Kill them, baby, one more time; Alien: Covenant (2017), dir: Ridley Scott

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Prepare yourselves to repeat the ritual of alien penetration in the fellowship of the space exploration or as is the case in Covenant, colonisation. You’ve surely being here before, even if you’ve only watched the first film of the Alien trilogy but that doesn’t mean you will leave the theatre unsatisfied.

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The film deals with the origins of creation and the creator-creation relationship parallel to raw and cruel scenes against humanity in an adventure where the stronger prevails. The Covenant consists the bridge between the end of Prometheus and the events in the original Alien, by diving into the origins of the alien blood-thirsty beasts that first appeared in theatres in 1979.  Good flow of scenes that are smoothly connected and executed with great performances and excellent directing from Scott who is a masterful expert on the sci-fi genre.

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In Covenant, Scott is using the cult cinematic myth of the Alien with no desire to innovate and invent. The film feeds upon the nostalgic feeling of the genuine scares of the original movie without adding something new or remarkable to the classic story. A smarter approach to the scenario would have saved me the disappointment provoked by certain scenes; such as the one where the Captain willingly looks into an opening Xenomorph’s egg when treacherous David  – who minutes before has flipped out when the Captain shot a Xenomorph that had just beheaded a member of the crew – suggests so, or the ending scene that shockingly reveals something we saw coming, if not since the beginning of the film, then by the moment David and Walter are left alone to fight and only one makes it back…

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However, it was a great choice to locate the story on a macabre-looking place, a planet with great vegetation that hides the city of the dead in its core. Aren’t these the perfect surroundings to prepare you for doom?!  And so the rain falls non-stop and the creatures wandering around seem to have made killing and impregnating our misfortunate travelers their life mission.

My favourite bits of the film are its real stars: the Xenomorphs. Similarly to their 1979 predecessors, the monsters in Covenant are more faithful to Giger’s original art and as elegant as the angels of death are a horrifying spectacle indeed. Although, Scott patiently prepares the viewer by slowly setting the atmosphere of terror for the time that the crew will fight for their lives in blood and naivety, the overall predictability of the structure fails this build-up. In an interview, Scott mentions that his goal is giving us time to identify with the characters and care for them but in the 45 minutes (almost the ½ of the film as it last 122 minutes) before the deathly action begins, I felt boredom instead of sympathy…

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However, it was only when Xenomorphs made their appearance that my stomach got tight and one thought governed my mind; had I been them, I wouldn’t last a minute! Oh wait… neither did they!

The choreographed attack by Xenomorphs in a field of tall grass in the first half and the visceral hunting that follows and sees blood and gore gush from every pore of the film are thrilling. Our very first scene of a Neomorph bursting out of a human and the subsequent panicking and killing is gripping and utterly transporting. I particularly loved the scene where David approaches the Xenomorph in an attempt to communicate and gain the creature’s respect.

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Xenomorphs have an elegant shape and a relentless appetite for screams, blood and human flesh, which makes their presence a menace of disproportionate dimensions for the poor, fragile humans. The fact that the opponents are so unfairly unequal made me loose interest when almost all heads dropped down and it was only Daniel’s character that reassured me for the upcoming – and single in the entire film – victory in the final battle. Katherine Waterston is a force of nature and an artful actress that takes you with her in her emotional pain at first, and then in her stubbornness for survival and escape.

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Michael Fassbender’s dual performance is the perk and the differentiating element of the Covenant compared to the other Alien movies.  He acts against himself and delivers an interesting performance. A good example is the scene where an ecstatic David attempts to prove his point to his look-alike Walter and manages to set scenery charged with homoerotic energy and ample narcissism that is actually – and I hope intentionally – rather funny.

The film failed to immerse me into the existential and religious Odyssey supposedly experienced by the characters. David despises his maker and the entire humanity in fact, considering them a weak and rightly dying bread. He resists to a servant’s life that was destined for him and thanks to his appointed talents and abilities David manages to do plenty of harm. David is technically and emotionally more evolved than Walter but suffers from a delusional fever of creation obsessiveness and a severe God complex. Although, he is not a relatable character he is admittedly the most interesting one.

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After the film you might wonder if you’d ever consider taking part in a space colonisation mission, think of the way you’d like to be killed by a Xenomorph (probably the least painful or the most eccentric..), pick which one you’d like best: being a human or an android, start appreciating the flute, never take a shower listening to loud music again and think how cool it would be to have a look-alike to take your place whenever you fancy!

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The golden apple in the garden of video-game films; Assassin’s Creed (2016), dir: Justin Kurzel

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Prepare yourselves for the exception in video-game film genre. Take it from someone who is unfamiliar with the games, and detests video-game movies, like Warcraft (2016), Lara Croft and Resident Evil (well..all of them), Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010 – sorry Jake…) etc. The trio (director Justin Kurzel and actors Michael Fassbender – who is also one of the producers and Marion Cotillard) that created Macbeth (2015) returns with an utterly different story and format. Mythology, Apple of Eden, highly-trained assassins bearing an important deadly mission, scientific, the Spanish Inquisition (stakes, persecution etc.), eagles, parkour, fights, chase, Sinister figures, conspiracy etc. These are all included in the film that seems to have been conceived in the Dan Brown conspiracy universe with the addition of impressive parkour chase acts and a little bit of Marion/Fassbender magic.

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Cal (Michael Fassbender) becomes an orphan and a runaway when his father murders his mother. Thirty years later, he is sentenced to death for murder. He is about to be executed when his life takes an unexpected turn. Abstergo Foundation transports him to their facility in Madrid where Dr. Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard) offers him a new life, if he agrees to help her find a relik of the past. This item is none other than the Apple of Eden, which contains the genetic code for free will. Why he is the guiding map to the relic? Because of his blood line, part of his DNA belongs to his ancestor, Aguilar de Nerha who is also the last man who is known to have had the Apple in his possession. Dr. Rikkin’s machine, the Animus allows people to relive genetic memories of their ancestors so Cal’s mission takes him to Aguilar’s and Maria’s (Ariane Labed), his partner’s path in ensuring the safety of the Apple.

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There are several things I loved about this film: it would be unfair to dismiss its strengths out of holes in the storyline. First, it has a brilliant score signed by Jed Kurzel (the director’s brother), which sets the accelerated rhythm of the fighting and running with the addition of dark and mysterious turns that match perfectly the colour pallet of the haunting Andalusia of torture and fear.

In addition, the Assassin’s Creed is different from its video-game peers in the sense that it has a cast that adds prestige to the simplistic story plot. Apart from the aforementioned protagonists, Jeremy Irons plays the sinister British figure (stereotypical but ever pleasing), Brendan Gleeson is [once more – Trespass Against Us (2017)] Fassbender’s overly dutiful and sullen father, Charlotte Rampling is the queen of the vicious Christian Templar that controls humanity throughout the centuries and finally, Michael K. Williams plays the humorous and passionate descendant of yet another assassin.

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The dialogue is subtle and clever, and the film’s atmosphere successfully transports you in the Spanish Inquisition era. The dark colour pallet and the costume design achieve the recreation of the 15th century era with the same detail found in a masterful painting [the cinematographer is Adam Arkapaw, another member of the Macbeth (2015) team]. The frenetic action (roof parkour chase mostly) is particularly refreshing as it is imaginatively choreographed and beautifully executed. The energy the film projects, whether it is achieved through the performances, the dizzying action, or the use of colour and movement in its composition compensates for the weak core story.

Assassin’s Creed is not a massive hit but unlike its own kind, it is not a boring and outrageously unreasonable film either. As a whole, it may disorient, confuse and provoke complete indiference for the Assassins’ life mission, probably due to a great dosage of fetishism. It is a pity because its themes of identity and duty (“A man grows by the greatness of his task” ~ Cal justly claims) are universal and everlasting. While watching the film, and not having been able to identify with the characters (Oops…) I had sparse thoughts and questions around these themes. Questions, such as ‘Will you follow a predetermined path, or draw your own?’, ‘If free will is so precious then why do we deny it on a daily basis?’, ‘Why people feel the need of believing in something so completely (whether it’s science, violence, religion, another person, work, a bad or a good habit) that their existence is absorbed in it?’.

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Finally, my most intense thoughts were about this Animus machine that I would crave to have. Undoubtedly, given the chance I would use it all the time until my friends held an intervention. It must be thrilling to experience the memories of your ancestors and have access to everything that accounted to your existence. According to M. Szyf’s and M. J. Meaney’s body of research in behavioural epigenetics, alterations in brain neuron pass down from one generation to the other. The idea of accumulated experiences of you past generations is scientifically proven and that is what makes the film’s concept intriguing.

According to the new insights of behavioural epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA (http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/13-grandmas-experiences-leave-epigenetic-mark-on-your-genes). Wouldn’t you love to go back and witness everything that shaped you into who you are (genetically at least) and become a natural historian in the meantime? Experience the danger of a battlefield but without being inflicted a single scratch?! Redefine yourself through the fragments of time that are inside you anyway?

In spite of being a somewhat mediocre film, in the Assassin’s Creed can be found scenes of excellent acting and action that redeem this period piece; Fassbender’s physical acting approach to the execution scene, the mental game of influence/ trust between him and Cotillard, Fassbender singing Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”, and all these juicy Andalusian parkour chase scenes.

I suggest you take the “Leap of Faith” and watch this one because….

“Nothing is true, everything is permitted.”