Tag Archives: michael fassbender

Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant posterSeveral years ago, when Ridley Scott announced his prequel to his 1979 classic Alien, Prometheus, I wondered whether we really needed an explanation for events leading up to a film that already worked so efficiently and effectively.

Now, with the follow-up to that film, Alien: Covenant, that is also another precursor to the original, that question occurs once again.

From the off it ties the two threads of the story together with a prologue featuring Prometheus‘ replicant character David (Michael Fassbender) before we are sent to the colony ship Covenant and meet another replicant, Walter (also Fassbender).

From that point on we get a story that seems to be unsure quite what it wants to do and say. Certainly there are plenty of thrills and chills and a good dose of action and excitement as the crew of the Covenant (and I don’t think this is a spoiler given the title) encounter a version of the Xenomorph Alien (apparently the ‘Neomorph’) seen in the past instalments of the series.

Katherine Waterston - Alien: Covenant - Daniels

Daniels (Waterston)

Along with the action, again much like Prometheus, the film seems to want to deal with some big questions, so we have Oram (Billy Crudup), thrust into the role of ship’s captain and a self expressed man of faith.

The fact this is self expressed is where the problem with this attempt at exploring something really comes to fore as anything Alien: Covenant might be trying to explore is just stated by the characters rather being genuinely explored through the film, so it falls a little flat.

As well as this there is a thread that, like the original Alien and its direct sequels, takes something of a feminist angle with crew member Daniels (Katherine Waterston) echoing original heroine Ripley as the film’s (comparatively) grounded heroic centre as chaos escalates.

Alien: Covenant - Walter - Michael Fassbender

Walter (Fassbender)

Unlike the original though this feels rather too heavy-handed, especially as it’s already an established trope of the series and it just never quite rings as honest and true, particularly when we reach a rather over gratuitous scene toward the film’s climax.

This might be for the very simple reason that, while Daniels is arguably the hero of this film’s story, I couldn’t escape the feeling that the series now belongs to Fassbender’s replicant characters.

It’s fair to say that, as David initially and then Walter, Fassbender has found a way to make these characters that, in the past were often sinister bit parts, into fascinating explorations of humanity and our place in the universe (as much as a big budget sci-fi blockbuster might).

The Neomorph - Alien: Covenant

The ‘Neomorph’ alien

Fassbender is undeniably the most engaging presence here and, as with Prometheus, his performance is phenomenal – to the point where his blankness is at times a little too convincing and genuinely creepy, and makes any outbursts all the more effective, but I may already have said too much.

As a whole though Alien: Covenant, while enjoyable, feels a little too much like a ‘best bits’ of the better past films thrown together, with the attempt at philosophy of Prometheus thrown in, and not quite coming out with an entirely satisfying whole and it’s hard to escape the fact that this is all somewhat unnecessary exposition for a pair of classic films that never needed it.

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Frank

frank movie posterWhen coming to a movie on home release, following very good reviews and a Blu-ray front cover screaming hyperbole, it can be very hard to form a genuine response to it as expectation is set to a different level.

Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is certainly a film that falls into this category, but, for the most part, stands up to these summations.

Telling the story of a band making a record, heading to a music festival and the fallout there-of, the film is very loosely based on a true story (or at least starting from the same place as an almost true event) from the life of writer Jon Ronson and his time playing keyboard for musical character comedian Frank Sidebottom (aka Chris Sievey).

Beyond the keyboard player and the big fake head, however, I was left with the feeling that little was similar between real events and Frank so, rather than a semi-autobiographical tale, we have something that is, essentially, a love letter to the most independent of ‘indie’ music that often brought to mind the events surrounding The Brian Jonestown Massacre in documentary, Dig!

Frank - Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson

Gyllenhaal, Fassbender and Gleeson

We are led into the film by Jon (Domhnall Gleeson), the aforementioned keyboard player, and struggling songwriter. The film’s opening is something I think anyone with musical aspirations can relate to as a genuinely spot on portrait is painted of Jon trying to write songs while, in his view, trapped in suburbia and a dead-end job.

He soon bumps into the members of Frank’s (Michael Fassbender) band, the hilariously unpronounceable Soronprfbs, while their current keyboard player is trying to drown himself and, following a fairly disastrous gig, gets caught in the very slow-moving whirlwind of the band as they try to record a new album.

The film is somewhat episodic, but just about ties everything together enough so that this doesn’t become a problem and, as it goes on, our focus shifts somewhat to the titular Frank, and a mesmerising performance from Fassbender from under the big plastic head, around which the rest of the band circulate with varying levels of questioning and intimacy.

Michael Fassbender as Frank

Michael Fassbender as Frank

A particular highlight of the rest of the band is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s performance of Clara and the semi-side story of her clash of personalities with Jon.

For a music lover (and aspiring player) the film has some fascinating moments and for any creative carries a great message that it never really hammers home but lets the viewer uncover, while treading the fine line between drama and comedy with aplomb.

The final section is very hard to talk about without revealing too much, but, as it builds, Frank (the film) becomes more eccentric, but at the same time even more gripping as it becomes something of a road movie.

Domhnall Gleeson as Jon in Frank

Domhnall Gleeson as Jon

Here is where I found something of a problem in that Jon, rather than being a character I wanted to keep following, became somewhat insufferable and I was caring more for Frank despite the movie’s best efforts in forcing me to spend time with Jon.

In the denouement though the greatness of Fassbender’s performance really does reveal itself and leaves things on a very satisfying note continuing the film’s obsession with perceptions in indie music, and in life in general.

In the end Frank is a movie packed with indie ‘quirks’, but, with a central performance like that of Fassbender, some interesting questions and topics and a great message, it avoids falling into generic quirky indie movie territory so, while I wouldn’t go so far as some other reviews, it is certainly highly enjoyable piece and, I think for fans of indie music and creative people in general, will have a lot to interest them.

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X-Men: Days Of Future Past

X-Men Days of Future Past-Movie posterI will admit that, in the past, some of my straight from the cinema reviews of comic book movies haven’t lived up to scrutiny in the cold light of day, once the whiz-bang has all died down (see Avengers and to a lesser extent Man of Steel and Iron Man 3). Recently I have also become somewhat disillusioned with comic book movies in general and Marvel based fare in particular, thanks to the likes of Thor: The Dark World.

So, it was with some trepidation (but hope) that I headed in to see the latest installment of the extended X-Men franchise, Days Of Future Past.

Inspired by the comic story of the same name the film deals with a dystopian future where mutants (and most of humanity it seems) have been all but destroyed by The Sentinels – big robots designed to hunt and kill mutants and sympathisers – and one of the X-Men being sent back into the past to try to save the future.

James McAvoy

James McAvoy

While this may sound a bit like its going to hit logical snags it deals with it fairly elegantly by not really even trying to explain things and just putting it down to mutant powers, in this case those of Kitty Pryde. From there most of the movie takes place in the early 1970s with the First Class cast along with the ever-present Hugh Jackman as Wolverine and Peter Dinklage on fine form as primary antagonist, Bolivar Trask.

This is something of a masterstroke as (with a bit of retconning) it manages to link both franchises, while making it clear that the main team is now the one led by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s Professor X and Magneto, rather than Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s.

Michael Fassbender

Michael Fassbender

It is their performances that really anchor the movie. While Jackman does what he has been doing for the best part of 20 years McAvoy and Fassbender’s performances are where the heart lies. McAvoy in particular stands out bringing (a very toned down version of) what he did in Filth to a much broader movie and still making it clearly the Charles Xavier Patrick Stewart portrays.

Really it’s the performances that stood out for me as, while there was plenty of spectacle on offer, at no point did it feel like the characters and story were being ignored while CGI people got thrown through buildings and the like.

Some have bemoaned the fact that a lot of the characters from the previous films are somewhat glossed over here, particularly the likes of Storm, Iceman and Colossus, and that newcomer Bishop is under used.

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

For me though, I liked the fact these characters were there (and played by the same actors as in the past) as it showed this was the same universe but without having to extend the film with needless sub-plots just to serve, in this case, superfluous characters.

All of this is backed up by, returning director, Bryan Singer’s vision for the movies that he laid out in X-Men and X2 as he uses the mutants’ story as an allegory for various issues relating to human rights, much like the comics have done throughout their history, while never becoming bogged down in the issues and still making a fun action-adventure.

I know it’s probably a bit old-hat now but I’m still relatively new (and a bit skeptical) about 3D, so I was pleasantly surprised as to some of its uses here. While most of the 3D remained somewhat superfluous, there were a few moments where it seemed Singer was using it to highlight things, particularly in regard to Charles’ chessboard, which has been an ongoing motif between both sets of characters.

By the time a franchise reaches its seventh instalment it would normally be expected that any freshness would be gone and things would have become painfully repetitive. With X-Men: Days Of Future Past though this feels like a franchise fully rejuvenated and ready for more, and with a post credits sting that certainly hints at much more to come.

Quicksilver

Quicksilver

I just hope Zack Snyder and co over on Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice were taking notes from Singer, Vaughan and the X-Men team…

Also, new mutant Quicksilver was really only a cameo, but an excellently done one that also hinted at the bigger universe of the X-Men with a couple of subtle (by comic book movie standards) nods and winks.

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Prometheus – review and podcast

Ridley Scott and co create an at once astounding, fascinating but ultimately over reaching piece of sci-fi.

So the hype and expectation are over and the film that was both heralded as a prequel to Alien and not is finally on our screens.

I am writing this about an hour after seeing the film so these are pretty much my first impressions only slightly ruminated upon.

Despite being a fan of the original run of Alien movies I had, since the announcement of Prometheus, been concerned as to if we really needed to have the blanks filled in, but had confidence that Ridley Scott would at least come up with something interesting that would, hopefully, render the Alien Vs Predator films redundant (and I’m pleased to say, if nothing else, that has happened).

I had also done my best to avoid as much of the hype and speculation about the film as possible, though I had seen one of the mock TED videos and an early trailer.

So I headed into the cinema with mixed, but hopeful, expectations, and that is kind of how I still feel now I’ve seen the movie.

While the film is undeniably well made with some amazing special effects, some great performances (Michael Fassbender in particular) and some massive ambition, I can’t help but feel Prometheus was allowed to run away with itself leaving the finished film as something of an undisciplined mess.

What really struck me was that it seemed the filmmakers really didn’t know whether they wanted to make something that stuck with the horror of Alien, the action of Aliens, a more adventure style film or a film dealing with the biggest of big questions, so they threw in bits of all four leaving a film that never seemed to be any of these enough to be a coherent whole.

This meant the tone and mood seemed to shift around a lot, occasionally from one scene to another, and made it very hard to properly get lost in the film in the way I had with Alien and Aliens or any other great movie.

While the film was imbalanced, it wasn’t without its impressive moments, though these were mostly visual and referencing Alien in one way or another.

The designs by, and inspired by, HR Giger, were undeniably astounding and suited the ‘ancient aliens’ premise to a tee, looking at once both futuristic and primeval in the way that only Giger seems able to manage, and the other aspects harked back enough to the old designs but with enough that was up to date to create something new but clearly in the same universe as Alien.

So in all on first impression I found Prometheus to be a film with too many good ideas for its own good and that seemed worryingly obsessed with setting up its own sequel in the final scenes rather than rounding off its own story. I just hope that with the sequels that seem to be on the cards we get some of these thing dealt with and questions answered, and we are able to get more properly attached to the characters.

As well as this review I also joined the guys from the 24LPS podcast (including Wynter who writes the CinemaScream blog), and Claire Mockett, to take a look at Prometheus (and a few other movies), you can listen to that here:

Warning Spoilers!

Trailer:

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