Film Review: “Alien: Covenant”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston and Billy Crudup
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
Running Time: 122 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 2 out of 5 Stars

For the first time in well over a decade, there’s a decent amount of hype and high level of expectation surrounding an “Alien” film. There’s genuine public interest and hope that “Alien: Covenant” would add another rich layer of backstory to the close-quarters terror that audiences experienced back in 1979. But at the expense of bridging the gap between “Prometheus” and “Alien,” Ridley Scott has answered a question nobody asked and poorly answered a question that’s been left lingering since 2012.

The crew of the intergalactic colony ship, Covenant, is awoken mid-cryogenic sleep after a deep space electric charge frazzles their vessel. In the ensuing chaos, the crew’s captain (for some reason played by James Franco) is killed, the ship suffers extensive damage and the crew is alerted to a distress signal. What makes the distress signal curious is that it comes from a planet that’s more livable than the one they’re currently taking 2,000 colonists and thousands of human embryos to.

Acting Captain, Christopher (Crudup), wants to show strength by making a command decision to halt their current path and investigate the planet’s habitability as well as the distress signal. Christopher shrugs off logical concerns by crew members, like why an extensive search of the universe by precise computer programs would have missed this unheard of planet. While he lends an ear to Daniels’ (Waterston) unease, Christopher barrels towards the unknown. I’m sure you know this won’t end well.

The beginning of “Covenant” is ripe with tension, as we breathlessly wait for the best laid plans to fall apart. But once we’ve settled into the mysterious planet and we catch our first glimpse of some prototype xenomorphs, the pressure alleviates and is never reapplied. “Covenant” is covered in thick foreshadowing, that gives away its final act, even to someone who might be new to the “Alien” franchise.

However, fans of the franchise will be wondering what Ridley Scott has done. He’s stripped the dread and action, leaving behind something new, yet unpleasant. “Covenant” is a visually Gothic movie that’s more fixated with body horror than actual scares. It’s more fascinated with Frankenstein rather than the monster. While it is a slightly refreshing change of pace, the human element is nonexistent and the character’s intelligence is subpar.

Fassbender has double duty as the androids, Walter and David. David, if you remember, is the android from “Prometheus” who rides off into the proverbial sunset with Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) to find humanity’s creators. While most “Alien” franchise purists didn’t like “Prometheus,” I enjoyed it on the merits of a standalone film that plays a lot like a futuristic “Chariots of the Gods.” The thesis that all life is created by another living entity, and not a God, isn’t lost in “Covenant.”

Scott flirts a lot with man’s infatuation with creating life, discovering meaning, and tapping into what it metaphorically means to be immortal. It’s interesting to ponder, but it never evolves into anything meaningful and it’s buried under a lot of heavy exposition, robotic dialogue, and horror movie tropes. The most obnoxious of clichés is painting these astronauts and scientists like incompetent, horny teenagers stuck at Camp Crystal Lake.

I really wanted to like “Covenant,” especially since Fassbender’s performance was captivating and haunting at times, but I found myself worn out by its formulaic plot and how its human characters lacked human qualities. “Covenant” adds nothing new to the “Alien” franchise. It’s a bloated connector between two of Scott’s most ambitious films. But it’s interesting to note one scene in particular; it’s a narrated flashback that feels like Ridley Scott taking an eraser to “Prometheus.” Maybe he’ll eventually do that with “Covenant.”

Film Review: “Trespass Against Us”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshall, Rory Kinnear
Directed By: Adam Smith
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Film4

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

For a man seeking a quiet life, Chad Cutler drums up an awful lot of trouble in Adam Smith’s rural family drama, Trespass Against Us. Set deep in the English countryside, the feature debut from Smith can be tonally uneven but boasts enough solid performances and pops of quality car chases to recommend it.

Michael Fassbender stars as Chad Cutler, the heir apparent to a family of thieves in a caravan park. His father is the blustery Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson) who preaches only what his father taught him. In between sending his son and their gang out on robberies, Colby interferes with Chad’s young son Tyson (Georgie Smith) getting an actual school education. It’s a life Chad wishes to escape as he sets his eyes on moving into an actual house with Tyson and his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal). Unfortunately Colby’s infamy looms large over the local population, often stifling Chad’s ambitions. Also impeding his progress? Chad himself. Chad is a caring father, but his whole world has been crime and he’s great at it. Despite his illiteracy, he’s the most intelligent of his crew as well as the best driver–crucial for their hit and run robbery jobs in the neighboring towns. The entire trailer crew becomes endangered when Colby sends them unknowingly to invade a local judge’s mansion.

Fassbender isn’t often cast as the family man (Steve Jobs was hardly the best example) and here it works well. Him and Smith share some touching scenes and I also got a kick out of Chad’s chastising of Tyson at a chip stand. More importantly Fassbender skillfully conveys the simmering conflicts within Cutler. His shark-like grin when dealing with his cohorts is equal parts charming and threatening, belying his frustration with his continued position in this dim gang. Conversely Chad clearly enjoys the thrill of the car chases when he is persuaded to work. Most of the persuasion here carried out by Gleeson’s formidable Colby who growls his way through some good scenes.

The English countryside makes for an unconventional crime story background and Smith does quite a lot with it. The car chases through the village then out into the woods are well shot and thrilling despite their relatively small scale. I’d never seen cows incorporated into a manhunt quite like they are here! At times, the local population can skew too quirky (Sean Harris as a perpetually filthy yokel is a bit much) but the familial drama central to the story keeps things grounded thanks to the strong performances of Fassbender, Gleeson, Marshal and newcomer Smith.

Trespass Against Us is now out in theaters as well as on DirecTV

Media Mikes 2016 Fall/Holiday Movie Preview

Labor Day has come and gone, and unless you’re dressing up as a ghost, you better not be wearing anything white! With the end of summer comes the beginning of fall and the start of Hollywood’s “Prestige Movie Push!”

We’ll take a look at what the studios hope are their best bets to fill the multiplexes and bring home the Oscars. Once again, a big thank you to our friends at Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) for some synopsis information. Opening dates noted are subject to change at the whim of the studios. Enjoy!

OCTOBER 7

THE 13th

Documentary
Directed by: Ava DuVernay

The director of “Selma” gives us an in-depth look at the prison system in the United States and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.

OSCAR CHANCES: Will surely make the short list.

THE BIRTH OF A NATION

Starring: Nate Parker, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Nate Parker

Set against the antebellum South, the film follows Nat Turner, a literate slave and preacher, whose financially strained owner, Samuel Turner accepts an offer to use Nat’s preaching to subdue unruly slaves. As he witnesses countless atrocities – against himself and his fellow slaves – Nat orchestrates an uprising in the hopes of leading his people to freedom.

OSCAR CHANCES: After last year’s #OSCARSOWHITE controversy, the early buzz on this film almost guaranteed a bounty of nominations. However, it was recently revealed that writer/director/star Nate Parker and his co-writer, Jean McGianni Celestin, were accused of raping a fellow college student in 1999. Though Parker was not found guilty and Celestin had his conviction overturned, their alleged victim committed suicide. Not sure how this news will affect the Academy voters.

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN

Starring: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett and Justin Theroux
Directed by: Tate Taylor

In the film, being compared to “Gone Girl,” a recently divorced woman
takes the train to work every day and imagines the lives of a young couple she
sees every day. Things get weird when the young wife disappears.

OSCAR CHANCES: Blunt is already getting raves for her performance.


OCTOBER 13

MASCOTS

Starring: Christopher Guest, Parker Posey and Jane Lynch
Directed by: Christopher Guest

Simply described as “a look into the world of competitive mascots,” this is the latest opus from the great Christopher Guest. Sadly, unless I missed it, this is the first of Guest’s films that does not include Eugene Levy.

OSCAR CHANCES: Possible screenplay nod.

 

OCTOBER 14

THE ACCOUNTANT

Starring: Ben Affleck, J.K. Simmons and Anna Kendrick
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor

A forensic accountant un-cooks the books for illicit clients. What I like about the trailer is that Affleck seems to be a young genius. Maybe this is his chance to play Will Hunting?

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe.


KEVIN HART: WHAT NOW?

Starring: Kevin Hart
Directed by: Leslie Small and Tim Story

Kevin Hart performs his comedy in front of 50,000 fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: No.


OCTOBER 21

AMERICAN PASTORAL

Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Dakota Fanning and Ewan McGregor
Directed by: Ewan McGregor

In 1968, a hardworking man, who’s been a staple in his quaint community for years, watches his seemingly perfect middle class life fall apart as his daughter’s new radical political affiliation threatens to destroy their family. Based on the novel by Philip Roth.

OSCAR CHANCES: Adapted screenplay?

IN A VALLEY OF VIOLENCE

Starring: John Travolta, Ethan Hawke and Karen Gillan
Directed by: Ti West

A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody cross-hairs of revenge. Ethan Hawke’s second western this season and John Travolta in a cowboy hat for the first time since “Urban Cowboy.” Yee-hah!

OSCAR CHANCES: Sadly Western’s very rarely get recognized.

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK

Starring: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders
Directed by: Edward Zwick

Jack Reacher must uncover the truth behind a major government conspiracy in order to clear his name. On the run as a fugitive from the law, Reacher uncovers a potential secret from his past that could change his life forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Director Zwick has helmed three of my favorite films (“About Last Night,” “Glory” and “Legends of the Fall” but only has an Oscar for co-producing “Shakespeare in Love.” It’s about time this man was recognized, though I don’t think it’s going to be for a Jack Reacher film.

A MONSTER CALLS

Starring: Liam Neeson, Felicity Jones and Sigourney Weaver
Directed by: J.A. Bayona

A boy seeks the help of a tree monster to cope with his single mom’s terminal illness.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

TYLER PERRY’S BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN

Starring: Tyler Perry
Directed by: Tyler Perry

Madea winds up in the middle of mayhem when she spends a haunted Halloween fending off killers, paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and zombies while keeping a watchful eye on a group of misbehaving teens. I’m scared.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m going to go out on a limb and say “no”

OCTOBER 28

INFERNO

Starring: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones
Directed by: Ron Howard

When Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with amnesia, he teams up with Dr. Sienna Brooks, and together they must race across Europe against the clock to foil a deadly global plot. The second Felicity Jones film in as many weeks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Sorry, Tom, but your nomination this year is coming from “Sully”

 

NOVEMBER 4

BLEED FOR THIS

Starring: Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Ben Younger

The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sport’s most incredible comebacks.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Robert DeNiro and Hillary Swank won Oscars for portraying boxers so never say never. Hell, Stallone got nominated…TWICE!

DOCTOR STRANGE

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rachel McAdams and Mads Mikkelsen
Directed by: Scott Derrickson

A neurosurgeon with a destroyed career sets out to repair his hands only to find himself protecting the world from inter-dimensional threats.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects.

HACKSAW RIDGE

Starring: Andrew Garfield and Sam Worthington
Directed by: Mel Gibson

WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss, who served during the Battle of Okinawa, refuses to kill people and becomes the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor. Mel doesn’t appear in this one but his dead-ringer son, Milo, does.

OSCAR CHANCES: Gibson (Mel, not Milo) already has an Oscar for directing so you never know. I’m sure people have forgotten what all of the hub-bub was about concerning him a few years ago.

LOVING

Starring: Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Jeff Nichols

Back in the dark ages, Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple, are sentenced to prison in Virginia in 1958 for getting married. Apparently they had nothing better to do in Virginia at the time.

OSCAR CHANCES: Acting, picture.

TROLLS

Starring the voices of: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake
Directed by: Mike Mitchell and Walt Dohrn

Remember those little plastic things with long hair that you used to put on the end of your pencil? When I was a kid we called them Kewpies but apparently they are Trolls and they have their own movie. Good for them!

OSCAR CHANCES: Maybe best hairstyling?

NOVEMBER 11

ARRIVAL

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve

A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.

OSCAR CHANCES: Picture, director, acting.

SHUT IN

Starring: Naomi Watts and Jacob Tremblay
Directed by: Farren Blackburn

A heart-pounding thriller about a widowed child psychologist who lives in an isolated existence in rural New England. Caught in a deadly winter storm, she must find a way to rescue a young boy before he disappears forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Unsure, but young Mr. Tremblay should have been nominated last year for “Room.”

USS INDIANAPOLIS: MEN OF COURAGE

Starring: Nicolas Cage and Tom Sizemore
Directed by: Mario Van Peebles

The harrowing true story of the crew of the USS Indianapolis, who were stranded in the Philippine Sea for five days after delivering the atomic weapons that would eventually end WWII. If you saw “Jaws,” this is the tale that Quint tells. Other “Jaws” related facts: this was the original idea for “Jaws 2.” Also: Mario Van Peebles starred in “Jaws the Revenge.”

OSCAR CHANCES: To me it looks like a “made for TV” movie. How about Emmy chances?


NOVEMBER 18

THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN

Starring: Hailiee Steinfeld, Blake Jenner and Woody Harrelson
Directed by: Kelly Fremon Craig

High-school life gets even more unbearable for Nadine when her best friend, Krista, starts dating her older brother. Is that weird? When I was in high-school I wanted to date my best friend’s older sister. Hopefully Stevie Nicks got some money from this.

OSCAR CHANCES: Nada

FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM

Starring: Eddie Redmayne, Jon Voight and Ezra Miller
Directed by: David Yates

The adventures of writer Newt Scamander in New York’s secret community of witches and wizards 70 years before Harry Potter reads his book in school. Even though Harry Potter and his pals are less than 20 years old it seems like they’ve been around forever.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, music (the great James Newton Howard)

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA

Starring: Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams
Directed by: Kenneth Lonergan

An uncle is forced to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy’s father dies.

OSCAR CHANCES: Both Affleck and Williams have been nominated in the past so I’m not ruling anything out.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Starring: Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal
Directed by: Tom Ford

An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale. November is Amy Adams month.

OSCAR CHANCES: Across the board


NOVEMBER 23

ALLIED

Starring: Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis

In 1942, an intelligence officer in North Africa encounters a female French Resistance fighter on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. When they reunite in London, their relationship is tested by the pressures of war. Cotillard isn’t married so maybe we can look forward to reading about “Bradarion” soon.

OSCAR CHANCES: Pitt, Cotilliard and Zemeckis have been there before.

BAD SANTA 2

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates and Tony Cox
Directed by: Mark Waters

Fueled by cheap whiskey, greed and hatred, Willie teams up once again with his angry little sidekick, Marcus, to knock off a Chicago charity on Christmas Eve.

OSCAR CHANCES: I thought Billy Bob deserved a nod for the first film but I’m going to say no.

MOANA

Starring the voices of: Dwayne Johnson, Alan Tudyk and Nicole Scherzinger
Directed by: Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams

A young woman uses her navigational talents to set sail for a fabled island. Joining her on the adventure is her hero, the legendary demi-god Maui.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated feature, original song

RULES DON’T APPLY

Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins and Ed Harris
Directed by: Warren Beatty

An unconventional love story of an aspiring actress, her determined driver, and the eccentric billionaire who they work for. Beatty has been wanting to do a Howard Hughes-based film since the 1970s. Not sure if this is what he had in mind back then but, after a 15-year absence, it’s great to see him both in front of and behind the camera.

OSCAR CHANCES: Only two people have been nominated in the same year for acting, directing, writing and producing the best picture: Orson Welles and Warren Beatty. And Beatty did it TWICE!


NOVEMBER 25

LION

Starring: Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman
Directed by: Garth Davis

A five-year-old Indian boy gets lost on the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from home. He survives many challenges before being adopted by a couple in Australia; 25 years later, he sets out to find his lost family.

OSCAR CHANCES: Many


DECEMBER 2

LA LA LAND

Starring: Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone
Directed by: Damien Chazelle

From the creator of “Whiplash” comes a film about a jazz pianist who falls for an aspiring actress in Los Angeles. And it’s a musical!

OSCAR CHANCES: Early film festival buzz say’s this may be the film to watch (both on screen and at awards time!)


DECEMBER 9

MISS SLOANE

Starring: Jessica Chastain
Directed by: John Madden

An ambitious lobbyist faces off against the powerful gun lobby in an attempt to pass gun control legislation.

OSCAR CHANCES: Actress. Madden directed the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love.”

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Starring: Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston
Directed by: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

When his uptight CEO sister threatens to shut down his branch, the branch manager throws an epic Christmas party in order to land a big client and save the day, but the party gets way out of hand.

OSCAR CHANCES: Zip

DECEMBER 16

COLLATERAL BEAUTY

Starring: Will Smith and Keira Knightley
Directed by: David Frankel

A tragic event sends a New York ad man on a downward spiral.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’ve already had to apologize to Will Smith twice for doubting he’d get nominated for “Ali” and “The Pursuit of Happyness.” There won’t be a third. Good luck Will.

FENCES

Starring: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis
Directed by: Denzel Washington

An African American father struggles with race relations in the United States while trying to raise his family in the 1950s and coming to terms with the events of his life. Based on the August Wilson play.

OSCAR CHANCES: YES!

THE FOUNDER

Starring: Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson
Directed by: John Lee Hancock

The story of McDonald’s founder, Ray Kroc. You may look at your next hamburger differently. Keaton is said to be so good that they pulled the film from it’s original release date.

OSCAR CHANCES: Keaton

A KIND OF MURDER

Starring: Patrick Wilson and Jessica Biel
Directed by: Andy Goddard

In 1960s New York, Walter Stackhouse is a successful architect married to the beautiful Clara who leads a seemingly perfect life. But his fascination with an unsolved murder leads him into a spiral of chaos as he is forced to play cat-and-mouse with a clever killer and an overambitious detective, while at the same time lusting after another woman. This will be a day of decisions for Patrick Wilson fans.

OSCAR CHANCES: Don’t see any

ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Starring: Felicity Jones, Jimmy Smits and Warwick Davis
Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Or, as I like to call it, “Episode 6.5” The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans to the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow. Holy crap! The Death Star, Leia’s family, Darth Vader AND Wicket the Ewok? I’m already in line!

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, make up.

DECEMBER 21

20th CENTURY WOMEN

Starring: Annette Bening, Elle Fanning and Laura Wiggins
Directed by: Mike Mills

The story of three women who explore love and freedom in Southern California during the late 1970s.

OSCAR CHANCES: Can anyone tell me why Annette Bening hasn’t won an Oscar yet? Didn’t think so. Keep your fingers crossed.

ASSASSINS CREED

Starring: Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard
Directed by: Justin Kurzel

When Callum Lynch explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin, he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society. This synopsis seems so crazy considering the cast. I wonder if the two leads made the same mistake Bill Murray did when he thought “Garfield” had been written by one of the Coen brothers!

OSCAR CHANCES: Fassbender elevates everything he’s in so I’m not saying no!

PASSENGERS

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt
Directed by: Morten Tyldum

A spacecraft traveling to a distant colony planet and transporting thousands of people has a malfunction in its sleep chambers. As a result, two passengers are awakened 90 years early. It’s so weird to see Lawrence in a movie at the end of the year NOT directed by David O. Russell. Oh well, there’s always next year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Visual effects, technical stuff

PATRIOTS DAY

Starring: Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Monaghan
Directed by: Peter Berg

An account of Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis’s actions in the events leading up to the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing and the aftermath, which includes the city-wide manhunt to find the terrorists behind it. Sounds better than what I thought it was – knowing Wahlberg is a huge New England Patriot fan I thought it was about a day with Tom Brady. The third film by Wahlberg and director Berg and second this year.

OSCAR CHANCES: Oh yes.

SING

Starring the voices of: Matthew McConaughey and Scarlett Johansson
Directed by: Garth Jennings

A koala named Buster Moon has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world’s greatest singing competition.

OSCAR CHANCES: Animated film….maybe.

DECEMBER 25

GOLD

Starring: Matthew McConaughey and Bryce Dallas Howard
Directed by: Stephen Gaghan

An unlikely pair venture to the Indonesian jungle in search of gold. When he was outrageously thin in “Dallas Buyer’s Club” McConaughey still looked good. In this one he’s bald and….dammit!

OSCAR CHANCES: No sir.

WHY HIM?

Starring: James Franco and Bryan Cranston
Directed by: John Hamburg.

A dad forms a bitter rivalry with his daughter’s young rich boyfriend. Based on a story by Jonah Hill. Somebody needed money.

OSCAR CHANCES: I’m ashamed that I have to include those words with this film.

DECEMBER 28

PATERSON

Starring: Adam Driver
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Set in the present in Paterson, New Jersey, this is a tale about a bus driver and poet.

OSCAR CHANCES: Love Jarmusch. Maybe a witting nod.

Film Review: “The Light Between Oceans”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hrs 12 mins
Touchstone Pictures

Our Score: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

The Oxford University Press Dictionary defines “Continuity” as: “the maintenance of continuous action and self-consistent detail in the various scenes of a movie or broadcast.”

Sadly, the director of “The Light Between Oceans” has never read the Oxford University Press Dictionary.

The year is 1918. Just returned from four years in “the BIG WAR,” Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) is given a job maintaining and operating a light house off the coast of Australia. He is told the position will only last six-months, as the full-time operator is just recuperating from an illness. As he travels through the town, on way to the desolate island he will soon call home, he meets the beautiful Isabel (Vikander). The two are immediately smitten with each other. He takes her on a picnic and she asks if she can visit the island. He replies that the rules state only the lighthouse keeper and his wife are allowed. “So marry me,” she tells him.

Learning that his predecessor will NOT be coming back, Tom accepts a three year contract and immediately marries Isabel. They try to have children but Isabel proves unable to have children. One day, Isabel spots a boat floating off the coast, seemingly empty. Tom drags it to shore and finds out that it’s not empty. Inside is the dead body of a man and a still-breathing infant. Hmmmmmm.

Full of inconsistent time jumps and heavy handed foreshadowing, “The Light Between Oceans” starts off strong but peters out by the time the film ends…about 40 minutes too late. And the continuity is terrible. The way I saw it, the following happened in a 20 minute period:

Tom buries his miscarried child

Isabel spots a boat

Tom finds the child

And in the next ten minutes:

Tom notifies his employer that Isabel has given birth

People visit

Tom finds a rattle in the boat (BANG! – that’s the sound of foreshadowing hitting you over the head) and tucks it in his pocket

A stranger sees the rattle. Get the idea?

Things go from bad to worse when, on a visit to the mainland, Tom learns that there was a father and daughter who were lost at sea the day before he found the baby. Luckily Tom and Izzy have the baby christened at the same church the grieving widow/mother attends so Tom can stumble on the grave marker. Will Tom’s conscience allow him to continue the charade? What do you think?

Let me take a moment from discouraging you from seeing this film to tell you that, despite all of the script problems, both Fassbender and Vikander turn in fine performances. I read recently that the two are now a couple off-screen and the chemistry is very visible on-screen. Also fine are Weisz as the grieving widow and Bryan Brown, who plays her wealthy father.

OK, back to the things I hated. The film quick-jumps to 1950 quicker than Doc Brown’s DeLorean, wiping out almost three decades of plot, and providing more questions than answers. Speaking of questions, I have one here. IF you live on an island with ONLY your wife around to keep you company, why in God’s name would you EVER lock your front door. WHO are you keeping out? And, if as you’ve maintained, the dead father, who was German, may have been chased down by townsfolk still upset over the war and by his accent, make sure he doesn’t speak with an English accent in flashbacks. And WHY is this film over 2 hours long?

In looking back at my review of the director’s previous film, “The Place Beyond the Pines,” – obviously he likes to either be “between” or “beyond,” I found the following comment:

“Incredibly overlong with a plot twist you can spot from the back of the theatre, “The Place Beyond the Pines” wastes strong performances in a sea of cliché’s and coincidences.”

Sounds like some people can’t change!

Film Review: “X-Men: Apocalypse”

Starring: James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender
Directed by: Bryan Singer
Rated: PG 13
Running time: 2 hrs 24 mins
20th Century Fox
Our Score: 3 out of 5 stars

Review by Mike Smith

They’re back! I’d say “the X-men are back” but, thanks to the whims of Hollywood, that statement doesn’t clarify if it’s the old folks or the kids. Or, as Deadpool asked, “McAvoy or Stewart?” It’s McAvoy and the gang here.

Where better for a film series that dabbles with time lines to begin but ancient Egypt. Here we are witness to a ceremony in which an old ruler will receive a mystical transplant from a virile young man. However, a group of traitorous minions (soldiers, etc, not the guys from the Despicable Me films) betray their leader and, after some impressive special effects, he is sealed inside a giant pyramid for all eternity. Or until 1983.

It’s been ten years since the first Mutant was observed and the world still hasn’t accepted them. At his school for “the gifted” Dr. Charles Xavier (McAvoy) is going about his daily duties while over in Poland the formerly underground Magneto (Fassbender) has just been discovered by the local authorities. Two men with similar lives yet very different outlooks. Throw in the mysterious Mystique (Lawrence) and you have a movie. Kind of.

Full of amazing special effects and horrible destruction, X-men: Apocalypse is, presumably, the last film to feature the Future Past characters. And just in time. With a cast that includes three Oscar-nominees it seems like they may have gotten bored with their roles. All do good work here, but there almost seems to be a look of relief in their eyes that they’re done with the spandex for good. That being said, while the leads are serviceable, the supporting cast has fun with their roles. Among the new faces are Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler and a returning Evan Peters as Quicksilver. And kudos to Oscar Isaac, who makes Apocalypse one nasty mo-fo.

The other drawback is the amount of carnage depicted here. As the various mutants battle each other, the toll taken on the planet is amazingly over the top. The destruction here makes the carnage in Captain America: Civil War and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice look like a small dustup. There is also a particularly brutal scene featuring a familiar face making his eighth X-men appearance. The amount of blood spilled was actually quite disturbing and I can’t help but wonder if this scene was included to judge audience reaction as to how far is too far. It’s not Deadpool violent but it’s a little more mature than you might imagine.

X-Men: Apocalypse opens in the UK on May 18th & the US on May 27th

New York Film Fest Review: “Steve Jobs”

Director: Danny Boyle
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Jeff Daniels, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg
Running Time: 122mins.
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 stars

No one removes a limb nor falls in a pit beneath an Indian outhouse in Danny Boyle’s new awards-season biopic Steve Jobs, but I do suspect many people will accuse it of dragging the late Apple CEO through the mud. Working from a fast-paced script by Aaron Sorkin (aren’t they always?), the film pulls no punches when it comes to Jobs’ pseudo-Machiavellian pursuit of his Mac computer. Unlike Sorkin’s previous computer-minded outing, The Social Network, Steve Jobs feels even harsher for the span of time in which we’re tuning in. We stay with Mr. Jobs’s and his collateral damage, the loved ones and colleagues frequently left floundering in his wake, over the course of fourteen years and three epic product launches. It pits Jobs’s minor launch glitches against far greater interpersonal struggles and the suspense lies in what will finally warrant his attention. The small acting ensemble revolving around Michael Fassbender’s fierce portrayal of Jobs–including Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Michael Stuhlberg–ensures that it’s a fair fight. In this highly focused fashion, Boyle has delivered not the complete biography of Jobs, but an energetic strong impression of the man behind the curtain. And the iPod.

The three ‘acts’ that occupy the real-time action of Boyle’s film see Jobs as he successfully launches Macintosh, then outside of Apple with the disastrous NeXTCube and as the prodigal son returning with 1998’s iMac. To see the launches go off without a hitch is Jobs’s goal but through Boyle and Sorkin’s film, Steve’s launch is like a juggling act where more balls keep getting thrown into play. The major crisis with the first Macintosh is that Andy Hertzfeld (Stuhlbarg) can’t get the demo computer to say ‘hello.’ And Steve is much scarier than Yoda in the “there is no try” department. Hovering on the sidelines of the epic hello struggle is Joanna Hoffman (Winslet), Apple marketing guru and the only person able to wrangle Steve’s attention for any quantifiable amount of time. She doesn’t see why the computer must say hello, oh and also Steve should do something about his daughter and her mother waiting for Steve in the wings. The daughter he’s so publicly denied fathering, and half blames for his losing Time Magazine’s Man of the Year title. Priorities. Meanwhile Steve Wozniak (a deeply touching Rogen) just wants Steve Jobs to say thank you to the Apple 2 guys, an earlier model that the company thrived on. And for good measure, a stoic Jeff Daniels as exec John Scully steps in to remind Steve of his own parental issues (he was adopted) at exactly the wrong times.

These basic components are tossed in and out of focus over the course of the launches, with Boyle slyly throwing in the occasional additional flashbacks in time to further flesh out Steve’s relationships–especially with Wozniak and Scully. As a fiery Fassbender plays young Jobs, it’s easy to see how he sold his team of people on going on these technological ventures under his leadership. Important for us to see considering present-Jobs can so often be despicable. Jobs’s chief struggle in most of his interactions, whether he admits it or not, is with common human decency. Long-suffering Wozniak seeks only acknowledgment while Joanna is frequently going to bat on behalf of Jobs’s daughter Lisa since her mother (Katherine Waterston in a small but effective part) is drifting further away. In this core struggle, Winslet emerges as the film’s heart when its protagonist doesn’t have time for his. In Joanna, Winslet is both fearless and vulnerable. She knows Steve the best, she’s knows she’s too valuable to his enterprise to be cast off and she uses this to stand her ground. If audiences find it hard to root for Steve as he is ruthlessly scripted by Sorkin, they will definitely side with Joanna who only wants Steve to be a better person. It’s clever and Winslet is no doubt as awards-worthy as Fassbender is in this film.

Boyle and Sorkin shy away from actually showing their version of one of Jobs’s epic announcements–we have youtube for that–but at every juncture the Mac masses are omnipresent. We see stamping feet and full theater lobbies of faceless groupies which only serve to amplify Steve’s power in these spaces. While other realms of Jobs’s life were out of his control, at least at these launches every minute detail could be dictated by him. To situate the whole story around these launches is to show Jobs at his most intense. The resulting film is a vibrant, unsympathetic portrait of a man whose work continues to evolve how humans connect with each other whether or not he ever mastered that skill in his own life.

I saw Steve Jobs at this year’s New York Film Fest, the film receives its nationwide release on October 23rd.

New York Film Festival Review “12 Years a Slave”

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano
Directed By: Steve McQueen
Fox Searchlight
Rated: R
Running Time: 133 minutes

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

As evidenced by his first two features, Hunger and Shame, director Steve McQueen is fearless in his approach to difficult subject matters. The same is true here in his unflinching and unforgettable third feature, 12 Years a Slave.

The film is based on the true life account of Solomon Northup (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man in New York who was deceived and sold into a life of slavery from 1841 to 1853. The film opens with Northup already in this role working on a sugar cane plantation and then brings us back to his family life in New York leading up to his deception. The men who will eventually drug and betray him come in the form of Brown and Hamilton, played by Scoot McNairy and Taran Killam, who offer Solomon the promise of violin work in Washington DC. The whole sequence is reminiscent of a sort of hellish version of Pinocchio being lead off by the circus folk and it plays out with a dreadful inevitability that left my stomach churning. When Solomon is awoken in chains, Ejiofor’s bewilderment is heart-wrenching as he struggles between fighting for his identity and recognizing how powerless he’s just been rendered.

Ejiofor is at the center of an embarrassment of acting talent throughout this film with even smaller roles occupied by the likes of Brad Pitt, Michael K Williams, Paul Giamatti, Paul Dano, and last year’s Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis (Beasts of the Southern Wild). Benedict Cumberbatch has a key role as Ford, Northrup’s first owner. Ford is initially presented as a sympathetic man, even seen as such by Solomon himself, but the way McQueen and screenwriter John Ridley disillusion us of the very notion of this idea is masterful. For all Ford’s sympathetic looks and guilt about the institution he is undoubtably a part of, he will still allow a family to be split at auction and won’t hear a word of Solomon’s story despite recognizing his intelligence. Actions speak louder than words and under Ford, Solomon still suffers through some of the harshest tortures in the film. Including selling Solomon off again to the monstrous Edwin Epps in the film’s final act.

Coming from both Hunger and Shame, Michael Fassbender successfully reteams with director McQueen again as Epps. Fassbender is fascinating to watch as his character rages against his slaves with frightening conviction he backs up with biblical scripture. He is further driven to violence by his complete inability to deal with his unhinged infatuation with his most productive slave girl, Patsey (incredible newcomer Lupita Nyong’o).

Truly however the film belongs to Chiwetel Ejifor who imbues Northup with an unwavering determination to not only survive his ordeal, but as he says, to live. To not give into despair. Moreover when it comes to his re-emancipation, we feel the weight of the time lost as much as the relief of freedom.

12 Years A Slave opens is now playing , I screened it as part of the 51st New York Film Festival, you can read our red carpet coverage from the event with an interview from the film’s star Michael Fassbender.