Monday, May 22, 2017

Prometheus 2

As an aficionado of just about anything 'Alien,' Ridley Scott’s latest film in the 38-year old franchise, ‘Alien: Covenant,’ may be my most anticipated movie of 2017.  Five years after 2012's 'Prometheus,' which I thought was pretty darn good (so sue me) even if it had too much "Space Jockey" (Engineer) and too little Alien, a new installment is long overdue as far as I'm concerned.  And the gorier the better!
‘Alien: Covenant’ takes place in 2104, about 10 years after the events which expired, I mean transpired in ‘Prometheus.’  Centering on the crew of the space ship “Covenant” in cryogenic stasis entasked with transporting 2,000 settlers to a habitable planet dubbed Origae-6, only to be rudely awakened prematurely to deal with an on-board crisis before responding to a garbled and mysterious transmission from an unknown planet nearby which just so happened to be suitable for human habitation without the need for terra-forming.  Sounds familiar?  Needless to say, they encounter hostile Xenomorphs of various types on the planet.
While ‘Alien: Covenant’ is undeniably a direct sequel to the divisive ‘Prometheus,’ it can also be considered to be a prequel to ‘Alien’ and hews more closely to the 1979 original than perhaps any of the other films in the official Alien canon.  With deadly Xenomorphs skittering around the confined corridors of Covenant preying on soft fleshy things that die messily, the claustrophobia-induced anxieties and nail-biting suspense of that original Ridley Scott film are rekindled.  It's also perhaps by no accident that the movie’s heroine, Daniels "Dany" Branson (Katherine Waterston, whose pedigree is impeccable given her lineage), somewhat resembled the young Ellen Ripley.

Grade: A-

Alien Covenant

Short Live the King!

Poor Guy Ritchie.  The ex-hubby of Madonna and director of entertaining British Jason Statham‑starring crime capers such as ‘Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ and ‘Snatch’ just can’t catch a break.  Less than two years removed from his unenthusiastically received big-screen adaptation of the campy ‘60’s spy series ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ (reviewed here: The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), his latest feature, the $175 million sword-and-sorcery epic ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,’ only managed to fall on Excalibur instead and disembowel itself at the box office.  Ouch.
Intended as the first entry in a new King Arthur/Knights of the Round Table franchise (now in doubt undoubtedly), KA:LotS retells the story of Arthur’s (Charlie Hunnam) origin, starting from his father King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana) being betrayed by his power-hungry and treacherous uncle Vortigern (Jude Law) to his eventual restoration to the throne.  The story is a familiar one, albeit updated with the latest visual effects, a contemporary sensibility and the quippy rapid-fire dialogue that has become a trademark of Guy Ritchie movies.
It’s not difficult to see why KA:LotS crashed and burned so badly both critically and commercially.  This latest retelling of one of our most cherished legends is a decidedly messy affair that’s hard to digest.  While boasting a talented cast, most of whom did okay, the film is pretty much “all sound and fury, signifying nothing” while lacking substance with an over-abundance of action.  Shamelessly riding the coat-tails of HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ visually and stylistically, KA:LotS seems content to dish out one overblown set-piece action sequence after another, never slowing down enough to show that it cares about the characters or ponder their significance.

Grade: D 

Iraqi Sniper

The latest movie about America’s tragic, never-ending war in the Middle East is ‘The Wall,’ a low-budget affair directed by Doug Liman (‘The Bourne Identity,’ ‘Mr. & Mrs. Smith,’ ‘Edge of Tomorrow’).  With a mere budget of $3 million and a cast of two, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and WWE superstar John Cena, ‘The Wall’ is at first glance intriguing but ultimately an unsatisfying war movie that takes a lo-fi minimalist approach.
Johnson and Cena play sergeants Allen Isaac and Shane Matthews, a US Army sniper team sent to investigate a pipeline construction site that’s “gone dark” in the middle-of-nowhere desert wasteland of post-war Iraq.  After patiently observing the now quiet kill zone where the private contractors were killed for nearly 24 hours, the pair broke cover in order to recover equipment only to find themselves pinned down by an unseen enemy, a cunning and ruthless Iraqi sniper who takes particular pleasure in playing mind games with his hapless victims (namely Isaac).  The only thing separating Isaac and his sadistic never-seen adversary is a length of crumbling brick wall, which provides the setting for virtually the film’s entire length.
Even though I’m as much a fan of do-or-die cat-and-mouse sniper duels as anyone (I thought ‘Enemy at the Gates’ was good and enjoyed ‘American Sniper’ despite its blatant rah-rah jingoism), ‘The Wall’ just didn’t hold my attention or interest long enough.  In the wake of his bravura performance in ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ Johnson proved once again that he can act (although Cena was pretty much a non-factor after he ran out and got shot), but the movie’s limited by an overly thin and sparse script that would have trouble holding our attention for 60 minutes, much less its 81-minute running time.

Grade: C-

the wall

Monday, May 8, 2017

Galaxy Quest

2014’s geektastic ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (reviewed here: GotG) is an excessively fun and humorous galaxy-spanning romp in the MCU and a bona fide smash hit which exceeded all expectations at the worldwide box office, so it comes as little surprise that the follow-up would garner inflated expectations.  With such a tough act to follow, can writer/director James Gunn and company deliver and satisfy the legions of comic book fans renowned for their hard-to-pleaseness?  Inquiring minds want to know.
‘Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2’ continues the wild and wacky misadventures of our unlikely band of privateers-for-hire comprised of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket Raccoon and a pint-sized “I am” Groot, who can’t seem to shake trouble wherever they go.  After narrowly escaping the wrath of a gold-painted former employer, the motley crew of misfits are called upon to save the galaxy yet again, this time from none other than (spoiler ahead) Peter’s long-lost father Ego (Kurt Russell), who’s a god-like sentient living planet of all things.
Like the original, GotG2 is a candy-coated rollicking rollercoaster ride of a movie, but this time with family dysfunction at its core.  Not only did Star-Lord have a misty reunion with the dad he never knew, green-skinned Gamora was also reunited with her sister Nebula, who wanted to kill her because she blamed Gamora for what their cruel dad Thanos did to her by being “too good” in their sibling rivalries.  But the real hero in the movie is the rough-around-the-edges Ravager leader with the blue skin and red Mohawk, Yondu (Michael Rooker), who showed us in the end what being a true father is all about. 

Grade: A


Big Brother... with a Smiley Face

Every so often, a film aims to be thought-provoking and to make some kind of eye-opening social commentary about the human condition but somehow falls flat and fails to connect with the audience in a big way.  I’m sure this was not what the producers and director James Ponsoldt had in mind when they tackled the challenge of adapting Dave Eggers’ bestselling novel ‘The Circle,’ a cautionary tale about letting too much information into our lives and becoming too dependent on social networks, onto the big screen.
The story of a young woman (played by Emma Watson) who joins a chic Google-esque tech firm in Silicon Valley but increasingly finds herself the unwilling member of a cult of technology which happily and unquestioningly sacrifices individuality for the “greater good” of openness and full transparency, ‘The Circle’ is meant to sound an alarm and provoke debate on how technology is encroaching into our personal freedom and sovereignty.  Yet despite game performances from Watson and Tom Hanks, the latter as the charismatic and fatherly founder of ‘The Circle’ with all his homespun wisdom, the film never manages to find its footing as either suspense thriller or social satire.
While Eggers’ novel is powerful and effective, a true spiritual successor of dystopian classics such as George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World,’ this movie is ill-conceived from the very start.  ‘The Circle’ should serve as a cautionary tale to Hollywood that not all bestselling books can be transplanted into feature films.

Grade: C-