REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

Daniels and TennesseeTitle: Alien: Covenant | Rated: R | Runtime: 122 min | Theaters nationwide

As far as I’m concerned, the xenomorph is the ultimate movie monster. Sure, you can point to the shark from Jaws, the T-rex from Jurassic Park, Godzilla, and countless others as contenders for the top spot, but to me, none of them come close to the horror and wonder of the creature that debuted almost 40 years ago in Ridley Scott’s Alien. That picture remains the pinnacle of hard-R sci-fi horror, and my memories of watching it are what make me look forward to the Alien films (in case you’re wondering, I do not count the Alien vs. Predator flicks). However, with the arrival of the immensely disappointing dud that is Alien: Covenant, I find myself fearing for the cinematic future of the xenomorph.

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REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

GuardiansTitle: Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 136 min | Theaters nationwide

Like it or not, you can’t deny that the first Guardians of the Galaxy is lightning in a bottle. When I ask my peers what their favorite films in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) are, GotG tends to pop up quite often, and it’s easy to see why. There’s so much to like about it, from the lovable characters and the eclectic cast to the spirited soundtrack and the zaniness of it all, and they come together so brightly and confidently. The fact that it grossed over three-quarters of a billion dollars worldwide in its theatrical run is a testament to how well people responded to it. Considering that few people even knew about the Guardians of the Galaxy before the film came out, it’s nothing short of a rip-roaring and surprising success. This begs the question, can writer-director James Gunn top that with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2? I’d say he has – he takes this beloved gang of misfits to stirring heights, resulting in a film that feels much more emotional and mature, all the while delivering upon its promise of fun.

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CAPSULE: Free Fire

Free FireTitle: Free Fire | Rated: R | Runtime: 90 min | Theaters wide

While it does get messy, Ben Wheatley’s action-comedy Free Fire bursts with infectious energy throughout, which keeps its simple premise interesting. Mostly taking place in a single warehouse, the film depicts a shootout between arms dealers and IRA members after their deal goes south. Realism seems to have no place here, as characters get shot multiple times and yet their wounds seem to irritate them no more than a stubbed toe would. They fire off insults as much as they do bullets, and the film’s humor tends to come from their giggles and taunts. The cast have thin characters to work with, but they are undeniably enthusiastic, and their charisma carry their performances, with Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Jack Reynor impressing. Laurie Rose’s cinematography certainly helps in this regard, as the camera gets intimately close with the characters. The editing work by Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump give the film a frenetic, staccato-like pace that, while mostly effective, results in confusion during the action sequences. An idiosyncratic score by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow augments the film’s dark comedy aspects, and the many sounds heard during the shootout are deliciously crisp and emphatic. For better or for worse, this is an entertaining if not brainless affair.

Rating: 3.5/5.0

* Photos courtesy of A24

CAPSULE: Colossal

ColossalTitle: Colossal | Rated: R | Runtime: 110 min | Theaters limited (expanding)

At first, Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal comes across as a quirky kaiju comedy, but it holds plenty of surprises that cause it to transcend that initial impression. We may judge Gloria (Anne Hathaway) for her alcoholism and inability to be responsible for her actions, but the film – utilizing Hathaway’s committed earnestness – keep her a character deserving of our empathy. Thus it becomes clear that the kaiju is a manifestation of her alcoholism, and her realization of that plays a significant role in her development into someone whom we cheer on. Coupled with this feminist narrative are the wonderfully executed deconstruction and subversion of the Nice Guy archetype, which Jason Sudeikis takes advantage of to deliver an incredibly layered performance. Admittedly, the film does drag in certain scenes that distract it from its true purpose, but for the most part, it stays on track to become a compelling character study.

Colossal Rating: 4.0/5.0

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QUICK TAKE: Your Name.

SwitchTitle: Your Name. | Rated: PG | Runtime: 106 min | Theaters wide

In order to be eligible for Oscar consideration, a film must be scheduled for at least a week-long qualifying run in theater(s) in a given year. This tends to explain why there’s always a host of “Oscar bait” films squeezing into the cinema in November and December. Makoto Shinkai’s anime film Your Name. was one of these pictures last year, having screened at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Los Angeles from December 2 to December 8. At the time, I was aware of the buzz surrounding it (it was Japan’s highest grossing film last year, and just a month later, it beat Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away to become the highest grossing anime film worldwide) and wanted to check it out, but previously scheduled plans kept me from doing so. Now, months later, I finally caught it as it graces American theaters again. Truth be told, reader, when the end credits began to roll, I was mentally kicking myself for not seeing it back in December.

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QUICK TAKE: Beauty and the Beast (2017)

BookTitle: Beauty and the Beast | Rated: PG | Runtime: 129 min | Theaters nationwide

We must come to terms with the fact that great movies, movies that we love, will be remade in one way or another in today’s Hollywood. It’s easy to think that a remake will be tarnished just by virtue of the original existing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed recipe for disaster. Disney has been developing live-action remakes of their animated films over the past few years now, and there are reasons for encouragement, as evidenced by Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Pete’s Dragon. The studio’s latest live-action remake is none other than Beauty and the Beast, and upon first look, it appears to have the ingredients for success: a director with musical experience in Bill Condon (who helmed Dreamgirls and wrote Chicago), an extremely accomplished cast, the original film’s composer and songwriter Alan Menken, and a clear reverence for said film. And yet, the picture as a whole is less than the sum of its parts.

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QUICK TAKE: Kong: Skull Island

TAN208_106.tifTitle: Kong: Skull Island | Rated: PG-13 | Runtime: 120 min | Theaters nationwide

Lo and behold! A new cinematic universe has risen, and “massive” is certainly a word to describe it. This is the MonsterVerse, which began with 2014’s Godzilla and seeks to cultivate rumbles that pit the King of the Monsters against King Kong (Godzilla vs. Kong arrives in 2020) and many other gargantuan beasts. It sounds like a franchise catered to 8-year-old boys, but hey, who can resist the thought of monsters duking it out amid mass destruction? It sounds fun, and if there’s one thing Kong: Skull Island is full of, that’s just it.

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