Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

Alien: Covenant (2017)

Unlike the majority of the movie-going audience, I was one of those people who really enjoyed 2012’s Prometheus. While I acknowledged its flaws and all the nonsensical, I found myself captivated by the horror and action elements as well as the creature designs and mythology of the universe it had created.

Fast forward now to Alien: Covenant, which is carrying high expectations given Ridley Scott’s return to form following The Martian. Whereas Prometheus tried to shy away from a direct connection to the Alien franchise, the title of this sequel indicates that they are fully embracing it this time. The trailers also showed that the movie appeared to be returning to the horror roots of the original. To be honest, even though I thought the trailers looked good, I wasn’t all that sold on Alien: Covenant because it felt like it was trying too hard to recapture the magic of the original, putting it at risk of resorting to cliches and thinly veiled homages.

Turned out I was wrong. Alien: Covenant is without a doubt a true sequel to Prometheus, but it also fails to duplicate the sense of genuine terror that made Alien so great and the awesome action that made Aliens an instant classic.

The story picks up about a decade after the Prometheus went missing, with the Covenant carrying a new crew and a whole bunch of colonists and embryos in cryosleep. The only waking member when the film starts is Walter (Michael Fassbender), an android with the same likeness as David from Prometheus. Naturally, stuff happens, and the crew finds themselves on a detour where deadly alien life may or may not be lurking.

The cast is led by the brilliant Assbender (he bends so much ass in this film) and Katherine Waterston as Daniels, with a surprisingly effective dramatic performance by usual stoner Danny McBride and the typically reliable Billy Crudup. There are about half a dozen other supporting characters, but none of them are particularly memorable, which is one of the key problems I had with the film. In fact, apart from Assbender, no one really stands out, not even Waterston, who falls way short of channeling her inner Ellen Ripley. Despite the similar height and the hair, it’s not even close.

You don’t need to have seen Prometheus to understand what happens in this film, though it certainly helps. That said, I can still imagine a lot of people being confused as to what’s going on with the plot, especially regarding what happened on the planet on which the characters find themselves on. Even I had to go back and read up on Prometheus again on Wikipedia to give myself a bit of a refresher on all the stuff about the mysterious Engineers and so forth.

However, the most important reason people will watch Alien: Covenant is for the horror/action, and the film does enough to satisfy, for the most part. Notwithstanding a couple of scenarios I found somewhat tacky, most of the horror sequences in the film deliver, with one in particular standing out from the first half of the movie. I liked that the film did not shy away from the gore and some very disgusting visuals, though I felt not enough time was spent on building up the suspense. I also enjoyed the evolution of the creatures throughout the film until we see the classic facehuggers and of course the first xenomorph. Kudos for using mostly animatronics for the creature effects as they simply look a lot more realistic than CGI.

So I found myself frightened, disgusted and excited at various parts throughout the 123-minute movie, but never truly terrified like I was for Alien or on the edge of my seat like I was for Aliens.  Considering it also had a plot that was probably more convoluted than necessary, a fairly predictable ending, and a lack of memorable characters, Alien: Covenant was clearly not as good as I wanted it to be. Despite enjoying it for what it was and being engaged all the way through, I actually think I prefer Prometheus more.

3.5 stars out of 5

PS: I just heard they are filming the sequel to Alien: Covenant starting next year.

Morgan (2016)

Just about every year, there are a couple of movie releases that will take me by surprise. They kind of popped up out of nowhere, with no buzz or early trailers, but feature a cast of big Hollywood names. Morgan is one such film.

The first time I actually saw snippets of the Morgan trailer and poster was actually the weekend before its release. I had never heard of it and couldn’t believe it when I found out that it starred the likes of Kate Mara, Rose Leslie, Paul Giamatti, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michelle Yeoh, Toby Jones, Boyd Holbrook (soon to be seen as the main villain in Logan), and Anya Taylor-Joy (who was absolutely brilliant in The Witch).

The poster seemed intriguing as well, dominated by a dark, hooded figure I could only presume was the eponymous protagonist (or antagonist, if you will). The trailer gave away wait too much as usual, but essentially, Kate Mara plays some sort of risk assessment manager who ventures into a secluded research facility that managed to genetically engineer a synthetic human being, ie Morgan (played by Anya Taylor-Joy). Pretty much everyone else in the cast is a scientist or a handler of some sort.

I was definitely intrigued. It seemed like a thinking person’s horror movie, with elements of Ex Machina and shades of the underrated Splice. Yes, it is yet another one of those “man should not mess with nature” or “living creatures should not be kept in captivity” cautionary tales, but the fact that such a great cast had faith in the project suggested to me that it would be worth watching.

Well, I was about half right. Morgan turned out to be borderline watchable. What started off as a compelling premise and some early tension soon crumbled into predictability and genre tropes. We all know Morgan’s not as innocent as she seems and that she will get out of her glass box eventually. But instead of pursuing the more interesting and thought-provoking opportunities the premise offers, Luke Scott, the son of legendary director Ridley (who produced the film), chose to indulge in the usual slasher and horror cliches. The action isn’t handled too shabbily, though it would be a stretch to call it outstanding. Same goes for the horror elements — Morgan (both the character and the film itself) never really scared me.

At some point in the movie, it also became impossible to not guess the “twist” at the end. It’s just so obvious and telegraphed that when it is finally revealed there is no sense of shock whatsoever.

Still, I have to be fair. Morgan is still at least serviceable and better than most of the straight-to-DVD horror-thrillers these days. The initial set-up is interesting, I’ll give it that, and the execution — whether it is the action, tension, or horror — is passable. Throw in a star-studded cast who genuinely seemed to put in effort rather than mail it in for a paycheck, and you end up with a movie that isn’t a complete waste of time but could have been so much better.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Martian (2015)

The Martian Launch One Sheet

After a long and agonising delay brought on by unforeseen circumstances (sick kid), I finally got to see Ridley Scott’s The Martian, one of my most anticipated movies of the year. And it was well worth the wait.

I had been hoping to see the film before all the positive buzz hit (93% Rottan Tomatoes, 81% Metacritic) hit the web so I wouldn’t develop unrealistic expectations. That didn’t happen, and yet the film somehow managed to live up to the hype for me.

If you’ve heard anything about this movie at all, you’ll know it’s about an astronaut named Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who finds himself stranded on Mars. The premise can’t be a spoiler. I knew a little more than that before going in, but for the most part I was prepared for anything.

There have been a lot of comparisons thrown around. Most would have heard of the inevitable comments regarding Interstellar because — spoiler-alert for those who haven’t seen it yet — both films star Matt Damon and Jessica Chastain. And in both films Damon happens to be an astronaut stuck on a distant planet.

There are also many who have called it “Castaway on Mars” or “Life of Pi in Space” and so forth. It is true that The Martian has elements of all these movies, but it is also vastly different and stands very well on its own.

Personally, I would say that the film is like the perfect love child of Interstellar, Gravity and Apollo 13. It has the big ideas and spectacle of Interstellar without all the fantastical/theoretical mumble jumbo that turned a lot of people off. It has the beauty, tension and thrills of Gravity without the eerie silence and lack of character interaction and development. And the Apollo 13-esque tactic of cutting back and forth with ground control on Earth makes the story about more than just one person and breaks up the monotony of space travel and a life of solitude on a barren planet.

There are so many things to like about this movie. For starters, The Martian is ingenious. It’s one of the smartest films I’ve seen in recent years. I’m not sure how legit the science is (and there’s a lot of it), but all of it feels credible. I would imagine you’d need to be at least a semi-expert or very knowledgeable in certain fields to be able to poke holes in the story; for most general audiences it wouldn’t matter. And as a member of the uneducated general audience I found it all absolutely fascinating. I was engrossed.

I know the book on which the film is based, written and originally self-published by Andy Weir, has been panned by many for alleged “bad writing.” Be that as it may, the thought that Weir has built into the story and the science behind it is remarkable. It’s at least as impressive as say the work Dan Brown (a fellow oft-criticised writer) puts into blending history, religion and architecture into his novels. I can’t help but be happy for his success.

Secondly, the “action” sequences — if you can call them that — are well-executed. When you feel the tension and the adrenaline even when you know what is going to happen, and when you don’t notice the CGI even though you know most of it probably is, you know they’re doing a good job.

The other thing that stands out about The Martian is that it is surprisingly funny. That is not to say that the film is a comedy by any stretch, though it is without a doubt filled with more laughs than Interstellar, Gravity and Apollo 13 — combined.

The main reason is because of Watney’s personality, which is, for the most part, optimistic and stoic despite the odds against him. He’s a guy who tries to see the lighter side of things and can find humour in the most dire of predicaments. Because sometimes, that’s all you can do. It fits in well with the uplifting and occasionally fun tone the film tries to convey. Some might complain that it glosses over the darker aspects of the tale — the isolation, the stress, the fragile emotional state — but ultimately this is not that kind of movie, and I am glad it didn’t go down that path.

As clever and funny The Martian is, I also found myself unexpectedly moved by the drama. At its heart, it’s a simple story about one man’s unrelenting will to survive. It’s about finding solutions to problems as they arise, one at a time. It’s about human kinship and international solidarity. Ridley Scott does a great job of developing the characters into likable people we care about, not just Watney but the entire extended cast. There’s no real villain in the story, just a bunch of people doing what they think is best in a very difficult situation. The relationships and dynamics are set up early and skilfully so the emotional payoffs work when they eventually have to.

Kudos of course to the spectacular cast. Apart from Damon and Chastain there’s also Jeff Daniels as the head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as NASA’s Mars mission director, Sean Bean as the spacecrafts’s crew commander and Kristen Wiig as NASA spokesperson, plus Michael Pena, Kate Mara and Sebastian Stan as crew members. Everyone’s fantastic, and I also enjoyed the witty references to films that some of the actors have been in it are affiliated with.

At 2 hours and 22 minutes, the length is perfect. It never feels too long; there is always something going on, and I was always either being amused or thrilled or educated. I was certainly always entertained.

While The Martian doesn’t necessarily have the feel of a masterpiece — it’s not as epic as say Interstellar or as majestic or awe-inspiring as Gravity — it delivers as good of a time as I’ve had at the cinemas this year or any year.

5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

exodus

Seriously, I don’t understand why Exodus: Gods and Kings only has a 28% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. OK, so it’s not Gladiator, but is Ridley Scott’s Bible epic still entertaining? Yes. Is it still engaging? At least half of it is. And is it epic? Absolutely.

For starters, you don’t need to know anything about the Bible to enjoy the film, though some knowledge won’t preclude you from having a good time either. I’ve heard the story of Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt heaps of times and vaguely remember that Disney moviethough most of what’s remaining in my memory is in bits and pieces. In short, Moses (Christian Bale) is an Egyptian prince from 1300 BCE who “discovers” that he is actually Hebrew and, after an encounter with the famous burning bush, decides to call upon his “brother” Ramesses II (Joel Edgerton) to “let my people go” (he doesn’t say this in the movie, but it’s the only line I remember from The Prince of Egypt).

Ridley Scott does a solid job of keeping the movie as grounded as possible given the subject matter, reminding audiences of the superstitions of the time. The problem, of course, is that it’s only possible to keep a Bible story grounded to a certain extent. While Scott leaves open the door for the theory that Moses is just imagining all his encounters with God (Bale actually said he believes Moses was schizophrenic), there are aspects of the story that cannot work without the presence of a supernatural power. He finds semi-rational reasons for the plagues and a certain Red Sea incident, but those familiar with Exodus will know that God’s fingerprints can’t be erased from the tale.

The other enviable thing Scott does is that he — along with Bale and Edgerton — makes both Moses and Ramesses very human characters. Both actors are terrific. Moses rails against God throughout the film for his barbarism and cruelty, and his faith is anything but unshakable. Ramesses, on the other hand, is not a typical villain — he grows into one almost out of necessity, but you can see that he has a softer side, and that his refusal to let the Hebrew slaves go stems from economic concerns as much as ego. The title Gods and Kings is an apt one.

The film does have its weaknesses. First of all, at 150 minutes, it is far too long and didn’t need to be. There is a lengthy chunk in the middle of the film that sags, so much so I’d probably go as far as to call it dull. People who know the story well might find it disappointing that there aren’t more surprises, as the film appears to be going through the motions at times and does little to halt the plodding. It’s not until the final hour that the pace begins to pick up with the arrival of the plagues and the actual exodus, both of which are executed very well with eye-popping special effects. The spectacle of the final hour alone makes the film worth watching.

If you ask me why the film has done so poorly with critics, my guess is that it doesn’t follow the Bible close enough for the uber-religious folk, and yet it’s also not rational enough for non-religious people looking for a “realistic” depiction of the story. As a result, the movie straddles both markets and finds itself stuck in a no-win situation. Bale’s comments about Moses being one of the “most barbaric” people he’s ever read about sure didn’t help, and neither did criticisms of the all-white casting of the main cast (which was, let’s face it, necessary for the film to be financed in the first place).

Personally, I don’t really care one way or the other. I’m just glad this is a Bible film that delivers on the spectacular visuals and doesn’t ram its self-righteous message down throats without giving audiences an opportunity to think for themselves.

3.75 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Prometheus (2D) (2012)

I just watched one of my most anticipated films of the year, Prometheus, Ridley Scott’s is-it-or-isn’t-it prequel to Alien, his 1979 classic. There is an answer to that question but it’s not a particularly important one, because Prometheus stands on it’s own extremely well. It’s not the classic Alien or Aliens is, but hey, few films are. If you measure the film by the impossible standards of those films, of course it is going to fall short. But by ordinary standards this film is freaking awesome. Visually stunning, with excellent performances and plenty of suspense. It’s not groundbreaking by any means but takes the successful Alien/s formula and places it on a much larger and different angled palette.

Set late in this century, it tells the story of a group of private sector space travellers who head to the moon of a distant planet to seek the origins of mankind. What they find, of course, is not quite what they expected.

This is a very different film to those in the Alien franchise (I am going to pretend, by the way, that the Alien vs Predator pieces of crap never existed). This is a ‘big ideas’ movie, or at least it tries to be one, and the scale and grandeur dwarfs anything that has been attempted in those earlier films. The special effects and the sets and make up are simply mind-blowing. The introductory scene sets the tone perfectly and is one of the best I have seen in a very long time.

At it’s heart though, Prometheus is still a sci-fi mystery horror, and in that regard it delivers. Even when you have a fair idea of what is likely to happen it’s still suspenseful — and often, extremely gross. It has scare tactics that will remind viewers of the Alien franchise though I wouldn’t call it ‘recycled.’ There are also one or two memorable scenes that will probably linger in the back of my mind forever.

The screenplay is written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Lindelof. Spaihts previously wrote the script for The Darkest Hour, which was a horrible movie but not because of the writing (I thought the idea was decent). Lindelof, on the other hand, is the co-creator of and writer for one of the most fascinating and frustrating TV shows of all time, Lost, and his fingerprints are all over this one.

On the bright side, the plot unravels like a brilliant mystery, akin to slowly peeling off the layers a giant onion. When you’re not terrified you’re fully engaged trying to figure out what the heck is going on. On the other hand, Prometheus is full of plot holes, loose ends and unexplained stuff that will frustrate a lot of viewers to no end. It’s almost as though it was written with a sequel in mind, or perhaps, like Lost, the writers just did what they thought was cool at the time without giving much thought to whether they could make sense of it later, if at all.

Being a film about finding the origins of man, there are of course some philosophical considerations. On this point I felt Prometheus was also very Lost-like; that is, a lot of interesting questions but not a lot of answers, a lot of style but not a whole lot of substance. That said, I didn’t really care. Intellectual stimulation was not high on the list of reasons why I wanted to watch this film.

The cast is super. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Guy Pearce. No weak link in that line up. The Assbender, though, is the clear standout as David, a mesmerising guy you quickly find out is not quite the same as the others. It’s not a stretch to say the Assbender carries the bulk of this film. 300, Centurion, Inglourious Basterds, X-Men: First Class, Shame and now Prometheus. The dude has become one of my favourite actors.

Rapace gives a sound effort as scientist Elizabeth Shaw, though it’s rather unfair to compare her to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) because they are such different personalities. Unfortunately, she doesn’t even channel her inner Lisbeth Salander, which might leave some of her Dragon Tattoo fans disappointed. Despite her name being the first in the credits, Rapace doesn’t stand out throughout the first half of the film, which I’m not sure is by design. However, she does have one ripper of a scene later on, possibly the best sequence in the entire film (and an instant classic), and more or less redeems herself by the end.

So yeah, Prometheus is pretty cool. Flawed but very enjoyable if you can look past its most egregious problems. At the end of the day, I didn’t watch Prometheus expecting it to be as good as Alien/s. I didn’t watch it expecting to gain more insights about where we came from. I watched it expecting to be entertained, awed and terrified for a couple of hours. And I was.

4.25 stars out of 5!

Movie Review: Robin Hood (2010)

I went into the latest Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott film, Robin Hood, knowing relatively little about what kind of movie it was going to be, considering it is, after all, a “blockbuster”.

What I can say is that while Robin Hood is pretty good, it’s certainly no Gladiator.

I had heard that this new depiction of the iconic hero was panned for “pretending” to be historically accurate when it wasn’t, and the film had eschewed all the merriness that made Robin and his men were famous for.  Accordingly, compared to previous renditions of Robin Hood, this one was dull and lacking in fun.

I don’t agree with that.  Frankly, I couldn’t care less how historically accurate this new Robin Hood is, as long as it is compelling and entertaining to watch.  And why must all Robin Hood films be confined to merry men in tights who sing and dance all day?  Ridley Scott decided to deliver a more serious, gritty and “realistic” vision of the folktale hero, and I don’t have a problem with that.  He can do whatever he wants as long as the result is a good movie.

However, that’s not to say Scott and Crowe hit the bulls-eye with Robin Hood.  Don’t get me wrong, the film does have its positives, namely, the performances and the action.

Russell Crowe brings his Maximus charm and brooding presence to Robin Longstride (aka Hood), making him a sound hero; Cate Blanchett was fantastic was Lady Marion, as was Max Von Sydow as her father-in-law, Walter Loxley; Mark Strong shows once again that he can be a superb villain, and Oscar Isaac does a fine job as the surprising King John.

The action sequences are also done very well, with the best moments coming during the initial siege scene and the final climatic battle.  It’s not quite Lord of the Rings, but Scott manages to capture that epic scale battle feeling (for the most part) by thrusting you into the middle of the action.

Having said that, it still felt like something was missing.  The film is I suppose a prequel to the Robin Hood legend, in the same way that Batman Begins was for Bruce Wayne.  But with this Robin Hood, it didn’t feel like there was any character transformation — at the start he was a good archer and an honest man who believed in justice.  By the end, he was essentially still the same guy, just with different surrounding circumstances.

Furthermore, while the film didn’t feel particularly long at 140 minutes, I felt as though not a whole lot happened during the running time.  I suppose that means I wanted more.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I don’t get all the hoopla about Russell’s accent.  Is it really that big of a deal?  Come one, at least he tried, unlike some other Robin Hoods of the past, cough cough Mr Costner…I’d much rather everyone talk about the feral kids in the movie — what the heck was the deal with that?]