Tag Archives: Michael Fassbender

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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Terrence Malick’s SONG TO SONG

It is getting more and more difficult to quantify Terrence Malick as a filmmaker, particularly with his abstract and introverted narratives with his last three features.  TO THE WONDER, KNIGHT OF CUPS, and now SONG TO SONG are a trilogy of films that are visual interpretations of fragmented memories that Malick holds within his psyche.  The picture (filmed back to back with his previous film KNIGHT OF CUPS) centers on three major characters woven within the music scene in Austin, Texas.  Rooney Mara is the wannabe musician, working her way up through the ranks of Michael Fassbender’s production company, and Ryan Gosling is a musician who falls deeply in love with Mara.  A tragic and tangled love story ensues, and we watch as these three people zigzag throughout each other’s lives.

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The film is very much a natural progression of Malick’s previous two films.  It is as if you’re trekking through a reflection of someone’s memories.  We see prominent moments, with a slurry of small, yet important details that bridge together a kaleidoscope of a narrative.  Where KNIGHT OF CUPS was playfully sensual and very erotic, SONG TO SONG is brutally perverse at times, seeing and experiencing a very dark portrayal of sexuality.

The actors assembled are remarkable.  There are a few carryovers from KNIGHT OF CUPS, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman in particular, but the bulk of the cast is a new Malick ensemble.  Michael Fassbender is nasty as ever as the record producer who is without emotion.  He constantly pushes himself in transgressive ways.  He forces threesomes upon his acquired lovers, he experiments with drugs, and he undercuts anyone whose support he has gained.

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Ryan Gosling is very different than we’ve seen him in a film before.  He’s very sweet, he’s very romantic.  While he maintains his stoic cinematic image, he sheds the mystery and hamminess that we’ve become too used to.  His interactions with Rooney Mara are wonderfully beautiful.  He gives a very touching and soft performance, a clear contrast to the menace and dirtiness of Michael Fassbender.  Natalie Portman gives yet another completely vulnerable turn as a young woman distracted by Fassbender’s charm and monetary value, ultimately suffering from it.  Val Kilmer and Holly Hunter briefly show up.  Kilmer is a singer, who greatly plays off his Jim Morrison persona, and Holly Hunter is the mother of Natalie Portman’s tragic darling.

What separates this from the previous two people twirling features, is that for the first time Malick has used popular music, while still using classical numbers.  Del Shannon’s RUNAWAY was prominently featured in the trailer and in an important scene in the film.  Along with his use of popular music, the film also features cameos from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Rotten,  a significant scene between Michael Fassbender and Iggy Pop, and a narrative affecting performance from Patti Smith who acts as a mentor to Rooney Mara.

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The collaboration between Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is a pairing that is cinematic nirvana.  It’s a match that tends to not be talked about nearly as much as it should be.  The picture looks and feels organic, it doesn’t look like a movie, nor does it feel emulated; it is real life.

If you haven’t been with Malick on his last two pictures, it would be difficult to recommend this film to you.  Yet the film is powerfully filled with beautiful and transgressive emotions.  The film is an experience, it’s as unorthodox as one might think.  The film is challenging, it is an experience that is worthy of anyone’s attention.  If that album cover of Pink Floyd’s WISH YOU WERE HERE were a film, it would be SONG TO SONG.

 

Slow West: A Review by Nate Hill

  
Slow West clocks in briskly under 90 minutes, which is usually unheard of for a western. You can stamp out any thoughts of it being rushed or too slight of a flick though, because it’s exactly what it needs to be every step of the way. It’s a beautifully scored, tightly plotted and boldly characterized (the key ingredient in the genre, if you ask me) mix that saunters along like a mule of the plains, before kicking up the dust for a bloody, atmospheric finale that leaves you stunned and breathing hard. Westerns are often ambitious, lofty affairs and can get quite moody and too densely packed for their own good. Not this baby. It breezes by like a summer wind, with just enough violence, character development and aching catharsis to billow out its chipper narrative during the brief stay we are treated to. Kodi Smit McPhee plays a young Scottish lad who is a tad out of his depths in the American west, searching for a girl (Caren Pistorius) who had to flee the country with her father (The Hound himself, Rory McCann). McPhee is naive to the dangers of this new territory, and nearly finds himself at the receiving end of a bullet before being saved by a roaming outlaw (Michael Fassbender) who takes him under his wing with much gruff and huff along the way. Reluctance is doled out along with sympathy on Fassbender’s part as he shields the boy from a dangerous bounty hunter and former employer of his, played by a wonderfully greasy Ben Mendelsohn, perpetually shrouded in acrid cigar smoke and snuggled up in one epic and fabulous fur pelt. These three wayward misfits gravitate towards the obligatory final shoot out, which takes place in the girl’s hideaway house on the picturesque pretty plains. Impressive is an understatement for this sequence: yellow grass sways, a hailstorm of bullets punctuate the horizon and the mournful tones of Jed Kurzel’s lonely score, grim fates are earned in a gorgeous set piece that resembles something like Wes Anderson making an Oater. Everything before and winds up to this sequence, and the payoff is superb. If I’ve made it sound dark or off putting, think again. It’s all crafted with the utmost light and poetic buoyancy, a lilting sadness to the violence that hits home but never batters you. The performances echo this as well, Fassbender a world weary, affable and altogether dangerous man, Mendelsohn slithering about with a dry silver tongue and an itchy trigger finger, and a fish out of water McPhee stuck in between. The visual palette is quite something to see, accented by the music perfectly. I’m beyond anxious to see what first time director John Maclean comes up with for us for his next ride, for he’s knocked it out of the ranch with this one. Ho for the West. 

Zach Snyder’s 300: A Review by Nate Hill

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Tough. Muscular. Operatic. The very definition of epic. I remember sitting in the theatre during Zach Snyder’s 300 and being just floored and knocked flat on my ass by the violence, spectacle and music on display, and that was just the first ten minutes. It’s a historical war film unlike any other, and like it’s sister film Sin City, it jumps right off the boldly crafted pages of Frank Miller’s novel with all the movement and spirit of a motion picture, while still retaining the fluidity and distinction of a comic book. The sheer force of it will trample your senses into glorious oblivion, whisking you away for two thunderous hours of sound, fury and unrepentant battle. Like any sensation of the week, it gained haters who claim it isn’t the winner everyone’s says it is, or that it hasn’t stood the test of time. They’re either trying to go against the grain to be the ‘cool minority’, or they’re just negative nitpicking nellies. No matter. In 300’s case, they are resoundingly off key whenever I hear them bash it, and just dead wrong. It has stood the test of time, a process I measure by the ebb and flow of my desire to watch older films again and again. I often revisit this one, and marvel at it anew each time. The story follows the battle of Thermopolye, in which three hundred well trained, ridiculously combat savvy Spartan men faced off against a Persian army numbering near a million, led by their arrogent weirdo of a king, Xerxes  (a very scary Rodrigo Santoro). They do this to protect their land and their people, a splinter group of sorts that takes up arms when the Spartan senate refuses to act. The battle is a relentless storm of blood, arrows, decapitated limbs, howling barbarians, wanton carnage and mass slaughter. It doesn’t feel half as savage or heavy as my description sounds though, thanks to the poise and purpouse of the narration penned by Miller, and the extravagant, thought out choreography that includes a whole lot of beautifully satisfying slow motion that has become Snyder’s trademark tool. Love it or hate it, I think it flairs up an action terrifically, especially ones as chaotic and hellbent as these. The Spartans are a wonder to see in action, virile death dealers with a full bore love for the heat of combat and a blatant, cavalier attitude in the very face of death. David Wenham is a force of gravity as Dilios, who provides the rousing narration and kicks ass as Butler’s second in command. Butler makes a commanding Leonidas, his presence everything that you’d want to see in a king, from nobility, to necessary belligerence, to an overwhelming love for his kingdom that is present in every step, every spear throw, every furious war cry. A cheeky Michael Fassbender and Vincent Reagan round out the platoon nicely, and they all have wicked cameraderie that makes their bond in battle stronger. Lena Headey is fiercely attractive and devilishly competent as Queen Gorgo, with a love for Leonidas and their son that cuts through the brutality and gives it purpouse. Dominic West goes against type as Theron, a sniveling, traitorous bitch boy of a Senate member who aims to usurp Sparta and send everything to high hell. The cast goes on with memorable turns from Peter Mensah, Robert Maillet and the legendary Stephen Mchattie. Composer Tyler Bates churns out a score that soars, scorches and bellows forth a primal auditory symphony. This was Snyder first flexing his muscles after his visceral remake of Dawn Of The Dead that barely hinted at the wonders in his career to come. Here he presents a staggering visual aesthetic that he would go on to use in his masterful adaptation of Watchmen, the sadly misunderstood, excellent Sucker Punch, and his DC Comics films which are unbelievable. It all started here with flash and flourish, a jaw dropping sword and sandal typhoon of a film that will give your adrenal gland a workout and your sound system a good old thrashing. In a word: Epic.

PTS Presents NICK AND FRANK’S BEST OF 2015

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We returned to form with our first new recording together since the newest addition to Nick’s family, and the STAR WARS overload that Frank has been overwhelmed by.  We go over our top ten films of the year, top five directors, actors, actresses, supporting actors, supporting actresses, screenplays, cinematographers, score, ensemble and television shows.  We were both very excited to do this, and we hope you enjoy!

DANNY BOYLE’S STEVE JOBS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Danny Boyle’s riveting and unconventional biopic Steve Jobs is a complete knock-out from start to finish, and as bracingly un-Hollywood as this sort of material is going to get. This is laser-precise filmmaking, acted with extreme gusto, written with absurd skill, and shot and cut in a manner that suggests erudite style without ever feeling ostentatious. Aaron Sorkin’s classic rat-a-tat-tat dialogue is on full display from the opening scene, never relenting for two crisp and clean hours of storytelling; it’s an audacious screenplay in terms of structure, and overall, the film feels like a concert or a three act play, with maestro Boyle handling the glorious conducting. Some people are going to say that the film has been designed to never have any payoff – this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s just that Boyle and Sorkin upend our expectations (especially for the genre) and give us something we haven’t seen before. By framing the picture in three acts and showing the final 40 minutes leading up to three iconic product launches — the original Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT in ’90, and the iMac in ’98 – there’s a purposefully restrictive quality to the storytelling and filmmaking that might have been detrimental to the overall finished product had the endeavor not been in control by shrewdly talented filmmakers.

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The hectic, emotionally turbulent, sometimes painful, and always awkward interactions that Jobs had with his creative/business team and family members make up the bulk of the picture, with a remarkable supporting cast all getting their chance to shine (Kate Winslet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Seth Rogen, Katherine Waterston, and Jeff Daniels are all fantastic). But it’s the Michael Fassbender show all the way, with this marvelous actor appearing in almost every single scene, giving a tour de force performance as a man driven to greatness by something I’m not sure he could ever fully explain or understand. Alwin Kuchler’s intensely stylish yet never ostentatious cinematography still gets to show off some trademark Boyle visual flourishes (Dutch angles, sped-up film speeds, saturated color, projected images that give off a trippy vibe), but this is a decidedly tamped down Boyle in comparison to his Tony Scott-esque aesthetics that were on display in Slumdog Millionaire, Trance, and 127 Hours. The decision to shoot each act in a different medium (16mm for Macintosh, 35mm for NeXT, high-def digital for iMac) is nothing less than a sensational aesthetic conceit which heightens the already slightly surreal quality to the narrative.

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And most crucially, the filmmakers, never at any point, try to soften their lead character’s dick-ish-ness, and it must be said that Fassbender is absolutely remarkable as Jobs, crafting a portrait of extremely flawed yet obscenely brilliant human being who likely learned too late (if this film is to be believed) in life that sometimes you should be a bit nicer to others. You sort of have to wonder why so many people stuck with him for so long, to go off what’s presented in this film. Yes, he was a genius, a true iconoclast who revolutionized the world we currently inhabit. But he did so at an intense personal cost to his own personal well-being, creating just as many enemies as friends, with many people likely realizing that they had no choice but to stick it out with working for Jobs, because no matter how egomaniacal he was, you could pretty much bet that he’d come out on top at the end. And make no mistake about it – the line of the year so far is: “I’m poorly made.” This is a film that I’m already jazzed to revisit, and it represents everything I want to see in a film.