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Monday
May222017

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Ridley Scott is the Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Hollywood. Instead of serving those who ostensibly made him powerful, he placed his finger on the scale of Fox's Alien franchise, scuttling (or abetting the scuttling of) Neill Blomkamp's proposed fourth sequel--in order to promote his own wretched and increasingly nonsensical prequel series. Alien: Covenant starts off strong, fleshing out just enough of Prometheus' half-cooked creation themes to downplay the fact that we're watching yet another crew of deep-space dead-meats respond to another beacon on another uncharted, monster-infested planet. Before you can say "I'll be right back", Covenant devolves into the kind of dumb, predictable, and wholly disposable dreck, which, when taken chronologically as part of a larger story, is guaranteed to sour future viewers on further xenomorph exploits before they even get to Alien. We may never know if Blomkamp's vision would have been better. It could not have been worse.

Friday
May192017

A Quiet Passion (2017)

I clearly didn’t pay enough attention in school. To me, Emily Dickinson was just a sickly, sad poet who lived a long time ago. Writer/director Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion bridges the gap between Dickinson’s lone, lonely photograph and the well-traveled spirit who wrote “Because I Could Not Stop for Death”. This multi-layered look at the author’s self-imposed familial confinement, in which she endures the rigors of societal and religious oppression as embodied by those she holds most dear, is a hymn to the gods of pure artistic righteousness. Cynthia Nixon’s brilliant lead performance manifests such humor, grace, and cutting wit that I often forgot I was watching a tragedy. For anyone worried that this might be a visually static period piece, Davies’ aesthetics are as rich as his narrative. There’s enough life, light, and scrumptious symbolism here to make even the most distracted kid in third-period American Lit take notice.

Friday
May192017

AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004)

Unlike Alien: Resurrection, I never understood the vitriol aimed at Alien vs Predator. Writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson’s script borrows elements from Dark Horse Comics’ 1991 miniseries, while providing a near-perfect distillation of the Alien and Predator film franchises: when several scientists contract with a tech billionaire to explore heat signatures beneath Antarctica, they stumble upon a predator hunting ritual and become host to the toothy, slimy xenomorphs. It’s easy to beat up on Anderson, the new-millennium poster child for disposable, PG-13 actioners, but AVP’s production design and pocket-universe mythos ease the frustration of predictable developments, professional-wrestling-style fight scenes, and dead-meat characters. I don’t usually advocate the middle ground, but I’ll make an exception for this particular mash-up: push the crowd-pleasing gore too far and you get AVP’s unwatchable sequel, Requiem. Impose self-seriousness on these monster movies, and you get the tedious (and, truth be told, equally bone-headed) Alien prequel, Prometheus.

Wednesday
May172017

Alien: Resurrection (1997)

We had it so good in 1997. For many Alien fans, Resurrection was a disappointment: too repetitive, too French, and too pointless to register as anything but a pseudo-art-house cash-grab from Fox, penned by a guy who'd set up some goofy vampire show at the WB. Of course, that guy turned out to be Joss Whedon, which explains the space pirates, snappy banter, and truly out-there explorations of the series' core themes. Twenty years on, I admire Resurrection’s relative purity. No, you can't see the xenomorph’s elegant design under all that tar-like goop. Yes, the characters are again reduced to running around a clunky old ship (can’t we just get to Earth already?). This is clearly a third sequel, but Whedon and director Jean-Pierre Jeunet make the inevitable seem fresh and kind of trashy--a stark contrast to today's aesthetically awesome but bereft-of-character tentpoles scientifically designed to advance brands over mythologies.

Friday
May122017

Badlands (1973)

I finally understand Terence Malick. More precisely, I understand why someone might give the writer/director of an atrocious, meandering puff of fell-in-the-dirt cotton candy like Song to Song a lifetime pass. 1973’s Badlands is hungry, soulful, and gripping, the kind of auteruist debut that commands instant Top Five status for any film lover who sees it. Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek tear up the west as young criminals inspired by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate. He’s a James Dean-worshipping psychopath; she’s an aloof teenager secretly pulling his strings. Less flashy than predecessor Bonnie and Clyde, but just as spiritually unhinged as successors True Romance and Natural Born Killers (Tarantino doesn’t just rip off Asian gangster films!), Badlands is a note-perfect societal critique. Malick’s expansive landscapes are practically consumed by his claustrophobic narrative, resulting in a work of subcutaneous ills that resolve themselves in ways heartbreaking, ridiculous, and uniquely American.