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Alien: Covenant (2017)

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup

REVIEW:

In 2012, Ridley Scott returned to the universe of his 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien with the ambitious, sporadically compelling, but in some ways unwieldy and half-formed Prometheus, but those who went to the theater expecting more traditional xenomorph action were disappointed.  Originally, Scott intended to follow up Prometheus with a follow-up tentatively titled Paradise which would have gone even further afield from Alien, but in the wake of Prometheus‘ lukewarm reception, Fox decided to play it safe and explored other options for getting back to the aliens as we know them, including with Neill Blomkamp’s proposed sequel to James Cameron’s 1986 Aliens which would have reunited Sigourney Weaver and Michael Biehn and potentially wiped all other sequels out in favor of an alternate storyline (which, given the declining quality level of Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrectionmany fans would have been okay with).  However, when the grandfather of the franchise Ridley Scott himself expressed willingness to make an Alien movie that was less like Prometheus and more like the traditional films, Fox gave him the green light and Blomkamp’s project became indefinitely dead in the water.  The result bears all the hallmarks of a movie stuck in some netherworld between being a follow-up to Prometheus and a more conventional Alien movie, but serves up enough of what fans liked about the series in the first place to be an engaging diversion, even if it doesn’t approach the franchise at its height. Continue reading

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

rogueDIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards

CAST: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Forest Whitaker, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Riz Ahmed, Alan Tudyk (voice)

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN “SPOILERS”

Rogue One, the second entry in Disney’s revival of the Star Wars franchise after buying the rights from creator George Lucas, represents a risky departure and an attempt at doing something different with the iconic property.  Unlike last year’s The Force AwakensRogue One is not a continuation of the main series (as evidenced by being titled as a Star Wars “story” as opposed to an episode), but a mostly stand-alone entry that serves as a prequel/tie-in with the original 1977 A New Hope, chronicling the untold story of exactly how those stolen Death Star plans fell into the rebels’ hands in the first place.  The result comes with plenty of familiar Star Wars trappings (some more heavy-handed than others), but a markedly different tone and feel.  Rogue One bears more resemblance to a Dirty Dozen-style war/spy thriller than a conventional Star Wars movie.  To that end, it’s generally well-crafted, but doesn’t completely avoid feeling like a “take it or leave it” footnote to the original trilogy. Continue reading

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

fantasticDIRECTOR: David Yates

CAST: Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Ezra Miller

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY REVEAL “SPOILERS”

With any franchise as enormously popular and financially lucrative as Harry Potter, it’s not surprising that Warner Bros. would return to the watering hole sooner or later even if the story of Harry and companions told over seven books and eight movies was concluded (though that didn’t stop author J.K. Rowling from tacking on a follow-up, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and now, with Rowling cutting out the middle man and directly penning the screenplay herself, we have returned to the wizarding world, not in a continuation or direct tie-in with the Harry Potter series, but in a stand-alone installment (albeit intended to serve as the start of a new film series) set in the same “universe”.  Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, taking its unwieldy title and basic concept from one of Harry’s schoolbooks briefly-mentioned in the original series, is an enjoyable stand-alone adventure, but its status as a franchise-launching starting pad is more uncertain. Continue reading

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

apocalypseDIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Rose Byrne, Oscar Isaac, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Evan Peters, Lucas Till, Alexandra Shipp, Olivia Munn, Ben Hardy

REVIEW:

X-Men: Apocalypse is the fourth comic book superhero movie to arrive in theaters in the first five months of 2016 (preceded by Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justiceand Captain America: Civil War).  With so many comic book movies churning out left and right these days, over-saturation is a growing concern, and Apocalypse doesn’t do anything to distinguish itself in a crowded field.  In fact, it’s a disappointingly generic and muddled effort that, despite its attempts to up the ante, is a marked step down from its immediate predecessors X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past, nor is it as good as the original live-action X-Men movie or X2: X-Men United.  It’s better than the prequel misfire X-Men Origins: Wolverine (no great accomplishment) but stands about even with X-Men: The Last Stand (though, in fairness, despite its ominous title, Apocalypse doesn’t massacre half the cast, so while as muddled and uneven as Last Stand, it’s not as aggravating).  With Days of Future Past, returning series helmsman Bryan Singer (who directed and co-wrote 1 & 2) kept the fresh rejuvenating life Matthew Vaughn breathed into First Class going strong, but here, the rebooted series’ reclaimed energy and freshness is sputtering in fits and starts. Continue reading

X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

x-men-days-of-future-past-set-pic1DIRECTOR: Bryan Singer

CAST: Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Nicholas Hoult, Peter Dinklage, Halle Berry, Ellen Page, Shawn Ashmore

REVIEW:

Like some of the best comic book superhero movies (Nolan’s Batman trilogy, Captain America: The Winter Soldierand its own predecessor X-Men: First Class), X-Men: Days of Future Past, taking its name and some plot elements from a well-known X-Men comic storyline, mixes things up and takes the genre in unconventional directions.  The result is perhaps the strongest installment the X-Men film series has churned out yet, equaling or surpassing First Class.  Taking back his seat in the director’s chair from the likes of Gavin Hood and Matthew Vaughn, Bryan Singer has kept the fresh life First Class breathed into the floundering series going and taken it even further.  Days of Future Past, as its quirky title suggests, does something very different with the familiar characters, but as with its aforementioned cinematic cousins, different’s not a bad thing, especially when more generic comic book films are churning out left and right these days. Continue reading

Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013)

DIRECTOR: Sam Raimi

CAST: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Zach Braff, Joey King, Bill Cobbs

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL REVEAL A PLOT “SPOILER”

Sam Raimi’s prequel to The Wizard of Oz is cut from the same cloth as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, a modern filmmaker’s homage to a timeless classic that boasts flashy updated visual effects but lacks the original’s magic. Continue reading

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson

CAST:

Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Andy Serkis, Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Christopher Lee, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood

REVIEW:

A decade ago, Peter Jackson took us to Middle Earth and raised epic fantasy adventure to a high bar that all that followed in its wake would be hard-pressed to equal, let alone surpass. Ironically but probably inevitably, Jackson himself has fallen short of that herculean task with the first installment of the prequel trilogy, but while The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is not as consistently enthralling as The Lord of the Rings, it is still an enjoyable adventure worth going on. Continue reading

Prometheus (2012)

DIRECTOR: Ridley Scott

CAST:

Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba, Guy Pearce, Logan Marshall-Green, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Benedict Wong, Patrick Wilson

REVIEW:

WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL MENTION SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF THE FILM’S PLOT

One’s appreciation of Prometheus might be heavily-influenced by what one goes in expecting.  Despite Ridley Scott’s attempts to downplay Prometheus‘ description as a prequel to his 1979 sci-fi horror classic Alien and have it viewed as a stand-alone story, many were disappointed by its loose connections and markedly different aims to its predecessor.  While it does contain elements of horror, Prometheus is less single-minded in its intentions than Alien and has far broader themes it’s trying to tackle.  Chief among Prometheus‘ flaws is that it bites off more than it can chew, but it’s still an intriguing sci-fi entry for those not expecting too much xenomorph action. Continue reading

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

DIRECTOR: Rupert Wyatt

CAST: James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, Brian Cox, Tom Felton, David Oyelowo, Andy Serkis

REVIEW:

Following Tim Burton’s unsuccessful 2001 attempt to reboot the Planet of the Apes franchise, Rise of the Planet of the Apes (which bears no connection to Burton’s loose remake of the original 1968 film) is technically a prequel, but is really intended as a springboard for a new rejuvenated series based on the famous property.  The movie accomplishes this well enough to get the job done–a second installment is due out in July 2014–but suffers from a rushed pace, thin characters (with one somewhat ironic exception), and the open ending that is a frequent symptom of prequelitis. Continue reading

X-Men: First Class (2011)

DIRECTOR: Matthew Vaughn

CAST:

James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, Kevin Bacon, Rose Byrne, January Jones, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Edi Gathegi, Zoe Kravitz, Jason Flemyng, Oliver Platt

REVIEW:

Back when he wrote and directed 2000’s X-Men, Bryan Singer eschewed an origin story, jumping into the action with the X-Men already formed, deeming origin stories unnecessary and constraining.  Continue reading

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