Alien Covenant

A Flashback to Prometheus :: The predecessor was set in the year 2089, when the scientific vessel named Prometheus decided to make a long journey to a distant moon LV-223 to find the truth behind the creation of mankind. Their ultimate aim is to find the ones called “engineers”, the humanoid aliens who are supposed to have come before humans who were created on their image. Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), a billionaire, founder and CEO of Weyland Corp is funding this journey. Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) is in charge of the expedition, and the archaeologists who found the signs for these, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) are also part of the journey. Always helping them is the android David (Michael Fassbender). But things get messed up as they realize that there is some biological weapon at work and the engineers are dead, with some other strange creatures ready to be unleashed.

More of the Flashback :: There are just signs of what might have been a huge and thriving civilization a long time ago. But it is what lies beneath the same that bothers them more, as more and more members of the crew seems to be infected by some strange disease. Those who are not killed by one creature or the other, had to be killed due to the infection either by their own people or by creatures that came out from inside. Elizabeth herself who is sterile, is found out to be pregnant and she has to use an automated surgery table to take out a creature which has been growing fast, right from inside her. Everyone except Elizabeth and David have met with a terrible end as the movie finishes, and that includes Peter Weyland who was also in that spacecraft searching for an answer to live forever. There is only the search for that unanswered question about the origin of man that remains.

What is the movie about? :: It is the year 2104 and a certain colony ship Covenant is on a journey towards a distant planet Origae-6 with two thousand colonists and one thousand embryos aboard, all set to begin a new settement. There is an incident on the way, and affected by the solar flares, the ship sustains major damage and some beyond repair – a number of colonists are killed, and Captain Branson’s (James Franco) stasis chamber catches fire causing his death. This breaks his wife, Daniels (Katherine Waterston) who vows to stay strong despite the setback. The most senior officer in the ship, Oram (Billy Crudup) assumes the role of captain despite his own doubts about himself. But as the ship intercepts a signal which has human voice coming from a planet which is supposed to have no life, it is him who sees the need to help whoever is left on the planet.

So, what happens next? :: The new destination also seems to have a fine chance of being home to the new colony with its similarities to Earth. In their search for the signal’s location, two of the crew members are affected by an alien spore to which they make contact without knowing. One of them who reaches the landing vehicle has an alien coming off him, and the eventual result is the destruction of the vehicle. The other one has an alien coming out of him in the open space, and leads the group being attacked by more aliens from all sides, until David makes his appearance again with a gun. With his help, they contact the spaceship which responds and offers assistance in getting them back again. But there is more than what it meets the eye with David, who knows more about engineers and the creatures on the planet than anybody else, and has plans for everyone. Are they going to do humanity good or bad in the long run with necessary sacrifices planned?

The defence of Alien Covenant :: There is some nice use of darkness in this movie, and we also get to see the tale go nicely forward with hope for another sequel. We can also be sure about the presence of some nice scary moments, even though they are not that much lasting – the shower scene in which you had seen a screaming Callie Hernandez is certainly the scariest, followed by many scenes, but that creature in the end is certainly the reminder of how majestic a franchise this one is. With the performances, it is Michael Fassbender who excels as David and does a great job as Walter, with two androids being safe in his hands. Then there is Katherine Waterston, the real protagonist of this one replacing Noomi Rapace, and we hope that her character’s tale is not over with this title in the franchise, as we need Daniels to be there unlike Shaw who was gotten rid of. There are also some nice special effects to go with the same, and the creatures look great as usual – the visuals of the world also has your attention.

The claws of flaw :: We do miss the protagonist of Prometheus, and we also needed better explanations and more answers to how the creation was made. The possibilities were so much with how the earlier film had ended. There were mysteries going to come to light, and more worlds to be explored, but that doesn’t happen here. Except for the main characters, the rest are also rather less recognised, and even if some characters are intended to die early with smaller alien infections, or get into the shower and be killed by an alien later, memorable moments for all would have been better in a movie franchise which is supposed to go on and on – we need them to be distinct to know and understand when one dies, whether it is with an alien off the spine, stomach, chest or mouth. We could connect to Noomi Rapace’s character as well as Charlize Theron’s, and so being a sequel to Prometheus brings some certain damage to Covenant‘s journey, as it doesn’t build on what was left, and never tries to bring anything revolutionary to the franchise, and not even more of horror that could have been there.

How it finishes :: With a better explanation for its universe and its creatures, as well as more twists and terror from the creatures, Alien Covenant could have done even better, but it is a fine product as it is now, for it has something or the other from the previous movies of the franchise which have all entertained us in one way or the other. It has begun connecting things together, and is certain to finish the franchise some day as a complete product. As a whole, this one here is also a product that will make certain that there will another movie in the franchise, one that is even more interesting – you will know once you see how this one ends. The truth is that possibilities are endless with a franchise like this one, with the first Alien being the reason why I really developed love for alien movies when I was a child – I wasn’t born at that time, and it wasn’t the most popular movies among youth here, and so I had to wait more until I got to watch that – I hope that the next Alien movie doesn’t bring any more waiting.

Release date: 12th May 2017 (India); 19th May 2017 (USA)
Running time: 122 minutes
Directed by: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Callie Hernandez, Demián Bichir, Amy Seimetz, Carmen Ejogo, Jussie Smollett, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, Benjamin Rigby, James Franco (cameo)

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✠ The Vampire Bat.

Spring Breakers

“I will drink Life to the lees” said the protagonist, the Ithacan king and the Greek hero, in the poem titled with his own name, Ulysses, by Alfred Lord Tennyson. That suspected hedonism in the face of our inescapable mortality found in The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, the Edward FitzGerald translation, going back to the eleventh and the twelfth centuries has found ever increasing rhythm in this generation, but without the octopus hand of death and the ultimate end. “Carpe diem” as they can still say, from our own most mentioned ancient poet, Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known to most of us as Horace – “Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the next day”, an idea which has developed into a lifestyle with loose morals leading to a life of unimaginable pleasure among the new generation. Epicureanism has made a more powerful entry to the new world, and as a kind of hedonism finding pleasure as the only intrinsic good, there is a new environment which is powerful and fast spreading. In an attempt to maximize pleasure, and keeping the pain and worries away, there is this chaos which is the side-effect of this pleasure-seeking, and Spring Breakers deals with such an effect. The loss of values, traditions and religion in the contemporary world is given a shocking reflection. It is also a satire on all those “finding ourselves” nonsense which has been thrown on us. The modern life might be empty enough without these, but are these not another group of visages of vanity?

The movie begins with a spring break beach party and goes back college attended by four friends, Faith (Selena Gomez), Candy (Vanessa Hudgens), Brittany (Ashley Benson), and Cotty (Rachel Korine). Candy, Brittany and Cotty despises their normal life at the college and spend their spare time smoking, drinking and partying, while Faith is part of a religious group for the youth in which she seems to be a reluctant participant and finds her world horribly monotonous. When the spring break arrives, the four friends decide to go on their best ever, and enjoy it like never before, but they find themselves terribly short of money. Candy, Brittany and Cotty commit armed robbery at a restaurant and finds enough money to make the trip. Despite of her religious friends warning her about the three friends, Faith decides to accompany the trio in the trip. After reaching Florida, the girls attend wild beach parties and indulge in various unruly activities, and the scene skips to the present when the situation goes and reaches a girls gone wild environment. So much for the shocking mirror of the so called modernity, which is a disturbing world captured in slow-motion.

But after spending a lot of their time in cocaine and alcohol, they are arrested, and taken to the cell and spends two nights in jail, and when all hopes are lost, they are unexpectedly bailed out by Alien (James Franco), a local rapper, a Brittany Spears fan and a gangster who had become very interested in the girls, and calls them “different from the rest”. But as he takes them to one of his usual hangout places, and Faith becomes more and more uncomfortable with his attitude, lifestyle and his friends. Despite his attempts to convince her to stay telling her that he likes her a lot and they would have fun, she decides to leave. But her friends decide to stay despite her begging them to accompany her. They are introduced into Alien’s criminal world full of glamour and money, as they become his partners in crime or soulmates as he would call them, dressed and maked in pink and armed with guns, performing more and more armed robberies not just for the monet, but also for the fun of inflicting the pain and the thrills and advanture associated with it. All these finally leads to Cotty being shot on the arm by a rival gang and returning home as a result of the trauma. But the two girls and Alien decides to stay, continue what they started and seek revenge even as everyone is going back to school, along with taking their relationship to a new level – so the spring break continues.

So, that is how it goes, depicting spring break as an escape from reality, into another world, and two of the girls decides to continue in it, with one leaving when she realizes what is going to happen and the other when she comes to her senses about what is really happening. Then the question would be about reality, and where would one need to escape into. They girls chose the world of drugs, alcohol, sex and violence, rather than something which could have revived them spiritually. From the words of Faith: “It was really great. I think we found ourselves here. We finally got to see some other parts of the world. We saw some beautiful things here. Things we’ll never forget. We got to let loose. God, I can’t believe how many new friends we made. Friends from all over the place. I mean everyone was so sweet here. So warm and friendly. I know we made friends that will last us a lifetime. We met people who are just like us. People the same as us. Everyone was just trying to find themselves. It was way more than just having a good time. We see things different now. More colors, more love, more understanding. God, it’s so nice to get a break from my uni for a little while. I know we have to go back to school, but we’ll always remember this trip. Something so amazing, magical. Something so beautiful. Feels as if the world is perfect. Like it’s never gonna end.”

Consider this and think about the fact that Selena Gomez’ Faith is the only girl out there with some sense left in her. Even she considers that world as “warm and friendly”, the things there as “amazing, magical and beautiful” and people there as “just like us”. Her concept of “colour, love and understanding” were entirely disturbing for someone with a strong religious background. Her desire was change and escape from the monotonous world, and she needed to be awakened. She herself says “I’m starting to think this is the most spiritual place I’ve ever been”; and what she needed was a spiritual awakening, not a physical one. Despite of knowing that the three girls stole the money for the vacation, she still decides to stay, and needed a bigger jolt of being arrested and taken to the gangster world so as to come to know that she was wrong all the time, and it was not the world which she wished for. Selena’s portrayal of the comparatively good girl has been a sweet one. Right from the beginning, when she gets into the bikini with her friends, it seems clear that she is the misfit with her body as well as the expressions, but her role is that of substance, and her character does something other than being crazy and wild, which is to think. But the question would remain if she needed this much of a backlash to get away from her so called friends?

Cotty (Rachel Korine) is the next person to come into her senses and she required to be shot on the arm for the same. She would seem like the sexually charged person of the gang, as the sole female wet, wearing nothing but her panty and surrounded by males in a room throughout the spring break, while her friends spend their time together. But after getting shot, she shows that everything was just a mask of being the strong, smart and sexy lady to be part of the gang. But Brittany (Ashley Benson) and Candy (Vanessa Hudgens) takes the same to the next level, beginning a sexual relationship with Alien (James Franco) as well as taking the violence to another stage. Vanessa Hudgens seems to have shed her cute Disney image completely with this one, and Ashley Benson seems to rule the movie as the most gorgeous of the gang as well as the most beautiful. The final two form the best of the bad girls, with no remorse about anything they have done, and still hanging onto their idea, of pretending that it is a video game or a movie. James Franco is big revolution, and as the rapping hunk who takes the girls under his wing, he looks so different in his looks, his way of talking and his style that nobody might recognize him if not told. He is the Mephistopheles of this morality tale, and even as Faith lives upto her name and suvives the temptation, and Cotty repents as he realizes the horror, the two remaining ones – the “soulmates” are damned with their soul. In this age when tradition has disappeared, and religion takes the exit, such things tend to be stronger than ever.

Well, this movie might look like just a random party show, but what does this tale come up with? It is a morality tale covered in bikinis, as it gives us a horrifying look into the present day culture which has gone to that path which is nothing less than the worst of all hedonism. It is a twisted allegory towards contemporary culture. It is a take on the contemporary world of loose morals and the absence of faith which they lost with the return of Faith, and remorse which they lose with the return of Cotty. There is a Don Juan and there is a Doctor Faustus in all humans beyond the ability for denial, but there is a limit to how far that takes one, and as long as Spring Breakers are concerned, they have taken it to the limits, from the monotonous life to seeking change, they have taken the forbidden path, but still, they are not judged. The new generation has been lost, as it would say, or the most of it. The inherent evil in man has taken control more powerfully. This one can’t work as a morality tale though, as there is a lot of strong outer covering. But what it can do is that it can shock the audience into taking a look into the contemporary world of late night parties, drugs and booze which has taken over the teenage girls, and its raw reflection is Spring Breakers. This shock has been used in a simple manner in Papilio Buddha, the Malayalam movie, but in Spring Breakers, they use it in an exaggerated, twisted manner, but the result is that they surely shock the audience into understanding the terror that is modern culture, with sadness and depression. They could have done without the repeated uncomfortable images, but this is still a different movie using a different style.

Release date: 22nd March 2013
Running time: 93 minutes
Directed by: Harmony Korine
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine, James Franco, Gucci Mane

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Oz the Great and Powerful

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L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz almost had the status of a fairy tale even as it was more of a children’s novel which came later. May be this belief was strengthened more by those children’s books which placed the story with Cindrella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood and the rest of the team with goodness and happy endings. The story of the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the magical land of Oz was not read separated from Alice in Wonderland at that time. A scarecrow, a rusted tin woodman and a cowardly lion had made faithful companions not only to Dorothy, but also to many readers. There were three witches then, and when we come into the movie, we will have three too. The 1902 stage play and the 1939 film adaptation can wait for now though, as Oz the Great and Powerful has come up, and serves to be a kind of prequel to the real story which has been read and liked for such a long time. Thus it serves as a source of exile before the exile, if not an escape into to a world of fantasy which preceded Dorothy getting lost. The magical land of Oz not only provides a world of witches, wizards and talking animals, it is also the ultimate point of escapism which this movie makes sure of.

Welcome to the movie and the world of Oscar Diggs, the magician who calls himself the great and powerful even as he is mostly a trickster and a fraud. As a con artist and a circus magician, he hasn’t really earned much, and never did he reach anywhere near his ambition which stays close to someone like Thomas Alva Edison. But all of these would change when he is sucked into a cyclone with the balloon in which he was travelling, while finding a way to escape from the trouble which he caused by himself. But as the balloon breaks apart and he faces death, Oscar wishes for another chance and promises God that if he survives the situation which is so close to death, he will transform himself and become a good man. The scene until this was shown in black and white, as if to reflect his own colourless life. But as he reaches the magical land of Oz in his wrecked balloon, the screen changes into colour as if his whole life has been painted with the beauty of different attractive colours. The land of magic and sorcery comes to the scene and the world of treachery and lies make way for the colourful spectacle of Oz to which our own Oz has entered by accident.

The first one whom he meets is the witch Theodora who explains to him that he is supposed to be a great and powerful wizard by the name of Oz supposed to descend from the sky, save the land of Oz, and become their new king. They encounter Finley, a flying monkey whom Oscar saves. Finley pledges a life debt to Oscar and promises to serve him in whichever way possible. Another witch and Theodora’s sister Evanora guards the throne of the dead king. She sends Oz to steal and destroy another witch Gilda’s wand after which he would be given the throne and all the riches of Oz. Oscar and Finley travel to the Forbidden Forest to find and steal the wand from the witch, and on the way, they save a little girl made of porcelain. At the location, they find Gilda and comes up against a revelation which changes the direction of the story. The illusions and delusions of the world of witches would become more clear. The roles would be interchanged and the twist of fate takes a leap over the minds of the characters. It is at this point that the real action begins.

James Franco’s Oz is surely not a wizard, but a magician and a man of tricks. He never convinces the audience that he has become a role-model until the final stages of the movie. Dorothy Gale wouldn’t have had a good time with that Oz of the first half of the movie. Still, his change is slow and mostly unpredictable. He continues his methods of tricking and seducing, along with his pessimistic hope – something of the strangest character for such a long time. He wishes to get that treasure at the end of any rainbow, in this case – a kingdom and its unlimited riches. Still, to put this character into the dungeon reserved for the evil – that might not be fair, but if there is a place in between, a grey world for the intermediate ones, that would serve justice in a better way. His inclination was never towards pure evil, and it changes for somewhat evil to good, even as he can never be said to reach a status of pure good. But how many of the people of Oz would reach that status would be a question to talk about. There are times when Oz is more like another John Carter, but my fear about the possibility of watching some random movie named something like “Aliens vs Witches/Wizards” would keep my mouth shut.

The eternal conflict between good and evil continues in the land of Oz as anywhere else and so will one’s personal struggle with lies/greed and truth/morality. The black and white beginning, as it passes away begins the world which is a wonderland. The wonder starts and ends with the three witches, Theodora, Evanora, and Glinda – even Macbeth had three witches for sure, but this case is different. The fact is that one of them is pure good, another one pure evil and the remaining one, neither here or there until she is forced to take a stand supported by her emotions. Didn’t we have the three fates in mythology? Well, these three might have worked with the same title for our hero. Well, even the wizard of Oz needs and origin in a world where even Wolverine has his own origins as a movie. One has to feel that it is perfectly timed, to release after Hensel and Gretel as well as Jack the Giant Slayer. The movie has risen over these two and has developed another children’s story into a world of unexplainable beauty. Thus the justice has been done to the original Oz.

One has to say that Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams, as the three witches controls the movie. Among them, Rachel Weisz creates that much needed magic which has powered the movie beyond its original strength. The character of Mila’s witch might be the strangest, and it is the one witch who is more unpredictable than the rest, but still not creating that impact which it should have. Finley the Flying Monkey provides the laughter element with his dialogues, and when he talks about monkeys, bananas and stereotypes, there is not a soul in the theatre who didn’t laugh. Almost all the lighter moments has the monkey somewhere around. The china girl made of porcelain also adds to it. She is the second true friend whom Oz makes in his new world. She is more like a little kid made of flesh and bones rather than a talking miracle. The combination of these two with the protagonist takes the movie to another level of good combination.

No, there is no messing up of the classic, even as flaws exist. The land of natural wonders in 3D which is so unnatural – when helped by the beautiful CGI creates an unforgettable experience for the audience. It might not be easy to remember the special effects used in such a good manner for a long time. May be only Avatar 2 could make me say the same thing again. With the characters who are never flat, and the plot which never loses its steam, Oz the Great and Powerful establishes itself as a worthy prequel which would make Dorothy Gale proud and asking for more prequels over prequel. It establishes with the help of the new technology that there is no place like Oz. Alice had gone to a wonderland, but it was not Oz, and that was surely a big miss for her. The battle between goodness and evil shall continue as none of the witches not the wizard meets the end as the movie finishes. The door for a sequel is thus kept open with the evil ones fleeing the scene, thus creating hope for evil even through a happy ending – and we shall wait for what is to come.

Release date: 8th March 2013
Running time: 130 minutes
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Michelle Williams, Abigail Spencer, Bruce Campbell, Tim Holmes, Zach Braff, Joey King

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✠The Vampire Bat.