Alien: Covenant Review *Spoilers*

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Phibes…Thanks, Kinky Ho-bo! ;)xoxo)

“Here at least we shall be free; the Almighty hath not built. Here for his envy, will not drive us hence: Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though in Hell: Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven.”

-John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

“I’ll do the fingering.”

David, Alien: Covenant

Alien: Covenant is a strange beast. It’s both a sequel to 2012’s Prometheus and an apology for it. Director Ridley Scott still seems to be interested in the ideas and conceits explored in that film, but also wants to satisfy the fans who were vocal in their burning hatred for it. As a result, Alien: Covenant is a hybrid of Prometheus and the original Alien: a monster mash of high-minded concepts and ghost train theatrics. If you were hoping to see the return of Prometheus‘ Shaw (Noomi Rapace) or more of the Engineers (the extraterrestrial creators of mankind) in this film, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. However, if you’re hungry for atmospherics, gore, nostalgia, and tons of monsters, this is the film for you.

Set a decade after Prometheus, Alien: Covenant  concerns the crew of the colony ship Covenant and their discovery of what appears to be an uncharted paradise. It’s revealed that the planet is inhabited by hostile creatures and… well, you know the drill. The film more-or-less plays out the way you’d imagine, though that’s hardly a bad thing. What we have here is essentially a “Greatest Hits” of the Alien franchise. Eggs are hatched, distress signals are answered, creatures burst from stomachs, and faces are hugged. The film does nothing new with the series, but it’s a highly enjoyable return to basics. In that regard, it’s the Star Wars: The Force Awakens of the the Alien series.

Like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Alien: Covenant  is a soft reboot masquerading as a sequel. Prometheus is essentially jettisoned in favor of a more familiar bit of sci-fi terror. Unfortunately, that means that most of the characters/creatures left alive at the end of Prometheus are disposed of. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) is given a, um, less-than-happy ending, which I thought was pretty lame. After building the character up and setting up further adventures for her at the end of the previous film, Alien: Covenant gives Shaw the ol’ “Newt/Hicks” treatment. I personally believe that Dr. Shaw deserved a better send-off, but I suppose the studio wanted to distance themselves from Prometheus as much as possible. In fact, the only element from that film that is used to a significant degree in this film is also the one element that was universally praised:  Michael Fassbender.

R.I.P. Dr. Shaw.

Michael Fassbender does double duty as the diabolical David and Walter, the unfortunate android aboard the Covenant. Mr. Fassbender is brilliant in both roles, imbuing both machines with their own distinctive identity. However, it’s David who steals the show and makes this film fantastic. David is delightfully, cartoonishly evil. He’s Michael Gough, Vincent Price, John Carradine, and a cobra fused into an unimaginably hammy chimera of urbane villainy. It truly is a shame they didn’t give him a cape and a mustache to twirl.
There’s also a weird, sexual tension between the two Fassbenders, starting with what is likely the most erotic cinematic flute lesson. The sequence does bring to mind a lot of the weird poetry Prometheus had going for it, and it is probably the most fascinating scene in the picture. At this point, the film takes turns to what could almost be described as “Fassbender porn.” And the internet has already picked up on this. Alien: Covenant isn’t even a week old, yet there’s a disturbing amount of Fassbender X Fassbender fan art. If you think I’m not going to include any of it here, you are deeply mistaken.

While the film generally plays out like a classical monster movie, some of the heavy ideas and literary references of Prometheus do pop up. Questions about the nature of creation are brought up and religious symbolism is scattered throughout. Percy Shelley. Lord Byron, and John Milton are quoted in thematically appropriate ways and Wagner’s Entry of the Gods into Valhalla plays at the end. It’s a little on-the-nose, but it’s all intriguing for what is primarily straightforward creature feature.
As for the rest the rest of the film, it’s loaded with great sci-fi gore, but nothing as intense as Alien‘s dinner scene or the surgery sequence in Prometheus. Katherine Waterston is a fine heroine, but she’s less compelling than the two before her. Is it, as one reviewer put its, a “masterpiece of fear?” No, but it’s an entertaining slice of Alien terror. I wish they had stuck to Prometheus more, but it’s loads of fun.  Alien: Covenant is mostly awesome… mostly.

Scary Shorties: Mickey’s Mechanical Man (1933)

Before Richard Matheson brought a robot into the ring and Toho had one rough up an ape, Disney gave us both of those wonderful things in 1933’s Mickey’s Mechanical Man, a knockabout cartoon caper that pits machine against beast. The short is about Mickey Mouse training a robot to fight an ape in a boxing match and… do I need to say anything else!? I mean, that’s pure monster movie magic as it is! Disney has produced more sophisticated shorts, but who needs sophistication when you have beastly brutes monster-mashing each other in glorious black-and-white?!

Mickey’s Mechanical Man is a fairly one-note short, but it plays that note so magnificently! There are gags aplenty and enough machine-on-monster action to satisfy  all you creature-craving crazies out there. Mickey and Minnie are always welcome, and the ape is as perfectly monstrous as one could hope for. As for the animation, it’s fluid, lively, and… well, Disney!
While there’s much to love about this ‘toon, the highlight is the tit-ular Mechanical Man. I’m a sucker for vintage/retro robots, and this affable automaton certainly fits the bill. Every bit of animation for the ro-boxer is brilliantly herky-jerky. The spasmodic, robotic pugilist moves like a wind-up toy with very little use for physics. It’s this kind of character and animation that make these cartoons such a blast to watch! Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto!

Check out the Battle of the Century below:


Goon Review: Robocop 3

(Submitted by Mr. Andrew Peters…Thanks, Goon-bot!! 🙂 xoxo)

There’s nothing more sad to see a whole franchise crash and burn with a single miscalculation. Well, let me rephrase that, because miscalculation makes it sound like this film was planned for greatness. What’s the word I’m looking for? Fuckery? Yeah, let’s go with fuckery. I choose the word fuckery, because the studio stepped in and shit all over ideas and let the director, the great Fred Dekker, drown in it and killed the franchise until they finally remade it, which cemented its coffin in the ground for good. How did the Robocop franchise die out? I mean, what the hell happened and how could such a great character be treated so disrespectfully? The first film was so revolutionary for sci-fi and action and created one of the most memorable characters and even though the second film didn’t capture the same kind of magic, it still gave us a very entertaining comic book-esque film and remained true to the series. Robocop 3, however, is the watered down, kid friendly, dull sequel nobody was happy with.

I don’t blame director Fred Dekker, I don’t think most people do. I think by now we all know he was a hired gun, excited to work on a Robocop flick using some of Frank Miller’s rejected script ideas from the second film. Robot Ninjas? Sounds like that’s going to be really cool. There are some good ideas here, like with OCP lying to the media about destroying homes to make way for the new Delta City and the people’s uprising to take it back. It feels like the series has been building up to this, but how it gets there isn’t how we wanted it as fans.

Leave it to any studio to step into a multimillion dollar franchise and say, “how can we make MORE money?” Realizing that their audience was primarily young adults and teens, they decided to water down the film, strip it from all the subtle social satire, remove all blood and a good majority of violence to sell more tickets… even though the majority of their younger audience was already seeing the movies. Oh, and we have to add a kid that’s super good at hacking, because that’s relatable to today’s youth and let’s give Robocop a jetpack and an arm mounted machine gun, because we need to sell toys. Needless to say, the end product was not very good, nobody was happy, Orion went bankrupt, poor Fred Dekker was thrown under the bus and the franchise was dead and buried until they would decide to dig it up and defile its corpse in 2014 for the remake.

Detroit has gone to hell, citizens are being bullied out of their home and to relocation camps, which the media is seeing as a friendly gesture, but in reality these folks are being forced from their homes and families are being separated, like Nikko. She’s obsessed with Robocop and others, like ED-209 and seems to be a cliched, smart, tech savvy little lady. At the beginning, she’s stripped from her family by OCP’s armed force, the Urban Rehabilitators (which kinda sounds like a terrible ‘90s rap group) that is also called Rehab, led by the nasty and British McDaggett. Yeah, that combination sounds real trust worthy. She’s sad for about a minute, maybe a minute and a half, until she’s found by a resistance group, led by a woman named Bertha. Bertha is actually based off a Frank Miller character called Martha Washington from his Give Me Liberty comic book. She’s a cliched version of a tough and well organized, militant woman and I say cliched, because it comes off as disingenuous to actual strong women and not only that, but her plans… well, they suck and are terrible and I’m not surprised they get lots of people killed. Upon connecting with her group, Nikko immediately forgets about her parents and helps hack an ED-209 so the group can steal some weapons from a police arsenal. It’s honestly so stupid that it hurts to watch that scene. She just walks up to an ED-209, a machine known for malfunctioning and blowing the everliving shit out of people, hacks into its ankle and then gives a shoulder shrug and a shit eating grin. I was expecting some cartoon trombones to play.

But suddenly, a police car with tinted windows is hot on their tail? Do you think the only person we can’t see could be… Robocop? First of all, why are they keeping him a secret and secondly, how come Robocop is the only guy on the force to get tinted windows? Another pressing matter I should bring up is that because of his commitment to Naked Lunch, Peter Weller was replaced by Robert John Burke. Don’t get me wrong, Burke is a terrific actor, but he seems lifeless and stiff as Robocop, almost more… cyborg. I know that sounds weird, but he lacks the regained emotion that Peter Weller brought to Robo. Doesn’t matter, as Robo gives up his pursuit to help out his partner Anne Lewis (Nancy Allen) who crashed into James Lorinz from Frankenhooker while in pursuit. James Lorinz steals the show for a moment, doing his lovable and somewhat mildly insults in his Jersey accent. Unfortunately for him, they realize they are in gang territory and shoot blindly into the dark as most cops are trained to do. Just when they are about to be attacked, Robocop drives off the roof of a building and upon landing, blasts at the gang with his new arm mounted machine gun so the kids can scream, “I WANT THAT TOY!”

OCP now wants Robocop’s emotions wiped (I think or I’m getting confused) and put on the rehabilitation squad, but a turn of unfortunate events would have him do otherwise. In an attempt to get out of the movie, Nancy Allen is shot and killed by McDaggett while her and Murphy are protecting some citizens in a church that the Rehabs are trying to relocate. It’s a weak and relatively unfaithful departure for the character of Anne Lewis, but there are far more problems in the film than this and I’m sure Nancy Allen didn’t care. Robocop takes a grenade to the chest that pretty much lays him out for a good chunk of the film. Yes, the same Robocop that has battled other robots several sizes bigger than him, taken tons of bullets, run over and was even previously set on fire is now completely phased by a shot to the chest. It’s all for the sake of the plot so we can spend time with the human characters, but you’ll soon see just how boring Robocop 3 actually is. It’s not that the characters are unlikable, they are just really uninteresting and it’s hard to care what they are up to, so I’ll just sum up the middle part of the film; they get the doctor who cares for Robocop to fix him up and she realizes that when the resistance robbed the police armory, they stole Robocop’s jetpack, so now he has that.

But Murphy’s (that’s Robocop in case you forgot), got a promise to keep to his old partner. He sets his sights after McDaggett with intention of taking him down. Dead or alive! Well, since this is super neutered PG-13, probably attempt to take him in alive. However, OCP’s parent company, the Kanemitsu Corporation, has sent cyborg ninjas to make sure that Robocop and the resistance are taken care of, so that way OCP stocks won’t plummet and they won’t go bankrupt. Isn’t that an exciting plot for kids? It does lead up to a kinda cool fight scene between Robo and the cyborg ninja, but it could have been a lot more better had the action hadn’t been toned down. It’s also very short, but after it’s done, it’s time for the cops versus OCP in the battle for Detroit! I know, sounds exciting, but trust me… it isn’t. It’s very lackluster and the action equivalent of a tiny, wet fart that you’d barely notice.

Well, what can you say about Robocop 3 that people don’t already know? It’s a goddamn shame. That’s all I can think of when I think of this movie. It’s a shame about what happened to director Fred Dekker (who is an extremely talented man) and it’s a shame that this is the movie we got, because the studio wanted to make more money. Well, they didn’t and they didn’t deserve to for this, but then again, we didn’t deserve this money and Robocop didn’t deserve to go out on this note, dammit. I know, technically he didn’t, he went out on a worse note with the remake, which actually makes Robocop 3 seem not nearly as bad in comparison. I will say that the effects and music in the this film are still quite fantastic, as is the sound design. At least those staples of franchise were kept intact, but everything else from the acting, the characters and most of all, the plot, are all very bad. I know when we talk about films being bad, people think that there must be something funny or entertaining about them, because they are bad. I wish that were always the case, but it rarely is. Some films are just bad.

In any case, Scream Factory brought you Robocop 2, so they are also bringing you Robocop 3, which surprisingly (or not surprisingly) is not presented in a new 2K transfer. There is, however, quite a few new bonus features that deal with the making of the film, interviews with the cast and crew and so on, as well as trailers and such. You know, your usual Scream bonuses.

I can’t recommend Robocop 3 to fans of sci-fi or action film. Hell it’s hard enough to recommend it to even the most die hard Robocop fans. It’s not the worst film or the worst sequel out there, but it’s not a good movie and there’s very little entertainment to be found in it.

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

(Submitted by Mr. Dr. Anton Phibes…Thanks, ho-mie, bc I didn’t even wanna touch this one!! 😉 xoxo)

I think it’s only fair to state that I’ve been a fan of the Ghost in the Shell franchise for a considerable portion of my existence. Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 film was a haunting, cerebral film that completely went over my head when I saw it around the age of 7. It fascinated me, but I couldn’t articulate why until I was a little older. The older me view Oshii’s film as a poetic tale that deals with the nature of the human consciousness and the influence of technology, but my younger self saw a confusing sci-fi flick that delighted him nevertheless. Admittedly, that film was not the sort a 7-year-old should have watched, but it did stick with me for a long time after. The older I got, the more appreciated it. When it came to the US, I discovered Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which maintained much of what I loved about the movie and quickly became one of my favorite anime shows. Masamune Shirow’s original manga didn’t find its way to me until later, but I enjoyed it as well. Over the years, I have collected wall scrolls, action figures, and posters for this franchise and I still love it dearly.

It is important to note this because I did go into 2017’s Ghost in the Shell as a fan of the source material, so I had certain expectations. Were those expectations met?  I’m pleased to report that they were, for the most part.   it does maintain much of the themes and questions of the franchise, although most of it is either simplified or handled with subtlety of a tank. I don’t think the 7-year-old me would have been quite as confused by this picture. However, he would’ve dug the heck out of the visuals and I’d agree with him. The world of this Ghost in the Shell takes the austere atmosphere of the 1995 film and adds a layer of colorful holographic madness that creates a future both frightening and inviting at once. Some scenes are recreated from the first film, and they do not disappoint. If you are any sort of fan of the Oshii picture, I urge you to see the film right now to experience them. Heck, I urge anyone who’s into film aesthetics to seem the film right now!

The basic outline of the original plot is intact: a machine with the ghost (soul) and brain of a human hunts for a cyber-terrorist who can hack the minds of other man-machines. From there, the plot frankensteins bits and pieces of various incarnations of GitS, along with some additions of its own. Frankly, it’s satisfying to watch a film that is comfortably familiar, yet still has a few surprises of its own. Fans of any version of GitS will recognize something from their favorite installment. In fact, the villain is a weird hybrid of The Puppetmaster from the original film and  Kuze from the TV series, bearing the name of the latter. Since there is much that is unique to this film, I won’t type another word of it. I’ll let the film unravel its mysteries for you.

Well, I suppose I should now address the elephant in the room… I think Scarlett Johansson was a rather excellent choice for The Major, and I don’t see the harm in casting her. Motoko Kusanagi (the protagonist in most versions of GitS) is a cyborg with very little of her humanity remaining. As originally conceived, Motoko’s body was a mass production model, so she has the same appearance as many others like her. Very little is known about her past and who she once was in most GitS-related material. In an episode of the TV series, Kusanagi confessed that she couldn’t remember what her real name was, suggesting that “Motoko Kusanagi” is only a pseudonym. Basically, Kusanagi isn’t even human in the traditional sense, so why should the race of the actress matter?  I thought Ms. Johansson looked the part and did wonderful job in the film. 

2017’s Ghost in the Shell is a worthy addition to the franchise. Sure, it’s never quite as clever as its source, but there is a human brain in this machine. The film isn’t doing so hot at the box office, so if you have any interest in it, I recommend you see it now. If you put aside any thoughts of “whitewashing,” you’ll likely find a highly enjoyable film that honors a true classic of animation. For Humans and cyborgs alike, this is a groovy time at the cinema.


 

A Happy Birthday to Houdini AKA “When Harry Met Robot”

A very Happy Birthday to “America’s First Superhero”, Harry Houdini!

Houdini was all sorts of badass. Of this, there can be no doubt. His very name conjures up visions of daring escapes, mind-bending magic, and insane physical feats. He was the first man to fly over Australian soil, first man to be filmed flying, debunked fake psychics, made escapology an art, taught U.S. solders how to escape German handcuffs in WWI, commissioned H.P. Lovecraft to write for him, AND gave Buster Keaton his stage name! Basically, he was a Chuck Norris joke that actually happened. Every magician wants to be him, but there can only be one Harry Houdini. To further cement his greatness, he was one of the first men to fight a robot on film!

That’s right, Sci-Fi Fiends! In the 1919 serial, The Master Mystery, The Handcuff King faced a mechanical menace and lived to escape another day! The serial is really just an excuse to watch Houdini escape from one set of restraints after another, so there’s very little in way of plot. Houdini will free himself from one trap… only to be put in another by the end! Clocking in at nearly 5 hours, I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole thing. However, watching any one segment on its own is a blast. Each chapter has Houdini doing his thing and a generous amount of robot nonsense to satisfy any monster lover. It’s well-filmed, has plenty of automaton action, and gives us a rare chance to see the Master Magician perform his famed escapes. Check out a segment below!

Happy Birthday, Houdini!