An Amazon in her Prime

Wonder Woman gets Wonder Woman right. Princess Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta and mighty Zeus, speaks her mind and does what she damn well pleases. In this movie, she wants to end World War I singlehandedly. She talks freely about slavery and freedom and the duty to fight for the weak. And boy, can she kick ass. Sometimes she is serious about fighting because there are civilians who need saving, but there are a few moments where she seems to enjoy combat, and she has a little glint in her eyes, just like Errol Flynn did before another bout of swashbuckling. It’s just that Wonder Woman deserves a better movie than this one. Continue reading

Genocide by Xenomorph? Discuss.

Alien: Covenant is a notch better than Prometheus, maybe two, but it still leaves much to be desired. The main problem, for me anyway, lies not within the film, but outside it. My main complaint is this: I am no longer afraid of the Xenomorph and its many manifestations. Oh sure, I am going to lose my shit for a moment at a jump scare (they are named that way for a reason), but even facehuggers and new-born chestbursters don’t do it for me anymore. I might suffer from what Mr Thirith calls Alien fatigue.

The thing is that with CGI, you can produce any and all Alien creatures, moving any which way, for any lenght of time; but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. In Alien: Resurrection, it became clear that the Xenomorph can even outswim humans. That is pretty much the opposite of what the very first Alien film did: Ridley Scott couldn’t show Giger’s Alien longer than a second or two because it looked clumsy and artificial in its movements. Scott also refused to show the Alien in the first 60 minutes of the film. What you hear is almost always scarier than what you see because your brain will make up stuff out of your worst fears. And don’t you agree that the very first Alien film is the scariest of them all?

It also seems like Covenant doesn’t quite trust its own scariness. There is a chestbursting scene involving Billy Crudup as the weak ersatz captain Oram that harks back to that classic John Hurt moment; there is a facehugger jumping out of an egg onto someone’s face; and there is the moment where they try to find that beacon and find it in a gigantic crash-landed Prince Albert-ring-shaped spaceship. It wouldn’t be a proper Alien film if all of those scenes were missing, but here, they are shot in such similar ways like they wanted to make sure that even the slowest of movirgoers realizes that this is just like the original. It’s the cineastic equivalent of cutting and pasting, and it smacks of cheapness.

Apart from showing us too many incarnations of our favourite beastie for too long, Alien: Covenant has other weaknesses. None of the characters is given enough time to develop some kind of personality, except for Walter (Fassbender) and Daniels (Waterston). While Katherine Waterston does what she can with her role, she certainly is nowhere near Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley, so if any of the crew die (burned, speared, shot, decapitated, incubated and so on), why should we care? Their mode of death seems more important to the movie than their being a live character. On the other hand, there is Fassbender in a double role, but that device is undermined by an absolutely foreseeable trick.

There is, however, a magical moment between Walter, a latter generation synthetic, and David, his predecessor. David is stunned by the fact that Walter has not been given the ability to create, and so he teaches him to play the flute. Other than that, the screenplay doesn’t do anyone any favors. Interesting actors such as Carmen Ejogo and Amy Seimetz are simply used as Xenomorph fodder. And it’s a shame if the movie credits Noomi Rapace if she only gets to sing Country Roads. Come to think of it, John Denver is probably scarier than the Xenomorph.

We are family

In the past I’ve called Hirokazu Koreeda’s films “gentle”, which is perhaps a misleading term. It makes the director and his works sound soft and pleasant and, well, sort of nothingy. Which is giving both them and the adjective short shrift – these days especially, both on and off the screen, we could do with more gentleness. It also suggests that it’s easy to underestimate Koreeda and his films, because doing what he does – and, more importantly, doing it well – is exceedingly challenging. Koreeda’s films have an uplifting humanity that is sadly rare, not just in cinema.

Our Little Sister

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The world is your blurry oyster

It’ll soon have been a year since I got my Oculus Rift and joined the small but growing ranks of people who don’t care how stupid they look wearing VR goggles. Even after all that time, and hours spent exploring a virtual reality that thankfully doesn’t look anything like The Lawnmower Man, the tech still can leave me awestruck, and the latest instance of this is when I finally checked out Google Earth VR (which doesn’t officially work with Oculus Rift, but hey, the internet isn’t just full of porn and cat videos, it’s also where you’re likely to find a solution for each and every one of your tech problems.)

One of the first things I did: I went home.

Okay, no: first thing I did was be a virtual tourist, as one does.

London
… not home, but nice enough.

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This is a test – but for whom?

Cristian Mungiu’s Bacalaureat (2016) (or Graduation, as it is called in English-speaking countries) is firmly rooted in realism, but manages to turn some of its characters paranoid. Somewhere around the movie’s middle mark, I turned slightly paranoid, too. It’s entirely possible that this paranoia might be intentional, and that it might refer to the fact that this is a Romanian production, with its subtle hints to the Ceausescu regime which had the whole country in its grip until 1989, but it doesn’t have to be. We could also just witness a system that works with favoritism and secret handshakes, but the thing is: the favoritism in the movie, while not legitimate, does not increase the elite’s power, but helps single individuals overcome their problems. It’s a film about morals without wagging its finger at you. Continue reading

Here comes the Train again

Why does Mark Renton return to Edinburgh 20 years later? I don’t know which reasons Irvine Welsh’s novels give, but Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting lets us take our pick. I like that ambiguity – it keeps you guessing about the characters and about the story. Renton says he is here because his wife is going to divorce him. Could be, but we never see her. There is also the money he wants to give back to Sick Boy out of guilt. Sick Boy, still very blond, now runs his dead auntie’s run-down Leith pub and calls himself Simon. I have another theory: Renton simply remembers the best of times and the worst of times he had with Simon, Spud, Diane and maybe even Begbie, as depicted in the original Trainspotting (1996). Everything else since then wasn’t half as intense as those times 20 years ago, even if it almost killed him. Continue reading

They create worlds: Dishonored 2

One of the things that video games can do magnificently is create worlds. These posts are an occasional exploration of games that I love because of where they take me.

One thing that video games struggle with more often than not is giving their worlds a palpable sense of history. Sure, fantasy and sci-fi games are in love with convoluted lore, but that’s different from creating a world that feels old. We regularly play games where we traverse spaces that are ancient, from the titular tombs of Tomb Raider to the old temples of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, but as impressive as these places are, more often than not they feel like movie sets, created for the purpose of acting as a cool backdrop to the game’s action. The signs of age, the water stains and crumbling pillars and fading tapestries, seem too consciously placed to be entirely convincing. Age seems a mere veneer, because in a virtual world there is no such thing as age. The ancient architecture was designed a couple of months or years ago at most and is being recreated for your enjoyment in every moment of the present. There is no such thing as an old polygon or texture.

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