Know Your Place

It’s a strange thing when you actually become aware of how class works in Britain. A dawning realisation that can shift your perception of everything, like your eyes focussing after you’ve just woken up.

Whether it’s realising that your friend’s idea of going on holiday doesn’t mean going to a caravan park somewhere near the coast for a week ( that’s if you even go on holiday), or the way that girl at school gleefully tells anyone who’ll listen that your Mum cleans her house as though it makes you and your family somehow intrinsically lesser people.

The lived experience of being working class in 21st century Britain isn’t a universal one but Know Your Place from Dead Ink, edited by Nathan Connolly, does a good job of conveying life experiences on a variety of subjects filtered through the prism of growing up working class in 21st century Britain.

Simply put Know Your Place is The Good Immigrant for the working class, being inspired by a tweet from the editor of that book, Nikesh Shukla.

As Connolly points out,

‘There is a vision of the working class we like to cling to: a romanticised, fetishised idea that is still rooted somewhere around the publication of The Road to Wigan Pier in 1937, an account of working class life written by a man educated at Eton.’

The essays collected here cover a broad spectrum of life experiences and observations about being working class in Britain in 2017. Rural poverty and the myriad obstacles writers from working class backgrounds face, how class and race intersect, how ‘working class’ accents and backgrounds can still cause major problems for people (a good example of this being MP Laura Pidcock’s comments on her experience of Parliament) and many more.

This book is important and timely given the way that the ‘working class’ have become a convenient scapegoat for a lot of things in recent political developments. Now it’s hard to think of the working class without thinking of Jeremy Kyle’s eponymous TV show, in the space of a little over a decade it’s become firmly rooted in the media landscape presenting a parade of troubled families for the nation’s entertainment.

Know Your Place shatters misconceptions and stereotypes embedded within the barrage of press and media coverage by presenting real stories and perspectives from real working class people.

Buy Know Your Place here.

Forgotten Film Club

 

Forgotten Film Club is the latest book from Jon Spira, the writer of Videosyncratic which is one of my top books published recently, I explain at length why here.

The idea behind this new book is definitely an interesting one, a look at a film that has it seems been completely and utterly forgotten by, well, pretty much everyone. A film that barely even gets a mention on the internet outside of IMDB and Wikipedia. I expect this book may possibly change that.

The film in question? Morons From Outer Space which starred amongst others Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones.

Smith and Jones, as they were generally referred to, became one of the biggest comedy duos in Britain at the time. I can definitely remember seeing them on TV but I think I was a little too young, or just not interested, in why or how two men sat opposite each other talking about things was supposed to be funny.

An early point that really stands out is that every film, regardless of whether it’s the latest record breaking box office smash hit or something loitering in the lower regions of Tesco’s DVD chart, is the result of the hard work, blood, sweat and most likely tears of dozens if not hundreds of people.

This is something that’s often overlooked, the outrage over Suicide Squad winning an Oscar for Best Makeup comes to mind.

Whilst this is a relatively brief affair at just over 130 pages, it definitely proves one thing, Spira can evidently write an interesting and engaging book about film, any film it seems, because it’s not just about an obscure British film featuring a comedy duo best known for their work on TV, Forgotten Film Club takes a look at how society engages with film and looks at elements of this film, from the science, or lack of it, to the writing, direction, casting and why it failed so spectacularly despite featuring well known stars.

One of the most interesting aspects of Forgotten Film Club though is how Spira crowdfunded the book via Kickstarter without actually telling anyone what film the book is about, that in itself is pretty impressive.

You can get Forgotten Film Club: Book One from Amazon or maybe ask your local book shop to order it for you.

Lust For Darkness

Despite the works of H.P Lovecraft, especially his Cthulhu mythos, being completely absorbed into the pop culture landscape for years there’s been little success of translating the Lovecraft ‘vibe’ into the world of gaming, despite numerous attempts.

Primarily because the vast majority of games feature the player taking on the role of a protagonist character in a world full of antagonists which the player has to fight to progress through the game. Which isn’t really what any of Lovecraft’s numerous stories were about.  When a game is described as being ‘Lovecraftian’ it’s often just short hand for a game that features large tentacled monsters that look like Cthulhu. This video from Extra Credits explains why games in general fundamentally misunderstand the concept of Cthulhu. Even Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, which is based on ‘Shadow over Innsmouth’, and is one of the better Lovecraft inspired games, is still a first person shooter set in a ‘Lovecraftian’ world.

A major problem being that gaming in general is massively reliant on games with combat mechanics, as high lighted rather brilliantly by Pop Culture Detective in this video essay.  For any Lovecraftian game to really live up to that aim it should be focussing more on a mounting sense of helplessness, unease, creeping dread and the questioning of reality rather than fighting tentacled beasts.  Cyanide Studio’s upcoming Call of Cthulhu shows a lot of promise in this regard.

Something else that’s looking promising whilst not directly based on any of Lovecraft’s stories is Lust For Darkness from Lunar Cult Studios.

Lust For Darkness has the player taking on the role of Jonathan Moon, a man who has received a letter from his wife who has been missing for a year. The letter gives him the location of a secluded Victorian mansion. Players must navigate the mansion and  find clues to determine what happened to Moon’s missing wife.

Taking inspiration from H.P Lovecraft and artists Zdzisław Beksiński and H.R Giger Lust For Darkness puts the emphasis on atmosphere, mystery and a creeping sense of otherworldly dread. Imagine Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Eyes Wide Shut’ mixed with Lovecraft’s eldritch weirdness and ominous atmosphere. This is aimed squarely at adult gamers too.

What really makes Lust For Darkness stand out though is the way it presents itself as more of an interactive film, where the player is like one of the character’s from Lovecraft’s stories who is stumbling on a secret that threatens to completely drive them insane, rather than a generic survival horror game.  There’s some really interesting ideas too, like players being able to put on masks that grant different abilites, like reading an ancient language at the risk of losing your sanity if you wear the mask for too long.

Lust For Darkness is currently on Kickstarter having raised over 400% of its initial funding goal.

Never Hike Alone – A Friday The 13th Fan Film

Friday The 13th is one of the biggest franchises in horror film history.  Hockey mask wearing killer Jason Vorhees is a well known pop culture figure. After 12 films of varying quality, a rather abysmal attempt at rebooting the franchise in 2009, a proposed but dropped TV series, an announcement that there’s no new film on the horizon and the surprise development of Friday The 13th The Game, which despite the involvement of various people associated with the franchise, turned out to be rather underwhelming,  things weren’t exactly looking good for fans of the franchise.

Then fan film Never Hike Alone appeared.

Never Hike Alone is an upcoming Friday The 13th fan film partially funded via Kickstarter. Produced, written and directed by Vincente DiSanti. Drew Leighty stars as Kyle a hiker and video blogger who unwittingly stumbles upon the long abandoned site of Camp Crystal Lake and finds out that those stories about Jason aren’t just camp fire tales for scaring kids. It’s no exaggeration to say that Never Hike Alone is the best thing to happen to Friday The 13th in years. Why? Because it does something that the franchise desperately needs to do if it has any future, it makes it relevant for a modern audience. As much as watching dim witted teenagers getting slowly picked off one by one is part of the franchise’s charm at this point it’s not enough to just do the same thing over and over.

There have been attempts to do something a bit different before. Jason X, the 10th film in the franchise, was essentially ‘Jason in space’ and did a good job of splicing Friday The 13th with a sci-fi B-movie and it looks like it had a far higher budget than it actually did. Another example being Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood which features Jason (played by Kane Hodder for the first time who would go on to play the character is several other entries in the franchise) , now trapped at the bottom of Crystal Lake chained to a rock, being accidentally freed by a girl who is struggling to control her newly discovered telekinetic powers.

These entries in the franchise show that even long running franchises can still do interesting things if the creative team behind them have the will to create something a bit different rather than just ticking the boxes, Never Hike Alone is very much another manifestation of this. There’s a genius to the simplicity of Never Hike Alone’s approach, repurposing Jason, a relentless, seemingly unstoppable, spirit of vengeance as a force of nature in a tense man vs nature scenario.  Never Hike Alone ,like Predator Dark Ages, is another example of fans making a fan film that has better ideas than official films of the same franchise.

Watch the trailer below.

The Gifted

In the wake of Inhumans it seems like there’s a new contender for worst looking Marvel associated TV show with the release of the latest trailer for the upcoming show The Gifted.

The Gifted is according to executive producer Matt Nix set in an alternate timeline to everything else from Fox that’s been X-Men related, fully embracing the inherently confusing Marvel comics narrative device of alternate Earths and time lines.

The series centres around Lauren and Andy Strucker (Natalie Alyn Lind and Percy Hynes White) two teenagers who discover they’re mutants in a rather dramatic fashion. Which is problematic because their father Reed (Stephen Moyer) works for a faction of the U.S Government that hunts mutants. Meanwhile Lorna Dane aka Polaris (Emma Dumont), John Proudstar aka Thunderbird (Blair Redford), Blink (Jamie Chung) and Eclipse (Sean Teale) are a group of mutants trying to survive in a world where mutants are hunted and feared and the X-Men no longer exist.

The group of mutants here are alternate versions of the same mutants seen in the dark future of Days of Future Past, with the exception of Polaris. There’s nothing wrong with this as Blink is one of the best characters in Marvel’s vast X-Men universe, Blink was heading up the Exiles after escaping from the Age of Apocalypse reality, so it’s disappointing that the character will undoubtedly be underserved by the series for reasons that will become clear.

There’s definitely a lot of potential in the ideas of The Gifted, especially given the very pertinent real world parallels of bigotry, prejudice and hatred towards certain people just because of who they are. That potential is going to be hobbled by several things though one being The Gifted is on Fox rather than Netflix or HBO where writers would be able to actually engage some of the political issues the show is clearly bringing up, another is the same problem that threatens to hobble Inhumans, a TV show about a group of people with powers is very hard to pull off for budgetary reasons.

From what’s been shown so far The Gifted is like a slightly less cheesey Mutant X, which itself was essentially an X-Men show in everything but name, in fact it was so similar that Fox sued Marvel and the production companies before they filed a counter suit and then came to a settlement later.

So whilst it’d be great to see a TV show that features multi-layered fleshed out characters with engrossing character arcs and a narrative that deals with important themes that have very real parallels and features characters with powers, that’s something that the X-Men films have majorly struggled with or not even attempted and they’ve been mega budget productions. The fundamental problem with any TV show that features characters with powers is the writers are generally bound by budgetary restrictions into using those powers sparingly because showing them being used is an expensive and timely endeavour from a production perspective.

Marvel’s Netflix shows have managed to get around this by featuring characters that have powers that are easier to portray on screen because they are much more grounded and generally require more fight choreography than extensive and expensive digital effects work. There’s a big difference between Luke Cage throwing people around and shrugging off bullets and a character like Blink creating portals and teleporting or Polaris using her powers of magnetism to throw vehicles around. There’s no doubt that they could be done, and done impressively, but there’s a definite sense this show doesn’t have the budget to do it and when a show that features powers doesn’t have the budget to do them properly it becomes unintentionally comedic or it has to not take itself seriously and have a more comedic campy tone like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow.

Marvel’s Inhumans

The first trailer for Marvel’s Inhumans is here and, well, it doesn’t look that great really.

Whilst they might not have the high profile of the X-Men or Spider-Man Marvel’s Inhumans have been around for decades first appearing in the 60’s. The origins of the Inhumans are a little convoluted but simply put they’re the result of genetic engineering by the Kree (an alien race) on primitive man in the hopes to use them against their foes the Skrulls (another alien race) in a war. The Kree abandoned their plans and left the Inhumans behind on the Moon. Completely seperate from the rest of humanity they developed their own advanced society in the city state of Attilan.

Whilst the enigmatic Black Bolt (Anson Mount) might be the King of the Inhumans, capable of levelling a city just by whispering, Medusa (Serinda Swan) is Queen of the Inhumans and no mere trophy wife either.  Medusa is not only a central figure within the Inhumans society, acting as interpreter for the silent Black Bolt (communicating via sign language) and helping conduct affairs of the state, she’s also a skilled and capable fighter. Medusa’s lengthy hair has greater tensile strength than iron wire and she can control and manipulate it at will. She can lift, hold and move objects (including people) using her hair and also use it for precise tasks like picking a lock. You’d never know any of this from what you see in the trailer though as there’s no indication she has any powers, or any importance, at all. She doesn’t even speak.

What’s really interesting is the poster for Inhumans gives the impression that, understandably, Black Bolt, Medusa and Maximus are the main characters of this series but the trailer, the first trailer which will impact the first impression that potential viewers have, utterly fails to show why Medusa is on that poster.  Whilst it’s out of context it does seem to be indicating Medusa is basically helpless before Maximus who seemingly subjugates with no problems at all.

Marvel is pretty appalling at representation for anyone who isn’t a white guy in their on screen universe. Medusa in Inhumans could be a prime opportunity to add another ‘strong female character’ to Marvel’s on screen presence (granted it’s a white woman) but the trailer utterly fails to give any impression that she matters at all in the world of the Inhumans, that’s besides the complete absence of her powers.

Black Bolt’s treacherous brother Maximus (Iwan Rheon) gets the main focus of this first trailer but the stand out by far is actually Lockjaw, the huge teleporting dog that serves as Black Bolt’s guardian of sorts. Inhumans could be a great drama about a royal family that just happens to have strange abilities/powers but this trailer doesn’t do a good job of selling it. There’s a definite sense that it really doesn’t have the budget to do these characters properly given their visual effects intensive powers.

There’s a lot of noise about Inhumans being shot on IMAX but there’s little evidence as to why it’s been shot on IMAX, almost everything about the first trailer looks amateurish, bland and low budget in a bad way. Whilst the marketing seems to be trying to make it seem like ‘event’ TV the actual trailer does the opposite.

Blood Drive

In the opening scene of Blood Drive Grace (Christina Ochoa) stabs a would be rapist in the groin and then feeds him head first into the meat grinder in her cars engine, an engine that runs on blood.

Welcome to the mad, lurid and sleazy world of Blood Drive created by James Roland.

Arthur (Alan Ritchson) is the one good cop left working for Contracrime a privatised police force that brutalises citizens without hesitation in a dystopian 1999. This is a brutal America where gas prices are extortionate, water is strictly rationed and life is cheap. Following a hunch results in Arthur stumbling on a crazy world of deadly races overseen by the vaudevillian host Julian Slink (Colin Cunningham). Arthur soon finds himself paired up with experienced driver Grace against his will.

Meanwhile Arthur’s partner Chris (Thomas Dominique) finds himself in a whole other kind of trouble after joining fellow officer Aki (Marama Corlett) the pair stumble upon some disturbing truths about the owners of his employer Heart Industries.

Blood Drive introduces numerous characters, including the drivers of several vehicles in the race, with the exception of The Gentleman (Andrew Hall) and The Scholar (Darren Kent) most are just in the background of the ensuing madness. Grace is the archetypal bad ass hot girl anti-hero, her motivations for being in the race might be coming from a good place (earning money to help her sick sister) but she has absolutely no qualms with killing anyone that gets in her way. Anyone could end up being fuel for her car. Whilst Arthur is the rugged square jawed good guy in a world gone bad and his sense of morality is distinctly at odds with the situation he finds himself in.

 Ochoa and Ritchson are clearly having fun and the pair make for a good odd couple. Meanwhile Cunningham embraces his role with impressive gusto. Dominique meanwhile seems somewhat removed from the craziness the other characters find themselves in, how, or if, the characters will be reunited remains to be seen.

Coming across like the bastard son of Roger Corman’s Death Race 2000 the refreshing thing about Blood Drive is the way it commits itself  wholeheartedly to its concept and aesthetic. With an ever expanding number of TV shows eager to get your attention it’s pretty rare to find something that doesn’t even try and go for some sort of mass appeal in anyway.  This is lurid, crass, sleazy, bloody, exploitative TV which you will either love or hate.

There are a lot of ideas here, that’s besides the idea of cars engineered to run on blood. The whole thing comes across a little like a brain storming session between 70’s drive-in fans in a dive bar. The trailer promises “Cannibals. Monsters. Cults. Lawmen. Nymphos. Amazons”.  Blood Drive embraces the comedic potential of splatter like Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead aka Dead Alive or  Ash Vs Evil Dead. The race itself is just the narrative frame work for everything else. Although it should pretty obvious Blood Drive is in no way a ‘serious’ dystopian TV series like The Handmaid’s Tale and any criticism for failing to ‘address things’ is spectacularly missing the point.

Wonder Woman

After 75 years Diana of Themyscira aka Wonder Woman has finally made it on to the big screen.

Whilst there have been 9 Batman films and 9 Superman films to date, if you wanted to see a superhero film based on a DC character that isn’t a guy, well then you’re stuck with Catwoman and Supergirl (if you’re a Marvel fan well then you’re stuck with Elektra). That a Wonder Woman films exists at all is reason to rejoice in itself but that it’s been directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins, is a big deal in an industry still rife with sexism.

This latest film in the DC Universe works so well because aside from scenes that book end the film this is removed from everything that’s gone before, which is good, because everything that’s gone before was overwrought, flawed and underwhelming at best.

After several divisive films mainly featuring characters seen numerous times before it’s not exaggerating to say that Patty Jenkins, Gal Gadot and Chris Pine (amongst others) have pretty much just saved the entire DC cinematic universe with this film. Saying DC and Warner Bros were pretty desperate for a film with a real buzz about it, along with being a critical and financial success, is probably an understatement. They’ve been playing catch up with Marvel Studios ever since the lacklustre Man of Steel.

The hidden paradise island of Themyscira is where young Diana Prince (Lilly Aspell ) lives among the Amazons with her mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) and her aunt Antiope (Robin Wright). Flash forward and Diana (Gal Gadot) has grown into a fearsome warrior in her own right. Diana’s world and the paradise of Themyscira is soon thrown into disarray by the arrival of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an American soldier whose plane crashes just offshore of Themyscira.

The most immediate thing is Themyscira looks amazing and leaves you wanting to spend more time in the world of the Amazons, even the background characters look amazing. The Amazons were made up from a selection of real life athletes.

After her brief but stark introduction to mankind Diana decides to help Steve Trevor on his mission to help the war effort, she’s also got her own motive. Diana thinks Ares, the god of war and the mythical enemy of the Amazons, is responsible for the war and ventures out from Themyscira to vanquish him.   So whilst Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) might be the antagonists, there’s actually two stories playing out simultaneously, Trevor and Diana tackling the Germans for the war effort, and Diana trying to track down Ares.

For all the chatter about Gal Gadot’s casting as Diana being a bad move, there’s one thing that becomes immediately clear, Gal Gadot is great as Wonder Woman. Really great. Great in a Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman will undoubtedly be to girls what Christopher Reeves’ Superman was to boys kind of way.

Wonder Woman is undeniably a box office smash and is currently at 92% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, compare that to the 27% that Dawn of Justice has, or the 25% that Suicide Squad has, or Man of Steel at a somewhat better 55% .

It’s impossible to talk about Wonder Woman without talking about the context the film finds itself in though. One cinema’s ‘women only’ screenings proved incredibly popular ,selling out, but also provoking a backlash from those that thought it was somehow an affront to them. Wonder Woman is for the girls and the women out there who have been waiting, for decades in some cases, for this film. Disregarding the importance of this film ‘because girls have loads of historical figures as role models’ is seriously underestimating the power and influence of pop culture and representations within pop culture.  Things don’t happen in a vacuum.

One of the early impressive scenes shows to great effect how efficient the Amazons are as warriors as Themyscira finds itself under attack by soldiers that have tracked Steve Trevor. This is action executed in a visceral, engaging and visually impressive manner. Importantly though it’s Diana’s first introduction to the reality of war after many years of training just hearing stories. People get hurt, people die. This really highlights what makes Wonder Woman work where many other superhero films really haven’t, there’s a real sense of stakes to everything that happens. Things matter.

Wonder Woman utilises one of the most horrific times in recent human history, World War 1, to really give a sense of grounding and purpose to Diana. This isn’t a film where casualties are rendered in the abstract or where things are happening in conveniently evacuated or abandoned areas. The human cost of the war is there to see and for Diana, who grew up in a sheltered paradise, it’s a profound shock.

The BIG SCENE of Wonder Woman which is already the subject of much deserved praise is when upon arriving at the trenches of No Mans Land with Steve Trevor and his ragtag group of soldiers ,who are basically DC’s take on the Howling Commandos, Diana becomes determined to help a woman whose village has been overrun at the other side of No Mans Land. Ignoring Trevor’s protests she climbs from the trench and walks out into No Mans Land drawing the enemy fire and enabling the troops to rush the Germans. It’s incredibly powerful stuff. This whole scene could easily be a sequence of panels from a Wonder Woman comic come to life, it really sells the idea of what being superhero is about in a way that even Marvel Studios has struggled to do.

The depiction and use of Diana’s powers and abilities is handled really well too, with a less is more approach that still makes Diana seem worthy of the title of  Wonder Woman.

A film which is aimed at a young audience but has a story which centres around the horror of war and mankind’s inhumanity to each other is a pretty bold move, but even with this in mind it still comes across as a far lighter, more enjoyable and less oppressively grim film than Dawn of Justice for example.

Wonder Woman is definitely a superhero film, and definitely one of the better ones, it’s also the story of Steve Trevor and Diana Prince. One of the other things that this film highlights is how poorly relationships fare in other superhero films where girlfriends generally exist to be put in peril as a motivation for their superhero partners. Whilst a big part of the film’s narrative is building the relationship between Steve Trevor ,the soldier, and Diana Prince, the Amazonian, it gives both characters plenty to do. Both characters have their own arcs and nothing ever seems cheap or unearned.

There’s some great humour too, especially a scene with the pair on a boat headed to London and with Diana being perplexed at Steve’s gentlemanly decision to not sleep next to her.

Whilst Wonder Woman is definitely the best offering in the DC cinematic universe by far, like most superhero films it stumbles a little in its third act. This contrast is made more prominent by everything that went before being so good. Things aren’t as bad as the messy third acts of the previous DC films but there’s definitely an awkward contrast between fighting German soldiers to save people and the fight with Ares at the end.

 

Alien Covenant

After the Covenant, a colony ship with a cargo of 2,000 people in cryosleep and a cache of frozen embryos bound for a distant planet, encounters a solar flare the crew are awoken by ship synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) as part of an emergency protocol to deal with the damage. Shortly afterwards the ship stumbles upon a signal from a nearby habitable Earth like planet. Despite the protestations of Daniels (Katherine Waterson), this films Ripley character more on her later, Oram (Billy Crudup) ,acting ships captain and out of his depth after the ships captain was burned alive due to a cryopod failure, decides the Covenant should go investigate the newly discovered planet as a potential colony site.

Whilst Ridley Scott’s Alien was an atmospheric sci-fi horror venture, followed by James Cameron’s sci-fi action opus Aliens, this latest entry in the Alien franchise is a brooding gothic drama with some crudely bolted on Aliens action.

Alien Covenant is a profoundly frustrating affair. It might be called Alien Covenant but it’s undeniably a Prometheus sequel. Whilst Ridley Scott might be able to frame a good shot, things look pretty great throughout, the script from John Logan and Dante Harper is insultingly dumb in places. The crew of the Covenant actually make the crew of the Prometheus seem really intelligent. Which is saying something.

Prometheus was a distinctly flawed attempt to explain the origins of the ship (and the xenomorph) first encountered by the crew of the Nostromo on LV-426 in the original Alien film. One of the best parts of that film was the mystery of it and Prometheus (and Alien Covenant) demonstrate the danger of pulling back the curtain.

Prometheus introduced the Engineers, a race of giant humanoids that apparently created the human race, along with a deadly pathogen kept on the planet the crew of the Prometheus find. They are also the owners of that strangely shaped ship found by the crew of the Nostromo. Prometheus ended with the severely damaged synthetic David (Michael Fassbender) and last survivor of the Prometheus scientist Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) heading out into the stars to find the Engineers homeworld looking for answers.

Anyone expecting any of those answers here will only be disappointed.

One of the most laughable aspects of Alien Covenant is that none of the events that happen would’ve happened if the crew of the Covenant actually remembered to wear space suits when going to explore a planet they have only just discovered. That a crew of people so spectacularly dumb are actually in charge of a colony ship, one with a cargo of 2,000 people in cryosleep, says something about how easy it must be to get a job as crew on a space ship with the responsibility of establishing a new colony for humanity.

This is just part of why Alien Covenant is so maddening and frustrating.

Another big part is these characters are utterly forgettable and also pretty unbelievable as actual people, that whole ‘truckers in space’ dialogue thing that worked so well in Ridley Scott’s Alien? There’s not really any of  that here.

There are three characters in this film that are in anyway interesting and two of them are played by the same actor. Michael Fassbender is, unsurprisingly, great playing the synthetic David (last seen in Prometheus) and Walter the synthetic who is part of the Covenant’s crew. The other character worth caring about is Danny McBride’s Tennessee, the stetson wearing, grizzled and rebellious member of the Covenant’s crew.

The landing squad from the Covenant soon find out to their horror that their new Eden is anything but as they discover David, stranded on the planet for a decade, has been busy playing god and wants to share his creations. David also reveals, after initially saying it was accident, that upon arrival at the planet, apparently the Engineers home world, he killed them all with the deadly pathogen last seen in Prometheus. The Engineers calcified bodies, frozen screaming out in anguish, now litter the area around where he lives.

Whilst this definitely sets a tone, it also means that the Engineers were only living in that one place on the planet that David now resides. Otherwise they would have undoubtedly retaliated in the years before the Covenant shows up. But in order for the first Alien film to happen there has to be an Engineer ship on LV-426 for the crew of the Nostromo to find, and it has to (in theory) have an Engineer on it in order for the ‘space jockey’ to be found along with the eggs.  Unless David is the ‘space jockey’ but that would mean he was somehow infected by a facehugger, which doesn’t really make sense since he’s synthetic not organic.  A parasite can’t survive without a host to feed off.

Fassbender basically carries this film, the interaction between David and Walter, an upgraded newer model of synthetic, is the best thing about this rather sorry mess.

Those questions you have about the Engineers, who are they, why did they create humanity, why did they create the deadly pathogen, why are their ships such a weird shape? Yeah, you’re not getting those answers here. The Engineers are it seems just a footnote in this story which establishes David as a Victor Frankenstein figure who created the xenomorph after years of experimenting with the pathogen on different organisms, and apparently just waiting for some humans to respond to his signal so he could have one of his facehuggers infect them and give birth to the first xenomorph. Which is exactly what happens.

That it happens in such a laughable way is just par for the course here, Oram, having just been given a guided tour of David’s creepy laboratory full of specimens he’s created with the Engineers pathogen, helpfully sticks his dumb face over an alien egg as it hatches.

The only thing resembling answers here are the indications that David decided to infect the crew of the Prometheus on his own, Walter makes a point of saying later models were changed because they were too human.  As David says at one point “Idle hands are the Devil’s play thing”.

If you’re thinking ‘What about the alien queen how does that fit in here?’ Good question. I have no idea.  Alien Covenant basically throws everything regarding the xenomorph as featured in Aliens into a woodchipper.

The worst thing about this venture is that Alien Covenant could’ve been considerably better with some competent writing. Having a team of people who fly through space for a living visiting a newly discovered planet who bring weapons in case they face a hostile threat, but don’t have intelligence to think there could be anything harmful in the atmosphere is appallingly sloppy writing. Profound stupidity is a major plot device here, the kind of thing you’d expect in a slasher horror film but without the sense of macabre fun. Unlike in Alien, where the crew are slowly killed by a vicious killing machine unlike anything they’ve ever seen whilst trapped in a claustrophobic environment, or Aliens, where the marines are killed because their superiors underestimate the threat they’re facing, here pretty much everyone dies due to their own stupidity because that’s what the plot demands.

The worst part is this happens in a film which is also trying to be intelligent whilst philosophising about the meaning of existence.  There’s a sense that this film really wants to be seen as intelligent science fiction like Arrival  but it really isn’t.

The third act is as predictable as it is underwhelming as it basically recycles beats from Aliens badly, but the worst part is you don’t care because the majority of these characters are ciphers, there’s no sense of stakes or dramatic tension   Another thing  the xenomorph only works when its utilised and shot properly, as seen in Alien and Aliens, which have entirely different approaches that both work brilliantly. Monster movie 101, less is more, a creepy thing hiding in the shadows is far more effective atmospherically than something in plain sight. This is especially true from a visual effects perspective. This film is seemingly entirely reliant on digital effects work for the xenomorphs and everything else and it really shows. The shift away from practical effects really, really stands out  and makes me realise that a man in a suit shot the right way still looks better than what’s on offer here.

Oh and one final point, Daniels is Alien Covenant’s Ripley, only without any of the qualities or characterisation that made Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley so memorable. Carrying a gun and shooting at a xenomorph does not make a character interesting,  if there’s no work done on building a character before that point then I have no interest in whether they live or die. There’s some weak attempt at portraying Daniels overcoming adversity after her partner the captain dies at the beginning and she ‘pulls herself together’ by the end but, like so much else here, it’s the bare minimum.   One of the things that really stands out though is how the default for the Ripley character seems to be casting a white actor. I find it really kind of mind boggling that Alien vs Predator, Paul Andersen’s somewhat unfairly maligned spin off (I think it works pretty well as a polished B movie) is thus far the only film to actually cast someone who isn’t white in the Ripley role – Sanaa Lathan is Alexa in Alien Vs Predator. Viewed through the prism of racial optics that’s pretty appalling really, especially when the usual bullshit excuse ‘POC aren’t marketable’ is irrelevant when a film’s cast is largely unknown and not really used in the marketing anyway.

Alien Covenant is basically just the latest in an unfathomable number of films that connect the dots as to why that Engineer ship was on LV-426 and why it had Alien eggs on it, there will inevitably be another Alien/Prometheus film to continue this saga but will anybody really care??

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The Void

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Whilst on a routine patrol officer Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) stumbles upon an injured man (Evan Stern) staggering down a empty road. Carter rushes the injured man to a nearby rural hospital overseen by Dr. Richard Powell (Kenneth Welsh) and a small staff. Then Carter finds himself caught up in a mind shattering nightmare.

The Void from writer/director duo Jeremy Gillespie and Steve Kostanski, who crowdfunded the film’s special effects (more on that in a moment) but not it’s actual funding, is clearly inspired by 80’s films. John Carpenter’s The Thing and Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond especially. Other touch points include Clive Barker’s Lord of Illusions and John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness which appeared in the mid 90’s.

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Like Carpenter’s ‘Mouth of Madness The Void conveys the mind rending cosmic horror of Lovecraft, despite not being a direct adaptation of his work. Carter is the everyman character who finds himself trapped in an escalating situation which makes him question everything he sees and knows.

There’s an old adage of ‘show don’t tell’ and that runs through proceedings here. There’s very little in the way of exposition establishing anything. A brutal prologue sets the tone for things to come. Imagery, atmosphere and a refreshingly old school approach to special effects is a major part of The Void. Digital special effects might be the norm now but practical effects have an enduring appeal (even decades later Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion effects work like cinematic magic).  The plot might be a little incoherent and the characters a little generic but Gillespie and Kostanski are in their element when it comes to visuals, which are a feast of blood and body horror that’s like David Cronenberg dialled up to 11.

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