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.

 

The Martian

October 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Drew Goddard (“Cloverfield”)

In recent years, director Ridley Scott has gone from Oscar-nominated visionary director, to that guy who made that movie where Cameron Diaz copulates with a car windshield, among other recent cinematic atrocities. It’s a cold streak that, save for the unfairly over-criticized but still average “Promethus,” has firmly moved Scott out of the list of prestige directors. “The Martian,” which is adapted from one of the best received novels of the last few years, tests the theory that perhaps Scott still has the talent and just needed some help tapping into it again.

During a storm on a manned mission to Mars, Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is hit by debris and separated from the rest of his crew. Presumed dead, the crew takes off and heads back to Earth. Hours later, Watney wakes up realizing he has been stranded on Mars. With no communication, no clear way to let people know he is alive, and limited supplies, Watney is forced to find a way to stay alive and get in touch with Earth before he runs out of resources.

The sprawling cast of “The Martian” is impressive, with strong supporting turns from actors like Jeff Daniels and Chiwitel Ejoifor. The film, however, belongs to Damon. Displaying why he is the movie star that he is, Damon devours every second of screen time he gets. Watney is a character that, despite his situation, stays in relatively good spirits, which is a testament not only to the character design, but to the nuances of Damon’s performance as the sarcastic botanist.

The other star of the film besides Damon is the screenplay by Drew Goddard. Filled with tension and artfully told through the use of video logs, Goddard is able to bring life and humanity out of isolation. Perhaps the greatest quality of Goddard’s fantastic script is its use of humor. “The Martian” is legitimately funny, largely thanks to the way Damon’s smart-ass, witty character is written, but is even successful with a few sight gags. It adds a level of levity to an otherwise serious situation, keeping the film engaging, thoroughly entertaining and striking a tonal balance between drama and humor that few movies are able to accomplish. It also helps bring out the best in Damon, who delivers his dialogue with comedic ease. He radiates charisma.

Another great quality of the screenplay is how time is split between Damon on Mars and NASA back on Earth. There are little pockets of parallel storylines that unfold and keep things engaging, primarily between Watney’s ingenuity and NASA trying to avoid a PR catastrophe. It’s edited well enough that neither story goes untold for too long and each is fascinating in its own light.

“The Martian” is the total cinematic package. It’s humorous, gripping, intelligent and extremely entertaining. It could have possibly use a touch more of an emotional pull, especially in terms of what is at stake and relationship building, but that feels like a nitpick considering everything else that “The Martian” masterfully accomplishes. Welcome back, Ridley Scott. Perhaps next time you should make sure you bring Goddard along with you.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator,” “Prometheus”)
Written by:  Adam Cooper (“Accepted”), Bill Collage (“Accepted”), Jeffrey Caine (“GoldenEye”), Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

After the breakout success of “Gladiator” in 2000, director Ridley Scott seems determined to recapture the epic, action-packed period storytelling he and Russell Crowe delivered in the sword-and-sandals blockbuster, but with diminishing returns and emotionless digital matte paintings. From “Kingdom of Heaven” to “Robin Hood” to “Prometheus,” Scott has turned in some competent work buried in cold CGI to the indifference – or as with “Prometheus,” seething fanboy anger – of the movie-going public. “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” a big-budget retelling of the biblical story of Moses and his freeing the Jews from the control of Ramses, is ultimately another indifferent shrug.

Raised as brothers by the Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro, first in a long list of WTF casting) the orphan Moses (Christian Bale) and heir to the crown Ramses (Joel Edgerton) fight battles for Egypt side by side. Before an upcoming battle, Seti tells the two men of a prophecy wherein one will save the other and become a leader. During the battle, Moses saves Ramses’ life, and is then sent to meet Viceroy Hegep (Ben Mendelsohn) of Pithom, who oversees the Hebrew slaves. Moses is appalled by the treatment the Hebrews receive and, during his visit, is informed by Nun (Ben Kingsley) of his true heritage: that he is a Hebrew sent to be raised as a child of Phararoh. Two Jews overhear this information and report it back to Hegep. As Moses returns to Memphis, Seti dies and Ramses becomes Pharaoh. Hegep arrives and reveals Moses’ true heritage and, rather than see his sister tortured, Moses admits to his lineage and leaves the kingdom. Years later, Moses is injured in a rock slide, after which a burning bush and a boy named Malak (Isaac Andrews) command Moses to free the Hebrews from Ramses.

If you’ve seen “The Ten Commandments” or even “The Prince of Egypt,” the spectacle of the story of Exodus will be nothing you haven’t seen on a movie screen before. While the plagues that decimate Egypt – from locusts to frogs to rivers of blood rendered in photo-realistic CGI – are thrilling and frightening, they can’t smooth over the lumpy storytelling and warmed-over battle scenes. The screenplay, credited to a quartet of writers, attempts to humanize Ramses and give a moderately convincing scientific explanation to the plagues. Some elements work better than others, such as Moses’ conversations with Malek being made ambiguous enough to paint Moses as either a conduit to God or a brain-injured mad man. But by the climax, featuring chariots charging at one another in a mysteriously parted Red Sea as ocean-borne tornadoes loom in the background, you’ll be exhausted after meandering through a snazzed-up version of a story you’ve seen before. Let my people go…to see a better movie.

The Counselor

October 26, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Prometheus”)
Written by: Cormac McCarthy (debut)

He might be considered by many as one of the most talented living writers working today, but Cormac McCarthy’s transition from penning novels like “No Country for Old Men” and “The Road” to writing his first screenplay for “The Counselor” is not a smooth one to say the least. In fact, if you factor in McCarthy’s heavyweight status in the literary world along with the film’s star-studded cast and three-time Oscar nominated director Ridley Scott (“Black Hawk Down”) at the helm and “The Counselor” just might be the most surprising failure of the year.

Central to the story is actor Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) as the nameless title character, a lawyer who is in need of some fast cash and turns to the seedy drug cartels in Juarez, Mexico to help him out. When a drug run doesn’t go as planned, Mr. Lawyer must figure out how to fix the problem before the drug lords find him and toss his head into the Rio Grande.

As simple of a narrative as that sounds, McCarthy somehow turns the story into a complicated mess. Not only do scenes end awkwardly and feel disconnected from one another, the heavy-handed philosophical dialogue spoken by everyone involved makes for an exhausting experience. In one particular scene, Fassbender meets with an independent diamond seller to pick out a stone for his girlfriend Laura (Penelope Cruz). What should be a simple exchange between the men turns into a 10-minute sermon on the cut and clarity of precious gems. Yes, we know it’s a metaphor for something that happens later in the film, but McCarthy might as well have saved the scene and used it for a 2 a.m. infomercial.

Scott’s direction is fine and Fassbender and Brad Pitt, who we’re still not sure what his purpose in the film was, are serviceable, but they can only work with what McCarthy has given them. The same does not go for Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem. As the two-headed snake in Fassbender’s drug-deal-gone-bad, their characters feel like underwritten parodies. Sure, their dialogue is just as terrible as the rest of the cast, but their goofy delivery makes McCarthy’s words even more meaningless.

Heavy on sexual escapades (the film opens with a long scene where Fassbender performs cunnilingus and continues with Diaz humping a car without panties) and light on style and vision, “The Counselor” proves that stars don’t always align even when things look impressive on paper.

Robin Hood

May 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Max Von Sydow
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: Brian Helgeland (“Green Zone”)
 
While the comparisons are obvious, director Ridley Scott’s version of “Robin Hood” is nothing like his first collaboration with actor Russell Crowe in the good but slightly overrated 2000 film “Gladiator.” Amazing production value aside, “Robin Hood” is a high-end production with lofty ideas and a convoluted screenplay begging for some major editing.
 
In his fifth film with Scott, Crowe isn’t the same Robin Hood most would expect from the dozens of versions that have come before (the best is still Errol Flynn’s 1938 classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood”). Instead, Scott and screenwriter Brian Helgeland have jerry-built a chaotic prequel based on the legendary tale of an English outlaw from Sherwood Forest who robs from the rich to give to the poor.
 
To begin, Crowe is not actually Robin Hood, but Robin Longstride, an archer in King Richard the Lionheart’s (Danny Huston) army, who sets off with his own band of followers (Kevin Durand, Scott Grimes, Alan Doyle) after the king is killed by French forces. When Robin and his men get their hands on King Richard’s crown, they return it to London where John (Oscar Isaac) is ready to take over the throne from his slain brother and impose heavy taxes on his people. He appoints Godfrey (Mark Strong), who is secretly working for the French, as his tax collector, but is unaware of his ulterior motives.
 
Godfrey wants to help France invade England. Robin, who acquires a new identity from a dying knight with a last request, connects with the knight’s father (Max Von Sydow) and his widow Lady Marion of Loxley (Cate Blanchett) and helps them save their land by posing as the deceased son and husband. If that’s not complicated enough, 13th century politics play a major role in the ill-conceived script as Scott takes all the adventure out of the myth through longwinded speeches and conventional storytelling.

Sure, it might feel like we’re somewhere in Nottingham simply for the terrific art direction and costume design, but the technical aspects are skin deep. This “Robin Hood” is void of any real emotion or awe-inspiring heroics that the iconic literary character has built his name on for the past few centuries.

Body of Lies

October 17, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Mark Strong
Directed by: Ridley Scott (“Gladiator”)
Written by: William Monahan (“The Departed”)

The pieces seem to all be in the right place. Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott, a duo who win Oscars together, are set in motion while box office draw and talented actor Leonardo DiCaprio is sharpening his claws for his first film since garnering his own Oscar nod for “Blood Diamond.”

But not everything on paper works well as a final product as we see in “Body of Lies.” It’s a decent espionage thriller that should probably throw all the chips in on its leading men and not necessarily on the volatile and familiar story.

Based on the novel by David Ignatius, “Body of Lies” follows CIA operative Roger Ferris (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he keeps tabs on terrorists in the Middle East. Roger is in constant contact by phone with his boss Ed Hoffman (Russell Crowe) who sends him on missions while living the easy life back in Washington D.C. out of harm’s way. (Think of Ed as the tubby man-boy living in his mother’s basement playing MMORPGs all day, covered in junk food and not having any sense of the real world outside his cocoon).

When Roger goes on another mission to hunt down a terrorist leader named Al-Saleem (Along Abutbul) in Jordan, he recruits the help of a local intelligence chief named Hani (Mark Strong, who reminds me too much of Andy Garcia) to infiltrate the hard-to-reach locales he must venture. To mislead the terrorists (and to prove he is always one step ahead of everyone) Roger forms his own faux terrorist cell so Al-Saleem, known as “the white whale,” can come out of the woodwork to find out who is trying to undercut his regime.

While this is the central idea of “Lies,” Oscar-winning screenwriter Monahan manages to scramble second-rate political jargon into the talky action film, which is not as intelligent as it leads us to believe.

With DiCaprio as his puppet, Monahan is also able to string us along through the deceptive war with some obscure plot twists and cliché storytelling. Recent films like “The Kingdom” and “Traitor” treaded on the same international concepts, and even with above-average performances by DiCaprio and Crowe, they all feel like they’ve spawned from the same societal need to cover global terrorism cinematically. While “Lies” is a worthy attempt, it is overwritten and very shifty.

Thirteen years after “The Quick and the Dead,” the reunion between DiCaprio and Crowe was actually more intriguing to me that the “Righteous Kill” one with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro. It might not be nearly as silly as “Kill,” but one thing the two have in common is heavy-hitting headliners that can only do as much as the script allows.