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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

Split (2017)

DIRECTOR: M. Night Shyamalan

CAST: James McAvoy, Anya Taylor-Joy, Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, Betty Buckley

REVIEW:

While it might be his first commercially successful movie in years, I have to go against the critical consensus and disagree that Split represents a return to form for M. Night Shyamalan.  I’ve never held the writer-director in that exalted esteem, but The Sixth Sense, Signs, and The Village were enjoyable, if flawed (the twist in The Sixth Sense, while a great “gotcha” surprise in the moment, makes less sense the more you think back on it), and in some ways Split embodies his troubled career: a movie with flashes of promise that goes off the rails, sputtering along in fits and starts until finally undone with a twist (such as it is) that turns the movie from a psychological thriller into something like a comic book supervillain origin story that doesn’t come to any true ending (due to Shyamalan’s intention to tie it in with 2000’s Unbreakable and set-up a third installment in what he is now calling a “trilogy”).  Whether Shyamalan’s franchise intentions come to pass remains to be seen (though Split‘s success at the box office might be enough to get the green light), but taken on its own, Split is as schizophrenic and half-formed as its villain’s identity. Continue reading

The Accountant (2016)

accountant3DIRECTOR: Gavin O’Connor

CAST: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jean Smart

REVIEW:

The Accountant is a curiously inert thriller mixed with a character study, or perhaps, as some have called it, a character study masquerading as a thriller.  A perfunctory attempt at portraying the symptoms of a character with high-functioning autism/Asperger’s (the movie is slightly vague about his specific diagnosis) gives way to a generic shoot-em-up.  An unneccessarily convoluted narrative structure—featuring flashbacks to several different time periods in the main character’s life, myriad superfluous subplots and extraneous supporting characters—serves only to muddy the waters and disguise the fact that, when all is said and done, there wasn’t that much to it.  For a movie centering on a man of simplistic single-minded purpose, The Accountant seems desperate to convince us it’s more complex than it actually is. Continue reading

Blood Father (2016)

DIRECTOR: Jean-Francois Richet

CAST: Mel Gibson, Erin Moriarty, Diego Luna, William H. Macy, Michael Parks

REVIEW:

One suspects this gritty but generic action thriller would have been direct-to-video if not for the presence of Mel Gibson, but while Blood Father is an unexceptional, sporadically involving Taken variation that never really rises above its B movie level, it provides an adequately diverting entry in its genre for those who have eighty-eight minutes to kill and aren’t too demanding. Continue reading

The Shallows (2016)

shallowsDIRECTOR: Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Blake Lively

REVIEW:

While the two movies’ plot specifics are very different, in a way, The Shallows reminded me of Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity; both are nearly one-man shows featuring a woman using strong survival instincts and limited resources at her disposal in a grueling struggle for survival.  Also, like Gravity, while sometimes gripping in the moment, the thin premise feels a little shallow (no pun intended) and insubstantial when all is said and done.  Neither is a “bad” movie, but I also personally feel the praise showered on both is a little overblown.  Nevertheless, The Shallows may prove an engaging Friday night diversion for those seeking something other than a comedy, a superhero movie, or a CGI-fest. Continue reading

Child 44 (2015)

889372DIRECTOR: Daniel Espinosa

CAST: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman, Paddy Considine, Fares Fares, Jason Clarke, Vincent Cassel, Charles Dance

REVIEW:

Adapting a book can be a tricky task; change too much and outrage its adherents, but follow the text too slavishly and risk a sluggish motion picture. Book and film are different mediums and should be treated as such.  With its myriad subplots and in-depth exploration of life in the 1950s Soviet Union, Tom Rob Smith’s best-selling historical crime novel (loosely inspired by the case of 1980s Soviet serial killer Andrei Chikatilo) doesn’t lend itself to being inherently cinematic, and director Daniel Espinosa and screenwriter Richard Price’s attempt to bring it to the screen is sometimes murky, scattershot, and difficult to follow.   Continue reading

Non-Stop (2014)

Non-StopDIRECTOR:  Jaume Collet-Serra

CAST: Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, Michelle Dockery, Anson Mount, Corey Stoll, Scoot McNairy, Lupita Nyong’o, Linus Roache

REVIEW:

Non-Stop is a bit like a souped-up Hitchcock thriller, with occasional action scenes tossed in so modern audiences won’t get bored waiting for the diabolical premise to unfold.  To that end, it generates enough suspense to distract us from plot holes (something Hitchcock himself wasn’t always above).  It’s not a great thriller, but it’s compulsively watchable and keeps us wanting to see how things wrap up without letting us be sure of that until the climax. Continue reading

Grand Piano (2013)

DIRECTOR: Eugenio Mira

CAST: Elijah Wood, John Cusack, Kerry Bishe, Tamsin Egerton, Allen Leech, Alex Winter

REVIEW:

A Spanish production with an English-language cast (despite being set in Chicago, all interior sets were filmed in Spain, though some outside scenes were filmed in Chicago), Grand Piano had the most limited of theatrical releases, screening briefly at only one New York City theater, though for anyone interested (or anyone who even heard of its existence), it was available for online streaming.  Those who check it out will find a diverting but slightly silly little Hitchcockian-esque thriller which zips along with enough slickly-crafted style to be engaging in the moment, even if it ultimately builds up too many plot holes and flimsy elements. Continue reading

World War Z (2013)

world-war-z-poster-bannerDIRECTOR: Marc Forster

CAST: Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos, Daniella Kertesz, James Badge Dale, David Andrews, Fana Mokoena, Ludi Boeken, Pierfrancesco Favino, Peter Capaldi, David Morse

REVIEW:

Fans of Max Brooks’ book of the same name, a pseudo-documentary collecting accounts of survivors from a worldwide zombie apocalypse, are not likely to be impressed with Marc Forster’s screen adaptation, which owes little more to the written source than the title, basic premise, and some plot ideas. Taken as a standalone film, World War Z is still flawed but fares better. Its scattershot focus gives it a fragmented, episodic feel, but it’s entertaining and boasts some impressive set pieces and tense sequences. 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

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