ALIEN CONVENANT SURE WON’T BE MISTAKEN FOR ALIEN: COVETED

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Alien: Convenant has opened to mixed reviews and solid if not exciting box office. Such a reaction may spell the end of Ridley Scott’s plan to close out a new trilogy of Alien films for this decade but will this film grow in prestige with time. Setting out to serve two audiences it may fail to completely satisfy either but there’s no denying there’s good stuff here. Is it enough?

GenXers growing up in the shadow of the first two films were always keen for more go arounds when rumours would arise of James Cameron or Ridley Scott returning to the franchise. At one point long before Avatar took up his time there were even rumours Scott would direct a film written and produced by Cameron but alas that was not to be.

in 2012 though Scott returned to science fiction for the first time since 1982 with Blade Runner to make a Prometheus that would deal with origins of the Aliens and answer finally who was that infamous space jockey. The infamous space jockey turned out to be a giant, bald grey humanoid who took a shot of tequila and made human kind. Or at least one of his ilk did a million years ago. Beyond that we didn’t learn much about them but the ending of Prometheus promised us we would find out in the next film. We don’t.

Prometheus saw the Hollywood debut of Noomi Rapace who did a solid turn as Elizabeth Shaw and before heading off on a new adventure at the end setting up a compulsory sequel. Don’t expect to see much of her in this sequel.

Prometheus sported some incredible visuals but its weak point were fucking moronic characters who played cute with space cobras and took off space helmets for no good reason so they could propel the narrative forward, felt ill and possibly contaminated but still had sex with their girlfriends and in a panic ran in straight lines ahead of rolling giant objects bearing down on them.

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Thankfully there were bright spots and not just some neat sexual tension between naked push-ups champ Charlize Theron and handsome Idris Elba. There was Michael Fassbender as peroxided android David. A character you definitely couldn’t trust but was endlessly fascinating whom with a mix of intelligence and naivety engaged me.

I had time for some of the human characters in Prometheus, but I wanted to find out what happened next to David. To this end Alien: Convenant is more of the same. Michael Fassbender returning as David and also starring as Walter a newer model android is easily the most engaging performance/s of the film. Nothing against Katherine Waterston or Danny McBride who acquit themselves well but they’re types and also lambs for the slaughter. Nobody is still wearing a space helmet again but at least the word quarantine comes up in conversation and it just seems like the momentum is always against the human characters here that you understand why mistakes are made even if they are still clearly mistakes.

I guess you want to hear the plot right? Okay people on a ship in cyrosleep going to a planet. Fire on ship, people wake up. Get signal from other planet. Decide to go there because it is habitable and just had people die on fire on ship. Get there and….aliens. Sort of.

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There-done. I can’t state this enough Fassbender and Guy Pearce having a conversation in a white room at the beginning of the film was far more thrilling for me than an Alien tearing down spaceship corridors in the third act. Everything with David and Walter was far more fascinating to me than the alien scares and I suspect the same for Ridley Scott. Despite this though I do think the venerable director has had a red hot go at making the xenomorph scary again and giving us fantastically gross deaths to try and top the chest-bursting scene of the original. Creatures in long grass leaping out at dusk illuminated by nearby burning wreckage. Bursting open backs rather than stomachs. Neomorphs braying quietly an inch from you like a horse. The classic cliché of a shower sex coupling interrupted by other appendages moving in are memorable images as are pathogens moving through ear canals. If there is any complaint it is that it would have been nice to up the creep factor a bit with some of these sequences. Sadly the creatures themselves often move too fast and with little weight obviously rendered by computer their movements are now too sleek compared to the haunting creature in the earlier films. However the scene much touted in the marketing where a belayed Waterston does battle with the classic xenomorph on top of a careening space vehicle while packing a modified Steyr assault rifle is the kind of sequence that couldn’t have been done 20 years ago the same way and makes great use of modern technology.

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The film itself is less pretty than Prometheus sporting harsher colours, the planet in this film replaces the bare black volcanic rock with forests and medieval like structures but the sky is darker, the colours even more muted adding up to convey a nightmarish quality of a ruined world. Positively gothic. Which is kind of the point and maybe why this may struggle to find a huge audience. This is a dour film offering no real easy answers. There’s plenty of horror and action in it but its more interested in bigger themes. Yet saying that big themes and moodiness is why this film won’t click with some is just an excuse. Plenty of dour films can still entertain you with their effectiveness. There are interesting ideas in Alien: Convenant, some neat deaths and two compelling performances from Michael Fassbender. I was angry about the idea of having already waited five years for answers when Convenant was only going to leave me hanging for more but I am now intrigued to see where Scott takes this. Yet that does not a satisfying film make and Alien: Convenant is far from satisfying. Wait for it to come out on Disc or streaming. While Alien: Convenant seeks to address some of the criticisms of Prometheus I would argue the latter is still the better film. I’m also putting it out there in this corner of the internet, Sir Ridley I’d like to see Alien 5 with Ripley, Newt and Hicks more than I ever wanted to see this.

-Lloyd Marken

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STEVE JOBS GETS THE SORKIN TREATMENT

Steve Jobs is a good movie; let’s get out of the way right now. Written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Danny Boyle and starring-wait for it-Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, Michael Stuhlbarg and Sarah Snook. A biopic about a high profile personality that changed the way we live, it followed a familiar path for awards season hopefuls. Launched first at Telluride Film Festival, and then given a limited release where it scored the highest per screen average gross of 2015 before opening wide to have it on everybody’s mind when award nominations were considered. Sadly the film did not open with big numbers in America and was pulled from wide release after only two weeks before limping through foreign territories. Kate Winslet and Aaron Sorkin did pick up Golden Globes for their efforts and the film did receive two Oscar nominations but compared to the similar The Social Network, Steve Jobs was seen as a failure. This is a shame because it boasts the same kind of quality we’ve come to expect from all involved.

Steve Jobs is not really supposed to be about the man we all know; sure it takes facets of that myth that we know all and sprinkles them throughout. It’s widely reported that he may not have been a very nice man, at least not in the beginning of his career and the film asks an age old question. Can only great things be done by people who are so driven they cannot sustain any sincere and worthy relationships. The film is structured around three acts like a play with each act taking place behind the scenes leading up to a presentation to launch a new product. I could tell you what they are but it doesn’t really matter. The film is about a father and a daughter, there’s a lot of noise about, various work colleagues and what their relationship was to Jobs, how they changed him and were changed by him, whether they pushed him into failures or better decisions. None of it is as important as the relationship between parents and children.

Mackenzie Moss plays Lisa in 1984 when Jobs wants to put a personal computer in every home and change the world. He’s young, ambitious and furious that ex-girlfriend Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterston) is claiming her child is his. Seth Rogen is Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who is trusted and cared for by Jobs seen as someone very tech-minded but not necessarily as strong willed as Jobs. Apple CEO John Sculley appears at the launch to offer advice and show his support, they have a warm relationship. Backstage Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg) is being pressured to fix glitches or face consequences as an original Mac team member. Some people are treated well by the icon, others stand up to him, and others seem to know how to deal with him. Only one is truly able to communicate with him and that is marketing executive Joanna Hoffman played by Kate Winslet.

In every subsequent act the relationships Jobs has with these people changes, arguably one for the better, but the relationship with Hoffman never changes. She is his confidant, his moral compass and while her patience wears thin as the years pass by she never leaves his side or stops being close to him. If half of what this film says is true Joanna Hoffman would be a fascinating person to meet and talk to. Jobs remains an enigma played as a real man by Michael Fassbender with volatile emotions but always able to keep something to himself. We see him angry, his pride hurt, his mind frantic for a way to win, smug in victory. The intelligence and energy of the man are on display but tellingly there may only be one genuine significant smile throughout the film. Talk about driven but for true thoughts and feelings maybe only Joanna knows. Kate Winslet plays her as firm when she needs to be but gentle as well, she appeals to his good side in a way most people wouldn’t dare.

Ripley Sobo as Lisa in 1988 and Perla Haney-Jardine as Lisa in 1998 effectively convey a child struggling to be acknowledged by their parent in some way and the anger and confusion that will result from that. Their story is the one building to a climax, not Jobs triumphant return to Apple. Rogen has an opportunity here to sprout Sorkin dialogue and be in a different type of movie and acquits himself well. Possibly now as celebrated and recognised for his contributions as Steve Jobs, you don’t ever hear too many stories about Steve Wozniak being an unpleasant person to work with and there is something in that given quiet dignity in Rogen’s performance. Jeff Daniels who got to play leading man on Sorkin’s The News Room here is an unwilling antagonist as John Sculley. The Sorkin scripted showdown between Sculley and Jobs are riveting but far more important are there scenes in 1998.

I still can’t shake that for all the talking that goes on in a Sorkin screenplay, Fassbender’s main achievement is to convey so much of Job’s growth in subtleties. One of the greatest actors working today, Fassbender is so consistent we may start taking for granted how good he is. Sorkin writes clever dialogue for smart characters but always with an emotional through line, this is another tour de force by him.

After David Fincher’s collaboration with Sorkin yielded The Social Network, Danny Boyle being attached to this movie sounded like an exciting prospect and Boyle doesn’t disappoint. Lacking most of his more energetic flourishes from other films there has still been distinctive technical chances that make the film look and sound interesting and reflect the growth of the technology and the characters in the story. Cinematographer Alwin Kuchler shoots in 16mm for the 1984 scenes, 35mm for 1988 and digital in 1998. At the same time score composer Daniel Pemberton used analogue synthesizers for the 1984 scenes, a more orchestral score for 1988 and digitally produced music for 1998. These are all great touches that you stop noticing after a while but help create mood and reflect the changing of time and characters. Similar choices were made in terms of production design and where each launch would be set. This is high end filmmaking that can’t be faulted, not only does it look great but it serves a purpose. For example notice where late important conversations occur in and with whom in each act. Act I a walk around outside from one building to the other. Act II down in the bowels of a theatre in a dark hallway. Act III in a high up in a rooftop carpark out in the open again.

There were better films that came out during Oscar season like Spotlight. Something is off here, maybe Jobs himself remains too aloof or maybe we can’t care too much about rich business people being mean to each other. Maybe the people involved have delivered for us too much that we now expect more. If you haven’t seen it, give it a chance the film effectively and movingly tells a story about a father and daughter reconciling and maybe a man who finally figured out what was truly important.

-Lloyd Marken