Category Archives: Thriller

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Alien: Covenant” – A Frightening Summer Blockbuster, With An A-List Pedigree

by Mike Reyes

Ridley Scott continues to excite with his Alien franchise, returning to the series’ terrifying, blood soaked roots.

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While no one can hear you scream in space, they probably can hear the outcry of upset fans who feel they’ve been done wrong. It’s no secret that Ridley Scott’s 2012 prequel Prometheus has its fair amount of detractors, but I myself am among its champions. I felt it was an interesting origin point for an earlier era in the story that would eventually follow Ellen Ripley’s lineage in grand style, depending on what the next couple of films in the prequels did. After seeing Alien: Covenant, I can safely say that the direction Scott is heading in is an exciting one, filled with much more danger and darkness than Prometheus could have ever promised.

In the vast distance of space, the crew of the “Covenant” are ready to start a new home on a planet that’s just ripe for the living. But after discovering a random signal, they are drawn to a planet that is much closer, and can inhabit human life just as easily. One decision will send a crew of colonists straight into the mysteries of this planet, and all of the terror that their shadows conceal. A very familiar terror, with a very interesting origin story.

In early reactions to Alien: Covenant, I remember reading someone coming out of the premiere saying that they knew this was going to be the new film for Alien fans to argue over. That’s definitely the case, as the latest film in this ever evolving saga has taken an interesting turn, in regards to the origins of the species. While ruining those turns is pretty much high treason at this point, it’s a good bet that I can say the mythos of the Alien saga is moving forward in some pretty interesting ways. The ideas that Covenant has when it comes to the creation of the Xenomorph race are not only intriguing, but also thematically ballsy, as their connections to Prometheus make even that film a little more interesting. And all the while, this film unfurls with genuine pacing and craftsmanship that only Ridley Scott could bring to such a film.

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Though it should be noted that Michael Fassbender steals this goddamned movie from everyone else. We get two scoops of synthetic this round, as Alien: Covenant has Fassbender reprising his role of David from Prometheus, as well as introducing us to Walter, a newer, more tame synthetic designed down the line. In both performances, the man shines, playing one character who feels like a soldier and the other like a mad scientist. Watching the two Fassbenders collide on screen is truly a treat, and a testament to the fact that the man is one of our greatest acting treasures in modern cinema.

That’s not to say that the ensemble containing Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bashir, and Carmen Ejogo is weak. In fact, each member of the cast sells their portion of the story with great gusto, with a particularly interesting turn from McBride. In fact, this is probably the most grounded I’ve seen him since his supporting role in Up In The Air, and when you see him upset or scared, you really feel it thanks to his usually egotistical bravado. And Waterson, whom we last saw in Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, is definitely ready to be more of a Ripley-esque presence, as she gets to show in certain key moments in this film. While she’s not a full Ripley just yet, I do hope she gets the chance to work in that space, as she’s simply too good not to allow to do so.

Alien Covenant Review

Ultimately, your enjoyment of Alien: Covenant will depend on several things. Chiefly among them will be how much you like Prometheus, and just generally how you like your sci-fi. But one thing applies to all who are interested in uncovering this new film’s mysteries: you really do have to see it for yourself. It is as thrilling as it is visceral, and it might possibly be the bloodiest film of the summer, at least for this moment in time. For someone who’s loved the series since they were a kid, warts and all, I absolutely loved this film, and cannot wait to see where this series goes next.

My Rating: 5/5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Life” – A Lean, But Extremely Mean Thrill Ride

by Mike Reyes

While Life never truly digs into its characters or its environment, it’s really efficient at horrific visuals, stunning creature design, and delivering what’s essentially a living nightmare on crack.

Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) with David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Columbia Pictures' LIFE.

If there’s any subject harder to talk about than life, I don’t know what it is. Though talking about the movie Life, not the abstract concept of existence, is a little easier to discuss. While Sony still has me gun shy to approach anything that resembles sci-fi from their production house, thanks to the horrific film I call Passengers, the pedigree of this project was enough to get me to sit down and watch it. While this is far from the movie I was really pulling for it to be, this film managed to be something rather entertaining, and in the darkest, most horrifying ways.

During an unprecedented mission aboard the International Space Station, a diverse crew of specialists discover the first signs of life on Mars. Of course, such discoveries come at a cost, and such a payment can only be made in blood. What the crew of the Pilgrim mission has awakened is fierce, deadly, and extremely intelligent. If they’re lucky, they might just stop it from getting to Earth.

I never had huge hopes for Life, the movie not the abstract concept of being of course. As much as I felt the film cast its leads effectively, and put together an ok at best trailer, I was prepared for a total garbage fire of a film. So imagine my surprise when Life managed to actually be a decent film. This isn’t to say that it’s a slam dunk, as there was a lot of problematic elements that hamper Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick’s story, as well as some questionable editing in the film’s third act. While the film’s not afraid to get downbeat and gory, it almost feels as if those are two of total set of three tricks the film has to play.

David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) in Columbia Pictures' LIFE.

But considering how the buzz was automatically knocking this film as nothing more than an Alien rip off, I’d say that dismissal is quite unfair. While this film certainly does crib its fair share from Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi series, it does manage to also rip off Gravity to a good extent, particularly with Jake Gyllenhaal’s record breaking astronaut who really doesn’t want to go back to Earth. For as good as the central cast’s performances are in Life, they still can’t surmount the amount of stupid decisions these supposedly professional characters make. Apparently, they have “Fuck it!” embroidered on their crew patches, as that’s a frequent exclamation uttered by crew members about to do something stupid and reckless.

Yet for all of the story notes Life borrows, it infuses its extremely thin plot with an energy and pacing that most films forego in order to bog themselves down with useless exposition. While I could have used a little more time with the crew, and some more information about the shadowy operating committee that they worked for, I can’t say that Life wasn’t a fun film to get scare shitless with.

Stupidity aside, the creature known as “Calvin” is at times beautiful and absolutely horrific during its evolution. Its intelligence is matched only by its speed, which is something I still wish I could say about this movie, as it only really enforces the latter element. Yet as inept as the characters were, I never once rooted for this creature. It’s that threatening. Still, while people do extremely stupid things in Life, they do them fast and with conviction, which makes the ride smooth, despite its underdeveloped plot and characters.

Ryan Reynolds

While I really wanted more out of Life, it went into such corners of terror that I stared at the screen in horrified entertainment. There’s plenty of bone chilling stuff that packs the walls of this almost two hour panic attack, which goes so entertainingly dark with some aspects that it makes the safe playing story of the film even more of a disappointment. Sometimes, a movie just exists to be a distraction. As painful as it is to admit, sometimes a fluffy, easy to digest thrill ride is what the doctor orders.

Life definitely fits that bill to a tee, as it’s definitely a fun matinee that can keep you entertained for a short while, and doesn’t ask much of you. Think of it as an exercise to keep you warmed up for the summer season ahead, and enjoy this one with some friends, and maybe a pint or two.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Get Out” – A Horror Debut Of The Highest Caliber

by Mike Reyes

Jordan Peele makes a writing/directing debut so impressive, it’s destined to be a horror staple.

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Socially conscious horror films can be pretty horrific, whether it be because of the actual horror in the content they provide, or just because they’re a really bad movie. Directorial debuts can be equally as painful, as talented folks who’ve “always wanted to direct” can be just as weird to watch. So somewhere, in some Hollywood lab, Get Out must feel like a film that’s grasping at a relevant subject, with comedic talent Jordan Peele trying to make himself relevant as a solo act. That lab couldn’t be further from the truth, as Peele is a true student of the horror genre, and has made a tremendously thrilling film that should stand as one of the pillars of social horror done right.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) have been dating for four months. Surely that’s enough time to wait to introduce your African American boyfriend to your WASP-y family, especially when you haven’t told them his ethnicity? What begins as a strange trip to meet the family (Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener) turns into something a lot more sinister, and more deeply disturbing than what you could ever imagine.

You can tell that Jordan Peele has had Get Out on his mind for a while now, as the film is nothing short of a breathless horror thrill ride. Not once does the film step out of line, nor does it deflate its tension with undue humor. If anything, the humor helps amp up the thrills, as the threat of further danger is always lurking out of the frame. This is thanks to Peele’s sense of atmosphere and world building, as he takes his time conditioning the audience into the right frame of mind that allows Get Out to really screw with their expectations.

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And at the center of it all is the all at once vulnerable and strong performance by Daniel Kaluuya, whose Chris is our guide into this world of macabre race relations. His relative innocence pitted up against Allison Williams’ naivete and the subtle menace of both Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener is what makes this film such a powerful horror film, as he’s put through quite a ringer of societal, mental and physical pain. All of this without stooping to stereotypical racial tropes, and without using the granddaddy of all racial slurs.

Though a moment should be taken to praise the entire supporting cast of Get Out, as there’s no role that’s out of place. If all you know of Allison Williams is her role on Girls, then you’ll probably be a bit surprised with her role as Chris’s girlfriend, as she’s definitely given more of a range than the show has. Not to mention former X-Men star, and character actor in the making, Caleb Landry Jones, as well as beloved character actor Stephen Root, both play some rather memorable members of Rose’s family. But perhaps the one actor that almost steals the film completely from under everyone else’s feet is comedian LilRel Howery, whose TSA agent / best friend to Chris is drop dead funny. His appearances help relieve the pressure of the threats that came before, while helping prime us for the next round.

Get Out is probably one of, if not the most, artistic horror films on the market. It helps that protagonist Chris is a photographer, which more than likely informed Jordan Peele’s writing and directing process in telling his story. But even in the prologue that takes place before Chris’s story, or even in the moments he’s not involved in, there’s a slick menace to Peele’s visuals and sound design. With the score and sound effects used as tools to enhance the dreadful atmosphere, rather than shock the audience into a cheap scare, it’s as if we’re being conditioned right alongside Chris. We’re just as helpless and scared as he is, and that’s something horror films forget to do by and large.

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Get Out isn’t a blunt instrument trying to bludgeon you with its message, rather it’s a subtle knife that cuts you in all the right places. With Jordan Peele’s strong and confident voice as a writer, director, and horror auteur, his ascendance should not only be seen as a triumph of diversity, but also as a victory for the horror genre. I, for one, am looking forward to whatever Peele does next, as he’s proven that he’s ready to take the reins again, perhaps on a bigger scale than before.

My Rating: 5 / 5

 

Cocktails & Movies Review: “Split” – M. Night Shyamalan’s Most Irresponsible Movie Yet

by Mike Reyes

The second M. Night Shyamalan’s “Mental Illness Is Scary” picture in a row, this film is not only dangerous in its message, it’s really sucks too.

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There is only one M. Night Shyamalan film that I actually hold as a favorite of mine: 2000’s Unbreakable. Somehow, he caught lightning in a bottle, and following up that film with the severely ok Signs, it looked like Shyamalan would be a filmmaker that could provide moderate to superior entertainment. Of course, the moment The Village happened, his entire career went into a tailspin that has provided no respite from sucking.

Some might tell you The Visit was a break from the sucking, and those people will probably tell you Split is a good movie. In both cases, those people would be dead wrong, as M. Night treats mental illness with the same sensitivity in his latest film as he did in last year’s blockbuster meh-tacular.

Split BuckleyKevin (James McAvoy) has 23 different personalities, and all of them have created various factions in preparation of a 24th personality making its way into the fold. At about this time, Kevin abducts three young girls (Hailey Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Anya Taylor-Joy,) with a mysterious purpose in mind. As the hour draws nearer, and the girls get more desperate, Kevin and his personalities will do all they can to outsmart the girls who are outsmarting them.

Making matters worse, Spilt is horrifically edited. Intermittent flashbacks to the childhood of Casey, Anya Taylor-Joy’s protagonist, are mixed in with very little context throughout the film. Not to mention, one of those flashbacks is cut into a tense moment toward’s the film’s climax, on top of the one and only flashback we get to Kevin’s own traumatic childhood.  These aren’t the only instances of editing disasters in this film, as the first act cuts between the different stories in play so much, you can’t really develop the best grasp for the film’s supposed story.

And then there’s the patented M. Night Shyamalan “twist,” which finds a new place to make its home… a mid-credits sequence. This is where Split made me hate it the most, as the implication of this ending is such a cheap grab for nostalgic goodwill that it causes me to seethe with anger. On top of everything that Shyamalan bungles in terms of storytelling and film-making throughout this film, he goes and makes a Split Joybold faced move to get the audience to redeem his story. Considering how this ending is linked to Shyamalan’s previous filmography, it threatens to zero the balance of his goodwill account, putting him in a dead spin.

But hey? Who am I to tell you Split is a movie you shouldn’t watch? You might enjoy disassociative identity disorder being turned into a superpower! You might even enjoy people getting eaten, and cheap twist endings that beg you to like them. If you do, then Split is for you. But if you actually like movies, it’s hard for me to justify a reason for you to even give this film a second glance.

My Rating: 1/5

Cocktails and Movies Review: “Inferno” – A Hell Of A Letdown

by Mike Reyes

Perhaps the year’s greatest disappointment since Jason BourneInferno has one really good set-piece, some excellent performances, and no substantial film to prop them up with.

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I remember when The DaVinci Code became the literary success of the year back in 2003, which was an event practically begging for two things to happen: for me to read the book, and for Hollywood to eventually make a movie. Both happened, and to a great extent, as The DaVinci Code and its literary predecessor Angels and Demons, were both excellent literary experiences that translated to equally good films. And yet, when I returned to read The Lost Symbol, I was so disenchanted with the series that I not only wanted the film to never exist, I didn’t even want to return to the world that I had once loved. Unfortunately I did, hoping that Inferno would impress, despite my not having completed the book before my screening. Sadly, I think I’ve grown out of this series, as this movie is a damned mess.