Tag Archives: Michael Fassbender

A fan reviews Alien: Covenant

Covenant 1

As a big fan of the Alien franchise, it has always been difficult for me to write or even think about reviews of the films and remain unbiased. As a child, I played with a six inch tall action figure (that I still have) of the Xenomorph, the frightening and brilliant monster at the center of the franchise. It was, as everyone that knew me would tell you, my favorite toy, by a long shot.

I watched the original 1979 film sometime between 1990 and 1992, when I was between 6 to 8 years old. Soon after, I also managed to watch Aliens, James Cameron’s fantastic action packed sequel, and I was forever captivated.

What started from a simple script that had the makings of a silly B-movie was turned by a young Ridley Scott into a horror sci-fi of a quality and thoughtfulness that had not been seen before. With an ensemble of very good actors which included Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt and Ian Holm, Scott hired the services of a relatively unknown Swiss artist, H.R. Giger, to manufacture a credible alien universe that would be convincing enough to elicit fear and dread in audiences. With the invaluable help of Giger’s twisted and unique vision, Scott would introduce us to an exosqueletal U-shaped alien ship sitting in isolation in the midst of a stormy unexplored planet. Inside, there were tunnels made out of what seemed to be organic material that led to one great chamber, where something that looked like a super weapon, or perhaps a giant cockpit, held the remains of a fossilized giant that had been torn open from its insides (popularly refered to as the Engineer). Soon, we would meet the gruesome eggs, the nightmarish “facehugger” and the xenomorph bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in one of cinema’s most unforgettable scenes.

In an act that would later prove to be extremely wise, Scott declined the chance to work on a sequel, giving the keys of a promising franchise to the up-and-coming James Cameron who, with a bigger budget and studio backing, made a thrilling sequel that felt like the first film but on steroids. Once again, our heroes were led by a toughened yet relunctant Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) against an entire colony of the deadly creatures.

Though one can argue the merits of the third entry directed by David Fincher (many point to the less than amicable relationship between 20th Century Fox and the director as a cause for some of the dissappointment), there is no denying that the sequels that came after Alien 3 followed the law of diminishing returns. It seemed the franchise was headed to an inglorious end.

In 2012 and with the very real prospect of irrelevance looming nearby, Ridley Scott resurected its acclaimed creation with Prometheus. The film, which took us to the very beginnings of the Alien universe (and of the Weyland corporation), had a surprisingly philosophical and existential vibe that seemed to be entirely disconnected to the older films.

Even though Prometheus ends on a high note by promising an exploration through the Universe in search for the “Engineers”; Alien: Covenant is both a continuation and a rejection of the path that was hinted at by its predecessor. As crafty and stylish as Scott’s direction is and remains throughout the film, there is a designed attempt to please the fans whose nostalgia for horror, dark smokey tunnels and death had been less than satisfied with Prometheus.

Covenant 2

Halfway through the film, Covenant abandons any hope to give us answers about any of the questions posed by Prometheus, entirely dismissing the journey of Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace), and giving David (Michael Fassbender) a far more protagonical role than most of us expected. In it, I saw similarities to the abrupt and unceremonious divide between Aliens and Fincher’s Alien 3, where two of the four survivors had been killed off before the first scene.

The latest part of the franchise is a conscious return to its roots, bringing back the beloved xenomorph, the gory horror, and the occasional bit of dark humor and eroticism that distinguished the 1979 film.

Covenant also has the makings of a blockbuster summer film, giving us moments of genuine thrill and edge-of-your-seat suspense that feel, however, far less distinctive than its stylish and more introspective predecessor. At times, Covenant played as a film that is clearly self-aware of its place in popular culture, hoping not to betray the lust for “xeno violence” that many had waited years for.

To add insult to injury, Covenant suffers in the details, much like Prometheus did. Even though it clocks in at 2 hours, the film struggles for pace in the first half hour to then feel hurried and messy. The crew of explorers that confronts an unimaginable danger in a yet unexplored and unknown planet follows a pattern of decision-making that reveals either their low IQs, or their complete lack of training and preparation. Once again, the first creatures that appear in Covenant are a close relative of the original, until they eventually give way to our long lost trifecta: egg, facehugger and Giger’s xenomorph. Sadly, by the time our violent guest comes into the film, its presence is more thrilling than scary, and perhaps shorter and less remarkable than I had expected. The monster’s prey isn’t a group of navy seals (Aliens) or violent criminals (Alien 3), but a diminished space expedition crew that was already on the run. The monster’s thirst for violence and death not as horrific as it once felt back in 1979.

Covenant’s greatest pleasures come from its striking visuals in the way of stylish spaceships, convincing creatures, and a deserted hellish planet whose dreamy exterior holds many deadly secrets within. More significantly, the cast of Covenant is as great as the ones from the first two movies of the franchise. Katherine Waterson fills the void left by Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw in convincing fashion as Daniels, while Michael Fassbender’s double take as androids David and Walter is at the level of the chameleonic actor’s best work. Each a distinct personality, each with a different accent, standing at opposite ends of a philosophical question: to serve your master, or to upend the status quo by killing everyone in sight.

Rating: 3.5/5

Covenant 3

Months in Review: February, March & April

The tail end of winter seems to have left us and, with it, the start of a new romance in my life. For that and other professional reasons, I have, once again, neglected this blog of mine. Even so, my appetite for movies remains unchanged even if life has a way of sneaking up on the time you thought you had.
In the last three months (February, March and April) I have watched a total of 24 films. The average rating for these has been a solid 3.34 out of 5. There have been a handful of highlights courtesy of a group of films from 2016 that sit among the best reviewed of the year. Such are Fences, Edge of Seventeen, Hidden Figures and Lion. However, I have also been disappointed with cinematic efforts that I was genuinely excited to see. Such are Florence Foster Jenkins, Ghost in the Shell and, to some extent, Hacksaw Ridge.

Below is a list of short reviews for all of these films in the order in which they were seen:

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER (2011) [ 2.5/5 ]

There are few things as dull in the cinematic landscape than live-action superhero films that cannot give a human dimension to the comic or cartoon they are based on. The first in the Captain America series adapted to the big screen attempts to create tangible and believable humans out of its heroes until it introduces its main villain and offers up a rather simplistic and comical world-spanning conflict that lacks detail and depth. Dare I say that while Chris Evans is a great casting choice from a physical point of view, I think the actor’s performance was a bit of a disappointment. His more recent efforts as Captain America show he could have done better here.

THE INNOCENTS (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A touching drama that deals with yet another dark story of oppression and injustice in times of war and violent foreign occupation.  What I found especially notorious was the film’s careful depiction of piety and religious devotion because it carefully challenges its value to society without preaching a more liberal point of view. The Innocents is a modest yet effective piece of film making well worth watching.

FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS (2016) [ 3/5 ]

At its best, Florence Foster Jenkins is a moving portrayal of a larger-than-life personality whose love and devotion to music could conquer all. At its worst, the film is a silly comedy that dares not to rise above watching a talentless songstress (Merryl Streep) take the stage gleefully unaware of her obvious limitations. Hugh Grant was a nice surprise in his role as Ms. Jenkins’ devoted husband.

WOMAN IN GOLD (2015) [ 3/5 ]

A miscast Ryan Reynolds is completely out of his depth next to an ever convincing Hellen Mirren playing a Jewish lady who having escaped Nazism in her youth, decides to fight for her family’s lost inheritance: a priceless painting. Unsurprisingly, I found her personal story the most compelling bit of film even if the director and cinematographer did little to make it more visceral.

AND THE OSCAR GOES TO… (2014) [ 3/5 ]

A largely self-promoting short documentary about the most coveted award in cinema. It is neither a valuable historical document, nor a moving reminder of some of its best pop culture moments. Instead, it is a documentary that attempts to give meaning to the Oscars, offering some interesting insights along the way.

JULIETA (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

Another nearly masterful pulp from the inimitable mind of Pedro Almodovar. Though Julieta is as well-crafted and stylized as any other film Almodovar has made, the layers of suspense and intrigue don’t quite add up to a satisfying payoff. At the end, the story felt too loose and unresolved and I left the theater wanting more.

LOVING (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A small and timely film that pushes a tragically little known love story that, despite its very humble beginnings, managed to change the rule of law in the United States. Both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Nega were stupendous in roles that demanded a great deal of nuance, silence and introspection. Perhaps the film’s commitment to match the modesty and pace of the leading characters was its greatest flaw, never daring to loosen its strings to the source material.

HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) [ 4/5 ]

An effective and purposeful bit of cinema that excels in the retelling of a great story with the use of an apt and charismatic ensemble cast that manage to marry drama and comedy effortlesly. Hidden Figures is the kind of feel-good film that ticks all of the boxes of good ol’ Hollywood entertainment whilst falling short of cinematic artistry.

HACKSAW RIDGE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

The truly surprising thing about the film is that it is the kind of bland and slightly sugar-coated retelling one would expect from a director who hasn’t made some of the most violent films of the last 10-15 years. When Mel Gibson directs a war-themed movie, one could have frankly expected borderline cringe-worthy violence, larger-than-life performances and non-stop action. Perhaps Hacksaw Ridge is Mel Gibson’s way of telling his many detractors that after movies like Apocalypto and The Passion of the Christ, he is also able to make an audience-friendly Hollywoodesque film that ticks all of the right boxes without ever truly exceling at any particular thing.

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 films

The kind of teen dramedy that I have been waiting for. Hailee Steinfeld is nothing short of superb in a role that fit her like a glove. This is a film that, despite its intrinsic lack of maturity, manages to be both funny and, at times, profound. The Edge of Seventeen is one of the best coming-of-age American stories of the last few years. Extremely re-watchable.

MISS SLOANE (2016) [ 3/5 ]

A severely tacky and misguided attempt at liberalism masked by Hollywood flair and very adept acting courtesy of Jessica Chastain. Though Miss Sloane seems like a film concerned with its story and its characters, the end reveals it was actually more concerned with surprising us and making a political statement. Though I believe there is certainly a place for films with a clear political agenda; this is a project that was so eager to drive its anti-gun and anti-corruption statement across, that it forgot to give these characters a human dimension that went beyond archetypes.

FENCES (2016) [ 4/5 ]

I have always had my reservations when it comes to adapting plays and theater to the big screen. Though Fences is every bit as moving and complex a character and social study as you are likely to see, it never ceases to feel like a play that is best suited to the stage.
Having said that, there is much to appreciate and consider in Fences such as its still relevant source material and the extraordinary pairing of Viola Davis and Denzel Washington.

GHOST IN THE SHELL (2017) [ 3/5 ]

A visual spectacle that successfully creates a futuristic world that is both compelling and beautiful. Fans of the anime have been divided in their praise even if the film clearly attempts to cater to them by staying faithful to some of the most notorious elements of the series. Beyond that, the film lacks the depth and invention to create fully fleshed out characters, leaving many plot opportunities largely unexplored.

COLLATERAL BEAUTY (2016) [ 2.5/5 ]

An awesome cast whose talents were largely wasted in a film that touches on typical holiday movie themes and sentiments, but without it ever feeling effortless. The twist in the last act is not entirely surprising and even though there are some truly heart-touching moments, most of these are diluted by a tacky and uninspiring script.

THE SEA OF TREES (2016) [ 3/5 ]

When The Sea of Trees abandons the weird metaphysical vibe that seems to hang over almost every bit of dialogue and plot device, there are moments in the latest Gus Van Sant project that hint at a kind of introspective depth that belongs in a better film. Matthew McConaughey was not in his A game, even if he had at least a couple of scene-stealing moments. Aside from his sometimes stupendous performance, the talents of Naomi Watts and Ken Watanabe are criminally underused.

20TH CENTURY WOMEN (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

Every bit of 20th Century Women takes us back to the 1970s, in the midst of the Vietnam War, where Comunism was seen as a threat to American life, and where there were women who after having joined the workforce during WWII, could not simply go back to the status quo. The film is about the women who grew up in this time period, and the women who came after, both young and old. The film is also about their relationships to men but, more importantly, to a teenage boy who may, after all, need less guidance and help in growing up than they all think.
I wish the film had focused a bit more on the relationships between these characters and spent less time attempting to be offbeat. I’m also not sure if the repetitive flashbacks helped the pace of the film which, at times, felt a bit fluffy and empty.

HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE (2016) [ 4/5 ]

 Candidate to the Blog of Big Ideas’ Top 250 Films

The Hunt for the Wilderpeople is a funny and charming New Zealander adventure film about a rebellious boy stranded in a forest with his foster uncle that, due to some miscommunication and misfortune, quickly develops into a national manhunt of hilarious proportions. Both Sam Neill and teenager Julian Dennison are perfectly cast and have enough chemistry to make a franchise out of this. The film is thoroughly entertaining, in the way that the Goonies or the Sandlot were.

PATERSON (2016) [ 3.5/5 ]

A character study of great introspection and nuance. Paterson zeroes in on the rather unremarkable life of a bus driver (also bearing the name Paterson) whose gifts as a poet are only lower than what we imagine to be his overbearing humility. I saw Paterson as a typical American male type, taught to keep his feelings within and avoid confrontation at all costs. Even though he loves his girlfriend and finds himself liking his job at times, there is an undeniable air of deep frustration and anger that flirts to be exposed. It is precisely that flirtation with a blowout that makes Jim Jarmusch’ latest film an equally frustrating and engaging viewing experience.

THE DISCOVERY (2017) [ 3/5 ]

With elements of science fiction, horror, drama and some dark comedy, The Discovery is a film with many interests, but in doing so it lacks focus and purpose. Stars Rooney Mara and Jason Segel are perfect for the roles of troubled offbeat outcasts. Unfortunately while each one works on their own, together they lack chemistry. In its last act, the film also becomes hostage to its desire to surprise, giving us an ending that seems at odds with the pace and character of the rest of the movie.

ASSASSIN’S CREED (2016) [ 3/5 ]

Having played the game, it is remarkable that the film adaptation chose to focus on all the aspects of the game that were least enthralling. After all, we saw very few of the acrobatics and lethal killings that came to define the series and, instead, remained held up by a lackluster story that seemed to be strewn together from The Da Vinci Code franchise and National Treasure. The film is only saved by a surprisingly strong cast with the likes of Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Brendan Gleeson and Jeremy Irons.

LION (2016) [ 4/5 ]

Lion is a fine film in that it tells the extraordinary true story of Saroo Brierley with a lot of heart and empathy. In what should be a career-defining performance for young Dev Patel, Lion pulls at the heartstrings of anyone human enough to relate to the feeling of being a son and/or a parent. The ending alone is emotionally wrecking.
Beyond the strength of the central story, the film is a bit light in both content and cinematic value.

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (2012) [ 3.5/5 ]

In a world that is increasingly more divided between rich and poor, The Queen of Versailles is a timely documentary about excess and greed that is told with surprising compassion. Though there is a clear intent to criticize a society that equates success to wealth, the film avoids lecturing us by letting the actions of the family it focuses on to speak for themselves.

DIOR AND I (2015) [ 3/5 ]

For the fashion connoisseurs, few documentaries will be as gratifying as Dior and I. The film is both a celebration of one of the last “great houses” of haut couture, and an inside look at the process of crafting a fashion line from scratch. To those interested in the artistry and validity of documentaries, Dior and I will play as a long television episode rather than a feature film focused on the ascension of a bright new designer (Raf Simmons) to a very old and respected house of fashion. Nothing more, nothing less.

THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU (2004) [ 3/5 ]

Of all of Wes Anderson films this one is perhaps his most quirky, but lacking the charm of Fantastic Mr. Fox, the pulpy quality of The Grand Budapest Hotel and the childlike spirit of Moonrise Kingdom. It doesn’t help that every character in the film is terribly unlikeable, with a Bill Murray at his most drab and mellow.

A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

arrival

There is much I could tell you and share about the past year. About 10 months have passed since my last contribution to this tiny creation of mine. Fortunately for those who may still stumble upon this blog of mine, I will not bore you with the details of what happened or did not happen between then and now. Instead, I will attempt to give you my very succinct impressions about the best films I watched this year (released in 2016 or prior) despite my almost complete absence from the blogosphere.

In total, I watched 111 films in the last calendar year (7 more than I watched in 2015). The average score was a very decent 3.28 out of 5, which tells me I’ve managed to avoid a lot of duds. Notwithstanding the relatively high average, I only scored 4 movies at 4.5 out of 5, and none managed a 5 out of 5.

Without further ado, below is a list of the best films I watched in 2016 grouped by rating, but in no discernible order beyond that.

Continue reading A return to blogging. Best films watched in 2016. 

Months in review: June & July

Jurassic World

There comes a time in everyone’s life where the sun, the beach, and enjoying the outdoors takes precedent whenever one feels they have an hour or two to spare. Such has been the case for me over the last few months, even if Chicago, and its often unmerciful weather, has attempted to hijack a weekend or two with its northerly wintry winds and stray summer showers. For these reasons, and maybe a couple of others I will not get into right now, I have abandoned my blog yet again.

Continue reading Months in review: June & July

A very musical month: January film recap

Frank

In my vow to pick up in blog activity and film watching, I offer my thoughts on my cinematic adventures of the first 31 days of 2015. It was, as the title suggests, a month driven and inspired by musical films. By that I mean motion pictures that either have music or musical talent at its center, or that utilize the world of music as an inspiration and a driving force to the central story arc.

Continue reading A very musical month: January film recap

Best films of any year watched in 2014

July was a good and busy month. I’ve been preparing to run the Chicago Marathon this coming October, and running has now taken a significant chunk of my time, especially as the date gets closer and closer. Despite a hectic couple of weeks at work, I was finally able to dedicate a little bit more time to this blog of mine, and watch a few more films than I have recently. In lieu of my “best 2014 films of the first half of the year”, I offer my thoughts on the best films of ANY YEAR that I have managed to watch since January.

12-years-a-slave

Continue reading Best films of any year watched in 2014

Top 10 favorite male performances of the last 5 years

It has been over two weeks without a post from yours truly and I figured I needed to close the year in proper blogging fashion. Being that I will NOT be posting a best films of 2013 list before the end of the solar year, I thought I would gather my thoughts to share my favorite acting performances of the last five years.

First, I will give you my favorite 10 male performances in alphabetical order followed, in a couple of days, by my 10 favorite female roles of the half-decade from 2009 to 2013 (warning: blind spots in 2013 abound!)

As usual, I expect discerning tastes, and I would love to hear some recommendations as to whom should have made my list.

Continue reading Top 10 favorite male performances of the last 5 years

The Best Films of 2011 (updated)

It comes 10 months into 2012 but, for the first time, I am confident enough to make my own list of the “best” films of 2011.

Imagine how important it was for me to wait until now to publish this list, that the film that eventually ends up at the top is one that I only managed to watch 3 weeks ago. Without it, this list would have been a crime against my own taste.

Instead of giving you a top 10 or a top 20, I simply give you a run-down of all of the films that received, at the very least, a 4/5 (very good) in my rating system. The result is that there are 17 films out of the almost 100 films from 2011 that I managed to watch, 11 of which received a 4/5, five films received a 4.5/5 and only one received the very rare 5/5.

Despite still missing some highly praised films released the previous solar year (it is impossible to cover them all), I now give you my favorite films of 2011 (and why they are) when we are already in October 2012:

Continue reading The Best Films of 2011 (updated)

A fan of the Alien franchise reviews “Prometheus”

Released: 2012

Synopsis: A crew of scientists embark on a mission to find answers about the origin of the human race in a distant planetary system. What they find is not only surprising but a bit more than they can handle.

Cast: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Logan Marshall-Green, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce, Idris Elba

Director: Ridley Scott

To watch Prometheus on the big screen at your local multiplex is an experience that should not be missed. From the gorgeous visuals, to the effectiveness of the cast and the artistry of the special effects, Prometheus is one of those pieces of cinema that is well worth the admission price.

After years away from science fiction, Ridley Scott shows that this genre might be his true forte as an artist, always able to create immersive worlds that border on the sublime. The stylistic language in Prometheus takes cues from Scott’s previous work while utilizing the latest in special effects to modernize his view of the future. Whereas Alien featured clunky, heavy machinery with computers running on MS-DOS in a maze of dark hallways filled with smoke, Prometheus takes the route of revisionism and updates Scott’s vision towards sterilized, streamlined, minimalistic technology inside spacious rooms adorned with splashes of bright colors. The change is mostly an aesthetic one. Prometheus continues with the tradition of Alien, crafting sets that contribute to the suspense, almost too large and too perfect to be inviting.

Continue reading A fan of the Alien franchise reviews “Prometheus”

A preview to Prometheus: looking back at the Alien franchise

After a month-long hiatus, I return not to miss the chance to talk about the upcoming release of Prometheus, marketed as a prequel of sorts to Alien, one of the most significant sci-fi thrillers of all-time and one of my favorite films.

Even though I count myself as a true fan of the franchise, especially of the first two installments, I have gathered the impression that there is a lot of skepticism about the continuation of the franchise, understandably so given that the last few attempts to revive it have been such a disappointment.

Continue reading A preview to Prometheus: looking back at the Alien franchise