Welcome

This is my poky little corner of the Internet. Originally started in 1999 (my website that is, not the Internet) it took on many forms – until 2005, when I lost enthusiasm for my own Internet presence and simply stopped updating it.

This is my (not quite as successful as I’d hoped) attempt at getting some of that enthusiasm back. Enjoy!

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Alien: Covenant – Movie Review

WARNING: Contains minor spoilers.

Those who know me will know that the Alien franchise is, hands-down, my favourite series of movies of all time. I am too young to have actually seen any of the “original” four at the cinema (when they were released, at least) but I have since seen Alien (the Director’s Cut) on the big screen, Prometheus and now Ridley Scott’s new release, Alien: Covenant. I don’t really count the AvP movies as part of the franchise, although I did go and see them when they were released.

It occurred to me as I was planning this review out, that I haven’t actually written any sort of review or retrospective on the other movies in the franchise, which I really must do – but first, a review of Covenant.

Is it set in a nunnery?

That was my first thought when I saw the subtitle, although I soon remembered that that is a convent and not a covenant, which made me feel like a bit of an arse. Not as much of an arse as I felt having paid for two IMAX tickets to see Alien: Covenant, though – and yes, that does mean that I didn’t think that much of the film.

Let’s start with the good bits, shall we?

The Good

Like Prometheus before it, Alien: Covenant is an absolutely beautiful movie. I saw both movies in IMAX (although Prometheus was in 3D also) and the larger screen really does the movie’s visuals justice.

Ridley Scott has obviously not lost his ability to direct a movie either, because the shots themselves are also very well done – from the “landscape” world-building shots of the planet featured in the film to the tight, close-up shots on the various spacecraft – everything is a veritable spectacle.

Two of the characters in the film are excellently portrayed, and it is no coincidence that both of those characters are played by the same actor, the always-worth-the-ticket-price Michael Fassbender. In Prometheus, he played David – a synthetic (sorry, artificial person) – one of only two survivors of the titular spaceship. In Covenant, David returns but Fassbender also plays Walter, an “upgraded” synthetic of the same lineage as the original David. They both have very different personalities and mannerisms, with Walter being empathetic and caring and David being the opposite, narcissistic and uncaring. Fassbender effortlessly deals with this “ambivalence” of character throughout the film.

The musical score is also great, and makes good use of Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien Theme to get you feeling all nostalgic.

Err… that’s about it for the good bits.

The Bad

I’ll get this first one out of the way quickly. I’ve grown very weary of science fiction films (well, films of any genre) that rely on nonsense or stupidity to allow the plot to move forward. Prometheus was a horrific offender in this regard – everyone on that spacecraft was a certifiable moron and had no business being on such a mission. A cartographer who uses mapping drones to create a map of the pyramid they visit, and then proceeds to get lost in said pyramid?

Covenant does not fare much better in this regard. The vast majority of the havoc wreaked upon the crew of the Covenant is as a direct result of their stupidity. In one particular instance, after the excrement has severely hit the fan, the Captain does something so outrageously, mind-bogglingly idiotic that I was taken completely out of the movie – my suspension of disbelief shot to pieces.

Apart from this, there are serious problems with the film’s dialogue. The vast majority is there purely to act as an exposition dump and little else – the characters even go so far as to tell you what has just happened even though you (and they) just saw it as clear as day.

As a consequence of this, there isn’t a great deal of character development. One of the elements of the story is that the crew of the Covenant consists of couples, on their way to another planet to start a colony. However, only three of the eight pairings are explicitly mentioned, so when a couple start snogging in a shower later in the film it comes out of nowhere and almost seems like it’s been put there to fulfil a horror movie trope.

The film is also off in its own little world, thematically speaking. It answers some questions posed by Prometheus, and creates more of its own. My issue with it (and Prometheus, really) is that, without the connection to the Alien movies, they would actually be better. The ending of Covenant is positively terrifying (in a good way) but I find myself not wanting to see a sequel because eventually it’s going to be connected up to the beginning of Alien and (almost certainly) not in a way that makes a lick of sense.

As standalone movies, Prometheus and Covenant would be incredible – sure, they’d still suffer from the poor storytelling and other flaws, but at least they would be interesting and not constantly compared to the Alien franchise.

The Ugly

The CGI – only on the creatures, though. In the film we see “Neomorphs” and “Xenomorphs” (although people online seem to be referring to the latter as “Protomorphs” because they’re not quite the same as the “classic” Alien) and Ridley Scott has not decided to shy away from showing us absolutely every part of them.

Alien and Aliens worked really well because the xenomorph was an unknown entity, that stalked in the shadows and killed you without warning. They were suspenseful and dripping with atmosphere. In Covenant, there’s no mystery to the creatures. It never hides in shadows, it’s not concerned with staying hidden and getting the drop on people. Consequently, it’s very important that the CGI is good enough to pull this off without looking silly.

It doesn’t manage it.

The “Protomorph” Jazz Hands scene will go down in history as one of the strangest things ever put on a cinema screen, in my view – as will a memorable (for all the wrong reasons) scene where David is teaching Walter to play the recorder and says, “I’ll do the fingering.”

TL;DR

The film is enjoyable, and is passable as a movie experience. If it had no connection to the Alien universe, I would be far, far more forgiving of its many flaws, but Alien and Aliens are (quite rightly, in my opinion) considered to be bona fide classics, and by pushing out this movie it’s starting to reflect badly on those films.

Rating: 2/5 – 1 of those points is for Michael Fassbender, the other point is for Katherine Waterston, who does admirably well with the diabolical script.

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Into the thick – the Black Country Living Museum

A week ago, Jem and I took the kids on a semi-planned day trip out to the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley.

A Shop of Miscellany at the Museum

I’d not been before, but the name made it sound like it would be right up my street, being a little bit like Blists Hill Victorian Town in Coalport, which is just down the road from us and (from what I remember) is a cracking museum for kids and adults alike.

On arrival, we met up with a couple of friends and made our way into the entrance.

Money, mine-y, money… it’s a rich man’s museum

The ticket prices were higher than I expected, but on reflection not outrageous – about £17 for adults and £6 for “young people” (5-16 year olds) with under 5s getting free admission. The ticket is valid for unlimited repeat visits to the museum for 12 months though, which adds value.

After walking out of the entrance hall into the “museum” itself, my first impression was that I’d been transported back through time to an era of pantograph-powered electric trolleybuses, tiny little car/motorbike hybrid things and men in white coats. The kids (particularly Olly) were enthralled with the old buses on display, and were keen to have a trip on the electric trolleybus which takes visitors into the main “town” – which we swiftly proceeded to do.

Upon arrival at the town area, Izzy spotted an old-fashioned Helter Skelter tower sticking up from behind a building and insisted we “go to the fair.”

All’s fair in love and war

We were quite early, and I don’t think they’d fully opened up yet and got everything staffed, as there weren’t many people milling about at the fair area. There was a merry-go-round/carousel, some sort of horsey-related ride, the aforementioned Helter Skelter, and the typical fairground games that you still see today – a rifle range, a coconut shy and of course the classic hook-a-duck.

The attractions at the fair are not included in the entrance fee, which I thought was a bit of a swiz. You instead buy tokens from the shop and use those on each ride – some rides cost one token, others two, and tokens are £1.50 each. Having failed miserably and not brought any cash with us, we limited the kids to one ride each. Izzy chose the Helter Skelter and looked suitably impressed after sliding down the rickety ramp, and Olly enjoyed his go on the merry-go-round.

The young girl operating the rides didn’t look hugely happy about her job though, but perhaps that’s just part of the Black Country charm.

A trip down memory lane

Inside the "Druggist" at the Black Country Living MuseumAfter this, we went to the on-site school, modelled after a primary school from the 1920s (if I remember rightly) complete with horrifically uncomfortable wooden chairs and desks, and an omnipresent schoolmaster with a steadily twitching cane. The school actually runs lessons for visitors at certain times during the day, on a variety of subjects, with everything being done as it would have been back then. We didn’t stay for one, but observed one being carried out, and it was an interesting look on times gone by.

Continuing on into town, we came across what almost seemed like a set from Coronation Street, with that quintessentially Northern style of brick houses (each one apparently transported brick-for-brick from their “real” locations in the Black Country) – we saw a butcher and a baker, I’m reasonably sure I spotted a candlestick maker and there was also a confectioner, a pharmacy (excellently called the “druggist”) and a Methodist Church, along with a couple of residential houses. Some had staff members dressed for the period acting out stories and interacting with visitors.

Scraps!

We then came to what was arguably the highlight of the day – Hobbs & Sons Restaurant. This is a quaint little chip shop which does everything the old-fashioned way. Chips are cooked in beef dripping, fish in beer batter, and if you ask for “scraps” you’ll be given a veritable mountain of batter scraps on top of your chips – bloody lovely, but a little bit pricey – £6.50 for a portion of fish and chips, and not a huge one at that. We’d also advise going to the chippie early if you can, as the queues apparently get very long!

(they do also have vegetarian and gluten-free options available apparently, if beef dripping isn’t your thing)

Other attractions

When I were a lad, I had to shovel coal for a living.Also on-site is the Limelight Cinema, again transported brick-by-brick from it’s original location – and basically a silent movie cinema that was run by a family in their back garden in the Black Country, where they would charge their neighbours a small amount to come and watch a film. They do showings every hour I believe, and in our showing we were treated to a Laurel & Hardy classic – The Bohemian Girl, from 1936. I’d never really seen any of their work before, but it was very enjoyable to watch and the “atmosphere” of an olde-worlde cinema added to the impact.

There is also a tour of an old Black Country mine, named “Into the thick” – this is a 20 minute tour that takes a group of visitors underground, in pitch black dark surroundings (each visitor is given a hand-held torch) – unfortunately the ceilings are very low so I was unable to take part in this thanks to my current back problems, but Jem enjoyed it – as did the kids.

TL;DR

I had a thoroughly enjoyable time at the Black Country Living Museum, even if I didn’t get to see parts of it as much as I’d have liked. It was a most interesting step back through history and seeing how the world used to be. I will definitely be going again.

My only complaints really are that the fairground rides should be free of charge given the cost of entry (although I don’t have a problem with the prize games having a cost) and the parking should also be free. You have to pick up a ticket on entry into the car park, and then use that ticket at a pay machine before you leave to get a token to exit the car park – the token costs £3.00 (although Jem thought it was the same tokens used at the fairground, in which case you could feasibly buy one for £1.50) – but it should be free.

Rating: 4/5