“Alien: Covenant” falls flat in delivering the origin story that this franchise deserved
Review of Ridley Scott’s latest addition to his ever-developing “Alien” franchise
By Carter Bagley
Ridley Scott returns yet again to helm another installment of the classic “Alien” franchise he created way back in 1979. Scott was at one point a revered filmmaker after making films like “Alien”, “Blade Runner”, “Thelma & Louise” and “Gladiator” but despite the occasional classic he isn’t very consistent. One thing he is great at though in all of his films is world building and his talent for directing memorable shots. So, naturally, “Alien: Covenant” is very beautiful and eery to look at. However, it lacks the coherent story that all those films I mentioned above have. In all of his years at directing he still has an eye for huge scopes and making an arching story. He attempted to do this with the “Alien” franchise back in 2012 when he made the prequel “Prometheus” which many considered a flop despite being fairly enjoyable in my opinion. That film contains a better story and better characters than this film though which is a shame because this is the film that explains the origins of the classic Xenomorph aliens, it falls flat though in almost every department. To be fair the ties to Prometheus are well crafted and Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride all give entertaining performances. The main characters aren’t the issue here, it’s the mythology this film relies on that weighs it down. It seems rushed and not as complex and fascinating as it should’ve been considering these creatures are the classic alien design that has been terrifying audiences for nearly 40 years. Fassbender gives his all in this film despite having been given some questionable dialog at points. Sometimes the films is suspenseful like in the first and third act but the film’s extended second act is what tears this otherwise simple, science fiction thriller apart. Ridley Scott tries to weave this deep, philosophical, thought-provoking narrative that on it’s own has some interesting parts in it but when paired with the rest of the film and the franchise as a whole it just seems jarring. The characters were mostly put there to just be killed off and even the main characters don’t have much to them and it’s thanks to the talent of Waterston, McBride, Fassbender and Billy Crudup that this film is even somewhat intense at points, it’s not in the writing. The beginning of the movie and the end were quite enjoyable and interesting but as a whole film it left me confused and unsatisfied. Some great cinematography, music and performances can’t stop this film from feeling bloated in it’s muddled, pretentious plot. If you enjoy sitting back and just watching science fiction films this might be decently enjoyable for you, but if you’re going in expecting the next “Aliens” then you better lower your expectations.
“Win It All” is not entirely original in it’s story but features enough style and good performances to catch your attention
Review of Joe Swanberg’s latest indie film that takes a more conventional approach to storytelling
By Carter Bagley
Joe Swanberg has been an indie-darling the past few years, specializing in quirky, character-driven independent films including “Drinking Buddies” and “Digging For Fire”. He’s a filmmaker who’s films I haven’t fallen in love with unlike other indie filmmakers but he’s very consistent in his style. He’s managed to stay true to his style even when his budget has increased. A unique partnership has been forged with his last few films between Swanberg and actor Jake Johnson and it’s at play again here in “Win It All”. Jake Johnson is an intriguing presence in all of his performances and a very underrated actor. In this film he plays Eddie who is a 30-something, down on his luck, slacker who is addicted to the thrill of gambling. His brother, Ron (Joe Lo Truglio), is a family man who is the owner of their father’s old landscaping business and desperately wants Eddie to join the business with him. An opportunity for Eddie arises when a troubled friend of his asks him to hold on to (and not open) a duffel bag for him while he’s in prison and in return he will give Eddie a large sum of money. He accepts obviously, but his curiosity gets in the way of course and he ends up opening the bag only to find even more money than he was promised. Despite being urged to resist by his addiction program sponsor, played hilariously by Keegan Michael-Key, Eddie decides to gamble some of the money to make more. Things go awry when he ends up in a lot of debt and after meeting a charming, beautiful single mother who he begins seeing, Eddie decides to get his life together and get the money back. Jake Johnson gives a charismatic, understated and comedic performance and proves again that he can be a good, atypical leading man. Aislinn Derbez is good as a struggling, hardworking single mother and nurse who (along with Joe Lo Truglio) gives Eddie an emotional center. Swanberg wrote and directed the film in a more conventional way than his other films while still containing his noticeable style and quirks. The story may have been told many times before, and it may be a little too happy at some points but nonetheless “Win It All” is an entirely enjoyable film that is better than most of the films playing in theaters. “Win It All” is only streaming on Netflix and it really deserves your attention, check it out.
“Kong: Skull Island” is a well-shot enjoyable action film with some glaring issues
Review of the latest attempt to bring back the classic movie monster
By Carter Bagley
After seeing the entertaining “Godzilla” reboot back in 2014 it seemed that Warner Bros. was planning something big and when they announced “Skull Island”, later titled “Kong: Skull Island”, it became clear exactly what that was. It was announced that these films were leading up to a King Kong vs Godzilla film, that sounds like a blockbuster that everybody wants to see. Although before we got that we were getting this new King Kong reboot. That’s not a bad thing though I was actually very excited going into it because we’ve never gotten an amazing look at Skull Island itself. So does it hold up? Kind of. The positives were pretty positive but this film had some pretty glaring issues. It features an amazing cast and crew led by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who directed one of my favorite films of 2014, “The Kings of Summer”. The cast includes A-list actors like Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C Reilly, and John Goodman along with newer blossoming stars like Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins & Jason Mitchell. There’s no reason that this film should be anything other than wildly entertaining and well-made blockbuster. However, this film reeks of studio interference and Vogt-Roberts clearly didn’t get to make the film that he wanted to make. The action was incredible and the film features several sequences which that will stick in your head months after viewing and it does a great job at establishing the setting and introducing Kong himself. The big problems are the story and the characters. There seems to be no story here at all, pretty much what happens is that John Goodman’s character knows there’s an island full of monsters somewhere in the pacific so he takes a group of soldiers and scientists to go check it out. Once they arrive they start blowing up the ground and Kong shows up and takes down all the helicopters and from there it’s just the characters trying to get off the island. No one has any motive to do anything. Samuel L Jackson plays a Lieutenant who wants to kill Kong just because he killed some people. Even Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are usually great in the films they’re in but here Brie Larson is reduced to a walking stereotype of women from the 70’s. Hiddleston is usually charming and interesting to watch but he looks like any other leading man in this film which disappointed me. The 70’s setting was kind of overbearing at times also because there’s no reason for it to take place back then and it features a great soundtrack of stereotypical Vietnam-era rock songs. Although “Kong: Skull Island” has some obvious flaws it still has great action sequences and a good setting and some genuinely creepy moments with various monsters on the island. For a film that could’ve been “Apocalypse Now” with monsters (which it wanted to be) it ended up just being an entertaining monster flick. Despite the characters not being very great some of the actors managed to stand out. John C. Reilly plays a World War II veteran stuck on the island and his character easily steals the whole movie. John Goodman and Samuel L Jackson are also very watchable and have an undeniable presence though their characters are pretty one note. Thomas Mann even has a couple good scenes and lines and proves that he’s one of the better rising stars today. Kong himself is fleshed out enough for you to care for him and the film ends with you wanting to see more of him. In the end “Kong: Skull Island” is a watchable blockbuster that has vibes of a classic monster B-movie and anyone who enjoys good action and incredible cinematography will enjoy the film enough.
“Life” is an entertaining science fiction thriller albeit not an original one
Review of Daniel Espinosa’s newest science fiction film that borrows a lot from “Alien”
By Carter Bagley
I’ve been slacking a lot on reviewing things on this site and I contemplated whether or not to review this film since it came out a while ago. I ultimately decided that by the end of the year I’d rather have it in my review catalog than not so here I am writing this. Daniel Espinosa has managed to make a career in the past several years of making entertaining if not forgettable thrillers or action flicks and it seems he may have done it again but not entirely. There are many interesting things happening in “Life” to make it memorable enough to mention to a friend but sadly it fails to make you think about what you see which is something I think it was going for. The good parts of the movie are really good, the performances are great and the entire cast is actually phenomenal. Jake Gyllenhaal does the best with what his character is given and Rebecca Ferguson impresses again a female lead after her breakout in the “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation”. The two standouts for me however are Ariyon Bakare and Hiroyuki Sanada. Two names that I was not familiar with before going into the film but they had some of the best character development of any of the characters. Bakare plays Hugh Derry, a scientist who is the one that is tasked with taking care and keeping the specimen they find in a stable environment. Things quickly go awry when the specimen begins to grow and become intelligent. The crew quickly realize that they had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they brought this creature aboard the ship. “Life” takes some obvious ideas from “Alien” which is definitely not a bad thing but it does make it difficult for the film to stand on its own. To be fair the script is pretty clever in how the characters find ways to stop the alien from getting stronger. “Life” manages to be very entertaining and gripping but by the end of it you kind of saw it coming and it doesn’t stick with you. At times it’s very predictable and some of the dialogue and actions made by the characters seem a little unbelievable. Overall, if you are a science fiction fan than it will probably be a fun time but otherwise there’s no real rush to go out and check it out.
“Logan” stands out ahead of most comic book films as a real human story told through the unique perspective of a beloved comic book character
Review of Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of the character that made him an international star
By Carter Bagley
I’ve always loved superhero films and I grew up watching “Spider-Man” and “X2: United” and those were some of the earliest films I remember really loving and being obsessed about. The X-men franchise has been steadily releasing films throughout my entire childhood and I remember being extremely excited about each one. I will say that it hasn’t all been perfect and there’s been many lows (I’m looking at you “X-Men: The Last Stand” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”) but there’s been some incredible films to come out this series. Films like “X2: United”, “X-Men: First Class” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” are truly great. If there was one thing that has always worked in the series however, was Hugh Jackman’s portrayal of Wolverine. Unlike some comic book movies where the actors are clearly phoning it in for a paycheck, Jackman has always given his all to this amazing character and he’s been playing him for 17 years now. He’s getting older and him and director James Mangold decided to team up one last time to give a proper send off to this character. The movies have always been PG-13 and marketed towards kids and teenage audiences but this film is definitely not. If you know anything about the comic books you would know that the character of Wolverine is a complicated one. He’s aggressive, strong and reclusive but has an obvious vulnerability to him. He’s a character that has encountered so much pain in his life and he’s bottled it up and separated himself from everyone he cares about. Though there’s one thing about him, he can become very scary when he’s angry. This film is interesting in a way that Wolverine whose real name is Logan is old now. It takes place in the near future and mutants have pretty much gone extinct. Logan is taking care of his mentor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) who is very old and sickly and is one of the only soft spots left inside Logan. He’s addicted to alcohol and isn’t healing properly like he used to and he wants to live out his days working as a limo driver and taking care of Charles. This changes however when a little girl named Laura comes to the attention of Charles and Logan. Charles who used to teach mutants wants to help this girl who he says is special and powerful but Logan being the old selfish man he is refuses. When an army of men come after her however they realize how powerful and important this young girl really is and Logan agrees to help her out. “Logan” is not like any other superhero film I’ve ever seen. In many ways it transcends the genre and becomes an indie film at parts or a western and that’s what makes it so brilliant. Hugh Jackman is amazing in the film and so is Patrick Stewart and you feel for these two characters more than you have in any other X-Men film yet. The R rating really works for this film because you get to see the pure animalistic side to Wolverine in a way we haven’t experienced yet. The action is incredible and bloody and brutal and Jackman takes it to the extreme in almost every scene. The little girl played by newcomer Dafne Keen is an interesting character as well and the little girl gives a very impressive performance. Boyd Holbrook also gives a great and intimidating performance as the main villain. “Logan” is exciting and perfectly directed by James Mangold and it’s filled with insane action, award-worthy performances and enough emotion to invest people who wouldn’t normally be interested in these kinds of films. This film marks the end of an era and the beginning of a new type of superhero film at the same time, and years from now I could easily see people look back on “Logan” as a very important and classic film in the genre.
“Passengers” flashy visuals, great cast and acclaimed director cannot save it from mediocrity
Review of Morten Tyldum’s ambitious science fiction follow up to “The Imitation Game”
By Carter Bagley
Morten Tyldum’s last film “The Imitation Game” really blew me away back in 2014 and was one of my favorite films of that year. This is large part was due to Tyldum’s directing
expertise and even though he was a relative newcomer, it put him at high demand for studios who needed a talented director for hire. Then when it was announced that he was attached to direct a space sci-fi film called “Passengers” starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence of course I was excited. The pot of this film is extremely intriguing as it focuses on two passengers who wake up from cryo-sleep 90 years too early on a journey to another planet. With a great crew, an intriguing premise and two of the biggest young movie stars on the planet, “Passengers” was destined for greatness. So what happened? Well the directing was great, that was not the problem. It really looked and was made with obvious effort and technique. Chris Pratt does his usually charming, everyday guy-next-door thing and Lawrence actually turns in a surprisingly good performance. There were many good qualities to be seen here and it was just filled with potential and I could see it in almost every scene. For a film that should’ve been intriguing and twisting and a throwback to 1970’s science fiction films, it instead reflected many problems with modern day Hollywood. It took a potentially genius science fiction concept and turned it into predictable, forgettable romantic slop. I was really looking forward to an interesting and unique film but instead was given the same film we’ve seen many times before. The script was obviously tampered with many times by the studio and it was clear their only intention was to produce an easily digestible adventure for audiences to eat up around Christmas time, and that is what really disappointed me. Morton Tyldum clearly tried to work with what he had but what was written for him was so inconsistent and annoying that it completely ruined the rest of the film. “Passengers” was a film that was should’ve been exciting and original but sadly it got too mixed up in the Hollywood machine that it ended up being completely watered down. Interesting visuals, a competent score, and two great lead actors couldn’t save this film from mediocrity.
“Manchester By The Sea” is a powerfully touching and human story with timeless themes with incredible talent on and off screen
Review of Casey Affleck’s Oscar caliber tour-de-force “Manchester By The Sea”
By Carter Bagley
Casey Affleck has been a seemingly underrated talent for years now. Ever since he first broke on the scene in the shadow of his older and more famous brother, Ben, he’s been tragically overlooked for his sheer talent of conveying such deep emotion through his stare and expression alone. Now it seems this year he’s finally getting the universal recognition he’s always deserved. The plot of this film is typical “oscar-bait” formula but the performances and the little hints of comedy lightly sprinkled through really make this one stand ahead of the pack. Kenneth Lonergan who has become a master at crafting powerful and emotional masterpieces directs the hell out of this film and knows exactly how he wants every single line and glance delivered and it’s because of this that the actors really thrive. Casey Affleck plays Lee Chandler who is a depressed and distant handyman in Boston who must travel to his hometown of Manchester, Massachusetts after his older brother passes away. He must cope with the death and find out what it means for his teenage nephew while also battling horrifying memories he has with his hometown. The film really rests on the shoulders of the younger Affleck who proves himself capable of going toe-to-toe with any other actor of his generation. Throughout the film you see this deep and unexplainable sorrow in his eyes and it’s only in time that Lonergan brilliantly reveals the details to this harrowing story and Affleck’s performance really starts to make sense. I will say that if this isn’t an oscar-winning performance than I don’t know what it is. Newcomer Lucas Hedges plays the teenage son of Lee’s deceased brother and he also delivers an impressive and magnetic performance that shows a boy struggling with loss in an honest and subtle fashion. Michelle Williams is up for an oscar also as she plays Lee’s ex-wife who painfully stirs up old memories for Lee who desperately tries to cope with mistakes he made in the past. This film deserves all the recognition it’s being given and any other year might be sweeping the awards floor with it’s strong emotion and powerful themes. Normally I would not expect to be effected emotionally by a film as much as I was after I saw it and the credit is owed to every single aspect of talent that went into this modern emotional masterpiece. “Manchester By The Sea” is a devastating and extremely powerful human story that is guaranteed to move anybody who goes in and gets invested in the film and the many touching performances throughout this tragic drama. It may not have the style and quirkiness of “La La Land” or the social and topical themes of “Moonlight” but it makes up for in it in sheer classic quality and a dramatic timelessness that will never become outdated.