Alien Covenant

There is always hope that a movie you have doubts about will overcome them and manage to please you. No one goes to a film hoping for disappointment, although we often go expecting it.My level of excitement for “Prometheus” five years ago was through the roof. The fact that it let me down has not vanished from my memory. In fact. it is a warning beacon, just like in the original “Alien” and also like in that original story, it was misinterpreted. You would think after all the crap he got for the last film in the franchise, Ridley Scott would stop visiting it or at least have a better vision of what he wants to say. Unfortunately, that is not the case here. “Covenant ” is a let down. It’s not as big a let down as “Prometheus” but that’s because we were alerted.

When the “Halloween” story got franchised,  there was an attempt with one film to try something different. “Season of the Witch” had nothing to do with Michael Meyers, and the objective was to make the franchise more of an anthology concept using the idea of Halloween as the connective tissue. I think that would be a good approach to this film series. The adventures and horror should be concentrated around new ideas and new aliens each time. Than you would not have to keep trying to figure out how all of the stories fit into a time line or make sense in light of the last film. This movie might have been better if it was not trying so hard to be “Prometheus Part 2” without actually saying that.

Here is how someone wiser than I and less blinded by the hope that Scott could get Alien right again put it, according to my daughter, “Alien Covenant”  is  a hybrid of Alien 3, Alien Resurrection sprinkled with Prometheus as a topping.” If that sounds like a tasty concoction to you, by all means indulge. To me it sounds like adding onions to a PB and J made with whole wheat bread and “natural” peanut butter” . That is a lot of ingredients that I don’t care for being combined to make something else I don’t care for. I never go into spoilers in these commentaries because I want you to listen to my opinion about the film, not my reconstruction of it. I do however have to occasionally mention components that are part of the story. To begin with, just assume anyone who’s name you do not have in your head after the first ten minutes is going to die in the story.  Also, assume that the reason they die is that they do something stupid, inappropriate for the moment, or in violation of a protocol. The story telling in this movie is just irritating.

Katherine Waterston does make an effective heroine in the film. I did not recognize her at first but then it dawned on me that she was one of the charming new additions to the world of Harry Potter, having played Tina in “Fantastic Beasts“. There are a couple of dramatic moments, an intense scene or two, and a realistic portrayal of someone forced into making decisions she does not want to. Michael Fassbinder has dual roles in the film, both of them as synthetics and each one with some distinctive personality characteristics. The novelty has worn off a bit and the character David is not much more than an Evil Genius, with no real heart. Walter, the more contemporary [or should it be more futuristic?] synthetic person has very little personality for most of the film. There are two turns with his character that make no sense whatsoever, and they are the things that are supposed to launch the last act of the film. Billy Crudup is the man who reluctantly assumes command after an early catastrophe, and there is supposed to be a backstory that involves his faith and how it may have effected the decisions about command in the first place. That story goes nowhere and he is reduced to making the same kinds of silly choices that every other person in these stories makes. Danny McBride goes by a nickname, wears a cowboy straw hat, and doesn’t get to show any of the obnoxious charm that might be his reason for being in the film in the first place. I was a little surprised by two uncredited performances, both are early in the film, one makes a little sense, the other must be an inside joke because it was completely unneeded.

The movie looks solid, but it lacks the pizazz of  it predecessor,   which was the main redeeming quality of that film. For me, the best part of this film was the use of the original Jerry Goldsmith theme as a motif in the opening credits. So, thirty seconds in, it is mostly downhill. The third act is a logic defying series of events, designed to sucker punch you in much the same way as “Life” attempted earlier this year. That movie pissed me off and this one leaves me with the same irritated feeling.

Since my dander is up about the film, let me add my two cents about the experience and presentation. We chose a theater based on when the film was playing, and it was not one of our typical haunts. In fact, we ended up paying a little extra to see the film in a “Dine-In” experience. I have always had my reservations about the concept, but since we had driven out of our way and already paid a premium, we went with the flow and ordered concessions off the menu and had a “usher/waiter” take care of us. Other than popcorn and soda, we splurged on nachos, but not the kind that come in a box with melted cheese in a plastic container. These were restaurant style with guacamole and other toppings. They cam twenty minutes after the popcorn. The traditional movie fare arrived before the film started, the nachos did not. The soda we ordered came not in a large cup like the overpriced style at the concession stand, but in a medium sized plastic cup designed to look like a glass coke glass.  The size of the serving, which I was sharing with my wife was diminutive compared to a regular theater, and insured that we would need a re-fill to go with the spicy nachos during the movie. So we got a second visit from the “usher/waiter” while the film was running. He returned a third time with a check in a folder, much like a restaurant, that I would need to sign before we left. A fourth visit was made to try to collect the glasses and silverware that we were not yet finished with. Also, the button for calling for service is over my right shoulder, and it is surrounded by embedded lighting that identifies the theater chain. So the whole time I am watching the film, I have four interruptions and a light in the corner of my eye. Fortunately, the black cloth napkin I was provided, draped nicely over the service button and removed that distraction. Now, if only everything we ordered could arrive before the movie began, we would have half as much to object to. Frankly, eating hot food off a plate, set on an attached tray, in the dark is a pain in the butt as well.

So, I can now say I have tried it, and it is officially more cumbersome than eating KFC in the car while at a drive in. Maybe if I had ordered the hard liquor from the bar, I would not have minded so much, but since I don’t drink, and I have a low tolerance for people who can’t hold their liquor well,  this was never going to be a solution for me. If that is how you roll, more power to you, but in the future, I’d rather stand in line at a concession stand, juggle my purchases in my arms walking back into the theater, and be left the hell alone while I am watching a movie. I’ve now had the “dine-in experience”, and I’m not sure if it was more irritating than the movie, but I do know I won’t be doing either one of them again.

Alien/Aliens Screening at the Egyptian Theater

The power of these two films is impossible to deny. Both films have been out for more nearly thirty plus years, both have extensive home video formats available. In fact, earlier in the day on Friday, as I walked through Sam’s Club, I saw the two films being sold in stand alone packages for a very moderate price. Last night, I ended up in the Stand-by line, hoping to get a seat to a screening of the films at the American Cinematique program at the Egyptian Theater. The program had sold out and the theater holds almost eight hundred people. Not bad for a couple of films that are older than my kids.

I have met my daughter after work for screenings in Hollywood, several times before. She works in Venice and we live in Glendora. Those of you not familiar with Southern California topography simply need to know these are opposite sides of L.A. County and Hollywood is somewhere in between. Usually, I drive down to the Egyptian Theater but since I was free in the afternoon yesterday, I availed myself of public transportation. I took the train to Union Station and then the subway to Hollywood and Highland, where I walked the two blocks to the theater. My phone rang as I entered the courtyard and it was Amanda, asking where I was. When I told her she asked if I was inside, because she did not see me, …for the two extra seconds that it took me to come around the corner. We had managed to simultaneously reach the box office from opposite ends of the world. Timing is everything. It was then that we discovered the movie was sold out and we waited in the Stand-by line. There were about thirty of us and several people bought tickets from others who had extras. That is finally how we got in, and ended up a little closer than we might have chosen otherwise but still in seats that were very workable.

The films were introduced by a guy from an effects based organization, I was negligent in getting his name or remembering the name of the group. Several seats were up front and it turns out that at the break we would be treated to a behind the scenes slide show of photos from the production of “Aliens” by some of the effects wizards behind the movie magic. So it was definitely something to look forward to. Our host asked the audience how many were seeing these films on the big screen for the first time, and I was surprised to see the hands of nearly two thirds of the audience go up. He shook his head and wondered out loud where all these people have been for the last thirty years. Anyway the films then began.

http://kirkhamclass.blogspot.com/2010/06/alien-1979-movie-day-day-11.htmlIt is a great experience to be able to contrast the styles and moods of the two films from a single screening. “Alien” is atmospheric and moody and builds a sense of tension slowly. It is a horror film, but one that is smart and creates suspense deliberately and with a dark style. This is the same theater where I first experienced the movie back in 1979 and it was fun to tease Amanda with that information, she gets tired of my nostalgic ramblings sometimes so it is a dad’s privilege to annoy a child with useless personal trivia from time to time. If you click on the image of the poster, it will take you to the original post I did from the Movie A Day project back in 2010.

The guests presenting the slide show between the film were quickly introduced, and I got only two names for sure. They were the Academy Award winning brothers Robert and Dennis Skotak, and they  shared several personal memories about the making of “Aliens”. Digital computer work was mostly new when they made the film with James Cameron. They had honed their craft working on Roger Corman films like “Battle Beyond the Stars” and “Galaxy of Terror”. Several of the pictures they shared showed them and young Mr. Cameron behind the scenes of those very modestly budgeted films. It was their experience on those pictures that allowed Cameron to make the film on the scale he envisioned for a budget almost half of what Fox thought it would need to be. In fact, that is why he got the job.

This shot taken from my seat shows how some of the props and sets were destroyed after the filming, because Pinewood Studios would charge a storage fee if they were left on the lot and sending them all back to Hollywood would have been too expensive. Film geeks everywhere will mourn the fact that the sleep pods from this film are not collectibles that they could buy on ebay and then put in their own bedrooms.

Like the special features programs on the home video versions of the films, last night’s discussion was filled with little details about the techniques used and the problems solved during filming. The secrets I heard about the loader that Ripley uses to battle the alien Queen at the end of the movie were really cool. The fact that Cameron himself designed the Alien Queen because they could not afford to hire H.R. Giger to do the job was also interesting.

The presentation went on for a good thirty or forty minutes. There were some other tech guys speaking as well and I am so sorry that I was not taking notes and can’t give them the credit they deserve for the work they did on the film and the kindness they showed for coming out lat night.

“Aliens” is a different creature than the first film. It has horror elements but it is basically an action film set on a different planet. The scenario and the look of the weapons are probably responsible for much of the design of modern video games like Halo. This is a shootum up in outer space. It does have a wonderful central spine concerning the relationship between Ripley and the young survivor Newt.

http://kirkhamamovieaday.blogspot.com/2013/03/aliens.htmlThe pacing and the music are two ways that the films are distinct. “Alien” unfolds slowly with a ethereal electronic score by my favorite film composer Jerry Goldsmith. James Horner’s much more bellicose, Academy nominated score, is a perfect fit for the action beats of the film and the G.I. based plot. The humor in the film is often provided by the Marine mentality of the troops versus the corporate thinking of Paul Reiser’s Burke. Bill Paxton provides fantastic comic relief and if you look at the mashup I included in my post on an “Aliens” screening from a couple of years ago, you will find it a great contrast to his character in “Edge of Tomorrow“.Again, if you click on the poster to the left, it will take you to the Vlogpost that I did on this film, if you have twelve minutes , I think you will enjoy.

One final note, Sigourney Weaver became a star with her role as Ripley in these films. She is the strong foundation on which these stories are built. She deserves all the credit she can get for making these two films favorites of movie fans from around the world. Pretend the other films in this series don’t exist and you will have a perfect pair of bookends with these two movies.

TCM Film Festival Day 2: The Wind and the Lion

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It is a little hard for me to believe that I got a chance to see two, that’s right two Sean Connery films from the same great year, 1975, on the same day of the TCMFF. I also was very confident when I heard this was programmed that Michael would be joining me. He commented on a post I did on this movie a few years ago. We are both fans of this film. The crowd was a little sparse for the line up, although the theater did fill in quite a bit, so we decided to move our location down closer to the front of the theater for this presentation. We had to move over in the aisle we selected because some of the seats were reserved, but we were dead square center for the program.

Stuntman and coordinator Terry Leonard shared a lot of stories about the making of the film. There was a nice Video Tribute to Mr. Leonard right before he was introduced. I could not locate that, but I did find this featurette on the TCM site that I thought I would share here.

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The jump off the balcony that looks so spectacular in the opening kidnapping scene turned out to be far more hazardous for the rider, Mr. Leonard, than for the horse. It turned out that he did have a fracture in his back as a result but it was not discovered until nearly a year later.

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The subject of his work on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” also came up in the conversation. Terry Leonard did the truck chase gag where Indy goes under the truck he is chasing and then gets dragged by his whip as he tries to get back into the truck. It is an amazing sequence and one of the best known stunts from the days in which practical effects and in-camera effects were still part of the film making business.

I have a hard time understanding how this film was not nominated for the Academy Award for screenplay. Maybe the story was crowed out by other pictures that year, but if you hear the words being said by the characters you will know that the script is sometimes poetic in the way it portrays the conflicts of the characters. It was nominated by the Writer’s Guild for the year award that year. Look at this example:

“Raisuli: Woman, I want you to understand this: I am not a barbarous man. I am a scholar, and a leader to my people. I am not a barbarous man. These four men have dishonored me. They have eaten from my trees, they have drunk water from my wells; they have done all of these things to me, and they have not even evoked my name to God in thankfulness. I am treated this way because I make war upon the Europeans… You see the man at the well, how he draws the water? When one bucket empties, the other fills. It is so with the world: at present, you are full of power, but you’re spilling it wastefully, and Islam is lapping up the drops as they spill from your bucket.”

The final letter from the Raisuli to President Roosevelt is also a moment of movie poetry and it contains the line that provides the title for the film. I will share it with you at the bottom of this post.

It was fortuitous that Michael and i moved down from our previous seats in the theater, for as the interview with Terry Leonard ended, the host pointed out that we were being joined for this screening by the writer/director himself, John Milius. We turned to look at where he might be seated and waving to the crowd, but we did not have to look far, he was right behind us in the next row.  This may have been the coolest moment of the whole weekend for me. The applause and ovation for him was thunderous and at the conclusion of the movie it was repeated. I wanted very much to turn around and speak with him and share my love of the movie, but I thought better of it. I’d seen the documentary about him last year and I believe he has some medical issues. He struggled a bit to stand when he was acknowledged,  and since he did not speak as part of the festival, I thought he might not be able to deal with a crowd so I just held back and slapped my hands together a bit harder so that the world would know my appreciation.

Coincidentally, I wrote a post focusing on the performance of Brian Keith as President Roosevelt for a blogathon back in February.This  is my entry into the 31 days of Oscar Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled and Once Upon a Screen. It also means that this is the second time I’ve watched this movie in the last two months, something that made me very happy. Just while I’m thinking about it, “The Wind and the Lion also has my favorite score by my favorite movie composer Jerry Goldsmith. You will find a note of appreciation for Mr. Goldsmith’s career at this link.

To Theodore Roosevelt – you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. – Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates.