Kneel Before VOD: August 1st
Alien: Covenant follows 2012's Prometheus as the next tense, entertaining entry that continues director Ridley Scott's planned Alien prequel trilogy. This film follows a similar setup, a ship full of colonists land prematurely on a peaceful looking, uncharted planet they believe to be habitable, and they soon discover how wrong they are. The Xenomorph mayhem is as fun as ever, and Michael Fassbender's puts in another unsettling performance as the android David. Covenant's less than stellar box office performance leaves the series’ fate in question, but if Scott is still able to pull off something this fresh, I can't wait to see what he has planned. (Read Rob Trench's review of Alien: Covenant.)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson continues his string of strong performances as Allan Isaac, a U.S. soldier who gets trapped under sniper gunfire after answering a distress call in Iraq, with fellow soldier Shane Matthews (John Cena). The small wall that the two are huddled near is where the film spends all of its time. It's a claustrophobic experience that lives and dies on Johnson's performance, who thankfully has what it takes for the challenge.
Netflix: City of Tiny Lights
Pete Travis (Dredd, Vantage Point) directs this adaptation of a novel by the same name by Patrick Neate. The film stars Riz Ahmed as Tommy Akhtar, a washed up London private eye who's tasked with finding a missing woman. Ahmed has made a name for himself in recent years, and for good reason, he's the biggest reason this otherwise forgettable modern noir is watchable. Former Doctor Who companion Billie Piper also impresses playing his love interest, Shelley.
Amazon Prime: The Most Dangerous Game
Richard Connell's 1924 short story has been adapted numerous times, yet none have topped the very first in 1932. A hunter (Joel McRae) is shipwrecked off the coast of South America on an island with the wealthy and mysterious Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), who makes him the prey in a vicious manhunt, along with fellow shipwreckers Eve and Martin (Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong). The film conveys the short story's central theme of blurring the lines between man and animal, and hunter and prey. There's a reason this film is paired with the story in classes around the country.
HBO Go: Almost Christmas
Walter (Danny Glover), the recently widowed patriarch of the dysfunctional Meyer family, hosts the first family Christmas since his wife's passing and struggles to keep the siblings (Gabrielle Union, Romany Malco, Kimberly Elise, Jessie T. Usher) in check. There's not much here to differentiate Almost Christmas from similar holiday reunion movies. The admittedly well-cast family bickers and deals with their numerous problems without enough laughs to make it palatable.
FilmStruck: My Favorite Year
Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) is a young comedy writer for a variety series who is tasked with escorting the week's special guest star, Alan Swann (Peter O'Toole), an eccentric and drunken actor on his way to being a has-been. This classic comedy is as lovable now as it was then, with great performances from Linn-Baker and Joseph Bologna, as the star of the show. That's not to mention O'Toole, who is unsurprisingly great in a role that seems built specifically for him.