The supernatural takes the stage in October

All of the films this month have science fiction plots; three of the four are sequels, and the fourth depends for its plot devices on earlier science fiction films.

Alien: Covenant

The latest film in the “Alien” franchise most closely resembles the first two films in the series. It brings back Ridley Scott as the director, after he did the initial film and the previous entry, Prometheus. It has generous helpings of the Alien creature and the bloody damage it can do to humans, from inside the body and even in the shower. It contains the expected iconic touchstones—an unidentified distress call, a landing on a dark and unknown planet, the alien attack, a monster bursting from inside a human (twice), a last-minute escape from the planet, and a second ending that anticipates the next film. The spaceship and the caves of the destroyed city are great settings, deliberately and effectively echoing the first films. The murky mythology of Prometheus is fortunately missing. The most interesting variation in Covenant is the android David and a later version of the same android series called Walter, both played exceptionally well by Michael Fassbender. The two wear their hair differently; Walter has a midwestern accent, while David has a British accent; David is acquainted with human culture (e.g., Wagner and Romantic British poetry) but doesn’t know as much as he thinks he does. His error about the creator of “Ozymandias” may imply the beginning of a malfunction. David appears in the opening scene with his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), implying he’ll be back later, and, sure enough, he appears on the unknown planet to save the stranded colonists from an alien attack. Scott toys with a homoerotic link between David and Walter, but does nothing with it. David teaches the newer robot how to play the flute, and their encounter ends with a kiss between the two Fassbenders (or is it just one?). Was Scott anticipating the new Blade Runner film in this complex android?

On the weak side, the minor characters are even more minor than usual. None are as interesting as John Hurt’s Kane from the first film or Jenette Goldstein’s Vasquez from the second, and Katherine Waterston, clearly the Sigourney Weaver figure in this film, is almost marginal, whether because of weak writing in the part or her inability to give the role what Weaver was able to bring to it. Billy Crudup and Danny McBride are equally disposable.

The story attempts to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the first Alien film, but unless my memory is failing, it doesn’t quite make it. David’s last scene suggests a different plot branch than the one seen in the first movie. But maybe more than one intervening chapter will be necessary. Between the influence of the Marvel universe and multi-seasonal television series, many directors, movie or tv, seem to feel a product must be bingeable and sequential to be successful, even though not necessarily told in sequence. Then, of course, it could be rebooted like Spiderman and Batman.

Despite its problems, Alien: Covenant (named after the spaceship) provides two hours of generally exciting entertainment and is the best in the series since Aliens. Any fan of the franchise will want to see how Ridley Scott makes the old new again.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Is this sequel as good as its predecessor?  Well, yes, and no. But mostly yes. The opening sequence is a knockout. Baby Groot, the tiny sapling that replaces his father Groot (who sacrificed himself in GGI), is dancing in the foreground, slowly and deliberately, as a tiny tree would dance. In the background the Guardians who survived the first movie are fighting with an outrageously huge monster, which keeps knocking them into the path of the dancing Groot, who nimbly avoids the intrusions. It’s much cuter and more effective than it sounds. Among these remaining Guardians are Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket the modified racoon (voice of Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot. The Guardians have been hired by the Sovereigns, a race of people with golden skins, to defend some valuable batteries from the Abilisk, the monster seen in the opening fight. In return they are to receive Gamora’s evil sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), who has been captured by the Sovereigns. Everything goes according to plan until Rocket steals the batteries on the way out, bringing the Sovereigns in hot pursuit. That’s the external action of the story as the Guardians flee across the galaxy.

The internal or growth part of the story comes from three family relationships which are resolved–between Peter Quill and his father, a Celestial named Ego (Kurt Russell); between Peter Quill and his adopted father, the  blue-skinned Ravager Yondu (Michael Rooker), who raised Peter; and between the sisters, Gamora and Nebula, as they try to reconcile their differences. By the end, all realize that the Guardians are their real family.

As Ego presses Peter to accept his demi-god heritage, more is revealed about their past and what happened to Peter’s mother. A semi-amusing new character, with thick black eyelashes and two antenna emanating from her forehead, is named Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and her talent is empathy. As the film moves toward its climaxes, the action becomes frenetic as the audience wonders if Baby Groot knows what to do with the bomb he is holding, what the outcome will be as Ego and Peter slam each other around the planet, which is really Ego; and whether the two sisters will make peace long enough to save the day.

Kurt Russell duels with Chris Pratt over acting honors, and both are fine. Rocket is downplayed a bit, while Drax’s part is enlarged a little. The CGI and sets look great, especially the Sovereigns’ war room, the planet Ego, and the opening fight with the Abilisk. On the negative side, the writers and director can’t seem to avoid a trite apocalyptic fight at the end—maybe it’s written into every Marvel director’s contract that the characters have to save the world, or the galaxy, or the universe, or whatever. But most of the film is solid and often hilarious. Anyone who enjoyed Guardians part one should enjoy the sequel, although it may not reach the first film’s worldwide haul of $771 million. 

The Lego Batman Movie

Should The Lego Batman Movie be considered a sequel to all the previous live action Batman films, from the TV series through Tim Burton’s films and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, or should it be considered a sequel to The Lego Movie?  I opt for the latter, although the ghosts of the other Batman movies are lurking in the background. Although the film opens with a black screen and Batman saying, “All important movies start with a black screen,” the film has more in common with the bright, often musical tone of The Lego Movie. This time the chief bad guy is the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) while the voices of Batman, Robin (AKA Dick Grayson), and Alfred are provided by Will Arnett, Michael Cera, and Ralph Fiennes. Before it’s over, the Joker has freed most of Batman’s arch enemies from the Phantom Zone, including the Riddler (Conan O’Brien), Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams), Clayface (Kate Micucci), Poison Ivy (Riki Lindhome), Bane (Doug Benson) and the Scarecrow (Jason Mantzoukas). For good measure, a few more are thrown in from other stories: Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter, and The Wicked Witch of the West with her flying monkeys, all descend on Gotham, along with King Kong.

Like most good movies, Lego Batman has two stories, an external action one and an internal one of growth. The external story follows Batman as he fights the Joker, inadvertently frees the other villains from the Phantom Zone, and finally rounds them all up and sends them back where they came from. This is the easy part, since he is, after all, Batman!  The more difficult is the growth business. Batman, possibly because of the loss of his parents, is a loner who is frightened of making friends or forming attachments, even with the Joker, who wants Batman to acknowledge their relationship by saying, “I hate you.”  But Batman refuses to credit the Joker as his major enemy, a position reserved for Superman; besides, he says he likes to “fight around.”

Commissioner Gordon kept crime under control in Gotham by flipping on the Bat signal, but his successor (and daughter), Barbara (Rosario Dawson), who has just graduated from Harvard Police School, wants Batman to work with the city police as part of a community project and to be a team player, which, of course, he finds repellant, even though he finds the new commissioner quite appealing. To complicate matters, he accidentally adopts a young orphan, Dick Grayson, soon to become Robin (Michael Cera), and keeps rejecting Alfred’s suggestion that he should spend more time with his “son.”  With the villains attacking Gotham, and with the Joker, Barbara Gordon, Robin, and even Alfred asking for a commitment from him, Batman has his hands full, and the film moves at a lively clip to sort it all out by the end. Fortunately, the action is peppered with jokes and quips that come so fast that a second viewing would be necessary to catch them all.

Lego Batman is witty, smart and crammed with enough allusions to please the most devoted fan; it keeps the action moving and the message clear—a message that says even Batman occasionally needs some help, and the quicker he learns to play well with others, the more successful and happier he will be.


Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo has created one of the most unusual science fiction films of recent years, a film that looks outward to the world of giant monsters and robots destroying cities and inward to the troubled worlds of a young man and a young woman who haven’t left the traumas of their childhoods behind. How and why these worlds fit together is the big question, one that is not entirely answered by the end of the film as the worlds come together.

The film opens 25 years in the past in downtown Seoul, Korea. A young girl and her mother are suddenly confronted by a kaiju, a giant lizardlike creature whose legendary appearance formed the basis for Godzilla. After a few minutes, the creature vanishes, and in those days before cell phone cameras and instant reporting, it was not captured on film or disk, permitting people to believe that the mother and daughter were having Loch Ness monster delusions.

The film’s second beginning occurs in present-day New York City. Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a former writer who has lost her job from drinking too much and not being responsible enough, staggers home after a night of hard drinking. “Home” is the apartment of her British boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), where she usually crashes, drunk, to sleep it off; but tonight he meets her at the door, hands her the suitcase he had packed, and tells her, as he shoves her back out the door, to come back when she can stay sober and behave like an adult. With little money and no friends, Gloria heads for her hometown; she knows that her parents’ house is vacant (they have moved to Florida but haven’t yet sold the family home), and she knows where the key is. She sleeps on the floor in the empty house, and the next morning goes looking for an inflatable bed and some minimal furniture. Coming back she is picked up by  the congenial Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a person whom she went to school with and who now has inherited his father’s bar. He offers her a job, she takes it, and after they drop off the inflatable bed, they head to the bar, a perfect place to get a job if you’re a financially embarrassed alcoholic. That afternoon and evening she meets Oscar’s friends,  Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson). They have a few drinks, then a few more, and Anne staggers home the next morning just as the kids are going to school. She wakes after lunch to find Oscar at the door with a large screen TV he has acquired for her, and as they set it up, the announcer gives the news of the giant lizard that went walking through Seoul a few hours before. Gloria and Oscar have lunch and go to the bar to prepare for the evening’s business.

Over the next two days, Gloria comes to realize that she and the Seoul monster are connected, and that each morning as she staggers home through a sandbox on the school playground, the monster appears in Seoul and mimics her steps. It also mimics the way she scratches her head, and when she tests her theory by doing a few dance steps, the monster does the same steps in Seoul’s financial district. “Cool!” she thinks, as she dances with the monster, and then she realizes that every step she takes causes thousands of dollars worth of damage in Seoul, not to mention exterminating whatever men, women and children happen to be standing beneath those enormous feet. Suddenly, when its effects are multiplied a thousand fold, she begins to understand that her irresponsible behavior has dire effects. She resolves to stop drinking and to stay out of the sandbox at 8:05 local time, when the strange conditions occur. But then a giant robot appears in Seoul, even though she’s not in the sandbox. But Oscar is!

Gradually, in flashbacks, the audience finds out what happened in that sandbox 25 years before, and Anne realizes what she must do to end the destruction. The film’s focus moves from dealing with an irresponsible alcoholic woman to dealing with an egotistical man who never grew up and still wants all the marbles, even those he didn’t get in the past. But you’ll have to see the movie to see how the plot works out. Just don’t leave before a Korean barmaid offers Gloria a drink at the end.

Anne Hathaway is excellent, and Jason Sudeikis proves he may be a better dramatic actor than a comedian. The special effects of destroying Seoul are acceptable, although director Vigalondo warned that he wanted the kaiju to look like a man in a very bad monster suit. Rumor is that ToHo Studios, the creators of Godzilla, are suing for copywrite infringement. You just can’t keep a good monster down, even if he has to be reanimated by an alcoholic girl in a sandbox.

(All films reviewed are available as DVDs from local stores. Reviews of earlier films cited can often be found at

 by Leonard G. Heldreth

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