Tag Archives: Alien

Underwater

11 Jan

 

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It turns out “1917” isn’t the only beat-the-clock film this weekend. “Underwater,” a 95-minute race against time, gets its start early and rarely lets down. No, it’s not as harrowing, sharp or intelligent as “1917,” and that’s not because it’s a sci-fi thriller that asks a lot of its viewers – it’s because it’s an ersatz hodgepodge of genre cornerstones that have come before, namely “The Abyss” (1989), the “Alien” films and so on. To say more might spoil some not-so-surprising twists.

We begin with ominous news clippings about mysterious tremors off the Pacific coast and plunge quickly down to a drilling platform 7 miles beneath the ocean surface. There Kristen Stewart’s Norah, a mechanical engineer and one of 300 workers on the rig, brushes her teeth casually as the ring-shaped structure shifts and groans worryingly. More groans, a droplet of water and then all hell breaks loose. By the time we come up for air – and it’s a jittery, frenetic sequence, maybe the film’s best – most of the structure’s gone, as are most of those 300 employees. In a sealed-off section, Norah and five other survivors come to the unhappy realization that they’re trapped, with no serviceable means of returning to the surface, and the rest of the gigantic structure is collapsing slowly down on them.

The answer, as the rig’s captain (Vincent Cassel) has it, is clunky robotic diving suits designed to withstand all that pressure and an iffy, near blind amble across the ocean floor to an older facility that may have resources to get home. Up to that point, and at the onset of that sojourn, the film’s pretty gripping (think “Deepwater Horizon” inverted) but then something weird and ghostly swims by and our budding character study becomes a creature-feature fear fest – and not a very compelling one.

Directed by William Eubank, who showed poise and promise with the mind-bending thriller “The Signal” (2014), the film’s composed competently enough, and production values are high. It’s just all weighed down by an inert storyline that doesn’t even feign putting a new spin on old tropes: As they prepare to make the trip, Norah tells the other surviving woman, Emily (Jessica Henwick), to take off her pants, as they won’t fit in the deepwater diving suit, though the goofball big boy of the group (T.J. Miller) fits into the unisex exoskeleton just fine. Later on, like in Ridley Scott’s 1979 deep space thriller, there’s a panty-line payoff; it’s not egregious, but most definitely worthy of an eye roll. Through it all, the bespectacled Stewart (in an Annie Lennox bob) maintains a commanding hold of the screen, casting palatable emotions as needed. Without her, “Underwater” might have been a full-on collapse; even with, when the camera starts to settle on Norah and her mates and something crashes down or swims in from the dark, it reminds us that these humans are just chum. Best not to get too attached.

Of Fox and Disney in 02138

12 Nov

Favorite cinemas in Harvard, Davis squares are unaffected – so far – as Mouse cages Fox

By Tom Meek

Repertory theaters see cause for concern at Disney’s new control over decades’ worth of Fox films, says Ned Hinkle, creative director at Harvard Square’s Brattle Theatre. (Photo: The Brattle Theatre)

The launch of the Disney+ streaming service next week may be good for stay-at-home watchers of the Mouse’s classics and Pixar films, “The Simpsons” and tourists in the “Star Wars” and Marvel universes, but it also could shake up repertory cinemas that screen titles such as “All About Eve,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Revenant,” “Alien,” the original “Planet of the Apes” and Terrence Malick’s “The Thin Red Line” – including Harvard Square’s Brattle Theatre and the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Disney, which acquired 20th Century Fox for $71 billion this year, seems to be quietly locking away the studio’s trove of 100 years of classics into its “vault,” Vulture reported last month. Disney did not announce a policy, but the sudden cancellation of booked screenings of Fox films (“The Omen” and “The Fly”) at theaters around the country sparked panic through the cinematic community that the movies might become no longer be available for exhibition.

One common theory is that Disney doesn’t want a current product (a new film such as the upcoming “Frozen II”) to compete against one of its classic/repertory films (say, “Fantasia” or “Bambi”).

“I understand the rationale might be to send people to Disney’s streaming service,” said Ian Judge, manager of Frame One’s Somerville Theatre. “We had dealt with this issue with Disney before they purchased Fox, and in order to get Disney repertory we had to have them reclassify Somerville as a repertory house in their system, which means we no longer play new Disney product there.”

That means that you’ll see only Disney-owned classics in Davis Square; new films from the company play at Frame One’s Capitol Theatre in Arlington. “We have been lucky to have that option, but for single locations, it’s putting them in a tough spot,” Judge said. 

The Brattle happens to be one of those single locations. “At the moment,” said Ned Hinkle, creative director at the Brattle, “this is not an issue for the Brattle – or any other purely repertory cinema – but having such a large corporate entity in charge of such a huge swath of cinema culture has everyone on edge.” Hinkle echoed Vulture’s concern of “not knowing” Disney’s long-term plans for popular repertory titles such as “The Princess Bride,” “Fight Club” and “Aliens” and other entries on Fox’s vast slate. The academically affiliated Harvard Film Archive is another “single location” repertory house that is not affected.

The one Fox film that Disney is keeping its paws off: Late-night cult classic “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which has had runs at the shuttered cinemas in Harvard Square and at the Apple Cinema at Fresh Pond (a nonrepertory theater) and is slated to play AMC’s non-rep Boston Common theater Saturday. But “Rocky Horror” has no Disney product to compete with.

More will likely become known as Disney+ launches, but for now, here, let the projectors roll.

High Life

15 Apr

‘High Life’: Sending convicts to a black hole, occupied by pursuits only sometimes solitary

 

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Way up high, what’s that in the sky? Looks like a metal shipping container with rocket boosters glued on. A bit hokey indeed, but would you believe me if I told you “High Life” was the first English-language film from French auteur Claire Denis, and it’s a sci-fi adventure? Strange but true, though in fact there’s very little sci-fi-ish about the death-row deep-space mission that’s more about colliding personalities and strange sexual dances in dark places. Yes, in outer space no one can hear your orgasmic cries of ecstasy, but that’s mostly because they happen in a sealed box. (More on that later.)

The crew of that shipping container – the “7” – are all criminals (“scum, trash and refuse”), rocketing toward a black hole while radioing back to command their findings. Kind of. The one thing they do seem tasked with is the prospect of reproduction in outer space. The men must fill cups in a booth (it looks like a photo booth in a mall, but is not to be confused with the formerly mentioned “box”) and are given precious sleeping pills for their effort. The women are impregnated occasionally, but the birth of a child usually proves fatal for mother and infant. All this is orchestrated under the watchful and controlling eye of Dr. Dibs (the eternally eternal Juliette Binoche), who, in her tight nursing uniform, seems to be the closest thing to a commanding force aboard a ship with the feel of a basement boiler room or padded-cell dormitory. One crew member won’t share his seed, Monte (Robert Pattinson, who pleasingly keeps getting further away from his “Twilight” origins), and seems more in control of his own fate than others on the 7.

Given the lethality of childbirth and the fact that this is a crew of social marauders and murderers relegated to the deep, lawless abyss of space, what could go wrong? A primal carnage works its way through the 7 about midway through the film (as well as a realization that the narrative has been moving in time hops), with much of the violence meted out being raw retaliation, or the culmination of adamant disagreement. Folks aboard seem more interested in their two pounds of flesh and sleeping pills than any destination or technical issues that could imperil them. Of all the wacky internal violence, only one of the acts is sexual in nature – mostly because the 7 is equipped with a “fuck box,” a high-tech Shaker booth of sorts. We visit the Orgasmatron device only once, as our fair Dr. Dibs takes her turn. Inside there’s a well-endowed Sybian device, with trapeze handles to add you your bucking pleasure. Binoche, with a flowing, glorious mane of dark hair, is framed from her bare milky back, an image of Lady Godiva riding off into the dark night of endless pleasure.

Clearly Denis is operating under the creative influence of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1970s sci-fi classics, “Solaris” and “Stalker,” potent blends of psychological thriller and adventure into the unknown. There’s even the unmistakable image of a body floating in space eerily similar to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) suspended in the cold dark outside the hull of a rebel cruiser in “The Last Jedi.”  It’s hard to imagine Denis borrowing from such commercial fare, but there it is. Overall, the unthinkable mix is a jumbled delight. Like Gaspar Noe’s “Climax,” this could have been set in any confined locale – a sealed tier in a parking garage, a cabin atop a snowbound mountain, an ocean liner stranded at sea or even a ginormous freight elevator during a power outage – and the result would be the same. Denis is one of the most maverick female filmmakers out there, in good company with Kathryn Bigelow, Lynn Ramsey and Debra Granik, and adds her hard feminist fingerprint to “High Life” as she has in great films such as “Trouble Every Day,” “Beau Travail” and “White Noise.” Her latest adventure  isn’t quite on par with those films (you can still catch several at the Brattle Theater as part of “The Good Works of Claire Denis” series) but it is a riveting psychological odyssey from launch to climatic nadir.

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

The Counselor

27 Oct

‘The Counselor’: Good, grimy fun going over same ground of McCarthy ‘Country’

By Tom Meek
October 26, 2013

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Not so long ago the Coen brothers deviated from their usual quirky fare for a hardboiled yarn about lawmen and criminals playing it loose and lethal as they pursued an elusive satchel of money back and forth across the Southwest border. The basis for that masterpiece came from the laconic and acerbic prose of the Cormac McCarthy’s novel “No Country for Old Men.” And in an odd and intriguing first-time move, the scribe has delivered an original screenplay for iconic director Ridley Scott (”Alien” and “Blade Runner”). The result is full of pointed soliloquies, diatribes imbued with philosophy and poetry and even daubs of philosophy regarding poetry, but the mainstay, of course, are protracted dissertations on death and destiny, followed invariably by death.

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Just as in “No Country,” the plot is driven by an accidental anti-hero ensnared in a macabre web of underworld misdoings. In short, McCathy has cooked up an assured rearrangement of “No Country.” It’s not on par by any means, but it is entertaining. And if you haven’t gotten enough of him lately, Michael Fassbender tackles the eponymous role (“the counselor” is all he’s ever called), as a square-jawed, fashionably stoic defender, who, while very dapper and upper crust, has a long list of unsavory clients. One, an imprisoned mama kingpin (Rosie Perez, putting a lot of pizazz into a brief role), asks him to pay a fine for her son who’s in jail for a traffic violation (going over 200 mph). He complies reluctantly, but doesn’t know that the kid is involved in a scheme to highjack a $20 million drug shipment – which doesn’t matter, because by sheer association he’s now considered one of the brains behind the ever-expanding plot.  Continue reading