Atomic Blonde (***) – John Wick for chicks

atomic-blonde

Atomic Blonde – 2017

Director David Leitch
Screenplay Kurt Johnstad based on The Coldest City by Antony Johnston, Sam Hart
Starring Charlize Theron, James McAvoy, John Goodman, Toby Jones, Sofia Boutella, Til Schweigher, Eddie Marsan, Johannes Haukur Johannesson, Bill Skarsgård, Sam Hargrave, Roland Møller

 

There have been a few efforts to make Charlize Theron into an action star. Some of them good, like Mad Max Fury Road, The Huntsman, etc. while others, like Æon Flux, weren’t bad, but they weren’t great either. This time around, using the physics intelligence of David Leitch, a stuntman, action coordinator and half of the team that revived Keanu Reeves career with John Wick and John Wick 2she’s doing the smart thing by not aiming high with her kicks.

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Based on a graphic novel I will likely never read, Atomic Blonde is about the underworld of Berlin just before the end of the Cold War. There is a list that is compromised, double agents who kill other agents and cross even more agents and tons of carefully scripted, but altogether exhilarating fight scenes. Theron looks absolutely vulnerable, yet altogether plausible in a role that requires her to fight about 1/3 of the number that Reeves faced in the first John Wick film, maybe 1/5 that of the second.

The point to the film is not the plot. It really doesn’t matter what’s going on. There is absolutely no resonance when one of the guys in the briefing room threatens that the cold war could go on another 20 years because of the MacGuffin. We know the wall is about to fall, no matter what. Absolutely no one cares why Theron’s MI-6 Agent Lorraine Broughton is made to face the onslaught of men in scene after scene. The importance to the viewer is the originality of the backdrops, choreography and kills.

In this capacity, Theron has it in spades. The same feeling we have in Reeves’ films, Leitch brings into Theron’s performance. First, it looks like she’s doing her own stunts, and damn she looks tired about the same time you’d think being beaten about the body, head and neck would make one wear down. She trained extensively, even with Reeves, who was in the midst of filming the latter Wick film. She even cracked her teeth from clenching. Sounds like dedication, and it shows.

She’s not knocking people out with one punch, or anything along those lines of bull. She fights ferociously and dirty. She uses anything she can, hitting men repeatedly. Very few of her punches, while effective, are critical blows. This forces her to have to fight the same people at different times throughout sequences.

Every one of the fight scenes are finely attuned, while looking real, for the most part. I particularly enjoyed the fact that men she fought and severely wounded in earlier parts of the film found their way back for another round at later times.

What I didn’t enjoy as much were all of the interrogation scenes. Giving the Tarantino effect of showing the scenes out-of-order doesn’t do much for suspense when one sees which persons made it out of the fight scenes before they happen. A more inspired storytelling technique would have served everyone better.

McAvoy is okay as Percival, who is Broughton’s Berlin contact. We know he’s shady. The story never stops pounding this point through. I am not a huge fan of McAvoy at this point, and I suppose it may be that I find his recent trend of characters to have exposed instead of expanded his range. He’s fine, though, if you like him.

The rest of the speaking parts (read: those not getting a knife, kick or bullet from Broughton) are all unspectacular. If we aren’t seeing great fights, we’re being bored with exposition. It’s a trade that some feel is necessary. I think not. If anything, her experience on Fury Road showed that if you have a good momentum, you can thrive without being bogged down by the same story warmed over.

The soundtrack is loud, and occasionally fitting of the mood and the action. It’s a little on the predictable side, but I am sure there are some out there who haven’t heard multiple versions of 99 Luftballoons, Major Tom or Der Komissar.

In all, it’s a good film that could have been great. What motivates a woman so glamorous as Theron to continually put herself in the line of fire is a mystery to me. If she keeps at it with this kind of coordination, I won’t mind her trying.

(*** out of  *****)

 

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The Fate of the Furious (***): Don’t think. It’s Meat

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The Fate of the Furious – 2017

Director F. Gary Gray
Screenplay Chris Morgan
Starring Vin Diesel, Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Scott Eastwood, Nathalie Emmanuel, Elsa Pataky, Kurt Russell, Charlize Theron

Don’t think that I don’t know that this series is as dumb as anything I have ever seen.

Don’t think I don’t want to see someone beaten like a Cherokee drum.

Don’t think that I don’t know that there is some serious man crushing going on between The Rock’s Hobbs and Statham’s Deckard.

Don’t think that it isn’t kind of cool to see all those cars fall from above in NYC.

Don’t think that it isn’t cool seeing Dom turn heel when they run out of story-lines.

Don’t think for a minute I can’t tell you’re trying to make Scott Eastwood a star eventually. And I hope it works well enough to give him a personality, too.

Don’t think I buy for a second that anyone who dies in this series is really dead. And the one guy who died outside the series will ever be shown as dead.

Don’t think I am any less tired of Tyrese Gibson’s Roman than I am of Dom “Meathead” Torretto.

Don’t think I don’t miss Sung Kang and Gal Gadot.

Don’t think I don’t know it’s not random choice that Theron’s Cipher makes when doling out punishment. It’s about as Random as Gadot dying just before her boyfriend Kang in part 6.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching The Rock kicking ass.We always need more Statham.

Don’t think I don’t enjoy watching Luda as a techno Wiz. I would buy anything he’s selling.

Don’t think that the snow chase isn’t as dumb as it is cool. More submarine, please.

Don’t think I can ever get enough of Helen Mirren.

Don’t think the laws of physics on this or any planet will apply.

Don’t think I don’t want to hear Roman stop yelling.

Don’t think any of this will ever make sense.

Don’t think that the grand master antagonist isn’t working for some other grand master antagonist in another movie down the line.

Don’t believe there won’t be a full immunity or full reinstatement at the end of every film.

Don’t think I don’t want to see Hobbs beat down Torretto.

Don’t think. It will all be better that way.

Mad Max: Fury Road (****): Same glorious road, different driver

Mad-Max-Fury-Road-Poster-Posse

Director George Miller
Starring Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton, Zoë Kravitz
Written by Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris

The critical love bestowed upon George Miller’s Mad Max series has always been somewhat puzzling. His style is visually remarkable and has improved each time out. Beautiful, frantic and grotesque at once, no one has ever come close to duplicating him. The thing is, story-wise, he’s now made the same movie three times in a row. There is often some deeper meaning ascribed to the film, sometimes deserved, sometimes a stretch. Ultimately, the story is about how Max and a few stragglers survive and a lot of bad guys don’t.

The film starts with Max (Hardy) getting chased down by another group of terrorizers. They bring down his car, pick him up, inscribe some vitals on his back via tattoo, then, after a brief attempt to escape, use him as a “blood bag” due to his type-O universal blood type.

Elsewhere in the group, Imperator Furiosa (Theron), is readying a big rig for a trip to the nearby gas depot. Only she really is plotting her escape with The Five Wives of the leader Immortan Joe. Once Joe discovers that Furiosa is driving off route, he rallies the troops to chase her down.

Among the troops is the War Boy Nux (Hoult) who is ill and is connected to Max for his blood. Off he goes with Max prominently displayed in the front of his car to join the pursuit. If everyone had been caught in the first big chase, the movie would have been pretty short. Needless to say, Max ends up on the side of the pursued and they get some distance, but not much, from their pursuer.

All of this is caught within the framework of some of the most gorgeous imagery ever presented in a desert action film. And yes, I am including Lawrence of Arabia in this group. There is an abundance and depth to the color, explosions, slashes and even the sounds within the chase presented in the film. The variety of nut jobs pursuing is quite impressive as well. This time, though, there is more to one of them than drug fueled rage. Hoult’s character receives an act of grace from one of the wives and is converted to the cause. It’s a quick turnaround for a guy who was getting a transfusion and following it up with spray paint to the face. Very little of the Mad Max series is done with a long build up, though.madmax-guitarist

One of the most brilliantly insane images of the film has to be the vehicle consisting of rows of drums on one side and then the other with a Pete Townshend-worthy stacks of speakers behind a masked man in red playing a double necked guitar with an extra spout for a flamethrower. Yes. It’s just that. It’s the best thing since Tim Cappello grunted his way through the sax solos in Tina Turner’s videos for the last movie.


Sax guyIt’s when we reach this point that we realize the George Miller Mad Max experience is not necessarily for telling stories with a moral. Sure, we are all against humans being held in bondage, female and male. We don’t like terror in any way shape or form. Monsters are created in these films as a backdrop for the rest of these wild events to occur. The one film in which compassion tipped the scales, Beyond Thunderdome, is the one for which fans have the least affection. More compassion is represented by those tilting head looks where people are learning, and learning just slows everything down. Not that it’s ever a mis-step to inject some of the better qualities of humanity in the midst of the carnage. Thunderdome is still my favorite due to the time Miller took to show how stories are passed from generation to generation. Miller had a connection with Gibson that made compassion amidst chaos a believable concept.

This aspect has translated successfully into the capable hands of Tom Hardy. His Max fits comfortably along side Gibson. He shows the fevered want to survive at almost any cost. He also can re-evaluate on the fly with the same perplexed look that his predecessor had mastered. There never has been much more to Max than this in any of the films, aside from the original that showed him to be the father and husband that we see flashbacks of now. I thought that his kid was a boy originally, but now flashbacks keep harkening back to a little girl, but he is tortured either way. There is something to the fact that their collective character is so limited, but it fits so well in the environment, fans of the series will find little about which to complain.

Theron’s character, even more than Hardy’s, is limited in scope. She seeks redemption for these beautiful women being held as breeders against their will. Theron committed, letting her delicate visage appear more beaten and gaunt than ever as she personifies the rage of the violated.

Immortan / Toecutter...the same actor, but the same guy?
Immortan / Toecutter…the same actor, but the same guy?

As Immortan Joe, Keays-Bearne makes his first appearance in the series since his performance as Toecutter in the original. Toecutter is presumably killed in the first movie, but Immortan Joe is so disfigured in Fury Road, one can’t help but wonder if the casting means Joe and Toecutter are the same. He’s much less a cook and more menacing this time around, as much for the mystery surrounding his character as anything.

The five wives have a presence that stands out in the film. That we are able to distinguish one from another five times over is in itself a feat of no small proportion. Curiously, there were also many other, larger and older women left in equally destitute conditions, but apparently there is no room for them in the escape semi. None of this is the fault of the women they do show heroically, but if anyone is looking to make this story some sort of equal rights statement, they ought to have sympathy for the “milkers” too.

The product of Fury Road is polished, for something presenting such a ragged cross-section of the dregs of the post-apocalyptic world. All of the folks involved in the chase, aside from Hardy and Theron, look like they spent a lot of time getting their makeup right. Such is the case when one is making pop art, however. This is not so much a complaint as it is an observation. It’s enjoyable all the same.

Of the films, this is the one I enjoyed more than any, outside of Thunderdome. For a series that is such complete and all out high-octane, they keep going down the same road over and over. Unlike George Romero’s zombie films, or Scorsese’s real crime repeats, the craft is getting more refined with each trip. And unlike Spielberg tinkering with E.T. or Lucas messing around with the original Star Wars movies, these films feel more organic, instead of messed with. It’s like a painting that grows in one’s esteem as it ages. Don’t be fooled, though. This painting is closer to Dogs Playing Poker than it is to The Last Supper.

(**** out of *****)

CPE’s Prometheus / Predator / Alien Universe Chronological Timeline Reviews

Prometheus, June 2012

With the release of the first good Predator film in almost 25 years, and the making (by Ridley Scott) of an Alien prequel, Prometheus, now is a great time to review the two series as a whole.  Both series have gone to hell and back (sometimes together), but overall, the entire series has provided many intense, exciting moments and the chance to imagine a frighteningly brilliant set of premises, and, eventually, bring them together with varied results.

I am starting with Predator because, chronologically, in the universe these movies inhabit, the events in that movie happen first.  It’s kind of geek, I know.  However, it’s not nearly as geek as putting my movies in order by director, which, for sanity’s sake, my wife forbade me from doing.  Following that order of events, I will give brief synopses and reviews for each film.  One may disagree with the overall scores for each movie, but I think it is pretty obvious that many will agree with my assessment of the best and the worst films.

Predator (1987)

Director – John McTiernan

Writers – Jim Thomas / John Thomas

Starring – Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Carl Weathers, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Sonny Landham, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Shane Black, Elpidia Carrillo, Kevin Peter Hall

Timeline – 1987

Here me now and believe me later…we’re gonna get stomped.

Synopsis – Major Alan “Dutch” Schaefer  is brought into a search and rescue mission with his Delta Force / CIA SOG team by former Green Beret buddy and current CIA Agent George Dillon.  What is not known to them is they are following another team in there that had been summarily wiped out, and the thing that wiped them out is still out there, waiting for them…

Review – This is the cream of the crop for Predator movies.  The plot is threadbare, but the dialogue is great and the direction is sharp.  Given that this is McTiernan’s first film, it is remarkably professional.  Excellent performances by Schwarzeneggar, Shane Black, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Bill Duke and Kevin Peter Hall as The Predator.  The intensity is unlike any other Predator film, and the reason for this is the director, more than anything.

Rating – (****1/2 out of *****)

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Predator 2 (1990)

Director – Stephen Hopkins

Writers – Jim Thomas / John Thomas

Starring – Danny Glover, Ruben Blades, Bill Paxton, Gary Busey, Maria Conchita Alonso, Kevin Peter Hall, Adam Baldwin

Timeline – 1997

Synopsis – Glover portrays Lt. Mike Harrigan, L.A. Police officer who, along with his fellow officers are caught in the midst of a war between (inexplicably) Jamaican and Colombian Drug gangs.  Inserting himself in the midst of this war is another Predator, on another hunting spree.

Snagging a couple of Raggae man gangsters. Whoopee!

Review – Horrible sequel has a lot of good parts (Glover, Paxton, Blades, Alonso) but fails to use them.  The setting of then futuristic L.A. didn’t help.  For some stupid reason, they insert a Jamaican gang in the middle of the major West Coast city.  My nearest guess was so that they could have the wild-looking Rastafarians portrayed in an insultingly prejudicial way.  And they thought Jar Jar was bad.  This is, of course the place on celluloid where we first see a crossover to the Alien world, with a skull in the background of the ship, there’s the interaction with the old couple in the apartment building, and there all of those average special effects…still this movie nearly buried a vibrant franchise.

Rating – (** out of  *****)

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Alien Vs. Predator (2004)

Director – Paul W.S. Anderson

Writers – Paul W.S. Anderson, Shane Salermo

Starring – Lance Henriksen, Sanaa Lathan, Raul Bova, Ewan Bremner, Colin Salmon

Timeline – 2004

Synopsis – Charles Bishop Weyland (Lance Henrikson, evoking both his Aliens character Bishop and the corporation Weyland-Utani) leads a team of  scientists to examine some heat signatures discovered under the island of Bouvetøya near Antarctica.  Of course what they find there are not only Aliens…but Predators as well.  Turns out the Predators have used a Pyramid temple there for hundreds of years to raise Aliens for combat tests.  In the end, one of the dead Predators gets a chestburster for his troubles on the ship heading off planet.

Review – A decent concept with some nice special effects that is compromised by its PG-13 rating.  Lots of running, jumping and quick cuts do not a suspenseful movie make.  If Anderson had been given free rein to make the movie with an “R” rating, it might have been better, but cutting out the gore made it more excusable to bring the young teenagers and translated to easily the most successful Predator movie, while an average grossing Alien film.  The acting is what you’d expect and it is on par with the dialog.  Why give good lines to a bunch of targets, after all?  Still, the Predators fighting the Aliens are pretty cool.  If you want some real entertainment, check out the commentary track with Henriksen, Lathan and Anderson.  Lots of yuks there, but not ones that any of the participants should feel proud of.

Rating (*** out of *****)

Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem – 2007

Directors – Colin Strause, Greg Strause

Writer – Shane Salermo

Starring – Steven Pasquale, Reiko Aylesworth, John Ortiz

Timeline – 2004

Who wants to see more of this crap?

Synopsis – So, after the chestburster jumps out of the Predator in AvP, somehow it grows to fighting pro status (called a Predalien) while the Predator ship is still in Earth’s orbit, beats up the Predator pilot, and forces the ship down somewhere in Colorado.  Next thing you know, it escapes along with a bunch of other Alien facehuggers, taking out a dad, his son and some local bums.  Hearing a distress signal for the ship that went down and a lone Predator goes to Earth to clean up.  Havoc ensues and many people die.  In the end, Ms. Yutani lands herself a Predator blaster cannon.

Review – This movie is complete and utter trash.  Breaking all sorts of rules of common sense storytelling through bad editing, bad script-writing, bad decisions in plot development.  The only good thing about the movie is the design of the Predalien.  They don’t do anything with it, though.  Instead, we get the worst possible scenarios dreamed up by fanboys in a series of disconnected scenes.  The worst possible scene involves a row of pregnant women in a hospital who are there for no discernible reason other than to fulfill some freak’s fantasy.  This movie is a dead-end.  For completists who want to be disappointed and immature males only.

Rating (1/2* out of *****)

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Predators (2010)

Timeline – 2010

For full review click here

Rating (**** out of  *****)

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The Historical Timeline for Peter Weyland, born 1990, takes place predominantly here, between then and the events of the movie, Prometheus:

Timeline of Peter Weyland and Weyland Industries

Prometheus (2012)

Director – Ridley Scott

Writers – Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof

Starring – Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Logan-Marshall Green, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Patrick Wilson, Kate Dickie, Benedict Wong

Timeline – 2073

Review: Click Here

Rating: (****1/2 out of *****)

Alien (1979)

Director – Ridley Scott

Writers – Dan O’Bannon, David Giler, Walter Hill

Starring – Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, Harry Dean Stanton

Timeline – 2122

Synopsis – The USCSS Nostromo, a commercial towing spaceship, is on a return trip from the planet Thedus to Earth, when they are awoken from hibernation.  The reason for the interruption is revealed to be a transmission of unknown origin from a nearby planet.  They land, and while members of the crew are surveying another ship that landed there, they see a pilot frozen in place with his chest opened, seemingly frozen in time, and then they see a cavern filled with pods…after one of the crew gets a little close, out from the pod jumps a facehugger.  The crewman, Kane (Hurt), is brought back without quarantine onto the main ship against protocol and the orders of Warrant officer Ripley (Weaver).  Trying to examine the facehugger, acid pours from a cut from its skin and almost goes through the ship.  After the facehugger dies, everyone thinks Kane is fine…until they see the chestburster.  Soon after, as the crew tries frantically to evict what they think is a small alien, they are, one by one, introduced to the full-grown version.

A star is born, before a chestburster is born…

Review – Easily the best film of the series, and one of the greatest science fiction films of all time, Alien sets the mark with suspense, common sense and respect for the viewer’s ability to figure out what is happening.  A remarkable cast is in full force here, particularly effective are Skerritt, Holm, Kotto and the magnificent Sigourney Weaver.  This is a film that should not be missed if you like movies.

Rating  (***** out of *****)

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Aliens (1986)

Director – James Cameron

Writer – James Cameron, David Giler, Walter Hill

Starring – Sigourney Weaver, Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Paul Reiser, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein

Timeline – 2179

Synopsis – Ripley’s escape vessel is lost for 57 years.  In the meantime, she’s lost a daughter to old age, been held accountable by Weyland-Yutani for destroying the Nostromo, and discovered that there have been terra-formers colonizing the planet they landed on for over 20 years.  After she is hung out to dry, she is informed that contact has been lost with the colony, and asked if she will return to help wipe out the Aliens.  Heading out there with space Marines, they are quickly outmatched and forced to fight for their lives.  It doesn’t help to have a representative of the company along to “help.”

One of the many iconic shots from Aliens

Review – Another indisputable classic, James Cameron wrote and directed this right after creating The Terminator, and it is clear that his creative juices were still flowing.  Weaver, nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Ripley, gives the performance of a lifetime, realistically expounding on her portrayal from the original and adding relevant depth and nuance.  The plot is given a depth with the special edition not allowed in the original release, and the introduction of the hive, with its Queen, give a layer of mystique to the mythos of the Alien that the later sequels fed off but could never add to.  The last half hour is among the most exciting cinematic achievements in the history of film.  Henriksen, Biehn, Henn, Paxton and Goldstein give performances of a lifetime.

Rating – (***** out of ******)

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Alien3 (1992)

Director – David Fincher

Writers – David Giler, Walter Hill, Larry Ferguson, Vincent Ward, David Twohy, William Gibson, Eric Red, John Fasano, David Fincher and Rex Pickett

Starring – Sigourney Weaver, Charles Dutton, Charles Dance, Brian Glover, Pete Postlethwaite, Lance Henriksen and a bunch of indistinguishable Brits.

Timeline – 2179

Synopsis – Almost immediately after the events in Aliens the ship Sulaco is destroyed and an escape pod carrying Ripley, Newt, Hicks and what is left of Bishop crash lands on a prison planet, Fiorina ‘Fury’ 161.  The planet is an near empty prison with about 20 British men (and Charles Dutton) sprinkled in following a cult version of Christianity.  Lo and behold, a facehugger escapes the crash, impregnates a dog, and creates a new, ultra fast and mobile Alien that begins to pick off everyone but Ripley.

I can’t remember when you haven’t been part of my life…

Review – As one can tell from the myriad writers that took shots at the script, this film is a mess.  Given that they took so long (6 years) to make the 3rd film, they had to get rid of Newt.  As a result, they start Alien3 with the worse possible premise, killing off all the hope from the second film and throwing Fincher the dregs of a story.  Also, since they filmed Alien3 in England, they went cheap and hired only local “talent.”  Oh, and Charles Dutton.  This creates an inexplicably Anglo movie and to what effect?  Not much.  Given so little to work with, Fincher makes the best of it, and manages to make an allegory for AIDS with the movie.   His camera work is exquisite, as well.  He really does his best to make chicken salad out the this chicken excrement of a plot.  The chase scenes from the perspective of the sleek canine-born Alien.  Dutton and Weaver add what little life there is to the film.  Entirely forgettable, except for the effect it had on Fincher, which was to motivate him to become one of our greatest directors.  Another note about the film, is that one of the earlier drafts – the one with a monastic planet made of wood, written by Ward – is roundly considered to be, as London Times writer David Hughes puts it one of the “Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made.”  Bummer.

Rating (**1/2 out of *****)

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Alien Resurrection (1997)

Director – Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Writer – Joss Whedon

Starring – Sigourney Weaver, Winona Rider, Ron Perlman, Dominique Pinon, Dan Hedeya, Brad Dourif, J.E. Freeman, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott

Timeline – 2381

Synopsis – 205 years after the last film evil Scientists for the United Systems Military find some DNA of the impregnated Ripley from Fury 161 and decide to take unwitting kidnapped humans and make them into vessels for the eggs of the Queen derived from the Ripley clone.  Of course things go haywire and everyone is forced to fend for their lives.

Special effects to good use…
Dominique Pinion from Alien Resurrection: one of the more intriguing characters in the Alien universe

Review – An intriguing premise and somewhat wacky in its presentation, this movie has the one of the best casts ever assembled for an Alien film.  It is by far the slickest film in the franchise.  Watching the Aliens slither about, one cannot help but realize that they are, for the most part, computer animated.  Closeups have the real thing, and that scene underwater is pretty cool.  The most horrifying shot in this film is actually not an Alien.  It’s Dan Hedeya’s hairy arms and torso.  Weaver is especially effective in the freshness of being back from the dead, with no strings attached, except those left over from her connection to the Aliens that she is “mother” to.  She saunters around to her own beat, and her flippant attitude is very appealing.  Rider adds an interesting character to the mix, as a robot with a past connected to Bishop.  Perlman and Pinon, however, are almost worth the price of admission themselves.  They are the best characters in the entire series, outside of Weaver.

(***1/2 out of *****)