The biggest asset of and strike against most sequels is familiarity.
Familiarity brings the audience back to the box office to follow the further exploits of characters and the development of core concepts that made the original film popular, but sometimes all that baggage hamstrings screenwriters and directors’ creativity and originality.
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At least that’s the case with the sixth movie in the “Alien” franchise “Alien: Covenant.”
The film is actually the second in a series of prequels to the first “Alien,” the highly influential Ridley Scott movie that sat the standard for the sci-fi/horror genre in 1979 that has rarely been matched since.
Scott (“Blade Runner, Thelma & Louise, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, and The Martian”) is back in the director’s chair, and to a degree, he guided a solid sci-fi horror story to completion, but only too a degree.
The movie is so familiar in parts that it becomes a bit tedious where it should be engrossing. With “Alien” in the title, it’s no secret that face-huggers and xenomorphs of some sort will be on tap. Of course, there will be at least one scene where the evil little parasitic beast ruptures through the chest of one of its human hosts.
While that scene was shocking, even terrifying the first time around, the law of diminishing returns eats the tired trope alive from the inside out this far down the line.
There have so many good and bad ciphers of “Alien” over the years, including “Life” from this March, that those who are just now discovering the “Alien” franchise might assume Scott is the imitator rather than the originator.
What Scott’s original “Alien” did so well besides shocking and grossing us out was supply an unexpected hero in Ellen Ripley for the audience to get behind and cheer on to a somewhat pyric victory.
To say the least there is no character that equates to Ripley in the movie, and while all the performances range from serviceable to strong, none of the actors offer a career-defining portrayal like Sigourney Weaver did as Scott’s original unlikely hero. This movie sorely missed that type of hero.
The one original twist in the film is a bit of a holdover from “Prometheus,” the first prequel in the planned trilogy. Michael Fassbender plays David 8 and Walter, both synthetic androids created by the Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Both have a degree of artificial intelligence, but David 8 is programmed for creativity, while Walter is not.
Walter is an assistant aboard the starship Covenant, a colonization vessel carrying a crew and 2,000 other colonists, who are resting in cryogenic sleep chambers on the voyage.
When the grossly incompetent and naïve, acting captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) learns of a seemingly inhabitable planet much closer than the Covenant’s thoroughly researched and vetted destination, he wants the crew to check the planet out as a viable option for colonization.
Obviously, that proves to be a dire mistake. However, David 8 shows up to rescue the search party, at least for the time being. When the android starts quoting from John Milton’s epic poem “Paradise Lost,” it’s a ham-fisted clue that something is awry.
For those who saw “Prometheus,” this movie fills you in on what David 8 has been up to since the end of that movie, and his ominous experiments portends disaster.
Captain Oram is described as a “man of faith” in the movie. He is the only “man of faith” in the film, and he is depicted as a fool, particularly in a showdown with David 8 during the film’s climax. That bit of commentary by Scott is telling.
Katherine Waterson, the wife of the previous captain of the Covenant, is the most levelheaded and capable member of the crew. While Waterson is no Weaver, she is solid. The other members of the crew do not come off quite as poorly as Oram, but most make fatal mistakes along the way.
Danny McBride, as Covenant pilot Tennessee, lends capable support, showing off sound dramatic chops. Hopefully, McBride, a gifted comedic writer and performer, will accept more roles that allow him to stretch dramatically.
If you’re a fan of the “Alien” franchise, the movie does have its interesting aspects, but overall the film’s beats are too familiar and too condescending for its own good.
(R) 2 hr. 3 min.
TCM hosts military movie marathon on Memorial Day weekend
Memorial Day weekend has arrived, and with it like clockwork is Turner Classic Movies’ annual military film marathon, running Friday through Monday.
In preparation for our holiday that honors those who died in service of the country, TCM will air 40 movies focusing on wars and the men and women who fought them.
The marathon is overloaded with great movies, including biopics, dramas, true stories, and even comedies. Here are three I’m planning to record.
This 1942 melodramatic thriller is Alfred Hitchcock’s fourth American film, and despite a B-list cast, it’s an effective if not a bit subversive treat.
Hitchcock had Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck in mind to star when he conceived the plot, but both were unavailable, so he settled for Robert Cummings and Priscilla Lane as the leads.
Even without his preferred stars, Hitchcock crafts a movie that shines as Cummings’ character Barry Kane is pinned with an act of sabotage on a Naval ship in Glendale, Calif., that kills his friend. Kane goes on the run to elude capture by the FBI, and just as importantly, find the actual saboteur.
While not a masterpiece, “Saboteur” is a solid example of Hitchcock’s signature style. All is not as it seems to be in the film that takes twists and turns during that cross-country chase that culminates with a climactic fall.
Tora! Tora! Tora!
“The sun came up, the bombs came down, and the world was torn apart,” is a somewhat poetic marketing phrase crafted to describe the 1970 film “Tora! Tora! Tora!” that depicts the political circumstances that ultimately led to Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and the United State’s subsequent entry into World War II.
The film directed by Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda, and Kinki Fukasaku was revolutionary by telling both sides of the story. Generally when Hollywood tells such a story, it goes for an all-star cast, but the trio of directors cast character actors like Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotton, E.G. Marshall, and James Whitmore to place more emphasis on the story than on the stars.
Based on Gordon W. Prange’s 1969 book of the same name as well as “The Broken Seal” by Ladislas Farago, the movie offers a highly detailed and factual history lesson of “a day that will live in infamy.”
Kids from the 1920s through the 1970s grew up watching the “Our Gang” (“Little Rascals”) short comedies, produced by Hal Roach from 1922-38 and MGM from 1938-1944, first on the big screen and later in syndication on television. MeTV still airs the shorts during the early mornings on Saturdays.
“General Spanky” is the lone feature-length film starring the Our Gang kids: Spanky, Buckwheat, Alfalfa, and others. Likely inspired by the Shirley Temple box-office hits “The Littlest Rebel” and “The Little Colonel,” the 1936 film is set during the Civil War and depicts the Spanky and the Gang as well-intentioned defenders of the Confederacy.
The comedy shorts are of their day and do depict racial, cultural and socio-economic stereotypes of all sorts. Most will find aspects of them insensitive in one way or the other.
However, the slapstick antics, smart-aleck retorts, and general mayhem depicted are absurdly funny.