Tag Archives: Ridley Scott

Nuthin’ But a G Thang

House of Gucci

by George Wolf

Just four years ago, director Ridley Scott deconstructed the Getty family’s wealth of dysfunction in the masterful All the Money in the World. House of Gucci shows he’s still got money on his mind, and his mind on the rot that can take root in such mind-altering luxury.

Based on the true events detailed in Sara Gay Forden’s bestseller, the film dissects the complete unraveling of the Gucci family dynasty, a fuse seemingly lit by the unlikely relationship between Muarizio Gucci (Adam Driver) and commoner Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga).

Though the Gucci name gets Patrizia’s attention at their first introduction, Muarizio didn’t seen to have much interest in the empire shared equally by his father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (Al Pacino). But once he puts a ring on it, the mix of Patrizia’s ambition and Aldo’s invitations finally bring Maurizio into the family business.

Aldo’s own son Paulo (Jared Leto in some nifty makeup) is the Fredo in this clan, and it isn’t long before Paulo is trying to form his own back door alliance with Rodolfo, and Patrizia is Lady Macbeth-ing it everywhere from Italy to New York (complete with bewitching help from Salma Hayek as psychic Pina Auriemma).

You may have noticed that this is a pretty impressive cast. True, and even with their wheel-of-accents there’s little doubt that watching them all try to out-Italian each other in this trashy mash of The Godfather, I, Tonya, Shakespeare and The Real Housewives of Milan is the film’s biggest pleasure. But Scott and screenwriters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna can never establish a consistently compelling tone (overly random soundtrack choices don’t help, either), and the two and a half hour run time takes on curious contrasts. Even as the overall narrative has moments that drag, Maurizio’s transformation to the dark side still feels too rushed and convenient.

But Gaga proves worthy of another Oscar nom, and though the film never reaches the level of crackling relevance Scott mined in his look at the Gettys, she proves a fascinating window for the legendary director’s latest foray into an iconic family’s arc of greed, suspicion, betrayal and worse.

And if your Thanksgiving ends up going completely off the rails, House of Gucci is a star-powered and entertaining way to feel a whole lot better about your own family.

Neverending Story

The Last Duel

by George Wolf and Hope Madden

Take a look at the list of screenwriters on The Last Duel, and one name jumps out at you. There beside Oscar-winning writers Matt Damon and Ben Affleck is Oscar nominee Nicole Holofcener. All three, along with director Ridley Scott, are also listed as producers, and while this project may seem out of character for Holofcener (Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Please Give, Enough Said, Lovely & Amazing) her insight proves indispensable,

Based on the 2004 book by Eric Jager, the film chronicles events leading to the last officially recognized judicial duel in France, a 1386 trial by combat between knight Jean de Carrouges and squire Jacques Le Gris.

Carrouges (Damon) accused Le Gris (Adam Driver) of raping his wife Marguerite (Jamie Comer). Unsatisfied with the lenient decision handed down by Count Pierre d’Alencon (Affleck), Carrouges appealed directly to King Charles VI (Alex Lawther), where Carrouges threw down the challenge that Le Gris accepted. 

Scott presents the tale with exceptional craftsmanship and spectacle, getting big assists from Dariusz Wolski’s gritty, expansive cinematography and Michael Fentum’s detailed sound design.

This is a brooding, brutal, violent and sexually violent film, one that utilizes a Rashomon-style narrative to frame an often-debated moment in history around a centuries-old struggle that continues today.

Separated into three chapters, the film gives us the truth according to Carrouges, Le Gris, and then Marguerite, when the onscreen text holds a few extra beats on the phrase “the truth.” And while what changes with each new side of the story is vital, there’s equal importance to be found in the elements that don’t change.

One man’s crime is another’s entitlement, one man’s denial gets “the benefit of the clergy,” while one woman’s truth is disregarded among the power of men.

The ensemble cast is outstanding, led by Driver’s convincing cad, Damon’s gruff brute and Affeck’s delightful range as the shallow Count. But as Marguerite’s acerbic mother-in-law (a terrific Harriet Walter) dresses down her accusation with a pointed “You think you’re the only one?” Comer shoulders the courage that becomes the soul of the film. 

Her nuanced performance chapter to chapter tells us everything about the perspectives of the two men involved, and she carries Marguerite’s mindset with a weary bravery that depicts just how tiresome – even 600 years ago – it is to have to defend yourself after you’ve been raped.

It’s not just Comer, though. Scott’s camera lingers tellingly on the reactions of different women throughout the story as they silently respond to the charges.

Scott presents the climactic duel with the completely thrilling treatment it requires, but by then it’s clear why Holofcener’s contributions were so vital. As talented as Scott, Affleck and Damon are, making this film without the filmmaking perspective of an equally gifted woman would have amounted to more of the same: men telling us how rape is for women.

The Last Duel aims for more than just a gripping history lesson. It’s ultimately able to use that history to remind us that the way society treats women generally – and women’s sexuality specifically – has changed little since the freaking Middle Ages. 

Shame.

…And Let’s Give It Acid Blood!

Memory: The Origins of Alien

by Hope Madden

“The reek of human blood smiles out at me.”

It’s an unusual opening line for a documentary about that icon of SciFi horror, Alien. And yet, Memory: The Origins of Alien is an unusual documentary.

Alexandre O. Philippe takes you deep into our collective psyche, our “cauldron of stories,” to explore the alchemy behind the lingering success and haunting nature of Ridley Scott’s film. Though the story starts long before Scott’s involvement.

Philippe begins by mining writer Dan O’Bannon’s influences and preoccupations.

“I didn’t steal from anyone,” he said. “I stole from everyone.”

A Nebraskan whose father once staged an alien landing, O’Bannon’s out of the ordinary young life and preoccupation with comics fueled his short screenplay, “Memory.” But it was his battle with Crohn’s disease that inspired that pivotal scene that moved the tale from short to feature.

Then came H. R. Giger, whose “Mythology of the future” offered visual entryway to the world the film would imagine. Joined eventually by Scott, who saw their genius and raised it. Philippe’s joy at displaying the way these three imaginations coalesce to form the greater vision spills off the screen.

But why, after 40 years, is Alien still a heart-pounding success?

If you buy the film’s thesis—and Philippe does make a good case—we basically had no choice.

Alien is both the lovechild of H.R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon and Ridley Scott—each as seemingly necessary for this product as the next—and the culmination of primal images and ideas mined from the collective unconscious.

This is more than undulating fandom aimed at the object of adoration. It’s a deep, immersive dive into how Alien evolved to become the  masterpiece that it is and why the film remains as haunting today as it was when John Hurt’s chest first burst in 1979.

The Abyss of Freedom

All the Money in the World

by George Wolf

The eleventh-hour replacement of Kevin Spacey wasn’t just a boldly genius play by legendary director Ridley Scott – it was the only play, a cinematic Hail Mary that elevates All the Money in the World as a curiosity, a statement and a filmgoing experience.

Christopher Plummer steps in as the legendary J. Paul Getty, delivering a terrific, gravitas-rich performance that anchors Scott’s dramatic retelling of events surrounding the 1973 kidnapping of Getty’s teenaged grandson Paul (Charlie Plummer).

Scott digs in to a meaty script from David Scarpa (adapting John Person’s book) to deliver a highly engaging film filled with tension, insight, stellar performances and crackling relevance.

As Paul’s mother Gail Getty, Michelle Williams is award-worthy fantastic. Gail, no longer a “real” Getty after divorcing Paul’s father, must negotiate with both the kidnappers and her former father-in-law for her son’s safety, and Williams makes Gail’s mix of frustration, desperation and disgust emotionally genuine.

While refusing to pay the 17 million-dollar ransom, J. Paul enlists the help of former CIA agent Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg) to recover his grandson. As the hunt intensifies, Scott gracefully balances the extremes on opposing sides of the boy’s fate, each one consumed with profits and losses.

Wahlberg again shows how effective he can be under a strong director, and Fletcher’s search for Paul becomes a taut nail-biter while the elder Getty -“not just the richest man in the world but the richest man in the history of the world“- shells out millions on the black market for a masterpiece canvas.

Getty’s defense of his interest in things over people is just one of several passages from Scarpa that are weighty with resonance. His script is full of biting, memorable dialogue, such as Getty’s explanation of an “abyss of freedom” that comes from extreme wealth, without ever succumbing to grand speechifying.

The “erasing” of Spacey is incredibly seamless, but long after those headlines fade, All the Money in the World holds plenty of capital. As both a fascinating historical drama and a telling reminder of what we value, it’s a film that can stand with the best of Scott’s storied career.





Skin Trade

Blade Runner 2049

by Hope Madden

Who’s ready to go back to the future?

No gigawatts necessary. With Blade Runner 2049, director Denis Villeneuve returns us to the hulking, rain-streaked metropolis of another generation’s LA. We ride with K (Ryan Gosling), a blade runner charged, as always, with tracking down rogue replicants and retiring them.

Things get more complicated this time around.

Gosling’s the perfect choice to play dutiful sad sack LAPD blade runner K. Few actors can be simultaneously expressionless and expressive, but Gosling’s blank slate face and long distance stare seem to say something mournful, defeated and rebellious without giving anything away.

It’s no spoiler to mention that Harrison Ford returns. He’s a welcome presence, and not simply for nostalgia. The film toys with the “is he or isn’t he?” debate that has raged for 35 years, and gives the veteran ample opportunity to contribute.

God complexes, sentience and existence, clones – Ridley Scott saw his own longtime preoccupations playing out in Philip K. Dick’s prose and now, with returning screenwriter Hampton Fancher and new teammate Michael Green (Logan), Villeneuve gets his chance.

Their take is engrossing, satisfying and impressive, though the group stumbles over a few of their ideas—particularly those that consider the female in this particular universe.

As enamored of the original as we are, Villeneuve weaves intoxicating threads and callbacks throughout—most welcome is Hans Zimmer’s periodic moaning and sighing echoes of Vangelis’s original score.

In fact, the echoes from the Ridley Scott (now executive producing) ‘82 classic almost threaten to overrun the film. There are plenty of differences, though.

Villeneuve carves out a much larger corner of author Phillip K. Dick’s universe—not quite taking us off-world, but far beyond the teeming streets, towering buildings and oppressive rain of Scott’s retro-futuristic noir. The expansive story fills the screen with breathtaking frames and immediately iconic imagery, thanks in large part to acclaimed cinematographer Roger Deakins, at the top of his game.

Few if any have delivered the kind of crumbling, dilapidating futurescape Ridley Scott gave us with his original. But between the stunning visual experience and meticulous sound design, Blade Runner 2049 offers an immersive experience perfectly suited to its fantasy.

Picking at ideas of love among the soulless, of souls among the manmade, of unicorns versus sheep, Villeneuve channels Dick by way of Scott as well as a bit of James Cameron and more than a little Spike Jonze. There’s even a splash of Dickens in there.

Sounds like a hot mess, but damn if it doesn’t work.





Grasping for Resurrection

Alien: Covenant

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

“Do you want to serve in heaven or reign in hell?”

That’s just one of the big, existential questions Alien: Covenant has on its mind, though there’s plenty of blood as well, for those who thought Prometheus was a bit too head-trippy.

Director Ridley Scott returns to the helm of the iconic franchise he started, proving the years have done little to erode his skills at crafting tension or delivering visceral thrills.

Covenant picks up roughly ten years after the events of Prometheus, and this many sequels in, its inevitable that the franchise would fall victim to formula: a crew, most of whom we get to know only through intercom banter, lands somewhere, picks up an alien (or several), tries to get it off the ship. Quarantine protocol is rarely followed. (It is there for a reason, people!) Folks die in a most unpleasant way.

When Scott made Alien back in ’79, he made a straight genre flick, working from a script by horror go-to Dan O’Bannon. It gave Scott a career, though he didn’t return to the horror game for more than another two decades.

Meanwhile, the franchise took the action path, devolving eventually into the modern day equivalent of Werewolf Versus the Mummy.

Scott redirected that ship in 2012 when he regained control of the series, throwing off any ugliness in the sequel universe by making a prequel – one less interested in monsters than in gods. Prometheus may have been a mixed bag, but if there’s one thing this franchise delivers, it’s a great synthetic. Hello, Michael Fassbender.

Fassbender returns in Scott’s latest, bloodiest Alien effort, and he’s a lunatic genius. Playing both David, the synthetic from Prometheus, and a newer model named Walter, Fassbender delivers weighty lines with tearful panache, becoming more colorful, layered and interesting than anything else onscreen.

Strange then, that his charismatic performance almost hurts the film.

Why? Because we’re here for the aliens!

Yes, it is tough to keep a good xenomorph fresh for eight episodes, and Scott gives it a shot with new alien forms that wade into Guillermo del Toro territory . But there are too many variations, the incubation and bursting process is too expedited, the sources are too numerous – basically, there’s too much going on here and it’s diluting the terror.

And it is terror Scott is going for. There’s more carnage in Covenant than in Scott’s previous two Alien films combined, but he hasn’t entirely thrown the existential crisis overboard. Suffice it to say that we’re lead to a crossroads where a dying species is “grasping for resurrection.”

Scott wants us to ponder those themes of death and creation while we’re running from bloodthirsty monsters. It’s not always a perfect fit, but Alien: Covenant combats the overreach with enough primal thrills to be satisfying.

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 





Sex, Drugs, No Rock and Roll

 

 

by George Wolf

 

So, you may have heard there’s a new film starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Javier Bardem, and Penelope Cruz, that is directed by Ridley Scott.

Serious talent, right?

Well, did I mention it also features the first original screenplay by Cormac McCarthy, one of the greatest writers alive?

No doubt, The Counselor seems like a natural, but while it may not be a complete whiff, it’s an uneven reminder that even the biggest hitters can foul one off at crunch time.

McCarthy, author of No Country for Old Men, The Road, and All the Pretty Horses, revisits familiar themes and favorite locales for the story of a naive attorney who ignores warnings to stay out of the drug trafficking business.

Fassbender is the never-named counselor, newly engaged to Laura (Cruz) and apparently living a bit beyond his means. His professional dealings with Reiner (Bardem) and his mysterious girlfriend Malkina (Cameron Diaz) introduce the counselor to the riches possible in the drug trade, and he is seduced enough to want in.

Of course, this is not a wise move.

The message here is accepting the results of the choices we make, and realizing our shared culpability for the ugly worlds we try to ignore. When these messages hit, they hit hard, but they are too often obscured but too many grandiose speeches and WTF? distractions.

From seemingly nowhere, the focus shifts to the kinky sex favored by Malkina, and Diaz, the weak link in an otherwise stellar cast,  pushes the vamp meter to the edge of comedy.

As eloquent as McCartny can be, his screenplay features overlong wordplay, and too many moments of obvious foreshadowing. When the counselor (and, by extension, the audience) is graphically told about certain methods the drug cartels use for killing, you know these methods are in someone’s immediate future.

Scott sets his scenes well, and is able to sustain fair amounts of tension and dread from the dangers that often remain out of sight, a formula that worked to perfection in No Country for Old Men.

Here, though, the overall effect is undercut by too many characters with unclear connections. The Counselor is a film with too much of just about everything, and ironically, a tale that might have worked better in book form.

 

 

Verdict-3-0-Stars

 

 

 





These People Love Their Boss

 

by George Wolf

 

Look, I admit it. Asking me to review a Bruce Springsteen documentary sounds about as fair and balanced as Sean Hannity giving his thoughts on The Sarah Palin Story. I’m a Springsteen devotee, no doubt about it, but Springsteen and I will not only thrill fans such as myself, but also give the uninitiated a glimpse into what drives the Cult of the Boss.

From Executive Producer Ridley Scott, the film doesn’t focus as much on Bruuuuuce as it does his legendary fan base. Utilizing the same approach that drove Scott’s Life in a Day (2011), and Japan in a Day (2012), Springsteen and I is a story told by everyday people.

Bruce fans all over the world were encouraged to submit their own videos, describing how his music has affected them, the place it holds in their lives and, well, anything else they felt moved to share.

Director Baillie Walsh assembles the best of the bunch, mixing in Springsteen performances from the archives, and in many cases, video evidence from moments when the lucky ones rubbed elbows with The Boss.

You can’t help but smile when you hear stories of the man who went to a Bruce show dressed in full-on Elvis, or the women who made an “I’ll be your Courtney Cox” sign, and then watch as Bruce invites them to share his stage.

It’s an entertaining approach, and one that also allows for more heartfelt submissions, such as the man who suddenly bursts into tears when describing how the music has changed him, or the couple who, despite never having been to a Springsteen show, feel part of the fan community simply by dancing to Bruce music at home.

Of course, Springsteen isn’t everyone’s favorite(?), and one women’s fandom is hilariously described by her husband. After years of tagging along to Bruce’s marathon performances, the man pleads for Bruce to “make his concerts shorter!”

Springsteen and I is a thoroughly enjoyable take on the power of music, and much like a Springsteen show, offers a lengthy encore.  Stay put after the credits roll for some great concert footage and a backstage peek at a special Bruce meet and greet session.

Lucky bastards.

 

Springsteen and I will show again in Columbus, and all over the world, July 30th at 7:30pm. The local showing will again be at Lennox. Outside Columbus, check here for a showing at the same time.

 

Verdict-4-0-Stars