Alien Covenant Review


I don’t know if seeing Prometheus would’ve helped (probably) but Alien Covenant was a bit of a mess. The problem is that it tries to combine lofty intellectual themes with a scary alien movie, and fails at both. The ‘intellectual’ stuff is very surfacey. Instead of being a smartly made movie like the original Alien, it references lots of high culture like poetry and classical music, which makes it  more pretentious than clever. I can say ‘Wagner’ or ‘Byron’ in this review but it doesn’t make it any smarter.

It’s cold, which doesn’t mean it can’t be thrilling but it lacks humanity, probably by design and to a fault. The heroic character - Daniels - played by Katherine Waterson is hardly in it; it instead focuses on Michael Fassbender’s David/Walter robot characters who are completely devoid of screen charisma, a fault of writing and/or direction, not performance. When shit goes off it’s hard to care or fear for the characters because they’re very underdeveloped and the horror elements are lazy; there’s no beeping tracking devices or claustrophobic vents. I suppose if you’re making the 6th Alien movie it’s better not to rely on old tricks but it’s probably better not to make it in the first place. 

On a technical level - without taking the script into account - it’s good but the cinematography is nothing like as cool as Alien, and the CGI xenomorph still doesn’t look as good as a man in a rubber suit from 1979. All this reminds me of George Lucas or Peter Jackson’s later films. You have a filmmaker going back to their early creation and trying to do it again but cramming more shit into it than it needs and forgetting what made the original movie good - craft and storytelling.

Why I'm doing an animation (and what I've learned so far)

I wanted to make a short version of my script Love is an open claw, but it requires some movie magic CGI stuff that seems ridiculous for a two minute movie - I thought the best option would be animation. Having zero skills in this area I'm cheating immensely and basically tracing over stuff I've found on google images and making it move. Despite my lack of ability in one of the most impressive art forms it's actually really rewarding - at this early stage (I have 6 completed shots of around 24) the process of tracing over images in photoshop and moving them a tiny amount at a time in after effects is just the right amount of challenging and enjoyable. 

Still I feel a bit weird about doing this - I have enormous respect for animators. I think it's one of the hardest things in the world and taken for granted by most people, and I almost feel guilty for having such a slap dash approach to publishing animated stuff when real animators will spend months or years on something like this

Nevertheless I'm having a blast doing it anyway, I feel like I'm learning a lot about animation and film making generally. One thing I've found is that in opposition to shooting live action where you can create depth from the natural world - say placing the camera behind a door frame or through a window - you have to put it there yourself when working from scratch, and it's really easy to forget to do, a lot of shots can look really flat. 

The same goes for movement - there's a scene in Love is an open claw where a characters sits in a parked car and texts someone, which looked terrible before I added a van driving by (I'm thinking of adding a squirrel too). I'm trying to think of a completely still shot in a movie and am drawing a blank - even in films which are known to have slow moments like Kubrick or Ghibli films there can't be more than a second where images don't move.

Part of the reason I think animated stuff is so pretty is that everything is designed from the bottom up - no shots are 'found' like in live action where on location, a lazier director or photographer might set the camera up wherever is convenient (I've seen this first hand on a terrible independent feature where the director told me to 'just stand over there' and film, and it's a mistake so many amateur directors make). Working with a blank screen forces you to put intent behind every pixel - everything is there for a reason which is why films don't get much prettier and emotionally manipulative than high-budget animation.

I have to keep reminding myself to put this intent in every shot, and it's so tempting to be lazy and just trace the first appropriate image I find on google. Still, I'm finding more and more appreciation for animation. Here's some stills...

Made up movies - The Golden Colander with Mackenzie Crook ( a TV show )

Okay so this one’s a TV show - a comedy/drama. Mackenzie Crook stars as Stuart Colander, a spiritual but downtrodden 30 something who makes a living by looking after his disabled chain smoking coke-addled aunt played by Kathy Burke and working in a children’s play centre. He’s troubled by what he thinks might be an STI caught from a tinder match and eventually goes to the doctors after the stinging of his piss becomes unbearable. After waiting a few days and being prescribed painkillers that stop the pain, he visits his doctor again, only to find out the only thing wrong with him is that he’s pissing gold - small amounts of gold dust is somehow forming in his bladder.

He soon monetises this and works out a system whereby he drinks as much water as humanly healthy while creating a special toilet sieve. He regularly sells the gold dust at a local pawn shop - they don’t pay that much but he’s desperate for the money to pay off a large Wonga loan - Kathy Burke owes a lot of money to coke dealer Stephen Graham. The pawnshop owner - Omid Djalili - becomes suspicious and asks his private detective friend played by Ray Winstone to spy on him to see where he’s getting the gold.

The detective finds out what’s going on and offers to be his manager - he’s a well-connected mob associate and can help him move his gold in a more profitable way. His spending becomes more elaborate is noticed by his aunt’s social services care worker (Anjela Nedyalkova) who mentions to a colleague at the council how much money he has. With the help of Ray (Winstone) he has to arrange a front - selling his terrible modern art pieces online - as his lifestyle becomes more luxurious. A cat and mouse game unfolds as he’s under investigation by a brilliant young tax auditor played by Jamie Bell, and trying to keep suspicious gangsters at bay for fear of becoming a gold piss slave. 10 half hour episodes - BBC; 09:30 Wednesday nights.


Lego Batman

It's a strange idea, isn't it? A superhero movie, but the superhero is Lego. Everything is Lego. And it's not actual Lego but CGI Lego. This movie could only happen now, imagine if it was pitched 20 years ago - 1997 - a year in which the highest grossing kids film was George of the Jungle (remember Brendan Fraser?) and a period in where Disney made pretty much the only animated films. It would've been a non-starter for studio execs. But now in risk-averse  2017 Hollywood it makes perfect sense - it's based on TWO intellectual properties.  It's one of those movies that just sounds right - you don't even need a trailer or a poster, if you've seen The Lego Movie you know this is gonna be fun. Besides, what else has it got to compete with? Sing? Sing is a movie you go to for your kids, nobody's going out of their way to see it. So with such an easy sell, they didn't need to make the movie as good as it is. It really plays to its strengths; they make the most out of the intrinsic comedy value of Lego as well as the great comedic actors involved. The action scenes make sense and it's really pretty. It's smart, and it felt like they tried. 

The only problem is the length - it goes from being almost perfect in the opening 20 minutes to great, to just pretty good by the end, though you could say this about a lot of movies. It's directed by Chris Mckay who directed lots of Robot Chicken. I love that kind of humour, bringing the mundane to extraordinary situations and characters, but I think its best suited to a half-hour format, the film gets less funny as it progresses and the joke gets a little old. It doesn't get boring though, and doesn't forget what it is, the action scenes in the third act are still clever and inventive. 

All around great, especially if you like Robot Chicken. I'm not sure if kids will like it so much though.


Made up movies - Garbage

On the Coffee and Cake film podcast we have a feature where me and Dodi are both given a movie title and have to pitch Andy a movie with that name. I thought it would be nice to collect the written pitches somewhere, so I'll be posting these weekly. Here's the MUM from last week - Garbage (directed by Roland Emmerich):

Man has been too wasteful. Mother nature (played by Cate Blanchett in leafy prosthetics) is angry, and has made a punishment best fitting to man's own arrogance; garbage is now rising up and taking revenge against humanity. For years man has been fighting garbage, which is now conscious and dangerous, but we still haven't learned to be environmentally friendly. Lotus biscuits still come in individually wrapped packages, toothpaste comes in a tube inside a cardboard box, and people still buy bags every time they go shopping, even though they cost 5p and they have a bag for life at home in a draw. 
Humanities last hope lies in the garbageman project; an army of men in 10 foot tall robot mech armour designed to fight against the garbage. They are lead out to sea by old man Woody Harrelson with a beard to fight a giant garbage island monster.

These things happen:

Selina gomez falls in love with a garbage monster and has to hide it from her boyfriend Jona Hill.

Woody Harrelson is eaten by a crisp monster.

In the science room, Sean William Scott crumples a plastic cup and throws it on the floor. It becomes Garbage, comes alive and attacks him. Jeff Goldblum makes an angry speech about not throwing rubbish on the floor, grabs the attacking cup and puts his pencils in it. It then is recycled and therefore not garbage and stops attacking, which is how they realise how to defeat the garbage.