The Too Old to Die Young Teaser


Here’s one for the cinemaphile’s glossary.totdy.jpg

In cinema circles, an Auteur is described as “a filmmaker whose personal influence and artistic control over a movie are so great that the filmmaker is regarded as the author of the movie” (Wikipedia). I’ve looked at films as a three-way set of responsibilities. You have the writer, because without the story, there’s nothing. You’ve the Director, who takes that Writer’s vision and presents it on film, and then there’s the cinematographer, who makes sure that the Director’s work is well-lit and shot. I feel all three roles can tip the ownership of a film in anyone’s favor. A great story can be damaged by a bad director, and a good director can try to the make the best out of a bad story. On top of that, you could also have bad movies that look really good.

There are a number of directors out there who fit this designation. Brian DePalma, Guillermo del Toro, David Fincher, Terrence Malick (who shows up every half a decade with a film) David Cronenberg, Richard Linklater,  Jean-Luc Godard (who I’m learning a lot about lately), the list is a large and heavily argued one. Each person has their own picks and favorites.

For me, Nicolas Winding Refn fits that role. With films like Valhalla Rising, Drive , Only God Forgives and The Neon Demon, it’s hard not to recognize the color contrasts and flow of his stories. In writing this, I also found out that Refn is colorblind, which makes what he’s done so far more amazing for me.

Refn’s latest project for Amazon Studios is a series called Too Old to Die Young. The most anyone really knows is that is supposedly “explores the criminal underbelly of Los Angeles by following characters’ existential journeys from being killers to becoming samurai in the City of Angels.”

Here’s a teaser starring Miles Teller, Callie Hernandez, Jena Malone, John Hawkes and William Baldwin. It appears to still carry that wild color scheme and may possibly be just as dark and brutal as his previous work. I’m curious as to whether they’ll stick with a standard approach or follow True Detective’s style of a single writer/director pair for all of the episodes. Either way, we’ll find out when it releases next year.

Horror Film Review: Alien: Convenant (dir by Ridley Scott)


Why did Alien: Covenant fail?

It’s a legitimate question.  Alien itself is such an iconic horror film that, 38 years after it was first released, blatant rip-offs like Life are still being produced and, in many case, are still doing pretty well at the box office.  When John Hurt died earlier this year, he left behind a long and distinguished filmography but almost every obituary opened by discussing his role in Alien.  

Alien: Convenant received a good deal of pre-release publicity, mostly centering on the fact that Ridley Scott was not only the filming the latest installment of the franchise but that this was going to be a true Alien film, as opposed to a strange hybrid like Prometheus.  Personally, when I first saw the trailer, I thought it looked like something was a little off about it.  The spaceship looked way too clean and, for that matter, so did all the humans.  Whereas Alien and Aliens were all about sweaty, profane men and women stuck in dark and cramped locations, the humans in Alien: Convenant just looked too damn perky.  In at least one of the trailers, they were all smiling.  No one smiles in space, at least not in an Alien movie.  Still, everyone else seemed to be super excited about the trailer so I figured that maybe I was just being overly critical.

Then the movie came out.  It got some respectful but somewhat restrained reviews, though it did seem like quite a few critics were more interested in praising the longevity of the series as opposed to actually talking about the film itself.  At the box office, it performed a bit below expectations during the first week but then again, that’s pretty much been the story for almost every film that’s been released in 2017.  But then, during the second week, it plunged from being the number one movie in America to being the number four movie in America.  In the third week, it plunged again and, in the fourth week, it left first-run theaters and headed for the dollar cinemas.  When a widely anticipated film like that — especially one that is part of a historically popular franchise — heads to purgatory after only four weeks, the only thing you can blame is word of mouth.

Why did Alien: Covenant fail?

Well, there’s several reasons why this film failed to connect with audiences.

First off, the plot is rather familiar.  In the future, the crew of a spaceship picks up a radio transmission for a nearby planet and the captain (played, in this case, by Billy Crudup) sends down an expedition to investigate.  Of course, it turns out that the planet is full of facehuggers and xenomorphs and all the other stuff that audiences typically expect from an Alien film.  Also on the planet is David (Michael Fassbender), the replicant who is the sole survivor from Prometheus.  (Fassbender actually plays two roles in Covenant.  He also plays Walter, another replicant.  One is bad and one is good.)  Basically, Covenant takes the plots of Alien and Aliens and mashes them together.  But it never answers the question of why audiences wouldn’t be better off just watching the originals.

The humans themselves are rather blandly written and somewhat interchangeable.  There’s no one who is memorably quirky like Bill Paxton or Harry Dean Stanton.  Katherine Waterston makes for a bland substitute for both Sigourney Weaver and Noomi Rapace.  Usually, I like Danny McBride but he seems out of place in an Alien film.  Genuinely interesting actors, like James Franco, Amy Seimetz, and Carmen Ejogo, are all dispatched far too early.  Probably the best performance in the film comes from Michael Fassbender but, for anyone who has any knowledge of what usually happens with replicants in the Alien franchise, there’s no surprises to be found in either of his characters.

But ultimately, the main problem with Alien: Covenant is that it just wasn’t scary.  Some might say that this is due to the fact that we’re no longer shocked by the sight of aliens bursting out of people’s chests.  However, I recently watched Alien.  I watched it with the full knowledge that, as soon as John Hurt sat down to eat, that little bugger was going to burst out of his chest and that blood and bones were going to fly everywhere.  I also knew that Harry Dean Stanton was going to end up walking right underneath the alien.  I knew that Tom Skerritt’s radio was going to go dead.  I knew that the alien would be waiting for Sigourney Weaver in the escape pod.  I knew all of this and Alien still scared the Hell out of me, as it has every time that I’ve watched it.

And I also had the same reaction when I recently watched Aliens.  Yes, I knew that the space marines weren’t going to be able to fight the aliens.  I knew what was going to happen to Paul Reiser.  I knew that Bill Paxton was going to end up chanting, “Game over, man!”  I knew that aliens were going to be bursting off of chests all over the place.  I knew it was all going to happen and yet, turning out all the lights and watching Aliens still left me feeling shaken.

The difference between those two films and Alien: Covenant is that the first two films felt authentic.  The ships felt lived in.  The characters felt real.  Both films were full of rough edges and small details that invited you to try to look closer.  You could watch those films and imagine yourself on those ships and talking to those characters.  You got scared because you knew that there was no way you’d be one of the survivors.  Everyone pretends that they would be Sigourney Weaver but most of us know that, in reality, we’re going to be Veronica Cartwright, sobbing and useless.

Alien: Covenant, on the other hand, is a very slick movie.  Nothing about it feels real and there’s no real emotional impact when the aliens show up and start killing people.  You never feel as if you know the characters, beyond whatever feelings you may have toward the actors involved.  “Oh,” you say, “the alien just burst out of Billy Crudup’s chest.  Well, he’s got another movie coming out so he’ll be fine…”

For all of the technical skill that went into making it, Alien: Covenant has no soul.  And, for that reason, it’s never scary.  (Sadly, Life felt like a better Alien movie than Covenant did.)  Hopefully, if there is another Alien film, that soul will be rediscovered.

Quick Review – La La Land (Dir. by Damien Chazelle)


la-la-land-full-poster-image-691x1024Hype is a dangerous thing.

Too little of it will leave a movie’s showing with tons of empty seats. Too much, and you raise skepticism in the masses. The movie never lives up to the growing expectations and tanks before you know it.  Tonight (as of this writing), preview audiences are going to be packed with fans waiting to catch the latest Star Wars film. While I hope it works out for them, there’s another film moving into a wider release this weekend that deserves just as much love. Right now, La La Land is heavily hyped, and hopefully will be part of every major awards run. I still want to try to catch some of the other soon to be nominated films for the Awards season, but I’m good for right now. I’m that kid in the corner, totally content with that one little Transformer he always wanted while other presents still need to be opened. Unless I run into another film that captures my eye (and ears) like this one, La La Land is easily my go to pick for everything this year. It’s a fun little love story wrapped up in musical dance numbers, my feel good movie.

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I really, truly loved La La Land. 

For me, that’s saying a lot. Outside of the usual Disney film, I don’t see too many musicals. I can count on one hand a few favorites – Frank Oz’s movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge, both Muppet films and of course West Side Story. However, I’ve never watched Singing in the Rain, or any of the Astaire/Rogers numbers. The opening dance sequence in Ted 2 might be the closest I’ve come to all that, or maybe the French Mistake in Blazing Saddles. However, I walked out of La La Land with a huge smile on my face, one that prompted me to run right back in for the next showing. This isn’t meant to convince you to see the film or not. If you do, cool. If you don’t, that’s fine. I just know that I’ll be scooping this up come the Blu-Ray release. This review is me, geeking out.

La La Land is a very simple story. In Los Angeles, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress who meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), a lover of Jazz who’s fighting to keep it alive. Both individuals are fighting to fulfill their dreams, and it’s hard not to root for them. This leads to a friendship that grows, surrounded by great music. For the story, that’s all you really need to know, and to go into more detail risks going into spoiler territory. It’s a classic Boy Meets Girl in the Big City situation.

Having worked together in Gangster Land and Crazy Stupid Love, Stone and Gosling already have some great chemistry. The dialogue pops between them and is very reminiscent of some of the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan films. With the conversation style, coupled with Damien Chazelle’s writing, it all feels very natural. Both of their characters come across as passionate individuals when it comes to the talent of their choice. The cast also includes singer John Legend, Callie Hernandez (Blair Witch), Jessica Rothe (Better Off Single), and Sonoya Mizuno (Ex Machina). If I have one problem with La La Land, it would just be that I wanted to see more of the co-stars, but the film truly belongs to the leads. At least in a film like Grease, you were at least aware of the supporting cast and their stories. It’s a tiny nitpick, but it doesn’t get in the way of the story’s progression.

Visually, La La Land is full of rich colors and deep shadows. When there’s a change in lighting or a focus made, it’s a beautiful thing to behold. Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy) does a great job here and I’m adding him to my list of Cinematographers to keep an eye on. The movie feels like a classic film from start to finish. The editing deserves some kudos as well. Every scene feels like it grew naturally from the one before it, and there’s rarely a moment where you ask yourself if one scene needed to be there if there were any holes to be found. If there was an editing mistake in La La Land, I couldn’t find it.

As with Guy and Madeline On a Park Bench & Whiplash, it wouldn’t be a Chazelle film without music. Justin Hurwitz is on music duty here and La La Land’s music is in some places snappy. I picked up the soundtrack after the movie, and there’s a good chance that some of that music is going to get stuck in your head. Emma Stone may get some recognition come awards season with one song in particular, but overall it’s difficult not to listen to some of these and not want to nod your head with the crowd. On my exit after the second showing, there were people humming and/or whistling the tunes.

Overall, La La Land is a wonderful film that reminds one of the beauty of the Cinema Experience, with a pair of characters that make you want to cheer them on. Really, if you have a chance to see this in the theatre, do so. Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself with a spring in your step too on the way out.