Movie Review: ALIEN: Covenant

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aliencovenant20th Century Fox
2017
R

Sleep well. Don’t let the bedbugs bite.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David, the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival.

Wild-eyed speculation time, again. You see, I have a theory about the recent couple of Alien-centric movies that Ridley Scott has produced in recent years. That theory being that he’s secretly trolling everyone with Alien: Covenant due to not being able to continue with the whole Prometheus storyline proper, and gave in and did a half-arsed Alien prequel sequel as a playful middle finger to studio suits and those who complained that Prometheus wasn’t “Alien enough”. This is the only logical explanation I can think of to explain this rather lackluster and mediocre entry in the overall Alien franchise.

If you recall with my review of Prometheus (it’s here if you need a brush-up, it has been five years after all), I actually rather liked the movie, mainly because it dared to do something different than your standard Alien movie. I was hoping for a continuation like this that eventually tied into the current Alien timeline set forth in the 1979 original classic. Instead, it was evident that the powers that be wanted more of a conventional Alien movie, so then we got this.

I should point out that I’m going to be spoiling the earwax out of this movie from here on out. Here we go, then…

After a bit of a prelude that shows the interaction between the android (or is that “replicant”? I think that it’s been established that the Alien universe is loosely tied into the Blade Runner universe as well) David from Prometheus and his creator Peter Weyland, starting things off with a nifty discussion on the existential nature of existence and the relationship between creator and its creation. Off to a nice start, here. Flash forward to about ten years after the events in Prometheus (I keep referencing a better movie, that’s not good), and the colony transport ship Covenant ship is en route to a habitable planet to set up shop for several thousand humans frozen embryos from Earth. They’ve got a good 7 years to go at this point, when a neutrino burst hits the ship, killing some colonists as well as the captain while in cryo-sleep. As the rest of the crew–along with their upgraded Android/Replicant named Walter–go about repairing the ship, they pick up a distress signal emanating from a nearby habitable planet that they somehow overlooked while picking out another planet to Manifest Destiny the heck out of. Recognizing it as a John Denver song, and reasoning that the popularity of John Denver probably isn’t powerful enough to reach beyond Earth, they decide to check it out.

Is any of this beginning to sound familiar, here? No? Let us continue, then…

The landing party discovers the planet in question is something of a paradise [SYMBOLISM ALERT!], and yet seems to have evidence that it was once populated by an intelligent life that at least figured out how to cultivate wheat. Not counting the one person they left at the shuttle, the landing party splits into two groups–one to run some tests to see how habitable the land is, and another to find the source of the transmission that got them there in the first place. Of course, aforementioned source is emanated from the crashed Engineer ship from the end of Prometheus, and is overtaken with overgrowth. A couple of guys from the landing party manage to get infected by the Fungal Spores of DOOM, and after a rather quick bit of an allergic reaction, each have a cute widdle neomorph pop out of them. The shuttle blows up, several from the group die horribly, and the survivors are saved by David the android and taken to his bachelor pad. Everyone freshens up, the two androids bond over music and existential discussion, and a fully grown neomorph decides to drop by for a bite or two to eat. That’s when David unveils his main hobby, and it doesn’t involve basket weaving. Wackiness ensues, they manage to fight off a full-fledged xenomorph and make it back to the Covenant, then another xenomorph shows up on board, more wackiness ensues, the alien is then knocked off of the ship with a couple of terraforming rigs, and both the survivors snuggle into their cryo-sleep pods, finding out too late that the wrong android/replicant came back with them from the planet. The end, for now.

The thing is, for all intents and purposes, Alien:Covenant isn’t a bad movie, per se. Ridley Scott manages to once again squeeze every ounce of gorgeous cinematography out of the scenes, resulting in some very breath-taking shots. Couple that with some atmospheric Gothic style interior shots of both the derelict Engineer ship and the ancient edifice that David made his home for the past 10 years. When it comes to the characters, though, it’s hands-down Michael Fastbender’s show, playing both David and his updated successor Walter, and interacting with…well, himself wonderfully. Danny McBride as ship jockey Tennessee was decent as well. The rest of the cast were, um…adequate, I want to say. And by that, I mean the crew wasn’t exactly the best of the best, here. Come to think of it, that seems to be the case for every one of the Alien movies.

The biggest weakness I found with Alien: Covenant was the feeling of been there, done that. The plot really does tread the similar ground that the other Alien movies went. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a complete retread of the very first Alien movie, but the similarities are rather stark when it isn’t trying to shoehorn in the events of Prometheus to try and make things work as a prequel. In the end, there are more questions raised than actually answered.

Overall, I don’t think Alien: Covenant went so far as to ruin the Alien franchise, but it doesn’t really present an argument that we shouldn’t let the franchise die with some dignity left. Worth at least one look, but wait for VOD.

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Movie Review: GREMLINS 2

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Movie Review_ GREMLINS 2Warner Bros.
1990
PG-13

“They put me on at 3am. People who are awake at 3am aren’t afraid of the Wolfman. The only thing that frightens those people is sobering up and going to work.”

The rules are the same but the laughs are bigger and the thrills are better. This time Billy and everyone’s favorite Mogwai, Gizmo, must face off against a new batch of Gremlins that definitely think New York is their kind of town.

There’s no denying that the original Gremlins is a classic. It managed to take a standard horror movie premise and turn it into a whimsical Christmas gem, which remains so to this day. So, of course it was inevitable that it would get a sequel to cash in on all the merchandising…er, movie magic that it’s spawned since. The only problem being that they waited six years to actually make one. And while the suits at Warner Bros. and Amblin Entertainment managed to get the original director Joe Dante to make the sequel, Dante had no interest whatsoever to do so.

And who could blame him? The story in the original Gremlins was wrapped up nicely, with Mr. Wing walking off into the night with Gizmo, back to the safety of his shop, after a night of terrifying wackiness. Gremlins didn’t really need a sequel. And on the cusp of the Summer of 1990, we got a sequel, whether we wanted one or not. And boy howdy, what a sequel.

I don’t think anybody was prepared for what we got when we sat down in the theater seats, awaiting the second installment of mogwai wackiness. If we were expecting something like the first one, we were sorely disappointed. Instead, we were treated to a biting satire of sequels in general, as well as a gleeful deconstruction of the first Gremlins movie.

We begin this movie with the death of Mr. Wing, along with the demolition of his shop, forcing Gizmo to vacate and suddenly finding himself the acquired property of scientists working in a New York high-rise business building owned by the Clamp Corporation. Coincidentally, this is where Billy and Kate from the first movie have ended up working at, and manage to rescue Gizmo. Of course, it’s just a matter of time before two of the Three Rules get violated, and soon the entire business building is overrun by the nasty scaly gremlins. And one of ’em has gained some super-intelligence and has plans for world domination.

Of course, when I first watched this movie in the theaters back in 1990, I didn’t really like it as much as the first one. Because, like pretty much everyone else, we were expecting something like the first movie, and were confused as to the tone and general absurdity of this one. While the concept of different style of mutated gremlins was cool (Spider Gremlin! Electo-Gremlin! Super-smart Gremlin with the voice of Tony Randall!), we also got a very thinly veiled jab at the movie industry’s need to do sequels that gleefully goes for the jugular. The Clamp Corporation is clearly a send-up of the Ted Turner mass media empire of the day, complete with a division that handles the colorization of classic movies. We have the late, great Christopher Lee as a mad scientist that stumbles upon the whole genetic splicing of the Gremlins thing. There’s also a wacky meta thing where the Gremlins apparently break into the theater you’re watching this at and breaks the film, causing Hulk Hogan to get rather annoyed at it. I am not making that up. Apparently, there’s an alternate take of this bit for the VHS release, but I’ve only really watched this at the theater when it was released, then on one of the premium cable movie channels at my grandparents’ place whenever it was on when I was visiting, so I only know the theater-centric version. And, to top it all off, the big climatic ending involves a musical number.

And it is just that kind of gleeful abandon and surreal absurdity that, over time, makes Gremlins 2: The New Batch to be just as good–dare I say, even better–that the original Gremlins. Because you cannot compare this with its original counterpart. This is a perfect example of comparing apples with pineapples. They both have the word “apple” in their names, but they are completely different fruits. Or, a berry and a fruit, if you want to get pedantic about apples technically being berries or whatever. What I’m trying to say is, Gremlins 2 is a different entity in and of itself.

So, watch and enjoy Gremlins 2, and admit to liking it. Just don’t try and compare it with its predecessor.

Movie Review: OUIJA: Origin Of Evil

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movie-review-ouija-origin-of-evilUniversal Pictures
2016
PG-13

“Do you know what it feels like to be strangled to death? First, you feel the pressure in your throat. Your eyes water, and you start to taste something very, very sour in your mouth. Then it’s like someone lights a match right in the middle of your chest, and that fire grows. It fills your lungs, and your throat, and all the way behind your eyes. And finally, that fire turns to ice; like pins and needles of ice are sticking into your fingers, your toes, your arms. You see stars, then darkness. And the last thing you feel… is cold. Goodnight, Romeo.”

In 1967 Los Angeles, widowed mother Alice Zander unwittingly invites authentic evil into her home by adding a new stunt to bolster her seance scam business. When the merciless spirit overtakes her youngest daughter Doris, the small family must confront unthinkable fears to save her and send her possessor back to the other side.

So, it seems that, despite Ouija being something of a dull snoozefest of a horror movie, the demographic it was aimed at with its PG-13 rating (young teenagers looking for Junior Thrills to feel all edgy and adult-like and stuff) still went out and made it a bunch of money, warranting a green-light for a sequel. Or something like that. That’s the only way I can rationalize something like Ouija getting a sequel made in the first place. It happens all the time, and that’s what is said about it to justify a sequel, “it made money”.

Control yourself, Uncle NecRo. Deep breaths. Don’t want to spend the entirety of this review lamenting how mediocre movies are more popular than actual good horror movies that remain and languish in obscure cult status. You’re here to talk about the sequel to Ouija that is really a prequel to the story in Ouija.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t looking forward to Ouija: Origin Of Evil. Even though I watched it back-to-back with Ouija as part of my standard Weekend of Horror/Sci-Fi Marathon, after watching the first one, I was sorely tempted to find an alternate title to cleanse the taste of mediocrity from my brain. Fortunately, though, Ouija: Origin Of Evil managed to do that by itself, just by being a vastly better movie than its predecessor.

Ouija: Origin Of Evil is a prequel to Ouija, in that it tells the story of the family that lived in the house previous to the characters in the first one, and how the titular board game came to touch their lives with whimsy and wonder by way of black magic.

Set in the 1960s, Alice, a single mother, is struggling to make ends meet to keep a roof over the heads of her and her two daughters, teenager Lina and grade schooler Doris. She does this by holding seances and other things that self-employed psychics do out of her house, most of which are, in fact, illusions and tricks employed to make the clients think they’re making contact with the other side.

You can probably see where this is going, but bear with me, here.

One night, after sneaking out of the house for a intimate shindig with friends, the oldest daughter plays the Ouija board for the first time (ending up with hilarious results), and suggests to her mother that they add it to their act to pump things up a notch. And so she does. And upon taking it out for a spin the first time, seems to unleash an entity that’s been tied to the house for decades before Alice and her minions took over residence. Or, as it turns out, a whole bunch of entities that have been stuck in the house due to a Nazi war criminal. Yeah, it’s always has to do with Nazis, doesn’t it. Anyway, one particularly nasty one takes possession of Doris, which leads to a whole bunch of creepy and downright bone-chilling supernatural shenanigans, which lead up to a bunch of other possessions and deaths that help set up that one scene in the first one that turned out to be the best part of that movie. Post-credit scene cameo from the Doris from the first movie, and booya, a far superior movie has been experienced.

Look, I know the why and the how Origin Of Evil is the vastly superior Ouija movie. This time around, there was a good script, a very good cast, which included one of the most convincing Creepy Child actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting creeped out at while watching this. Seriously, whether it was her staring at someone while smiling with an off-putting vibe, or cheerily describing to someone what it feels like to be choked to death (in one of the more amusing scenes, because she was playing with the head of her older sister’s would-be boyfriend), or gradually going all Evil Dead in the background shadows…yeah, that kid has made my Top 5 list of favorite Creepy Child characters. Maybe one day I shall share it with you. But for now, let’s finish up this review.

If you were given the choice between seeing only one of the (so far) two Ouija movies, I would strongly urge you to watch this one: Origin Of Evil. It’s a horror movie that does everything right, with minimalist effort. In other words, it seems that everyone involved learned their lesson from the first movie. Either way, check this one out, as it’s strongly recommended from your Uncle NecRo.

Music Review: S. DARKO

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Movie Review: S. DARKO20th Century Fox
2009
R

“Four days, 17 hours, 26 minutes, 31 seconds. That is when the world will end.”

July, 1995, the time is out of joint. Two teen girls, Sam and Corey, have left Virginia for L.A. to start over. Sam’s brother has died and her family’s shattered; Corey’s too wild. They have car trouble in a small desert town, where Corey immediately starts her partying ways, where a meteorite strikes a windmill, and where a burned-out Desert Storm vet predicts the end of the world in four days. Sam hallucinates while sleepwalking, young men have disappeared from town, and cars come out of nowhere to cause accidents. Time travel may be possible, but it takes courage and resolve. Is the addled war veteran right? If he is, can Corey or Sam make things right?

I’ll preface this review by saying that I am a big fan of the movie Donnie Darko. I own the movie, and watch it frequently. I fall in with the many who find Donnie Darko to be a very well-done independent flick, a period piece that blurred the lines between fantasy and reality, had a very poignant existential theme, and managed to pull off a sci-fi time travel theory angle without an ounce of cheesiness. The movie was also where I began to foster my fan crush on Maggie Gyllenhaal, despite also featuring another one of my fan crushes — Drew Barrymore. Seriously, I can’t really see ever getting tired of watching Donnie Darko.

So, yeah, when I discovered there was a direct-to-video sequel to Donnie Darko, focusing on Donnie’s younger sister Samantha, and made by some guy who wasn’t involved in the first movie, my first thought was “pointless Hollywood sequel.” Sure, morbid curiosity made me want to check it out once, that was inevitable. But I did at least wait until S. Darko was available on the $1 Rental rack at my local rental store. That way, at least I would have been out only a buck…a dollar that more often than not could have been put to more satisfying use at Taco Bell. But I digress…

I will say this — S. Darko could have been a disaster. I know how easy it could have been to just take the basic surface points of the original, and completely skip over the deeper aspects that made that a good film. Happens all the time with sequels and remakes. And while the famous Frank the Bunny mask does come into play, it’s regulated to the backburner in the overall story.

I think that having a director who was a fan of the original film, and wanting to make something that was more of a companion piece than an actual sequel, something true to the spirit of the original, worked in S. Darko’s favor. Truly, it could have been way worse than what it was. The movie had that dark trippy tone, and there were some truly creepy moments as well as some twists on the original to give it more of an identity of its own.

As a movie in and of itself, S. Darko is actually quite decent. A dark little existential fantasy that doesn’t take the easy ending route. Problem lies in the unavoidable comparison to the source movie, in which there is a noticeable lack of charm that keeps me from wanting to watch S. Darko more than once, let alone own it. I would recommend at least checking it out, though. You might be surprised…

Movie Review: The RAGE: Carrie 2

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Movie Review: RAGE: Carrie 2United Artists
1999
R

“Please. Don’t leave me. I don’t have anyone. Please, God… let me die.”

Rachel has some pretty good reasons for being withdrawn and morose- her mother’s in the nut house, she lives with a foster family that see her as merely a paycheck from the government, her best friend just committed suicide, and she just fell in love with one of the “cool” kids, which brings her nothing but wrath from the other “cool” kids at her school. Oh, and before I forget, she has tactile telekinesis. Apparently, this is an inherited trait. Or whatever…

You know, you can really tell something about a movie when the only character you feel any sympathy for is the basset hound when it gets hit by the SUV. Really.

You see, I’m rather torn about this movie. On the one hand, Rage is a standout among the glut of Scream-inspired teen horror movies that came out at the time. From an aesthetic standpoint, the film worked well- great imaging, nice use of colors, and an underlined sad poetic vibe. The “reject girl falls in love with the popular guy” love story angle worked as well, adding a rare depth to the otherwise flat script. Beyond that is where things get bumpy…

First off, according to the subtitle, this is a sequel to the 1976 horror staple. The problem is, outside of the needless presence of Sue from the original film, and a very, very convoluted explanation of Rachel’s powers, there’s hardly anything there to connect the two films logically. The tie-in attempt feels forced, which leads me to wonder if this angle was conceived of to make the plot work.

Secondly, I don’t buy the characters. Not for one minute. While Emily Bergl plays the character Rachel like a trained thespian, I don’t buy her as an outcast. She is just as beautiful, if not more so, as the other girls in the film, as is her best friend. But, if I happened to be as shallow as, say, the so-called “cool” kids in this movie, I guess it would be a no-brainer. No pun intended. You see, all of the “cool” kids, and it seems that’s everyone who isn’t Rachel and her ill-fated friend, are heartless self-absorbed pricks who hate Rachel for no apparent reason. I mean, c’mon…while High School was no picnic for me, and I’m sure my teenage days would be considered tame by today’s standards, I find it hard to detach myself and believe that every single one of the students are evil. I can buy one or two, or even a small clique having some evil agenda…but all of them? And the motivation for this is so thin it’s laughable. See, the premise involves a sex game with the guys, wherein they all score numerical points for scoring with the girls of the school. Each girl is given a certain point average, and the guy who gets the most points is the stud. Or something like that. Then one of them is busted, because he just happened to be the one who slept with Rachel’s friend, which prompted her suicide. So, obviously for that, Rachel must pay. And this, combined with the love story angle when one of their own actually falls in love with the reviled one (that’s Rachel, for those keeping score), is what justifies the evil scheme to destroy her by way of…POOL PARTY!

Which brings me to the concluding “horror” scene. While fun stuff, it feels a bit out of place. Why? Well, there’s the question of how Rachel suddenly becomes so proficient with her just-budding powers, when throughout the film she has no control over them whatsoever, on the rare times they did manifest. It comes off again as convoluted, really. But I finally digress…

I guess the big question I have is, why make this out to be a sequel to Carrie? Rage could have easily stood on its own, had it been written as more of a supernatural teen angst drama, with more characterization and without trying so hard to make us hate the “cool” kids. It can be done…

Movie Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3

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Movie Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD 3Artisan Entertainment
1993
R

“How could you… eat that man?”

Curt’s your typical angst-ridden teenage military brat (emphasis on the word “brat”)- he’s at odds with his by-the-book General father, who wants Curt to break it off with his girlfriend Julie and shape up. In a fit of rebellious 20-something “teenage” passion, Curt and Julie take off on his motorcycle, only to wipe out, rendering Julie living impaired (note to self: foreplay and motorcycles don’t mix). What’s Curt to do but sneak back into the military base and revive Julie with that nifty Trioxin gas they have stored there? Attempted wackiness ensues…

While I haven’t seen the second RotLD (the first one was a riot), this third installment of the horror comedy franchise just felt like it was merely going through the motions. As in, there wasn’t much to laugh about. Mostly, this sequel seems to be about the impressive corpse and gore effects, with the plot just an incidental side effect. Not bad for a mindless zombie flick, if you can power through the lags…

Movie Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: Rave To The Grave

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Movie Review: RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD: Rave To The GraveDenholm Trading Inc.
2005
R

“Listen, if you can’t trust your drug dealer, who can you trust? Huh?”

The guy who has possession of the very last canisters of the reanimating gas in existence has died, and now the zombie juice has fallen into the hands of his teenage nephew. A chemist friend of said nephew decides to turn the substance into a designer drug for all the other party-happy teens they know. Calling the drug “Z” (on account of it makes you seem like a zombie while you’re tripping, you see), it makes the rounds around campus, with the usual expected results. Long story short, a couple of Interpol agents are on the trail of the reanimation canisters, the dead rise at the annual Halloween rave, people get eaten…blah blah blah, yack yack yack…

This movie has done the impossible. Crazy as it sounds, but this fifth entry into the Return Of The Living Dead series has usurped House Of The Dead as the worst modern zombie movie made this century so far. Then again, I’ve yet to see Return Of The Living Dead: Necropolis, but for now, Rave To The Grave wins the award…anyhoo…

I’m beginning to see a pattern here. That pattern being ZOMBIES + RAVE = UTTER CRAP. It’s only the second time I’ve seen this volatile mix, the other being in the afore mentioned House Of The Dead. As a matter of fact, the only time I’ve seen a rave setting work is the one at the beginning of the first Blade movie, and even then it wasn’t the primary plot focus for the movie. Here, it’s all about the rave. The dancing. The drugs. The music. Belch. Seeing as how the zombies need to feast on brains for substance, you’d figure that, after munching on a few ravers, they’d die of starvation. But I digress…

In this less-than-mediocre entry, we have a very thin plot, incredibly bad acting, even worse settings (the entire thing was shot in Romania, with the country making a bad imitation of the United States, and some very obvious Romanians not even trying to pull off an American accent), throwaway characters aplenty, and perhaps the corniest excuses for zombies I’ve ever witnessed. Not scary. Not scary at all, my fiends. The so-called “comic relief” is just downright embarrassing. The pacing and cinematography is choppy at best. And the soundtrack…well, it’s nu-metal. Make what you will of it…

Point being is, a bunch of blood and gratuitous nudity does not a zombie flick make. Troma has better sense than this. Even with the fact that the Return Of The Living Dead franchise was meant to be more of a tongue-in-cheek zombie series, the guys who decided to make this and Necropolis (they were shot back-to-back, so I can imagine what Necropolis is going to be like) should have taken the time to watch the first three movies before making this embarrassment. Pass this up…unless you’re feeling rather masochistic…

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