Tag Archives: Fassbender

Alien: Covenant

19 May

Almost 40 Years Since ‘Alien’ Brought Sci-Fi To Pop Culture, ‘Covenant’ Goes Back To Basics

"Alien: Covenant." (Courtesy Mark Rogers/Twentieth Century Fox)

It’s hard to believe it has been nearly 40 years since that little wiggle of a vorpal worm ripped its way out of John Hurt’s abdomen in “Alien,” the sci-fi movie experience that took the fun and fantasy of “Star Wars” and flipped it on its head.

That film’s helmer Ridley Scott, a genius by some accounts, a hack by others and now almost 80 years of age, has shown great commitment to the franchise returning again for “Alien: Covenant.” The film is the sequel to “Prometheus” (2012), which is the first chapter of a prequel series to Scott’s 1979 space chiller that kept audiences up at night, fearful of mutant xenomorph with cascading sets of jaws.

“Alien: Covenant” takes place 10 years after “Prometheus” and approximately two decades before Ripley and her salvage crew discover that wrecked ship loaded with leathery undulating egg casings that we now know better than to peer down into. Bolstered by an impressively eclectic cast, “Prometheus” was a quirky reboot and something of a meta contemplation on creationism and origins that didn’t resonate with a wide fan base — not enough aliens and too many hidden agendas.

The good news with “Alien: Covenant,” especially for loyalists, is that Scott goes back to the basics. But because he has to build off the groundwork laid by his 2012 effort, there’s also plenty of ideologue about man, his creations superseding him and his viability in the universe over time. Scott and his screenwriters — John Logan and Dante Harper — do a nice job getting the plot points to line up seamlessly, though pacing and character development are sacrificed as a result.  Continue reading

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Macbeth

12 Dec

The ambitions of Justin Kurzel are similar to – and misguided like – the protagonist of his cinematic retelling of “Macbeth.” Best known for “The Snowtown Murders” (2011), a bloody coming-of-age drama based on true events, Kurzel seeks to ascend to a throne held by Welles, Polanski and Kurosawa, and he guts the bard to do it.

121115i MacbethThat’s not to say “Macbeth” is all a mess. It offers a rapturous staging of the battle of Ellon, righteous in its fury, and boasts two of the best and most interesting actors working in film today, Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. But Fassbender, so alive with spit and rage in “12 Years a Slave,” feels muted here, lacking the enunciating articulation that Kenneth Branagh rebranded as the standard when as a young man he ingeniously resurrected “Henry V” in 1989. There’s a dull detachment that one could attribute to the amount of blood spilled at Ellon. The three scribes (a scribe for every witch) who adapt Shakespeare’s timeless tale of tragedy, avarice and madness (Todd Louiso, Jacob Koskoff and Michael Lesslie) imbue Macbeth with a son, who is gone before he even speaks during the opening carnage.

Perhaps this is the reason for the man’s descent into madness, which somehow becomes twisted into a paranoid ascent to the kingship of Scotland? It’s a novel idea that doesn’t get played out thoroughly enough, as much of the film falls into a bloody stupor with Fassbender looking far away and Cotillard’s Lady Macbeth, wide-eyed and teary, not quite driven by the blood guilt and insanity tradition has mandated. The film finds its liveliness mostly as Macbeth’s adversaries plot to undo him and the cruel murderous doings he does – burning a family at the stake or gutting his long trusted ally, Duncan (David Thewlis) with extreme prejudice – spurs their thirst for revenge.

For all the slick film-school craft Kurzel layer into the project, it’s sad that the bard’s snappy poetic language is unceremoniously culled. It’s there in pen, but falls limp from the tongue, sotto voce at times. Clearly Kurosawa, transposing the tragedy to feudal Japan with “Throne of Blood” (1957), took artistic liberties, but he had Shakespeare in his bones (he adapted several other of the bard’s plays to his samurai setting). Here, the merriment and rage conveyed in word is lost, and the tortured soul driven by prophecy and hubris feels less like it’s portraying a timeless human condition and more like an Enron plot to drive revenue.

Steve Jobs

16 Oct

Michael Fassbender stars as Steve Jobs in a scene from the film, "Steve Jobs." (Universal Pictures/AP)

Steve Jobs,” the new bio-pic about the iconic Apple entrepreneur, is a film in love with men (a man) who possess prescient clarity.

To underscore that notion, the film opens with a clip of Arthur C. Clarke back in the ‘70s, extolling the virtues of the computer and how it will change the lives of humans one day. H.G. Wells scored some great future picks too, but both those men were primarily writers, neither of them produced or pushed product, something, that the film, helmed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin, asserts Jobs did with unbridled ardor and rabid commitment.

Clearly Boyle and Sorkin have swallowed the “visionary” pill and are all in. It’s easy to get that too as they’re working with Walter Isaacson’s biography, which Jobs had a hand in before his death. As the film suggests, the digital maestro, currently in everyone’s pocket, was also a master strategist laying the roots of his stratagem and giving them years to germinate before reaping the rewards. As a result, one can’t walk away from “Steve Jobs” without a sense that maybe Jobs saw this coming, his own hagiography, and planted the seeds to brand his legacy and ensure the enduring future of Apple and all things preceded with a lowercase “i”.

Michael Fassbender appears in a scene from, "Steve Jobs." (Francois Duhamel for Universal Pictures/AP)

The film’s told uniquely in three chapters, each taking place in the moments leading up to a product launch (staged demos in velvet adorned opera houses) that Jobs, a fan of simple design and closed systems so hackers and hobbyists can’t muck with his perfection, proclaims will change the computing industry.

We launch back in 1984 with the unveiling of the Mac, but Jobs (played by Michael Fassbender) is in a mad arrogant snit because the machine crashes when it tries to say “Hello” and the fire department won’t allow him to shut off the exit signs to gain total darkness for the overall wowing effect. In the first five minutes, as Jobs runs through a gambit of nail-in-the-coffin problems, much akin to Michael Keaton’s stressed thespian in “Birdman,” but a far different bird, one drinks in an effortless multitasker, a brilliant human able to pull from both the left and right lobes, and an intolerable a—hole with small glimmers of compassion within. In all three product launches, he’s tended to by his loyal head of marketing, Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet bringing great nuance to a woman clearly in a thankless role and radiating with a deep care for her beloved tormentor) who’s the only one who able to push back and still have a job. Continue reading

Slow West

1 Jun

Here’s something: a Western in which a young Scot is guided by an Irishman through the inhospitable American frontier of the late 1800s. That landscape in “Slow West” is breathtaking to behold, mountainous, verdant, fertile and feral, but none of it is truly American – the film was shot in New Zealand in the same wondrous mountains where Peter Jackson staged much of the “Lord of the Rings” films.

052815i Slow WestThe writer/director, John Maclean, played in a retro-alternative band and is Scots himself, so there’s that with the how and why. He also happened to make a pair of short films with the versatile actor Michael Fassbender, whose broad CV includes sci-fi (“Prometheus” and two “X-Men” films) and collaborations with Quentin Tarantino and Steve McQueen (they’ve hooked up three times, including “Twelve Years a Slave”), so enticing the Irish thespian to take up the role of an enigmatic drifter in the mold of Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” for his feature debut must have been a simple dialup of favors among friends.

The re-partnering pays dividends, but for all the grandiose high stakes and murderous guns that loom at every turn, “Slow West” moves more like a dream than your prototypical western, broken and filled with misty motifs that drift by and never fully weave together. The slow quest west get driven by the misguided passion of one Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the young boy in “The Road”), a wayward lad imperiled in a foreign land, unaware and lovelorn for a lass from his homeland (Caden Pistorius) who fled to America (from Scotland) to escape a bloody and unfortunate mishap. Luckily for Jay he is happened upon by Fassbender’s Silas Selleck, more than pretty good with a gun and whose services can be had for a reasonable fee. The great peril in their mission isn’t so much that Jay won’t find his love, but the ruthless bounty hunters seeking the hefty fee on the lass’ head and knowing Jay is the only possessor of the few clues as to where she might be.  Continue reading

Frank

6 Nov
Michael Fassbender plays an enigmatic band leader who wears a mask both on and off stage in Frank

Gimmicks get you gigs, or at least that’s the implied mantra for novelty acts like GWAR and KISS, where garish garnish generates spectacle, buzz, and ticket sales. The same might be said of Soronprfb, the band with the intentionally unpronounceable name in the movie Frank, where the lead singer wears a giant papier-mâché head bearing a blue-eyed boyish countenance. Soronprfb however doesn’t seek fame and fortune; they desire artistic respect and only produce work that reflects their values and integrity.

Just what those values are remains murky, but you can’t deny their commitment to this esoteric tenet. Playing to handfuls in random dives, eschewing promotion (social or otherwise), and lacking cash, might be setbacks and poor decisions to some, but for Soronprfb it’s a badge of honor and a starving artist rallying point. And when the time strikes to record a new album, the group turns-off, drops out, and cloisters away to a quaint lake-side lodge somewhere in the Irish north, where they resign to remain until the necessary inspiration descends and the new disc is pressed from their argumentative malaise.

Continue reading

12 Years a Slave

27 Oct

‘12 Years a Slave’: Our shame gets visceral telling in the history of betrayed free man

By Tom Meek
October 25, 2013

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The stain of slavery on American history has seen many renderings on celluloid, from the misguided pro-South, silent 1915 masterpiece by D.W. Griffith, “Birth of a Nation” that embosses Klansmen in a heroic light, to Quentin Tarantino’s recent revisionist fantasy, “Django Unchained,” in which the Klan are little more than Keystone cops in hoodies and an emboldened slave, freed of shackles and armed, rains down wrath on skin-trading vermin. Both are cinematic achievements in their own right, but neither gets fully at the foul plight of rooting day-to-day under the duress of an overseer’s whip. Stanley Kubrick’s “Spartacus” came close, but that sweeping epic took place centuries ago, long before the pilgrims hit the shores of Massachusetts and our European forefathers began an unwritten policy of treating people of nonwhite pigmentation like pests and livestock.

102513i 12 Years a Slave

The good (or grim, as it may be) news is that director Steve McQueen, who is black, British and an auteur of recent reckoning, goes at the matter in “12 Years a Slave” in a fashion that gets under the viewer’s skin in unexpected ways. It’s uncomfortable and telling. What McQueen achieves is a visceral experience that, while not a history lesson in the factual sense, becomes the de facto moral rendering of an era that should be recalled only with remorse and shame.  Continue reading