Movie Reviews: Alien: Covenant, Miss Sloane, Frantz

Ten years on from the events of Prometheus, Alien: Covenant (16s), the fifth offering in the Alien franchise, opens with the spaceship Covenant responding to what appears to be a human signal from an Earth-like planet.

Led by Captain Oram (Billy Crudup), a team touches down on the planet to discover a world which appears to be entirely devoid of animal life — until they are attacked by a horde of vicious alien predators. 

Written by Dante Harper and John Logan, and directed by Ridley Scott, Alien: Covenant opens with an intriguing prologue in which Walter (Michael Fassbender) discovers he is an artificial intelligence ‘synthetic’ created for the purpose of discovering the meaning of life. 

It’s a promising opening, and one given a neat twist when Walter, accompanying Captain Oram in exploring the new planet, encounters his ‘brother’, David (also played by Michael Fassbender), the only survivor of the Prometheus mission. 

Unfortunately, that’s where all inventiveness comes to a screeching halt, as the human explorers quickly find themselves besieged by ravenous aliens and dispatched in ways which will be tediously familiar to anyone who has seen the previous films in the franchise, or any other space-set horror. 

Chris Seagers’ superbly imagined gothic production design gives the film a gravitas it doesn’t otherwise deserve, but the shoehorning of portentous quotes from Milton and Shelley into a laboured screenplay only serves to accentuate the paucity of original ideas. 

Fassbender is deliciously creepy as the deadpan David / Walter, and those unfamiliar with the original trilogy will likely consider it solid entertainment, but overall Alien: Covenant offers little that’s new to fans of the franchise or to the sci-fi genre in general.

Star Rating: 3/5

Jessica Chastain stars as Miss Sloane (15A)

, a Washington lobbyist who takes on the Sisyphean task of persuading senators to vote in favour of a bill designed to reform the gun industry.

Miss Sloane isn’t exactly this generation’s Mr Smith Goes to Washington, however: in a city infested by corrupt cynics, Elizabeth Sloane is regarded as ‘the smartest operator on the Hill’ and can lay claim to being the most immoral sceptic in town. 

Written by Jonathan Perera and directed by John Madden, Miss Sloane is a pacy, punchy tale about life at the sharp end in Washington DC which grows increasingly hectoring in tone.

A brash, curt, workaholic who lives and breathes data and soundbites, Elizabeth Sloane is very likely true to life as a Washington lobbyist, but as a movie heroine she proves difficult to warm to; despite a stellar performance from Jessica Chastain, it’s difficult to know whether to cheer or boo when Miss Sloane is hauled before a Congressional hearing to explain her unorthodox methods of ensuring her clients’ needs are met. 

That said, the movie is impressively daring in tone, with Miss Sloane’s campaign on behalf of gun-law reform veering dangerously close to an attack on the Constitution, and it’s refreshing to see a woman so unapologetically ruthless and conniving make mincemeat of the pathetic duffers who make up politics’ old boys’ network. 

Ultimately, however, the movie appears far more interested in the political rather than the personal, with the result that we never really discover who the fascinating Miss Sloane really is behind all her masks.

Star Rating: 3/5

Frantz (12A) opens in the small town of Quedlinberg in Germany in 1919, where Anna (Paula Beer) still mourns the death of her fiancé Frantz, a soldier who was killed in action whilst fighting in France during the Great War. 

Puzzled by the appearance of flowers on Frantz’s grave, Anna is horrified to discover they were left by a Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney), who has travelled to Germany to mourn his fallen friend with Frantz’s parents, Hans (Ernst Stötzner) and Magda (Marie Gruber). 

As Adrien tells his stories about his friendship with Frantz, however, a healing begins – but is Adrien really who he claims to be?

Written and directed by François Ozon, and filmed in black-and-white, the film’s sombre tone is complemented by Pascal Marti’s formal compositions, its elegiac mood occasionally giving way to celebratory moments when Adrien remembers his good times with Frantz and the film bursts into glorious colour. 

Paula Beer is superb in handling a difficult central role, as Anna, still mourning Frantz, begins to feel the first hints of a new love she feels must constitute a betrayal of Frantz’s memory, while Niney provides excellent support as the sensitive interloper acutely aware of the horror he has wrought on Frantz’s family. 

François Ozon seems to have channelled his inner Douglas Sirk for this deeply affecting account of loss, forgiveness and redemption.

Star Rating: 4/5

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