Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

All The Money in the World

In 1973, masked men kidnapped a teenager off the streets of Rome. He was the favourite American grandson of J. Paul Getty, the richest man in the world. Nobody gets that rich by being nice, and Getty is not. And of all the shitty things he is, miserly is one of them. You don’t get to be a billionaire by spending your money, after all. So when the kidnappers demand $17 million for him, Getty refuses. “Very little in life is worth paying full price for” he says, but he doesn’t plan to negotiate, he plans on just not paying. “It’s an awful lot of money for such a young boy.” But you can imagine how well that goes over with Junior’s mother.

JPG III, 16 at the time of his kidnapping, has a strong-willed mother, Gail, and thank god. But Gail (Michelle Williams) has no money of her own and no access to her allthemoney2former father-in-law’s fortune. Getty (Christopher Plummer) is pretty set in his ways, and to avoid dealing with his mouthy daughter-in-law, he sends his “security guy” Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to do the dealing for him. But will this weird and uneasy alliance be enough to save Junior (Charlie Plummer, no relation)? If you were alive at the time you likely already know the answer.

If you’re alive right now and not willfully burrowing under some very thick boulders, you’ve probably heard that Kevin Spacey was originally tapped to play Getty Senior. Spacey’s creepy past caught up with him just a month before this film was to be released, which left producers scrambling. Ultimately, director Ridley Scott decided to reshoot Getty’s 22 scenes with another actor who had read for the part, Christopher Plummer. They filmed for 10 days and then frantically re-edited, and what results is a role for which Plummer received an Oscar nomination. Mark Wahlberg had costar approval built into his contract, and he refused to approve Plummer unless he got paid an additional $1.5M to come in for the reshoots. This eventually blew up in his face when it was reported that Michelle Williams only received her per diem of $800 per day. Wahlberg ended up donating the $1.5M to the #TimesUp campaign to stem the backlash. It’s fair to say this movie was under a lot of scrutiny before it was ever released, and I admit I wondered if Plummer’s nomination was perhaps just a reward to the film’s production crew for so quickly doing the right thing, but now I just think it unfairly overshadowed what is indeed an Oscar-worthy performance – by Michelle Williams.

All The Money In The World obviously has a lot to say about the soul-suckingness of money, at its centre is an old man with a corroded heart, but Christopher Plummer manages to play him with just a touch of warmth, which is an interesting surprise. There’s a compelling story here with great acting (with the exception of Wahlberg, who isn’t so much bad as just useless, extraneous), but the movie is just a little muddled (and a little fond of unadorned exposition). It flits between genres – family drama, crime, thriller. At its core though it’s really about this epic tug-of-war between a frantic mother and a cold grandfather, the struggle between love and money, and that’s a story that never gets old.

 

 

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Alien: Covenant

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You always know better than the idiots in horror movies. Don’t go to an uncharted planet streaming John Denver songs to the universe. Hell, don’t go into space period! When you get to the planet, don’t trust its lone inhabitant who lives in a graveyard and conducts science experiments in a drippy cave. Especially when the results of those science experiments look suspiciously like the creepy little things that just blew up your only ride off the planet. But if not for those dumb decisions, there wouldn’t be much of a movie here, and certainly not one about Aliens with a capital A.

As the SXSW Sneak Peek hinted, the idiots in Alien: Covenant are more tolerable than most, because every bad decision leads us to a place we want to go. Ridley Scott’s playful approach here elevates Alien: Covenant above every entry in this franchise since Aliens. The bad decisions aren’t infuriating, they’re chess moves, most of which lead to another piece getting ripped apart into gooey chunks by space monsters.

Everything in this movie services the Aliens, including the speedy pace at which they burst out of people (taking only as long as needed to cause maximum carnage). Alien: Covenant felt like a Star Wars prequel in that respect, as the technology (in this case, the creatures produced by those previously mentioned science experiments) behind the Aliens seems better in the “past” than in the “future”. I suppose that’s inevitable when prequels are made 30 years later, and I was a lot more forgiving of it here that I was with Star Wars. I think that’s because in Alien: Covenant, the changes from the original rules make the movie more entertaining, while the changes in Star Wars made the movies into a CGI tutorial mixed with a boring political drama.

Above all else, Alien: Covenant is fun, and that’s because Ridley Scott and his cast (led by stellar performances by Michael Fassbender (x2) and Katherine Waterston channeling Ripley and kicking Alien ass just like Sigourney Weaver did) deliver everything this franchise’s fans could possibly have asked for. No unnecessary exposition, no extraneous plot points, just Aliens mowing down idiot after idiot.

For that, Alien: Covenant gets a score of eight chest-bursting xenomorphs out of ten.

Ode To Ripley

Ridley Scott intended to kill off beloved butt-kicking hero Ellen Ripley in the very first of the Alien franchise. His script saw her harpooning the alien in her escape pod but it making no bloody difference, so the thing tears through her mask and rips her face off. Then the alien takes over the controls and sets his course – well, you can imagine the rest. The studio wouldn’t hear of it. “The first executive from Fox arrived on set within 14 hours, threatening to fire me on the spot,” Scott has said. “So we didn’t do that [ending].”

tumblr_nbwng6xMfu1rp0vkjo1_500.gifAnd this might be the first ever case of me agreeing with studio interference, purely because the world needs more Ripleys. We admire her because she was tough and she was smart. I admire her, and Scott, because Ripley cried at work and it didn’t weaken her, didn’t sap her power.

As recently as last year, the New York Post ran an article literally entitled ‘Cry At Work If You Never Want To Succeed.’ It contains helpful nuggets such as “Sure, ladies, it’s OK to cry at work. If you want every male (and female) boss to think you’re a useless little Nancy who can’t and shouldn’t be trusted with a challenging assignment again.” And evidence that writer Kyle Smith has confused women with toddlers: “Crying is an absolutely spiffing way to get what you want — in the short term. But once you’ve hosted a one-person snivel party, people tend to remember it.” Crying at work is not the same as throwing a temper tantrum. Sometimes tears are a natural (and unavoidable) reaction to anger or frustration. Some men (and frankly, some women) might take those same feelings to a bathroom stall where they’ve made an indent in the plaster punching the wall. Others might take those feelings out an on unsuspecting trash can which gets kicked and spilled all over the office floor. Doors and drawers and phones slam. Assistants get verbally abused. Half a dozen donuts get guilty devoured. Most of those are much worse than crying, but only crying gets a bad rep. “Women will be set back 100 years if they start believing it’s OK to cry on the job” Smith tells us. “But hey, OK, fine, if you just want to remain on the Girl Track for the rest of your life, by all means interrupt the weekly departmental meeting to fill your empty venti cup with your hot, salty tears.” Um, Girl Track? Fuck you, buddy.

When Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg wrote her best-seller Lean In, she wrote that it was okay to cry at work. Crying just happens, it’s part of our biology, part of our survival tumblr_nx8ebcJVP91uk3oooo1_500.gifmechanisms. For many women, and many men, it’s just part of being human, part of having emotions, and most of us do not shut those emotions off at the start of our shift.  41% of women and 9% of men said they’d cried at work during the previous year and that it had made no difference in terms of their success (note: women have six times more prolactin – a hormone related to crying – than men).

All that to say: Ellen Ripley was a force to be reckoned with. She cried at work, not to manipulate her coworkers, not because she was helpless and sad, but because she was in a tough situation and it just damn well called for it. All her male colleagues perished while she survived. She kicked alien ass so hard they brought her back for a sequel.

SXSW: Alien & Alien: Covenant Sneak Peek

alien-F71972Anytime you get a chance to watch Alien with Sir Ridley Scott, you take it. How great is it that we got that chance?  Even better, Scott was not alone. He brought Alien: Covenant footage with him, as well as Covenant stars Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, and Michael Fassbender. An entertaining Q&A took place after the bulk of the new footage. We didn’t learn any big secrets but it’s obvious that all three actors were thrilled to have had the chance to work with Scott, particularly McBride who joked that his parents were thrilled he was finally making a real movie.

ridley-scott-F71972The new footage proves that Scott is not afraid to rip himself off, and that’s great news as far as I’m concerned. You would expect Alien: Covenant to bear at least a passing resemblance to Alien (as the former’s purpose, aside from making tons of money, is to bridge the gap between Prometheus and the original quadrilogy. But the similarities are greater than that, they’re intentional callbacks to the original.  That made the footage from Covenant FEEL like Alien, as it took us to the same places that Alien did, only now we know what’s going to happen (and what has to happen). Scott delivers on his setups with glee, letting us know he’s right there with us. A facehugger scene featuring Billy Crudup was especially awesome. It’s a good bet there will be more moments like that in the footage still to come.

If the rest of the movie measures up to the three full scenes we were treated to then Alien: Covenant is going to be a must-see for anyone who is a fan of the original. And I’m guessing you’re a fan if you are reading this. This one could be great. I’m now super excited to see it when it opens May 19th. And if Scott is available for another screening then, all the better. Fingers crossed!

There’s much more to come from SXSW. Check out @assholemovies for more movies and photos as things happen!

South By SouthWest

The SXSW Conference and Festivals is celebrating its 31st year – 24th year of film, which is our specialty of course – but South By Southwest also has really great music, comedy acts, art exhibits, speakers, and a whole lot more: it’s just a bunch of people who love the arts and want to celebrate them. For ten days (2017 dates: March 10-19), SXSW loads Austin, Texas with the coolest shit imaginable, and you can bend your brain out of shae trying to jam-pack the most into your schedule because YOU’LL WANT TO SEE EVERYTHING.

Check out their schedule for all the details, but here’s just a taste:

  • Joe Biden’s in the house! On Sunday March 12, he’ll be at the Austin Convention Center to talk about the Biden Cancer Initiative. SXSW’s social conscience is taking on cancer in a bid to make it history; they’re amassing entrepreneurs, innovators, industry executives, venture capitalists, celebrities, philanthropists and us regular folk to get together and make sense of this thing. If you can’t make it to the VP’s talk, SXSW will be generously posting it to their website at a later date.
  • Speaking of Veeps, the cast of Veep will be on hand. If you prefer your Vice Presidents to be fictional and funny as fuck, Selina Meyer has a thing or two to say about what happens when the real president out-buffoons the people meant to be satirizing him. The panel will look towards their 6th season, and feature writer/executive producer David Mandel, executive producer/star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and cast members Tony Hale, Anna Chlumsky, Reid Scott, Matt Walsh, Gary Cole, Tim Simons and Sam Richardson. Catch them on March 13.
  • Ramblin’ Freak, a documentary by an Austin film maker, will make its SXSW debut and challenge your notions of grieving, film making, and navel-gazing. A man sets out cross country to meet “the man whose arms exploded” and ends up making a completely different movie altogether. It’s raw and authentic. Its world premiere is March 13th at the Alamo Ritz with additional screenings March 16 & 18 at the Alamo Lamar.
  • Comedian Wyatt Cenac is hosting Night Train at Esther’s Follies on March 11, and will be joined by stand-up comedy greats like Tim Dillon, John Hodgman, Dulce Sloan, Joel Kim Booster, and Janeane Garofalo.
  • Austin-born Terrence Malick is opening the festival with his new film Song to Song on March 10.  The film is inspired by Austin’s awesome music scene and stars Ryan Gosling, Natalie Portman, Rooney Mara, and Michael Fassbender. Malick is pretty press-shy but we know Fassbender will be in town; he’s also promoting Alien: Covenant with a screening of Alien (1979) later that night, with Ridley Scott and Danny McBride.
  • Cindy Wilson (formerly of the B52s) is performing her new (and very different!) material at The Sidewinder March 13.
  • SXSW has a ‘Virtual Cinema’ with an impressive lineup of innovative, virtual-reality movies that run throughout the festival.
  • Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, is giving a talk and will likely cover topics ranging from #OscarsSoWhite to this year’s #EnvelopeGate.
  • Buzz Aldrin, NASA’s first astronaut with a doctorate, and constant advocate for human space exploration, will be in conversation with Time Magazine’s Jeff Kluger at the Austin Convention Center on March 14.
  • A visually stunning documentary called Through The Repellent Fence: A Land Art Film mixes politics and art by following Native American artists as they put up an art installation along Donald Trump’s proposed border wall between USA & Mexico that instead seeks to unite the two countries and cultures. It screens at the Rollins Theatre March 11, and then again on March 13 & 17 at Alamo Lamar.
  • Oscar winner Justin Hurwitz is discussing the music of La La Land at a cocktail reception at Cedar St Courtyard on March 12.

Sean and I spent literally hours combing through the bountiful schedule and there just aren’t enough hours in the day. SXSW includes networking meetings, mentoring programs, and 263 films from new and emerging talent, including lots of female directors. We’re particularly excited to check out Baby Driver, Atomic Blonde, Free Fire, and so many indie movies our hearts will explode (if the delicious BBQ doesn’t get us first).

Texas here we come!

TIFF 2015: The Martian

Since I read for leisure less than I’d like, it is rare for me to be hoping that Hollywood does justice to a book I absolutely loved.  Andy Weir’s The Martian is that book. Jay handed it to me a while back and the way she did, I knew it was something special.  The Martian is both the most accessible and most science-heavy science fiction novel I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, do yourself a favour at some point and check it out.  You won’t regret it.

When I heard that Ridley Scott’s adaptation of The Martian was premiering at TIFF 2015, it went to the absolute top of my list.  And it quickly became clear I wasn’t the only one who felt that way.  Despite having a good window for our premium selections, the red carpet premiere was gone before we even had a chance at it.  But fortunately, Matt used his window to grab Jay and me a pair of tickets for the next (and only other) TIFF screening of The Martian.  We got to see it yesterday and it did not disappoint!

The movie is everything it could possibly be.  My only question as we were leaving the screening was whether there was a way they could have kept more in the movie, because some of the problems that arose in the book did not make it into the movie’s two-hour-plus run time.  But that’s inevitable and it’s not something I can criticize because the movie was expertly paced and there was nowhere to expand without losing momentum.  It’s a reason to re-read the book but not a fault of the movie.

The best part of the whole experience was seeing the spirit of the book preserved and celebrated.  As Jay pointed out afterward, while we lost a little Mark Watney time, we gained some time with the other characters, and it was a pleasure to get to know them better.  It might even be a better fit with the theme shared by the book and the movie, namely that when we all work together, we can accomplish remarkable things.  All we need is a little motivation.  There’s no villain here.  There are only challenging problems to be solved by the people who are determined to save one unlucky botanist, most notably the botanist himself.  It’s a joy to watch it all play out, especially against the backdrop of a Mars that is both desolate and vibrant.  The visuals are incredible from start to finish.  See The Martian in 3D if you can – it’s simply spectacular.

The Martian is perfect.  I can’t wait to see it again.

Science Fiction (No Space, No Aliens)

TMP

You’ll have to bear with me. I’ve been back from California for less than 12 hours and I’m  alittle jet lagged. Nothing like meeting a gropey Doc Brown from Back to the Future at Universal Studios two days ago to get me thinking of my favourite science fiction movies though.

Blade Runner

Blade Runner (1982)– Director Ridley Scott makes my list two weeks in a row. Blade Runner never seems to get old though and, more than Alien or thelma and Louise, I would say this is his best work. The best sci-fi mixes genres and this noirish detective movie take on artificial intelligence still feels unique even when viewed over thirty years later.

The Matrix

The Matrix (1999)– Speaking of mixing genres, the Wachowskis throw all their favourite things- comic books, Eastern philosophy, kung fu movies, Western religion, and John Woo movies- into their story of A.I.’s enslavery of the human race. There are at least a dozen iconic images in this movie and seeing it for the first time was one of my all-time favourite movie theater experiences.

eternal sunshine

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)– For those of us who like a little romantic comedy with our science fiction, Charlie Kaufman dreamt up his most beautiful story yet about Joel (Jim Carrey) taking advantage of a new technology to erase all memories of Clementine (Kate Winslet). It’s mostly a heartbreakingly funny exploration of how memory works and how our painful memories make us who we are but, of course, the movie also centers around a technology that hasn’t been invented yet and ponders the consequences of said technology so I am submitting what I often refer to as my favourite movie of all time as a science fiction pick.

Exodus: Gods and Kings

We’ve seen this story too many times to want yet another version if it doesn’t offer something new, and bearded Batman as the Leader of Men doesn’t really cut it. Sure Christian Bale’s intense, but that’s not the same as impassioned, and no amount of whispers and shouting will convince me that it is.

exodusRidley Scott has assembled a motley cast of actors for his biblical epic; almost everyone with a line is white, some parade around offensively in orange-face and eyeliner. The accents are varied and inconsistent. John Turturro looks like a drag queen during a “Walk Like an Egyptian” number. Sigourney Weaver looks lost. Aaron Paul, cast as Joshua, is hardly seen at all.

The two main characters, Moses and Ramses (Joel Edgerton) are raised as brothers but divided when one is made king of Egypt and the other declared saviour to the slaves when his Jewish ancestry is revealed. Unfortunately, the script fails utterly on both these two counts. We never see or understand Ramses’s motivation – he’s paranoid that Moses will usurp him, yet chooses exile rather than death for him based on an affection we never see proof of. Moses, meanwhile, learns that he was born into slavery rather than royalty, and that his life was spared because of a prophecy, yet we see no indication of any internal struggle, no transformation upon learning what must have been pretty shocking news.

The biggest problem is that Scott just doesn’t commit. The miracles aren’t allowed to just be miracles, they’re tempered, and rationalized, and diluted. I’m not even sure if Scott wants us to believe that Moses believes. You know, in God. Which is kind of a big detail. Even the big battle scenes are kind of blase because we’ve seen it all before, often in other Ridley Scott movies (hello, Gladiator!), and this time we just aren’t invested. I only felt bad about the horses.

The good news is, you can skip this movie quite easily, and there are better versions of the story out there. My favourite is DreamWorks’ The Prince of Egypt, full of joy and faith, starring a different Batman and a better-fitting cast of (nearly all-white) voice actors.