Alien: Covenant

May 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, Billy Crudup
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Prometheus”)
Written by: John Logan (“Spectre”) and Dante Harper (debut)

The slow-burning narrative that takes up most of the first half of filmmaker Ridley Scott’s prequel “Alien: Covenant” is as close to the tone of the original two films (Scott’s 1979 “Alien” and James Cameron’s 1986 sequel “Aliens”) as anything this franchise has conjured up in the last 30 years.

Scott’s last foray into the classic series, 2012’s “Prometheus,” was more ambitious than effective, and other Hollywood waste like the “Alien vs. Predator” crossover movies didn’t do the franchise’s mythology any favors. In “Covenant,” however, Scott is able to slow everything down to a crawl and get back to the roots of the story without trying so hard to be something it’s not. It might feel like déjà vu for some, but watching spaceship crewmembers exploring an uncharted planet is a lot more interesting than watching two iconic movie monsters drool all over each other for 90 minutes.

Actress Katherine Waterston (“Inherent Vice”) is wonderful and Sigourney Weaver-esque as Daniels, one of the crewmembers on a recolonization spacecraft (the Covenant) headed to a remote planet after their cryosleep is disturbed while on their way to a new planet they hoped to colonize. Instead of going back into hibernation for another seven years, the crew, which includes Tennessee (Danny McBride, who, fortunately, is not cast to play a cliché comic relief character); commanding officer Chris Oram (Billy Crudup); and android Walter (Michael Fassbender, who played android David in “Prometheus”).

Or course, when the crew lands, all hell breaks loose when two of them are infected with an alien parasite that uses them as a host before ripping through their flesh and causing havoc for the survivors. With the help of a lone inhabitant of the vicious planet, the remaining crew risk their lives to get back to their ship before their mission—and the fate of the thousands of human embryos on board—is destroyed.

With some solid performances and highly intense scenes, “Covenant” is entertaining albeit not nearly as inspiring as “Alien” and “Aliens,” two films many consider as the greatest contribution to the sci-fi genre ever. In the second half of the film, much of “Covenant” finds itself in familiar horror territory (that bloody shower sex scene is ridiculous), which overshadows some of the film’s more subtle moments. Plus, the last 20 minutes are so predictable and anti-climactic, you’ll wonder how screenwriters John Logan (“Spectre”) and Dante Harper, couldn’t avoid being so calculating with their decisions.

Nevertheless, “Covenant” is passable sci-fi fare. It won’t necessarily make anyone enthusiastic for whatever is next in the franchise, but at least Scott has the last word for now.

 

Spectre

November 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”)
Written by: John Logan (“Skyfall”), Neal Purvis (“Skyfall”), Robert Wade, (“Skyfall”) and Jez Butterworth (“Black Mass”)

After the events of “Skyfall,” James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself in trouble when causing damage on an unofficial assignment in Mexico. As he disobeys his suspension, Bond tracks down an organization called Spectre, which leads him to people from his past. From there, Bond is sent on a globe-spanning path to take down the leader of this evil organization. Meanwhile at MI6, M (Ralph Fiennes) must fight to keep the 00 program alive when an intelligence operation between multiple countries threatens its future.

After one of the best-received Bond films of all time, Craig dons the Bond suit without much energy this time around. It certainly isn’t a bad performance, but it also doesn’t appear like Craig is having much fun in the lead role. As a villain, Christoph Waltz is still chasing the kind of terror he was able to instill in “Inglorious Basterds.” Rather than develop any true sense of menace, Waltz merely delivers lame monologues as his form of evil. Of course, if the audience ever thought Bond would be in any real sense of danger, perhaps it would play better. The franchise is chugging along, though, and so words are not enough to feel any fear for his safety.

There’s a level of complacency that seems to be running throughout “Spectre,” especially in the sense that nearly everything feels obligatory. Yes, there are giant set pieces and a few scenes of great action, especially in the opening sequence. But there’s also a boring repetition of the same three things that always happen to Bond. He drinks, he beds beautiful women, and he kills people. In one scene of “Spectre,” Bond bangs a grieving widow whilst getting information out of her. That very well may be what diehard fans are looking for, but it makes for eye rolls and more importantly, completely absurd plot development. Frankly, if you take away all of the unnecessary plot contrivances, sex, women, fast cars and guns in “Spectre,” nothing remains.

There’s almost no sense of a ”spy” movie here either. Everything is out in the open and it’s extremely hard to care about what little mystery exists. It’s loud, messy, filled to the brim with pointless secondary characters and agonizingly long. It is also, admittedly, polished, sleek, and stylish. Bond fans should be pleased with yet another “Bond being Bond” film. But for those looking for something with more substance and narrative, there’s little to be found underneath the superficial sheen.

Skyfall

November 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Judi Dench
Directed by: Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Road to Perdition”)
Written by: Neal Purvis (“Casino Royale”), Robert Wade (“Casino Royale”), John Logan (“Gladiator”)

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, the first James Bond movie I properly saw was 1995’s “GoldenEye,” which was also the first Bond movie featuring Pierce Brosnan as 007. Though most people are probably more fond of the classic Nintendo 64 video game based on the film than the actual movie itself, “GoldenEye” marked the beginning of the end for the 50-year-old Bond brand as the world knew it. The excesses and mediocrity of Brosnan’s subsequent turns as 007 led to the 2006 ground-floor reboot “Casino Royale,” featuring Daniel Craig as a blonder, grittier, more realistic James Bond. As the “Batman Begins” of Bond films, if you will, it lit the fuse on a new series with the fresh creative vision and streamlined storytelling that the character desperately needed.

The latest entry in the series, “Skyfall,” kicks off with one of the series’ trademark action-packed cold opens featuring Bond and fellow MI6 agent Eve (Naomie Harris) tracking a mercenary with a stolen hard drive containing the names of NATO secret agents through Istanbul. A rooftop motorcycle chase and a fistfight atop a moving train give way to Bond being presumed dead after plummeting from a bridge after being shot. Months later, when an expert computer hacker triggers a gas explosion that destroys the MI6 office of M (Judi Dench), 007 returns to London. A former agent named Silva (Javier Bardem) is behind the attack, Bond learns, and is intent on releasing the names of the agents and exacting his revenge on M.

Perhaps best described as “The Dark Knight” of the 007 franchise, “Skyfall” is first and foremost a great movie, not to mention one of the greatest Bond movies ever. Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty”) builds on the stripped-down reboot stylings of “Casino Royale” and “Quantam of Solace,” doling out more pieces of Bond’s backstory than ever before and re-introducing classic 007 staples like geeky gadget master Q (Ben Whishaw) and an ejection seat-equipped Aston-Martin. Mendes also turns in the best-looking Bond film to date, from his focus on mirrors and reflections to hand-to-hand combat shot in silhouette against the dancing neon of the Shanghai skyline. Bardem’s Silva makes a fantastic foil to Craig’s broken Bond, each of them representing a different path taken after being abandoned in the field by their surrogate mother, Dench’s world-weary M. No diamond-skinned villains or hat-hurling sidekicks here; these are complex characters treated as such, plumbing depths never before visited in any Bond adventure.

Minor stumbles in the plot annoy more than anything, such as a barely-used femme fatale (Bérénice Marlohe), the millionth “missing hard drive filled with secret identities” in a spy movie, and an unforgivably goofy computer hacking plot thread (seriously, Hollywood: we all know how computers work now…knock it off with the stupid hacker tricks and fantastical graphics), none of which are enough to keep “Skyfall” from completing its mission with excitement, style, and a surprising amount of emotional resonance.

Coriolanus

April 6, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Gerard Butler, Brian Cox
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes (debut)
Written by: John Logan (“The Aviator”)

Social and economic inequality set the cinematic stage in “Coriolanus,” a highly-inspired adaptation of William Shakespeare’s early 17th century play, which, in many ways, parallels the protest movement against governmental power tripping that began in New York City late last year and has since spread across the U.S. While some literary pundits would call the original text one of the more minor tragedies written by Shakespeare (or whomever, for all you Anti-Stratfordians), first-time director and two-time Academy Award-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes (“Schindler’s List”) builds a fascinating modern-day narrative on familiar themes including political corruption and blood-lusting revenge and drills it straight into a belief system that rebellion is the only way to save a threatened democracy. It’s a stark depiction of war and societal oppression complemented by a frighteningly intense performance by Fiennes as the title tragic character who gives Coriolanus its impressive scowl.

When scarred and stern-faced Caius Martius Coriolanus (Fiennes) steps out from behind a line of shielded soldiers and toward a riotous mob that is demanding the government provide them food, the seething look he gives them only hints at the depth of the the Roman general’s loathing (though he’ll soon be seeking support from those same detractors during his transition from despised war hero to demeaning political figure). His hatred, however, is mostly concentrated toward the Volscian army and his sworn enemy Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), who he later joins forces with to get revenge on Rome when its citizens banish him from the impoverished city.

As Coriolanus’ prideful mother Volumnia, Oscar winner Vanessa Redgrave (“Julia”) is a standout, as is Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain (“The Help”) in a smaller yet significant role as his concerned wife Virgilia, and Brian Cox (“Red”) as Senator Menenius, an ally who keeps the pendulum swinging steadily in Rome before Coriolanus shoves it over violently. It’s Fiennes, however, as both the visionary debuting filmmaker and lead that deserves the most credit for taking Shakespeare’s distinct language and allowing it to flourish in a contemporary setting and from the tongues of proven actors. While the decision to stay committed to the original text might turn away some viewers who would’ve rather seen “Coriolanus” set in a high school starring Zac Efron, perhaps, purists can take solace in the fact that Fiennes’ ambitious interpretation of Shakespeare’s work is well executed and unsettlingly relevant even after four centuries.

Rango

March 4, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin
Directed by: Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean”)
Written by: John Logan (“Gladiator”)

Industrial Light and Magic sure knows how to make a great first impression. “Rango,” the first-ever animated feature created by the George Lucas company, is an impressive adventure film set in the Old West featuring a scrawny pet chameleon as it’s courageous hero.

When Rango (Johnny Depp), an aspiring thespian, strolls into the small town of Dirt after landing in the desert, he is given the chance to start on a clean slate and become whoever he wants in his new surroundings. No one in Dirt knows who he is, so he conjures up a few lies and jumps into character as a mysterious gunslinger who isn’t afraid of anything the big, bad desert has to offer, including the villainous Rattlesnake Jake (Bill Nighy).

Reminiscent of the storyline in the 1986 comedy “The Three Amigos,” the towns people, made up of some bizarre looking creatures, accept Rango into their dried-up community and make him sheriff when he accidentally kills a terrorizing hawk. As sheriff, it’s now up to Rango to somehow bring water to the thirsty people of Dirt before more of them pack up and take off in search of the one thing they need to survive the desert heat.

As an animated spaghetti Western, “Rango” takes its original narrative and sets it on a dark and dangerous path most cartoons would never tread. Leave it to director Gore Verbinski, who teamed up with Depp in the first two “Pirates” movies, to find inspiration from Western classics like those from director Sergio Leone. Along with exquisite imagery and witty dialogue from the title character, “Rango” is an imaginative and sort of hallucinatory tribute (see if you can spot the “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” reference) to a genre most kids aren’t exposed to nearly enough. With a lizard as the lead, this is as kid-friendly as it’s going to get.