Alien: Covenant, And The Need To Not Sabotage Your Production

When will movie studios learn to stop trying to please everyone?

This is the sad story of Alien: Covenant. A sequel to the Alien prequel film Prometheus which explored the nature of the “space jockey” race briefly seen in director Ridley Scott’s classic film, now referred to as Engineers as they apparently created humans. Prometheus was relatively well received by critics, but had garnered a rather loud “this film sucks” contingent from fans of the original Alien films. Scott was done with his classic Xenomorphs, but the fans didn’t really like that at all.

Thus, the sequel to Prometheus which was long in development was changed to include the classic beasts from Alien, while still maintaining its status as Prometheus part 2.

All of this lead to a predictable result: the “true fans” again hated it for mostly the same reasons as Prometheus. Among the many criticisms levied at the film were complaints it being too philosophical, not scary enough, having dumb characters, and your standard “plot makes no sense” complaint that honestly most films deserve these days.

You’d think after almost three decades of “true fans” of the Alien series hating everything that came out after Alien and Aliens that Fox would have learned to not try to appease them.

Is Alien: Covenant great? No, but I think it’s still good.

The story is that of the colony ship Covenant – with a crew primarily made up of married couples – that picks out a signal in deep space that leads them to the planet that David and Shaw ended up in after the events of Prometheus. The crew investigate, run into trouble of the bursting variety, and are seemingly rescued by David who has been marooned here for a decade. As anyone who knows anything about horror films will likely figure out – all is not as it seems. A lot of people die, the title character shows up in its black and double-mouthed glory, and our not-Ripley gets to do some badass stuff.

The main selling point of the film to me is the dual-roles of Michael Fassbender who steals every scene he is in. I praise the idea of having Fassbender play two androids who are vastly different than each other and have Fassbender play off himself in scenes. Seeing the overly poetic and philosophical David interact with the far more subdued and helpful Walter is something to behold. For as many jokes that have been made about it, I can watch the “fingering” scene all day. While it wasn’t obvious in Prometheus, in Alien: Covenant it makes it clear that this prequel series is more about David, AI, and the power of creation than it is about the Engineers or Xenomorphs.

Seeing as this is an Alien film we of course need our Ripley replacement – here played by Katherine Waterston as Daniels, a female terraformer who’s husband (the captain of the Covenant) dies in an accident before arriving at the planet and has no idea what she’s going to do now that her reason for being on the ship is gone. Waterston gives Daniels a far more vulnerable characterization in the first half of the film – a woman who is grasping for purpose after a tragic loss – which is something new to the Alien series which often lacked emotional depth outside of Ripley’s “everyone I knew is dead” parts in Aliens. When shit starts to hit the fan and her crew starts dwindling she just suddenly flips the switch to Aliens-Ripley and goes full badass. Seriously this woman’s first reaction to seeing a Xenomorph is to grab a gun and fight it alone, and then when she loses her gun she asks for a fucking axe! While Fassbender is the star of this show, Waterston provides a good “human” face to root for, even with her rather sudden switch from weak to Rambo.

The rest of the cast is, um, there? The lone person who gets any development would be Billy Crudup as the religious Oram who struggles taking the mantle of Captain as he doubts his crew trusts him due to his faith. After Crudup and Danny McBride as a pilot named Tennessee the rest of the cast is mostly there to die, but at least some of them get enough screen time that we might remember their names. Bonus points for the film having a gay couple and not making a big deal out of it (I’m looking at you Power Rangers and Star Trek Beyond…). It’s a horror film, it’s an Alien film, so this formula is expected.

No matter what you can still enjoy the production quality here. The film is shot rather well, as is a trademark of Ridley Scott productions. The visual effects are generally great for a mid-budget film, and kudos for actually building elaborate sets when called for. The creature design is suitably frightening, especially the slightly modified Xenomporph which has longer limbs, is skinless, and acts more like a rabid dog.

As to the complaints about the characters/plot being dumb…it’s a horror film, what do you expect? If horror characters were smart the vast majority of the horror film genre wouldn’t exist. I think my favorite complaint would be that in reality the crew would have sent down probes and only went to the planet with full protective suits – which of course assumes that the space ship that is capable of scanning a planet a vast distance away somehow doesn’t have really kickass scanning technology built in for close range analysis. I’ll remind you that in Aliens that the marines didn’t leave a single person on the Sulaco in case shit went bad in what they knew could be a combat situation, and had to be reminded by a civilian that firing explosive guns under a nuclear reactor wasn’t a good idea. Basically, I find the stupidity levels in Alien: Covenant to be within acceptable standards of the Alien series – and at least we didn’t have a geologist cartographer forgetting how to read his own maps like in Prometheus. A thing that must also be remembered is at least for some of the characters they are seeing their loved ones die so a level of irrationality can be accepted. While I certainly would have liked the characters to be a tad smarter, I’m not going to vastly downgrade the film for being a horror film and using the tropes of the genre, as if all characters were always smart then most horror films would never exist.

The main struggle I have with Alien: Covenant is I don’t think it knows what it wants to be. For the first part of the movie it presents itself as more of an Alien movie, with the crew getting into trouble and facing an alien threat. Then in the second part it goes full philosophical with questions such as how a “superior” creation relates to its “inferior” creator to mirror some of the stuff in Prometheus, with an absolute emphasis on David’s views of humanity and his ability to create. Finally the last part just goes directly into Aliens with it being a straight action movie with a couple of moments of horror spliced in. When I see this I read it as the second part was what Prometheus 2 was going to be, and the other parts were what was bolted on to make it an Alien film. This muddled plot structure seems to be the main cause of the third act twists feeling forced, which overall weakens the film but doesn’t render it unwatchable.

I will say that if you were looking for an answer to the questions raised in Prometheus then I’m sorry you will be very disappointed. They never answer who the Engineers really are, why they created mankind, why they wanted to destroy mankind, what the black goo actually was meant for, whether the they created the Xenomorph (that mural on the wall hints at something), or even stuff like why they “invited” mankind to find them. I’ll assume the original version of Prometheus 2 would have at least tried to answer some of these, but in the switch to Alien: Covenant it seems like it was lost. So next time Fox/Scott, can you not listen to the people who get pissed off when every answer isn’t spoon-fed to the audience?

In terms of being a horror film I am a terrible judge at that. While I love horror films I just don’t get frightened watching them. Seriously the only thing I get shocked by is the odd jump scare but that’s more annoying than scary. Alien: Covenant is definitely more of a horror film than Prometheus, though it doesn’t feature any scene remotely as awesome as the med-pod scene. It’s probably on par with Aliens in the horror aspect: a few scary scenes but mostly an action film. There are far more gore moments featured here, so if you’re a fan of seeing people torn apart then this film might be for you.

In only the mildest of spoilers I’ll say the most refreshing thing about Alien: Covenant is the absolute lack of shits it gives about Weyland-Yutani. Sure the ship is made by Weyland-Yutani but unlike every other Alien film the plot always had something to do with the machinations of that evil mega-corporation (although Resurrection instead had a vague military trying to weaponize the Xenomoprhs). There’s no “we need to save Earth and/or stop this from falling into the wrong hands” plot or subplot, it’s just a straight “we need to survive” film, which is oddly a first for this series.

While it’s basically confirmed that there will be a third Alien prequel film I can only hope that this time Fox lets Ridley Scott make the film he wants to make, and hopefully without 5 years between films again. Should the story truly remain the tale of David I think it can work out well.

Alien: Covenant might not rise to the heights of the first two entries in the series, but it’s still a worthy addition to the franchise. Most of Alien: Covenant‘s faults can be attributed to a long and troubled production that seemed to try to cater to the backlash against Prometheus while ignoring the people who actually made that film a box office hit. There’s a good Aliens and Prometheus film here, but sadly mixing the two together has created a diluted product that never seems to settle on what it is. Fassbender’s stellar performances aside, there’s just not much to claim this is a must-see film if you aren’t a hardcore fan of the series. For those who don’t mind a bit of a muddled plot and just want some new Alien-styled horror, Alien: Covenant should fit the bill.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Advertisements

Solo: A Star Wars Story And The Art Of Giving People What They Never Asked For

Ask someone from North America what the most loved media franchise is and they’ll probably answer Star Wars. Ask someone who the most popular character from Star Wars is and I’d bet Han Solo wins that race in some number of parsecs.

So how did a Star Wars film that was an origin story for Han Solo fail so badly compared to expectations?

Now the easiest answer would be because the film sucked – except it didn’t. Solo: A Star Wars Story wasn’t exactly great in my opinion but it was a decent action film. The reaction from those who saw it seemed to range from “best Disney Star Wars film!!!” to “it was just okay.” I’d say it was boring at times in the middle and probably should have replaced an action scene or two with a slow moment here or there, but for a film that you know doesn’t really count in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t bad. It could have used a better villain and perhaps a few less “we know you are going to die” characters, but I didn’t hate it. So if the film isn’t terrible enough to drive away people from a Star Wars movie…what did?

Well I see the trouble as five-fold: no one asked for or wanted this film, the film’s troubled production screwed it from the start, the really shitty marketing, following the divisive The Last Jedi only 5 months later, and that Star Wars as a brand’s popularity is grossly overestimated.

The Want And Need Of Things

To put it bluntly: almost never are prequels/origin stories in demand for beloved things. I get why movie studios like to make them because it’s a way to extend a media franchise that has already run its course that has a fanbase they think they can milk. It never seems to work well though, and usually all it does is reaffirm how the original films are better. In practice the best way to do it is the way The Hobbit, Fantastic Beasts, and oddly the Star Wars prequels did it – make the series star a new person or side character from the originals and fill in some back story that was alluded to before, not make up shit for the sake of making new films.

The problem here though is the audience for Solo already knew Han Solo for decades. We know all we needed to know about him. To us all that we needed to know was he was a smuggler who was on the run and took a job that ended up helping bring down the evil Empire. All Solo can do is try to fill in gaps that we never needed to see such as how Han met Lando and Chewie, but then fill the rest of the story with pointless stuff that means nothing to the numbered Star Wars films. Hey look at all these new characters that are either going to die in this film or any sequels because Han never mentioned them before.

Quite simply: seeing what Han Solo was up to a few years before A New Hope wasn’t that big a deal.

Here is where the obvious counterpoint comes in: Rogue One. Where Rogue One succeeded was in creating its premise around something that sounded cool from the start: see how the Rebellion stole the plans for the Death Star moments before A New Hope begins. We also knew that in some capacity Darth Vader would show up as a villain and he’s always awesome. Was this story necessary? No, but it at least filled in a hole that was left open from the very start of A New Hope with Leia fleeing Vader. It promised something definitive and delivered on it. Solo on the other hand was just Han Solo pulling a heist of seemingly no consequence other than money – hardly a comparison to Rogue One in my opinion.

Trouble A Long Time Ago, In A Movie Studio Far Far Away

Occasionally you hear things about films having production problems while being made, and Star Wars films are no exception. Most of the time it’s an actor getting injured (The Force Awakens and Ford), or script writers being replaced (Rogue One). A lot of films get extensive reshoots after initial screenings due to feedback, but that is usually just to do things like expand characters or fix stuff like the tone or ending. With Solo it seemed like the bad press during production would never stop.

Let’s see: the original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were fired during production as they were apparently directing it as an improv comedy film rather than an action film with comedic parts and then was later replaced by Ron Howard at a time when the filming was almost finished. I have no idea why Lord and Miller were hired in the first place but I guess Lucasfilm based it on finished products rather than their ability to work within a giant franchise. This caused (if I’m reading rumours right) somewhere between 70-80% of the film to be reshot, including changing the villain, at a massive cost.

Oh and then there were reports that Han Solo actor Alden Ehrenreich’s performance was so bad during filming that they had to bring in an acting coach to work with him for every scene. This taken in a vacuum isn’t bad, but when it’s the star of the film playing one of the most iconic roles in cinematic history it raises a billion red flags. The man already barely looks like Harrison Ford, but now hearing that he can’t act like him either didn’t give off a positive impression of the film. As it turns out he wasn’t terrible, but he’s still trying to do the impossible and take over a role for an actor who’s synonymous with the character he plays.

Compounding all of these bad omens was just after the release of The Last Jedi there were reports out that Disney itself was bracing for Solo to bomb. They had already seen another supposed blockbuster from a rival studio – Justice League – that had massive production troubles which included director changes (for different reasons) crash and burn. At this point the film’s budget increased to about 150% of what it was originally and Disney just seemed to want to get the film out without getting the budget to record levels when it was already now the most expensive Star Wars film ever. Imagine telling your diehard supporters that you yourself have little faith in the film you are releasing. It’s like a car manufacturer saying “yeah next year’s model isn’t that good to be honest” while still releasing it on schedule. It seems like whatever time would have been available to do traditional reshoots to fix the film was instead taken up by the reshoots to just finish the film, so we were stuck with a script that probably needed at least one more round though test screenings to sort out all the issues.

Throughout all of this was one constant: Solo was in the news for all the wrong reasons. For the other three Disney Star Wars films the press beforehand was mostly positive news about returning actors or characters. For Solo it was nothing but doom and gloom.

Selling The World A Shadow

For a moment, let’s talk about the marketing of major films in recent weeks. Here’s a list off the top of my head of the plot details I could get from the other big films around Solo.

Avengers: Infinity War – biggest bad guy ever is coming for a thing, Avengers need to save the universe

Deadpool 2 – dude from future is coming to kill a kid, Deadpool forms a team to stop him

Solo – Han Solo is young and is trying to steal something?

Ocean’s 8 – group of ladies plan to steal some stuff from Met Gala

Incredibles 2 – father tries to be single parent while mother is out crime fighting, supervillain arrives

Jurassic World 2 – save the dinosaurs from volcano, evil dude captures them

Notice the big difference here? The marketing for Solo barely gives us any plot details. We knew Woody Harrelson was putting together a crew for a job, didn’t know what that job was though. We saw Chewie and Lando for a bit. We also saw Han Solo himself, barely. For some reason the commercials kept trying to keep Solo himself out of the ads for his own film. Often times Solo was seen only from behind or in a quick cut giving a smirk. Rarely did he get any time speaking a line outside of that joke about how old Chewie was. It was like they were hiding their star. Heck did the marketing even show there was a villain?

Film marketing for blockbusters that want mass appeal seem to work best when they show you the broad strokes of a plot. They don’t need to give details, but at least give us the general outline of what happens in the film. This is a problem a lot of bad films seem to share when they are trying to hide their plot which might either turn people away or just not excite them enough to come. No offense but a space heist film that doesn’t involve the Empire or Rebellion in any way isn’t too much of a draw, but had it been shown more accurately in commercials it might have had a shot. The film wasn’t bad, but it came across like Disney was trying to hide something. This is the first Star Wars film that doesn’t have galactic stakes, and boy does it show.

I get the feeling that had the marketing been more direct in saying that Solo was a heist film and showed that it was about repaying a debt to the central villain it would have been far more successful. Like seeing Han Solo say “I screwed up, and I’m going to make it right the only way I know how” would have done far more on selling us a product rather than “oh look, young Lando playing cards.” As it stood the advertisements were marketing a film without a plot.

Solo seemed to rely on the fact that people wanted to see a young Han Solo and was banking on the Star Wars name being enough to draw people in. It clearly was not.

Far Too Soon To A Divisive Film

Over the last few years Star Wars has claimed supremacy over the month of December. Star Wars has claimed its territory as the biggest draw for December, and mostly with legs to reach all the way into January too. There are a few other loosely penciled in dates in the calendar like where Marvel films tend to go, but for the last few years Disney has been the sole “adult” franchise to rule December. The Force Awakens played it safe and met expectations, and Rogue One was an interesting and at times dark tale in the Star Wars universe that was either liked or loved but rarely hated outside the last 10 minutes.

Last year however Star Wars: The Last Jedi came out and its wake is still being felt. The film was highly controversial with some people lauding it as a masterpiece and others calling it the worst Star Wars film ever. I viewed it as an extremely flawed film that was way too long but had good parts to it. I can see however why some diehard Star Wars fans would take up their crystal powered laser swords at the film for some of the stuff in it. This cataclysm in the fandom clearly hurt it as it didn’t have anywhere near the staying power as The Force Awakens, and allowed Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle to shock the world and gross over $400 million in North America and coming close to $1 billion worldwide, a large percentage I’d guess as families skipping repeat viewings of The Last Jedi and opting for the safer film.

Solo came out while The Last Jedi was still fresh in the mind of the mind of the audience it was trying to capture, and so quick that Disney for some reason didn’t want to overlap the marketing of the two films. The Star Wars films seemed to get a teaser trailer at least half a year before the film was to be released, but Solo‘s first glimpse was less than four months before the film, and that was a brief Superbowl ad. There was no awe inspiring wonder, only “hey, here’s Solo.”

Not helping things were news stories about the relative “failure” of The Last Jedi to match The Force Awakens and other negative press surrounding it. We got everything from fans rightful complaints such as Captain Phasma being just there to sell toys (again, though even more blatant this time), issues with the way some characters were handled, and such, all the way to articles being written about how some of the Star Wars fandom were harassing people on twitter because of course that happened. So the months of leadup to Solo were not kind to Star Wars as a whole for a lot of reasons.

Star Wars was always seen as some sort of sacred franchise that should be revered, and now it looks even more like it’s coming off a conveyor belt. For some reason the movie audience will accept multiple superhero movies per year from the same studio, but that might be a tad too much for Star Wars right now, especially considering how the advertising push for The Last Jedi lasted months before and after release which left no room to breath for Solo.

Star Wars Isn’t The Biggest Thing Ever Anymore

Oh how a few years can change things.

In 2015 Star Wars‘ return was the biggest thing ever. In 2018 it’s already become a victim of “oh, there’s another one out?”

For a moment I ask you to go look at every single Star Wars film’s domestic vs international performance. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

Notice a trend? Yeah, they do roughly equal North America vs International numbers. That is completely counter to the trend for most big films to be about a 1:2 ratio for Domestic:International outside of a few notable exceptions such as Fast & Furious (1:4 or so recently) or very American themed films (comedies/African American films tend to be like 5:1, Black Panther the notable exception at a 1:1 which is way off MCU norms). For some reason that I can’t quite understand Star Wars has not caught on as much outside of North America as it has in its native land.

Outside a few cultural beliefs such as a culture’s aversion to witchcraft which the Force could easily be mistaken for, it seems that Star Wars is very much a North American thing. I can only guess it just didn’t catch on elsewhere as much as North America and thus the nostalgia wasn’t as powerful. I’ll partially blame TV reruns for this, as I know where I am the original trilogy could often be seen on TV during the weekend but I’ll assume this was not the case in places such as China. A note I will never not cease to be amazed at was that The Force Awakens actually made less money outside North American than Furious 7 did. Hell The Last Jedi made less internationally than The Fate Of The Furious by almost $300 million! When it comes to the international box office a film series often derided as “insulting towards the intelligence of the viewing audience” about people with fast cars is bigger than Star Wars!

Another thing I must say is that it appears the Star Wars nostalgia phase has ended. The Force Awakens made a record opening at the time largely because of the time the franchise was dormant, not by quality. People were dying to see their beloved Han Solo, Princess Leia, and Luke Skywalker back on the big screen for the first time in decades. Hell they played with this by putting Mark Hamill’s credit second on the poster even though he is only in the last few seconds of the film, and Carrie Fisher is credited third even though she’s only there for an extended cameo. Is Star Wars big? Sure. Is Star Wars bigger than, say, Marvel? At this point it seems open to debate. Rogue One had the return of Darth Vader being a badass and you knew that fans would love to see that. What did Solo promise us? Young versions of characters we already know.

At the moment I’m writing this there are vague announcements about there being a Boba Fett movie in the works, a long talked about Obi-Wan Kenobi film taking place between Eps 3 and 4, and some rumblings about a new trilogy of films that have nothing to do with the Skywalker story. Of these three projects the safest one is Obi-Wan because we know the character the most already and he was easily the best part of the prequel trilogy so it would be a welcome return for (hopefully) Ewan McGregor filling in a gap that there is at least a small amount of interest in. The new trilogy would be second safest because it’s a fresh start and will depend solely on execution. The Boba Fett one on the other hand is risky as hell because while the hardcore fandom loves Fett the casual viewer remembers him as the dude who got killed by a blind guy making him fall into a hole. There are so many ways to screw up Fett that I personally don’t think it’s worth the risk as a film but would make an awesome animated series. To be fair given the way Disney has handled announcing Star Wars films by making vague “sure we might do that” announcements they could already have been working on films based on Jabba, Lando, Mace Windu, Maz Kanata, Qui-Gon Jin, Holdo, Yoda, Maul, Mon Mothma, Dooku, the Jawas, and probably that dude who got his hand cut off in the Cantina who was wanted in twelve systems.

Solo has proved one thing very loudly: just having the Star Wars name is not enough. Star Wars is popular as hell, but not popular enough to solely convince someone to go see a film. In the future Disney needs to learn from the success of Rogue One and the failure of Solo and decide where it wants to take Star Wars before it becomes just another film franchise rather than the cultural icon it is.

In The End…

I do think that Disney screwed up with Solo in a lot of ways that they didn’t with Rogue One or even the new numbered films. First off we don’t have an iconic villain in this film. Secondly we don’t have a more “international appeal” cast like the other recent Star Wars films did. Thirdly they just completely misjudged the market for this film.

I agree with an assessment made by insiders around the time of “Disney is expecting a bomb” news broke that the script for Solo was unworkable. While the film had good parts in it the story was a mess that no amount of reshoots could fix. It’s a film that lacks identity or memorable moments that all the prior Star Wars films had. How the film ever got off the ground as it was is a mystery that I’m sure some Lucasfilm executive will be demoted over.

The main fix to Solo would have been a simple one, but also one that limits the potential for long term financial gains but that’s not a problem I foresee as any sequel to Solo as a Solo-only film is dead. The way to have done Solo was to make it, well, solo. Don’t try to start a trilogy of films based on young Han – make it a single film. You could have had most of the plot points such as meeting Chewie or getting the Falcon, but you also wouldn’t need to overstuff the film with talk of rival crime syndicates. You make the film about how Han got into the employ of Jabba The Hutt, and even have fricken Boba Fett in there if you wanted to. There, you now have a far better villain and far broader appeal. You could even leave the door a tad open for sequels if you wished in a subtle way, but right now Solo so blatantly sequel baits that all I can say is I’m sorry to Emilia Clarke for being in yet another failed trilogy starter. Speaking of Emilia Clarke, who is relatively good here, you should also have not made her Han’s love interest because absolutely no one wants to see Han with anyone other than Leia…it’s like a rule or something. Solo could have worked as a film, but sadly Disney was too fixated on trying to make a trilogy rather than make a film that could stand by itself like Rogue One did.

After all of this the question remains: do people really want Star Wars to expand beyond the numbered series? Rogue One says yes, Solo says no. The only thing to really glisten from all of this is that while there is clearly a sort of market for expanded Star Wars universe films it might not be as powerful as one might have assumed. Disney needs to be careful with what they make and who they choose to make it, as well as market it in a way to convince the non-hardcore fan that they need to see it. Slapping the Star Wars name on a product isn’t enough to sell it to the broader audience, though it does guarantee probably at least a $50million opening weekend or more when Bossk: A Star Wars Story comes out.

Solo: A Star Wars Story will perhaps end up being the most talked about movie of the year for the wrong reasons. It’s fascinating to dissect what went wrong when it could have all gone so right. Had this project not been cursed from the start it could easily have been another near billion dollar film, but as it stands it’s going to struggle to not lose tens of millions of dollars.

Every year we get a few films that just seemed to be doomed from the start. 2017 had several large disappoints in a row that failed to get to expectations. In 2018 most of the films that have missed the mark have been smaller, but at this very moment Solo: A Star Wars Story will be the years biggest blunder.

Pretending To Hate: There Will Be Blood

[Pretending To Hate is a series in which I attempt to write a somewhat comedic negative review to an acclaimed film that I probably love. Some points will be outlandish, some will be accurate. It’s all in the name of love]

If a film doesn’t have a plot what is the point?

There Will Be Blood is what appears to be the tale of a man’s unflinching desire for wealth at the cost of his humanity and the lives of others, but in reality it’s just the camera following around a man who’s a complete asshole. Also, spoiler warning here, there is maybe 4 seconds of blood in this film so the title itself is a lie. The main character doesn’t even bleed unless his broken leg counts. I’ll give director Paul Thomas Anderson credit here by adhering to his long desire to make films it is a chore to sit through. There isn’t any moral to take away from this film unless you argue that it’s “do whatever Daniel Plainview doesn’t do” which itself can be said of several other so-called “classics” like Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Treasure Of The Sierra Madre.

The plot of the film can be summed up as “dude wants money” and that’s pretty much it. Daniel Day-Lewis plays Daniel Plainview, a silver miner who is an idiot and breaks his leg and suddenly becomes an oil man afterwards. After essentially abducting a baby from a man who died beside him and raising it as his own (seriously, where is his mother?!?!) he starts his own oil company to get rich and takes advantage of whoever he can. That’s the plot. Seriously. It has parts where Plainview looks grumpy at a religious dude but it can be boiled down to “Plainview hates literally everything because money”.

Plainview himself is a complete asshole with next to zero redeemable qualities. Besides the aforementioned baby kidnapping he’s also an amazing alcoholic sociopath. When a worker dies on his well he seems more concerned about the delay it will cause by getting the equipment back in place. He threatens violence against anyone who questions his methods. He murders people who piss him off enough. When his “son” loses his sense of hearing he doesn’t even bother to learn any sign language to talk to him, he hires an interpreter! At one point he gets chewed out and they mention he also “lusted after women” as well, though that must have been a deleted scene because there are like 2 women in this film at all. Plainview is the type of character that would be the villain in another movie but here he’s our lead.

Now if Plainview had a foil to work against who had optimism or compassion that might make it work but nope, it’s 100% the Daniel Plainview show here. Sorry, there are exactly two scenes that don’t have Plainview in them: one where religious dude yells at his father for letting Plainview manipulate him and another of Plainview’s son growing up to show over a decade has gone by near the end. With such a narrow focus on Plainview you’ve got to really enjoy spending time with an unlikable jerk. You’d think maybe they’d make his son be his foil but he vanishes for a long time and the child actor involved isn’t that good to be honest and only has this film on his IMDB page. This isn’t Charles Foster Kane who’s greed was a replacement for trying to find something to take the place of the childhood love that was ripped away from him by, well, greed. No, this is just a man who’s basically Veruca Salt but willing to do stuff himself to get what he wants.

I’ll give Daniel Day-Lewis credit though, no matter what he’s always awesome. You’d fully believe that at one point when he realizes he was being lied to that he really wants to murder the person who took advantage of him. He looks like he doesn’t just want the character dead, but his family, loved ones, pets, and milk man. The daggers of blinding rage coming out of his eyes are so hot it’s a miracle the screen doesn’t catch fire. How the set doesn’t have bite marks with the amount of chewing he’s doing I’ll never know. Also, the milkshake scene. Dear god that scene won that man an Oscar for the, what, 28th time? Make fun of it all you want but the intensity in his eyes as he’s mocking the shit out of Eli for being a fool is so enjoyable to watch.

I guess somewhere along the way the writer realized that having the film be entirely about a sociopath drilling for oil would be boring as hell so there is an “antagonist” in the form of Eli played by Paul Dano, a bible thumping small town pastor. This is a dude so into the bible and against those who don’t have faith that after a gas blowout that badly injures Plainview’s son he goes up to Plainview and basically tells him that because he wasn’t allowed to bless the oil well it was some sort of divine retribution. So right then whatever reason we had to remotely like Eli is shot out of a cannon. If this were a horror film Eli is the type of character that would die halfway through because of his hubris. Dano for some reason is playing Eli with some sort of snotty confidence that then devolves into grovelling cawardice at the slightest sign of aggression. Sadly this is all we have in terms of secondary characters in this film to actually have any presence, so it’s snotty holy man and hateful greedy guy for two and a half hours.

Lucky for the audience the film is rather nicely shot, but they better love it due to it being a long sit. The opening scenes of the film play without any dialogue and it’s about 14 minutes in before we know what the hell our lead character sounds like. That’s right, by the time most films have set up its characters and plot we have yet to hear a single line of dialogue. I’d wager over an hour of the film is silent scenes of people looking at stuff or drilling. You could probably cut 30 minutes from the film and lose nothing.

So there you have it. If you like assholes you’ve found your all time largest S.O.B. There Will Be Blood is a nice looking film but one that you can only hate-watch. There’s no moral to this tale, only a story of unrelenting greed that never ends. If there was a moral it was “assholes get rich but are lonely” or something of that ilk. Plainview is an apt name for a one-dimensional character: greed in the name of greed is all that this film shows. Perhaps next time they make a film like this they’ll remember that the audience needs someone to actually attach to. Oh well, I guess I’ll go steal a baby.

From Worst To Best: Planet Of The Apes (Reboot series)

How does a running joke in Hollywood somehow defy every odd against it and become one of the best reboot and science fiction trilogies ever made?

For those who are way too young to remember, the original Planet Of The Apes series is noteworthy for three main things: 1) the original being an iconic film in cinematic history, 2) setting up the idea of a media franchise around a series, including spinoffs, toys, conventions, and such, and 3) showing how to run a franchise into the ground by desperately trying to milk its fanbase. The 4 sequels each had a lower budget than the previous entry, and you can almost draw a straight line down in terms of their production quality. Fox seemed to have a surprise hit on their hands, and rushed the next ones out so fast that the fact the Earth exploded in part 2 seemed to not sway their haphazard sequelization. There is a reason yearly sequels don’t exist today outside of low-budget horror series.

Infamously in 2001 Tim Burton was given the helm to remake/reimagine the first film. Tim Burton was really the wrong choice here, because while the production design and makeup were arguably some of the best ever done, it just lacked any impact outside of confusing its audience. Burton is a great director when allowed to stick to his own creative vision, just not one suited for this style of “epic” action movie, as later evidenced in Alice In Wonderland. Had the remake been more in line with the slow and cerebral original he might have made something noteworthy, but in trying to translate a film about social commentary into an action-war movie it loses its punch.

Then in 2011 we get the first of the reboot trilogy – a series that has no right to be as good as it is. When I first heard about the reboot of Planet Of The Apes I thought “oh, of course. They are rebooting everything so why not go to a series that so famously killed itself off.” Then I saw that the plot was basically going to ignore the absurd “space plague that killed all the cats and dogs, then humans made ape servants” explanation from the original series, which was then accelerated to such an insane degree in the 4th and 5th Planet Of The Apes movies that it made them unintentional comedies. The reboots also opted for a tight focus on the beginning of the Planet Of The Apes, specifically with their leader, and also wanted to have emotional depth…what crazy world is this?

Even more strange is that the reboot series never suffered the quality degradation that the originals did. Fox actually wanted to make good movies now. Heck, if you look online at message boards discussing the series you’ll find a mostly equal debate as to which is the best of the series, with legitimate arguments being made for each. That is something that never happened with the originals, outside of perhaps “which is second best” and obviously “which is worst.”

For clarity sake I’ll briefly rank the original series from worst to best

5) Battle For The Planet of the Apes

Boring last gasps of a franchise. The “Battle” is about 40 humans versus 40 apes…which given the tiny budget were probably half played by the same people. Final climax is two actors carefully chasing each other up a tree with one falling so our “hero” doesn’t actually have to kill him. The masks look like masks they bought at a store and never look real. While it has some okay social commentary it never is worth it to sit through this mess. Also how did apes go from unable to speak in the last movie to clothes wearing intelligent beings so fast?

4) Escape From The Planet Of The Apes

Biggest retcon in the series to somehow drag two supporting characters and one “genius” that dies in 10 minutes into modern day by pulling a ship they never saw out of the bottom of a lake and repairing its technology that is light years beyond anything the apes have ever seemed capable of making. Has some sort of funny fish-out-of-water moments, but honestly I liked it more when Star Trek did it. You could tell that this was likely done for budget reasons. The explanation for how apes took over makes no sense but I’ll forgive it because social commentary. Also has one of the most weirdly depressing endings that clashes with the almost comedic tone of the first half of the movie.

3) Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes

A really dark and depressing movie. Not much fun to be had but interesting in its depiction of slavery. Ending dragged on a bit though, and the “apes will rise across the globe part” didn’t make much sense given only Caesar was smart. I know some people prefer the “Caesar the conqueror” ending but wow is that a bleak way to make the hero of the film a villain at that last moment. I like it more than Escape because at least this film has a consistent tone.

2) Beneath The Planet Of The Apes

I know this film gets a lot of shit and usually gets thrown closer to the bottom of Planet Of The Apes rankings but I just enjoy it for the silliness. Yeah the first half is a remake of the original and they clearly cast a Heston lookalike to deceive audiences, but when real Heston shows up and we get telepathic subterranean humans I just enjoy the ride. It’s bad in ways I enjoy, so I find it more watchable.

1) Planet Of The Apes

It’s a classic. Charlton Heston gives some of his best Heston speeches of all time here. You can hate the dude for his political stances but man was he a charismatic and powerful actor. Only real complaint is it does drag a little in the middle part. Also the Nova love plot is kind of weird given she has the mental abilities of a toddler.

And here is the absolutely astounding part: I consider two of the reboot trilogy to be on par with the original Planet Of The Apes. If you asked me years ago if a reboot series of Apes would ever work out into anything other than brainless action I’d have laughed at you.

The reboot trilogy is the story of Caesar – the ape that would come to bring upon the realization of a Planet Of The Apes. He works so well as a lead here and there is not enough time in the world to praise the motion capture performance of Andy Serkis. The man is without equal in this field and I wish more prestige was given to him. Caesar is an extremely complicated character – an ape raised by humans who then takes it upon himself to start a society built up from the ashes and mistakes of the people who’s accidental death lead to his rise. He’s the only one of the apes that seems to have an appreciation for the good side of humans, and knows that he must balance between the mind that humans gave him and the animalistic traits that he was born with.

So here’s my ranking of the reboot Planet Of The Apes series.

3) Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes

Wisely abandoning the original series origin of smart apes, instead we are given the tale of Will Rodman (played by James Franco) accidentally creating a human race destroying disease born from an attempted cure for his fathers Alzheimer’s that has the effect of making apes capable of learning at a human level. After a lab accident Will finds out a test chimp had a kid that displays signs of intelligence, and rather than kill it as instructed he raises it like a child and teaches it to communicate, and names it Caesar. After Caesar causes an incident in public he’s transported to a harsh animal shelter and sees what has been done to his kind, and thus decides to break out and liberate his oppressed kin while also exposing them to the medicine that made him smart. Oh and mankind gets wiped out post-credits…yay!

First off of the three reboot Apes films I have the most issues with this one from a plot perspective. There are some extreme leaps in logic here to make this plot work, such as the pharmaceutical company and Will being willing to start human trials after one positive result, the apes instantly becoming human-level smart after exposure to the medicine when Caesar took years to learn and even somehow make apes outside in a zoo smart, the humans being incredibly stupid in general, etc. Also the extremely shoehorned in references to the original series, including the “damn dirty ape” scene which felt more like it was out of a parody movie. It’s just a somewhat flawed plot.

The stuff that really works here is the relationship between Will and Caesar. It’s almost a father and son type of bond they have, but with a level of extreme sadness between them. They know they are from different worlds, and Will especially knows that Caesar is both son and an experiment of his. Caesar respects Will, but also knows that Will kept him out of his own selfish need to cure his father, and that he is alone in this world and doesn’t truly belong among humans.

While the action scenes near the end of the film are fantastic as the apes make their escape towards the forest, it does take an awful amount of time to get there. The only reason I feel like this is a negative is the marketing put a hell of a lot of emphasis on the climactic Golden Gate Bridge scene, but neglected to inform us that for two-thirds of the film it’s more of a character drama. While I like Caesar a hell of a lot as a character, I feel like he doesn’t become the Caesar I love until the last act.

I know some people love this movie the most of the series and its usually for the reasons I like it the least. While Will and Caesar work well together, I find Will to be an unlikable character, and all the other humans to be cardboard cutouts confined to their one character trait. The film also covers by far the most time of any of the reboots, and at times feels like its moving at breakneck speeds with very few slow moments, which is entirely contrary to the other entries in the trilogy.

While I’d never call it a great film, it sets up the basis for the sequels I thought were far superior at giving us a lead character we can form a surprising connection with.

2) Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

A decade after Rise ended with a plague killing 99.8% of humanity (called the Simian Flu) Caesar’s ape colony is thriving in the woods he escaped to. A group of human survivors who have set up shop in nearby San Francisco run into Caesar’s colony while trying to find a hydroelectric dam in order to restore power to their camp and attempt to contact other survivors. Caesar and bland generic nice human Malcolm (played by Jason Clarke) come to an agreement to get the dam working again, while other factions of apes and humans prepare for a conflict they see as inevitable. Koba, a higher-up in Caesar’s camp and an ape that long suffered in human lab experiments, takes it upon himself to kickstart this war and rule over the apes after long hating Caesar’s perceived weakness towards humans.

This is where Caesar truly becomes a great character. He is nuanced in ways no Planet Of The Apes character has ever been before. Caesar has to balance his role as a leader trying to elevate the apes, his duty to defend his colony against a foe he alone understands, and his role as father to a son just starting to become an adult. The best moments with Caesar are the slow talking moments where he gets to display how he has come to understand the world from his unique point of view, which are both slow and poetic at times. Caesar can almost be described as the lead from a work of Shakespeare: a man torn in different directions that must find a way to remain hole for the good of all those around him.

Also Caesar’s enemy in Koba is the best of the reboot series. Koba is the opposite of Caesar in almost every way other than species. Caesar knows of the kindness that humans can have – in this movie demonstrated by Malcolm – whereas Koba is described by Caesar as an ape that “from humans Koba learned hate but nothing more.” Even more so you can see why upon his treachery the other apes could be convinced to follow Koba. You can easily understand why Koba is the way he is – an ape born from cruelty who sees the worst in humanity and only recognizes strength as the quality of leadership. Sure you question why Caesar would keep an obvious villainous ape nearby but you also sense that Caesar sees Koba as a kindred soul who sadly didn’t get saved like he did. Koba is the dark side to Caesar’s light – the monstrous thing we all fear we might have become had we been taken another direction.

While the main apes are all standouts, the same cannot be said for the humans. Jason Clarke as Malcolm just sort of exists as the generic lead “good human” the film needed. Jason Clarke is one of those actors that I like as a villain or a supporting role where he can chew a bit of scenery, but not really as a bland lead. The rest of the humans are sadly just there to occupy space and get next to no development. Gary Oldman is in this as the human leader in a role he probably filmed in a week. I’ll also mention Keri Russel is the only other recognizable lead, as well as my distinctly remembering articles being written about how she was seemingly the only female human in existence. The attempts at forming an emotional connection to Malcolm’s new family fall flat compared to the weight of Caesar’s struggle and at times feel like the filmmakers were afraid to make a film completely about the apes – which luckily is something they corrected in the sequel.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes at its best is a deeply personal story of a leaders’ struggles dealing with balancing each part of who he is. It’s the most evenly paced of reboot Apes movies, and also the most action packed of the bunch. While not being a truly great movie in my opinion, it has several moments of greatness in it. The true success of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is that it manages to make its human audience connect emotionally with its distinctly non-human lead, and it should be commended for that.

1) War For The Planet Of The Apes

A couple of years after Dawn we see that the apes are being hunted down by a surviving human military unit called Alpha-Omega (obvious reference is obvious) lead by “The Colonel” J. Wesley McCullough played by a Kurtz-esque Woody Harrelson. The Colonel manages to find the Apes camp and while attempting to kill Caesar takes out his wife and son instead. Caesar sends his tribe out to the desert to find a new and safer home, while he takes it upon himself to track down and murder The Colonel while accompanied by this main allies throughout the series. What follows is what can best be described as an Ape version of The Searchers mixed with Apocalypse Now.

Right off the bat I’ll say that this is not really a traditional war movie. This is a slow and deliberate tale of loss and revenge, in the form of an epic. It takes influences ranging from The Bridge On The River Kwai to The Ten Commandments. The “War” of the title is a bit misleading, because really Dawn was more of a traditional wartime action movie. If anything the War of the title is more about Caesar’s conflict between his wishing to keep his people safe and being a good leader versus his primal nature taking over and seeking revenge for his own personal reasons.

Also, finally, this is the first of the reboot Planet Of The Apes movies that is actually primarily about the apes! The first hour of this movie you barely see a human at all. It took them long enough to give the audience what they wanted.

One of the more interesting ideas here is in the portrayal of the villain The Colonel as a slightly less insane Colonel Kurtz. Woody Harrelson gives a rather intimidating performance as really the only speaking human role in the movie: a man desperately trying to save the last of humanity the only way he knows how. The Colonel is tragic in a way, as his quest to keep human civilization alive has cost him and his army what little humanity they had left. He’s the final fight against a changing world, and he will do whatever it takes to maintain what he knows. The terror he exudes is from knowing that there is not a single thing he won’t do to stop their downfall of mankind, including killing without regard for who it is. I’ll give credit to Harrelson here for not chewing the scenery and playing this role very calm and collected.

Caesar also shines here as a much more broken person. His need for revenge is so powerful that he doesn’t seem to have any intention of coming back alive at the start, though that changes a bit once he gets to his destination and realizes what he’s doing. Also for the first time we see Caesar as truly helpless, which is shocking to see what he gets dragged through. Caesar feels much older in this movie than in Dawn, and at times comes across as a late-career Clint Eastwood. Andy Serkis’ ability to convey Caesar’s beaten down self is incredible to witness, and War For The Planet Of The Apes is a fitting end to Caesar’s story.

I’ve also saved talking about the CGI in the reboot series until now, because the effects in War For The Planet Of The Apes might be the best ever done in cinema. While Rise was good in the CGI and Dawn was great, War is just astounding. The closeups on Caesar’s face are just so realistic and detailed that it feels like you are looking at something that is actually there. You can tell that this is quality that took years to perfect between Rise and War, and holy shit have they made something remarkable. I honestly think it’s a crime that this movie didn’t win for Best Special Effects at the Oscars. Even though the makeup work in Tim Burton’s Ape movie was phenomenal, I do actually prefer the CGI here to showcase smart realistic apes rather than knowing that it’s just a person behind a mask.

While I can admit that the pacing of War For The Planet Of The Apes might throw some people off compared to the previous entries, I feel like the reboot trilogy ended on its highest note. War For The Planet Of The Apes, at least in my opinion, is destined to be remembered as an achievement of science fiction cinema and should be looked back on for years to come as a benchmark for emotional resonance in a motion captured performance.

Review of Pacific Rim Uprising: Jake is NOT his father, and this is NOT a good movie

Have you ever watched a sequel and thought to yourself “hey, what if they ripped out the heart of the original that made it stand out and replaced it with terrible dialogue and terrible direction?” Well, you’d say I was reviewing Independence Day: Resurgence again, but no, it’s Pacific Rim Uprising this time.

Pacific Rim Uprising is the much delayed and infinitely inferior sequel five years in the making to 2013’s middling but beloved success Pacific Rim. In the years since it has changed directors and writers, lost most of its actors, and been delayed about 385 times. It finally got released after changing dates more times than I can count, and in doing so reminds the world why changing creative minds as well as constantly changing release dates are usually a sign of a dramatic drop in quality.

Now I’ll state right off the bat that I love Pacific Rim as Guillermo del Toro’s gigantic love letter to classic action films such as Top Gun with his own twisted Lovecraftian-Anime vision. It was deliberately crafted in ways the writers and director of PRU seemed to never understand. There was a sense of awe and wonder in every single frame. The giant robots and monsters were deliberately framed in ways to make the audience marvel at something they have never seen before. Pacific Rim was unique, where it’s sequel never tries to be.

As it’s a newer release I’ll avoid as many spoilers as possible but one can best describe PRU as: Pacific Rim: Resurgence…sadly. A decade after the Pan Pacific Defense Corps canceled the apocalypse the world has decided to build up the giant robot Jaeger fleet again. Stacker Pentecost’s previously never mentioned son Jake (John Boyega, playing him as Finn for some stupid reason) gets conscripted into the Jaeger progam after running afoul of the law and ends up training the “next generation” of perfectly multi-ethnic dozen-ish Jaeger recruit pilots that I dare you to remember the names of. On the verge of a vote to use remotely controlled drone Jaegers made by an “evil” corporation a mysterious rogue Jaeger shows up and causes all sorts of shit for our new heroes. A couple of returning characters show up, the Kaiju come back 90 minutes into this boring movie, and a climax that promises a sequel that may never happen later and we get to exit the cinema thinking “wow, del Toro’s one was way better.”

For my own personal opinion the greatest fault in this movie is that of script and direction. I mean no offense to director Steven S. DeKnight but I feel he was far over his head here previously working exclusively of TV shows and stepping into the shoes of arguably one of the top visionary directors of this generation. This movie just comes across as having zero passion put into it beyond being a bland, boring and forgettable film meant to keep a franchise running that any future sequel would probably ignore 90% of. Please, movie studios, stop hiring TV directors to helm big blockbusters when they have no experience in movies, especially when the creative team for the first is long gone. The script screams of “we have no clue where to take this” like Independence Day: Resurgence did as well, which can be attributed to the originals screenwriter being absent and the first film having a firm conclusion. Making Boyega be the “son” of Stacker Pentecost reeks of terrible last-minute writing done after Charlie Hunnam was unavailable due to delays, and the shunting of Rinko Kikuchi’s Mako Mori to a very minor supporting role is an insult to that character and the fans of the original (note: I’ve read that she was pregnant/recently gave birth during filming which explains her minor role, but not her SPOILERS treatment). The film breaks the “show don’t tell” rule so many times that pretty much the entirety of Jake’s relationship with his father, and his rivalry with his copilot is explained in exposition dumps. Also take a shot every time Jake says “I am not my father” because you’ll be drunk as shit halfway through. I honestly feel that had this movie not been delayed a billion times, and del Toro and original writer Travis Beacham been on the project, it would have been a vastly superior movie.

To call this film a generic sequel is an understatement, because it being so predictably built shows such an overall lack of effort that there are legitimate questions as to whether a robot made it. Outside of the touches brought over from the first, if you blacked out the identifying names on the synopsis you’d question what movie this is. It’s a paint-by-numbers checklist of bad action sequel tropes. So a large part of this movie focuses on these new recruits, I wonder if the previously never seen or named pilots of the other Jaegers will all mysteriously die and the kids will be thrown into battle? I wonder if the obvious red herring is an obvious red herring? I wonder if we’ll hit on several of the memorable moments of the first film again, such as the “cancel the apocalypse” style speech? Will the final boss just be a larger version of the previous final boss? If you couldn’t guess, the answer is yes to all of those. It doesn’t really expand the universe in any way outside of attempting to retcon the now-named Precursers motivations for sending the Kaiju, and even that makes no sense in relation to what was already established previously. With del Toro there was always a sense of awe and intrigue with every shot as he wanted us to become invested in his finely crafted world, whereas DeKnight’s vision is that of Transformers-inspired storytelling.

For sake of argument I’ll give my own quick fix to this movie. Don’t make Jake be Stacker’s son, but you can keep the washout Maverick-ness of the character. The Kaiju show up again but have the Breach be in space and have the Kaiju be able to fly like was shown with that one in the first film. Giant robots in space, boom. There, made your film not look like a rehash AND separated it from Transformers.

The other major fault I have with PRU is simply that it never slows down and appreciates what it is or lets us know who the characters are. The first film took time in showing the Jaegers and the Kaiju in action. Hell the opening action sequence of Pacific Rim was literally showing us what happens when a Kaiju shows up and a Jaeger is sent to stop it, including putting the pilot suits on! We had slow moments where our leads bonded. We got to know all our leads and supporting characters. In PRU we have numerous actions scenes that start out of nowhere and end abruptly. The Kaiju just suddenly appear two-thirds into this film, as the first two acts are spent on character drama and solving the mystery of the rogue Jaeger. Characters show up and die with little fanfare (I’m looking at you Marshal whathisname and SPOILERS). PRU is about 20 minutes shorter than Pacific Rim, and it shows. I mentioned the “perfectly multi-ethnic dozen-ish Jaeger recruit pilots” previously and MILD SPOILERS one of them dies in the climax and if I’d be shocked if I could pick them out of a lineup of photos. There are three returning actors and about twenty new ones, and god help you if you have to identify any of the new faces. I find this odd as hell because they just drop most of the surviving characters from Pacific Rim with zero mention such as Hercules Hansen and Tendo Choi, and give zero explanation why Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket is absent (but at least didn’t kill him like Independence Day: Resurgence did to Will Smith). Pacific Rim had about 9 characters it expected us to remember in 132min, PRU has closer to 20 in 111min.

Honestly at some points I wonder if the people who made PRU ever even watched the first one more than once.

Here are just a few examples:
– Jaegers move like fast anime robots leaping through the air, rather than slow hulking robots. I read that this was a deliberate choice for this movie as they wanted speed, as explained by “more advanced tech” but it’s a massive deviation from the first

– “drift compatible” teams mean nothing, it’s more like a genetic trait this time and you can drift with anyone

– national teams for Jaegers are no more

– Jaegers now have fucking antigravity weapons and electro whips…so just straight scifi bullshit to go along with the anime themes

– retcon of Kaiju/Precursor intent that disregards the first movie completely because “save the world”

– Jake…yeah that’s enough said there

– Unless I missed it, complete disregard for Chuck Hansen as dying with Stacker Pentecost

Not helping matters is across the board bad acting from the new characters, but to be fair the script makes it difficult for anyone to perform well. Boyega seems stuck as Finn from Star Wars, but mixing in random wisecracks he picked up from Poe Dameron. Cailee Spaeny as 15 year old Amara Namani is okay at times, but the suspension of disbelief needed to believe that a very short 15 year old was able to build a small Jaeger from scrap parts is beyond me. The rest of the bloated cast of new characters don’t get enough time to shine at all outside of Scott Eastwood as rival-dickhead Nate Lambert. A good number of the minor roles just seemed like they were cast for marketing purposes to show that this was a “global” film, which would be okay had they gave enough time to introduce any of these characters beyond a name and/or accent. Yes, I know Pacific Rim’s Russian and Chinese teams got very little screentime, but we also never spent time with them outside the Jaegers so their quick appearance is excused as we were never asked to care about them. Scott Eastwood was honestly my highlight for the film as his absolute lack of giving a shit was charming. Had they cut like 5 of the new characters from this movie it would have been stronger for it…I’m looking at you random mechanic love interest lady who was probably 75% cut out in editing. While I’d never say the acting in Pacific Rim was fantastic, it was stylized to hit on the classic corny action stereotypes, but in Uprising it’s just generic bad action performances.

If there is one good thing I can say about the film it’s that it has more Burn Gorman and Charlie Day. While I hate what they did to Charlie Day’s character (no spoilers, but he’s changed a lot since Pacific Rim) he at least seems to have retained the coolness that del Toro gave him as this weird rockstar scientist. Burn Gorman getting time to actually do stuff was delightful, as I find he’s a horribly underutilized actor in most of the films he appears in. Oddly these were the only two characters in the film I gave a damn about, and they are around 4th and 5th in screen time.

The action scenes are also for the most part pretty alright, though the random slapstick comedy thrown in is distracting. Simply put: there isn’t anywhere else in western live cinema to see giant robots fight giant monsters, and when PRU remembers to do that in the last 20 minutes it gets back to being as close to fun as it can be. Sure the scene goes on too long and the samey Jaeger designs with bland cadet pilots make it difficult to remember who the hell is in what robot, but it’s still what we paid to see.

When all is said and done I get the feeling that Pacific Rim Uprising will have a place of honor in the Hall Of Forgettable Sequels. Not corny enough to be fun, and not exciting enough to be captivating, Pacific Rim Uprising sits in that awkward murky middle of bland boring blockbusters. All the behind the scenes delays and changes have resulted in a sequel to Pacific Rim that forgets what made the first film stand out, and instead ends up as a film that gets lost in the crowd. Pacific Rim got you pumped up to cancel the apocalypse, but as Jake constantly says in Uprising: “I am not my father.”

1.5 out of 5

The Host: Bland, Boring, and Soulless

You ever want to see a movie with all the qualities of Twilight that made it bad but little of the qualities that made it laughably bad and thus slightly enjoyable? Also a story being written by Stephenie Meyer, the lady who brought us the Twilight series? Um…it was scripted and directed by Andrew Niccol, the man behind Gattaca, Simone, and In Time…okay only one of those is good. Well, sit down and watch The Host – a science fiction alien invasion love triangle movie about a girl who is in love with a boy, who then gets possessed by an alien, who then falls in love with another boy. Oh, also the film has about 3 minutes of action scenes in its over two hour runtime. Enjoy!

There is just so much wrong with this film that it rivals The Happening in questioning its own choices.

Bonus points for almost singlehandedly starting the end of the young-adult film craze that died rather quickly after Twilight ended and The Hunger Games sort of flopped unceremoniously to the finish line.

So sometime in the near-ish future an alien species called “Souls” somehow invades and takes over our planet – body snatching all humans and “perfecting” Earth as it currently is. How this happens is a good guess as we never see any advanced alien weapons, and the aliens themselves are easy as hell to spot and kill. Okay, so one of the last humans – Melanie Stryder (for fucks sake with this name) played by Saoirse Ronan – gets captured as she’s protecting her little brother Jamie. She gets some alien Soul implanted in her body that goes by the name Wanderer as she’s such a blank slate of a character she doesn’t deserve a name. Somehow Melanie is still in Wanderer’s head which leads to rather confusing developments. Melanie tricks a sympathetic Wanderer into finding her uncle Jeb played by a no-shits-given William Hurt in the middle of the desert. Jeb finds Wanderer and takes her in, as Melanie’s boyfriend Jared and everyone other than Jeb and Jamie wants her dead as they don’t know a human can survive post-implantation. Suddenly another dude named Ian goes from trying to murder Wanderer to falling madly in love with her/it because love triangle. All the while an evil alien named Seeker (…seriously?) played by a scenery chewing Diane Kruger is hell-bent on finding and eliminating all humans, even though all her alien buddies tell her that they already won and she needs to chill the hell out. Two boring hours later and we get sequel bait that will never come into fruition.

One of the most immediate problems this film has is far too many bland or self-insert characters. Twilight worked okay because it only kept Bella as the audience self-insert, while Edward was just the perfect boy to fall in love with you who actually had a personality. In The Host we have Melanie who is an actual character, Wanderer who is literally a character without a name or personality other than being kind, and finally Jared/Ian who are both generic pretty boys less developed than a guest character on an episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer and next to differentiate outside of appearance. With an audience avatar and two generic love interests who fall in love with the main characters – because Stephenie Meyer doesn’t know how to write anything else – it’s difficult to enjoy being around any of these people.

And then the absolutely mind boggling choice to have Melanie and Wanderer talk to each other via internal narration by Melanie. It’s just…so baffling to see. It is so comically distracting that at times it almost seems like Saoirse Ronan is providing a comedy commentary for the movie. It’s also disorienting as hell because we have Melanie with her Louisiana accent chatting with Wanderer who has an oddly generic American voice. I’m not sure if having Melanie be a “ghost” that only Wanderer could see would have helped, but at least it wouldn’t have been as immersion breaking.

This also doesn’t help the fact that the film itself is painfully bland and poorly constructed. We are given a plot that does nothing new and what little hope their could be with its somewhat interesting premise is always brushed aside for safe young-adult love beats. There is a large swath of the middle of the film dedicated to Wanderer just being around humans to learn the value of our species, and it all but abandons Seeker’s hunt for her outside a few small scenes. It even has a pseudo third act breakup and painfully forced happy ending! Again, alien invasion movie that is more about a boring love triangle. Meyer and Niccol’s story sets up one way for the first 30 minutes about the Souls and human survivors being hunted, spends the next 60 minutes putting you to sleep with overdone young-adult love triangle moments, and climaxes in third act that finally remembers the film involves an alien invasion but barely in passing. In retrospect this is almost the exact story issue Twilight had…weird.

The film never does anything to examine its alien’s menace or motivations outside of just doing it for shits and giggles. The Souls just sort of exist as a generic overpowering force that has already won for no adequately explained reason, and the audience just has to accept it because the movie’s narrative doesn’t want to bother with logistics. The Host seriously tries to paint the Souls as some benevolent species that goes around the universe to experience life as another species, and glosses over the fact that they are essentially a race that is perfectly fine committing extinction-level genocide on sentient beings for no apparent good reason. It would be like if Star Trek tried to make the Borg sympathetic. A late scene has Wanderer being shocked and saddened at seeing the humans trying and failing to remove Souls from human hosts which kills both humans and glowy alien parasite…but why in Q’s name are we supposed to be sad at this? Again, this is a race that is made up of beings that exist solely to wipe out other species. I can understand Wanderer being sad, but this scene is presented as the audience is supposed to be disgusted at the actions of the humans that are simply trying to not be wiped out. Given Meyer’s track record with lore building in the first book in a series (like how the overall plot of the Twilight series is set up in book two) I’m going to assume she’s to blame here for the Souls’ lack of explanation, and as they are presented it’s difficult to really understand them in any way other than a plot device.

Speaking of the writing, god bless Saoirse Ronan for doing her best with this material. She clearly is trying to deliver a good performance in a film riddled with terrible ones. William Hurt seriously does not give a shit in this movie at all and I can’t exactly blame him here, and neither does pretty much any of the supporting characters. All young humans other than Ronan come across as being ripped out a CW Network teen drama. The one bright spot in this movie outside Ronan is the sheer hilarity of Diane Kruger as Seeker who honestly looks like eliminating humans is her sexual fetish. Seeker’s one defining trait is her compulsion to eliminate the last remaining humans, even though she’s the only Soul that appears to give a damn about the few survivors left. All the other “evil” souls are rather monotone and robotic, whereas Seeker is basically a Disney villain who seems like she might break out into song at any moment. As a viewer of this movie through an ironic viewpoint you can sometimes get some enjoyment from Kruger’s insanity contrasted with Hurt’s “they cast me in this because they needed a name” performance. Again, bless you Saoirse Ronan for making it through this movie and onto other films that so better use your immense talent.

For someone trying to enjoy this movie for its bad qualities there are a few specks of joy sprinkled around. Kruger’s Seeker is quite funny to watch as a “we’re supposed to be afraid of her?” kind of villain. The plot sometimes goes batshit in comedic ways, such as a time when some humans who are trying to gather supplies get discovered when they for some incredibly stupid reason decide to go over the speed limit on a highway. Also the fact that the humans try to disguise themselves with sunglasses. The sets in the human cave settlement look astoundingly cheap and fake, making the sets in the vastly cheaper The Descent look incredible by comparison. Some of the Souls interactions are rather funny because they decided to make the Souls as some sort of all-trusting species that would totally never lie or deceive each other. Sadly though the overriding feeling one gets when watching The Host is an overwhelming sense of boredom and an annoyance at the missed potential.

The Host could have been a standout of a genre that was oversaturated at the time of its release, but instead it’s yet another boring and failed franchise starter meant to duplicate the success of others by badly following in their footsteps. What promise the premise might have had is wasted on a story that doesn’t dare to do anything other than what its paint-by-numbers approach allows. There is a reason the young-adult novel adaptation genre died, and one needs to look no further than The Host to see every reason why you can’t manufacture the lightning-in-a-bottle successes of The Hunger Games and Twilight.

1.5 / 5

The Cloverfield Paradox: A Stunt Release To Cover The Rotten Smell

To call The Cloverfield Paradox a bad movie is an understatement. To call it an insult to the Cloverfield “franchise” is an understatement. To call its stunt release a shameful ploy to cover up its retched stink is an understatement.

In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t really thing The Cloverfield Paradox is that good.

Honestly, and I say this with all sincerity, fuck this movie.

When Netflix did a surprise release of the often-delayed God Particle/Untitled Cloverfield Movie/The Cloverfield Paradox I instantly felt a sense of dread. I could see this for what it was: Paramount dumping what it had already (rightly) knew was a box office bomb on a company that was both too stupid to pay for it and too hungry for positive buzz to know any better. I do wonder if this was a hasty move by Netflix after the massive negative press Bright caused. I’ll put it like this: no movie studio will willingly give up on a movie that it thinks can make money…and yet Paramount did exactly that and within minutes you can tell why.

While I usually like to delve deep into the plot I’ll be very vague here as it’s only a few days old. So Earth has almost run out of energy (5 years left…never explained how, something about oil) and has launched a space station with a perfectly international crew in order to conduct some sort of experiment meant to create a new type of power supply. As Earth starts to descend into chaos they finally succeed in creating their energy reaction but shit happens and they end up in an alternate universe (Earth-A, and Earth-B, for arguments sake). Weird unexplained stuff starts to happen and the crew desperately try to make it back to their home while figuring out how to save it. All of this vaguely connects to the Cloverfield franchise in the loosest of ways which is only ever seen in the final seconds.

The first Cloverfield was an interesting film – a take on the monster movie but from the perspective of someone trying to survive it on the ground. It left many unanswered questions that never needed answers. The “sequel” film 10 Cloverfield Lane was a take on the “trapped with a monster” psychological horror genre and loosely connected with Cloverfield, in that it could have taken place in the same universe but offered little explanation as to the events in the first. Both films are great in their own way, and each offers a unique take on the genre they are inhabiting. The Cloverfield Paradox however takes zero risks and tries desperately to attempt to explain the origins of the monster, but in doing so exposes the films greatest fault: it makes no sense at all.

The easiest fault in this film is its internal logic doesn’t exist. In doing the experiment the space station travels to an alternate universe (something about space-time?)…but arrives on the wrong side of the sun, and the travel somehow affects the laws of physics onboard. Strange stuff happens such as gravity going haywire, or a dude’s arm getting sucked into a wall…with no explanation why. A character from the Earth-B universe gets stuck inside the space stations wall a bit after the Earth-A station arrives, with their body partially phased into the stations wires and pipes…again, no explanation. A character mysteriously goes insane, seemingly gets possessed and 3D-prints a gun, and then suddenly explodes with worms. The closest thing to an explanation is a paranoid conspiracy theorist interviewed on not-CNN had postulated the experiments might open gateways to other worlds and demons…sure, I guess that’s as close as we’ll ever get to making sense. Anyone looking over this script could tell you the core concept was good but the stuff surrounding it was flawed to the point of needing massive revisions. The audience shouldn’t be left wondering why something random happens every 10 minutes. It’s full of holes so wide you could fit a particle accelerator through it.

Not helping matters is the awful script means our actors are stuck in painfully bland, stereotypical roles. The film has an ensemble of actors who other reviewers have told me are all well liked and recognizable, whereas I might have remembered a couple of them as I don’t partake much in TV shows or Netflix series in general. I think there were a couple of Marvel villains there…I think. Also fetish porn dude from The Martian who I guess went back into space and changed nationalities. I don’t necessarily fault the actors – I fault the script. The first act can best be described as a giant exposition dump that didn’t need to happen – the audience only needed the vagueness of “energy crisis” not a geopolitical “oil wars” thing that gets brought up sometimes to add unnecessary tension onboard. Honestly most of this script is unnatural exposition in the name of vaguely attempting to make this nonsensical plot seem reasonable to the viewer. None of the space station characters outside our lead get much development other than your standard tropes, such as “oh he’s the possible traitor” and so on, and only half of them are characters at all. The station is also made up of a perfectly international bunch of characters, which leaves you to believe that Earth is so stupid as to depend solely on this one solution to its energy crisis. Also, you’d think more than these few people would be working on this onboard the station. Oddly the film never brings up nuclear or solar power, only fossil fuels…but again, this is a terrible script.

All the while our space station crew are trying to survive we for some unfathomable reason keep cutting back to Earth-A for our lead characters’ husband trying to survive some sort of mystery attack. I call this unfathomable because it is clearly only bolted on for the Cloverfield connecting part of the movie, and lasts all of 10 minutes at most, and the movie would be stronger without it. It’s obvious padding which screams of reshoots once the Cloverfield name became attached. It’s distracting as hell, and takes what was otherwise a bad movie and helps to elevate it to be somehow even more terrible.

I’ll try to add a little bit of positivity to this review, even though that is hard. The set design is nice, albeit the station design makes no sense. The station itself has an interesting look to it, though the interiors could have come out of any near-future “clean” science fiction film. The CGI for the station is really good, but the same can’t be said for all the “terror” scenes. Of particular note is the “arm in wall” scene looks goofy, and the effects for the dismemberment look over a decade old. The metal glue effects also are terrible, though their final “kill” moment that is predictable as hell is rather interestingly done. Frankly I wonder if the good parts of the CGI were those done for the original release, and the bad parts were done for the reworks as part of the massive delays.

As a brief aside I want to mention something I saw while watching the Super Bowl. Just after the ad for the film played during the Super Bowl the top Google promoted tweet, as well as the tweet mentioned by a lot of “you can see this tonight” articles was one by someone who was praising the hell out of Netflix for this movie before it was released. The tweeter was praising the ethnically diverse cast, “POC” director, and female lead – all without seeing the movie. They called this a “gamechanger” type movie. I wonder if this person knew that Netflix never financed the movie, but only last minute bought it from a studio trying desperately to dump it on some sucker. I just want to thank The Cloverfield Paradox for proving that making a terrible movie can be done by any race or gender around. Way to go!

I feel like Netflix knew it had a clunker on its hands after buying it and played right into its overzealous millennial hype squad by stunt-releasing this movie. Who cares about reviews when you can trend on Twitter! Realistically if this movie didn’t have the Cloverfield name on it I doubt anyone over 25 would have given a damn about it. This is the type of film you’d just skip over in the “recently released” section – maybe pausing if you recognized an actor at all. Minus the name recognition, The Cloverfield Paradox could have been any number of direct-to-video sci-fi movies released every few weeks, albeit with a bigger budget and not starring some actor you remember from 20-30 years ago.

The best thing at all I can say about this movie is it reminded me how much better Sunshine and Event Horizon were. The Cloverfield Paradox is basically a mix of the two of those movies, and honestly watch either of them ahead of this. Both of those two are far better in every single way a film can be. Hell, watch nearly any other movie ahead of this one – it’s that bad.

The Cloverfield Paradox is the worst kind of bad movie – one bland enough to be forgettable, and not bad enough to be memorable. Whatever promise the premise and casting could have delivered on is one that required at least one more massive script rewrite. The first two Cloverfield movies were surprises in terms of quality, and sadly anyone who was following The Cloverfield Paradox’s troubled release could already tell the only surprise would be if it wasn’t dreadful. The Cloverfield Paradox is a badly written, perplexing, and downright awful movie to carry the beloved Cloverfield name that has now become meaningless. What hope 10 Cloverfield Lane created for an alien invasion anthology series was just destroyed by The Cloverfield Paradox, as I expect Paramount to wait a good long while before even contemplating another film in JJ Abrams little alien franchise.

1 / 5