Tag Archives: ridley scott

‘Alien: Covenant’ a Gory, at Times Laggy Adventure

Alien_Covenant_Teaser_PosterRidley Scott is 79 years old and still competently directing major Hollywood movies and meanwhile I’m 23 and can barely make toast without burning it…

“Alien: Covenant” is the 6th canon film of the “Alien” franchise and acts as a sequel to 2012’s “Prometheus,” as well as the second of an intended three prequel films by original director Ridley Scott. Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Carmen Ejogo and Demián Bichir all star as members of a colony ship that land on an uncharted planet before discovering  a terrifying threat.

I’m not the biggest fan of the “Alien” franchise. I don’t love the first film (I just don’t think it aged well) and the handful of other ones I’ve seen are enjoyably forgettable at best. So I had little interest or anticipation for “Covenant,” although I will see anything with Michael Fassbender and summer blockbusters are my jam. And while “Covenant” may not convert anyone towards “Alien” fandom, it is a decent enough sci-fi adventure with just enough blood and production value to entertain.

I’ll start with the set design and effects, because they’re gorgeous. Ridley Scott has always made great looking films, and often on relatively limited budgets, compared to fellow big Hollywood blockbusters. Despite costing “just” $97 million “Covenant” looks as sleek and investing as anything, with practical location shoots in New Zealand dropping us in a distant world full of lush forests and vast bodies of water. When films like “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” cost $175 million to produce and end up not only being a bad film but looking ugly, Scott really deserves all the praise he gets for stretching every penny (my favorite quote from him: “when you’re spending $250 million on a movie, you should have been fired a year ago”).

The cast all do great work, even Danny McBride who ventures out of his normal R-rated comedy routine. But the real star is Michael Fassbender, who plays the team’s synthetic android. Fassbender is eerie and darkly amusing, and I won’t say why or how but just know he steals the show, and like Scott his dedication to this franchise is to be commended.

Fans of the “aliens bursting out of the humans in bloody fashion” of the original films will be pleased to know that Scott pulls no punches here; this is a very R-rated blood and gore fest. It’s never to the point of getting over-the-top or almost deprecating  like the “Saw” films, Scott knows where to draw the line, but those who are easily squeamish best stay at home; there are two dozen crew members and most are just here to die horrific deaths for our amusement.

The film’s biggest flaws are its pacing and purpose. The first act of the crew discovering and exploring the planet is fantastic and like I said, it all looks incredible. However then the group settles down and hides from the Neomorph aliens and that’s where things slow down and don’t really pick up until the climax; and then the climax suffers from its own issues in the form of faux endings and inconsistent flow. Things just never seem to go along at a steady pace or seem to be building towards anything, which brings me to my other point.

This film really only serves to answer a few leftover questions from “Prometheus” and set up the third prequel film. Most new bits of information we get could really be covered in a few lines of dialogue and not require a two hour, $100 million film to convey, but hey, at least we get an alien bursting out of a man’s chest again, right?

“Alien: Covenant” will please fans of the franchise a lot more than casual filmgoers, but as a non-fan of the franchise I still found enough to enjoy. The film looks great and features some fun, gory kills and for the popcorn crowd that will be enough. Those who like their sci-fi’s with a little more meat and purpose may leave wanting more, but for what it had to do and be, this is a solid late-period Ridley Scott flick.

Critics Rating: 6/10

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

‘The Martian’ is Overlong, Underwhelming

The_Martian_film_posterWell, at least this is better than “Exodus: Gods and Kings;” whatever that’s worth.

“The Martian” is based on the bestselling novel and stars Matt Damon as Mark Watney, an astronaut who is left behind on Mars after his team must perform an emergency evacuation. He must then both find a way to grow food and contact Earth before it is too late. Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, and Chiwetel Ejiofor highlight an all-star cast as Ripley Scott directs.

It seems to be a trend in the past few years to release a movie about surviving in space during the autumn season. 2013 gave us “Gravity,” and last year we had “Interstellar,” two very good movies that tinkered on great. Unfortunately “The Martian” does not continue that trend, as it a movie that is just OK, featuring flashes of what it could have been.

Like I said in the opening line, this is better than “Exodus,” and in fact may be Ripley Scott’s best film since 2003’s “Matchstick Men” (quick plug: see that if you haven’t). But the bar isn’t set very high for Scott, and many of the same problems that plagued his recent films like “Exodus” and “Prometheus,” like overstuffed plots and poor pacing, are front stage here.

“Martian” is 2 hours 20 minutes and you feel most every moment of that. I checked my phone one time expecting the film to be approaching the climax, and it was only 90 minutes in. Much of the film plays out in a rinse and repeat pattern: Damon needs to solve a problem, he solves it rather quickly, and a new problem then arises. Meanwhile the suits back at NASA argue on how to go about performing the rescue mission, which normally ends without much conflict.

The most interesting points of the film aren’t even featuring Damon trying to survive on the distant planet, it’s back on Earth where space experts Donald Glover, Ejiofor and Sean Bean all try and figure out problems and debate the best solutions. These moments are the most engaging but often end too quickly, instead sending us back to Damon who is eating potatoes for the 300th straight day.

What the film does do well, however, is establish the characters. We don’t really know about Watney before the accident (he gets left behind in the first 10 minutes of the film), so Damon’s video logs give us a feel for the character. He is a calm, down-to-earth (well, figuratively, not literally) guy who even though he just awoke 140 million miles from home with a needle plunged into his chest, still manages to crack a joke. The film itself is pretty funny, which makes sense when you have career comedians Glover, Daniels and Kristen Wiig as part of your cast.

I really wanted to like “The Martian” more than I did, but for every gorgeous shot of Mars’ desert terrain or each scene of Damon making a breakthrough, there are two or three slow scenes that add nothing but exposition to the already hefty plot. It is far from a bad film, but it is certainly one of the bigger disappointments of 2015, and kicks the Oscar movie season off with a whimper.

Critics Rating: 5/10



‘Exodus’: The Book Was Better

Exodus2014Poster            Oh, Hollywood. Yet another example of one of your movies being not as good as the book on which it is based.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” is the retelling of the age-old story about how Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Christian Bale stars as Moses, Joel Edgerton plays the Pharaoh Ramesses, and Aaron Paul, Ben Kingsley and John Turturro all co-star. Ridley Scott directs.

Earlier this year we got another Bible epic, “Noah”, which was met to mixed responses but I personally enjoyed. Some people complained that director Darren Aronofsky took too much liberty with the story (you know, rock giants, and all), but I was for the most part willing to accept the film for what it was. And when compared to “Exodus”, “Noah” looks like a biblical masterpiece.

There is just so much going on in “Exodus” and almost none of it is done well, and even the parts that are properly executed have been done before and been done better. The plagues are all visually impressive, and we get some engaging bird’s eye shots of ancient Egypt, but I mean it’s 2014; if your film doesn’t have good CGI at this point then you’re well behind the eight ball.

Speaking of the plagues, the direction they chose to take them was interesting. Instead of direct punishment from God, the film places blame on natural causes and chain-of-events, such as the Nile becoming polluted and killing the fish, which led to an overabundance of frogs, and so forth.

The acting in the film is all pretty standard, even with Bale trying his best. He has a few riveting moments as the historical figure, but the script is so flat and the character development is so non-existent that his efforts are wasted.

The film begins with adult Moses and Ramesses going into battle, so we only learn of their relationship as adopted brothers through stories and narration. When Moses returns after nine years of banishment, we do not see how the two brothers’ relationship is strained or how having to become enemies has placed stress on them. The film simply continues to go through the motions.

Ramesses is a one-dimensional character, whom we root against simply because the movie tells us to. By the time the big confrontation at the Red Sea arrives, you feel no real urge to root for his demise or see him or his army defeated (I mean, kind of spoiler, but you’ve had over 3,000 years to read the story).

Finally, the running time of this movie. Oh my God, the run time. To paraphrase “The Social Network”, since this thing started I think I may have missed a birthday. After learning of his true identity, Moses is exiled from Egypt for nine years. In all honestly, it felt like this movie lasted longer than Moses’ banishment. It is so painfully paced and at times uneventful, I brainstormed this whole paragraph while watching the film.

“Exodus: Gods and Kings” has huge ambitions but it showed limited effort to try and meet them. Bale elevates a bland script to the best of his ability, and the plagues and parting of the Red Sea are all good looking, but the film as a whole feels empty, and scenes that should be emotionally stirring range from tedious to almost laughable. I will leave you with an imploration to watch “Noah”, a biblical film that at its height is grand and awe-striking, and at its low is still much better than anything “Exodus” thought it was.

Critics Rating: 3/10