Alien: Covenant (Full Review)

Back in 2012, Ridley Scott attempted to revitalize his science fiction/horror Alien franchise with Prometheus. Despite having a star studded cast and a premise filled with intrigue, Prometheus left me (and tons of franchise purists) a bit dissatisfied. It was by no means a lousy movie, but it failed to answer many of its own questions and was also void of the horror elements that made the original films so suspenseful. Having heard all of the gripes back then, it’s only natural to expect Scott to right the wrongs of Prometheus with Alien: Covenant.

Alien_Covenant_Teaser_PosterTaking place 10 years after Prometheus, this film follows the voyage of a ship on its way to colonize a new planet. After an on-board malfunction causes them to lose their captain, the crew decides to answer a distress call on a nearby habitable planet rather than re-enter cryogenetic sleep to reach their original destination. Little do they know, there are deadly alien creatures waiting to rip them apart upon arrival.

For the most part the crew (or inevitable victims if you’re familiar with the franchise) is intrinsically likable. Katherine Waterston does an amicable job as Daniels, the Covenant Captain’s widow and the film’s lead. She is humble and does a solid job conveying all the necessary emotions, but it’s admittedly difficult to distinguish the character’s personality from the previous film’s lead (Noomi Rapace). Danny McBride brings surprising emotion and southern charm to his role as Tennessee, the ship’s pilot. Carmen Ejogo and Billy Crudup do their best as the husband and wife duo entrusted to lead the crew after their captain’s untimely demise. Michael Fassbender returns to the franchise as Walter, a humanoid robot built by the expedition’s founder Peter Wayland (Guy Pearce in a cameo role). Just like in Prometheus, Fassbender’s performance is hauntingly magnetic and the film’s driving force.

It’s hard to truly delve into the problems and successes of Alien: Covenant without revealing heavy spoilers. But it is important to note that the film is a direct sequel to Prometheus. This not only means familiarity with the previous film is a must to understand much of Alien: Covenant, but it also makes the movie associate more with its underwhelming prequel than to the beloved first two films in the franchise. Just like in Prometheus, the true villain isn’t a terrifying alien and although there are still tons of creepy horror moments, the movie is more stomach churningly gruesome than it is outright scary.

The movie does deserve credit for making its characters a touch smarter than the ones in Prometheus (but only a slight touch) and unlike the previous installment, Covenant actually manages to answer more questions than it leaves on the table. But it still doesn’t do much to make itself more memorable. While it certainly doesn’t hearken back to the 1979 or 1986 films in thrills or suspense, Covenant does manage to be an intriguing and fun, albeit generic entry worth a watch for fans of the genre but possibly dismissive for anyone else.

FINAL GRADE: B

Alien: Covenant (Full Review)

Assassin’s Creed (Full Review)

Once upon a time, Hollywood thought superhero movies would never be mainstream. Now, they’re some of the most profitable films in existence and Oscar winners are lining up to be in them. So maybe, just maybe, video game movies (a genre that’s always been relatively terrible) are finally ready to come along and be consistently entertaining.

assassins_creed_film_posterAssassin’s Creed is a popular video game about an ancient order of secret assassins who serve to fight against an elitist group known as the Templar. The film stars Michael Fassbender as Callum Lynch, descendant  of a 15th Century Spanish assassin who is apprehended  by the modern day Templar and their lead scientist, Sophia Rikkin (Marion Cotillard). Sophia and her father (Jeremy Irons) hope to use a machine, known as the Animus, to tap into the memories of Callum and other assassin descendants (Michael K. Williams) in hopes of finding a legendary relic that can control the free will of mankind.

The plot to this film is all over the place and the more you think about it after it’s lengthy climax, the more holes you discover in the story (Like how is Callum a descendant when his Spanish counterpart is never established to have any offspring?). Fans of the game may care about the use of the Animus, but in this film it just feels like an unnecessary gimmick. And while the concept may work for a video game, here it just seems overly convoluted and hellishly distracting.

The film switches between the two time periods and when things are in the present day, nothing ever really occurs to make the audience care about the characters or their motives. As for the movie’s star studded cast, none of them seem capable of overcoming wooden dialogue to make their characters relatable or even likable. Thus, every second of the film spent in the modern day feels boring.

And it’s an absolute shame, because the parts of the film taking place during the Spanish Inquisition are fantastic. Whether it’s exhilarating action sequences or just captivating shot angles that take advantage of 3D technology, the parts of Assassin’s Creed that focus on ancient assassins is fun to watch. Even the relatively silent characters of this portion (Fassbender and Ariane Labed) are infinitely more interesting. If only they’d made that era the focus, we’d finally have a rare video game movie that isn’t forgettable.

FINAL GRADE: C-

 

Assassin’s Creed (Full Review)

X-Men: Apocalypse (Full Review)

The X-Men franchise has seen some lows (X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine), but for the most part, some of the best films in the superhero genre have come from this 16 year film series about mutants with superpowers attempting to coexist with the humans who fear them. No director knows the heights of X-Men film success like Bryan Singer, Director of the first and second X-Men movies as well as 2014’s hit X-Men: Days of Future Past. Singer returns to direct the latest installment in the franchise, and has the unfortunate task of following Captain America: Civil War as well as trying to raise his own ridiculously high bar.

X-Men_-_ApocalypseX-Men: Apocalypse follows the trend of the recent X-Men films in picking up the story in a new decade. This time, the setting is the 1980’s where CIA agent Moira McTaggert (Rose Byrne) has stumbled upon a cult that awakens the world’s first recorded mutant, En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac) aka Apocalypse, who was betrayed by his followers in ancient Egypt. Apocalypse has survived for centuries by transferring his consciousness into new mutant bodies, collecting new mutant powers along the way and upon his awakening he sets out recruiting strong mutants to be his Four Horseman followers. Joining him is weather manipulating Storm (Alexandra Shipp), psychic knife wielding Psylocke (Olivia Munn), winged Angel (Ben Hardy), and former X-Men adversary, Magneto (Michael Fassbender).

The only thing standing between Apocalypse and his mission to cleanse the world of non-mutants is peace loving telepath Professor, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and his young X-Men: psychic Jean Gray (Sophie Turner), optic blasting Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), and teleporting Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Helping lead the team is Xavier’s furry, right hand man, Beast (Nicholas Hoult), shape-shifting anti-hero Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), and comedic speedster, Quicksilver (Evan Peters).

There are a ton of characters in this movie and it’s easy to get lost among them. The film admittedly doesn’t do as well as most in the franchise have done with juggling all of the different mutants. The Four Horseman, for example, are virtually flat, underdeveloped characters with the exception of Magneto. The film also has a few pacing issues. One scene in particular, involving returning villain William Striker (Josh Helman), seems shoe horned in only for fan service and to set up sequels (A problem no superhero film seems able to avoid these days).

But none of these problems take away from the overall splendor of X-Men: Apocalypse. The action sequences and set pieces are once again top notch. From the climactic battle to one scene involving Evan Peter’s Quicksilver that manages to one up his sequence from Days of Future Past, there is plenty to gawk at. Even the aforementioned unnecessary scene is still wildly entertaining. And as with any X-Men film, there are plenty of metaphors for real human issues to give the story purpose and context.

The titular villain is also a big plus. Despite being a generic God-like figure bent on world domination, Apocalypse is portrayed by Oscar Isaac with a charismatic wit and deeply imposing astuteness that makes him far more captivating than anything the Marvel Cinematic Universe has tried to pass off as an antagonist not named Loki. And he isn’t alone in his standout performance. All of the young mutants are solid and Michael Fassbender once again manages to conjure all of the deepest emotions with a few notable scenes. If there’s a performance that lacks, it’s actually Jennifer Lawrence, who seems as if she is being thrown into the forefront of these movies more and more, simply because she’s Jennifer Lawrence and not because the story or the character has a need for it.

Bryan Singer’s latest X-Men film is certainly not as grand as his last, or my all time favorite X2: X-Men United (2003). But X-Men Apocalypse is filled with a fine dose of eye popping action, charismatic humor, and a threatening villain that moves the story and makes the stakes worthy of a 144 minute film. Masterpieces are hard to come by in this era of constant superhero flicks (just ask DC Comics), but X-Men Apocalypse is at the very least an exciting entry that shouldn’t be a letdown to casual fans or diehards.

FINAL GRADE: B+

X-Men: Apocalypse (Full Review)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

14 years ago, Director Bryan Singer started a mini-revolution with the first X-Men movie. Once upon a time, superhero movies were just special effects laden cash cows. But with X-Men, studios realized that the superhero genre could be visually appealing while also providing strong social commentary and important messages.

ImageUnfortunately for the X-Men franchise, the series lost its way when Singer departed following 2003’s X2. While it has its moments, Brett Ratner’s poorly executed X-Men: The Last Stand is a disappointment compared to its predecessors and the less said about 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better. But, as Professor X so eloquently states in this newest installment, just because you stumble, doesn’t mean you’re lost forever.

Bryan Singer makes his triumphant return to the franchise with its most ambitious film yet. Days of Future Past molds key cast members from the original trilogy (Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, Ian McKellen, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore) with the brilliant cast of the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class (James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult). Time travel can be a tricky thing in science fiction, but Singer’s script uses it masterfully. Here, the remaining X-Men are now living in a dystopian future where robot Sentinels have triggered mutant holocaust. Their last hope is to send Wolverine (Jackman) into the past to lift young Professor X (McAvoy) out of searing depression and break young Magneto (Fassbender) out of prison in order to prevent Mystique (Lawrence) from assassinating a scientist (Peter Dinklage) and triggering their bleak future.

If you’re hoping to see X-Men 4, you might be a tad disappointed here. While the original cast provides some magnificent action sequences along with a few new characters (Fan Bing Bing’s Blink is my particular favorite), this is most certainly an X-Men: First Class sequel. That, however, isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. McAvoy and Fassbender are once again awe-inspiring. Fassbender’s portrayal of Magneto is so passionate that you want to follow him even if you realize he’s a dangerous extremist. McAvoy’s performance as a broken Charles Xavier searching for a reason to hope again is arguably the best in series history. They are the glue that holds the eye popping special effects and action sequences together to form a story of faith and redemption.

There is more plot and emotion in this film than any X-Men movie before it, but it still fits in some of the best action sequences ever seen on film (Just wait til you see Evan Peters’ Quicksilver). Singer not only manages to fittingly bring closure to the original films, but also provide us with a platform to reboot and improve the series going forward. The superhero genre is super profitable, so it is here to stay whether you like it or not. In fact, this is the third one in two months. Yet, Days of Future Past still manages to remain refreshing. It’s fitting that a movie with a message of hope is exactly what the franchise needed to revitalize itself and the genre.

FINAL GRADE: A

X-Men: Days of Future Past Review

I’m back… with a review of The Counselor

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Have you ever watched a trailer for a movie with an ensemble cast and thought, “Oh… this’ll be a great movie”, even if you don’t know or understand the plot from said two minute snippet? That’s what I did when I saw the preview for The Counselor. On paper, what’s not to like? Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, 12 Years a Slave), Javier Bardem (Skyfall, No Country for Old Men), Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Brad Pitt… the list of acting talent goes on and on. Rosie Perez and John Leguizamo even make brief appearances. It accounts for arguably the best cast in any movie this month. Throw in Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator, American Gangster) as director and the expectation is set for what should be a great film… right?

Almost. Somewhere along the road, something was missed. And it took several minutes after the movie’s conclusion for me to pinpoint the problem. It isn’t the grim finale. There have been several movies with such an ending that are great films (The Korean film Oldboy comes to mind). It certainly isn’t the actors themselves. Fassbender is solid as the lead character, a lawyer who gets mixed up in drug trafficking to give his beloved wife the sweet life. Brad Pitt is his usual charismatic self as a Cowboy hat wearing, middle man. And perhaps the most captivating is Cameron Diaz, who is as sexy and sinister as I’ve ever seen her.

The problem is the story itself… which is an issue that would make any moviegoer scratch their head, because it’s perhaps the most important element of any film. No matter how many talented actors you jam into a movie, if there isn’t an interesting enough plot to drive the film, then it will almost always fall flat. I found myself unsure of the plot and direction of the film nearly forty-five minutes in.  That’s more than enough time to lose interest, especially in a film that trades action sequences for complex conversation.

There are some interesting anecdotes here and there, but several of the film’s themes seem a bit backwards and misguided. Many of the characters share “interesting” views on the opposite sex and I’m still not sure if the director was trying to make social commentary or create plot points with these and other exchanges. It all just seems to amount to a boring, un-relatable, lecture without a valid point. And no amount of casting can save that.

FINAL GRADE: C

   

I’m back… with a review of The Counselor