*WEST COAST PREMIERE*
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Lionsgate celebrated the Beyond Fest Premiere of "Dragged Across Concrete" on Tuesday, October 9th at the Egyptian Theatre.
In attendance from the film: Mel Gibson, Vince Vaughn, Michael Jai White, S. Craig Zahler
*WEST COAST PREMIERE*
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Reviewed by SCOTT HEARON
Good, bloody, foul-mouthed fun, if perhaps not quite as good or fresh as the first Deadpool.
The first film was highly entertaining, offering a adaptation of the popular comic anti-hero/anti-villain that aimed to offer plenty of fun while roasting nearly everything about the world of now-ubiquitous comic book superhero movies. Deadpool found a great balance between providing a solid enough story and offering rousing action, while also consistently making fun of the tropes associated with the superhero genre. Amid all of this, it also managed to include just the right amount of appropriate heart, focusing on the twisted but touching relationship between assassin-for-hire Wade "Deadpool" Wilson and his ex-stripper girlfriend Vanessa.
In this sequel, the wildly irreverent tone and non-stop gags continue, mostly to good effect. Without giving anything important away, Deadpool finds himself wrapped up in a surprising bid to save the life of a young and very angry mutant, Russell (Julian Dennison). This all becomes much more difficult when a grim, highly powerful mutant from the future, Cable (Josh Brolin) becomes involved. Unable to deal with everything on his own, Deadpool enlists the aid of a few other mutants who may be familiar to readers of the 1990s and 2000s X-Force comics.
I was probably most impressed at how Deadpool 2 avoids most of the pitfalls of comedy sequels (and really, Deadpool was much more a comedy than anything else). Namely, leaning too heavily on the most well-received jokes from the first movie. Yes, the sequel does call back to a few of the best gags from the first one, but it mostly relies on coming up with new material. I do feel that one marginal but memorable character from the original movie is overused in the follow-up, but it's hardly a deal-breaker. The other problem many sequels can have, comedy and action alike, is retreading plots and ideas from a successful first film. Deadpool 2 does well with this, offering a story that is quite different from the first movie. I can't say that it provides any more depth than the first film, but the theme does give something different from the straightforward revenge/rescue tale of Deadpool.
I've already seen one or two comments on social media expressing the view that the humor in Deadpool 2 is "trying too hard." I understand the sentiment, but I disagree. The Deadpool character of the comics was always a motor-mouthed wise-cracker. Wade Wilson never shuts up, and the movie writers and Ryan Reynolds have always loved and respected this. As such, both movies have given us an endless barrage of verbal jabs from "The Merc with a Mouth." Given the sheer volume of jokes, it's always stood to reason to me that not every one of them will be a great joke, and sometimes not even good one. But for me, about half of them land pretty well. Since the frequency of wisecracks was so very high, I found myself with a smile on my face for most of the movie, even laughing out loud several times. This sequel does go a bit heavier on the "meta," fourth-wall-breaking commentary, which I think works better in lighter doses, as in the first film. It hardly spoils the soup that is the sequel, though.
The action in the movie is also entertaining enough, if not exactly standout. Like the overall plot, the filmmakers didn't rest on the laurels of the first film, and instead offer us newer and grander action sequences here. As with any superhero movie, we viewers want to see dazzling displays of the characters' fantastic abilities, and Deadpool 2 does a fine job of it, despite there only being a handful of truly stunning and exciting moments.
It's pretty simple: your feelings about the first Deadpool can tell you whether you'll enjoy the second. Though the plot and primary theme are different, the tone, irreverent attitude, and loving embrace of filthy language and cartoon-like gore are all there to attract or revolt just as much as the original.
A few thoughts on specific details:
I know better than to overthink any story which uses time travel as a device, especially in a silly movie like Deadpool 2, but I'm surprised that the hyper-aware, fourth-wall breaking Wilson didn't at least comment on the fact that Cable's altering the future by not killing Russell would result in Cable's never having been there in the first place. But again, thinking about time loops is an exercise in futility. I won't lose any sleep over it.
I actually liked the decision to kill Vanessa early, as I really didn't see it coming. Kind of a shame that they just went ahead and undid it all at the end, using Cable's aforementioned, plot-breaking time travel gadget.
The assembly and rapid demise of "X-Force" was hilarious. The movie actually got me on this one, as I genuinely thought that this would be a team that would carry through the rest of the film. Having nearly all of them, including mainstay characters from the comics such as Shatterstar, meet grisly deaths not ten minutes after their introductions, was a high-point idea to me.
Also from the X-Force mini-plotline, Zazie Beets was great as Domino. I only recently became aware of Beetz from her role as Van in the brilliant TV show Atlanta, but her portrayal of the luck-imbued mutant in Deadpool 2 was a blast.
I thought the inclusion of Dopinder was unnecessary and mostly not very funny. This was the one clear case of a sequel taking a fun little bit from the first film and running it well into the ground by asking way too much of it.
This was, by far, the best rendering of The Juggernaut that we've seen. I know that this isn't saying much, as really the only previous one was the laughable presentation in X-Men 3: X-Men United - the one which gave us the oft-lambasted Vinnie Jones line "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" While this new one is a purely CGI-job, we did at least get the sense of the character's real presence as an unstoppable physical force of unbridled, violent destruction. It also gave us the hilariously operatic theme music, featuring lyrics like "You can't stop this motherf****r!!" along with the background chorus of "Holy! S**tballs!!" on repeat. I can't recall a movie where the over-the-top, epic soundtrack was included in the gag.
Josh Brolin was great as Cable. The writers did a pretty decent job of using his overly grim demeanor as a foil for Deadpool's utter lack of seriousness, though I do feel a few jokes might have been left on the table with this dynamic.
The mid-credit sequence of Deadpool jumping back in time to right the wrongs of the past was outstanding. One has to admire just how self-deprecating Reynolds can be. He clearly has no problem highlighting past failings, if it might get a laugh.
Spoiler-Free Section - Have No Fear!
Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo
Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) will almost definitely love, or at least highly enjoy, Infinity War. Those who are apathetic or even averse to the ever-sprawling juggernaut of superhero films will hardly be won over. In fact, the latter group may very well despise this movie.
Tying together many tiny threads that have been laced throughout the previous 18 MCU films, Infinity War follows Thanos, the "Mad Titan" from the so-named moon, whose grand ambition is to gather all six of the immensely powerful Infinity Stones, gems that allow dominion over aspects of existence such as mind, space, time, and others. Most of the stones have been intermittently introduced in previous MCU films: the Space Stone back in Captain America: The First Avenger; the Mind Stone in The Avengers, and so on. Thanos is an incredibly powerful alien who has long waged a campaign to basically "thin the herd" of populations which have grown too unwieldy to manage themselves. When he determines that a planet has reached such a point, he brings in his armies to kill half the population, at random, leaving the remaining half more than enough resources to flourish. Thanos's ultimate scheme now is to gather and control the six Infinity Stones, granting him the power to eliminate half of the population of the entire universe with no more than the snap of his fingers. To stop him, the many heroic characters from the previous films must use every resource at their disposal.
Right off, I'll admit that Infinity War isn't the best MCU movie. The scale is so epic, and the number of balls needing to be juggled is so large, that there was no way that a single film could provide satisfaction on every possible cinematic and storytelling level. In this movie's case, what gets sacrificed is real emotional depth and notable character development. The movie does actually provide a bit of depth to the imposing Thanos, a character who has only been shown in brief glimpses a handful of times in the previous six years. And there is a sense of loss concerning a couple of key characters. Also, for those who have followed and enjoyed any of the individual characters from previous MCU film series, the third act is bound to have some impact for you. On the whole, though, this is as purely plot-driven a film as the MCU has offered us to date. Anyone who has preferred the smaller-scale MCU flicks like Ant-Man or Spider-Man: Homecoming, thanks to those films' greater focus on a few people and their relationships, may find the flashy, rip-roaring pace of Infinity War too dizzying and shallow.
For my part, I greatly enjoyed the movie. The directing duo Russo brothers had a lot of moving parts to rein into a single narrative, and they actually did an admirable job of it. This movie is bringing together no less than twenty different characters from well over a half dozen different movie "franchises," and having them band together to try and save quite literally half the universe. The main appeal of such an enterprise boils down to two things: what will the dynamics be when different characters interact, and how exactly will they stop an immensely powerful and determined force like Thanos? Well, the tale does an excellent job of entertaining us through these aspects of the film. Within the first few scenes, we get Spider-Man and Iron Man meeting up with Doctor Strange, and before long Quill and the Guardians of the Galaxy run into a very familiar Asgardian. As the disparate characters begin to coalesce into various teams and fill each other in on exactly who Thanos is and what he wants, the tale comes together in a rather satisfying way. As the heroes attempt to rebuff the initial attacks by Thanos's underlings, their powers, creativity, and mettle are tested in ways that make for some fun viewing.
The ending of this film is already causing some mixed reactions among movie-goers. Though one can assume that certain developments will be undone (the Infinity Stones are virtual game-breakers), there were certainly a few heroes who seem to have truly met their ultimate end. This was bound to upset fans of those particular characters. And while I was expecting a slightly more self-contained movie, I found the ending fine for what it is. The MCU overlords have always billed this movie as the first of what is basically a two-part story, with the second, still-unnamed, chapter set for release in May of 2019. It will feel like a rather long wait for the follow-up, but I believe that it is set up to actually be the stronger of the two films. Much of Infinity War had to be given over to set-up and Thanos's blitzkrieg attack, and when it is all said and done, it will likely feel more like acts one and two of the greater whole.
Infinity War is a success, for what it is. It's what DC films like Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman were trying to be in many ways but mostly failed to be. Short of making a TV-style, five or six-hour mini-series, this movie was never going to have enough time to please everyone across the movie-viewing spectrum. I think the Russo's trimmed away what they needed in order to create a cohesive movie. It's far from the most heart-felt or ponderous MCU flick, but it's strong popcorn entertainment for those looking for fantasy action/adventure of the superhero variety.
Spoiler Section!! Beware!!!
Here is where I get into a few of the details that I enjoyed or didn't, and nearly all of them could potentially ruin some of the fun for you, if you haven't seen the movie yet.
As covered generally above, the greatest weakness of this movie is simply that there just isn't enough time for any character, or even group of characters, to particularly shine. One thing I've loved about my favorite among the MCU movies is that several of the characters have developed clear personalities, which themselves can carry a movie. Tony Stark and Steve Rogers are the two most obvious, but even less prominent characters like Doctor Strange or Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier have compelling enough backgrounds to make them engaging. Due to the reality of time constraints, however, no character is given much more than fifteen minutes of total screen time, and much of that is action. Amazingly, the writers did work in several solid dialogue exchanges that included some solid humor, but the scope of the film and its plot demands were such that one was bound to be disappointed by how little exposure their favorite characters would get. Ant-Man and Hawkeye aren't even in the film at all, despite the former having one film on the shelf and a sequel coming in a mere two months.
Another unfortunate result of the massive scale of the movie is that the losses don't have the emotional impact that one would hope for. Part of this is because of the limited dedication to emotional depth. Again, if one has fallen in love with certain characters, then the impact will be there, but that will have to have come from your previous viewing(s) of those characters' own movies. The deepest emotional tale in the movie involved Gamora and Thanos, but Gamora's death will only have resonance if one has enjoyed the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies (and for my part, I never found the connection between her and Quill terribly organic). And the demise of Steve Rogers, one of the linchpins of the MCU and its clear moral compass, lacks the power that it could have had in another stand-alone "Captain America" movie. This is all to say nothing of the fact that the mere existence of the Infinity Stones tells us that whatever happens can be changed or undone, which is what I fully expect will happen in next year's follow-up film.
Oh, and we never get to see the Hulk really "smash," which is something I've greatly enjoyed in the previous two Avengers movies and Ragnarok. It is pretty cool that Thanos's raw physical strength is made clear by his almost dismissive thrashing of the jade giant early in the picture, but it would have been nice to see him leaping around and pounding a few platoons of alien invaders into Wakandan rhino meat.
Those are my "superhero fanboy" gripes, and they are what keeps Infinity War from being among my absolute favorite MCU movies. When I set aside my fandom and just look at it as an objective cinephile, the movie fares worse, for reasons I mostly cover in the first section of this review. But I am a massive fan of these films, so it is in this vein that I describe what I enjoyed.
As stated, I think the actual plot is extremely well-managed. While Thanos's motivation is rather simplistic, I can justify that when I consider that most massive-scale zealots become that way by oversimplifying complex dilemmas. Rather than try to use creativity or imagination to solve large-scale population problems, Thanos falls back on brutal genocide and justifies it by telling himself that he is doing an honorable and difficult task which only he has the strength and will to carry out. I'm glad that the writers did find a way to add a couple of extra layers to the giant purple killing machine in the way of his backstory and his connection to Gamora. They weren't exactly high emotional drama, but they worked well enough.
And the many heroes' planet-jumping dash to find and stop the Mad Titan is spun very well. Especially if one has followed the various characters in the previous films, there is a very logical progression as to how they seek each other out and ultimately muster for their grand defense in Wakanda. Speaking of, I actually rather enjoyed the movie's use of the fictional African country as the staging ground for much of the ultimate battle. Even though I had just rewatched Black Panther the weekend before seeing Infinity War, I was far from tired of the setting.
With where things stand in the MCU currently - with literally half of the population obliterated, including half of our beloved heroes - this should be a great moment for the MCU to "clean things up," so to speak. I think if Infinity War shows us anything, it's that there is a breaking point for just how many "superhero" characters one put in a a movie and still have that movie provide depth as well as rousing action. Captain America: Civil War was just barely on the right side of that line, while I think Infinity War crossed over to the wrong side of it a bit, watering down what is in many ways a fun flick. Now, however, if MCU president Kevin Feige and his creative team play their cards right, they can pare things back a bit. Once Thanos is dealt with and much of his damage undone (I presume the Time Stone will play a fairly big part in this), the universe can probably be reworked a bit, allowing the future films' creators to go in directions different from what we've yet seen. I'm still well on board, even these ten years later.
by Scottt Hearon of Scott's Film Watch
A completely average reboot that wastes some legitimate resources and acting talent.
Like plenty of men now in their early-forties, I played the original 1996 Tomb Raider game on the Playstation back when it was released. It was a fun little adventure/action/puzzle game, if not one that totally grabbed me. I didn't bother with any of the many sequels for a long while. I also didn't bother seeing the two feature films starring Angelina Jolie back in 2001 and 2003, as they looked rather campy and silly. I did, however, play the more 2015 reboot of the video game series, which was actually very well done and quite entertaining. This last interaction with the series, along with my brother-in-law's desire to see the film, is what brought me to the theater to see a movie I otherwise wouldn't have bothered with.
The film tells the story of Lara Croft, an heiress to a billion-dollar business empire who has little desire to claim her vast fortunes. We meet Lara as she tries to scrape out a meager living in downtown London. She is eventually confronted with the unavoidable task of signing documents which will declare her father, who went missing seven years prior, legally deceased, also making her responsible for the family's vast fortune. Lara quickly discovers some cryptic clues as to her father's mysterious disappearance, however, and she jets off to follow his cold trail and learn more. She initially traces her father's path to Hong Kong, and then to a tiny, remote, barely-known island off the southern coast of Japan. There, she discovers an entire crew of captive men being forced to search for some sort of treasure alluded to in little-known legends about a Japanese empress's tomb. Lara becomes embroiled in a game of survival and a race to prevent the potential thieves, led by the cold-blooded Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins), from accomplishing their goal.
Tomb Raider is ultimately a pretty forgettable attempt to blend the most recent versions of the video game series with a few dashes from the Indiana Jones movies which have always inspired the character. There are a few culprits, but the two obvious ones are a lack of a sharp script and a misguided choice in tone.
The dialogue and character interactions never rise above mildly interesting, and often they are flat-out dull. This has nothing to do with most of the acting. Alicia Vikander and Walton Goggins do as much as they can with the lame dialogue they were given to work with (Dominic West, who plays Lara's father goes overboard, though). The film also misses out on chances to add a bit more depth to a few characters, such as Lu Ren, the young boat captain who accompanies Lara to the island. The basic idea of the character was fine, and actor Daniel Wu does well in the role; alas, nothing much was done with him to inspire interest in his plight.
The weakness in the script can also be connected to the general tone and approach to the film. About 20 minutes into the film, virtually the entire movie is pure survival adventure, with one cliff-hanger after another bombarding you. Some of the early sequences and set-pieces are actually decent. But when there are laughable coincidences and lame devices connecting one thrill-scene after another, for over an hour straight, it gets old pretty quickly. Some decent levity and comedy might have helped here, but the movie has a fairly humorless tone much of the time. And the occasional attempts at comedy always fall very flat, again due to mediocre writing more than any problems with the performances.
This iteration of Tomb Raider is one of those movies that you'd probably feel fine about watching if you're just looking for a decent, two-hour distraction while channel surfing at home, late at night. But I wouldn't suggest anyone go out of their way for it.
- Scott Hearon
“Act and Punishment” is a feature-length film that is written and directed by Evgeny Mitta and features Pussy Riot band members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Mariya Alyokhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who were jailed in 2011 in Russia after protesting the country’s human rights oppression and specifically targeting the election of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church’s ties to him.
The film begins after their release from prison and follows their evolution from political activists to punk-rockers that gained worldwide attention after their widely seen concert at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, where band members were attacked by Cossacks who were hired as security at the Games. The film follows the Russian band as they took a stand against Putin and his oppressive regime. While three members were sentenced to prison for 2 years, this documentary explores their moral victory.
Russian activists Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevich decide to separate from the well-known activist group Voina and create their own group named Pussy Riot that would express their ideas of female independence and bring together activism, feminism and punk rock music. Pussy Riot quickly drew public attention after a show in Red Square where they accused the Russian authorities of sexism.
The performance landed them in a police station and much mass media attention. Pussy Riot then decided to conduct a punk rock church service in the Moscow Cathedral of from journalists and cameramen who managed to film it. Three of the girls were arrested and threatened with seven years in prison, as a number of world stars express their support for the artists including the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Paul McCartney, Madonna and Franz Ferdinand. They were offered freedom if they agreed to confess and repent for their “crime”. Of course they refused and the court sentenced them to two years in prison. Their defeat in court became their moral victory, as Pussy Riot were cheered on by thousands of their new-found fans and supporters worldwide.
- Amos Lassen
Alamo Drafthouse’s American Genre Film Archive, the largest non-profit genre film archive in the world, and Something Weird have just announce an October 17, 2017 release date for the “BAT PUSSY” Blu-ray. However, Amazon has refused to carry it yet they do carry some other offensive titles such as “Cum Pig Shawn”, “Shawn’s Sweet Butthole” and “Newfie Suckboy”.
“Bat Pussy” is an incredibly awful film. Buddy and Sam are an average American couple, rolling around in their bed complaining about bills and how slutty each other are. Buddy has a little problem. He suffers from erectile dysfunction. Not so much a hardcore film as they are just chewing on each others genitalia for 50 minutes screaming at each other, threatening to file for divorce the next day and how big Sam’s pussy is. I’ve never seen a porn film where the star stays limp the entire film. I understand that this is a spoof on porn. In fact, it is
considered to be the first X-rated parody and it is as lurid and tasteless as its title implies. The citizens of Gothum City are under attack by smut filmmakers and only one hero can help— Bat Pussy (Dora Dildo) who hangs out in her secret headquarters (aka an outhouse). When her “twat begins to twitch,” she is warned of imminent crime and she hops on her Holy Hippity-Hop to foil the grotesque sex schemes of un-happily married couple Buddy and Sam.
“Bat Pussy has frequently been cited on the internet as “anti-porn,” and widely hailed as the worst porno film ever made. By the end it is over, you must remind yourself that you thought you were seeing porn and not bad cinema. Read this sweet little note:
“Bat Pussy” is without a doubt the most unappealing XXX film in the history of adult cinema and has been referred to by some as “anti porn”. It is because of it’s uniqueness that we feel BAT PUSSY deserves to be given a full, “Special Edition” DVD treatment from the good folks at Something Weird Video.
Dora’s easily the hottest thing in the whole sordid work, but even as such she’s about on par with a skank you might find in a hideous dive bar. When Bat Pussy finally arrives to confront the inbred lovers, she rips off her Bat-gear and dives into the fray. There’s no trace of actual sex, they roll around, while SAM takes care of herself with a convenient, unworn strap-on. Bat Pussy then exits, and that’s it.
I urge all of you reading this to watch this hilarious abomination for yourself. You will be groaning in horror and then ordering your own copy. It is generally thought to be the worst adult movie ever and negates life. The characters cannot act nor can they have sex and the quality of the film is truly awful. Buddy does have a few good lines like when he tells Sam that her vagina looks like “a washtub”. Once Bat Pussy arrives on the scene and jumps into an aimless and unconsummated threesome, Buddy manages to accidentally roll her off the bed before falling ass-first right onto the poor girl’s head.
Bat Pussy herself (Dora Dildo) is only in the film for about ten minutes, half of which is spent showing her trip across a scorched Texas wasteland on a Space Hopper.
– New 2K scan from the only surviving 16mm theatrical print
– Commentary track with Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci and Tim Lewis, and the AGFA team
– Crime-smut trailers and shorts from the Something Weird vault
– Liner notes by Mike McCarthy, the savior of BAT PUSSY, and Something Weird’s Lisa Petrucci
– Bonus movie: ROBOT LOVE SLAVES (1971), a new 2K scan from an original theatrical print
– Reversible cover art with illustration by Johnny Ryan (PRISON PIT)
Director: Darren Aronofsky
This movie is one trippy, nightmarish horror show of unrelenting tension. And I was fascinated.
The movie follows a young woman (Jennifer Lawrence) who is married to a middle-aged poet (Javier Bardem) who is struggling with writer's block. The woman (her name is never given, but referred to as "Mother" in the credits) leaves her husband (name also never given, credited as "Him") to seek inspiration in solitude, while she meticulously repairs and refurbishes their entire house, which is a grand old country home that apparently suffered some sort of damage in the past. A visitor arrives (Ed Harris), and he very quickly imposes on the couple. While Mother is none too pleased with the unexpected guest's intrusion, Him seems oddly welcoming to this stranger. Soon, the stranger's obnoxious wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) arrives, adding to Mother's concerns. After this point, the situation steadily spirals out of control for Mother over the course of time. The entire home eventually becomes a whirlwind of bizarre and aggressive behaviors which Mother tries to reckon with.
Darren Aronofsky, who wrote and directed the movie, has shown in past films that he is more than willing to offer commentary on grand themes, while using hallucinogenic visuals to convey discomfort. He did this in his first two features, Pi and Requiem for a Dream, which dealt with paranoia and addiction, respectively. Mother! does an equally commendable job building a sense of claustrophobia at the hands of encroaching guests and ever-multiplying hordes of unwanted visitors. When you add in the hallucinogenic, sometimes surrealist visions which Mother experiences, the movie certainly creates a mood. It's not likely to be a mood which pleases you, but I have to think that Aronofsky's point was to make us squirm more than a little. Mission accomplished.
Lest you think that the movie is simply about freaking out us viewers, rest assured that there is far more to it than that. Aronofsky has never been one to shy away from swinging for the fences in terms of grand themes, and mother! is no exception. It becomes clear fairly early on that we are not meant to see the characters on screen as "real" people, but rather archetypes. The character names in the credits certainly confirm this, giving credence to the idea that we are watching an allegory for several notions, some much more obvious than others. Such relatively abstract forms of film are likely to annoy or frustrate many viewers, but I found them mostly fascinating.
If you have seen the cast list, you will probably not be surprised that the acting is outstanding. Curiously, as purely cinematic as much of this movie is, there are certain elements that put me in mind of a stage play. This is something that can require a certain extra grandiosity in actors' performances, and will rarely work in films. In mother!, however, it actually works, given the allegorical nature of the tale. Enhancing the performances are the framing, camerawork, and set designs, which certainly create a memorable setting and sense of ever-increasing chaos.
If one has looked at reviews for this movie, you'll notice very mixed reactions (something Aronofsky movies have inspired in the past). I think that this is for a couple of reasons. If one is able to see this movie as a piece of art, not unlike bizarre or even grotesque works by masters like Picasso or Gustave Dore, then one is likely to appreciate much of what it has to offer. If, on the other hand, one is expecting a traditional horror tale or human drama, then one is likely to be disappointed at the least and outright offended at worst. So it helps to know what you're in for here.
This is one of those movies that I can't say that I "enjoyed" but that certainly held my interest and which I found to be a quality piece of art. Some of the social commentary can come off a bit obvious or heavy-handed here and there, but I was always curious about what the next scene would bring. At times, I found it was actually predictable, but there were enough surprises and oddly vague suggestions that I remained engaged for the film's full two hours. I may never watch it again, but I was glad to catch it on the big screen.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Unflinching. Intense. Meticulously filmed. Grim but uplifting. Nolan's latest and most sober film is a sight to behold on the big screen.
Dunkirk tells the story of the evacuation of the eponymous city in 1940, as Germany was reaching its military apex in World War II. Over a few days in June, hundreds of thousands of English and French troops were cornered into the small Belgian town and awaited some form of rescue from the encroaching German ground and air forces. After several days of these ground troops choking down their fears and waiting along the beaches, British fishermen and boatmen several hours away are enlisted to boat across the channel to bring back as many men as they can. This, in the face of potential attack from some German air force or submarine attacks.
In short, I'll go ahead and say that this is now one of the ten best war movies of all time, due mostly to elements which can only be captured with the medium of film. Thanks to masterful visuals, cinematography, and staging, and meticulous attention to detail, the intensity and sensations of such a harrowing episode are brought to life probably as well as they possibly can be, short of actually being in the middle of the real events depicted. While watching the movie, I almost smelled and felt the damp, salty ocean water that must have taunted those stranded soldiers on the shore. I could feel the overwhelming sense of powerlessness and sometimes desperation as they waited and sometimes even watched certain avenues of escape be literally blown to bits and sunken before their very eyes. I don't know that even the best novels, photographs, or even first-hand accounts could have such an effect.
The standout element for me was the aerial scenes and battles. Curiously (and accurately), there were only a handful of fighter jets and bombers that were engaged on either side. But thanks to filming such as I've never seen and being able to watch the movie on a true 75mm IMAX screen (well worth the extra cost, by the way), I was entranced by having a pilot's eye view of World War II dogfights. As far as this aspect of movies go, Nolan just set the bar extremely high for any similar scenes shot in the future. These aerial sequences were the standout among many excellent large-scale visual segments throughout the movie.
My issues with the movie mostly boil down to one thing, which is Christopher Nolan's decision to not tell the story in a chronologically linear fashion. Yes, we all know that he has used circular and flashback narratives to excellent effect in the past, most notably with Memento and The Prestige, but I think it was a poor choice for Dunkirk. When I think about how the movie would have played out in linear fashion, I get the sense that it would have had as much or even more power than it already does. Yes, the non-linear narrative allows us to meet more of the characters earlier than we would have otherwise, such as Mark Rylance's boat captain and Tom Hardy's R.A.F. pilot. But I don't think theirs and others' stories would have lost their power had we met them halfway through the movie as opposed to within the first ten minutes, as the staggered time narrative gives us. It makes me hope that when the film is released on home media that there is actually an option to watch it chronologically, just to see if my hunch is correct.
Despite my slight issues with the narrative structure, and a lack of any specifically memorable individual characters, this is a grand telling of one of World War II's lesser-known episodes (at least here in the U.S., where we often forget that the war had been raging for years before we got involved in 1942). If you have any intention of seeing this movie, I can't recommend enough seeing it on the big screen, and even splurging for the IMAX experience if it's an option for you.
Director: Ridley Scott
Much like the previous Alien movie, Prometheus, Covenant is an uneven tale with some magnificent visuals.
My full review of 2012's Prometheus is here, but for those who don't know, can't remember, or have willfully wiped their memory of it, the basic tale is thus: in the year 2093, a crew of space explorers arrives on a distant planet, where various clues on Earth have guided them. The working theory is that this new planet may provide further hints about an alien race which may have created all life on Earth. When the crew arrive, they find a massive spacecraft filled with wonderfully advanced and terrifyingly lethal biological weaponry. This weaponry, which includes creatures seen in the previous Alien movies, kills all but two members of the crew: Doctor Elizabeth Shaw and the android David. Shaw and David narrowly escape the planet, with the intent of finding the beings that left behind such nefarious creatures of pure destruction.
Flash forward a decade. The massive spacecraft Covenant is on its way to a new planet, filled with a couple thousand human colonists and the ship's crew, all under stasis for the long trip. When things go wrong, the crew is awoken and they find themselves heading towards a planet from which they receive strange audio which sounds like music from Earth. Once on the planet of origin, they make discoveries as to the fate of the survivors of the Prometheus disaster a decade before their voyage.
Right off, I have to say that Covenant does address one of my beefs about Prometheus, regarding the nature of the android David. And while is is annoying to learn that these were left for a sequel to explain, I did find the explanations quite satisfactory. In fact, the explanations become the primary plot point and arguably most interesting element of Covenant.
Another merit of the movie is, unsurprisingly, the visuals. Between some marvelous set pieces, stunning landscapes, slick costumes, and excellent CGI, the movie looks great. There are also a few action sequences that were far better than anything I recall from Prometheus, including the penultimate showdown with the obligatory xenomorph. No, none of it comes close to topping the many great scenes in James Cameron's Aliens, but there was improvement, to be sure.
Viewers should also not be surprised to learn that the acting is solid. Michael Fassbinder is the headliner, and of course he continues his chilly portrayal of the androids David and Walter. The rest of the cast is also strong, even if Billy Crudup's neurotic performance didn't do his character any real favors. And this brings up the characters.
One of my major problems with Prometheus was the lack of characters who were either really intelligent or at least worth caring about. I was disappointed to learn that Covenant did not make any real strides in this department. Much like the crew of the Prometheus, the crew of the Covenant come off as bafflingly ill-equipped to deal with difficult situations. Anyone who does just a little homework on space travel knows that astronauts go through rigorous training and are very closely vetted for their abilities to remain cool under pressure. This includes when things go terribly wrong, including losing fellow crew members. Yet, several members of the Covenant seem to lack that even keel, breaking down and over-reacting to nearly every crisis. There is also a lack of organic emotion in the story, with deeply-felt bonds being forced down our throats rather than allowed to emerge more naturally. This is a real shame, as it takes much of the steam out of scenes that are meant to be moving or at least tense.
Perhaps the most disappointing element of the movie is that too many components felt like mere retreads of ideas long since overused in the Alien film series and copied by lesser imitators. While there are some concepts and themes that are new to these tales, many of the horror elements are all too familiar and far too easy to anticipate.
The litmus test for me with science-fiction movies has always been the strength of my desire to watch them again after my first viewing. Covenant does pass this basic subjective requirement, although just barely. As stunning as many of the visuals are, I won't bother seeing it again in the theater, rather waiting for home release. In doing a tad bit of research on the future of the series, I did come across a few somewhat disconcerting quotes from series honcho Ridley Scott, implying that he may just be spinning the entire series into a possibly endless "franchise" - a term which he seems to use almost disdainfully. On paper, the quotes almost suggest that the mere existence of these recent Alien movies are at least in some form a middle finger from Scott to the viewing public, which might explain the lack of creativity, relative to the earliest and best entries into the series. I hope this isn't the case, and that any future films can realize their full potential more completely. Prometheus and Covenant have come up a bit short, even if they are just engaging enough to merit more than one viewing.
Spoiler Section - You've Been Warned
A few specific reactions:
Firstly, I think one problem I have regards the pace. In very short order, things start to go tragically wrong, with protagonist Daniels losing her husband in a brutal, fiery accident. From that horrible moment, there is a dark shadow lurking over the film that even the few attempts at levity can't escape. When one looks at the best science-fiction/action/adventure/thriller movies, including Alien and Aliens, there was always a slow buildup to the disaster and terror. Those movies spend a good thirty minutes or more allowing us to know the characters in more relaxed and often humorous scenes. We never get that with Covenant, which lowers the emotional stakes. As other crew members start dropping like flies, I can't say that I knew or cared much about any of them, which is a far cry from how I felt about many of the deaths in the first two movies. When the crew members of the Nostromo or the space marines in Aliens start dying, there was a real sense of loss. Covenant didn't offer nearly as much of that as I had hoped.
Just how is it that the writers of Prometheus and Covenant either can't or won't write authentic characters? There are plenty of examples in this most recent film, but one standout example will suffice to make my point. After Daniels's husband, who is also the crew captain, is killed in the accident, Oram assumes command. However, right from the jump, he shows a lack of backbone and leadership acumen that is baffling to say the least. This is a man who was supposedly tested and vetted to be second in command of what I assume is a trillion-dollar colonization mission on a distant planet. And at the first sign that he'll have to actually lead people, he crumbles like an eight-year-old who forgot his book report. This was yet another area where the original two films cast these more recent ones in such poor light - nearly all of the characters actually make the right decisions and show great survival instincts and skills; it's just that the xenomorph(s) are frighteningly adept killing machines.
As for the originality, it seems as though Ridley Scott and his chosen writers are tapped out of ideas when it comes to the xenomorphs themselves. Yes, we get an air-born, inhalant version of a xenomorph, and a couple of creatures that bear a different complexion and slightly different body structures. But mostly, we get the same types of chest-burster, face-hugger, and drop-from-the-rafters scenes that we've had in nearly every other Alien movie. Even though Prometheus introduces the ideas of an array of variant pathogens and lethal organisms, the movies seem to just rest on what was successful long in the past.
It wasn't all bad, though. I actually like what they did with David's story. While the notions about artificial intelligence going rogue would probably have been fresher about 15 or 20 years ago, it is still a fascinating topic, and the enigma of David and his goals is intriguing enough to keep much of the story interesting. Upon further reflection, it does seem that the film could have revealed David's secrets more gradually and skillfully, creating greater tension. As it was, though, it was fairly compelling.
I'll also say that the penultimate action sequence was solid. While other elements of the movie were not terribly original, the fight on the landing platform between Daniels and the xenomorph, with the craft attempting to escape the planet, is the stuff of excellent big-screen, blockbuster action. It was actually far more memorable and exciting than any of the action sequences in Prometheus, which was sadly lacking in that department.
The "twist" at the end? Come on. Is there anyone who couldn't see that coming from a mile away? I'm not always the swiftest to pick up on such things, but even I knew that Walter was David from the moment we didn't actually see the end of their hand-to-hand fight. On top of that, is there an Alien movie with more of a downer ending than this one? Maybe Alien3, but at least that film concluded on an act of self-sacrificing heroism. I'm not against downer endings, when there is a greater message or suggestion being presented, but this one just seemed downright twisted. I suppose that the nearly-inevitable sequel could help take the edge off of it, and it may actually be a great straight-up action movie a la Aliens, but seeing David basically win does leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
Director: James Gunn
Really fun follow-up to 2014's first Guardians film.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is the 15th movie in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Unlike most of the MCU films in the last several years, though, a viewer does not need to see multiple previous MCU films to fully enjoy this one. Seeing the original Guardians movie is really the only recommended prerequisite to staying up to speed with volume 2.
Volume 2 does a really nice job offering a different narrative from the first movie. Whereas much of the first was a typical "meet the players and get the team together" tale, this one involves seeing how the five "Guardians" deal with themselves and relationships their teammates while being splintered from some of the others. Circumstances force several of them to ally themselves with enemies introduced in the first movie. While this device can feel a bit awkward and forced in other movies, writer and director James Gunn handles it well. We get some fun combinations of heroes, anti-heroes, and outright villains in ways that are often highly entertaining.
Probably the one element that separated the first Guardians movie from other MCU offerings is the highly playful, irreverent tone. The sequel gives us just as much subversiveness as the first, and perhaps even a little more. While there are certainly a few moments that go for sentimentality, they are done fairly well, and they never rob the movie of its seemingly primary goal of kicking the legs out from under many standard tropes of action/adventure movies. It's not an easy balance to maintain, but Gunn has shown himself rather adept at the trick.
The humor is still right on par with the first movie, as well. While not every one-liner or gag lands perfectly, more than enough of them do. It helps to have several actors with solid comic chops, most notably Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, and Bradley Cooper's voicing of Rocket. These and several other lesser players strike just the right balance between the rollicking intensity and the snarky fun that have become the hallmark of this segment of the MCU. One of my big concerns for this movie, after seeing the trailers, was that the movie would overdo the "cute" factor with Baby Groot. Fortunately, Gunn didn't lean too much on the admittedly adorable tiny version of the ponderous tree creature. Groot certainly has his moments, but I didn't feel that he was shoe-horned into scenes just to keep the attention of viewers under the age of 10.
One of my few issues with the first Guardians film was that the third act devolved into a fairly typical massive-scale fireworks show against a one-dimensional villain. Though Volume 2 certainly ends with plenty of color, explosions, and manic action, the primary adversary shows a little more creativity and novelty than the rather dull Ronan of the first film. This villain isn't exactly the most sophisticated or complex in terms of their grand scheme, but they are a relatively unique entity, not unlike Dormammu in Doctor Strange.
In the grand scheme of the MCU, I have this one in the upper half of the canon. I don't find it quite as consistent, imaginative, or fresh as what I've found to be the very best movies (The Winter Soldier and the first Avengers are still my favorites). But this is still a great popcorn movie that offers fans of the first film the same brand of fun, with a welcome dash of alterations to the original. I'm already planning to go to a second viewing.
Spoilers Ahead - Fair Warning
So just a couple of things about certain, specific plot and character elements.
Firstly, I'm pretty happy with how the characters were handled, all around. One of my few gripes about the first movie was that we didn't get to see quite enough of Drax or Gamorrah fighting, given that they were reputedly galaxy-class weapons of destruction. We get a somewhat better idea of it in this one. I especially like the showdown between Gamorrah and Nebula on Ego's planet. Nebula reaches the potential suggested in the first movie. As for Drax, I love how he's written and handled - his penchant for bellowing laughter in the most awkward or dangerous situations just doesn't get old to me. Nor does his oblivious disregard for social niceties.
Curiously, I didn't exactly find Ego to be the most compelling villain. I think his nature as "The Living Planet" is actually interesting and creative, but once again Marvel comes up with a villain whose ultimate plan is basically to simply take over the universe. For what, exactly? Well, that's not made completely clear. I will admit that Ego does a better job of justifying and explaining it than certain other superhero movies (I'm looking at you, Thor: The Dark World and Suicide Squad), but it's still nowhere near as fascinating as a well-conceived, if smaller-scale, villain like Civil War's Zemo.
I'm curious to see just how the Guardians tie into next year's Infinity Gauntlet, seeing as how Starlord presumably no longer has the power to handle Infinity Stones. I feel that Nebula is more likely to play some sort of direct role in the tale, given her burning desire to avenge herself upon her sadistic, adopted father Thanos. This was a nice setup to that massive picture for next year, without having it feel terribly forced in this one.