Tag Archives: James Franco

Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT

Regardless as to how one felt about PROMETHEUS, they would be lying if they told you the film didn’t have anything to say. The idea behind that film is so grand, it removes the viewer from the world of the xenomorphs because that picture is much larger in scope. Fast forward all these years later to ALIEN COVENANT to where not much is at stake, we’re given one-dimensional characters, and there isn’t much, if any, there there.

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This time around our crew is built around a mopey Kathrine Waterston (a poor woman’s Ripley) who is in constant grief over the death of her husband played by James Franco in perhaps one of the most unnecessary cameos ever. An always solid Billy Crudup, Danny McBride in an admirable dramatic turn, and the saving grace of the picture is Michael Fassbender in dual roles as androids Walter and David.

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Regrettably, the film doesn’t have much to say. Sure, there is some closure to the epic ending of PROMETHEUS, but even that arc of the film feels forced. It seems rather obvious that Scott abandoned any focus he had for a straight sequel to PROMETHEUS and did a swift pivot back to a clear cut Alien story. The problem is that the story is neither good or interesting. You know that most of the cast is going to die the same way they always do in these films and that the xenomorph will live on to continue to kill people.

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What’s more, there’s no terror or suspense or horror built into the film. The overly CGI’d alien rips through people, viciously biting them and ripping them apart. Nothing is left off screen, the film is overly bloody and graphic in the most desensitized way. You can’t continuously beat the drum that movies use too much CGI and then embrace a film like ALIEN COVENANT. The film isn’t terrible, but it’s not good either. Upon the release of PROMETHEUS, Scott was asked about the future of the Alien franchise and his response was, “the beast is dead.” That may not be the case, but what’s for certain is that the franchise surely is on life support.

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What David did next…

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When we last saw David he was pulling a Gwyneth Paltrow. He and Noomi Rapace were off to find answers ’cause The Engineers didn’t want to chat much about their deadly ink or their venomous space cobras.

But before we get to that, let’s go back in time to when people enjoyed the benefits of minimal furnishings and Guy Pearce had no need of old man make-up. We learn little in this austere setting, except for the fact that David is well versed in art and music, and, he has been cursed with the same disease that brought about the demise of the cat. Namely . . . curiosity.

And it would seem, after some reflection in the wake of Alien Covenant,  that curiosity isn’t only lethal to cats, but indeed any and all who go in search of the origins of deep space signals  and derelict spaceships. You could very well make the case that curiosity is the driving force in the Alien franchise, or at least, the main reason the cast members of these movies frequently end up in the shit.

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After a little musical interlude featuring a familiar theme and an equally familiar main title sequence, just to remind us that Covenant is indeed and Alien picture, we quickly find ourselves with our most recent batch of disposable characters soon back up that famous creek, without a paddle.

We receive a brief audience with the dutiful brother of David, Walter, right before the solar sailor (on serious growth hormones) gets hit with a whammy; plunging our heroes into peril as James Franco is deep fried and committed to space before he even gets a chance to tread those sexy space corridors.

His wife and Ripley in residence, Katherine Waterston, is understandably pissed. They were set to build a log cabin by a lake on their new home world but . . . well . . . that aint what this movie is about. This movie is about the dangers of curiosity and how it bites you on the ass.

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Getting back into a familiar turn of events, the crew of the good ship Covenant intercept a message from the cosmos, or more specifically, Danny McBride does. This guy after all has to have something to do other than wear the funny hat and keep the rest of the cast awake by making them say his name, occasionally making them chuckle and eventually getting to be what LL Cool J was to Deep Blue Sea.

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So they follow the signal to its source, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, and instead of the hostile world upon which we all first got our face-hugger on, this planet is stormy but beautiful. So they hit the ground running and that’s when all the fun starts. Walter ditches the hood he saved from Assassin’s Creed and puts on another hat as the gang grab some guns and go a hunting.

ENTER: THE DERELICT SPACECRAFT.

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Yep, just when you thought they’d found a happy place to situate a new colony they find old faithful, (space-jockey cruiser) crash-landed and oozing dark secrets. Rapace is gone but for her dog tags and family photos which tells us that this is the spot that is marked with an X.  Soon a couple of the expendables get infected by stirring up some bad pixie dust and we get the first glimpse of our alien, albeit a little pale. He busts a move and starts killing people like it’s nobody’s business.

Then a hooded man appears. He’s not the guy who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor, but a guy who’s looking to breed a master race with himself fixed at the center as God/Creator. It’s David. He might need a haircut and a real job, still he remembers his Lawrence of Arabia and, turns out, he’s laid some eggs. Yes – those eggs!

 

So David has been awaiting this ride, and after successfully breeding the Alien we know and love, some synthetic on synthetic action, pretending to be the only other guy in the cast who looks exactly like him (but with a different accent), we round out the festivities with a little power-loader . . . I’m sorry, crane action, we get back on board the mother-ship, watch and see how our favorite star beast reacts to sex in the shower til again the poor bastard gets blown out of yet another goddamn airlock.

Phew . . . it’s over. Well, not quite. See David is a little like Chucky . . . he aint that easy to get rid of. The story ends with David listening to the Wagner he opted for in the beginning before vomiting up a couple of fresh eggs to share with those friendly sleeping colonists in the next movie.

Prometheus 2 is not a bad flick. It’s just not really the Alien flicks we cherish. I get what Sir Scott is up to, and David Giler along with Walter Hill will be happily sipping their brandy-wine for a few more years as Scott continues to expand this prequel universe til eventually a de-aged Sigourney Weaver shows up and tells some screaming queen to get away from something . . . you bitch!

DAVID WILL RETURN . . . ?

Still, as ever, happy viewing

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The Dude in the Audience

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31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival Opening Night: THE LITTLE PRINCE

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Opening the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival was the new film by Mark Osborne, THE LITTLE PRINCE.  The film completely honored Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s legendary novella. SBIFF’s director, Roger Durling, introduced the film, spoke of how much the novella means to him, and then he joyfully introduced Santa Barbara’s favorite son, donning an incredibly glorious beard, Jeff Bridges.

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Jeff Bridges attending the SBIFF premiere of THE LITTLE PRINCE

The voice cast is one of the most eclectic and brilliant voice casts ever.  Bridges headlines as the Aviator, Rachel McAdams as the Mother, Paul Rudd as Mr. Prince, Marion Cotillard as the Rose, James Franco as the Fox, Benico Del Torro as the Snake, Bud Cort as the King, Paul Giamatti as the Academy Teacher, Riley Osborne as the Little Prince, Mackenzie Foy as the Little Girl, Ricky Gervais as the Conceited Man, and Albert Brooks as the Business Man.

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The film itself has a wonderfully unique animation style that was a merger of stop motion looking animation and clean and crisp animation that was masterfully fastened together by Osborne.

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The film was as funny as it was sweet and struck the perfect balance of the importance of child’s development of daring to be yourself and adult oriented entertainment.

GUS VAN SANT’S MILK — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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In 2008, eclectic filmmaker Gus Van Sant released two films: Paranoid Park, a challenging and formally adventurous indie, and the more classically structured but no less emotionally stirring biopic Milk. I’ve long been fascinated by Van Sant’s interesting and unpredictable career, and his film about San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay politician in the U.S., remains as powerful now as it did when I first viewed it almost 10 years ago. Sean Penn delivered a splendid performance as Milk, and everyone around him, including James Franco, Josh Brolin, Emile Hirsch, and Diego Luna all offered fantastic supporting turns. Dustin Lance Black’s sharp screenplay was heavily researched, the dialogue intelligently written, and the film carried a sense of the tragic almost from the beginning. Shot by the incomparable cinematographer Harris Savides, the film had a vibrant and period-authentic aesthetic, which helped to solidify the time and place of the socially combustible narrative. Harvey Milk stood up for the entire gay community in the United States when nobody else dared to speak up for what they knew was right. This made him both loved and hated; wherever he went and whatever he did, his actions provoked passionate responses from everyone who crossed paths with him. The level of conviction that Penn brought to the role of Milk was remarkable, as he fully jettisoned any lingering elements from previous performances, totally embodying the man in both body and spirit. Here was a man who decided that enough was enough – it was time to set things right for himself and everyone like him. Penn breezed through the film with likable ease, and because death hangs over the proceedings so ominously, there was genuine sadness when he met his ultimate fate.

The other actors were all up to the task as well. Franco, playing Milk’s lover and first campaign strategist Scott Smith, gave one of the best performances of his career; combined with his hilarious turn in Pineapple Express, 2008 was a banner year for Franco. Penn and Franco, from the first scene, generated real on-screen chemistry, making their relationship all the more special and affecting. Brolin was absolutely gripping as the confused and desperate Dan White, a man who may or may not have been gay himself, giving a chilling performance as a person unable to understand the potential differences in other people; it’s a role that could have been oppressively one-note, but Brolin brought layers of emotion and mental complexity to the role. Hirsch registered strongly as Cleve Jones, one of Milk’s political strategists, and Luna, playing Milk’s emotionally troubled boyfriend Jack Lira, brought skittish, nervous energy to every scene he appeared in; you never quite know what will happen when he appears on screen. Van Sant has led an extremely idiosyncratic career as a filmmaker, and after embarking on some seriously avant-garde works (Elephant, Gerry, Last Days, and the previously mentioned Paranoid Park unofficially form a rather brilliant quartet of minimalistic storytelling), it appeared as if he wanted to prove that he could still deliver a more traditional and commercially friendly piece of filmmaking, and that he did with this engaging, wholly engrossing time capsule. And in working with Savides for the fifth time on Milk, Van Sant seamlessly blended archival footage with vivid re-creations of San Francisco in the late 1970’s; the atmosphere that this film possesses feels tangible. It’s sort of like a visually thematic cousin to the work that Savides did on David Fincher’s masterful serial killer/journalism thriller Zodiac. Danny Elfman’s score was never intrusive yet offered wonderful moments of musical inspiration while Elliot Graham’s fluid editing kept the two-hour run time moving along at a swift but unhurried pace. As far as biopics go, this one is at the top of the pile.

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DAVID GORDON GREEN’S PINEAPPLE EXPRESS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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David Gordon Green, the indie specialist of such films such as George Washington, All the Real Girls, Undertow, and Snow Angels, was just about the last person I’d ever expect to get the directing job on a Cheech & Chong inspired stoner-action-comedy like Pineapple Express. Up until right before Pineapple Express, his style would have been considered much more in the vein of Terrence Malick than Judd Apatow (who produced Pineapple Express). But almost to prove a point that he could change it up and play in the big leagues of studio financed product, Green stepped out of his comfort zone and crafted, along with screenwriters Seth Rogen (who also stars) and Evan Goldberg, the ultimate bromance marijuana movie, a film that playfully mixes genres, blending simple yet extremely effective pot humor with the sensibilities of John Woo’s ultra-violent action movie period of The Killer and Hard Boiled and Face/Off. The results are a bizarrely awesome, hard to define piece of work, a movie that has big laughs, a surprising and almost giddy amount of blood, a never ending stream of creative profanity being uttered from the stacked cast, and a huge supply of generous heart and friendship born from the two perfectly matched leads (Rogen and a scene-stealing James Franco, playing everyone’s friendly neighborhood weed dealer). I’ve been a fan of this film from day one, and I’ve watched it repeatedly over the last seven years, and it’s proven to be a comedy that just won’t die for me. The summer of 2008 will always be remembered for Pineapple Express and Tropic Thunder, two blockbuster comedies that grabbed their R-ratings by the balls and embraced the hell out of their crazy ideas.

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The set-up is simple in Pineapple Express. Rogen, playing a ganja-loving process server named Dale Denton, stops over at his dealer’s apartment to grab some little green trees. His dealer, Saul Silver (an utterly priceless Franco, looking beyond glazed-over), has the best stuff in town: Pineapple Express. Oh yeah – notice their initials? SS and DD? Same Shit Different Day. Ha! After getting his fresh new stash, Dale heads over to serve someone with their papers, only this someone happens to be the city’s main importer of the fabulous Mary-Jane. What Dale also doesn’t expect to see is Ted Jones (a disheveled and drugged-out Gary Cole, reliably funny as always) murder his rival, shooting him in the back of the head in the living room of his glass-walled house. Fleeing the scene, but not before throwing his roach of Pineapple Express out the window, Dale high-tails it back to Saul’s to tell him what he’s witnessed. Ted observes Dale making his escape, heads out to the street, sniffs the roach, and because Saul is the only one that he’s given the Pineapple too, he knows immediately where to start looking. The film speeds along with Dale and Saul on the run from Ted and his goons, getting stoned every chance they get, and finally culminating in a wonderfully graphic shoot-out that would make Woo and Michael Bay blush.

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What’s so fun and unique about this wild and sometimes out of control movie is the irreverent tone and blissful disregard for logic. The first portion of the film is an easy-going, herb-scented comedy, with Franco’s Saul tossing out one incredible zinger after another. Franco seemed utterly baked in this film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was, though he’s repeatedly claimed that he wasn’t. Either way, he looks incredibly at ease in the role, laughing and snorting and having a blast with his absurdly lovable character. Rogen, who can do no wrong at this point for me, plays the guy we’ve come to love from films such as Knocked Up and The 40 Year Old Virgin, but here, he’s in action-hero mode towards the second half, and it was a blast to see Rogen clearly going wild during the raucous action scenes. One of the film’s highlights is a ridiculous, apartment-destroying brawl between Rogen, Franco, and the hilarious Danny McBride playing the world’s worst best-friend/middle man, who gets tons of laughs with his dead-pan line delivery and vulgar idiocies. Cinematographer Tim Orr, who has shot all of Green’s features, opted for 2.40:1 widescreen, and he was able to mix an anything-goes-atmosphere with creatively chosen angles that maximize the jokes and punchlines while heightening the action. Orr’s work is always visually interesting, and here, he was able to riff on the stylings of a studio action picture while still retaining his inherently organic qualities as a craftsman.

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Pineapple Express is, at its heart, a male weepie. Dale and Saul love each other, and like any lovers, they have some fun, they fight, they separate, and then they get back together. Whether it’s the two of them blowing clouds of smoke onto unsuspecting caterpillars or wielding double shotguns and blowing people away, they are a duo that can’t be separated. A great supporting cast is also along for the ride, including Bill Hader in the film’s hilarious 1930’s set prologue showcasing the sad prohibition of the magical plant, Craig Robinson and Kevin Corrigan as bickering, hysterically inept hitmen, Rosie Perez as a corrupt cop and Cole’s henchwoman, the sexy Amber Heard as Rogen’s high-school(!) girlfriend, and Nora Dunn and Ed Begley Jr. as Heard’s disapproving parents. And when the action-fireworks take place during the film’s final and extremely bloody act, you’re all the more invested in the characters because of the time spent with them watching their characters evolve. It’s a film that’s fairly layered and sort of dark when you cut down to the bone, and it’s easily the most subversive item in Apatow’s catalogue of cinematic craziness. Pineapple Express is the sort of stony movie gift that keeps getting you buzzed, even if you don’t partake in Item 9.