Alien: Covenant – A Movie Review

I wouldn’t consider myself a huge fan of the Alien franchise, but I definitely have fond memories of Aliens scaring the crap out of me as a kid.  Honestly, believe it or not, Prometheus is what got me really excited for the revitalized Alien saga.  Prometheus seemed innovative, smart, and full of ramifications for not only where the Alien franchise has been, but also where it is going.

Because I loved Prometheus so much, I couldn’t wait for Covenant.

Here’s the thing … if you’ve seen Alien or Aliens, you’ve seen Covenant.

Did Covenant thrill?  Absolutely.  Were the special effects amazing?  Yes, without a doubt.  Were the monsters scary as hell?  Oh, yeah.

Unfortunately, from a story perspective, nothing felt particularly new.  The story is pretty much the same:  Distress call.  Good intentions.  Infection.  Bloodshed.  Female protagonists fights for her life.  [Redacted.]

Compared to Prometheus, Covenant felt like a retread.  Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that I didn’t care about Covenant’s crew.  None of them were particularly charismatic or even likable.  In fact, I think the vast majority of them were fairly bland and perhaps even cliched.  The apparent protagonist, Daniels, can’t compare to the magnetic Ripley or even the engaging Dr. Shaw.  Astoundingly, Michael Fassbender felt both constrained and exploited by his character.

I think if you’re a traditional Aliens fan, Covenant will entertain, but I personally just couldn’t get past some of the inexplicable decisions the crew made nor the unlikely scenarios presented in the plot.  There were so many instances that left me befuddled.

Speaking of plot, without spoiling too much of the film, there are about five minutes that directly relate to Prometheus, and, man, do I wish Ridley Scott had made that movie instead.  If only they had used that vignette as the foundation for an entire film … that movie would have been amazing.

So, like I said, if you’re a fan, Covenant will be a fun experience.  It’s not a bad movie at all.  It’s well made and looks fantastic.  I certainly had a good time watching it with some friends.  By the movie’s end, though, I realized I’d already seen it about thirty years ago.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 – A Movie Review

I’ll be honest and admit that when Guardians Of the Galaxy came around back in 2014, I wasn’t all that into it.  I didn’t even make it to the theater for a viewing.  Truthfully, even when it came out on video, I didn’t think it was all that great.  Funny?  Sure.  Different from any other Marvel movie?  Definitely.  Fun?  Yeah.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

So, with all that being said, I’d like to say that I LOVED Guardians Of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

I won’t spoil anything in this review, but I found this installment far more funny.  These characters aren’t even trying to take themselves seriously anymore, except when they are – more on that later.

It also has a better plot that is no longer beholden to the Infinity Stones.  Elements touched upon earlier in the film came into play later in the film, especially in regards to the jokes.  But, even in terms of story, it all went full-circle and came together nicely.

The visuals are absolutely amazing.  As I watched the film, I stopped and appreciated the nuanced aliens, the diverse machinery, and how this film truly looks like it could span a universe.  (Maybe I should have said galaxy there, huh?)  It’s a feast for the eyes, to be sure.

There also existed a very cool message regarding family.  Again, I won’t spoil anything, but if the first film served as a reason to come together, this film serves as a reason to stay together.  As you can see from the advertisements, Nebula plays a far greater role, as does Yondu.  These two characters have familial ties to particular Guardians, ties that make for interesting plot developments.  I loved this film because of these character developments.  We’re seeing these characters change and grow in ways we haven’t seen in many other Marvel movies.

Of course, that’s not to say that this is a character study – not at all.  For the most part, these characters all have uproarious comedic moments.  I mean, I’m talking scenes that will make you absolutely guffaw.  Yes, I said guffaw.   But then, every once in a while, truly touching scenes arise.  Scenes that were emotional, sentimental, and tugged on the old heartstrings.  Happily, these moments did not at all detract from the film whatsoever – they only served to amplify the story line.  Were they a little syrupy?  Sure, but they worked well in a movie like this.

I also really liked that this film did not necessarily follow the tried and true sequel format.  It actually followed far more of a comic book or cartoon structure.  Once more, I won’t spoil anything for you, but this movie gives us an opportunity to see the Guardians in different situations, different dynamics, different groupings, and in different settings, and they each shine as a result.

Obviously, I loved this film far more than its first installment.  However, this movie would not have been possible without its predecessor.  I don’t mean that in the literal sense, of course.  Rather, I mean that by all the groundwork being laid in the first movie in terms of character, those characters now have a chance to break their own mold and grow in ways delightful.

Baby Groot is adorable.  Drax is hilarious.  Rocket is more abrasive than ever.  Gamora lets down her defenses.  Star-Lord becomes more than just a guy who cracks one-liners.  Nebula and Yondu?  You’ll have to see for yourselves.

Oh, and there are some fantastic cameos.  I can’t even touch upon those.  I will say this: be sure to sit through ALL the credits.  All of them.  And watch them closely.  There’s a lot going on even during the credits that’s a lot of fun.

That’s really the operative word – fun.  This is a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I love it for its own sense of irreverence.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A Movie Review (No Spoilers)

So, if you’ve been keeping up, you know getting to this movie was a bit of an odyssey for me.  Finally, though, Sunday night, I got to view it for the first time.  (And yes, there WILL be a second time … probably a third as well.)

I’m NOT going to spoil anything for you, so don’t be worried.  I’ll say this, through the first half of the movie I felt a bit … fidgety.  I’d heard great things from friends, people I trust completely, and the film simply wasn’t living up to their hype.  I started to wonder if I perhaps missed something vital that they appreciated.

And then the second half of the movie happened.

And it was perfect.

As a Star Wars fan, Rogue One’s finale did everything I hoped it would do and even more.  It exceeded my expectations.

You see, it did this funny little thing some stories do called “pacing.”  By the end of the movie, I realized it felt a bit slow in the beginning because they were establishing character, motive, plot … you know, the kind of stuff we’re not all that accustomed to experiencing from big budget movies anymore.  When the credits rolled, I realized I cared deeply for each and every one of the main characters from Rogue One because it took its time and gave each of those characters defining moments to make us relate to them, care about them, and appreciate them.

Rogue One also felt unique because, more than any other Star Wars movie, it really felt like an actual war unfolded before our eyes.  We saw the real repercussions of the battles, we witnessed atrocities committed by both sides, we watched as idealistic sacrifices unfolded.  From an emotional standpoint, I think Rogue One is perhaps the most potent of all Star Wars films.  I don’t know – I could still just be caught up in the moment.

I also want to say that there are so many GREAT moments in the last fifteen minutes of the movie – no Star Wars fan will go disappointed, I promise.  I wish I could go into more detail, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  Let’s just say this: Rogue One may be a standalone story, but it is far more relevant to the overall mythos than I ever expected.

I had a lot of issues with the prequels.  One such issue dealt with the fact that everything looked so sterile, glossy, and clean.  It did not match the griminess of A New Hope.  Well, let me tell you, Rogue One definitely “looks” like A New Hope.  It’s pretty amazing, in fact.  With even the smallest details, Rogue One absolutely fits A New Hope’s universe, more than the prequels ever did.

Though it feels a little slow in the beginning, Rogue One completely satisfies by story’s end and exceeded my already lofty expectations.  Though the action and special effects are mesmerizing, the real magic of this movie is the story and the characters.  This is a far more emotional tale than I thought possible.  Be patient as you watch it – it takes its time and it delivers.  Oh, man, do those last twenty minutes deliver.

 

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Doctor Strange – A Movie Review

This is a Marvel movie unlike any other.  You will see insane special effects that absolutely transfix.  And though the movie is somewhat beholden to the cliched “origin story,” it does attempt, perhaps more so than ever before, to present a true journey to heroism.  In the end, though, it had a major flaw.

Doctor Strange is not a very heroic man in the beginning of the movie.  He is arrogant, egocentric, and concerned only with his work and resulting reputation.  Of course, the charming Benedict Cumberbatch plays the title character, so we can’t help but like Doctor Strange even as he is saying things that aren’t very charitable.  A terrible accident steals his sense of self-worth, and in traveling to the Far East, Strange enters a world that forces him to set aside his ego and eventually evolve into a hero.

As I already said, Doctor Strange has some amazing visuals.  It’s also got plenty of action, nice moments of humor, a strong attempt at character development, and it knows how to walk a delicate line between the relatively grounded Marvel Universe and the surreal world of Doctor Strange.

I appreciate that they avoided well-trodden romantic angles (though I think they wasted a very talented Rachel McAdams).  I like that they kept Doctor Strange somewhat limited because he is mostly a novice at the mystic arts.  I also thought it was smart to show us the progression of Strange from being self-centered into a man willing to sacrifice.

Did it have Ant-Man’s sense of fun?  No.  Was it as funny as Guardians Of the Galaxy?  Nope.  Was the physical action as intense as The Winter Soldier?  Not by a long shot.  Did it have Iron Man’s flat-out charisma?  It did not.  Yet it was not a disappointment because it had a little of all of those things.  It was just different from the other Marvel movies, and I mean that as a compliment because the super hero movie must find new ways to unfold if it is to retain an audience’s interest, and Doctor Strange fought to do just that.

In talking with a friend after seeing the movie, however, we decided the movie missed a major opportunity that ultimately left it flawed.

SPOILERS AHEAD …

Like so many movies of late, Doctor Strange ends with our hero facing down a previously unseen “big baddie” in an alternate, trippy dimension.  While I love the method Doctor Strange used to defeat the “big baddie,” and while it certainly solidified his metamorphosis into a hero, it felt a forced and emotionally unimportant.  A major issue super hero movies have is that the big fight at the end must utilize grander and grander stakes, and while Doctor Strange attempted to circumnavigate the typical final conflict with the “big baddie” by employing a clever solution, it still felt disconnected to the story preceding it because, like I said, we had no emotional stake in this “big baddie” before the final confrontation.

On the other hand, Doctor Strange had an excellent ending gift-wrapped and ready to explore, but instead went with the “big baddie” approach.  Doctor Strange must confront The Ancient One near the end of the movie, and, by this point, we all love The Ancient One. She has a connection to the main villains present throughout the film, and by having Doctor Strange defeat her using the exact same technique as he did the “big baddie,” those villains could have lost their conduit to the “Dark Dimension” mentioned throughout the film.  Having a hero reluctantly defeat his teacher, and having a teacher forced to fight her student is the stuff of great depth and while the creators definitely could have wandered into cliched territory with this approach, I think the audience would have been far more invested in it as a final conflict.

Doctor Strange is visually stunning, has charismatic actors playing the leads, attempts a story told differently, but falls victim to many super hero movie mistakes, particularly that of the disconnected “big baddie.”

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The Secret Life Of Pets – A Movie Review

My daughters wanted to see this movie very badly, so we took them this opening weekend.  Needless to say, they loved it.

The general premise is that this movie looks into the life of pets while their owners are away.  I expected it to be a series of jokes about what’s going on behind those closed doors, but it actually turned out to be a far different movie than I anticipated.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the plot, but it becomes an adventurous comedy, a search and rescue of sorts.  The gags follow one after the other with plenty of laughs throughout, and just as things seem to start slowing down, new characters are introduced to liven it up again.

It is PG and a kids’ movie, and, for the most part, it’s totally appropriate for the little ones.  There is no real violence to speak of, though there are plenty of verbal threats.  The only time I actually wondered if they were going a bit too far is when some unwanted pets talked about wanting to kill their owners.  The conversation lasted a few minutes, and it never went beyond just talking about it.  There is no foul language other than words like “stupid” or “idiot.”  Of course, I have warped sense of humor, so I loved the ample never-ending poop and pee jokes.  Ample. Poop. And. Pee. Jokes.

The voices were fantastic as well.  Kevin Hart as the bunny Snowball stole the show, as you might imagine.  Jenny Slate’s Gidget also proved a riot.  But with Dana Carvey, Albert Brooks, Louis C.K., Lake Bell and many others, each and every pet had a distinct, hilarious personality.

The Secret Life Of Pets is a fast ninety minutes that kept the kids and me in stitches.  It doesn’t have the heart or emotional resonance of a Toy Story or Up, but it’s an entertaining flick that parents will enjoy along with the kids.

 

Deadpool – A Movie Review

Though I’m an avid lover of all things superhero, even I must admit that the genre has become somewhat formulaic when adapted to film.

Due to the nature of Deadpool’s meta-fiction characteristics, I had high hopes that his feature film would redefine the comic book film genre and blaze a new trail.  I wanted it to show me something I’ve never seen before, to provide a story unlike the typical comic book movie, and to completely ignore any established conventions.

More on that later …

I’m the first to admit that Deadpool is hilarious.  It’s also violent, crude, profane, gratuitous – but somehow all in a lovable way.  Living up to his “merc with a mouth” moniker, Deadpool is literally talking throughout the entire movie with joke after joke after joke.

While I’ve never followed the character closely, all indications suggest that they stayed true to the antihero, even down to his ability to talk directly to the audience and acknowledge that he’s part of a story.  It’s honestly hard to see anyone other than Ryan Reynolds playing this role.  He pulls off the physicality and the humor perfectly.  In other words, this is the Deadpool we’ve wanted since he appeared in that other movie.

So while it’s true I liked it, I didn’t love it.

The simple fact is it didn’t break the mold liked I hoped it would.  I won’t spoil the plot, but other than the constant jokes and some moments of “breaking the fourth wall,” this is a movie we’ve generally seen before.

And that’s okay.

Perhaps I placed too high of importance on Deadpool.  I expected it to be more than it had any business being.  It absolutely lived up to the character and stayed true to his nature.  But I hoped it would be unlike anything else I’ve seen in a superhero movie, and in that case it disappointed me.

So, if you want Deadpool in the thick of crazy action, hilarious jokes, gratuitous violence, unapologetic nudity, and ceaseless profanity – this is the movie for you.

Just don’t take the kids.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – A (Spoiler-Free) Movie Review

(No spoilers, I promise.)

Thank you, J.J. Abrams.  You knew exactly what we wanted and you gave it to us.

This is a Star Wars movie.  It looks like a Star Wars movie, it feels like a Star Wars movie.  It has charm, amazing locations, nonstop action, humor, depth, likable characters, interesting plots, unresolved mysteries, and a real sense of adventure.

We have new, charismatic heroes, conflicted villains, and old favorites bridging the gap into this new era.  Those favorites, by the way, prove exactly why they became favorites in the first place.

I grew up a Star Wars kid.  I’m now 38 years old and this satisfied my every need.

The franchise is in good hands and I can’t wait to see where they go next.