Three to See, One to Avoid

I picked up a bunch of movies on physical media. If you’re on the fence about Alien: Covenant, Ready Player One, Thor: Ragnarok, or A Dark Song, this might help your decision-making process.


Alien: Covenant

This is a good monster movie.

If you watched Prometheus and left wanting to /wrists, this is not the same thing.

Where Prometheus was ridiculous to a fault (e.g., why can people not run sideways out of the path of a giant rolling donut…), Covenant is a return to an Alien movie where they don’t try to explain too much (busting things in the process – what even was the black goo…), and give you the horrific scenes you want.

Covenant follows the crew of a colony ship. Pulled off-course by an accident, they set down on a human-habitable world. Unfortunately, the monsters beat ’em too it. The character casting is on point; people are flawed in plot-useful ways but not clowns about it. The script goes off pretty much as you’d expect, not a huge amount of surprises, and you should be able to guess victims and survivors within the first ten minutes.

While the SFX are on point, what takes this from a 3-star experience to a 4 is Michael Fassbender. The dude is amazing in this movie. He plays two roles – a “nice” robot, Walter, and a “naughty” robot, David. As Walter, he is compassionate, likable, and the kind of ‘droid you want on your starship. As David, he’s the very devil himself, and how Fassbender manages to keep these two roles separate during filming I don’t know. Whatever, the outcome is masterful: a David that is creepy, haunting and a cut above any Alien-francise synthetic to date.

This movie reminded me most of Alien vs. Predator in terms of not-too-unpredictable scares, and some decent oh-no moments. But it channels Alien and the sequel Aliens in terms of, “Dude, we’re so screwed.”


Ready Player One

This is not the book, and that’s a good thing.

Ok, I need to come clean: I couldn’t finish Clines’ original work. Too dark, too depressing, and it didn’t feel that interesting in a world where we already have AR, VR, and online gaming.

The movie next-levels this experience by focusing on what’s important: the characters. This is mostly about Wade and Samantha, but not exclusively, pulling in the other 3 members of the High Five. It’s a fun, action romp with an OUTSTANDING soundtrack, leaning on excellent casting.

This last is tricky. Much of the story takes place in the virtual, where Wade becomes Parzival and Sam becomes Art3mis. The actors Sheridan and Cooke need to bring nuance and color to voice-only roles, and they really bring the rain. While the SFX are glitzy and full of shine, they definitely come across as Avatar-level CGI; it’s the character voices that make the screen come alive.

The story revolves around their quest to control the VR gameworld they inhabit. Their actual quest is about companionship, and what’s really important in the world. The message isn’t lost on me as my Facebook feed tries to assure me the planet is a dumpster-fire. People are still people, wanting simple connections, and that’s the real prize the High Five wage war over.

There are a lot of inside jokes that fans of 80s movie culture will enjoy. Viewers familiar with particularly video game pop culture will enjoy this movie the most, catering to a wide-spectrum audience for fans of iD, Blizzard, and other game franchises.

I didn’t expect to like this, but I’ve now watched it twice. Let down a little by some over-candied CGI, this is an otherwise excellent experience for viewers of all ages.


Thor: Ragnarok

Thor has never been so fun.

I expected to like Thor the most and Captain America the least in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it didn’t pan out that way. Thor came across as stilted, and a bit uptight.

Waititi’s much-needed humor injection lifts this movie well above its contemporaries in the Marvel superhero universe. The plot is simple, no surprises here, but Hemsworth delivers comedic timing like a pro, and the addition of Blanchett and Thomson alongside returning favorites like Hiddleston an Ruffalo gives everyone something to enjoy.

The secret sauce is the side act Skurge, played by our boy Karl Urban. He really wants to be important, but kinda sucks, so plays 2IC to the goddess of death herself.

Where things go off the chain is the end scenes, which Waititi said he made thematically similar to side-scrolling video games of his youth. It’s brilliant, and a wonderful crescendo to an excellent tale.

My wife, who threatens to cut me everytime I say we should watch another superhero movie, watched and enjoyed this. It’s not just a superhero movie: it’s fun.


A Dark Song

This is terrible.

I feel duped.

I watched A Dark Song’s trailer and figured I’d be getting into some budget Christian horror. Maybe a little Exorcist meets The Shining, you know?

Get those thoughts out of your head. I kept waiting for this movie to *start* but it never really does. At the end, there’s some minor jump scares (not to mention a particularly budget-looking supernatural creature), but nothing’s delivered. The promise of this movie – two souls, broken beyond repair, gaining redemption – fails to connect.

It’s difficult to discuss in a spoiler-free way, but the story is about Sophia (Catherine Walker) who’s trying to commune with her dead son. Joseph (Steve Oram) is just the dude for her: a sorcerer of sorts, who understands the rites to grant wishes from angels.

The premise feels good, but it never lands. While the acting from both leads isn’t bad, they’re not given a lot to work with. Joseph is totally unlikable, and Sophia’s not much better. The hero’s journey she embarks on is to speak to her dead son, but within *literally* the last 5 minutes she does an about-face, changes her world view, and nopes on out (exit stage left).

It’s not earned. Nothing about the story implies this ending, and it’s unsatisfactory. Reading the IMDB reviews, there seems to be a mix: people who like slow burns without a point, giving this five stars, and those who agree the emperor has no clothes.

And it’s not scary. A Dark Song delivers the worst sin of all: it’s boring. I spent most of the movie checking my phone, hoping for a work-related email.

Avoid.

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