old high school acquaintance.  Since Gordo is ultimately revealed to be something of a loser, his presence in Bed, Bath and Beyond His Price Range is a little odd.  In fact, the meeting does not entirely feel coincidental, but it is presented as such.

Simon never uses the phone number that Gordo gave him at BB&BHPR, but Gordo does leave a house-warming gift on their front steps.  They feel obliged — or mostly Robyn does — to invite him over for dinner to share the wine.  It is expectedly awkward, and not because it was a bad vintage.

After an unannounced visit when Simon is at work one day, Robyn feels obligated to invite him in for tea.  The next day, Robyn sees that Gordo has sneakily left another gift at their doorstep — a bag of fish food.  She looks down and sees that he has also stocked their new koi pond.

Still not getting the message, Gordo invites Simon and Robyn to his house for a dinner party.  Simon is ready to cut Gordo off, but Robyn persuades him to at least attend the dinner.  It begins oddly, first as they are shocked to see Gordo’s residence is of Kennedyesque proportions down to including a steel gate to prevent escapees; then as they are told the other couple supposedly had to cancel at the last minute; and Gordo admits he is divorced — so it is just the three of them again.

After more weirdness, Simon has had enough and orders Robyn to the Batemobile[2] while he tells Gordo that they are not going to be BFFs.

At that point, despite an effective cloak of awkwardness over the whole movie thus far, the plot really starts into motion.  The koi fish are found belly-up and the dog is missing. Simon immediately suspects Gordo (rather than the more obvious canine fishkiller) and calls the police.  It did take me out of the picture when one of the detectives was Detective Bunk Moreland from The Wire.  It was just a dumb casting choice — like if they had cast Peter Falk as police detective, you would think “Why is Columbo here?” Then “Isn’t he dead?”

It becomes a bit of a cat and mouse game between Simon and Gordo, with Gordo losing a bit in each encounter even when he appears to win.  Slowly Robyn learns what a bully Simon had been in high school, what he did to Gordo, and that he really hasn’t changed all that much.  He is still able to manipulate and ruin lives without a second of remorse.

He refuses to take responsibility for the lies about Gordo 20 years ago that nearly led to his death, and he has the Clintonian mind of a sociopath, running background checks on people and keeping them hidden on a secret server in a locked desk drawer to be used at opportune (i.e. blackmail-friendly) moments.

Simon’s deceptions and false face crumble piece by piece so effectively, that you almost feel sorry for him.  Especially given the ultimate gotcha that Gordo springs on Simon.

This was a great small movie that I had heard nothing about, and went in completely blind.  Writer / Director Joel Edgerton performed admirably in all capacities.  But maybe he really is a creepy guy, so I can’t comment on his range.

Some people say that Rebecca Hall was given just another woman’s do-nothing role “as usual” in Hollywood.  This is just the standard whining.  Her role is fine, and the movie is really the tug-of-war between the two men.

Surprisingly good stuff.


  • [1] Much as I love Arrested Development, I never understood why he “had no choice but to keep them all together.”
  • [2] Ha!  Bateman and Robyn!
  • I’m normally a fan of short hair, but Rebecca Hall really needed to grow it out a bit.

Terminator Genisys (2015)

Image 001Where to start?  Where to stop?  That’s kind of the film’s problem too.

I couldn’t take notes in the theater or rewind to catch anything I missed, so this pretty bare bones.

Arnold – Great!  They were smart not to try to make him look 30 years younger.  I was disappointed, though, that they didn’t find some way to have Bill Paxton play one of the punks again.  Or Brian Thompson.  They probably could have picked up the 3rd guy pretty cheap.

John Connor – Played by Jason Clarke.  Didn’t like him in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, don’t like him here.  He is this year’s (and this Terminator’s) Sam Worthington.  He was tolerable in the future, but when he got to present day, he was awful.  I’m willing to say part of that is because his character arc was so ludicrous (nay, blasphemous!), and the action scenes were tedious.  The metal shavings bit could have been fun, but was derivative of T3, and just not well staged.

Sarah Connor – Played by Emelia Clarke who is on my shit list.  Game of Thrones made her a famous millionaire star and now she’s too good to do the nude scenes? Ironically, it is her hesitation to “mate” that provides some of the film’s few laughs. She is adequate here, although she is no Linda Hamilton or Lena Headey.  I can see her as an alternate timeline version of the waitress in T1, but she didn’t have the benefit of 20 years to prepare in that universe.  In this timeline, she had 20 years to prepare, and with a real Terminator, but she lacks the attitude and gravitas of T2 Sarah.  This is the woman who has been training 20 years for this day?

Kyle Reese – Played by Jai Courtney.  I can’t blame him for the shitfest that was Die Hard 5, but I can say he was such a non-entity that I can’t remember a single scene or line from him in that fiasco.  Hell, I saw Terminator Genisys yesterday and can say the same thing about him in that.  He and Aaron Taylor-Johnson from Godzilla must be from some new charisma-free school of acting.  Tobias Fünke honed his craft better at the Method One clinic.

J.K. Simmons – Great, basically playing the Dr. Silberman role.  Except this time he is trying to be part of the solution.  Or maybe just because they’re both bald.

Sadly, the only things that resonate in this movie are callbacks to the first two.  Even throwaway shots like the garbage man chomping on his cigar before the first time transport, Kyle’s feet slowly touching the ground in his new Nikes, the T-1000 incorporating a stray piece of his liquid metal into his body — they will be remembered long after the cartwheeling bus.

But mostly it is Arnold that saves the movie.  He is older for a legitimate reason, he has made slight progress in his humanity, and they gamely try to go for a “not obsolete just because you’re old” theme but don’t quite make it.  His T-800 is blatantly, yet improbably, set up for a sequel here, but where can they possibly go now that they have screwed things up so badly in this one? By the time we get to the third act, the nostalgia has been milked, the timeline is a mess, we are uninterested in the god-awful characters, and the action is just boring.

Reading a few other reviews, what strikes me is the lack of respect many have for T3. That was a fun, solid movie, even in spite of Nick Stahl and Claire Danes being grossly miscast.  Kristanna Loken as the Terminatrix, however, was every bit as good as Robert Patrick in T2.

Even better, and unmentioned in most reviews was The Sarah Connor Chronicles with Lena Headey in the titular role, and Summer Glau as another Terminatrix.  Say what you will about those hunter-killers . . . they can turn out some smokin’ product.

Headey made for a perfectly believable extension of Sarah Connor, despite lacking the natural resemblance that Emelia Clarke has.  Glau was great as the Terminatix, but sadly, they once again missed the boat on casting John Connor.  He was just too whiny and had a horrible haircut (seriously, it was awful enough to affect the quality of the show).  The writing seemed to go downhill in season 2, so maybe it was best to end it there.

Terminator Salvation — don’t remember a single frame.  I think a motorcycle came out of a robot leg or something.

I’ll probably give Terminator Genisys another chance on Netflix someday.  However, I own T1, T2, T3 and just bought Blu-Ray of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  I don’t see me ever purchasing T4 or T5, even in the $5 bin.  You are Die Hard 5 to me.


  • Robert Patrick and Michael Biehn were missed.
  • This might be the first incarnation of Terminator where Danny Dyson isn’t sent to his bedroom.  And WTF is Joe Morgan as Miles?
  • Arnold’s “upgrade” in T5 immediately reminded be of the nanite-driven upgrade of Jason Voorhees in Jason X (Jasonnnn innnn Spaaaaaaaace!).  I’m not a fan of the series, but Jason X is a vastly underrated hoot.
  • C’mon Spellcheck, I type nanite, and you want me to change it to Canaanite?  Well, they were also waiting for J.C. so maybe it fits.