Alien: Covenant

alien_covenant_ver4★★★

After an emergency crew  repairs their spacecraft during a mission, they receive a mysterious signal from a nearby planet. A musical melody can be deciphered. The ships commanders have a discussion and a conflicted decision is made to visit the planet and investigate the source.

Upon their arrival they discover a terrain that is much like earth, with forests and rivers. The crew embark on an on-foot exploration and follow tracks of fallen trees. Soon enough, two members get sick and pale. They begin vomiting and convulsing. A panic begins, and hideous aliens burst out of them attacking anyone in sight. This places critical risk not only on the emergency crew, but also the thousands of human embryos they have stored in their ship (for intentions of growing a population on a different planet). But a known android is able to assist the crew and provide them refuge in a large temple. There they get to learn about the source of the terrifying aliens and the stunning history behind the planet.

This is the follow up to 2012’s Prometheus and the eight movie involving the same Alien creature. Unsurprisingly, the elements are recycled. Once again, a group of experts are hunted down as they explore ominous chambers or spaces. Eeriness pervades the unknown surroundings. Grotesque events occur usually beginning with supporting characters who are thinly written . Scenery is grandeur and some images are apocalyptic. All aspects though repeated, still maintain an effective experience. 

There are some valuable new ideas. One in particular is how the android character of David is built upon.  He has more vitality, pride, and depravity. It’s given another hypnotic performance by Michael Fassbender. It’s a variant on the character of David as it develops from the sinister turning points in Prometheus.

Violence would be the films weakness. More aggressive, the amount of grisly sequences and imagery could have been moderated and the movie would benefit. Performances (led by Billy Crudup, Katherine Waterston, and Danny Mcbride), however are sound and the characters look distressed when required. Special effects are first rate and some action sequences will be remembered. Directed by Ridley Scott, and from a screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper, Alien: Covenant does not have the same wonder and magnificence of Prometheus, but it’s an intense horror film with some imagination.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

guardians_of_the_galaxy_vol_two_ver4★★1/2

When the Guardians ( again played by Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper as a CGI racoon, and Vin Diesel as a CGI Baby Groot) defeat a huge monster in a planet ruled by Sovereigns, they are rewarded with the release of Nebula (Karen Gillan) who was being held captive, and is the sister of Gamora (Saldana). But as they depart, the mischievous racoon steals precious batteries from the Sovereigns which gets the Guardians into trouble and they are chased into outer space. Unfortunately their craft gets shot down and they crash on an unknown planet.

In this planet, Peter Quill (Pratt) meets a man who claims to be his father Ego (Kurt Russell). Their reunion is warm and Quill is invited to a kingdom where he learns that his  father is a celestial being with the power to build planets and life forms. Quill is asked to join him in such endeavors of creation. Meanwhile, the racoon, baby Groot, and Nebula are captured by the Ravagers who have mutinied against their leader Yondu (Michael Rooker).

Like the original movie, this sequel is heavy with special effects. It is flooded with art design and some settings are dazzling with brilliant colors and decorations. But sense of humor is where the main entertainment lies. The script is mostly jokey and sometimes clever. It’s a comedy above all.  On the disadvantage, many of the predicaments involving danger are not suspenseful since the tone of the film is comedic.

As the characters have already been introduced in the first movie, they are less of a curiosity. One missing quirky supporting character is the artifact collector from Volume one played by Benicio del Toro. However other characters are given more attention. Yondu is not as nasty and gains sympathy. The Racoon is rude but more amusing. And Drax continues to speak like a wise man and laughs a lot more. Kurt Russel is a welcome addition bringing gravity amidst the comedy, despite his reference to David Hassellhoff.

The film, directed by James Gunn, requires viewing that is in a fun mode.  Characters are not new. The story arc is not easy to follow and some of the action scenes swirl too much and last too long. But the film is adorned with color and there’s an emphasis on comedy despite a couple of mood shifts. 

xXx: Return of Xander Cage

xxx_return_of_xander_cage_ver14★★

An orbiting satellite inexplicably catches fire and begins to fall into earth. A meeting among CIA agents led by agent Jane (Toni Collete) reveal the cause to be linked to Pandora’s Box, a remote device in their possession that controls satellites circling the planet. According to them, the gadget could handle the eavesdropping of any information or command weaponry. In the wrong hands, they fear that it can create a global power shift.

Then during the meeting, their worst fears come true. Three intruders (Donnie Yen, Deepika Padukone, and Michael Bisping) with incredible abilities break into the room, snatch Pandora’s Box, and easily escape. The CIA agents are shocked and engage in  discussion. The verdict is unfavorable to them but they decide to seek out the help of a former secret agent, the extreme sports wonder Xander Cage (Vin Diesel), to recover Pandoras box.

Hesitant at first and then later cooperative, Xander insists that he will only work with his own team. He hires a female sharp shooter (Ruby Rose), a nutty driver (Rory McCann), and a Disco DJ(Kris Wu), all of whom have fighting skills that are more capable than most of the dangerous villains.  Along the way, Xander will also charm some ladies for information and even hire one of the female baddies to assist him. The supporting cast is vast, diverse, with familiar faces, and are given simple-written characters.

The film, a sequel to 2002’s XXX, uses some of the elements from the original.  When Xander is first apprehended by secret agents in the Dominican Republic, he explains how he was expecting their arrival by pointing out all the disguised operatives standing near him, a repeat of the coffee shop scene in the original XXX.  Xander’s dialogue is also familiar, repeating “the things I do for my country”.  And finally the scenes of heavy partying with attractive ladies are included. 

Fancy action sequences are frequent but a few are impressive. One is Xander’s swift skateboarding down a winding road (perhaps the doing of a stunt man who does look a lot like Vin Diesel)  and another is a motor cycle chase in the ocean, a special effects illusion that is not poorly executed. As for the many gun confrontations, they get  repetitious quickly and are too many. Villains are not conceived with enough imagination and a malevolent screen presence is lacking. The film, directed by D.J. Caruso is competent but unable to improve on the original. It maintains the status of an action film lacking genuine suspense, and only intends to be a mindless fun viewing experience.

The Red Turtle

red_turtle_ver2★★

It begins with a man caught in a turbulent ocean. He manages to cling onto his capsized boat but loses consciousness and later finds himself washed ashore on an island. He then explores the dense forest of bamboo trees, walks up a mountain, and even discovers an inner waterway that leads out into the sea.

What follows are his attempts to leave the island. Using self-made bamboo rafts, he sails out to sea only to find each effort spoiled by a red turtle that smashes the raft from underneath. The man is frustrated and slowly discouraged. At last he sees the turtle in a vulnerable position, and takes action that will lead to a highly unexpected outcome.

The animated film, produced by Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch, is calm and simple. It’s like watching nature that is spread out on a painted canvass.  The island appears sparsely populated by animals. Only seen are some birds, a few fish, a bat, and some frogs. At night, the scenery is colored grey and white. At twilight, almost red.

No words are spoken and the pace is slow. Yet this is understandable because the situation is strong enough to hold our attention, not to mention the frames are beautiful to watch. The island in its simplicity is an attractive and mesmerizing escape. The scenes are distant and objective with very few close ups.

However the narrative is not all about this man and his surroundings. Supernatural elements are involved and they invest the film with an opaque quality. There could be symbolisms amidst the narrative. The result is a creative fantasy, written and directed by Michaël Dudok de Wit (and partly written by Pascale Ferran), that is beautiful and emotional as well.

The Founder

founder_ver2★★★

The man has a vision. He is tireless and persistent. Winning is the only option for Ray Kroc, the lead character in the Founder. Michael Keaton, with his energy and sharp reactions, seems to be the perfect actor for the part.

Based on the true story of the McDonalds franchise history, the film focuses on the man behind its global success. In 1954 Kroc begins as a milkshake-maker salesman who receives many turndowns, but continues to inspire himself by playing records about positive thinking. Then he receives a big order from Mcdonald’s, humbly owned by two hard working brothers, Maurice (John Carroll Lynch) and Richard (Nick Offerman) who are happy with their business.

Kroc drives from Illinois to California to complete the sale but notices the efficiency of their operation. Offered to tour the kitchen, he gets fascinated by many aspects and invites the brothers out to dinner. This is the first of several meetings which latter lead to Kroc’s incessant proposition that the brothers further expand their business into franchises.

Upon an agreement, Kroc develops a perfectionist style of approach. He closely observes employees work, deals with different kinds of investors (Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini), and learns to hire the right kind of staff. Many times he is dissatisfied.

Directed by John Lee Hancock and written by Robert D. Siegel, the film has a fluent story arc to follow. It accomplishes the look of the 1950’s era. Almost equally interesting as the central performance is the explanation of the restaurant operations – How it establishes a speedy system while handling overhead costs.  But there is also some tragedy in Kroc’s rise to success, particularly relating with his wife (Laura Dern) and the McDonalds brothers. This gives the film an unbiased view of a character who accomplished his vision.