So, who wants their homicidal, adaptive alien served up with a side of philosophy?  If you do, then you'll like Alien: Covenant a whole lot more than I did.   This entry in the Alien franchise tries for greater depth but proves boring.

After a discussion of creations and creators, we see the starship Covenant on its way to colonize a distant planet.  The trip is scheduled for seven years, with both passengers and crew in suspended animation, with synthetic Walter (Michael Fassbender) minding the systems.  But a cosmic event damages the ship, killing the captain and dozens of the passengers.  While conducting repairs, the crew picks up an automated message (actually a John Denver song), which leads them to a much closer, potentially inhabitable planet.

The new planet seems both perfect and mysterious: The environment is fine, but why is their Earth wheat growing there?  It turns out that this is where the ship from the movie Prometheus landed, and the only survivor is the synthetic David (also played by Michael Fassbender).  And worse, the members of the Covenant can get infected by the xenomorphs by spores, eggs, and other methods.  Who will survive?
The bigger question: Who cares?  All of the characters in Alien: Covenant have virtually no personality or characteristics, making them disposable and forgettable.  The xenomorphs are almost included as an afterthought, the killer ticking clock for the crew on the planet.  As for the issues of who creates life and what its purpose is, this movie spends a lot of time discussing this but won't be remembered for it.  This movie is a very weak entry in a generally strong franchise.

Overall grade: D
Reviewed by James Lynch



It's back to superheroes in space!  Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 continues the adventures of Marvel's baddest good guys, adding family issues, a universe-wide menace, and lots of comedy.

The movie opens with Star-Lord/Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), and the tiny Baby Groot (voice of Vin Diesel) protecting some valuable and powerful batteries that belong to the Sovereign, a gold-skinned and easily offended race.  The Guardians also have Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora's vengeful sister, as their prisoner.  The mission is a success, but when Rocket steals a bunch of the Sovereign's batteries, their leader Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) wants them dead.
The Guardians are almost killed by Sovereign ships, but the heroes are saved by the sudden appearance of Ego (Kurt Russell) -- who's Star-Lord's long-lost father.  Accompanied by the empathic and innocent Mantis (Pom Klementieff), Ego wants to reconnect with his son -- and to show him the powers they both possess -- on his planet.  While Peter, Gamora, and Drax travel with Ego, Rocket and Groot remain behind to repair the ship.  Meanwhile, Ayesha has hired Yondu (Michael Rooker) to kill the Guardians, Nebula escapes, and things are hardly what they seem...

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is pretty entertaining, albeit slightly flawed.  The cast once again does a great job as the heroes who are still out for a profit, and the characters of Ego and Mantis are nice additions to this outer-space part of the Marvel Universe.  There's plenty of humor here, plus plenty of action from speedy space battles to hand-to-hand combat.  The movie is a little long -- one story line could have been shortened or cut out -- and the use of music from the '70s and '80s feels a little more heavy-handed than in its predecessor.  Still, Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 delivers plenty of laughs, thrills, and general fun.
Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch



When it comes to social media and technology, how much power and access should companies and the online community have?  This is the driving force of The Circle, a fairly tepid suspense movie.

Mae (Emma Watson) begins the movie with a pretty dull existence.  She works at a temp job doing billing in a small town.  She lives with her parents Bonnie (Glenne Headly) and and Vinnie (Bill Paxton), the latter of whom is battling M.S.  And everyone thinks Mae should be romantically involved with Mercer (Ellar Coltrane), a local teen who makes his own art.
Things change when Mae's friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets her a customer support job at the Circle, a Facebook-type company.  It seems ideal to Mae: good money, a cool environment, and lots of social activities on the job.  But everyone seems to know everyone else's business -- including founder Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), whose latest product is a miniature camera and whose philosophy is that openness and knowing everything is the goal.   (During one company lecture, behind Bailey is the slogan "Secrets Are Lies.")  And when the cameras wind up saving Mae's life, she agrees to live a totally transparent life, broadcasting virtually everything she does online.
But not all is well in the world of the Circle.  Tech genius Ty (John Boyega, in a barely-there role) worries about the lack of privacy in the world of the Circle.  The company is fighting legal battles and seems to have recruited a Congresswoman totally to their side.  And while Mae enjoys being a sudden online celebrity, her family and old friends don't share her enthusiasm for the online world.

The issues brought up in The Circle are real and relevant in today's world, but the movie's treatment of those issues is pretty slight.  There's no real discussion of those issues, and lacking those and largely any action, this movie can be quite dull.  It's a bit fun seeing Tom Hanks playing a Bill Gates type of executive, but Emma Watson's ordinary Mae doesn't leave much of an impact.  The Circle should have been so much better.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch