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Director: Ridley Scott Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride Running Time: 123 minutes


Almost forty years ago now, the minds of Dan O’Bannon and the then up-and-coming director Ridley Scott crossed with the cold and violently Freudian imagery of H.R. Giger and created Alien. A massive hit, Alien took the science-fiction adventure dreams that were launched in viewers two years earlier by Star Wars  and curdled them into a nightmare; not an Expanded Universe that invites exploration, but a cruel one that punished hubristic humans who wander where they’re not wanted. Alien‘s success and its iconic imagery made it a no-brainer for franchise material, and after the interpretations of other directors-some welcome, most not-and some regrettable dust-ups with Predators, Scott returned to the space where no one can hear you scream, first with the yes-but-no-but-yes prequel Prometheus and now with the bridge-gapping Alien: Covenant. These latest films may have their faults, quite a few in fact, but at least Scott is back for reasons other than money or brand building, instead using the old world he helped create to explore new ideas. It’s just unfortunate that having ideas at all puts Scott one up on any of the characters in these films, who almost never have two brain cells to rub together.

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Director: Damien Chazelle Starring: Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone Running Time: 128 minutes


 

Having been subjected to months of hype and subsequently inevitable backlash, it has been almost impossible to go into La La Land without expectations being shaped one way or another. Is it truly the greatest thing since sliced bread, is it a musical for people who don’t like musicals, does it deserve the onslaught of accolades or is it merely the dreaded “Oscar Bait”, to be forgotten as soon as everyone files out of the Dolby Theatre on February 26th? That label and the associations that go with it, that La La Land is deliberately designed at every level to take home Academy Awards, are cynical accusations to make, but we live in cynical times. That is what makes La La Land such an appealing throwback, an abandonment of reality that shows its beautiful stars pursuing and achieving their dreams in the brightest light possible. There’s not much of our real world in struggling actress Mia’s massive apartment decked in classic film posters, or on the various, impossibly romantic dates she shares with jazz fanatic Sebastian. Reality is the antagonist of La La Land, right from the opening where dozens and dozens of motorists abandon an LA gridlock for a showstopping musical number, through Mia’s numerous, disastrous auditions and Seb’s jazz dogmatism setting him back over and over, reality is what the characters are trying to overcome to find happiness.

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Director: Adam Wingard Starring: Callie Hernandez, James Allen McCune Running Time: 89 minutes


In 1999, The Blair Witch Project was released amidst a massive wave of hype, propelled by early attempts at viral marketing and a ‘based on a true story’ flimflam that caught viewers offguard. With more story around the film than in it and a loose structure much closer to actual found footage than the genre staple tends to be today, it really was a project, a different kind of horror than audiences had seen before. However, audiences often don’t want different and the backlash was swift and the rushed and disastrous sequel Book of Shadows did little to help. Nearly two decades later, new sequel Blair Witch has flown in deliberately under the radar, filmed under the misdirect title The WoodsBlair Witch frequently feels like the kind of film viewers thought the original was offering, which should satisfy some but those who were happy with what they got first time around might leave disappointed.

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