Film Thoughts: Alien Covenant

Spoilers ahead

…Hey, Vasquez, have you ever been mistaken for a spoiler?

Here’s a formula for you: David + Walter + flute = Boredom

A wannabee profound moment that was actually dull and embarrassing. I’ve read that the innuendo was written as deliberately comical. But whether the cringe was purposeful or not, that moment was jarring in how tonally off it was from the rest of the film. Most films need moments of levity. But not like this

I thought Tennessee would be the most annoying character. Prometheus’ attempts at humour consistently fell flat. While Covenant has a different writing team, I thought Danny McBride would be tasked with delivering similarly bad lines, ticking off good ol’ country-boy stereotypes along the way. Yet Tennessee was the most watchable non-mechanical character in the film.  

The only problem with McBride’s performance is that Tennessee is the same person before his wife’s death as after. By its nature, film generally has to accelerate the grief cycle, particularly in an ensemble death-fest like Covenant. But Tennessee had almost no cycle. A few seconds of sadness, then he hits the emotional reset-button and is back on the clock. Maybe those scenes weren’t filmed chronologically. Perhaps McBride shot the scenes after the wife’s death before he acted finding out about it

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Film Thoughts: Moana


When I watch a (good) animated film, I forget the famous faces behind the cast. During viewing, those actors don’t exist. Their voice becomes that of the character.

The Rock, oddly, is an exception. For some reason, while watching Moana, I wasn’t watching Maui, I was watching The Rock, animated. Something in my brain was going, ‘Okay, The Rock is lifting that boat…The Rocks is turning into an eagle’. Why that happened with him but no one else in my history of watching animation, I’ve no idea. Also odd was that it didn’t negatively affect my experience

Moana is a very good film. Solid from the very beginning, with near-perfect execution towards the end. My sole criticism is that there’s some slightly muddled storytelling around Maui’s reasons for taking the heartstone. I like that the film included these ideas — myth isn’t fact, people can ascribe reasons for actions that may not be true. But, particularly in a kid’s film, a clearer, more graceful exploration of the topic may have helped. You might say kids don’t care about such things. But I think they can subconsciously pick up on them, and lose interest in a story without fully understanding why

I’m far from an expert on music or the work of David Bowie. But during the crab Tamatoa’s musical number, I noticed it sounded Bowie-esque. Was it a tribute to him? Bowie died in January 2016. Moana was released that November. Yet, given the film’s long production cycle, I doubt Bowie died before the song was conceived. Perhaps just a happy coincidence.

One picky thing — at least here in the UK, the main Moana poster depicts her, Maui, and Pua the pig on the boat together. If memory serves, that configuration never happened. Heihei was the only animal with those two. A classic case of Roosterphobia. I blame Trump
Alan Tudyk, of Firefly and Dodgeball fame and actual, proper actor, was the voice of the rooster. Would that clucking have been so different if not voiced by a trained thespian?

Nicole Scherzinger voiced Moana’s mum. Mum? I’m writing this days after seeing the film. I remember Moana’s dad and her crazy grandma, but not her mum. In fact, I think at some point I actually wondered where her mum was, and concocted a theory about how she was dead

The Power of Frozen. At one point Maui rapidly shape-shifts between a number of animals and fish. Each is only on screen for around half a second. He briefly changes into a reindeer. Three different kids shouted “Sven!” (the reindeer from Frozen). That damn film is never far from kid’s minds, even three years after its release

The pirate attack was so well done. Great shots and editing, a full-fledged Hollywood-quality action scene

Maui was on some Han Solo arrive-at-the-last minute steez during the lava monster battle. Somehow, characters get more audience appreciation for selfishly leaving, then coming back at the last possible moment, than they do for just staying there and fighting the good fight throughout. People have no appreciation for the real heroes

Sighborg: On Terminator Genisys



After watching Terminator Genisys, I wondered: why did I just do that to myself? The reviews were stinking (38% on Metacritic); two people whose film opinions I generally respect had slated it. I don’t usually hate-watch things. Call me a madman, but I prefer to watch films I expect to be good. Yet, here I was, choosing Genisys over, say, Bridge of Spies.


I told myself I wanted to see just how bad a job they’d done. But maybe I was being open-minded and hoped it could be good. Then I thought back to a passage I’d written a few years ago about the Aliens game Colonial Marines:

Maybe I wanted to love Colonial Marines so I could be contrary, so I could say “This game is terrible. Except it isn’t”, and people would totally reply “Wow, this guy’s a renegade maverick genius

Was I doing this with Genisys? Did I want to like something most don’t, just so I could have an interesting opinion? Am I really that sad?

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Random Film Thoughts

A few unrelated thoughts on film and film-making

The last few years have served as proof that Hollywood can no longer keep pace with popular culture. The World of Warcraft film arrived long after many had forgotten Warcraft existed. The Angry Birds Movie won the Oscar for Film No One Wants Anymore. Eye in the Sky commented on the military use of drones, a conversation everyone else had years ago.

Culture is accelerating. Something becomes part of the zeitgeist and is then forgotten at an ever-quickening pace. But the Hollywood movie-making machine still moves at a similar pace. Which leaves mainstream cinema with three options:

a) Continue to make films about modern culture that become increasingly out-of-date
b) Find a way to streamline and quicken the transition from script to screen
c) Simply give up trying to ride cultural waves

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Friday Links: 2nd December


The Everything Store , by Brad Stone (about the history of Amazon)
Decoded, by Jay-Z (which is a pretty book and probably best appreciated in physical form and not ebook)

So much for not buying books. But these two were 99p on Kindle each on Black Friday (both back to full price now):
The Big Short, my Michael Lewis
The Godfather, by Mario Puzo


Buy for $10k, sell for $80 million. Buy for $80 million, sell for $127 million. Madness.
On the film of The Big Short, and its director, Adam McKay

Brief Film Thoughts: Chappie

I am a cinema sage with a great number of friends. So I’m often asked for film recommendations. If I suggest Chappie, they’ll ask what it’s about. These ‘friends’, however, simply cannot match my genius. Recognising their inferior intellect, I give the reductionist answer: “It’s Short Circuit meets Robocop”.

While watching, I tried to ignore my Robocopian thoughts. Then I saw the Moose, which is a straight-up copy of Robocop’s Ed-209. There’s being overt with your inspirations. Then there’s letting others do the hard work.

I edited these notes weeks after seeing the film, so I might have some plot points wrong. But did Moore (Jackman) really think that causing one model of his company’s robots to fail would make his model more attractive to their customers? If I bought a PC from Dell and it exploded and burnt down my house, I wouldn’t phone Dell to place another order for a different computer

My favourite part was when Chappie was ‘born’. His body language perfectly conveyed recognisable child-like fear*. If someone whispered to him, he’d whisper back, which is what a kid would do. I also loved that his ears fell back when he was scared

* Chappie was ‘played’ by Sharlto Copley, star of District 9. At least according to Wiki (I’m too lazy to look elsewhere), Copley acted in scenes and was used as a reference by the animators, though he wasn’t actually motion-captured

Many films can get away with tonal disparity. Yet after all the comedy moments throughout, it was difficult to get involved in a serious, dramatic shootout at the end. And was I supposed to feel for Ninja, who’d done nothing but bad things throughout the film?

Great set design for Ninja and Yolandi’s home. Totally over the top

Would Ninja and Yolandi really allow Deon to go home? They’ve just got this police superweapon, but they’re happy to let it’s creator go about his business, even though he could rat them out at any time?

Briefer Film Thoughts: The Martian,

Space spoilers ahead

Brilliant film, although the ending was the least interesting part. My viewing of The Martian got interrupted, so I ended up watching the final few scenes two days after watching the rest. I wonder if that’s why I was less engaged. I’d been tense about Watney heading into orbit, even thinking about his chances of survival throughout my day. I really thought there was a possibility that, after all he’d gone through to survive, he might still fail at the very end. But when I actually witnessed his salvation, I wasn’t hugely engaged, despite being so into the film earlier.

The intentionally shitty soundtrack worked and fitted really well. I’m not sure what that says about films

The book this film is based on was first released for free on the author’s site. It feels like an internet book, if that makes any sense. I haven’t checked if they’re in the book or just the screenplay, but quotes like “space pirate” and “I’m gonna have to science the shit out of this” seem very much like the kind of thing you’d read online

Eric Weinstein was spot on in calling The Martian ‘the ultimate high-agency movie’. Many protagonists have a puzzle to solve, but few have as many, and as many practical ones, as Watney did