Midnight Special(2016)-Film Review

I’m steadily going through a few films from the last few years which I have missed but have cropped up on Netflix. This was one of those films. It was from director Jeff Nichols, who has now made a number of very acclaimed and respected films and it was his second to feature the actor Michael Shannon.

It had been a while since I had thought about watching it and I only vaguely remembered that it was in some way possibly a science fiction movie. This was right but not very much like most sci-fi movies you might see.

It starts quickly with two men going on the run with a young boy-who seems oblivious-driving at night while at the same time the FBI bust into a large rural church gathering and round up the people there. In the car with the two men, the calm young boy wears swimming goggles at night and reads a comicbook by torchlight until they have to turn off the headlights and the driver puts on night-vision goggles so that they can drive unseen. Yes, very strange indeed.

Soon after this the film slows down while the two men, one played by Michael Shannon is the boy’s father, continue their journey to get the boy to a specific destination in a few short days before the FBI can reach them. Is the boy really his son? What do the FBI want? What were the church doing with the boy?

The film quickly threw up these and other questions. It seemed like it may have actually simply been a tense kidnap or abuse drama story but then a very sci-fi thing happens suddenly with the boy and we see that something really strange and fantastic is going on and there is a whole lot more to the story.

Soon enough the film feels like a mysterious episode of The X-Files or an X-Men film but it continues to maintain a tense emotional hold on the viewer. They meet up with the boy’s mother and soon Father, Mother and close friend all struggle with what they should be doing and what is the right thing for the boy.

In some ways I thought it may have been a bit more standard chase/thriller film with the cops/FBI on their tale and very predictable but thankfully that mostly was not the case. Most of the visual effects are really good, certainly the end of the film. It may not be the most original sci-fi movie all the way to the end but it become quite a philosophical story which raises a number of questions about faith, guilt, alien contact, families and more.

A good science fiction film with some challenging emotional and philosophical depth.

James E. Parsons has two SF books out now-Orbital Kin & Minerva Century both available from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other bookshops and online in paperback and ebook now.

 

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Ghost In The Shell (2017)-Film Review

Yes this live-action adaptation of the anime sci-fi cyberpunk 90’s classic was released at cinemas many months ago but I missed it back then. I was given a copy of it for Christmas and so now I have seen. There was a few reasons why I didn’t catch it back at the cinema months ago, and one of those reasons may have been due to the slightly uncomfortable issue of ‘Whitewashing’ in the film which very many people were critical about. Why did it star Scarlett Johansson? Did it need to have her? It is seen as an American movie-did it have to be? Could it not have been Japanese made with full Japanese cast of actors?

There were several arguments around these issues of the film production-why was the lead character played by a white American actor? But then the response was that the character of Major Mira Killian was not specifically Japanese in the original manga or anime and was possibly wearing a body and also is a cyborg so she could be created in any visual design way. And on it continued.

So yes, that all may have put me off seeing it or paying my money at the cinema which may have been endorsing this kind of possibly Americanisation of original Japanese entertainment. I could understand it in other ways as well-Scarlett Johansson was at the time of production possibly the highest paid Hollywood actress/female actor due to her role as Black Widow in the Marvel movies, which is a similarly well trained, highly physically capable heroic character so it does right in that sense. Plus, they would have thought it the best thing to have her in this film as it would possibly draw such a huge audience because of her.

So anyway, lets talk about the movie. I am also a big fan of the original anime film from the mid-90’s. If you already knew about it, you may have seen over time how frequently it had been stated that without Ghost in the Shell there may have been no The Matrix. That’s possibly true, as the Matrix trilogy especially the first film did seem to take so much visually and stylistically from this anime/manga classic. I did see the anime G.I.T.S. a couple of years after Matrix was released and I really was shocked at the similarities.

Besides the controversies of production, with this live-action version of G.I.T.S. what do we get? Is it a very close remake? Is it only inspired by the original anime?

Well this is where it did not do so well for me as it is not a total remake, or exact shot-for-shot live-action version but it does feature several very memorable scenes from the anime movie which look almost exactly the same (made extremely well) and the story uses some of the anime feature length story with some elements from episodes of the anime series as well. This resulted in a film which did not really give me a fascinating original new tale, but I mostly knew where it was going all of the way through to the end.

In some ways now I do actually regret not seeing it at cinemas or even on IMAX because along with the recent Blade Runner sequel this movie really does look absolutely mind-meltingly stunning visually. It gives us what Ridley Scott probably exactly wanted for the original Blade Runner all those years ago. It looks just like Scarlett Johansson is walking through that movie and you almost expect her to bump into Deckard on the neon-lit streets. It also contains some of the very best science fiction special effects I have seen in recent times when we seen Major taken apart, reconstructed, broken, her face opened out, other similar cyborg characters and robotic creations. They all look seamless and breath-taking.  These are different times for Hollywood with their international cinema audiences changing and evolving and so I can probably (cynically) understand the very international main actors cast around Johansson. This is no bad thing just different to the anime and does feel possibly forced. But then they added in Juliette Binoche who of course is really great and added a maternal bond element with the Major. Strangely they cast Japanese legend Beat Takeshi Kitano-which is fine, as he is a fantastic actor/director-but he has his own dialogue in Japanese and subtitled while no other characters do in the movie.

Another big difference is that this live-action adaptation is nowhere near as philosophically deep or profound as the anime original. I’ll be honest, I had to watch the original a good couple of times for so much of the philosophical theories and issues to sink in and absorb them. With this version, a thin level of the questions around humanity, the self, cyborg, A.I. and robotics are probed but not with too much depth. It would be wrong to have the script be exactly the same as the original but I did feel they could have worked on this more but then in many ways it still is a Hollywood movie aiming for as wide an international audience as possible.

This film is not a total let down. It is not as controversial as you may have been led to believe. If you have not ever seen the original anime or manga you will possibly really love it. You may wonder if it is a Blade Runner spin-off movie. I felt that it was also a little too short. If you have seen the anime movies and series or the manga go see this anyway because it is still very much worth seeing. It is not entirely perfect but it is still a really great new sci-fi movie which does begin to ask some questions about how robots, A.I. and technology may radically alter our lives in only a short time from now.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century (a cyborg mystery in space) out now in paperback, ebook and hardback in all good bookshops and online. Also his first horror novel Northern Souls is out now in paperback/ebook.

Yet more Hell to raise…Hellraiser- Judgment trailer

There seemed to be some big problems with the release of this latest new Hellraiser sequel. The whole film had been made and finished many months ago but it has been sitting waiting for some distributor to give it a chance. The director is Gary J. Tunnicliffe who has been a special effects creator on several previous Hellraiser films as well as scripting the last sequel.

Before any images from this new film came to the public, Tunnicliffe had been increasingly vocal about his personal vision for this new sequel, hoping to make something very much connected to the original world of Hellraiser, and including familiar Cenobites. One major issue here was that like the previous sequel, original modern horror monster icon Doug Bradley would not be playing the lead Cenobite Pinhead. The previous sequel Hellraiser: Revelations-which does not yet seem to even have had a UK dvd release-used an almost unknown actor to portray the famous ‘Pope of Hell’ and many fans were enraged by this. It was very similar to a few years ago when Jackie Earle Haley replaced Robert Englund as Freddy Krugger in the A Nightmare on Elmstreet remake. That film really didn’t go down well with long-time fans and the Hellraiser franchise is experiencing similar friction. But with Englund and Doug Bradley both while very great actors, also getting older in years; if we want more sequels or to see the iconic characters on screen we probably require new younger actors. But how many sequels does a movie need?

There have been over half a dozen sequels in the Hellraiser film series now. The first produced by the multi-talented writer/artist Clive Barker whom created the idea in the beginning. The third movie went very American, but had some interesting backstory. The forth film was possibly too much of a challenge on too small a budget but fascinating. Since then the other sequels have been mostly hit-and-miss, and it has been noting that some were made from rewritten old unknown horror scripts collecting dust in Hollywood. Will this new sequel be the one to really reinvigorate the series?

How much is left to say in the world of Hellrasier, how many more tales to explore?

Well in comicbook form, Hellraiser has been doing great things over the past decade or so with help from Barker and others. The difference there being that in comics visually there are no budget issues, you can see and depict whatever comes to mind and also they are probably less likely to be so censored as films.

Hellraiser:Judgment is release on dvd/Bluray in under a month in the U.S., no UK release date as yet. The trailer does look like the film has had some very focused and devoted effort and attention put into it being something worth seeing I think. Plus the new actor to play Pinhead (Paul T. Taylor) does actually really look the part.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, available now as paperback/ebook/hardback in shops and online internationally. His first horror novel Northern Souls is available now (under James Parsons).

Justice League (2017) Film Review

All these years up against the mighty Marvel studios must have been such a challenge and creative pressure. Finally a few weeks ago we got to see the most famous DC comics characters united together as the Justice League on screen for the first time. This was of course several years after Marvel did the same with their iconic characters in Avengers Assemble to great success.

Between each DC superhero movie since around 2010, Marvel gave us usually two great movies each year and DC repeatedly floundered with not entirely amazing or only half-way successful films such as Green Lantern and Man of Steel. They looked great most of the time, everything at first seemed in place but fans and critics just were not convinced.

Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds cost a huge amount of money and hardly made back any of it. Man of Steel did well enough at cinemas but only received very mixed responses. All the while Marvel comics films featuring Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America all cleaned up financially and creatively.

After Man of Steel, DC continued on with their dark and brooding vibe and gave us Batman V Superman and this polarised audiences even more. Oh god, it was well over two hours long. Oh my word, it seemed to move at a glacial pace. Where was all of the action? Oh, in the very last 35 minutes. That film did not go down well at all (I actually…yes I do like it but do understand the negative responses) and next up came Suicide Squad. This next wacky, day-glo movie decided to mimic the Marvel movies and lighten the atmosphere and tone-more jokes, ‘zany’ characters, plenty of action. Well, besides some very obvious reshoots all the way until the film was released, which made the studios and producers seem very insecure and very desperate; again this movie had mixed reactions from cinema goers.

What were DC doing wrong? Did they know? Did they care? What were Marvel studios doing right? The trailers for Suicide Squad had a load of clips for scenes which did not end up in the film, it had some great music not in the actual movie…a real mess. Hold up though, I do still like the film (somehow…) even though as a few people have pointed out it had many really terrible mistakes all through it, some of the scenes and action sequences look very cheap and it could have been so much better. But we got over it. How? Wonder Woman hit cinemas in her own full length movie this summer. What a movie it was. Glorious, joyous, great fun film. It looked splendid, the direction was really great, the lead actress was perfect-everything came together just right.

Thanks to that one movie showing that DC film studio could do it right eventually we once again built up our hopes for their version of Avengers Assemble, the first movie to feature the most famous DC heroes together. Less than one month ago Justice League landed in cinemas. It did take me awhile to see it, but that was just due to things in life. Personally I may even have been more excited about seeing how this movie turned out than the new Star Wars sequel at Christmas.

Superman is dead. The world mourns and Bruce Wayne/Batman starts looking to put together a new team to fight some mounting mysterious threat. Justice League does start slow, in some ways, careful but lighter both visually and in tone. There had but much consideration to the changes to be made after the problems of Batman V Superman. Gradually as Wayne meets and contacts Aquaman, Cyborg, the Flash and Wonder Woman the story starts to move with more pace. What are the obvious changes and new elements? Humour, jokes and quips from each of the heroes but especially The Flash. This does help, it makes the whole film feel more fun, less of a grind. Yes Batman V Superman was very dark and moody, but I think it was intended to be like that and that Zack Snyder possibly was wanted to lighten things up when this film finally arrived. It may not have simply been the effect and competition with Marvel and the Avengers films. The actual Justice League comics were often more colourful and fun than the individual Batman, Superman or even Flash comics.

Like the Marvel hero movies, the Justice League are up against some all-powerful evil villain. He is named Steppenwolf and has some kind of mythological story legend. The actual plot of Justice League is quite blatantly similar to the Avengers long building Infinity War storyline-evil super villain needs to collect powerful mysterious things, put them together and can then rule the world/galaxy.  It doesn’t really get much more complex than that. That may be fine actually. I think the main problem with the movie is probably that we don’t really know or then care who this crazed Steppenwolf villain is as we’ve seen it many times before. That is not the real problem, more than the writers didn’t try to make the villain and plot something just a bit more different and get us more interested. Ironically, the Marvel movies often have forgettable or naff villains but are finally getting over than hurdle and now DC have fallen right into it. This is something I think they just about managed to conquer in the Wonder Woman film.

On the whole I actually do like most of Justice League-I was surprised how much The Flash and Cyborg were involved in the story and on screen and enjoyed both of them. Wonder Woman again really great-yes though possibly too many close shots of her butt, I mean really? The direction and cinematography I thought were really great actually. There were some really fantastic action sequences and I loved the visual style of the film. So do I thank Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon for the parts of this film that I enjoyed? Do I thank both men? It does feel like Whedon really added a lot into the script when he came onboard. So overall, it may not have felt as if it had a seriously important story or villain to overcome and it may have just served to start off a series of Justice League movies, which is fine. I don’t think most reviews you may see or heard are to be taken so seriously. This is a great fun movie. You do feel confident that it could be the start of a new positive chapter in DC movies from this point on if things can still go that way. I hope they do.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available in bookshops and online now. His first horror novel Northern Souls was published in October and also available in shops and online as well.

Blade Runner 2049-Film Review

(Spoilers Alert ) Here we are over three decades after the original SF movie classic was in cinemas and flopped but gained an ever-growing cult fan-base and actually influenced almost all sci-fi films, books, television ever since.

I had been reading a few articles and interviews with the new director Denis Villeneuve (whom had recently had success with SF alien first contact film Arrival) and the actors involved this time including Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. As the original film was set in 2019 which is only a couple of years away right now the new sequel moves further in time but only by around thirty year so that it could still be some sort of ‘near future’ story. Given the current advances in AI and robots, DNA/gene splicing and research and bioengineering we can potentially believe some of this new story could take place in some ways in our actual near future.

For decades now of course the fans of the first film have long debated the truth of Rick Deckard-was he human or replicant? Thanks to around half  a dozen versions of the film from director Ridley Scott there have been a number of ways to interpret the film. Is this one of the reasons it has been such a cult favourite for so long?

The story does move on this time. There has been a catastrophic global blackout on energy and data which helped the original Nexus replicants to escape and hide. The company did collapse due to scandal after the many dangerous escaped replicants such as the ones we know from the original movie. After time a new visionary businessman named Wallace has come along and has designed new breeds of replicants with longer and natural lifespans but he does have some deadly intentions for the long term.

We follow a new Blade Runner named simply K in this sequel as he starts to find some clues which begin to lead him to an extremely important case which breaks apart what he thinks he really knows about himself and his work. With this story, we start knowing that K is a new natural lifespan replicant Blade Runner-we know that he knows this, but what he uncovers still leads toward the end of what he thinks of as his truth and the true work he is doing and for what reasons.

Often criticism of the original movie argues that it lacks enough narrative, short on story and character at the expense of breath-taking visuals and soundtrack above all else. I understand that, but do not entirely agree with it. With this sequel, of course it does resemble the original in very many ways. This will keep the many loyal old-time fans pleased, but again it might provoke those same negative comments to some extent.

We are now more than thirty years down the line from the first Blade Runner movie. The fans and viewers have grown old with that film (and the many different director’s cuts and theatrical versions). So in some ways this sequel really did have to offer more for cinema audiences in terms of story depth and detail, to some extent at least. Over the many years there have been at least one spin-off sequel novel, a sort of sequel videogame and comic-book versions which have moved the story on in a number of ways, and so there have been a number of possibly strong enough concepts and ideas to move forward with if and when a sequel was ever made. Some really did not like the idea of a sequel to this particular cult classic. Was it another cynical cash-grab from Hollywood? If it was, well it is forgiven and a relief to find that it is a bold success.

I have seen in the last week or more since it was release, at least two extremely positive reviews from a couple of very well respected UK film critics whom I usually trust. I have also read and heard a small number of negative remarks, and these are possibly justified in some ways.

It is good to see that the director has mostly kept the film quite stripped down of CGI besides the girlfriend of K and a few other effects which help support the near-future atmosphere in subtle ways. There were actual miniature sets made and real international locations filmed and I think the combination of these worked really well did help connect this with the original film. Along with this, the film just looks absolutely stunning. at least four or five times I was sitting there thinking to myself ‘my god, that looks so amazing’ as I watched the screen.

It is I think even longer than the original Blade runner movie, and does seem to pack in a fair amount of more story, twists and detail this time around. This might be one aspect which almost made it feel too different to the original, but again we are in 2017 now, the core fans of the original are probably older and willing to take in more narrative levels this time. Thankfully I don’t think it goes quite too far with this.

With the actors and acting I largely think they were all great choices. Ryan Gosling fits the world of Blade Runner really well, and feels like a new younger Deckard-which fits in well with the film later on. Harrison Ford is held back until really fairly late on in the film but this works and feels natural for the story. It seems Ford understood this thankfully. Someone recently didn’t seem to like the performance of Jared Leto as new corporate messianic businessman. I think it probably is more about the almost repetitive and not entirely always required dialogue he is given. He could have opened up the character I think but it may have posed a danger to the overall film.

But this is a sequel to Blade Runner and it is the direction, set design, soundtrack that we really want to see work well and it certainly does give us what we’ve been waiting for. We see much more of what we only had brief glimpses of in the first movie. This is a truly breath-taking vision of a possible future, bringing to mind Spielberg’s A.I., The Matrix and Dune in different ways among many other scifi visions.

Go see this movie on a very big IMAX screen if you can. This is another example of a rare and very worthy sequel to a highly influential and classic sci-fi film.

 

James Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available now in all good bookshops and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published 31st October.

 

 

 

 

Blair Witch (2016) film review

Did horror fans think the Blair Witch franchise would have returned to the big screen earlier than this? With the infamous original film released in 1999 and the largely disappointing rushed sequel a couple of years later it has been a very long wait for some else linked to that story.

Has the wait been worth it? Could this next sequel be a much of a controversial intense rush as the first film?

As I understand we have had to wait such a long time for another sequel due to the problems relating to the directors of the original and what bigger studios wanted to do next with the story. Obviously, they have learned from the mistake of the original sequel which disposed with the handheld found footage format and was shot just like any other regular Hollywood horror flick mostly. It made sense to return to the original format which caused such a stir back in the late 90’s but there was the challenge of how to make something new with that this time around…

The story for Blair Witch seemed fairly obvious of course-younger brother of main character of Heather from the original decided to go looking for her in this new sequel or to at least find out what exactly did happen to her and her friends around twenty years ago. With a couple of concerned but supportive friends he travels back out to Burkittsville and they meet with two young and strange people who posted some intriguing information online. Together the group go back into the woods and encounter another series of unexplainable and terrifying events.

So then we have a new set of young people, in the same place of the original film. Do they get spooked? Of course they do. Is it confusing, terrifying, nerve shaking stuff?

Well remember…in the years since the original Blair Witch Project we’ve had very many films which had looked similar or used the ‘found footage’ technique. So worked, so didn’t. I remember going to see the original after seeing the repeated tv trailers which showed many traumatized cinema goers after coming out saying how freaked out they were and clips of them in the cinema almost jumping into the air in apparently genuine fear at what was on screen.

This was not really the case. The filmmakers really knew what they were doing with promoting and marketing their very extremely low budget movie, selling it on mystery and fear as a supposedly real documentary and collected footage of young filmmakers who really did disappear in the woods.

Years later of course, we know all of this and so we will watch any new similar sequel with a large amount of  skepticism. But if you’re a horror film fan, you might go along with it all. From the trailers and early pictures it seemed that the new filmmakers this time really wanted to take what the first film had and push it up to eleven. Do we get that?

Okay so it does feel very much like the original but how could it not? It is shot hand-held, it is a group of young twentysomethings going into the woods looking for signs of unusual activity. What we have this time almost twenty years on, are much better CGI special effects which are added into what still looks like a very realistic low budget movie. Like the original, it does take a good while for anything disturbing to actually happen, and even then it isn’t much. Eventually though the witch leaves her mark and then things get shaken up for the group.

Even though this time around the young characters have better internet, smart phones, even drone cameras at their disposal it all feel so much like the original until the last hour or so. This is where it goes full ‘haunted house’ spook-show. All out confusion, panic and fear is before us, the characters are lost, terrified plucked off one by one. We do get to see much more of what could be the actual legendary famous Burkittsville witch this time. I suppose that it does all work very well, and is pretty terrifying right in this last twenty minutes. If you’ve seen the original, probably just constant de ja vu. If you have not seen the original, I think this film really will probably work very well.

I would I like to have seen them do something very different with this sequel? They could have gone somewhere else with the story, looked elsewhere into the legend of the witch and Burkittsville maybe. We’ve had the first sequel Book of Shadows which most people really hated (wait for it…I kind of like some of it somehow…I know, sorry). Is this the sequel we should have had back in 2000? Maybe it is for a number of reasons it didn’t happen back then. Should we get another sequel soon? I would go back to Burkittsville but dig around for something else next time…

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops now and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published this October.

 

Frankenstein (2015) Film Review

There have been so many films over the decades based upon the hugely influential and famous book by Mary Shelley. This new version I watched a week ago does change things around just a little and because of this does bring some new things to the story.

This Frankenstein film is directed by Bernard Rose (most famous for directing the first Candyman movie) and starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, Xavier Samuel. The begins right away with the ‘birth’ of the monster, this time called Adam (played by Xavier Samuel). We see that he is created in secret by married scientists Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston. They run tests, try to teach him skills, and he starts life much like a naïve simple child. He does though possess a dangerous increased strength and eventually this almost has him terminated. After struggle, Adam escapes and runs away alone.

After this it moves along in similar fashion to the original story-the monster/Adam meets and accidentally kills a small girl, runs from police officers, blood is spilled as he runs on alone, confused and desperate.

The film is told from the point of view of the monster/Adam and set in our modern world. This does make it fairly more believable and more tragic in some ways. This does contrast in my mind with the large scale, big budget mid-90’s film version starring De Niro as the monster, with huge sets and costumes and set way back around the time that the original book was written.

Adam soon meets a friendly homeless blind-man on the streets who tries to give him advice and help him to understand people and how the world around them works. If you know the story, you can expect that eventually it all does again fall to pieces with increasing death and destruction around Adam. The end is more different to how the tale usually winds up and is trying to say something through the eyes of the monster this time.

Bernard Rose is a very talented director and while this film has a fairly low budget he does take care in crafting a very thoughtful and poetic film, while it does not shy away from explicit bloodshed and gore fairly frequently. It is probably one of the more bloodsplattered versions of Frankenstein on film but this does not ruin the film. Another director doing the same thing, with same levels of blood and gore may have put out a much more simplistic disposable movie. With this version of the classic tale, Rose opens out some different thoughts on man creating man or life in our modern technologically advanced times, but also how such an artificial being would exist, feel, struggle against our fearful, aggressive and shallow world.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both out now in paperback/ebook/hardback in all good bookshops internationally and online from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. His first horror novel will be published toward the end of 2017.

ALIEN:Covenant Film Review & Thoughts 2017

*There may be some spoilers ahead…

In the cinema nobody could hear me scream. I didn’t scream at all, but then I didn’t laugh or moan either.

Yes this weekend I finally got down to one of my local cinemas and caught a showing of ALIEN:Covenant. This has been very hyped up and one of the film of 2017 I have very much been looking forward to personally. It almost did not happen after the sharp and often very negative and critical reactions to Prometheus a few years ago. Director Ridley Scott had plans and thoughts of quickly following up that film with a new series of films which would lead to the first ALIEN film chronologically. The fans did not warm to much of what Prometheus had offered us, and it had not made as much money as may have been expected at the box office.

So for the last four or more years I feel like I have been one of the few people on planet Earth willing to give Prometheus the time of day and observe some redeeming things in among the numerous plot gaffs and more.

Was Prometheus just too confusing? Did it make any sense at all? Was it far too pretentious as it considered space Gods while most ALIENS fans may have simply wanted to see classic bloodthirsty Xenomorphs?

ALIEN:Covenant picks up the Prometheus storyline a decade later. A new crew are travelling to a potential new home planet across the galaxy on a seven year hyper-sleep trip. They are woken early after some unexpected damaged affects the spaceship. When working to repair the damage on the outside of the ship they pick up a unusual signal which seems to be human. Decoding the message eventually reveals to them coordinates for a planet which seems at first to have almost perfect balance of ecology, land, sea and gases for human life. After arguing they decide to follow the signal as it may lead them to a perfect new planet years soon than they were due.

When they reach the planet they land and go out on foot to explore the landscape around them. They see familiar plants, fields, trees around them. Only a short while later, one of the crew having stopped for a smoke becomes ill. His is taken back to the grounded ship but among the rest of the exploring group, another stumbles and falls, coughing and the group is slowed down. Before reaching the ground ship he spasms and a savage embryonic creature bursts from within him. The thing runs out trying to attack the group and they shoot at it. On the grounded ship the other crew member also has a creature burst forth from him and it runs off inside the ship. Out on the land, as the crew try to shoot at the fast moving thing, a figure comes out and shoots it down instantly. The figure is David-the android from Prometheus.

This is where it connects up with the previous film. Covenant is very much where the story becomes about David. He was saved by Prometheus crew member Elisabeth Shaw as they stopped the Engineers and took control of their spaceship with setting course for the Engineer home-world which is where the Covenant crew have landed now.

At the start of ALIEN:Covenant there is a brief prelude scene with Mr Wayland and David. Wayland asks David how he feels as a new android. Even at the start David seems to have been unbalanced.

Is ALIEN:Covenant the non-nonsense bloody gorefest with many wild Xenomorphs that many fans had hoped they would get with Prometheus?

We do get this but much of the philosophical musings about God, mankind’s origins and creation from Prometheus continue on in this sequel. This is no bad thing, I personally did enjoy much of that previously but at least in this sequel it is balanced out against more action sequences and actual recognizable Xenomorph creatures on screen. Did audiences really only just want to see a simple copy or retread of James Cameron’s ALIENS all over again?

ALIEN:Covenant on the whole feels like a mix of the first ALIEN movie with some degree of ALIENS. We get some fast paced shooting and chase scenes this time around, there are a number of very large spaceship machinery and equipment, guns and pulse rifles familiar to die-hard fans of the series. Also unlike Prometheus, after only around half an hour we see the first nasty little alien creature racing around and biting at the crew members.

Now lets just think for a moment-what did we not like about Prometheus? How many dumb mistakes were made by the Prometheus crew? Did that film really have to leave so many questions unanswered?

It may have been a flawed film, but in my opinion it did have some great things going for it. Some suggest that we can now see ALIEN:Covenant as the real prequel to ALIEN and this may be true but it does not mean that we should all together forget Prometheus. In some ways Covenant now makes us understand and appreciate Prometheus much more.

It is obvious that Ridley Scott has heard some of the criticism for Prometheus-not that he should only makes films to please fans at all-and he has made a film here which does give many nods what the loyal ALIEN fans remember well and have loved over the years. The Covenant crew are a more interesting and real group of characters this time around. There are several moments and ways in which Covenant reminds us of ALIEN and it feels good and right it this is to all lead right up to connecting with that film.

Like I have said, this film focuses on the android David-he is very much now a new distinct monster of modern science fiction. Tragic and calculating, Scott has decided that David is at the very centre of the creation of the Xenomorph species. Michael Fassbender can be applauded for his dual performances in Covenant is both David and new android Walter.

The other strong performance comes from Katherine Waterson as Daniels-very much a precursor to Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley of the ALIEN franchise. Waterson really takes the character all the way, and goes through many great scenes of emotion and frantic action trough to the very end.

Again like Prometheus there are a few dumb moments early on, characters peering into places they really shouldn’t and things which obviously just exist to move the narrative along. We can go with this, let it go and sit tight for the right. It is a good one. Some of the CGI creatures may not look entirely convincing every time they appear on screen. This does not ruin the film on the whole. As it ends, we have seen a very pleasing addition to the ALIEN series of films. I may have expected to see the Engineers again, more of their planet and their ways but I think that just will make me appreciate Prometheus more.

Ridley Scott seems to have wanted to make something special here, and it has moments where it looks much like 2001:A Space Odyssey and with androids David and Walter it shares some themes with his own Blade Runner movie.

Was this the sequel to Prometheus first intended? Will there be more films leading from this linking it all to the original ALIEN movie? If so, how many do we need?

If you are an ALIEN fan, do go and see this film now. You will not be let down, but again go with an open mind and enjoy.

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available now from all good bookshops-amazon, WHSmith, Waterstones, Barnes & Nobles- in paperback, ebook, hardback. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published late 2017.

Neon Demon Film Review

This very gorgeous looking film was released only around a year ago and it has just come up on Netflix. I had read about the film being very unusual, maybe challenging. It looked very erotic, stylized and unreal. I expected something kind of psychedelic in a dark and disturbing way.

This is what I got in some round about way. Quite obviously from the start it is heavily inspired by film directors such as David Lynch, Brian De Palma, and European art house films from over the decades. There is also a very strong debt to Italian horror director legend Dario Argento. But did it concentrate too much on the visuals and forgetting about story? I will have to say yes.

I am a big fan of David Lynch and this film plays out very slowly, with very consciously crafted images which do remind the viewer of Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and more. It also made me think of Black Swan, the ballet film starring Natalie Portman. Like that film it focuses on a young insecure woman trying her best in a field of work which places strong emphasis on looks and body image.

The story is really very basic from the start-very young teenage girl goes to the big city for top modelling job. She is very naïve and meets a number of characters who may or may not want to help her on her way up.

It does seem to desperately want to be a great Lynch film. Like some of his films, this one mostly goes at a very slow pace. In films like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet that is usually fine as Lynch sets a number of things up for the audience to watch for in the story. With this film not too much is really set up at all to care much about. The start of the film looks fantastic and then most of the rest of it really drags along. Keanu Reeves plays an obnoxious and out-of-character motel keeper. Jena Malone is often quite interesting and seems to pull the film along. Sadly at the end she seems to let us down (after a couple of very crazy scenes.)

This is not any kind of bloody horror film if you may be expecting that at all. It could be labelled as psychological horror, yes and does have a handful of horrific moments which are quite surreal. I do think that I could probably watch it again and get more from it but generally I think the director did not really put on screen what he really may have been after which is a shame because I can seem that it could possibly have been something very good.

 

James E. Parsons is an author of science fiction novels Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.

Origin of another species? – Life movie 2017

Out now in cinemas we have the sci-fi movie LIFE. The time it really caught my attention was when I think I saw the trailer at a cinema a few weeks ago when I went to see X-Men spin-off LOGAN.

Suddenly this new sci-fi trailer hit the screens which I had not heard of until that moment (or at least it had not caught my attention in magazines or on the internet). It features a number of well known Hollywood actors including Ryan Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. It looked pretty good, some very good effects of some kind of space exploration mission and some mysterious new lifeform sample taken begins to dangerously evolve or mutate and grow as they return to Earth.

Of course in this brief but exciting trailer the film did resemble the SF classic ALIEN -many similarities with the spaceship crew, the visual sets and direction and the ominous mysterious alien entity threatening them. This is not at all the first or last film to look like this or display the influence of the Ridley Scott/H R Giger sci-fi/horror franchise.

How many different kinds of hostile aliens can we ever expect to see in movies? It is possibly a sub-genre of science fiction, probably mostly in film. Sometimes it works (very well) and often it is repetitive and derivative. With this new film the alien threat seems quite formless which may represent a number of things.

In the past we have had the Species film series (almost like ALIEN, having a monster designed by the late H R Giger) which though good for the first movie, became mostly predictable and boring with the sequels. It was also to a fair extent playing for cheap titillation and soft nudity thrills with the always very glamorous naked female version of the alien monster. We previously saw this in the 1980’s in the Tobe Hooper sci-fi shlocker Lifeforce (and the alien sexy female was also some kind of space vampire…)

We can probably go as far back as Invasion of the body snatchers and John Carpenter’s The Thing to see the other close influences on LIFE. Either the alien threat captures humans and infects or impregnates them, or like the Species films take on their human form. So while this is no really new vision the return of this kind of hostile alien contact to cinema screens may represent our very current social fears of terrorism and attack from the unknown. We feel the constant threat (thanks to right-wing news media) and their form may take any number of shapes and appearances.

 

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century now available in paperback, hardback and ebook from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, and other good bookshops internationally. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.