Tag: ridley scott

All the Money in the World


All the Money in the World (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

We all need money, but there are degrees of desperation. — Anthony Burgess

Christopher Plummer’s eyes are the stars of “All the Money in the World,” a dramatic thriller involving a teenager (Charlie Plummer) kidnapped in Italy during the early 1970s and his grandfather who refuses to pay a cent for his ransom despite the fact that the old man is the most successful capitalist in the history of the world. Fascinating from start to finish, as a character study and as a genre picture, Ridley Scott directs his project with a highly meticulous eye, a great exercise of maintaining tension and breaking it as well as a statement piece of our relationship as a society when it comes to the paper we worship.

The veteran performer plays the character like a sphinx, elegant and full of riddles between the lines. The character, J. Paul Getty, is written in such a way that it is nearly impossible to like him because no amount of money is enough to satiate his craving for it. And yet Plummer has a way about him that makes us wish to know Getty beyond what he values. For instance, during the first act’s important flashbacks, his interpretation of the capitalist is rather grandfatherly with hints of warmth despite the armor he has learned to put on over the years because people consistently wish to take advantage of his wealth.

His level of performance is matched by Michelle Williams as the increasingly determined mother. Notice how she changes her affectations depending on the individuals she is surrounded by. Gail provides the opposite force. Because of where she comes from, which the script is smart not to detail in order to avoid melodrama, she values family over money. Getty knows this, in a way looking down on her for it, and so he finds ways to challenge her ideals. Will she break at the pressures not only coming from the crisis involving her son but also from the man who wishes to cheapen her worth?

Beautifully shot, the film looks as though a heavy fog sits right on top of images thereby muting the colors and creating a cold or detached feeling about it. Initially, I thought the strategy is to mimic the look of crime-thrillers from the ‘70s and not much else. Upon closer inspection, however, I believe such a technique is employed in order to establish an air of unpredictability, that anything can and will happen at a drop of a hat. As the knot begins to tighten, the mother increasingly beleaguered because her billionaire former father-in-law refuses to pay seventeen million dollars, a blip in his earnings, we start to wonder whether the kidnappers value the teenager as much as Getty values his ancient artifacts.

Based on the book “Painfully Rich: The Outrageous Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Heirs of J. Paul Getty” by John Pearson, “All the Money in the World” offers an international texture about it, like those first-rate Korean and German procedural thrillers where you think you know where it is headed based on the mainstream Hollywood pictures we so often use as compass, but it goes on completely different directions at times. It invites thinking viewers to wade neck-deep into its dramatic presentation.

Alien: Covenant


Alien: Covenant (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

Considering that Ridley Scott helmed “Alien,” one of the most memorable and craftily made sci-fi horror pictures in the last fifty years, one has a certain level of expectation coming into “Alien: Covenant,” a disappointing prequel to the masterful 1979 classic and a sequel to “Prometheus,” a widely misunderstood but intriguing attempt to extend the series’ mythology.

In an effort to deliver scares designed to impress the modern masses, Scott’s signature techniques, like employing long takes even—or especially when—it’s unnecessary and playing with extended silence to build a sense of mystery and/or dread, are missing here. As a result, one gets the impression that the work could have been made by any other filmmaker who understands what makes horror movies marginally effective but not yet have a specific voice of his own.

For instance, when several crew members of the colony ship Covenant, led by Oram (Billy Crudup), decide to explore a planet after receiving a radio transmission, the picture does not bother to genuinely establish a sense of place. There is a line uttered by one of the characters, pointing out that they haven’t encountered or heard any animal after already having walked several kilometers, but aside from this creepy detail, everything else about the setting looks generic, CGI forests for miles, could have been any forest on Earth. On top of this, the images look dark, bleak, desperate to come across as atmospheric. I felt no interest in exploring this place. I craved for the aliens to appear finally and pick off the characters in the most gruesome ways imaginable.

There are more than ten crew members and only one of them is borderline worth rooting for. Surprisingly, and not in a good way, it is not Daniels (Katherine Waterston), clearly the heroine of the film, one who must undergo an evolution from a background personality to one who is supposed to lead her team in the foreground as the possibility of them becoming alien hosts escalates. Instead, it is Tennessee, the chief pilot of the Covenant—a person who stays on the ship for the majority of film. He is played by Danny McBride, a performance so natural and convincing that I caught myself feeling glad that I found a new side to his talent.

Daniels’ arc is forced and unconvincing. Later in the picture, as she goes head-to-head against an alien, I found the script to be bland and predictable in its attempt to make the heroine tough and resourceful. The supposed one-liners fall flat; they do not work because the character’s evolution is simply not there. While Waterston is capable of summoning the necessary emotions when required, the screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper fails to establish a protagonist who is able to think on her feet or one who commands a fascinating way of thinking, of being. It merely relies on the established template of the final tough girl.

“Alien: Covenant” showcases different forms of the alien and some of the kills are truly horrifying. Disappointingly, however, the material fails to create a balance between imagination and brutality, violence and contemplation—clearly one of its goals because the subject of meeting or surpassing one’s creator becomes a recurring theme. Here’s to hoping that Scott, if he were to craft another installment in the series, would aspire to make a film that would impress him as an artist first… and then the audience. He needs to follow his instincts rather than what he believes the viewers want from his work.

The Martian


The Martian (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

After an accident during a severe storm on Mars, Commander Lewis (Jessica Chastain) of the Ares III mission makes an executive decision for her team (Michael Peña, Kate Mara, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie) to leave the planet without botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon), presumed dead because he had been hit by debris and his body was nowhere to be found. As it turns out, however, Mark is not dead. Having only about thirty days worth of food, he must somehow keep himself alive until the next manned mission to Mars… which is four years away.

Based on the screenplay by Drew Goddard and directed by Ridley Scott, “The Martian” is intelligent, entertaining and highly watchable at times, but it falls short of becoming a great film, one to be remembered for many years to come. It is a solid, crowd-pleasing picture that will likely hold up upon multiple viewings but beyond that is exaggeration.

One of the reasons is its unjustified bloated running time—about a third of it is repetitive fluff. The film is at the peak of its power when it focuses on the protagonist simply trying to think of ways to prevent death within a month. The first third is fascinating, amusing, and quite educational. Eventually, however, the screenplay introduces characters on Earth, various individuals who have a role at NASA and its affiliates (Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Sean Bean), who wrestle with the politics, the media, and what should or must be done in order to get the man home. I found the charade quite dull.

By taking away a significant amount of time and focus on the main character, we are not put into his mindset thoroughly and completely. This is why when problems compound on top of one another and Mark feels there is nothing left to do but to let out a small tantrum, I felt more amused of the display than feeling empathy. In another instance that occurs late in the picture, a would-be soul-stirring moment involving the abandoned cosmonaut in a confined space left me wondering when the film would be over rather than being in the moment and continuing to be invested in Mark’s plight.

The special and visual effects are quite eye-catching. Aerial shots of Mars never fail to grab the attention, from the seemingly red-hot sand to the beautiful hills and jagged rocks near the mission’s base. There is a line in the film where Mark expresses the humility he feels in being the first man to ever see or step on a particular area of the planet. These specific thoughts and musings make the story supremely engaging. After all, this is his story, not of those men and women back home who try their hardest at providing rescue.

“The Martian,” based on the novel by Andy Weir, offers enough individual moments to make this specific story worth telling and seeing, but it is limited by its apparent desperation to be liked by the mainstream. Coming from a science background, I enjoyed that the material champions not only book knowledge but also its practical application—the latter, I think, is not emphasized enough. But the many acts of heroism feel too Hollywood, hollow, and forced—simply there to appeal to as many people as possible.

Exodus: Gods and Kings


Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)
★ / ★★★★

“Exodus: Gods and Kings,” directed by Ridley Scott, is nothing but an exercise of special and visual effects. It does not bother to tell an engaging arc; it assumes that all audiences are familiar with the story of Moses (Christian Bale) and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) so it relies on the template to burn off one hundred fifty minutes. Furthermore, it does not provide any surprising detail about the brothers and their relationship. What results is a limp epic consisting of solemn whispers and hyperbolic yelling—a bore down to its marrow.

Telling this kind of story with a forceful fist is an incredible miscalculation. Thus, it feels like an action film rather than one that inspires us to think a little bit about different aspects of spirituality. It should have been told with a certain delicateness in order to highlight the characters’ choices, recurring themes, and the emotions that they go through that drive them to make life or death decisions. Instead, the picture adopts a lethargic pattern: tragedy, close-ups expressing horror, and then more tragedy.

Even the ten plagues that come to haunt Memphis, Egypt do not command much impact. The only one that stood out to me was the death of all firstborn children. Notice how the scene takes its time as it shows darkness creeping across the city. There is fear in the wind as it blows candles from both poor and rich households. The camera slithers as souls are taken away from their host. I wished that the rest of the material functioned on such a high level. I could not look away.

And then we are back to the plot involving Moses attempting to persuade Ramses to free the Hebrews from slavery. Part of the problem is Bale and Edgerton being miscast—for two very different reasons. Bale is not very expressive here. Although his interpretation of Moses is one that is easily provoked, there are not enough moments in the script where we are made to sympathize with his predicament. Edgerton, on the other hand, is given more chances to express a range of emotions than Bale but the makeup plastered on his face prevents us from appreciating his increasingly desperate position. It might have worked better if a quieter, more thoughtful actor were cast as Moses and an actor who could carry a lot of makeup were cast as Ramses.

Scenes between Moses and Malak (Isaac Andrews), serving as a representation of God, are laughable initially and like pulling teeth later on. Their interactions are so forced that every time they are around one another, the scene comes across very rehearsed: the actors know the lines but the subtleties of emotions are simply not there. There should have been fewer of these scenes and the ones that are necessary ought to have been reshot.

Disappointing almost every step of the way, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” is a colossal waste of time, an excuse to use money in order to create a project that is pretty at times but one that has no soul. Every minute is felt trickling by.

The Counselor


The Counselor (2013)
★ / ★★★★

Most of the time, I preface my reviews with a brief plot summary as to what one might hope to expect from a movie in question. But approximately fifty minutes into “The Counselor,” written by Cormac McCarthy and directed by Ridley Scott, I still had no idea what was going on. There are images to be seen and dialogue to be heard but there is nothing to be processed and compiled to create a sensical narrative arc.

Still, I did not find the movie to be egregious on every level. On the contrary, there are a few scenes dispersed throughout that inspired me to look closer to the screen either due to a strong performance or the rhythm of the dialogue being effortless and magnetic.

Two scenes stand out. The first involves the meeting between a man only referred to as Counselor (Michael Fassbender) and an even more enigmatic gentleman called Westray (Brad Pitt), the latter of which has been involved in the drug business for years. The magic between their interactions lie in the performances. Fassbender and Pitt play their characters cool, calm, and collected—like reunited old buddies sharing a drink—but the unsaid—silent moments where they measure each other up—suggests that something very bad is going to happen to one or both of them. And it does.

The second involves the counselor’s visit in prison because he is appointed by the court to deal with a woman (Rosie Perez) whose son is in jail because he is unable to pay a speeding ticket. It is memorable in a different way—with respect to Westray and Counselor’s meeting—because one is playing a certain level of toughness, almost aggressive but never completely obvious and the other is more relaxed, almost taking his job lightly or as a joke. The interplay between Fassbender and Perez is executed with a whiff of playfulness but at the same time we are left wondering if there is more to it than meets the eye.

Figuring out how subplots interconnect is a challenge because the script offers very little connective tissue as the picture moves from one scene to another. It is like being given an incomplete mathematical formula and expecting us to arrive at the right answer. I wondered if the writer intended it to be this way. Is the big picture not supposed to matter? Are we only meant to understand or be entertained by individual scenes? What is the target audience? It functions as a thriller but is not accessible enough to be a good one.

The film should have been called “Westray” because I did not at all care about Counselor. Though Fassbender attempts to emote by invoking desperation, fear, or grief, I felt nothing toward his character. The problem is that the central character is not written to pass as a whole person. He has the charm, the confidence, and sexual magnetism but we never get the chance to get to know him on a personal level other than the fact that he loves a woman (Penélope Cruz). As a result, the emotions come off false. On the other hand, Westray is played straight—a smooth talker, very little emotion. And yet I cared what would happen to him. He talks big but can he back it up when it counts most?

“The Counselor” is a mess but I was never bored by it. It made me laugh when I probably was not supposed to but it is much better than just waiting for the film to be over. There is a very funny scene where Fassbender engages in a sort-of phone sex—awkward, pointless, and amusing. There is also a pair of horrifying sequences involving beheadings. It dares one to keep watching. It is really too bad that the material fails to form a coherent whole.

Prometheus


Prometheus (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Dr. Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find yet another cave full of paintings, this time in Scotland’s Isle of Skye, of early people worshipping a tall, human-like figure that points to the sky, which strengthens their theory that the answer in terms of who created us can be found somewhere in outer space. The handful of paintings, when digitally put together, create a map that points to a solar system with a planet and multiple moons surrounding the sun. Four years later, Drs. Shaw and Holloway, along with Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron), the woman assigned to represent the interests of Weyland Corporation, the sponsor of the project, and her crew of engineers and scientists, land on one of the moons, LV-226, with hopes of encountering our Creator.

Despite the inevitable plot holes in “Prometheus,” collateral damage when the script is daring enough to ask the big questions about our existence, the film provides entertainment for those who prefer to engage their senses on the level of popcorn entertainment as well as for the ones who enjoy to think beyond what is shown on screen. Written by Jon Spaihts and Damon Linderlof, the film has many encompassing themes, from religion versus Darwinism, self-interest versus self-sacrifice, finding answers to questions that perhaps are not meant to be discovered, among others, but what I was most fascinated with is the sense of powerlessness imposed upon the human characters because it allows us to relate to them on a subconscious level.

Given its ambitious scope, there is not enough time to get to know all of their stories–Shaw’s is touched upon once in a while but never delved into–and why they agree to participate in the mission–although it is quite obvious from the tension among them that each has his and her own motivations. It cannot be any simpler that we want to see the explorers survive and go home in one piece because they are human. From the moment we see David (Michael Fassbender), a cyborg created and treated by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce) as his own son, taking care of the ship’s crew while they remain in stasis, a period of inactivity because the trip from Earth requires two years, there is a portentous feeling in the air. Perhaps David has too much time on his hands and is becoming too smart for his own good. The lives of the men and women are in the hands of a robot capable of very human qualities like forming its own thoughts and changing its agendas.

Furthermore, not one alien, unless it takes control of a vessel, is ever killed as if what we are watching is a splatter-fest picture. Instead, the majority of the focus is on the exploration within a gargantuan domed structure and the eventual repercussions of not stopping to think whether an action should be done just because it can be done. For instance, just because a character can touch the black liquid substance oozing from a vase-shaped metal, does not meant he should. The picture is clear in relaying the message that an unmanageable human curiosity can sometimes lead to powerlessness. And powerlessness can lead to horror.

“Prometheus,” directed by Ridley Scott with joy and elegance, also preys on our curiosity as an audience. One of the best scenes in the film involves “tricking” a dead thing that it is still “alive.” There should have been a camera recording my face as it changed from excited, gleeful curiosity to contorted horror in a span of ten seconds. It would have been comedy gold. Packed with beautiful cinematography, especially when the camera pulls back and forces us to pay attention to the landscape, the film’s every corner feels vibrant with possibilities. And I think that’s the point. The more questions we come up with, out of frustration, disappointment, or to further immerse ourselves in its mythology, the stronger it ties in to the idea that wanting answers defines us as a species.

Aliens


Aliens (1986)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Aliens” picked up as we made the grim discovery that our heroine named Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) had been in hypersleep and wandering in space for 57 years. The second surprise was the fact that humans started to colonize the planet where the aliens had been incubating. To no surprise, the human colony, which included a brave little girl named Newt (Carrie Henn), had lost contact with the scientists and a request was made that Ripley join a crew to investigate the strange happenings. The feel of this installment felt considerably different. While the first one was more about the concept and horror of being abandoned in space, this one was more action-oriented and more concerned about the gadgetry such as the weapons and the vehicles used by the characters. That wasn’t necessarily a negative as long as the tension remained relatively equal or greater than its predecessor. And, in some ways, it was able to surpass the original. A definite stand-out was the alien’s ability to learn via trial-and-error. We learned about the aliens such as they tend to hunt in packs and there was a sort hierarchy among them. By learning more about the enemy, we understood their capability but at the same they became that much more terrifying because we now had the knowledge of their great ability to adapt in order to survive. They showed signs of intelligence, not just creatures that wanted to kill for the sake of killing. Two other elements I noticed about the film were the fact that the aliens were easier to kill and they were much more visible. In Ridley Scott’s “Alien,” the organism was practically invincible and we only really saw the creature’s full body toward the end. In “Aliens,” the approach was much more obvious and body parts (along with the highly acidic blood) were flung all over the place. However, that’s what I admired about the sequel: It was different than the original but it was able to make it work for itself and deliver adrenaline-fueled space action-adventure that kept my heart tugging at a frantic pace until the last scene. That is, when Ripley had a duel against the queen of the aliens using a highly familiar-looking robot from Cameron’s “Avatar.” What it did preserve was the feminist undertone that “Alien” played with which was a smart move because the movie was first and foremost supposed to be Ripley’s quest for survival. If I were to nitpick for a flaw, I would say the crews’ interactions toward the beginning had quickly worn its welcome. I especially found Bill Paxton’s character highly irksome and I wished he was the first one to be killed. A redeeming quality was Michael Biehn as Ripley’s potential romantic interest. “Aliens” was not only highly entertaining but it managed to justify that it was a necessary sequel by playing upon existing ideas and expanding new ones.