REVIEW: Alien: Covenant

13 05 2017

Comparisons are inevitable when it comes to long-standing movie franchises, particularly when they tell standalone stories. More than, less than, greater than, better than … “Alien: Covenant” is all over the map as it relates to the other films in the series, particularly the 1979 original and Ridley Scott’s last outing with the xenomorphs, 2012’s “Prometheus.”

The film boasts two obvious strengths. The first and most obvious is its fidelity to the body horror of “Alien,” moving away from the more restrained suspense and action-style trappings of its predecessor. “Alien: Covenant” is unabashedly trying to scare us, and it works – especially given the airborne alien pathogen that quickly infects the Covenant crew. You know, in case the tactile terror of the usual entry wasn’t frightening enough.

Screenwriters John Logan and Dante Harper also endow the film with a keen sense of cosmological curiosity. “Prometheus” dabbled in issues of faith through the character of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, a devout Christian forced to confront her notions of God in the wake of both scientific discoveries and the cruelty of nature. Though there’s one overtly religious character in “Alien: Covenant,” Billy Crudup’s Captain Oram, the existential questions are more deeply rooted in the story than just one character’s experience. The film locates something more terrifying than chest-bursting extraterrestrial life: artificial intelligence with a God complex and an intent to create (and thus destroy).

*mild spoilers after the break – continue at your own risk*

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REVIEW: The Hateful Eight

9 01 2016

Snappy dialogue and intricately planned-out scenes put Quentin Tarantino on the map as a generation-defining talent, so it sure is nice to see him once again embracing that spirit in his eighth film, “The Hateful Eight.” After the bloated, mangled mess of “Django Unchained,” operating within his usual wheelhouse of tension ratcheting conversations and raucous bloodshed feels more welcome than usual.

In many ways, however, “The Hateful Eight” is somewhat of an anomaly in Tarantino’s canon. Sure, it bears the usual stamps of expressive language, scrambled chronology and unapologetic gore, but he appears to eschew his favored postmodern pastiche in favor of a more classical vibe.

This proclivity appears most obviously in his selection of music. Apart from “Kill Bill,” Tarantino has never commissioned a composer to score his films. Repurposing aural cues from other films or cultural products has served as a thread running throughout his filmography, reinforcing Tarantino’s DJ-like position as director. He blends, appropriates and remixes to unify and synthesize disparate styles and genres into something entirely new.

Tarantino does not abandon this approach completely in “The Hateful Eight,” although the majority of the sonic landscape in the film comes from a brand new Ennio Morricone score. The very musician whose compositions Tarantino has deployed to great effect in each of his films made this millennia gets to express himself on his own terms. Morricone grants the production a heightened level of prestige and legitimacy with his participation, allowing it a certain measure of independence. “The Hateful Eight” does not rely on referencing other films to imbue the proceedings with meaning. Rather, Tarantino casts his gaze inwards toward the dark, beating heart of his own work.

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REVIEW: The Heat

21 07 2013

I won’t deny that I laughed a hefty amount in “The Heat.”  It’s definitely a far cry from Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy’s respective greatest comedic hits, “Miss Congeniality” and “Bridesmaids.”  But it’s still a rollickingly funny romp, effectively harnessing the slightly awkward uptightness of Bullock and the bizarre outrageousness of McCarthy into a laugh machine.

It’s not the most efficient machine, however.  “The Heat” never takes a moment to slow down the pace of the humor, operating at full capacity for nearly two hours.  As a result, there are quite a few jokes that fall flat.  But over the course of a fairly bloated runtime, director Paul Feig and writer Kate Dippold more than make up for these missed opportunities.

The film’s Achilles heel is Dippold’s script, which just isn’t as good as the film’s humor.  It’s more of a through line than a story, connecting the dots between the jokes.  “The Heat” is predictable and formulaic, more or less writing Gracie Hart and wacky bridesmaid Megan into a standard police investigation film.

Sadly, two years after Paul Feig’s own “Bridesmaids” lit the world on fire and promised a more prominent future for female-headlined film, “The Heat” is the only studio film of summer 2013 to feature a female leading character.  And sadly, Dippold blows the chance to make the ultimate feminist statement with some cursory scenes addressing gender struggles in the typically masculine work of law enforcement.  The fact that two women were in a buddy cop flick and no one seemed to bat an eyelid is a pretty telling statement in and of itself.  B-2stars





REVIEW: A Better Life

4 04 2012

If Washington can’t overhaul border security for the safety of our nation, they should at least pass some legislation that will discourage Hollywood from making me sit through another self-righteous movie about illegal immigrants like “A Better Life.”  It’s the same problem I had with “Like Crazy” – how are we supposed to feel sorry for people who have willfully broken the law and then complain when the world isn’t working for them?  There are plenty of channels for legal immigration into the United States, and merely crossing over the border does not entitle anyone to all the benefits of being an American.

Full disclosure, I am from Texas and do have strong views on the issue.  Nonetheless, director Chris Weitz does little to turn the odds in his favor by conveying the story with a total lack of vehemence, urgency, or feeling.  It’s a frigid, understated tale of a harsh world for a man, Carlos Galindo (Demian Bichir) just trying to squeak out a living for his son Luis (Jose Julian) and squeak by the police.

Bichir is fine, but the Oscar nomination was surely more of a political statement than an artistic statement.  He conveys Carlos’ pain in watching his business collapse under the weight of Murphy’s Law as well as the concern for Luis to make something more out of his life than selling drugs.  Yet what could have been a tour de force in an appeal to pathos just feels rather lukewarm.  It’s a fairly interesting watch, but ultimately “A Better Life” could have been a better movie.  B-