Monday, May 22, 2017

Alien: Covenant

Alien fans rejoice. Director Ridley Scott returns to form after the mythological headtrip of "Prometheus". The script by John Logan and Dante Harper build on that first prequel but tone down the mythology and add more action that recalls the first two films in the series.

                This story takes place ten years after "Prometheus" but still much earlier than the original crew of the "Nostromo" pick up that fateful SOS call. The plot does, however, closely follow the same story line. The recognizable names in the crew this time are played by Katherine Waterston ( in Sigourney Weaver warrior mode), Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, and Carmen Ejogo.  James Franco has a "blink and you miss him" cameo. And, of course there is Michael Fassbender, recreating his role of David from "Prometheus" as well as the updated android and new crew member, Walter. Mr. Fassbender, in his duel roles steals the film out from under Ms. Waterston's plucky action heroine.

                Mr. Scott and his writers bring some interesting new elements to the story but eventually it comes down to pods, facehuggers, acid blood, and that frisky alien trying get aboard the spaceship. There is quite a bit of exposition (especially early on) that bogs things down but the second half of the film picks up steam with plenty of action (including two great sequences that recall "Aliens") and an ending that may or not come as a surprise but certainly leaves the door open for continuing the series.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2

       The second installment in what is poised to become a franchise,  doesn't disappoint but lacks the magic of the original. When the first film came out in 2014, no one knew what to expect and everyone was surprised with an original take on the superhero film. It was truly a magical movie experience. Now writer/ director James Gunn, having lost that element of surprise, needed to up his ante and over stuffs Vol.2  with more of everything. Bigger battles, bigger bickering, more one-liners, more characters and a strong theme of family running throughout the film.

     The original cast is back (although everyone knows by now, Groot is just a sapling) and new for Vol.2 are Kurt Russell as Ego, Pom Klementieff as Mantis, Elisabeth Debicki as Ayesha, and Sylvester Stallone as the Ravager Stakar. There are an abundance of other surprise cameos, some of whom will probably play bigger roles in the next installment.

              Revolving around the common theme of what it means to be a family (stolen perhaps from the Fast & Furious franchise?), the film centers on the relationship between Peter Quill, Yondu and Ego, Glamora and her sister Nebula, and the makeshift family of the Guardians themselves. Wrapped around the the central theme are highly entertaining chase scenes, shoot outs, narrow escapes, space monsters, a little bit of "off kilter" romance, lots of humor and once again, a killer soundtrack.

               "Guardians" kicks off the summer movie blockbusters in great style. There is so much going on, it's worth repeated viewings. It is also worth noting to stay in your seats until the lights come on as there are plenty of mini-scenes during and after the credits ( including a big tease for the next film).

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Their Finest


      Gemma Arterton stars in this new independent British film. It is a  WWII wartime drama laced with humor about the British Ministry of Information, film division, creating an morale boosting film about the Dunkirk evacuation. Ms. Arterton as Catrin Cole, along with Sam Caflin, as Tom Buckley, play the writers of the film within a film.

       Co-starring are a fine ensemble of British actors including the wonderful and completely charming Bill Nighy, Helen McCrory, Richard E. Grant, Eddie Marsan, Rachael Stirling and Jack Huston.  Jake Lacy also co-stars as an American pilot cast to garner U.S. sympathy for England (the U.S. had entered the war as yet). The scenes where Mr. Nighy tries to coach "acting" to the pilot are priceless.

       The film makes a strong statement for female empowerment and even addresses homosexuality in a  subtle way through one of the female characters.  Filming under constant bombardment by the Germans, and script revisions by the British War Office, are not the ideal conditions to make a movie but the film mixes the drama and suspense with some light hearted humor and it all makes for fine entertainment. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Lost City of Z

             Written and directed by James Gray, this new adventure film is a throwback to Hollywood's golden age. It's based on the true story of explorer, Percy Fawcett, who in the early 1900's made several expeditions to South America in search of a lost civilization. 

             Charlie Hunnam, best known for "Sons of Anarchy" stars as Fawcett and while he may not seem the right choice at first, he grows naturally into the role and is quite believable. The film co-stars Robert Pattinson as fellow explorer, Henry Costin and Sienna Miller as Fawcett's wife Nina. Tom Holland plays his oldest son, Jack, later in the film. Mr. Pattinson is almost unrecognizable under his shaggy beard and he too, is very credible in his role. Ms. Miller refuses to just be the wife left behind and actually has some powerful and moving scenes. She becomes the all important, emotional anchor of the film.

             Credit Amazon Studios, Bleeker Street and Plan B Productions for taking a chance on this film, which, for all it's entertainment value, seems out of place in this age of "blockbusters".  Mr. Gray takes his time telling this true adventure and doesn't rely on CGI and instant audience gratification. The goal here is an attempt at epic storytelling in an organic way. The period costumes, locations and cinematography add an old fashioned depth to a compelling tale when "men were men" and expeditions into the unknown meant glory, fame, and a place in history.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Zookeeper's Wife


       Jessica Chastain stars in this true story of courage and compassion during World War II.  Ms. Chastain plays Antonina Zabinski, who along with her husband, Jan ( Johan Heldenbergh) run the Warsaw Zoo. When the Germans invade and create the Warsaw Ghetto, the Zabinski's help hundreds of Jews hide and escape from the Nazi's.

       The early scenes of the bombing of Warsaw, including the zoo, are horrific. Most of the animals are either killed instantly or shot later roaming the streets free from their destroyed cages. The Zabinskis turn what's left of the zoo into a pig farm to supply food for the German army, while secretly transporting and hiding Jews from the Ghetto. 

         Daniel Bruhl plays, Dr. Lutz Heck, a Zoologist from Berlin who is overseeing things in Warsaw. There is a growing sexual tension between him and Antonina. She is eventually repulsed by Heck but continues to feign a flirtatious friendship with him, for self survival and the safety of her "guests". Ms. Chastain dominates the film with another powerful performance continuing to expand the range of her talent.

         There is a sadness that permeates over the whole film even though it is an heroic story. And while it ends on a hopeful and positive note, it serves as a reminder that similar atrocities still exist in the world today and we need to appreciate people like Antonina and Jan Zabinski more than ever.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Life

     A complete ripoff of "Alien", which of course was a blatant ripoff of "It! The Terror From Beyond Space" (1958). How many times will an audience be sucked into watching a alien monster pick off crew members one by one trapped in their spaceship? Often enough I guess, especially if the film stars audience bait like Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal.

      The rest of the crew is filled out by Rebecca Ferguson,  Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare, and Olga Dihovichnaya.  Everyone plays their part well and the film literally becomes a guessing game about who will be the last to survive as the ridiculous looking alien (it reminded me of the octopus in "Finding Dory") starts picking them off.

       There is a great attention to detail on the space visuals (everyone floats weightless around the ship) but more attention should have been paid to the script. The film, while suspenseful at times, never really scares and one twist in the story does not make for a rewarding experience.

        Sorry but "Life" is dead on arrival (you saw that coming). Bring on "Alien: Covenant".

Beauty & The Beast

        The Disney machine rolls on with this new live action (for the most part) version of the classic fairy tale. The film is a visual treat and is great family entertainment. Director Bill Condon certainly has a flair for musicals having directed "Dreamgirls" and "Chicago" and he brings a Broadway sensibility to this film as well (Although nothing can match the magical stage adaptation of this story).

         Emma Watson stars as Belle and she is a delight.  Dan Stevens also stars as The Beast, and while not that scary, (his roar is not quite that convincing) he still manages to do a good job winning our sympathy. Kevin Kline plays Belle's father who sets the story in motion. And, as the narcissistic Gaston, Luke Evans fits the bill nicely. Rounding out the human cast is Josh Gad as LeFou as Gaston's best friend and comic relief.

          The enchanted members of the Beast's castle are voiced by Ewan McGregor as Lumiere, the candlestick, Ian McKellan as Cogsworth, the clock, Stanley Tucci as Maestro Cadenza, Audra McDonald as Madame Garderobe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as  Plumette, Nathan Mack as Chip, the cracked cup and Emma Thompson as Mrs. Potts, the tea kettle. They all do fine vocal work and surprisingly decent singing.

           The scene in the woods with the wolves remains a bit too scary for very young kids but everything else about the film is a delight from start to finish.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

T2: Trainspotting

Director Danny Boyle and writer John Hodge reunite the original cast and return to familiar territory 20 years later in this sequel to "Trainspotting". If you are a fan of the original, then of course, your interest is piqued as to what our quartet of junkies and losers have been up to two decades later.

Returning are Ewan McGregor  as Mark Renton, Johnny Lee Miller as "Sick Boy", now known as Simon, Ewen Bremner as Spud, and Robert Carlyle as Begbie. When the film starts, all four still have troubles of their own but soon are drawn in to thoughts of revenge and common schemes. Also back but underused are Kelly McDonald and Shirley Henderson. The story is focused on the "lads" and all four actors wear their old roles like familiar skin slipping easily back into character. The boys are back, all older but not all wiser.

Its fun to be reacquainted with these characters and director Danny Boyle interacts scenes from the original film to neatly tie the story together. Using various camera techniques and once again, a great soundtrack, "T2" moves with the same kinetic energy as the original.

Watching the original again or for the first time will make seeing the sequel a much more enjoyable experience.