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Aliens and Loads of Other Good Stuff in Theaters

Hope Madden Hope Madden Aliens and Loads of Other Good Stuff in Theaters
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Yes, the newest chapter in the Alien saga acid-spits its way across cinema screens this weekend. No one is more geeked about this than I am.

But, if xenomorphs aren’t your bag, there are gems to be found on silver screens citywide this weekend. Plus, it’s supposed to rain, so check one of these bad boys out!

Alien: Covenant

“Do you want to serve in heaven or reign in hell?”

That’s just one of the big, existential questions Alien: Covenant has on its mind, though there’s plenty of blood as well, for those who thought Prometheus was a bit too head-trippy.

Prometheus may have been a mixed bag, but if there’s one thing this franchise delivers, it’s a great synthetic. Hello, Michael Fassbender.

Fassbender returns in Ridley Scott’s latest, bloodiest Alien effort, and he’s a lunatic genius. Playing both David, the synthetic from Prometheus, and a newer model named Walter, Fassbender delivers weighty lines with tearful panache, becoming more colorful, layered and interesting than anything else onscreen.

Strange then, that his charismatic performance almost hurts the film.

Why? Because we’re here for the aliens!

Yes, it is tough to keep a good xenomorph fresh for eight episodes, and Scott gives it a shot by wading into Guillermo del Toro territory. But there are too many variations, the incubation and bursting process is too expedited, the sources are too numerous – basically, there’s too much going on here and it’s diluting the terror.

And it is terror Scott is going for. There’s more carnage in Covenant than in Scott’s previous two Alien films combined, but he hasn’t entirely thrown the existential crisis overboard. Suffice it to say that we’re led to a crossroads where a dying species is “grasping for resurrection.”

Grade: B-

Buster’s Mal Heart

“Life’s a riddle” croons the opening song of Buster’s Mal Heart. Hoo boy, it sure is.

At the start, two shadowy figures sit in a small row boat on the open sea. Despite being the first image of writer/director Sarah Adina Smith’s existential delight, this scene is one of the final pieces of the puzzle she creates.

Looking back, the plot is simple, in its bizarre sci-fi short story kind of way. But the resulting film is not simple. The order of events has been jumbled and small interactions are dragged out only to be pumped full of paranoia.

Buster’s Mal Heart contemplates the claustrophobia of working a dead-end job inside the machine of modern society, and Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) is the perfect canvas. You can see the quiet rage within him long before he lets it slip. He plays both cautious and wildly consumed by conspiracy with equal commitments. I would’ve watched him sit at his dingy concierge desk for the whole hour and a half.

This film begs to be consumed as a whole, a new rarity in our distracted age. There is no moment for you to sneak out for a bathroom break or check your texts. Even shots of Buster simply vacuuming the dining room somehow feel important and are key to the mood that Smith has crafted.

Grade: A

David Lynch: The Art Life

Screening Saturday at the Wexner Center for the Arts

Filmmaker David Lynch is nearly as enigmatic a cultural fixture as his films. Indeed, as is the case with most of his cinematic output, you might be tempted to assume that his own folksy exterior covers something dark and lurid.

The new documentary David Lynch: The Art Life does what it can to confirm that impression. While it hardly resolves anything in a concrete way, if Lynch’s art imitates the artist, then this film imitates both.

Co-directors Jon Nguyen, Rick Barnes and Olivia Neergaard-Holm recorded Lynch as he mused on childhood stories and the events that led him into the world of art and film. The audio is used to narrate footage – some recent, some archival – working together to illuminate the artist and his work. To a point.

The doc takes us through Lynch’s artistically formative years and ends somewhat abruptly around the time of Eraserhead. The goal is not to document his life’s work, nor even to truly shed light on the conundrum of his particular artistry.

Instead it is a fascinating and beautifully filmed piece of what you might expect. You’ll find a lot of cigarette smoke and Coke bottles, unassuming odd-duckery and gruesome imagery.

But, if you’re hoping for insight into what exactly inspires David Lynch’s fears, obsessions and grim work, be warned: The Art Life does more to continue the mystery than to solve it.

Grade: B+

Everything, Everything

One special girl + a solitary, attentive, very cute boy + contrivance that keeps them apart = every single adolescent drama made in the last decade.

Director Stella Meghie can do that math.

The film updates that Boy in a Plastic Bubble TV movie John Travolta made back in the day, here with a perky adolescent girl named Maddy (Amandla Stenberg) whose rare immune deficiency keeps her locked away inside her sterile home.

Then Dreamboat Olly (Nick Robinson) moves in next door.

Meghie and her cast deserve credit because their film has a sweet if utterly artificial charm to it. The handful of fantasy sequences set inside Maddy’s architecture models are appealing, as is the awkward and innocent chemistry between the leads.

Meghie keeps almost everything restrained, which is both the film’s blessing and curse. Too often in movies of this ilk, the drama becomes so soapy as to be intolerable. Maddy’s coming-of-age choices feel more self-empowering than love struck, and her easygoing, forgiving nature keeps the tone just this side of angsty.

Grade: C-

Norman

“What do you need? I’ll help you get it.”

When does Norman Oppenheimer ever sleep? He’s always there in that same coat and hat, stalking New York City for more people to connect, more circles to infiltrate, and more favors to curry.

But beyond mere social status, Norman (Richard Gere) wants to be a part of something that matters, and he thinks he’s finally found it after “betting on the right horse.” In Norman’s world, that means doing a favor for Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi-terrific), a struggling young politician, at precisely the right time.

Writer/director Joseph Cedar skillfully creates an utterly fascinating character who maneuvers through an equally intriguing web of politics, friendship and desperation. And Gere, as good as he’s ever been, makes it feel authentic.

Much as Bruce Dern dug deep into the lead role in Nebraska, Gere relishes his chance to flesh out a character as ripe as Norman Oppenheimer. He’s pushy, pathetic and often socially awkward, yet endearing in his tireless quest to seem worthwhile, both to others and himself.

It’s a performance that should not be forgotten come award season, and it anchors a smart, detailed film as compelling as any political thriller, yet as familiar as your last little white lie.
Grade: B+

Also opening in Columbus:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (PG)
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent (R)

Reviews with help from George Wolf and Cat McAlpine.

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her bi-weekly horror movie podcast, FRIGHT CLUB.

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