Assorted Musings on Alien: Covenant

Yes, I know this has been out for a week already, but since I’m doing nothing else this Memorial Day weekend and negative thoughts really ignite my creativity like nothing else, I just had to get this out of my system. There will be spoilers from here on out.

  1. If you are one of those horror flick purists who thinks that monsters are scarier when they are unexplained and that an origin story detracts from a beast’s air of mystery which makes it so much more horrifying, than you will hate Alien: Covenant. Granted, you probably already hated Prometheus, which this is more or less a direct sequel to.
  2. If you are one of those horror flick purists who thinks that monsters are more effective the less we see of them, then you will hate Alien: Covenant.
  3. Building off the last point, the CGI Xenomorph looks like shit.
  4. Good luck remembering any of these characters’ names or remembering who is married to who. With the exception of about three of them, none of the Covenant‘s crew members have any distinct personality, so you don’t care when someone dies.
  5. That business with David (Michael Fassbender) and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) ends pretty much exactly how you expected it to, and although these new characters are mostly unaware of the events depicted in Prometheus, watching Covenant devote most of its second act to this tiresome non-mystery is pretty damn frustrating from the audience’s perspective.
  6. James Franco is in this (don’t ask).
  7. Speaking of Franco, his frequent collaborator Danny McBride does a pretty good job in this very, very serious movie. He’s one of few highlights.
  8. Colony ship Covenant‘s commanding officer Oram (Billy Crudup) is quite possibly the stupidest character in this whole franchise. He makes the hapless biologist from Prometheus look like Tony Stark in comparison.
  9. David and the newborn Xenomorph that bursts out of Oram striking that dumb pose at each other is extremely dumb. Why is this in the movie?
  10. Chestburster scenes have lost all impact.
  11. The various kill scenes in this movie are so sloppy, rushed and un-artfully constructed that it’s hard to believe Ridley Scott directed this mess.
  12. While technically impressive, watching Fassbender act opposite of himself isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds on paper.
  13. Android Walter (also Fassbender) fighting android David was kind of cool, though it lead to a plot twist that is way too easy to see coming.
  14. Just about every twist in Covenant is telegraphed from light years away.
  15. Watching Xenomorphs get crushed by cranes and impaled by fork lift prongs is admittedly quite novel. I award Covenant style points for these scenes.
  16. If you’re wondering if finding out where Xenomorphs come from is worth all of the horseshit Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant will force you to swallow, the simplest answer I can give you is “no.”
  17. Why are Alien movies still being made?
  18. The Predator films were never this pretentious.
  19. You should probably just go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 again.
  20. Remember that Life movie that came out back in March? It was far from perfect, but it turned out to be a better Alien movie than Alien: Covenant. Check that one out if you missed it.
  21. Origin’s new album will probably be a better Alien movie than Alien: Covenant.
  22. The Martian is less than two years old; rest assured, Ridley Scott fans, some part of that guy still knows how to make a great movie.
  23. We still have Alien and Aliens.

Grading The Defenders

Marvel’s Netflix experiment will be getting its first real test on Aug. 18, when The Defenders graces our small screens. At the moment, this train is carrying quite a bit of hype and its fair share of baggage as well. I’ve overall enjoyed this corner of the continually growing Marvel Cinematic Universe, but, uh…yeah, we’ll get to that soon. Below are my rankings of all the Marvel Netflix shows we’ve gotten so far, from worst to best.

  1. Iron Fist Let’s get this shit out of the way first: Iron Fist sucks hard. Danny Rand (Finn Jones) was a thoroughly unlikeable lead, the plot kept stretching into 10 different uninteresting directions, the villains were non-entities and the characters who weren’t completely awful were subjected to some extremely stupid twists (Colleen Wing is in The Hand, but they’re actually good! No actually they’re bad but Colleen is still good! Joy Meachum was behind everything the whole time!). Any time IF seemed like it was getting into a groove, something dumb would happen and knock it off course. As much as people complain about the abundance of superhero origin stories, I actually think strictly following that route could have at least made this show a little bit better. Watching Danny learn magical Kung fu in a legendary hidden city would have been much more fun than watching him run around barefoot in NYC, get in board room arguments and talk about Chi. It’s nothing short of criminal that this fun character and the world he inhabits got turned into such a boring chore of a show to watch. It you’re looking for a good Iron Fist story, read this instead. Grade: F
  2. Luke Cage In retrospect, the cracks were definitely starting to show on Luke Cage. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good but Cage‘s meandering second half certainly foreshadowed some of the problems that doomed Iron Fist. I didn’t dislike Diamondback as much as other people did; Erik LaRay Harvey’s scenery chewing was delightful and that powered suit he wears in the last episode is bonkers in that awesome comic book sense. But having him show up out of nowhere midway through the series and giving him a personal connection to Luke’s past that is never previously alluded to didn’t do Diamondback any favors. But occasionally wonky second half aside, there’s a lot to like in Cage: awesome soundtrack, superbly executed flashbacks, fun action scenes and a solid supporting cast. Mike Colter is terrific in the title role, possessing charisma that borders on Chris Evans as Cap-levels of brilliance. And the guy can rock the hell out of CarharttGrade: B-
  3. Daredevil Vincent D’Onofrio and Jon Bernthal are beyond amazing as the Kingpin and the Punisher, respectively. There’s really nothing more I could say about those two that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere, so I’m just going to focus on all the other stuff I like about DD. First off, it has the best action scenes of all four of these shows, by at least a mile. And for how much he gets overshadowed by certain other cast members, Charlie Cox is a damn good lead when he gets a chance to shine. For one thing, it’s pretty astounding how effectively he channels Matt Murdock’s Catholic guilt without ever having it spill into melodrama (though the writers deserve credit for this as well) and he sells the hell out of all the lawyer stuff. DD certainly has its share of missteps: the pacing, the Hand business, and Daredevil’s over-designed suit all come to mind. But it set a strong foundation for this Netflix sub-universe while still being pretty great in its own right. Grade: A-
  4. Jessica Jones The key to an awesome Marvel Netflix series is to have an alliterative title, I guess. So how exactly does one go about topping Daredevil? You just take most of what it does well and simply execute it better; Jessica Jones is tighter and more dialed in than its predecessor while also covering much more ground. I’m kind of embarrassed by my complete lack of familiarity with Krysten Ritter’s work prior to JJ, on account of how phenomenal she is here. Maybe it’s because I don’t watch enough TV, but I feel like we rarely get to see women play those tough, abrasive, take-no-shit-from-anyone types that a lot of people seem to like. Ritter as Jones is all of those things, and it helps that she faced off with the most skin crawling-ly evil bastard that the MCU has ever coughed up. David Tennant’s turn as Kilgrave is just…damn. I’m pretty sure I pumped my fist in the air when Jessica annihilated that POS in the final episode. JJ was a blast from start to finish, and I’m both thrilled for its second season and wracked with anxiety over how the showrunners are going to top this incredible debut. Grade: A+

Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers!

The problem I have with Star Wars movies is basically the exact opposite of the problem I have with upcoming DC films: I tend to get so excited for them I have to actively fight off impossibly high expectations. And with Star Wars Celebration in full swing (Why am I not there?! Agghhhh!), the hype machine is in overdrive and so is my fanboyism. There’s all sorts of Star Wars news breaking at the moment, but below I’ve outlined my big three takeaways from Celebration so far. Let’s get cracking:

My enthusiasm for gaming tends to go through extremely dramatic and unpredictable ebbs and flows so I have no idea how interested I’m still going to be by the time Star Wars Battlefront II (curiously, it’s the second such game to be called that) is available to play on Nov. 17. But for the time being, this looks cool as hell. It’s supposed to be the first Star Wars game in the new continuity to explore a post Return of the Jedi setting and it appears to also set up the rise of the First Order. I’m a bit iffy on video game stories being made into franchise canon (good riddance, Force Unleashed), but Battlefront II gets the benefit of the doubt for now.

I was totally wrong about Star Wars Rebels concluding with its third season despite appearances to the contrary, but I wasn’t off by much. It’s been officially announced that it will end with the upcoming season four. Truthfully, I didn’t expect this show to last; in addition to the fact that cartoons for kids don’t usually have deep runs, the five years before A New Hope time frame didn’t give its storytellers tons of wiggle room. Nonetheless, the pieces of an emotionally satisfying conclusion are in place, especially since Hera’s somber narration doesn’t imply a happy ending. We know from that Easter Egg in Rogue One that she’ll probably be okay. My credits are on Kanan buying the moisture farm, since I don’t think Disney is about to kill off any 15-year-olds. I’m pretty sure Thrawn will go down too, which would take him “off the board” during the events of the OT. At any rate, I’m glad Rebels will get to end on its own terms, rather than get abruptly yanked off the air like Clone Wars did.

And that wolf! I don’t know what it is, but I love it already!

I’ve saved the best for last: the first trailer (it’s April; there’s going to be several more) for The Last Jedi. I’m super bummed that the elderly versions of Luke, Han and Leia won’t get to share the screen but it’s nice to have Luke back even though the last 10 or so years haven’t been kind to him. Luke took on a mentor role in some of the later post Saga books in the now defunct EU and getting to see that version of him onscreen is going to be treat, especially since Mark Hamill is really selling it with that magnificent beard. The only major plot point we can cull from this is that a despondent Luke, haunted by his failure with Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, will be ending the Jedi Order. Everyone – me included – thinks this means Star Wars is trying to move past the Light side/Dark side dichotomy (Luke’s “It’s so much bigger” line is lending that theory major credence). The idea that the Force has more than just two paths was touched upon in the previous season of Rebels via the Bendu character and hopefully it will get explored further in TLJ. I stand by what I said about Star Wars needing to take creative risks and this feels like a step in the right direction.

The Last Jedi comes out on Dec. 15.

An Obligatory Report on the Justice League Trailer

Somewhere in the space-time continuum, there is a parallel Earth in which I’m excited for the upcoming Justice League movie.

The titanic turds Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were strikes one and two; time will only tell if Wonder Woman will be the third or if it will break the mold and be the first good DC movie since at least 2012 by my reckoning. At some point, I’m going to have to stop giving Warner Bros the benefit of the doubt, but I just can’t help myself. The DC films thus far have been train wrecks I just can’t look away from. I’ll be as helpless as everyone else once Nov. 17 rolls around.

Anyhow the above trailer dropped yesterday and under literally any other circumstances the sight of Batman riding a horse through the Arctic would be an immensely positive sign but alas, not in the DC Universe as envisioned by Mr. Zack Snyder and his enablers at WB. We are talking about a man whose idea of fun is having Jimmy Olsen get shot in the face because nothing says “I have immense respect for these iconic characters and their legacies” quite like Superman’s pal getting his brain stem split in half with a bullet to the dome.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

It would take immense mental effort that would be better invested elsewhere to even pretend to think maybe Justice League will be cool. The Parademons (and make no mistake, those are Parademons) don’t look completely horrible but the prospect of Snyder visualizing the New Gods is something I don’t want to think about. The suppressed optimist in me wants to say that Darkseid and friends couldn’t possibly look worse than Cyborg and Flash, who are both over-designed atrocities. J.K. Simmons is playing Commissioner Gordon, which means that there will probably be a couple of funny lines in this mess and if we’re really lucky, Jason Momoa’s hard-drinking, hard-rocking Aquaman will be one of those things that’s so stupid it borders on brilliant.

If the worst comes to worst, I could always just dust off my Justice League/Justice League Unlimited DVD box set. I’m overdue for a re-watch.

Star Wars Rebels is Back on Saturday

Part of me kind of dreads the return of all the fall TV series. I mean, sure, I like Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Timeless, Supergirl and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D but all that viewing feels burdensome at times. Between going back to the gym regularly (hello 2017) and Final Fantasy XV my non-work hours are rapidly eroding. I’m in for a long winter, even without the imminent presidency of the Tangerine Troglodyte.

But Star Wars: Rebels? Hell, yes, I have time for that. The above three minute trailer heralding the second half of season three is a jam-packed doozy. I’m a fan by default at this point, but if you’ve just seen Rogue One (fantastic, by the way) and you’re still craving Star Wars, then start watching this show.

Season three has really expanded the scope of Rebels, something this series badly needed after mostly two seasons spent meandering about Lothal. It looks like that trend is continuing as season three comes to a close. I’m guessing Rogue One really lit a fire under the asses of executive producers Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Greg Weisman because it sure looks like big things are a coming and…possibly the end of not just this season but the whole series?

From what we can gleam from the trailer, the various Rebel cells are coalescing into a larger whole, there’s some familial drama with Sabine, her mother and the other Mandalorians (the darksaber from Clone Wars is back) and oh, shit, that Obi-Wan reveal…hopefully Old Ben will finish Maul off for good this time. This all looks conclusive; now we just need to know what will happen to Kanan and Ezra. Are these dudes even still alive during the events of the OT? I don’t think it likely but we shall see.

Star Wars: Rebels is back this Saturday (Jan. 7). Order a pizza, grab a six pack of some delicious beer and tune in at 8:30 p.m. if you’re on the West Coast.

Carrie Fisher: 1956-2016

Goddamnit, this one hurts on a profoundly shitty level.

After cutting down Alan Rickman all the way back in January, this ugly ass year once again robbed me and countless others of an actor integral to a franchise I love. 2016 can get fucked forever. Carrie Fisher’s passing has made it clear to me more than ever the appeal of the “fuck 2016” meme: every time we think we’re getting tired of this schtick, another death or some intolerable bullshit (*cough* Trump) will come along and put us in need of some serious coping.

As a guy who has been in love with all things Star Wars since at least the age of seven, any member of the trio passing away was obviously going to hurt like hell. The youngest of them, Fisher was just 60. Even taking her health problems into account, I thought we had more time with her. Fisher was, of course monumentally awesome as Princess Leia. She was the strong female character I never knew I needed; the one I took for granted for far too long.

There was way more to this gal than just Star Wars. She was a highly prolific and sought after script doctor throughout the ’90s, authored eight books, survived drug addiction and became an advocate for mental health after going public with her struggles with bipolar disorder. Fisher was a remarkable woman; I’m currently trying to comfort myself with the notion that she was simply too good for this world.

Rest in power, princess.

Deftones, Round Two

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Vocalist Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter of Deftones. Photo by me.

I’m extremely blessed to have gotten a chance to see my favorite band a second time – on a Friday in a nearby city, no less. I’m very much aware how unusual it is to get consistently excellent metal shows to come through or near your hometown, and after Deftones, I get to see Killswitch Engage this week and Opeth and Gojira (Both on Fridays!) in October. I am one lucky metalhead. Deftones dropped a new album in April – that would be Gore – and of course, that means lots of touring. I spent a great deal of late spring and early summer excessively checking their tour dates for any Northern California shows, until they finally announced one: Aug. 26 at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley.

I had previously seen Florence and the Machine at the Greek and I got to see Alabama Shakes there in early August. At this point, it’s easily my favorite outdoor venue (sorry, Shoreline). This time around, I showed up nice and early and scoped out a spot reasonably close to the stage at about 7 pm. I had previously eaten dinner and done some pregaming at Townie, so I had no intention of waiting in the booze or merch lines, which can sometimes take up to half an hour. Around 20 or so minutes of sitting and socializing with my neighbors followed before the first act came on.

The opening act was an electronic duo formerly known as Sister Crayon but who are now going by the moniker Rituals of Mine. With extremely rare exceptions, electronic music really isn’t my thing; I would never be caught dead at a place like EDC and Dubstep didn’t die off nearly fast enough for my liking. That being said, Rituals of Mine wasn’t half bad. Vocalist Terra Lopez has a lovely voice that doesn’t get drown out by all of the electronics and she’s an engaging performer. They were an interesting, if unconventional, opener for Deftones.

The second act was the one I was really worried about. Not that I was concerned I’d have a bad time that night; Deftones rocked when I saw them with Incubus last summer and I fully expected that to be the case here. It was just the prospect of having to endure some truly awful music before getting to the main course that made me feel queasy. Rapper Yelawolf was every bit as dreadful as I feared. I don’t know nearly enough about rap to make a quality judgment on this dude’s flow, but every single thing about him was excruciating. His clothes, his tattoos, his lyrics, his impromptu cover of Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and the stuff he said in between songs was all cringe-inducing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a musical act in a live setting as terrible as Yelawolf. I tried so damn hard to give him a chance and enjoy myself but I just couldn’t. The kindest thing I could say about Yelawolf was that he gave me a chance to take a bathroom break and drink some much needed water.

Once that ordeal was mercifully over, it was time for Deftones. Obviously, I’m already super excited to watch my favorite artist perform again, but the prospect of them washing the taste of Yelawolf’s bullshit out was a nice bonus. After a sound check that was almost too long, the lights dimmed and the fog machines came on and out stepped Deftones. They carved right into the set with “Rocket Skates,” which always induces violent head banging; it didn’t take long for the mosh pit to commence. I haven’t been in a pit since I saw Amon Amarth back in May and it felt so damn good to slam into some people again.

Deftones’ setlist was diverse; from Gore, they played “Geometric Headdress,” the title track and “(L)MIRL,” but not not any of the big singles (“Prayers/Triangles,” “Doomed User,” and “Hearts/Wires”). They played material from every album except for their self-titled record and they peppered in some rarer tracks like “Rickets,” “Kimdracula,” and “Prince,” which Chino appropriately dedicated to the memory of Prince Rogers Nelson. I was absolutely stunned and delighted when they pulled out “Rosemary,” the near seven minute long, proggy masterpiece featured on Koi No Yokan that ends with one of Stephen Carpenter’s crunchiest guitar riffs.

Chino was in excellent form all evening. While his vocals were a bit low in the mix at first he was coming through loud and clear towards the end of their set. His singing, screams, wails and even those “Dr Alan Grant tries to impersonate a velociraptor” noises he’s sometimes known for all sounded great. Everyone else in the band killed it too: Stef was making pure magic, bassist Sergio Vega (clad in a Venom t-shirt and cornrows, of all combinations) held down the low end in style and drummer Abe Cunningham was crushing his kit all night. The standout of the show, however, was Frank Delgado. Easily the most overlooked Deftones member (what kid interested in music says “I want to play the keyboards one day!?”), Delgado’s keys and samples really pop out in a live setting. That dude knows how to create atmosphere.

Granted, at every concert I’ve been to – without exception – there comes I time when I just start to feel over it and I hope it ends soon so I don’t have to go home early and feel like a loser. I figure this is due to fact that I’m getting older. That Yelawolf’s horrendous set induced a “Got off my lawn!” reaction from me certainly didn’t help matters. Plus, an hour of continuous moshing takes a lot out of you. Deftones wound down their set with “Knife Prty,” “Change (In the House of Flies),” and “Passenger,” before launching into an extended encore consisting of fan favorite cuts “My Own Summer (Shove It),” “Headup,” “Bored,” and “Engine No. 9.” The timing was perfect; I was absolutely ready to begin the long trek back to my hotel. “Purple Rain” was pumped through the speakers as the crowd at the Greek began to file out. It was quite lovely.

Thanks, Deftones, for yet another incredible show. And for God’s sake, if you absolutely have to get a rapper to open for you, get Run the Jewels.