For a re­view of “Alien: Covenant,”

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When the first “Alien” came out in 1979, promis­ing and de­liv­er­ing screams in space that no one could hear, more than few crit­ics and reg­u­lar hu­mans called it a re­lent­less, hard- driv­ing thrill ma­chine. In ret­ro­spect it re­sem­bles a movie with the pa­tience of Job, tak­ing its sweet, stealthy time be­fore ar­riv­ing at one the great mo­ments in the his­tory of ex­treme cin­e­matic gore.

You know the scene, prob­a­bly. There’s John Hurt, an ac­tor whose face al­ways seemed halfway to crest­fallen even when he didn’t have any­thing to worry about, sit­ting around the space­craft gal­ley, hav­ing a jolly meal with his crew aboard the Nostromo. He doesn’t re­al­ize the steroidal tape­worm in­side him, ges­tat­ing, awaits the right mo­ment to burst forth from Hurt’s chest and commence the cat- and­mouse fran­chise span­ning two cen­turies and count­ing.

That mon­ster has been chas­ing di­rec­tor Ri­d­ley Scott ever since. Five years ago, Scott re­turned to the fran­chise he started and then turned over to oth­ers with an am­bi­tious, messy, stim­u­lat­ing pre­quel, “Prometheus,” in which he went easy on the alien sand heavy on the ori­gin­story mythol­ogy. Fans of the ear­lier “Alien” movies couldn’t en­tirely em­brace it. In re­cent in­ter­views Scott ac­knowl­edged the folly of his ini­tial dis­in­ter­est in deal­ing at all with aliens, aka xenomorphs, in the pre­quels.

But fan blow­back and his pro­ducer’s in­stincts car­ried the day. The new movie, “Alien: Covenant,” fea­tures Michael Fass­ben­der times two and Kather­ine Wa­ters ton un­der coolly con­trolled duress. It’s the third Scot thelmed “Alien” picture; the sixth movie over­all, not count­ing the “Alien vs. Preda­tor” spinoffs; and the sec­ond movie, fol­low­ing “Prometheus,” to be­tray con­sid­er­able con­fu­sion and am­biva­lence about what sort of “Alien”- ad­ja­cent story Scott has in mind, by way of screen­writ­ers John Lo­gan and Dante Harper.

It’s a mad­den­ingly un­even picture, with an ac­tion cli­max staged and ex­e­cuted with the air of a con­trac­tual agree­ment. But as with “Prometheus,” the most el­e­gantly wrought se­quences make up for the mon­ster stuff plainly less in­ter­est­ing to Scott.

A sleek, aus­tere pro­logue finds weaselly Peter Wey­land ( Guy Pearce) en­joy­ing his Mahler and ac­ti­vat­ing his lat­est an­droid ( Fass­ben­der), whom he names David, af­ter the statue. The robo- lad’s head is filled with dreams of alien life forms and the glo­ries of space ex­plo­ration. Then, the­movie proper: We’re aboard the Covenant, with a new, hap­less crew of mor­tals. The year is 2104. This isa colonists’ ship, like the May flower, only with em­bryos and sleep- frozen­hu­mans.

Fass­ben­der also plays an­droid Wal­ter, the lat­est­gen­er­a­tion ro­bot as­sist­ing the hu­mans. Early on the space­craft is hit by a neu­trino shock wave, which takes the life of the cap­tain ( James Franco, in a hi­lar­i­ously brief cameo) and leav­ing the Covenant un­der the com­mand of Capt. Oram ( Billy Crudup, valiantly en­liven­ing a role de­fined by in­se­cu­rity).

The real star, though, is Water­ston, the crew’s so- called ter­raform­ing ex­pert and ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer. She’s the can- do fe­male lead evok­ing mem­o­ries of Sigour­ney Weaver’ s Ri­p­ley. The crew is headed to a far­away planet, but amys­te­ri­ous ra­dio trans­mis­sion is too tan­ta­liz­ing to pass up. So it’s off to the planet where Prometheus met its doom, andw here alien spores make their un­seen way into the ear canals and no strils of the crew mem­bers voted least likely to suc­ceed.

Fass­ben­der dif­fer­en­ti­ates his du­el­ing an­droids in sub­tle phys­i­cal ways and more pro­nounced vo­cal ones. ( David sounds like HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”; Wal­ter speaks like some­one try­ing to im­i­tate Heath Ledger’s Chicago- in­flected Joker in “The Dark Knight.”) The aux­il­iary crew mem­bers are played by, among oth­ers, Danny McBride, Car­men Ejogo, Demian Bechir and Amy Seimetz. The script makes them mod­er­ately in­ter­est­ing alien fod­der or, for the for­tu­nate ones, alien van­quish­ers.

Around the mid­point, “Alien: Con­venant” takes a turn to­ward a “Planet of Dr. Moreau” sto­ry­line, steal­ing from H. G. Wells. Mostly, of course, the film steals from ear­lier “Alien” movies. Scott’s arm­ful at­tempt to marry rous­ing bits from James Cameron’s “Aliens” ( the “fun” one) with the brood­ing tone fa­vored by Scott and David Fincher (“Alien 3”) has led to a prod­uct di­vided against it­self. And yet I was con­sis­tently taken with Fass­ben­der’s work, and with Water­ston. I may be as conflicted about “Alien: Covenant” as Ri­d­ley Scott ap­par­ently was. But I’ll take it over “King Arthur.”

“Alien: Covenant,” a Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated R for sci- fi vi­o­lence, bloody images, lan­guage and some sex­u­al­ity/ nu­dity. Run­ning time: 123 min­utes. ½

“Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”

From 2010 to 2012, a tril­ogy of “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid” films were re­leased in rapid suc­ces­sion, star­ring Zachary Gor­don, Devon Bo­stick, Rachael Har­ris and Steve Zahn. Adapted from the web comic turned kids nov­els by Jeff Kin­ney, the films fea­tured the kinds of em­bar­rass­ments and toi­let hu­mor that tend to make up most mid­dle school lore. Five years later, a fourth film, “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: TheLongHaul,” is hit­ting the­aters, with a com­pletely new cast mak­ing up the Hef­fley fam­ily. Di­rec­tor David Bow­ers, who helmed the “Ro­drick Rules” and “DogDays” in­stall­ments of the fran­chise, re­turns to wran­gle this par­tic­u­lar out- of- con­trol- mini­van down­the free­way.

This story of a fam­ily va­ca­tion gone wrong could have just been sub­ti­tled “Road Trip,” but it turns out “The Long Haul” is an iron­i­cally apt de­scrip­tor for this film. One hes­i­tates to re­fer to it as a “com­edy,” as the jokes are few and far be­tween. No, “hor­ror” was the word that popped into mind fre­quently dur­ing these grim 90 min­utes.

“Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is a deft ex­plo­ration of the hor­rors of mod­ern life in the techob­sessed, ne­olib­eral, ad­vanced cap­i­tal­ist 21st cen­tury Amer­ica; a world where so­cial me­dia rules our brains and be­hav­ior, and con­stant con­nect­ed­ness means con­stant work. This fam­ily’s road trip il­lus­trates how Amer­ica has be­come a po­lar­ized na­tion ob­sessed with nos­tal­gia, grip­ping tight to the con­struct of a “real” Amer­i­cain­light of rapid cul­tural change. Some fun.

It’s also a ter­ri­fy­ing cau­tion­ary tale about dis­tracted driv­ing— adults in the au­di­ence may cower ev­ery time one of the Hef­fley par­ents be­hind the wheel takes their eyes off the road or uses their phone while shep­herd in gateen, tween, tod­dler, spouse, piglet and boat trailer be­hind the cursed mini­van. Belly laughs? More like stom­ach lurches. It’s truly more har­row­ing than “Fate of the Fu­ri­ous” at times, and more frus­trat­ing, since Vin Diesel never texts while driv­ing, and doesn’t bring a brood in the back­seat.

Fit­tingly, the cen­tral con­flict of the film is about tech­nol­ogy and screen time. Mom Su­san ( Ali­cia Sil­ver­stone) con­fis­cates all elec­tronic de­vices so the fam­ily can en­joy real face time on their road trip — but dad Frank ( Tom Everett Scott) hasn’t taken the days off work, while tit­u­lar wimpy kid Greg ( Jason Drucker) and met­al­head brother Ro­drick ( Char­lieWright) are schem­ing to get to a video game con­ven­tion. Greg’s de­ter­mined to clean up his on­line rep­u­ta­tion af­ter he be­comes the star of an em­bar­rass­ing meme, and thinks a video with his hero, star gamer Mac Digby ( Joshua Hoover) will do the trick. Their ju­ve­nile and self­ish med­dling takes the fam­ily trip from bad to apoc­a­lyp­tic.

The film seems to be aware of the ter­rors it in­flicts on its au­di­ence in the name of a good time ( or some kind of time… the in­tended ef­fect is not clear). There are sev­eral di­rect ref­er­ences to Hitch­cock’s most iconic hor­ror films, “Pyscho” and “The Birds,” for some in­ex­pli­ca­ble rea­son. Al­though osten­si­bly pre­sented as an hour and a half of rau­cous fam­ily ad­ven­ture “Wimpy Kid” is in­stead a dirge of un­funny scat­o­log­i­cal ma­te­rial, techno- anx­i­ety and child en­dan­ger­ment mas­querad­ing as fa­mil­ial bond­ing. Set­tle in for the “Long Haul,” be­cause this is one bumpy, mis­er­able ride.

“Di­ary Of A Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” a Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury Fox re­lease, is rated PG for some rude hu­mor. Run­ning time: 90 min­utes.


Jason Drucker, left, and Owen Asz­ta­los star in “Di­ary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul.”

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