Alien: Covenant (2017)

Hey, I wrote this review right after I saw ALIEN: COVENANT opening day but I didn’t post it because I thought it sounded a bit too much like an Annie Wilkes nerd-tantrum. Plus, the movie got some decent reviews and I didn’t want to be a wet blanket or something. As it turns out though, it’s really not all that negative especially now that I’ve edited out the part that made me sound like I belonged in a mental hospital. So here it is, here’s me being all disappointed…

RIDLEY SCOTT is one of my favorite directors. He’s got a keen visual style and his explorations into the horror and science fiction genre have resulted in two of my all time favorite films (ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER). I’m point-blank grateful that he has chosen to delve deeper into these mesmerizing worlds. No matter how many times he revisits these cinematic arenas you can bet I’ll be standing in line opening day, giddy as all get out. I couldn’t resist if I tried and wild Xenomorphs couldn’t drag me away. It will always be an honor and a privilege to be invited to witness what currently intrigues a great artist like RIDLEY SCOTT. That said, I’m not exactly over the moon with ALIEN: COVENANT. It may work a shade better than PROMETHEUS as a monster movie but it’s got nothing on its predecessor in the compelling character department and it sorely lags behind its elder sibling in delivering a profound sense of awe. Honestly, it left me slightly peeved. Perturbed even! Downright hexed! But mostly I feel mournful- surprisingly mournful.

Am I being a baby? I know I have to go in the direction that SCOTT points me but darn it, I really want to stay with (possible spoiler) Elizabeth Shaw (NOOMI RAPACE). The weird thing is, I was aware that she might not be present in this new outing and I didn’t give it a second thought. SCOTT decided to switch gears and drive the bus more into the original ALIEN zone and how could I argue with that? I guess I just assumed some new character would rise up (a’ la Ginny Field) and be equally interesting and that didn’t happen. Did they really think they could just shake a tall brunette with an unflattering haircut like a set of keys in front of my face and I’d coo, “Ripley!”? It doesn’t work like that. Really, none of the new crew registers fully and although most (or all) of them are couples they strangely don’t seem to click with each other properly either. I’m going to optimistically assume that future viewings (or an extended cut) will help them gel (BILLY CRUDUP is actually pretty great but he’s trapped in a sad sack Schleprock role). Of course MICHAEL FASSBENDER’s David continues to be an exquisite creation but I kind of resent him for taking over the whole show and for his being shoved down my throat like a rolled up magazine. (Hey, who’s the coldest, most sterile, least emotive character? Let’s double him!) An image of Shaw appears in the film and it’s like salt on a wound. I care about her. I don’t care so much about persnickety androids and people who are torched before they even have a line of dialogue.

That’s my beef. I don’t mind the wonky science or the dumb decisions made by the crew but I do care about the absence of good characters (and specifically Ellen Shaw). The good news is that ALIEN: COVENANT does indeed bring the horror so if you’re just craving monsters in space (nothing wrong with that) you might prefer this to PROMETHEUS. I have to say I dig the old-school shadowy stalking humanoid creature that lurks in the first two ALIEN films a lot more than the spazzy lizard-y beast that whips around in this newfangled flick. Maybe my eyes are too slow but the damn thing reminded me of HALLE BERRY in CATWOMAN and that’s never a good thing. I’m also not completely on board with a late in the game shower-kill that feels like it’s lifted from the phony slasher film at the beginning of BLOW OUT. It’s so out of place and shoehorned and what kind of person wants to have sex in a shower right after all of their friends have been slaughtered? Just like skin-job David’s claims that he loves Elizabeth Shaw while he attempts to exterminate all of humanity, it doesn’t pass the believable behavior/motive smell test.

But who am I kidding? I’m going to buy ALIEN: COVENANT on DVD and watch the heck out of it for years. I’m just going to have to file in my head in close proximity to the underwhelming ALIEN 3 (which is also visually stunning, has a few indelible scenes and heartlessly betrays beloved characters) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (which is also thought provoking, squirm inducing and fatally miscast. Sorry, WINONA ). Don’t go by me. I know a few folks whose opinions I trust who preferred ALIEN: COVENANT to PROMETHEUS, I myself did not. I know I’m supposed to be judging this flick on its own terms (as a hybrid mutation thinly connected to the animal that inspired it) but I just can’t seem to. Maybe I have an exaggerated sense of loyalty to go along with my heightened sense of betrayal. I don’t know, I’m really A-OK with judging a movie purely from an emotional non-technical level. It’s my prerogative as a red-blooded (as opposed to white) non-synthetic. I’ve already been a good soldier and suspended my disbelief; my common sense and my understanding of human behavior– do I really have to suspend my need for an engaging protagonist too?

Name That Trauma:: Rob M. on a 3-D Jewel Thief

It’s an early 80’s film (between 1981-1984). The film is essentially a one man show. I think it was originally in 3D. It’s a low budget sci-fi flick. The protagonist is a thief of sorts. He’s trying to steal a gem or gems from a church that has large number of booby traps. The entire movie is him navigating a series of traps to reach the alter where the jewel[s] are. I think he ultimately gets killed in the end. I’ve been searching for the title to this flick for a long time.

UNK SEZ: Hey, Rob! Not every piece of the puzzle fits perfectly but so much of what you described sounds like THE TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS from 1983. I wrote a review about the movie way back HERE, you can watch a trailer HERE and check out the incredible head-spinning scene below! Let us know if we caught the appropriate culprit!

Split (2016)

Holy Toledo, I dug me some SPLIT. And I’ve been suffering a miserable movie track record lately! I found ALIEN: COVENANT to be a profound disappointment, I thought the abysmally titled RINGS was an atrocious snooze-fest and IT COMES AT NIGHT though undeniably impressive, made me want to hang myself. SPLIT is a good time! It’s got what I call “Joie de horreur.” I couldn’t wait to see what happened next and it’s so genuinely entertaining that it’s easy to forgive whatever little (or not so little) lapses in logic might occur. In fact, the film’s overall goofy weirdness tends to automatically transform its missteps and wonky reasoning into campy charm. I don’t know if it was its shameless misrepresentation of multiple personality disorder (see also RAISING CAIN) or its unabashed exaltation of the great BETTY BUCKLEY (see also CARRIE) but this angel of a movie inadvertently gave me the DE PALMA thriller fix I had no idea I was craving so darn badly. If NANCY ALLEN showed up, I could have died a happy man right there on my cat-shredded couch.

Please believe my sincerity when I tell you I mean this as a compliment- SPLIT not only reminded me of a delicious DE PALMA psychobabble sundae, it also made me feel like I was watching an extraordinary new breed of mutant LIFETIME movie (sorta like GONE GIRL). Three innocent teen girls (including bunny-faced ANYA TAYLOR-JOY of THE WITCH fame) are abducted from a mall (KING OF PRUSSIA MALL, the same joint I rented my very first VHS tapes from!) and kept prisoner by a madman with a ton of personalities and an enviable wardrobe. Bring a snack! This is the type of movie that if you caught it on TV, you’d never be able to change the channel or go back to sleep. Yes, it hit me in my LIFETIME zone and I found myself just as trapped as those girls. The only thing that softened the tension for me was the fact that I felt so comfortable in the lunatic’s living space and really related to his decorating style (especially the child alternate’s room with the stuffed animals). I realize now that the absolute perfect window for me is one that is drawn with a crayon. Let’s face it; I wouldn’t try to escape. Is that bad?

Don’t worry, I’m not forgetting JAMES McAVOY, he gets his own paragraph. Who is this guy? I barely noticed him in those X MEN movies and I didn’t make it past 30 minutes of VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN but he’s truly a wonder to behold in SPLIT. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed an actor so gleefully reveling in the boundless possibilities of his craft before. He’s completely free and fearless and you can’t take your eyes off of him. I’m sure somebody with a keener ear than mine could find faults with his delivery but his overall effervescence sold me completely.

And I have to say, even though this film’s representation of a dissociated identity disorder/multiple personality disorder is outdated, cartoonish and bordering on irresponsible, I can’t help being intoxicated by it. Maybe it’s just residual affiliation left over from my preteen obsession with SYBIL but I’m too intrigued by this questionably accurate construct to let it go. Even if multiple personalities don’t exist as this persistent Hollywood trope suggests, I think there is a useful truth about the fluidity of personal identity being represented that we all can relate to and recognize in ourselves. Hasn’t everyone had the experience of seeing different sides of themselves emerge when confronted by difficult situations? Is it uncommon to fear that an emotion might take you over, that if you were to express your anger fully you’d be in danger of becoming a monster? Who doesn’t want to regress back to the simple joys of childhood when reality becomes hideous? I guess what I’m saying is whatever this presentation of mental illness lacks in the accuracy department, I think it makes up for by relaying a bigger truth about the human condition. That’s my rationalization anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

I know I’m super late to the game and get zero cool points for gushing over a highly successful mainstream movie by a popular director six months after its release but this all does my heart good anyway. It’s a solid reminder that people can still surprise you after you have completely given up on them. I not only disagreed that THE VISIT was a return to form for M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN, I also thought THE VISIT was one of the most annoying motion pictures ever made.

But now I’m letting bygones be bygones. I’m even going to join the rest of the world and erase that faux-documentary THE BURIED SECRET OF M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN from my memory banks. It’s a good thing to have a director out there interested in the darker, more mysterious side of life making decent films again. A rising tide lifts all boats! Maybe now some more performance-reliant character driven independent horror films will get made- who knows? Plus, I have to give M. NIGHT his rightful due for consistently showcasing the super glamorous city of Philadelphia, the home of Kindertrauma Kastle, in the most complimentary light possible. In the end though, I’m most happy with the film’s bold conclusion. As we all know, M. KNIGHT is notorious for his twist endings. In this particular case, the ending actually opens the film up and expands its universe, increasing the possibilities. Whereas, I think the lion’s share of his previous rug-pulls do the exact opposite. I guess it could be argued that I enjoyed this because my expectations were low but the reality is, an exceptional performance (and a heaping dollop of BETTY BUCKLEY) goes a long way. Your mileage may vary but for me, SPLIT is just what the doctor ordered.

It Comes at Night (2017)

There’s this song by a band called THE CHAMELEONS that has haunted me for decades. It’s called “Swamp Thing” and it’s so epic in my head. It starts out stomping ominously and then it twists into some kind of dark poetic hurricane and then it breaks into this strange inspirational anthem type-thing. I’m not sure exactly what it’s about but I always got a sense that it was generally about withstanding the inevitable storms of life and living to see better weather. Anyway, there’s a line in the song “When the world is too much with me…” which particularly resonates in my noggin. I always assumed it amounted to “When things get to be too much” and so I’d use it to advise myself like, “The world is too much with you- you should go to bed.” A little tiny bit o’ research (i.e. Google) has led me to understand it’s probably a reference to a poem by William Wordsworth entitled “The World is Too Much With Us” which is about how maybe you should stop selling your soul to materialism and go for a walk in the woods. This is good advice! The other day the world was “too much with me” and instead of going to the woods, I went to the movie theater to escape and find solace and boy, was I ever so sorry I did.

And yes, I do go to horror movies to feel better and lift my spirits. They’re thrilling, are often about overcoming adversity and if all else fails, tend to make your problems seem quaint in comparison. I didn’t know much about IT COMES AT NIGHT, which is how I like it. Based on the trailer, it looked like the perfect antidote because it apparently featured a cabin, lots of lantern light and a threatening red door. I did know it was from the fine folks at A24 and that should have clued me in that it wasn’t going to be traditional fare but hey, I was desperate and how could I resist this film’s intriguing title? I can’t criticize IT COMES AT NIGHT for being a bad movie because it’s not a bad movie; it’s fantastic, it’s challenging, it’s art! The acting (jeez, that JOEL EDGERTON– he couldn’t be better) is exceptional, the writing keeps you on your toes and I love the whole look and feel of it. There are all these great earthy, muted woodsy hues and it feels lived in and it’s welcomingly housebound. I love a movie with a limited setting (I could hang out in 10 CLOVERFILED LANE, all day!) but this movie kicked me in the gut. It’s basically an avalanche of dread (as it has a right to be – who said horror is fun?) and I myself, had a hard time crawling out from under it. I did end up respecting its gloomy consistency but I have a feeling it’s going on my list of movies I’ll never watch again.

Can I think it’s semi-brilliant and also hate it? It’s basically everything I wanted to escape when I went to the theater. It seems to have a real problem with William Wordsworth too because it wants you to know that even if you strip away industry, technology and modern social constructs, paranoid, poisonous humans will find a way to commit the worst atrocities under the guise of protecting their own. They even drug a lovable dog into this chunky porridge of desolation! I wasn’t having it, I wasn’t having it one bit. You know when Pieter Bruegel the Elder‘s painting “The Triumph of Death” provides a lively respite from the persistent morbidity, you’re in trouble.

Oh, I forgot to tell you what it’s about! There’s a plague and so everybody has gone insane and these two families try to join forces to better their survival chances and then destroy each other instead. It’s super stressful and then the worst possible conclusion happens (I won’t reveal the ending but there’s an ultimate moment of inhumanity that results in some of the most authentic howls of grief I’ve ever heard in a movie (ELVIS’ granddaughter RILEY KEOUGH really goes there-she’s tops). I had to sneak into WONDER WOMAN afterwards just to clear my head (I would have done that anyway). So, in closing, I do not recommend this movie if you’re looking for a good time and now I’m going to listen to some records by THE CHAMELEONS. I dunno, it was too much for me and yet not enough for me. Maybe I’m getting sensitive in my old age? Anyway, if writer/director TREY EDWARD SHULTZ was trying to ruin my day….success! I just want to to high-five this film’s indisputable craftsmanship and its impeccable performances (especially EDGERTON and KEOUGH) and then tip-toe away from it, never looking back…

…but I can’t stop thinking about it and now I’ve got another line from that CHAMELEONS song stuck in my head, “Stop staring at the ground”.

Traumafession: Beth L. on The Believers

Hey guys! I have a weird one for you. When I was about ten I watched a movie with my dad and for years I only remembered the very beginning. There was a scene with a mother making coffee who somehow electrocutes herself by standing in a puddle while touching a faulty coffee maker. It terrified me because I imagined it happening to my own mom and I still think about the scene sometimes when I make coffee. I was talking about it with a friend who told me it was called “The Believers” and I found the scene on YouTube! It’s dubbed but it’s definitely the scene I remember as a kid! I wanted to share it with you. Thanks for all the trauma memories!


Sunday Movie:: Blood and Lace (1971) (Via Comet TV)

Today is obviously going to be the greatest day ever because the coolest channel that ever existed COMET TV, is going to be airing BLOOD AND LACE at 2pm! Man, I love that BLOOD AND LACE! What a great movie! How did I survive for so many years without it in my life? Furthermore, how did I survive so many years without COMET TV? Those were dark days indeed and I never even knew it. You can read my full gushing review of the fine flick HERE and you can watch the movie itself HERE or on your TV at two! Ain’t life grand?