Tagged: Ridley Scott

Box Office Democracy: Alien: Covenant

I’m not entirely sure what I can ask of Ridley Scott at this point.  He’s made four or five honest-to-goodness classics and inspired an entire generation of science-fiction films.  He doesn’t owe me anything and I’ll watch just about anything he puts out because I have that kind of faith in him as a filmmaker.  He’s made a scary film with Alien: Covenant, but not one that I find particularly interesting.  Scott seems obsessed with giving me lore I don’t want instead of a higher concentration of scenes with scary aliens.

It’s impressive that they made the grossest Alien movie yet.  The one with the most visceral body horror.  They topped the terribleness of the chestburster in this one by making the alien birth process less discrete and more, for lack of a better word, fluid-y.  I don’t think it’s particularly worthwhile to discuss the particulars of the plot further.  There are scary aliens, some you’ll recognize and some you won’t, that chase a bunch of humans you never quite care about around a distant planet that is suspiciously earth-like.  This suspicion is both in the film and in the audience because it sure is cheaper to film in a planet that happens to be covered with plants from earth.  There are other things to be scared of, it isn’t important really as long as you find something in each scene potentially terrifying.  It definitely works as a horror movie; it will never be mistaken for a better Ridley Scott film.

Alien: Covenant is a movie carried by Michael Fassbender.  Playing a robot that struggles with showing emotion seems like a big challenge as an actor, and playing two that each have different motivations and different ways of hinting at their true intentions is just an incredible performance.  This prequel franchise is going to succeed or fail based on the audience willing to come and see more Alien-based horror, but artistically they’re inescapably linked to Fassbender at this point.  I wouldn’t go see the next one (and there shouldn’t be a next one but we’ll get there) without him.  He’s almost bigger than the Aliens at this point, even if I would kick him to the curb in a heartbeat for more Ripley.

The flaw in this movie is that I could not possibly care less about the origins of the Xenomoprhs.  I didn’t watch any other Alien movie thinking “if only we knew where these things came from” or anything like that.  Any explanation is going to make them less scary.  A bump in the dark is more scary than anything you could show on camera.  I won’t tell you the origins of the Xenomorphs, that would be cruel, but it’s not as good as whatever you had in your head, or even the non-explanation of “they’re just some terrifying aliens, those exist” that I had always assumed was the truth.  This is a movie answering a question I never asked and don’t care about what they have to tell me.

I wish I knew why they thought Alien prequels were more interesting than Alien sequels.  That what we want from a science-fiction horror franchise is less fantastical technology and more exposition.  I wonder if the whole Alien braintrust learned the wrong lesson from Resurrection and have decided they can’t move further in to the future.  I would rather watch an Alien without Weyland or synthetics or any of that rather than have more needless exposition shoveled on me.  That’s not what they’re making though so I have to make do with what we have— a legitimately scary movie with one tour de force performance and a fair amount of useless prattle.  Better than all the bad movies we’ll see this year full of useless prattle, I suppose.

Box Office Democracy: Morgan

There are a lot of forgivable sins for thrillers. They can have thin characters, they can be completely implausible from premise to execution, and they can even be internally inconsistent if the result is a good amount of tension, but they cannot be boring. Morgan is a boring movie. Not all the way through but overwhelmingly and even in a third act tripping over itself to twist the audience every which way, I never quite got over the fact that the movie had never made me care.

When I first saw the trailer to Morgan, I thought it looked like they were trying to remake Alien but with a much lower budget. There were all these tight corridor shots and a seldom seen monster but instead of a spaceship it was in a house and instead of an elaborate monster it was a pale girl. It’s very possible I was primed to see these similarities because of the “produced by Ridley Scott” credit. I’m happy to report that Morgan is not the Alien remake I thought it was. There’s a dinner scene that sure seems evocative and the way everyone is always talking about directives from a nebulous “corporate” but it more or less ends there. There are some parts heavily borrowed from Blade Runner and those are a little more troubling, but I suppose if I was a first time director and my famous father was paying for my first movie I might do some things I’d know he liked.

I shouldn’t be so hard on these moments of borrowing from old Ridley Scott films, because figuring out why scenes seemed familiar was the most interesting part of the film. Put that aside and you have a lifeless thriller with a mostly muted color palate and there’s just nothing to be entertained by. Paul Giamatti has a small part and it’s a shame, because his big scene is easily the best in the film. He seems willing to pick an emotion and go with it, which is more than the rest of the film can say when every emotional response peaks with a stray tear after a big speech. I also want to give the movie and Rose Leslie credit for having a character react to the kind of intense trauma a supernatural thriller puts a person through by being overwhelmed, shutting down, and kind of leaning in to a Stockholm syndrome kind of response. It’s an interesting response in a movie dying for interesting. Without these flashes of above average we have a movie with predictable scares, obvious twists, and bland visuals. What else is there for a movie to offer?

I struggle to dump on a movie so heavily when it’s the first effort by a director in a low budget film, and then I remembered that I had just seen the directorial debut of Travis Knight. Comparing this movie to Kubo and the Two Strings feels unfair, especially when you compare the budgets ($8 million to $60 million) and maybe it is— but animation is more expensive than two sets and some woods. And you can’t buy storytelling or tension or fun, and one movie had it in spades and the other is picking over scraps. Morgan is a movie I left wanting to talk about the allusions to Ridley Scott films and how intentional they were but secretly thankful that, statistically, I’ll never meet anyone else that’s seen it because I don’t want my family, friends, and acquaintances to have suffered through this movie like I did.

Box Office Democracy: The Martian

I really enjoyed watching The Martian when I was sitting in the theater, but that love has faded quickly in the days since. There’s a high amount of amazing spectacle and suspense to keep audiences engaged but there’s an emotional emptiness to the film that makes it feel inconsequential in the long term and hurts the film. Ten minutes after I thought it was an Oscar contender released too early, two days after it feels like just another movie, and in a couple months I doubt I’ll be thinking about it at all. I suppose this is what Ridley Scott is these days and it’s so sad that the man who made Blade Runner and Alien is making such hollow science fiction these days.

The set pieces on display in The Martian are as good as anything I’ve seen this year. From Martian sandstorms to daring space stunts to random bouts of explosive decompression it’s a thoroughly arresting film. The action is interesting and it’s fun to hear all of the characters try and scheme their way out of impossible space problems. The interplay between Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is particularly crisp and feels if not what actual NASA meetings are like certainly what I would like to imagine them to be.

The problem with all these fascinating situations is we never get to see any real emotional reactions. Matt Damon is supposed to be almost certainly doomed millions and millions of miles away and with the exception of brief moments we never see him particularly sad or on the precipice of despair. We never see that reaction from anyone on earth either, neither from the people at NASA or from a member of his family, the stakes of the movie are so high but without seeing someone really care they don’t feel like anything. The Martian ends up feeling like a series of math problems to be solved and not like a life or death situation, and while approaching them like math problems might be what gets them solved from an institutional standpoint it doesn’t make for an effective movie.

There’s a chance I’m being too hard on this movie. It’s quite likely that “enjoyable but forgettable” actually describes a movie that’s more or less good, but I can’t help but hold Ridley Scott to a higher standard. I know he can make movies that are more affecting than this but seems trapped in a downward spiral of spectacle over substance that kicked off with Robin Hood, spread through Prometheus, hit critical mass with Exodus, and now has left us with The Martian a movie that barely seems to care about how little it cares.

Box Office Democracy: “Exodus: Gods and Kings”

Exodus: Gods and Kings is a throwback to another era of filmmaking, a time when Hollywood was obsessed with sweeping epics and the infamous “cast of thousands” drawing people to the theater to see the sheer spectacle of it all. While there’s certainly no shortage of spectacle at the multiplexes these days Exodus feels less like a loving throwback and more like a lumbering dinosaur, it’s feels like a movie from a different era for sure but I would much prefer it felt like something I’d never seen than something that bored my in middle school. It wastes a talented cast and some stunning visuals but just ultimately feels pointless.

The problems in Exodus all come back to problems with the protagonist. Moses does not resemble the character I remember from Sunday school; he’s a brilliant general and a peerless swordsman to name two new characteristics. None of this newfound character badassery is of any use at all to the story though as all of the work of liberating the Hebrew slaves from their bondage is done by God. God even specifically calls out Moses’ ineptitude when his plan of guerilla warfare will take too long. The main character has nothing to do with any of the successes or failures in the main plot past the very first section of the movie and so there’s very little investment in the outcome especially when you consider that literally everyone in the audience knows how this story ends.

Ridley Scott is a fantastic director and he has made a beautiful movie. He makes the ten plagues feel so big and so horrible the mini-montages are practically worth the price of admission themselves. They show a level of craft and an eye for cinema that comes from a superb director, I have no doubt that most other people would have made worse choices and produced something that felt either overdone or campy. Unfortunately outside of the plague scenes the movie looks just a little too much like Gladiator for my taste. These old suits of armor and the massive armies don’t feel fresh to me; they feel like Scott is trying to use an old shorthand to connect to his audience. It feels just a touch too lazy and lazy is never a word I would have used about Ridley Scott before.

I feel it’s important to touch upon the race issues in the film because if anything I think they’re being underreported. Yes, all of the principle characters in the film are played by white people and that’s horrible but it’s really telling where they decided where it was ok to case people of color: the wives of Moses and Ramses. In these roles they cast an Iranian and a Spanish woman and exoticized them as much as they possibly could. These women have the darkest skin of almost anyone in the movie and with that comes an elevated level of sexualization. Nefertari is only seen in bed and Zipporah does this repeated bit of weird sexual gatekeeping. It’s the worst racial choice in a movie full where dozens of white people wear makeup to appear browner. It’s profoundly disappointing.

Michael Davis: White Power

Rupert Murdoch is one of the most powerful men in American media” He’s a lot more Australian than American but I think he holds citizenship in both countries. Don’t quote me, I really don’t care to know if he does or not. I just find it amusing that darling of the Far Right was born “down under” and many of those on the Far Right don’t consider you really American unless you were born here.

Funny. Ted Cruz was born Calgary, Canada. That’s something, eh?

Last week Murdoch said “Since when are Egyptians not white? All I know are.” This was his response to the severe criticism being leveled at the film Exodus: Gods and Kings.

Ridley Scott’s film has taken a massive media hit because the movie is portraying historic people of color as…wait for it…wait for it…Wait…For…It

…white.

I won’t get into the rather or not the ancient Egyptians were black… OK, maybe a little. Noted American geologist Robert M. Schoch has written that the “Sphinx has a distinctive African, Nubian, or Negroid aspect to it. “

The debate rather or not the ancient Egyptians were black won’t be settled anytime soon. Who the fuck knows, they may not have been black as I believe they are. I will admit there’s a chance I’m wrong.

However, they sure as fuck were not white.

Rupert Murdoch has the money and media reach to do a lot of things. Perhaps one of the things on his to do list is to change history. Change is so people of color are wiped out of it.

Or maybe he just flunked history.

Either way, I’m having none of it.

I’m boycotting that movie, and I don’t know one person of color who’s not.

So, if you would like to join us, great! If not, that’s your right, or at least it’s your right before someone decides it’s not.

 

REVIEW: Springsteen and I

bruce_springsteen-300x191We can recall a defining moment in our lives when we encounter something different for the first time, and it connects to us in a way that feels transformative. As a comic book reader in the 1960s, the arrival of Neal Adams at DC felt like that and again, when Frank Miller ran solo on Daredevil. Other generations got that feeling encountering Alan Moore’s words for the first time; it was writing unlike anything you’ve experienced before.

In music, before my time, Elvis Presley and then the Beatles did that for the world. In 1975, when WNEW-FM broadcast one of the Bottom line concerts featuring Bruce Springsteen, I had heard nothing like it before. There was energy to music, a blend of rock and brass that was fresh. And then when Born to Run came out, the lyrics told me stories and transported me. And with that confession, it is clear I am a long time, diehard Springsteen fan.

Since his debut in the early 1970s, Springsteen has been growing from charismatic rocker to the next coming of Bob Dylan to the future of rock and roll to conscience of America. He is an artist unafraid to explore where his muse takes him, deriving inspiration from his painful youth or from a passing sign. He has sung of love and loss, disillusionment, faded youth, the struggle to put food on the table, and the promise of better days. As a result, he has put together a catalogue of material that is wide and diverse so there’s something for everyone.

springsteenMusically, he created a unique sound fusing electric guitar, drums, keyboards and saxophone that is as equally versatile, allowing his live performances to energetically carry on for three-plus hours without sounding the same. And it’s here where he has shone, putting most touring acts to shame. Where choreography and set design triumphs over the performance elsewhere, Bruce and the E Street Band have, for decades, put on a show that can rock down a house or grow eerily silent as thousands commune at the altar of rock.

In some ways, Bruce Springsteen is a living Rorschach test as people from all ages and all countries connect with him in different ways. One summed it up best saying, “I felt like he was playing for me.” His lyrics make an instant connection with many as a song connects with where they are in life. One young graduate student has talent o driving a truck and his songs about work let her carry on. Some 2000 people shared those personal stories in a crowdsourced documentary, Springsteen and I, playing July 22 and July 30 in theaters across America. Executive producer Ridley Scott and director Baillie Walsh sifted through the tales, including one from ComiCONN producer Mitch Hallock, to assemble this 1:18 documentary.

Springsteen 2Archival concert footage is liberally sprinkled in with fan videos and personal commentaries so it’s fun to watch Bruce and band mature, age, and still have the power to bring stadiums to their feet. Many tried to sum Springsteen up in three words, the most common being “passion”. One little girl talked about “lots of effort” going into his shows which is an understatement.

There is one curmudgeon in the mix who is not a fan and endures the concerts to be kind to his fanatical girlfriend. He notes, having his songs “rammed down my throat 24/7 tends to take the edge of it” which is counterpointed with the soccer mom who plays only Bruce when she drives the kids around town.

Many anecdotes are personal, backed up with captured video of the story made real, such as the Elvis impersonator who got to perform with the Boss on stage or the girl in the Courtney Cox t-shirt loving out the fantasy by dancing on stage. JoJo recounts how he was busking on the street and coaxed Bruce to play with him and the performer agreed doing several numbers as the crowd grew around them. “He’s still one of us,” JoJo said decades later.

If the documentary is to be faulted at all is that there are no dates to place the concert footage into context. Same with some of the fan footage. While a lot of the commentary is about Bruce the singer and performer, more could have been done with connecting his lyrics to the people’s lives rather than the more generic and surface comments. And while the E Street band is prominent in the footage, the fans have little say about them, despite their contribution to concert experience.

For those wondering what the Springsteen fuss is all about, you won’t come away with a better understanding. For that, I recommend you read the recent bio, Bruce. This is a love letter to Bruce, a Valentine from the fans to one another, a global chain letter that nicely unifies the global audience of all ages.

Springsteen & I Examines The Boss’ Influence in July

Springsteen 1We don’t usually cover music but then again, there are few performers who have had as much of an influence on culture as Bruce Springsteen has since his debut in 1972. As a result, we wanted to make you aware of the documentary being released next month.

Centennial, Colo. – June 17, 2013 – With more than 120 million albums sold worldwide and numerous awards, including a staggering 20 Grammy Awards®, Bruce Springsteen’s music defines a generation. In celebration of 40 years of iconic musicNCM Fathom Events and Arts Alliance Media present Springsteen and I in select U.S. movie theaters on Monday, July 22 and Tuesday, July 30 at 7:30 p.m. local time. Springsteen and I will take audiences on an emotional journey through the personal insights and reflections of their fellow Springsteen fans. Directed by Baillie Walsh and produced by Ridley Scott Associates and Mr. Wolf, Springsteen and I incorporates the efforts of more than 2,000 fans around the world who submitted personal video clips to make the ultimate collective filmmaking experience about how Springsteen and his music became the soundtrack to so many lives.

Springsteen 2Including Springsteen performing some of his greatest hits and exclusive never-before-seen archival concert footage, the cinema event features unreleased big-screen performance highlights from the London Hard Rock Calling Wrecking Ball tour and a behind-the-scenes fan meet-and-greet with their hero.

“This beautifully crafted film provides a unique insight into the powerful bond between a recording artist and those who connect so profoundly with his music,” said Ridley Scott.

Springsteen and I will be presented in nearly 500 select movie theaters around the country through NCM’s exclusive Digital Broadcast Network. Tickets are available at participating theater box offices and online atwww.fathomevents.com. For a complete list of theater locations and prices, visit the NCM Fathom Events website (theaters and participants are subject to change).

“Springsteen and I is totally unique – audiences have never seen Bruce and his influence presented like this before,” said Dan Diamond, senior vice president of Business Development for Fathom Events. “This Fathom Event is a rare opportunity for fans to gather together in movie theaters, experience and share their love of all things ‘Bruce’ – as it was produced by the fans, for the fans.”

THE WHITE ROCKET PODCAST LIFTS OFF!

Prometheus

The White Rocket Podcast debuted this week. Hosted by New Pulp Author Van Allen Plexico, the White Rocket Podcast is a one-on-one conversation with the leading figures in the worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Pulp and New Pulp, Action and Adventure Literature, Movies, Comics and Television.

In episode 1, Mark Bousquet, movie reviewer and novelist, joins Van to discuss Ridley Scott’s PROMETHEUS, the sort-of ALIEN prequel– just released on Blu Ray and DVD.

You can listen now at www.whiterocketbooks.com/wrpodcast.

REVIEW: Prometheus

Ridley Scott rarely repeats himself, avoiding formulaic sequels, useless prequels, and remakes. Instead, the stylist conjures up new works and attempts to be thought-provoking time after time. You might have bought into the hype that this year’s Prometheus is an out and out set up to his Alien, but you’d be wrong. While tangentially connected to the first successful science fiction/horror film hybrid, this film is a pure science fiction film owing plenty to Stanley Kubrick.

The movie, now out on disc from 20th Century Home Entertainment, is an ambitious production with a strong cast, surrounded by amazing visuals. While we laughed at how weak the story and characterizations were in James Cameron’s Avatar, here, we are merely disappointed the story isn’t a match for the visual virtuosity on display. While far from Scott’s best, he deserves credit for trying something different and challenging his audience.

Scott sets his story in 2093, optimistically thinking we will be regularly working in space and ready to traverse the distant reaches of the galaxy. Scientists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find a map as part of a 30,000-year-old cave painting on the Isle of Skye, confirming there is sentient life elsewhere in the universe. Dubbed The Engineers, they seemingly beckon mankind to find them. The audience has already met them in an opening sequence that suggests they arrived on Earth with some goo that ignited the spark of life (and was also seen as the mummified Space Jockey way back in 1979). To discover the answer, deep-pocketed Peter Weyland (Guy Pierce) funds the construction of The Prometheus, which is thusly launched, its crew in hibernation en route to moon LV-223 and the evidence of intelligent life.

Heading up the crew is Mereditch Vickers (Charlize Theron) alongside the ship’s captain Janek (Idris Elba) with android David (Michael Fassbender), geologist Fifield (Sean Harris), and biologist Millburn (Rafe Spall). One trick he does reuse from Alien is that before long, things go horribly awry. The story has gaping, starship-sized plot holes and the grand themes – where do we come from? — do nothing to mask them. It would have been nice if the crew had more depth of character or interacted in more interesting ways.

Fassbender has the toughest job, making his eight generation android different than the others seen in earlier films making up the Alien universe. Theron is strong with her work but Rapace gives us the more interesting, nuanced performance.

Scott shot this for big screen 3-D, framing things to pop just so, and dazzle us with detail. Thankfully, that all transfers pretty nicely to the home screen and 2-D. The transfer is pretty spectacular both audio and visual.

The Combo Pack offers you the film on Blu-ray, DVD, and Ultraviolet (a larger Combo Pack with 3-D Blu-ray is also an option, with a fourth disc containing an amazing three-and-half-hour documentary by Charles de Lauzirika). The special features provided on the standard Blu-ray begins with Scott’s audio commentary, supplemented with one from co-writers John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof.

There are thirty-seven minutes of Deleted, Extended & Alternate Scenes which you can on their own or with audio commentary by editor Pietro Scalia and VFX supervisor Richard Stammers. These are all interesting to watch, several of which would have made the film stronger. The Peter Weyland Files (18:57) are culled from the Internet.

Martha Thomases: Prometheus and the Comic Bookworm

In a seasonal confluence, the movie Prometheus opens today, just as Book Expo America (BEA) ends. In 1979, I saw the first Alien at a screening in Los Angeles at the American Booksellers Association convention, the precursor to BEA.

ABA (as it was known) is the professional convention for the publishing industry. Publishers have booths with which to show their upcoming titles, and booksellers from all over the country come to see what will fill their shelves. It’s a grand event where books are glamorous, authors are rock stars, and librarians are courted. It’s changed over the years – they are even experimenting with letting consumers in this year – but it remains a celebration of ideas and literacy.

It was my first time at ABA, but the man who would be my husband was an old hand. He’d been going since 1963, when he was 12 years old. His father had taken a job with a small bookstore in Minneapolis, which had ambitions to grow and become a national chain. That bookstore was B. Dalton. As a result, my husband was used to attending, and accustomed to being fussed over by publishing houses that wanted to make a good impression on his dad.

By 1979, his dad had long since left B. Dalton, Minneapolis, the United States and the Northern Hemisphere, but John still knew his way around the convention floor. He showed me how to get free books, catalogs, and all sorts of other cool stuff.

One of the cool things we got was a pair of tickets to a movie screening. Alien. The same booth had a graphic novel adaptation by our pals Archie Goodwin and Walter Simonson (which seems to be on the fall list this year as well). I had never been to a movie screening before. I was really excited.

That night, I read the book. It scared me so much that I was unable to sleep. We were staying with my cousin in a tiny little cottage in Laurel Canyon, and every noise from outside sounded like a landing spaceship to me, not a coyote.

We left the convention with plenty of time to get to the theater for the movie. I had very particular ideas about the best place to sit (near the front, in the center of the row). I had to get there early enough so that I would have my choice of seats. I’m still like that. If you’re going to go to the movies with me, you had better be prepared to be at the theater half an hour before showtime.

Once the movie started, for the first 45 minutes or so, I was in heaven. I loved the way the future looked in the film. It was the first time I’d seen a spaceship that looked like people lived in it. There was dirt and grime. People put up New Yorker cartoons. The cast was great, and I especially loved John Hurt, whom I had only previously seen as Caligula in I, Claudius.

Boy, was I upset when his character was killed off.

You have to understand. I had read the book the night before. I knew what was going to happen. I knew the good guys were going to win at the end. And yet, I was still terrified. I was sitting in my seat, peaking through my fingers, knowing that I had about an hour left to sit in the theater and wait for the monster to jump out of dark places. Finally, I decided to go. I stepped over the many people sitting in my row (since I had to sit in the middle).

My husband had too much self-respect to leave. He later told me he did his best to hide under his seat.

And now, Prometheus is supposed to explain the story of what happened before Alien. It’s directed by Ridley Scott, whose eye for detail makes his films always worth watching. It was the film my husband was most looking forward to seeing this summer.

The trailers scare me.

I like to think of myself as a good feminist. I don’t need a man to give my life meaning, to pay my rent or open my pickle jars. And I don’t expect a man to protect me from movie monsters.

But I’m afraid to go to this movie by myself. Either I’ll find the courage, or take the cat.

SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman defends the modern comic book some more.