Back in 2012, Ridley Scott attempted to revitalize his science fiction/horror Alien franchise with Prometheus. Despite having a star studded cast and a premise filled with intrigue, Prometheus left me (and tons of franchise purists) a bit dissatisfied. It was by no means a lousy movie, but it failed to answer many of its own questions and was also void of the horror elements that made the original films so suspenseful. Having heard all of the gripes back then, it’s only natural to expect Scott to right the wrongs of Prometheus with Alien: Covenant.
Taking place 10 years after Prometheus, this film follows the voyage of a ship on its way to colonize a new planet. After an on-board malfunction causes them to lose their captain, the crew decides to answer a distress call on a nearby habitable planet rather than re-enter cryogenetic sleep to reach their original destination. Little do they know, there are deadly alien creatures waiting to rip them apart upon arrival.
For the most part the crew (or inevitable victims if you’re familiar with the franchise) is intrinsically likable. Katherine Waterston does an amicable job as Daniels, the Covenant Captain’s widow and the film’s lead. She is humble and does a solid job conveying all the necessary emotions, but it’s admittedly difficult to distinguish the character’s personality from the previous film’s lead (Noomi Rapace). Danny McBride brings surprising emotion and southern charm to his role as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup do their best as the husband and wife duo entrusted to lead the crew after their captain’s untimely demise. Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise as Walter, a humanoid robot built by the expedition’s founder Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce in a cameo role). Just like in Prometheus, Fassbender’s performance is hauntingly magnetic and the film’s driving force.
It’s hard to truly delve into the problems and successes of Alien: Covenant without revealing heavy spoilers. But it is important to note that the film is a direct sequel to Prometheus. This not only means familiarity with the previous film is a must to understand much of Alien: Covenant, but it also makes the movie associate more with its underwhelming prequel than to the beloved first two films in the franchise. Just like in Prometheus, the true villain isn’t a terrifying alien and although there are still tons of creepy horror moments, the movie is more stomach churningly gruesome than it is outright scary.
The movie does deserve credit for making its characters a touch smarter than the ones in Prometheus (but only a slight touch) and unlike the previous installment, Covenant actually manages to answer more questions than it leaves on the table. But it still doesn’t do much to make itself more memorable. While it certainly doesn’t hearken back to the 1979 or 1986 films in thrills or suspense, Covenant does manage to be an intriguing and fun, albeit generic entry worth a watch for fans of the genre but possibly dismissive for anyone else.
FINAL GRADE: B
Every year we are given on-screen history lessons. These lessons can often be dreary and redundant, because they rarely teach us anything new, and instead are meant to be reminders. They are meant to slap us with truth so that we never forget what, and where, we once were. So we always sit through them, even though we know what will happen. Even though they make us uncomfortable or stir up our deepest regrets and resentments. But… every so often, a history lecture can hit us at just the right time to invoke something more. And striking the right chord is how a history lesson becomes a beautiful sermon. Selma is a beautiful sermon.
The film tells the story of the marches from the rural Alabama town of Selma to the state capitol of Montgomery in 1965 as blacks fight the harsh, non-violent fight to gain voting equality, led by Dr. Martin Luther King (David Oyelowo). They are continuously met with violence fueled by racial hatred along their journey, but you can learn this in any 20th century American History course. Where Director, Ava DuVerney’s film shines is in its ability to understand its own relevance. Instead of just hitting us with facts and powerful imagery, we are given perspectives. We are shown why a simple protest was so important. We are given the step by step political and intellectual steps taken to cross this historical hurdle. And in doing so, we leave not just reminiscing on a dark time in American history, but instead thinking about what we can do to further our progress as a people.
Masterful performances help push DuVerney’s ambitious narrative. Tom Wilkinson is wonderfully shifty as President Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth is brilliant as snake-like, Alabama Governor George Wallace. Oyelowo conjures up the necessary skills to make a convincing MLK and Carmen Ejogo is the spitting image of his wife, Coretta. This film pleasantly humanizes the civil rights legend the way no other film ever has. And because of that, we are able to further appreciate the works of his pivotal and equally valiant entourage (Wendell Pierce, Common, Oprah Winfrey, Keith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Stephan James) while also rooting for a very vulnerable Dr. King.
Selma may be a history lesson, but along the way, it ceases being history and begins to feel like modern social commentary. And it should be, because we haven’t come as long as we may think and there is still work to be done. Other films may remind us of this, but few manage to break down the intricacies of revolution the way this up-and-coming director has. This lesson gives us each indelible perspective coupled with the harsh truth to create something reminiscent and poignant. And there is so much more power in poignancy.
FINAL GRADE: A
New movies are coming out left and right. I’m just trying to keep up. Here are a few quick reviews from some recent July flicks I’ve seen…
By now you should know all about Melissa McCarthy’s antics. And, by now, you should know whether or not you’re a fan. I, personally, have found her hilarious just about every time she is on a screen, whether it be movie (Bridesmaids, The Heat) or television. She is both quirky and lovable and even when her characters are abrasive, you can’t help but admire their gusto. But some scripts are even too dull for Melissa McCarthy to save (see IdentityThief). In the case of Tammy, there just isn’t enough here to make this film about a down on her luck woman going road tripping with her grandma (Susan Sarandon) worth sitting through. Did I laugh? Sure, a few times. Will you laugh if you like Melissa McCarthy? Probably. But the majority of the best chuckles can be found in the trailer, so there’s no point in sitting through a boring plot when that’s the case. FINAL GRADE: C-
As the title suggests, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal star as a married couple who make a sex tape in order to recapture their once intimate relationship. After the video is mistakenly uploaded to iPads belonging to their friends and family, the couple go on a quest to cover up their blunder as well as find a mysterious texter who has already seen the tape. Jack Black has a fairly comedic cameo and Cameron Diaz still has a very nice body in her 40’s. That’s probably the only positive things I can say about this forgettable raunchy comedy wannabe (and even the latter complement is negated by Jason Segal nudity). I found myself checking the time and waiting for this one to be over, several times. There is barely any chemistry between the two leads and the force fed heartfelt moments fall flat. Even if you found moments in the trailer funny, I doubt there is much more that you’ll crack a smile at. FINAL GRADE: D
The Purge: Anarchy
While the first Purge had its share of twists and turn, it left a lot to be desired. With such a broad premise; annual government sanctioned murder used to cleanse our sinful country in the near future, it doesn’t make much sense to have all of the action confined to one family in one house. Anarchy luckily takes the audience further into this world, giving more characters and perspectives about this twisted society than the first film ever dreamed of. If you’re going to have a movie about legal mass murder then take us where the action is. The film follows a mother (Carmen Ejogo of Sparkle), her overly inquisitive daughter, a stranded couple going through separation, and a gun toting rogue out to avenge his child (Frank Grillo of Captain America: Winter Soldier) as they try and navigate their way through murderers, rapists, sick rich people, and even the treacherous government themselves. While the film does go through flashes of dryness and, like the first film, some characters are boring, overall the film is a solid upgrade from its predecessor and does a much better job hammering home the underlying political allegory. FINAL GRADE: B